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Why Isn’t the State Biblically Justified? Resolving Romans 13 Objections

Summary – Why Isn’t the State Biblically Justified? Resolving Romans 13 Objections

In this episode of the Biblical Anarchy podcast, Jacob sits down to talk with Gregory Baus, one of the hosts of the Reformed Libertarians Podcast. The focus was on the confessionally Reformed “political resistance” or prescriptive-office view of Romans 13 (although the interpretation and its logical argumentation doesn’t exclusively depend on one being confessionally reformed). The discussion delved into the biblical interpretation regarding civil governance ordained by God, diverging from the prevalent providential view often associated with the state.

The episode referenced crucial articles and discussions. It explored the writings of early church fathers like Tertullian and Chrysostom, providing insights into the prescriptive nature of the higher powers ordained by God.

The prescriptive-office view emphasizes the delineation between God’s providential ordination and a required task within an office. It highlighted the task of civil governance specified in verses 3 and 4 of Romans 13: being a force against wrongdoing while not being a terror to good works.

The discussion addressed objections regarding God’s sovereignty, the nature of rulers, taxation, and the prescription of punishment within the context of civil crimes versus broader sin, and more.

The prescriptive or non-statist interpretation is multi-faceted, and considers the evolution of covenants and the limitations of applying Old Testament concepts to contemporary governance. The conversation challenged traditional perspectives, examining the compatibility of just civil authority with Christian principles, contrasted with the historical norms and inherent nature of the state (beyond the confines of a specific historical empire).

This thought-provoking episode challenges conventional interpretations of Romans 13, offering a fresh perspective on the relationship between civil governance and biblical principles.

00:00 Start
00:31 Introduction
03:44 Summary of the view
A prescriptive, not providential, ordination concerning an office, so submission is with respect to the administration of civil justice (and resistance to unjust rulers and unjust laws is not forbidden)
10:29 First Objection
Doesn’t Romans 13 require us to submit to the state (or other de facto rulers) because God uses evil to punish sin and accomplish His plans?
No, this confuses general providence and/or ‘natural’ consequences for God’s special symbolic (and temporary) old covenant arrangement. Now that Christ has accomplished salvation and established the new covenant, the only judgment will be coming Final Judgment at Christ’s return.
24:17 Second Objection
Doesn’t the fact that the word “rulers” is used mean that Romans 13 is referring to ALL those who claim or wield coercive power, including the state?
No, it is using “rulers” and other terms to refer to exclusively to legitimate civil rulers in their actually administering civil justice.
33:04 Follow-up
Doesn’t Romans 13 simply describe rulers rather than prescribe what counts as a ruler?
No, similar to other passages, such as Hebrews 13:17, there is an imperative to submit to those that fit a description, and what is described entails a prescribed office that God ordains.
41:20 Third Objection
Doesn’t Romans 13 require us to pay taxes, so how could it not be speaking about the state?
No, Scripture never requires simply paying taxes. We are only required to pay whatever we actually owe. Jesus, likewise, only says that Caesar’s own property belongs to Caesar and should be given to him. There are legitimate examples of “tribute” and “custom” that are not state taxes.
49:33 Fourth Objection
Isn’t this view bringing in an ideology alien to the text and improperly reading Romans 13 in reverse by imposing a prescription from later verses onto earlier verses that are speaking of providence if taken on their own terms?
No, this view is also supported by those who disagree with our political views, and is distinct from libertarianism and anarchism. The view also accounts for the flow of thought, the textual context, and its meaning in relation to other teaching in Scripture. Additionally, the idea that submission is required on the basis of providence is nonsensical.
1:04:37 Fifth Objection
Isn’t this view of Romans 13 susceptible to theonomy, and how is the evil referred to restricted to civil wrong-doing and not also inclusive of sin (or of sins penalized in the Mosaic law)?
No, we can agree with establishmentarians and theocrats, etc, on the prescriptive-office view of Romans 13 without condoning their error about civil penalizing non-aggressive immorality in the new covenant era. The lex talionis in Genesis 9 provides the God-given civil justice principle of proportionality, properly understood in terms of the non-aggression principle, for civil governance outside the now obsolete old covenant.
1:14:16 Sixth Objection
Romans 13 can’t be talking about libertarian anarchism, so how could he not be referring to the Roman Empire?
This view of the passage is not about political theory (although we go on to argue that our political theory is consistent with the passage and the rest of Scripture). Paul is explaining in light of the previous chapter that just civil governance is legitimate and part of God’s normative design for societal life, and compatible with Christianity. But the Roman Empire is not the reference because it doesn’t fit the prescriptive ordination described, and Paul is also speaking to Christians when and where the Roman Empire doesn’t exist.
1:23:55 Outro

Referenced Links:

Gregory Baus links:

Baus on Previous BAP episodes:
About Romans 13:
Conquest of Canaan:
Sphere Sovereignty:

Article on Reformed view of Romans 13:
Reformed Libertarians Podcast discussions:

Additional discussions:

Bibliography for Reformed Prescriptive-Office view:

Tertullian, Scorpiace:
Chrysostom, Homily 23:

What about 1 Peter 2:13?:

Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson:

Article against civil establishment of religion:

Resources on theological problems with “theonomy”:
Meredith G. Kline’s article on theocracy:
Lee Irons’ article on Theonomy’s Dispensational Hermeneutic:
Lane Tipton’s article on The Eschatology of Hebrews 2:1-4: A Critical Appraisal of the Theonomic Thesis:
T. David Gordon’s article on Critique of Theonomy; a Taxonomy:


The Reformed Libertarians Podcast is a project of the Libertarian Christian Institute  and a member of the Christians for Liberty Network

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