The word "ἐξουσία" has been a good deal insisted upon as denoting a power lawful before God. It is derived from the verb "ἔξεστιν"—"it is lawful." Still, we would not insist upon this so far as to lay any great stress upon it in argument. It is not necessary to do so; and, moreover, the term is used in Rev. 13:3, to express the "authority" of the beast of the sea. [back to SECTION]
On the word "ὑπερεχούσαις" more stress may be, perhaps, laid. The following is from a lecture on the Revelation, by Murray, of Newcastle, England:—
"There is a passage, which has been much improved by those that imagine that believers of the Gospel are, by the Apostle, enjoined to yield a passive obedience, and that is in Romans xiii. 1, which version reads, ‘Let every soul be subject to the higher powers,’ &c., to the beginning of the seventh verse. With all due respect to our translators, and other learned men, I will affirm that this is rather a paraphrase of the translators, than a translation of the text. From the very genius of the Greek language, it is manifest that ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις do not signify all sorts of authority, but only such as protect men in the enjoyment of their just rights and privileges; and these words ought to be read literally, protecting authorities, or excellent authorities. Ἐξουσία, in its first signification, signifies just and lawful power or authority, and can never be applied to tyrants and oppressors without abuse: ὑπερέχω signifies to protect, or to be eminent, and is here understood in that sense, as in other Greek authors. Homer makes use of this word in this sense, when he describes Agamemnon addressing the Greeks, when the Trojans were advancing against them, (Iliad. iv. 1. 249.)—‘Will ye tarry,’ says he, ‘till the Trojans advance, to know whether Jupiter will protect you?’ Ὄφρα ἴδητ᾽ αἴ κ᾽ ὔμιν ὑπέρσχῃ χεῖρα Κρονίων;. This Apostle makes use of this word, (Phil. iv. 7,) to point out the excellency of the peace of God. Καὶ ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ ὑπερέχουσα πάντα νοῦν; and the peace of ‘God which, passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts.’ This same Apostle, in the second chapter of this Epistle, makes use of the same word to signify excellency, or what is more excellent, or better; ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας, ‘let each esteem others better than themselves.’ It does not appear from this passage that there is any command to be subject to any powers, except such as excel, and protect their subjects." [back to SECTION]
Murray takes the same view that we have done of this passage. He says:—
"But let us read the whole paragraph, without any paraphrase in the translation, and see how it will prove non-resistance. ‘Let every soul be subordinate to the authorities protecting them; for it is not authority, if not from GOD. But these that are authorities under God, are appointed. Therefore, he that resisteth the authority resisteth the appointment of God, and they that resist shall receive judgment to themselves. For rulers are not a terror of good works, but of evil. Will you not fear authority? do good, and you shall have praise from it; for he is the servant of God for good. But if you do evil, fear, for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God, a revenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. Therefore, it is necessary to obey, not only for wrath, but for conscience’ sake. For this cause pay you tribute also, for they are the servants of God, waiting continually for this very thing. Render therefore to all their due; tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.’ Can any words make the subject more plain, that it is the appointment of God, and the ruler answering the character here given him, that lays the obligation upon Christians to obey him? If the people who bring Romans xiii. 1, as a proof of mere passive obedience to all sorts of superiors, will please to read the text carefully, the arguments they use will vanish, whether they will or not. It is plain to a demonstration that as the Apostle does not here appoint any particular form of government, so he says nothing of the present rulers, but recommends subjection to governors in general; and that from the consideration of the Divine institution of their office, and the advantage thereof to mankind, when right administered. To resist such governors as answer the end of their office, and the Apostle’s representation is, do doubt, a great crime, and deserves a proportionable punishment, called here κριμα (judgment,) both in this life, and that which is to come. But the resisting of tyranny and tyrants falls not under the sentence of the Apostle. The text says nothing to the case of tyrants, but really excludes them as being another sort of creatures from what he describes, and the very reverse of that character which he gives the minister of God; to whom he requires subjection."
"They are not at all authorities of God, according to the Apostle, if they are a terror to good works, and a praise to evil; for the authorities appointed by God are appointed for this end. And the authority that does not answer this end is not an authority that it is lawful to obey. In such a case, the threatening should be read backwards, namely, ‘he that resisteth not the power shall receive (κριμα) judgment.’ If any person were to read a Greek classic as these advocates for passive obedience read the New Testament, they would be posted up as enemies to true literature and common sense, by all the literati in the three kingdoms. The Apostles have nowhere affirmed, that Christians, at the pleasure of despots, were to surrender their liberties more than others, who were fellow-citizens with them, in the same country. If both the rulers and the rest of the subjects differ with them, they have no other shift but to remonstrate against their oppression, suffer, or forsake their country."
"The words immediately after make it as clear as the sun, that the Apostle speaks only of a lawful power; for he gives us in them a definition of magistrates, and thereby explains to us who are the persons thus authorized, and upon what account we are to yield obedience, lest we should be apt to mistake, and ground extravagant notions upon his discourse. ‘Magistrates,’ says he, ‘are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Wilt thou, then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same; for he is the minister of God to thee for good: he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger, to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.’ What honest man would not willingly submit to such a magistracy as is here described, and that not only to avoid wrath, and for fear of punishment, but for conscience’ sake? Whatever power enables a man, or whatsoever magistrate takes upon him to act contrary to what Paul makes the duty of those that are in authority, neither is that power nor that magistrate ordained of God; and, consequently, to such a magistrate no subjection is commanded, nor is any due; nor are the people forbidden to resist such authority; for in so doing, they do not resist the power nor the magistracy, as they are here excellently well described; but they resist a robber, a tyrant, an enemy, who, if he may notwithstanding, in some sense, be called a magistrate upon this account only, because he has power in his hands—by the same reason, the devil may be called a magistrate." [back to SECTION]
As to the true origin of the Roman power, it is stated in Rev. 13:5,—"And the dragon gave him his power and state and great authority." On this Dr. Junkin says:
"Now the source of this power is pointed out. The dragon gave it to him: Diabolus formed this city and government for himself."
Dr. Scott says:
"The dragon may here mean either the devil, or the devil’s vicegerent, the idolatrous Roman Empire.—So that when another idolatrous persecuting power had succeeded to that of the heathen emperors, then ‘the dragon’ had transferred his dominion to ‘the beast,’ or the devil had appointed another vicegerent, and all the world knows that this occurred to the history of the Roman Empire, Pagan and Papal."
Dr. Junkin adds:
"The Scripture account of absolute despotism (he might have said of all godless and Christless power,) is, that Satan gave it, and the blasphemous slander of God is the argument by which the doctrine of legitimacy is sustained from the Bible. ‘Our power is of God.’ ‘The powers that be are ordained of God,’—therefore iron-handed despotism is a divine institution. This is the conclusion of its friends, but the word of truth proclaims it to be from below. The same kind of logic will prove the devil’s own usurpations to be right and proper…The fallacy lies here in a false assumption. Paul says, ‘The powers that be,’ ἐξουσίαις, that is, civil government, is an ordinance of God; and the assumption is that it means arbitrary power—might without right. This is the logic by which Diabolus has blasphemed the Creator for a score of centuries." (See Lectures on Revelation, pp. 209,210.) [back to SECTION] [return to CONCLUSION]
The arrogance of the Papists, both in England and in this country, is already beginning to awaken doubts whether after all it is safe to admit the votaries of superstition; and the subjects of such a spiritual despotism, to the full enjoyment of political rights among a Protestant people. God will yet avenge, and by the Papists themselves, as his instruments, nations that have not only given equal honour and protection to Christ’s church and her anti-Christian counterfeit, but have boasted of this as a suitable display of liberality.
Dr. Junkin says:
"The grand defect in the bond of our national union is the absence of the recognition of God as the Governor of this world. We have omitted—may it not be said, refused?—to own Him whose head wears many crowns, as having any right of dominion over us. The constitution of the United States contains no express recognition of the being of a God; much less an acknowledgment that The Word of God sways the sceptre of universal dominion. This is our grand national sin of omission. This gives the infidel occasion to glory, and has no small influence in fostering infidelity in affairs of state, and among political men. That the nation will be blessed with peace and prosperity continuously, until this defect be remedied, no Christian philosopher expects. For this national insult, the Governor of the universe will lift again and again his rod of iron over our heads, until we be affrighted, and give this glory to his name.—(Lectures on Revelation, pp. 280-1.) [back to SECTION]