Fear Only God | Sojourners

Fear Only God

The Terminology and Context of Romans 13
Two commonly misunderstood motifs in Romans 13 and the other passages of direct teaching on the state are "submission" and "honor." A careful study of these two terms reveals that there is a significant difference between "submission" and "obedience," and between "honor" and "fear."

Submission vs. obedience. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1). The term hypotassesthai is difficult to translate; different versions variously render it "be subject," "be obedient," "be submissive," or "be subordinate." It is most commonly assumed that the term simply means obedience.

C.E.B. Cranfield's extensive study of this word in his commentary on Romans 12 and 13 shows that the usage of the word in literature and the examination of how early Christian leaders interpreted and acted upon this injunction does not allow such an equation. The word Paul chose is not the best word to use if he meant an unambiguous "obedience." Three other words commonly employed in the New Testament to mean obedience are avoided in this passage. After surveying New Testament usage, Cranfield wrote: "Though the idea of obedience is sometimes clearly prominent (Romans 8:7), in the majority of cases, while it may be included, it is not clear that it predominates."

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