Given the recent NSA, IRS…. controversies some Christians are revisiting the question of Romans 13. When, they ask, are we to submit to authorities? When is someone an authority? Must they merely have seized power? Or must they have some degree of legitimacy?
In that light I was on a discussion forum the other day where a Godly Christian man, a noted leader, stated the following:
The conversation continued after this statement but I, myself, spent a good deal of time pondering the underlying meaning of that statement.
One problem is that we throw words around without thinking about their underlying meaning. And thus we end up in confusion. Let us look at these words. Indeed, let us translate them.
The first step will be to translate the word: ‘immoral’. Christians, when they use the word ‘immoral’, should mean, and ususally do mean, ‘against God’s Law’. So the statement then becomes:
Sorry, I’m asking [George] for an example where he would have to submit to an [law that contradicts God’s law]. Because if there are none, it certainly appears as though he has become a law unto himself.
Sorry, I’m asking [George] for an example where he would have to [perform an action in result to man’s law, where the action is a violation of God’s law]. Because if there are none, it certainly appears as though he has become a law unto himself.
Well, that makes a difference, no? There is now (at this level of analysis) a pretty easy answer to the first sentence. Of course we should never submit to a law that contradicts God’s law. ‘We ought to obey God rather than man’ and all that. Daniel: Lion’s Den. Been there, read the stories.
But this way of translating it forces us to relook at the last part of the sentence; which suddenly makes no sense. How is it that choosing to obey one law (God’s) over another law (man’s) would ‘make us a law unto ourselves?
The answer, which will force us to retranslate again, lies in the word ‘submit’. You see, we were discussing Romans 13. That part of God’s law where God, Himself, tells us to submit to authorities. So now the statement really becomes interesting. Let me try a rather radical translation:
If there are not times when one’s submission to authorities, commanded in God’s law, forces us to do things which, when left to ourselves, we would consider a different violation of that law, then we have obliterated God’s law regarding authorities and have declared ourselves autonomous under God.
In other words, there are times when the idea of submitting to authorities conflicts, or at the very least seems to conflict, with the idea of obeying some other part of God’s law.
Now we need to be careful here. There are different things meant by ‘not obeying God’s law’. Paul, in Romans 14, made it very clear that where God gives us liberty, the actions or needs of our fellow men might curtail that liberty.
But that is not what we are talking about. At least, I think not. I think what we are talking about is where we don’t have liberty. We do not have liberty to steal, murder, or commit adultery. And yet some authority in our life is commanding us to literally do one of those things.
Or, on the other hand, maybe it is a commanded activity. We are commanded to go to church, commanded to marry, commanded to teach our children about God… and some authority is not allowing us to do those things. What are we, as Christians, to do?
The focus in most discussions of Romans 13 tends to be on Caesar but, quite frankly, our experience is different. Most of the authorities that we have to submit to, and that we resist submitting to, are much more local than that: our elders, our fathers, our employers, local magistrates. These are the ones that are frequently ‘in our face’ and asking us to do, or not do, certain things.
So what do we see in Scripture? How often, in Scripture, do we see men or women disobeying an authority under the claim of a violation of God’s law? Or obeying one in spite of the fact that it would mean violating God’s law?
Well, on the ‘disobey’ front we have a few clear examples. Daniel disobeyed both the chief of the eunuchs and then Darius[Daniel 6]. Shadrak et al disobeyed the king’s command to bow down to an idol . Jonathan disobeyed his father, who had commanded David’s death, when he hid David from his wrath.[I Sam 19] Joseph fled from his mistress when she asked for him to lay with her. And, of course, the apostles, in the New Testament, refused the command to not preach, stating clearly, “We ought to obey God rather than man.”
On the other side things are more murky. The number of commands to obey is legion. But the examples of obedience in the face of a prohibition is a little more tricky. What do we say of Esther, who married a pagan king at his command (or, perhaps, under Mordecai’s instruction) despite God’s command to only marry within the tribe of Israel? Or of Sarah? and Rebekkah? who allowed themselves to be inducted into a kings harem, without protest, despite the fact they were married?
The issue is a complex one, and Godly men over the years have discussed it at length. I would like to propose a suggestion which, in my opinion, fits well with what the best commentators propose but which proposes slightly novel language that helps resolve some apparent differences in the application:
All true authorities: the most fundamental of which is the father and then the husband; but including those of the church and the state; are to be obeyed in all matters under their jurisdiction. When they attempt to give an order in an area outside of their jurisdiction they are still to be honored and cared for, but they may not be obeyed if their order conflicts with the rightful jurisdiction of another.
How does this work out in the stories we list? Well, Daniel was asked to eat certain foods. But God had already put him under obligation not to eat them. So in a very honoring way, he asked permission not to eat them. We are not told what would have happened had the chief eunuch denied him permission.
When, on the other hand, an unalterable law was passed denying him permission to pray to God, and asking that he pray instead to a human king, his response was polite but firm: he disobeyed. He disobeyed in an overt and blatant way. He opened his windows and prayed, so the whole would could see him, just as he always did.
So given contradictory commands, when the command was clearly in the jurisdiction of God alone (prayer), and represented a clear violation of God’s law in the jurisdiction (don’t pray to God, do pray to the king): he disobeyed. But when the conflict concerned an order from his master about the food he was to eat, he appealed.
Joseph, asked to sleep with his mistress (the wife of his master) and refused, running naked from the room. In his flesh he probably would have preferred to stay. The action was probably something that was fairly common. But it was forbidden in God’s law: and went directly against the jurisdiction of her husband, her master and his.
Esther, on the other hand, would have been forbidden, on her own, from contracting a marriage with this pagan king. At least, the law seems clear. But she married him without protest. Why? Could it be that the law is unclear?
Or is it a question of jurisdiction? How else can we unravel this riddle? When David feigned madness to save his life, who was it in front of but someone who had no right to the truth? An enemy of his people. 
I believe that an examination of Biblical law and example, and the teachings of Christ, will show this to be true: that we are bound to obey, but only within jurisdiction. Honor to whom honor, yet obey God rather than man.
Oh, but what of the original case? What say I to the poor fourteen year old now with a threat of a year in prison over a shirt which he refused to take off? I say this: that the government has no jurisdiction in education, and is a tyrant and usurper. When he was a child it was his father, and his father alone, who should have born the burden of his education. He is not a child of Caesar and should not have been sent to Caesar’s house for ‘education’. But now as a man grown the fault was his own for even going to such a place.
But I also say the young man, for so I name him, should not have bothered with the trifle of a symbol on his clothing. How is it that you can voluntarily enter into someones house, and then protest over the rules of dress that the master of the house sets? Should they ask him to go naked, well that is their house, those are their rules.
But he should not have entered the house, for it is a den of blasphemy. As a man grown he should have refused to enter the very door of such a house. As a man grown, for so I believe the Scriptures name him, he is responsible for obeying God’s law. And God’s law calls for him to learn from his father and mother, to get a job and support a wife, not to worship in the house of Caesar.
I Cor 6:14-18 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
 Acts 5:29
 Romans 14:2-22,15:1-2
 I Cor 7:2,9
 Heb 10:25
 Deut 6:7
 Daniel 3
 Daniel 1:8
 Gen 39
 Acts 5:29
 I Sam 21″12-13
 Book of Esther