A Reminder from Mark 12 and Romans 13

I’ve seen a bit of post-election apocalyptic talk. It’s not as if we don’t have NT instruction about the magistrate. It is the Word of God.

Mark 12

And they sent to him some of  the Pharisees and some of  the Herodians, to  trap him in his talk.  And they came and said to him, “Teacher,  we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For  you are not swayed by appearances,  but truly teach  the way of God. Is it lawful to pay  taxes to  Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing  their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why  put me to the test? Bring me  a denarius  and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.”  Jesus said to them,  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. 

Romans 13

Let every person  be subject to the governing authorities. For  there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you  will receive his approval, for  he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God,  an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also  for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. If some began to understand that Jesus’ Caesar was the 21st century American’s nightmare come true they might begin to understand that Mark 12 has a lot less to do with a self-assured glance at FICA hold-outs in their paycheck stubs and more to do with a difficult submission and obedience. Submit and obey a man who thought he was a god? You can do a lot worse than a guy who has choice politics and mumbles things about “wealth distribution,” folks. Marvel indeed.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    In a democracy, how do you think “subject to governing authorities” and “resisting authorities” plays out now as opposed to what the idea was when it was written then? I would think people’s freedom to demur extends much further at this juncture, just looking for your two cents.

  3. Z,

    You can do a lot worse than a guy who has choice politics and mumbles things about “wealth distribution,” folks. Marvel indeed.

    Yup, you can do a lot worse. You can do a lot better too. Your point?


  4. Sam,

    In a democracy, strictly speaking, it might mean submitting to a mob. In a republican form of government we submit to magistrates on various levels. Here, I think, Calvin’s theory in Institutes 4.20 is extremely helpful. He argued that that “lesser magistrates” could overthrow a tyrant. Beza and others worked out a theory of resistance. A whole body of “Protestant resistance” theory developed from the 1540s and following.

    In our system, we ought to submit to legitimately elected or constituted authorities. The magistrate is bound to fulfill his natural/created function. If he ceases, I doubt the masses, as such, can rebel but they can appeal to “lesser magistrates” (other duly constituted authorities) for relief. That’s the beauty of the constitutional system of checks and balances.

  5. Kazoo,

    My point is that all the religio-rhetoric about certain contemporary Caesars comes off as a lot of spoiled 21st century American whining when Jesus’ Caesar violated probably every virtue of ours, up to and including notions of his own deity. And yet Jesus told the people to give him his due with no caveats; meanwhile today’s whiners are busy comparing Obama to Hitler, to greater or lesser degrees, inciting not a little disobedience.

  6. Zrim,

    This is an abusive ad hominem argument, as if everyone who compares Obama to Hitler is a spoiled 21st century American. If Obama has the same political philosophy as Hitler, or Stalin then to not say something would be a plain dishonest. I believe he’s closer to Stalin, or Communism than Hitler and Facism. I base this on his political philosophy and the philosophy of the democratic party and its members in general. The bottom line though is that he, as well as our republican ‘friends’ have trampled the Constitution and have proved they will no longer be ‘restrained’ by it. In other words, we’re creeping slowly into a Communistic/Fascistic system, if we’re not already there. I think you should heed the warning and prepare, be prayerful.


    “The magistrate is bound to fulfill his natural/created function.”

    In our Constitutional Republic it is the elected officials who are bound to be governed by, and submit to, the Constitution written to them by the people. This is not to say the ‘we’ the people do not submit at all. For instance, take the last half of the Second Amendment which states, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This is not written to the people to govern them, it is written to elected officials to govern them. The Constitution lays out the legitimate role of our government and establishes its checks and balances. The checks and balance are written so that the rights of the people are not infringed. Any perusal of it will show that our elected officials have impugned the laws (The Constitution) of the land. Hopefully, I’m not labeled a spoiled 21st century American for writing this because, hey!, the Bible just says, “submit.” . It seems our founders were quite wise, understanding the principle that most who are given power to govern will abuse that power, so, they wrote to those in power, to restrain them, and by acknowledging the right of the people to bear arms, to protect themselves, they insured that those in power were kept in check. So, is it any wonder that our elected officials are trying to pass ‘gun’ laws and what do they have in mind, tyranny perhaps.

    Finally, the final arbiter of the Constitution is the people. One aspect of this is our jury system. Jurors are supposed to be informed by a judge that they not only preside over he ‘verdict’ but also over the law which brought the case to court and can overturn any unjust, or unconstitutional law. Our unconstitutional tax laws immediately come to my mind. The right to keep and bear arms is also a ‘final arbiter,’ if you will. It represents the people’s very real right to throw off tyranny. When elected officials transgress the Constitution and no longer listen to the grievances of the people it is the right and duty of the people to remove them by force without appeal to lesser magistrate. Right implies authority. The beauty of the Constitution is that final authority doesn’t rest in the hands of elected officials or the magistrate at any level–lesser or greater, it rests in the hands of the people. I pray they will be just.

    Again, the Constitution was written to govern elected officials in order to protect, not grant, the rights of the people, recognizing that these rights are unalienable.

    Eric Broch

  7. Eric,

    There is no doubt that, in the nature of things in a democratic republic or a constitutional republic the constitution is a sort of covenant between the governed and the governors but What makes the Constitution “just?” Is it a mere human convention or is it rooted in something beyond mere convention?

    The founders believed that the principles upon which the constitution was founded were grounded in “the nature of things,” behind which, at least for some of them, lay a doctrine of divine providence and creation.

    As to whether the “arbiter” of the constitution is “the people” is a highly debated and even historically dubious notion. This nation was constituted a republic not a radical democracy. True, post 1820 we’ve become an increasingly egalitarian and even radical democracy but that’s not a matter of constitution or intent of the founders.

  8. Scott,

    Your first paragraph, I agree with, maybe, with one exception. The Constitution was written to govern the governors, as it were, not the people. As far as it being just, as a Christian this would have to be flushed out, that is, does the Constitution force unjust laws on the governed, our elected officials. I think no.

    Your second paragraph, I agree with.

    Respectfully, I’ve given two cases in which the final arbiter of the Constitution is the people, please disprove that. Stating that it is historically dubious doesn’t prove the case. If the people are enforcing the law of the land, The Constitution, it does not follow that they have become a ‘radical democracy,’ they are merely enforcing law. Again right implies authority.

    Again, the Constitution was written to govern elected officials. If they refuse to comply with it who has the power to force compliance, themselves? The obvious answer is, no. The answer is found in the Declaration of Independence, the precursor to the Constitution.

    The founder’s intent is derived from the ‘words’ of these documents: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Since, the intents’ of the founders were different and their compromises are found in these documents, then we go to the documents to find intent. To go outside these documents to find intent might be like going into a labyrinth.


    Eric Broch

  9. Eric,

    I agree that the constitution is a check upon the magistrate. There is no question about that but prior to the 1820s, most people in this country couldn’t vote – or at least many could not vote! Senators were not directly elected by the people. The last great remnant of the old republicanism to which I refer is the electoral college. The “people” do not elect the president of the united states. The electoral college does.

    Today “the people” have influence over the various branches through direct election of representatives. Those representatives have the power of “advice and consent.” They approve nominations to the federal judiciary, cabinet posts etc.

    The tenor of your post seems to assume that this country is a direct democracy in ways it is not. It is a representative, democratic republic. Representatives act on behalf of the people.

    As to interpreting the constitution, that is a multilayered process. The constitution has to be interpreted in its original context according to its original intention. There are lots of documents, however, that must be brought to bear in interpreting the constitution including the Federalist Papers, and the documents and correspondence associated with the constitutional convention and prior documents including those influential political theories that were published leading up to the drafting of the constitution among which the Declaration is very important.

    The point of my post, however, was to remind Christians of basic biblical doctrine: that magistrates, in whatever system whether monarchical (as it was when the NT was written) or in a representative republic, are instituted by God and that Christians exist in two kingdoms simul.

    Christians live in the kingdom of God (the church) and in the civil kingdom at the same time. We have obligations to both. Among those obligations are to honor those in authority over us (in whatever system).

    If you’re objecting to the notion that civil authorities are divinely instituted, your problem is with Jesus and Paul, not me.

  10. Scott,

    First paragraph: We agree, but the people ‘instruct’ the electors. It is to bad that they directly elect the the senators.

    Second paragraph: we agree

    Third paragraph: I have never assumed that this is a direct democracy. I was challenging the notion that in order to ‘rebel,’ loosely, that one needed to follow a lesser magistrate and is this according to our Constitution.

    Fourth paragraph: In the courts citizens, as jurors, can strike down unjust unconstitutional laws. By having the right to bear arms, and therefore authority, they can overthrow tyrants.

    As important as those other papers are, and there are many, the Constitution and Declaration must be interpreted using the documents themselves understanding the words as they were used in that day and in context. The reason, because the founders were of varied opinion and their compromises come out in these documents.

    Fifth paragraph: As the Apostle Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen, so to, citizens of the United States can exercise their rights under this Divinely established government. The issue is this: How was it instituted and what authority belongs to the people. Do The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution protect the right of the people to overthrow tyrants. This, I think, is the crux of the argument. I would say yes, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution protect this right. If by Christian conviction you cannot agree, I respect that. But, this is what these documents protect. They protect the right of the people to overthrow tyranny. This is the plain language of the Declaration of Independence. If you disagree with what is says, that’s fine, but please do not deny what it says.

    I would also agree with the two Kingdom paradigm you espouse.

    Sixth paragraph: If the Constitution was written by the people to govern the governors, who is the authority? The people.

    If the Constitution guarantees that each state shall have a republican form of government what form of government does it establish itself? A republic.

    If the people enforce the law according to the Constitution does this make them opposed to God, His Son Jesus Christ, authority or proponents of radical democracy? No. The law and its enforcement go hand in hand. Again, the law (Constitution) was written for the governors to keep them from infringing on the rights of the people and establishing certain restricted powers, such as, coining money, maintaining roads establishing courts, and promoting GENERAL welfare–not a welfare state, collect taxes according to the Constitution, etc….

    In establishing a Republican form of government what is the Constitution protecting against? Oligarchy and Democracy.

    Seventh paragraph: Please interact with what I’ve written and dispense with the accusations, juries and the right to bear arms what do these represent and what are these rights and duties for?


    Eric Broch

  11. Eric,

    You say:

    When elected officials transgress the Constitution and no longer listen to the grievances of the people it is the right and duty of the people to remove them by force without appeal to lesser magistrate. Right implies authority. The beauty of the Constitution is that final authority doesn’t rest in the hands of elected officials or the magistrate at any level–lesser or greater, it rests in the hands of the people.

    Where exactly does the Federal Constitution or Declaration of Independence support your claim that “it is the right and duty of the people to remove them by force?”

    You say that “…the beauty of the Constitution… rests in the hands of the people.”

    Agreed, but how do you jump from that directly to “by force?”

    The appeal to “lesser magistrates” that Dr. Clark refers to as well as the “‘Protestant resistance’ theory,” I believe can also be referred to as the doctrine of interposition (correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Clark). This doctrine was very well known in the colonies in the decades leading up to the War for Independence, and it was the colonies justification for the war. They did not see their resistance as “rebellion” or “anarchy,” but their duty because King George was trampling on the rights of the colonial English subjects and breaking the charters (covenants) between the king and the colonies. But, so that in good conscience the “people” could stand before God as NOT having violated the “submit to authorities” law, they declared their independence following the doctrine of interposition (e.g. through lesser magistrates elected as representatives, the lesser magistrates doing their duty to protect their ‘subjects’ from the tyrannies of the king, etc.).

    If you read closely the Declaration of Independence, this doctrine, the “Protestant resistance theory,’ oozes all through it. Hence, even the ‘birth’ of our nation gives us the ‘precedent’ of doing all you can do before using force, and only then would you use force, but in an orderly and submissive fashion, submitting to the lesser magistrate that is leading the “people” in this “force.” (Which also explains the clause about a “militia being necessary” before the “right to bear arms.”)

    One last thing, this doctrine of interposition is learned from the scriptures, through doctrine and example. It may be that Dr. Clark would say that it can be or is learned from general revelation as well, or only, I don’t know, we’ll have to hear from him.

    Enough rambling from me. Sorry.


  12. K is correct that Protestant resistance theory did form part of the background to the American revolution. It’s not entirely plain to me, however, who exactly where the “lesser magistrates” in this instance. How one moves from a Colonial structure to independence when natural law is not being violated grossly (is taxation without representation such a gross violation of natural law? Who represented the Jews whom Jesus taught to pay taxes to Caesar?) Is the imposition of Episcopacy (or the fear of it) such a violation? I don’t know.

    The Reformed worked out their resistance theory in the context of the French Wars of Religion, where people were being killed simply for holding the wrong religion. That’s a violation of natural law!

    I’m not saying that the Am Revolution was necessarily wrong but, from the pov of these passages, we can’t just baptize it either. It’s certainly messy.

  13. I agree it’s messy. We can’t be so zealous that we would say the U.S. was a “Christian Nation” like some of the extreme fundy’s would, nor can we say that Christianity and its doctrines had no input or role in forming the nation either. I am sure I would find myself to the right of Dr. Clark on the early history of the U.S., but you won’t find me as far to the right as is possible on this either.

    To the question of “who exactly where [sic] the ‘lesser magistrates?'” I would point out that the colonies didn’t exist within a vacuum of civil governance. In fact, they had governors and mayors and sheriff’s, etc. They also, obviously, had elected representatives (look at the signatures on the Declaration of Independence, for example).

    Also, the taxation representation thing and so forth I think can be explained by the fact that the kings of England over the years signed charters to establish these colonies, and part of these charters (covenants) included agreements to further the kingdom of England and be protected by the king, establish trade, etc. Anyway, yes, there was a mess.

    But, I mainly want to see how Eric responds to my questions. I don’t see how you can go straight to removing an elected official by force without due process established by our laws.


  14. Kazooless,

    “But, I mainly want to see how Eric responds to my questions. I don’t see how you can go straight to removing an elected official by force without due process established by our laws.”

    I do not recall ever mentioning due process. I said the people are the final arbiter of the Constitution. Here’s the preamble which establishes who set forth the Constitution and where it comes from:

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Notice who established the Constitution. It was the people.

    “They also, obviously, had elected representatives”

    Where did the body of representatives come from? The body of representatives came from amongst the people.
    People may unite and choose others who are better suited to speak and act publicly to be their voice. This does not mean they are magistrates. I don’t recall that word being mentioned in the founding documents.

    “Where exactly does the Federal Constitution or Declaration of Independence support your claim that “it is the right and duty of the people to remove them by force?”

    I’ll use a ‘tactic’ that the WCF instructs is necessary for understanding the whole council of God, if you will.

    WCF I,6

    “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”

    Notice the statement, “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced.” I will answer your question using express statements and deduced statements from The Declaration and The Constitution.

    To properly understand the statement from the Constitution, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” one must back up to the Declaration of Independence. Here is the first group of statements I will present from the Declaration:

    “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

    These statements from the Declaration shed great light on the right to bear arms. It does not mean, as many suppose, that our representatives, those who speak for us, were securing our right to hunt. They were securing this right in anticipation of using them against tyrants foreign and domestic.

    The next group of statements from the Declaration calls for prudence in this act:

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

    The next group of statements from the Declaration make clear our right and duty:

    “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

    Notice the words ‘Throw off,’ ‘right,’ ‘duty,’ and ‘new guards.’ Since tyrants do not leave by simple requests, I understand ‘throw off’ to mean by arms. ‘Right’ and ‘Duty’ don’t need any explanation. ‘New guards’ are those devices and people that will secure that to which they aspire.


    Eric Broch

    Sic Semper Tyrannis

  15. All,

    Thank you for the dialog. I’ll make some final comments on the statement below made by Scott. I basically agree with this statement. I also think that a correct understanding of our Constitution has some interesting repercussions for Christians in light of living between two ages.

    “Christians live in the kingdom of God (the church) and in the civil kingdom at the same time. We have obligations to both. Among those obligations are to honor those in authority over us (in whatever system).”

    In order to serve God properly in His kingdom we must be acquainted with Biblical doctrine. I don’t believe this is any less true when we serve in the kingdom of man; however, God’s Law always trumps man’s law where they conflict. As a citizen of the United States we should be aware of the Declaration of Independence and its instructions and the Constitution and its instructions–the better we know each, the better we will be able to serve in good conscience in ‘the kingdom of man’ which should be directly influenced by ones existence in the Kingdom of God.

    What about the current ‘war’ the United States started in Iraq? First, I believe it is an illegal ‘war.’ I believe it is illegal because it is unconstitutional. I believe it is unconstitutional because Congress did not declare it, they delegated it to the Executive Branch–the president, which the Constitution strictly forbids. One Branch of our government may not delegate its authority to another for obvious reasons. There are other reasons I believe it is illegal, but this is the main reason. All military personal from the lowliest private to the highest brass, all legislators, and all senators have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, a self restraint, if you will. How can we spread our form of government when in doing so we violate its very principles, unless of course, we aren’t spreading a Constitutional Republic at all? But, where in the Constitution is our government given the authority to spread ‘democracy’ anyway, as our president touts? It’s NOT.

    As the lowliest private, I believe it would be my Christian duty to lay down my weapons, when out of harms way, of course, in obedience to my oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States for the reason mentioned above. In doing so I would best serve my country, protecting its freedoms, by submitting to its laws, and to God, by keeping my oath. This is how the Constitution empowers the people. On a mass scale this would leave those leaders who have impugned the laws of the land at a loss. Christian serviceman should take very seriously the oath they swear to protect and defend the Constitution. In doing so, they might find themselves in conflict with their leaders and peers, but this is no new thing for Christians.

    In the aftermath of Katrina National Guardsmen went from house to house in neighborhoods that were not flooded in order to confiscate arms from law abiding citizens, unprovoked. This is simply illegal according to our Constitution. What is needed in instances like this are servicemen who take their oath to protect and defend the Constitution seriously. In instances like this there must be serious breakdown in the Chain of Command at ALL levels.

    I am raising the issue that Christian servicemen and law-enforcement officers have an obligation to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution, before God, which transcends their superiors orders. This is the understanding: these superiors have no right to ask one to break the law that binds both, even if it is the president himself.

    Is it proper for Churches to instruct their people to know the law of the land, is it Biblical? I think so. We are instructed by the apostles to obey the magistrate. How does one obey the ‘magistrate’ unless he knows what the magistrate wants. Also, the apostle, used his knowledge of the laws of the land to stop those who would whip him. When the apostle Paul ‘appealed to Caesar’ it led to the furtherance of the gospel.

    Eric Broch

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