Mark W. Hendrickson

In Romans 13:1-7 the apostle Paul writes: “[A ruler] is the minister of God to thee for good” (v. 3); “Wherefore ye must needs be subject...” (v. 5); “...pay ye tribute [taxes]” (v. 6).

St. Paul seems to be saying that God ordains human governments and that Christians should honor and obey the government under whose jurisdiction they live. Many Christians conclude from these verses that Christians should accept whatever government and laws their country has. Other Christians, while accepting the need for government and lawful behavior, question whether Romans 13 commands us to submit to human governments unconditionally. They ask: Is rebellion ever justified? Reform movements? Civil disobedience? Tax protests? Change?

Based on scriptural texts, Paul appears to be a quintessential conservative—not in the contemporary American sense of favoring a smaller government, but in the more traditional political sense of not wanting to disrupt the established order. Indeed, contemporary progressives reject Paul’s unwillingness to challenge the social status quo. In his epistles, St. Paul tells servants to treat their masters well and vice versa. There are no appeals for “social justice,” equality of status, or redistribution of wealth. In addition to the famous passage in Romans, Paul exhorts Christians to pray for all in positions of authority (I Timothy 2:1-4). These are not the writings of a political dissident.

Before categorizing Paul as a political conservative, let us consider another possibility: Perhaps he was apolitical. Like his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Paul’s life was devoted to a spiritual mission—the advancement of the heavenly kingdom that is not of this world. His objective was to reform and reconstruct the architecture of the thought, soul, and heart, not the superstructure of civil government. Paul was an evangelist for God and His son, not a political philosopher or activist. He was too busy being a spiritual radical to get involved in a political movement.


Mark W. Hendrickson

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.