Nebuchadnezzar and Romans 13: Person (Decretive) or Office (Preceptive)?

A basic question of Romans 13 is whether it is referring to a ruler in his person, or a ruler in his office – and subsequently whether the powers that are “ordained by God” refer to God’s decretive will (individual rulers are providentially ordained) or to God’s preceptive will (the office of magistrate is commanded/ordained as an authority over the people). For Calvin and other early reformers, the answer was an inconsistent blending of both (thus a tyrant may not be resisted even if he oversteps the limits of his office). Reformed theologians following Knox (such as Rutherford) saw it as a reference to the office, and thus a tyrant may be resisted (because he oversteps the bounds of his office). (See this brief comparison)

An important question is how Nebuchadnezzar relates to Romans 13. Did Paul have Daniel’s statement about Nebuchadnezzar in mind? Commenting on Romans 13, Riddlebarger says

The Jews knew the Old Testament teaching that all rulers rule only because God raises them up according to his sovereign purposes. This is part of common grace in that God uses such kings–even Gentile kings of pagan nations–to bring peace and order to society. In Proverbs 8:15 it is written, “By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just.” In Daniel 2:21, our Old Testament lesson, we read that God “changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” In verses 37-38, Daniel goes on to say to Nebuchadnezzar the ruler of Babylon, “You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.” No matter how powerful they think they may be, kings rule only at the pleasure of God. God raises up pagan empires to fulfill his purposes.

Did God use Nebechadnezzar “to bring peace and order to society”? Was his rule “part of common grace”? No and no.

There was nothing common about God’s punishment of Israel by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. His oppression of Judah was a special holy war curse, not common grace. It was a fulfillment of the Mosaic curse found in Deuteronomy 28 for Israel’s disobedience to Mosaic law (Jer. 11:1-17), as was Assyria’s destruction of the 10 tribes. (Note that Mosaic law was given to Israel as a covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan).

Deut 28:15 “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:

16 “Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country…

25 “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies…

29 And you shall grope at noonday, as a blind man gropes in darkness; you shall not prosper in your ways; you shall be only oppressed and plundered continually, and no one shall save you…

33 A nation whom you have not known shall eat the fruit of your land and the produce of your labor, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually

43 “The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.

45 “Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you…

49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young. 51 And they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you.

Jeremiah 20:4 thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and your eyes shall see it. I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive to Babylon and slay them with the sword. 5 Moreover I will deliver all the wealth of this city, all its produce, and all its precious things; all the treasures of the kings of Judah I will give into the hand of their enemies, who will plunder them, seize them, and carry them to Babylon. (see full context of Jeremiah for more; cf 2 Kgs 24-25)

Habakkuk 1:5 “Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe, though it were told you.
6 For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,
A bitter and hasty nation
Which marches through the breadth of the earth,
To possess dwelling places that are not theirs…
9 They all come for violence

2 Chr. 26:17 Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his leaders, all these he took to Babylon.

That doesn’t sound like common grace to me. Nebuchadnezzar’s rule did not bring peace and order in Judah. It was never intended to. His rule (oppression) was wicked, violent, and unjust. It brought death and destruction, not peace and order. His sword was equivalent to famine and pestilence (Jer. 38:2, 17-18). Habakkuk and Asaph the Psalmist (representing the faithful remnant) cry out to the Lord for justice against Nebuchadnezzar for what he did to Judah in Jerusalem.

Habakkuk 1:13 Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?
14 Why do You make men like fish of the sea,
Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?…
17 Shall they therefore empty their net,
And continue to slay nations without pity?

Psalm 79:1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins…
6 Pour out your anger on the nations
that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms
that do not call upon your name!
7 For they have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation…
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes!

Vengeance Upon Babylon

The LORD answers Habakkuk and promises to punish Nebuchadnezzar according to lex talionis.

Hab. 2:5 “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine,
He is a proud man,
And he does not stay at home.
Because he enlarges his desire as hell,
And he is like death, and cannot be satisfied,
He gathers to himself all nations
And heaps up for himself all peoples…
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
All the remnant of the people shall plunder you,
Because of men’s blood
And the violence of the land and the city,
And of all who dwell in it…
12 “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed,
Who establishes a city by iniquity!…
16 The cup of the Lord’s right hand will be turned against you,
And utter shame will be on your glory.
17 For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you,
And the plunder of beasts which made them afraid,
Because of men’s blood
And the violence of the land and the city,
And of all who dwell in it.

The Babylonians knew they were acting as judgment against Jerusalem (because they heard the prophets) and thus sought to excuse themselves.

Jer. 50:7 All who found them have devoured them;
And their adversaries said, ‘We have not offended,
Because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice,
The Lord, the hope of their fathers.’

But this was no justification for their actions.

Jer 50:10 And Chaldea shall become plunder;
All who plunder her shall be satisfied,” says the Lord.
11 “Because you were glad, because you rejoiced,
You destroyers of My heritage..
14 “Put yourselves in array against Babylon all around,
All you who bend the bow;
Shoot at her, spare no arrows,
For she has sinned against the Lord.
15 Shout against her all around;
She has given her hand,
Her foundations have fallen,
Her walls are thrown down;
For it is the vengeance of the Lord.
Take vengeance on her.
As she has done, so do to her…
18 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
“Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land,
As I have punished the king of Assyria…
28 The voice of those who flee and escape from the land of Babylon
Declares in Zion the vengeance of the Lord our God,
The vengeance of His temple.
29 “Call together the archers against Babylon.
All you who bend the bow, encamp against it all around;
Let none of them escape.
Repay her according to her work;
According to all she has done, do to her;
For she has been proud against the Lord,
Against the Holy One of Israel…
33 Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“The children of Israel were oppressed,
Along with the children of Judah;
All who took them captive have held them fast;
They have refused to let them go.
51:11 Make the arrows bright!
Gather the shields!
The Lord has raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes.
For His plan is against Babylon to destroy it,
Because it is the vengeance of the Lord,
The vengeance for His temple…

33 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:

“The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
When it is time to thresh her;
Yet a little while
And the time of her harvest will come.”
34 “Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon
Has devoured me, he has crushed me;
He has made me an empty vessel,
He has swallowed me up like a monster;
He has filled his stomach with my delicacies,
He has spit me out.
35 Let the violence done to me and my flesh be upon Babylon,”
The inhabitant of Zion will say;
“And my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea!”
Jerusalem will say…
49 As Babylon has caused the slain of Israel to fall,
So at Babylon the slain of all the earth shall fall…
56 Because the plunderer comes against her, against Babylon,
And her mighty men are taken.
Every one of their bows is broken;
For the Lord is the God of recompense,
He will surely repay.

The Chaldeans (Babylonians) attacked Israel without cause. Israel had done them no wrong, thus the attack was unjustified (even though it was at the hand of the LORD as a covenant curse).

Lam. 3:52 “I have been hunted like a bird
by those who were my enemies without cause..
58 “You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life.
59 You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
judge my cause.
60 You have seen all their vengeance,
all their plots against me…
64 You will repay them, O Lord,
according to the work of their hands.


Note that God does not punish Nebuchadnezzar for doing something different from what God ordained him to do (Jer. 51:7). Nebuchadnezzar is punished for doing specifically what God ordained him to do. This is harmonized by a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, but the necessary implication is that God did not ordain Nebuchandezzar to an office, but for a purpose! God ordained Nebuchadnezzar as king of kings not by lawfully appointing him to an office, as in the case of Saul or David, but by simply giving him the strength and ability to kill whomever he wanted. “In your hands he has placed mankind.”

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. (Dan. 5:18-19)

God then punished him for that injustice by giving another individual the strength and ability to kill and subdue Babylon. God simply uses the mighty men of renown to accomplish His purpose on earth. Giving Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom does not mean lawfully appointing him to an office. It means giving him the power to sinfully crush all opposition. Note Augustine

How like kingdoms without justice are to robberies Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?
For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity… But to make war on your neighbors, and thence to proceed to others, and through mere lust of dominion to crush and subdue people who do you no harm, what else is this to be called than great robbery?

Recall Nimrod

Genesis 10:8 Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).

Matthew Henry notes

He is here represented as a great man in his day: He began to be a mighty one in the earth, that is, whereas those that went before him were content to stand upon the same level with their neighbours, and though every man bore rule in his own house yet no man pretended any further, Nimrod’s aspiring mind could not rest here; he was resolved to tower above his neighbours, not only to be eminent among them, but to lord it over them… he gathered men under his command, in pursuit of another game he had to play, which was to make himself master of the country and to bring them into subjection. He was a mighty hunter, that is, he was a violent invader of his neighbours’ rights and properties, and a persecutor of innocent men, carrying all before him, and endeavouring to make all his own by force and violence.”


I thus interpret the passage, that the condition of men was at that time moderate; so that if some excelled others, they yet did not on that account domineer, nor assume to themselves royal power; but being content with a degree of dignity, governed others by civil laws and had more of authority than power. For Justin, from Trogus Pompeius, declares this to have been the most ancient condition of the world. Now Moses says, that Nimrod, as if forgetting that he was a man, took possession of a higher post of honor… he metaphorically intimates that he was a furious man, and approximated to beasts rather than to men. The expression, “Before the Lord,” seems to me to declare that Nimrod attempted to raise himself above the order of men… Nimrod was so mighty and imperious that it would be proper to say of any powerful tyrant, that he is another Nimrod. Yet the version of Jerome is satisfactory, that thence it became a proverb concerning the powerful and the violent, that they were like Nimrod. Nor do I doubt that God intended the first author of tyranny to be transmitted to odium by every tongue.


[T]hat is, he was the first that formed a plan of government, and brought men into subjection to it; and so the Jews make him to be the first king after God; for of the ten kings they speak of in the world, God is the first, and Nimrod the second; and so the Arabic writers say, he was the first of the kings that were in the land of Babylon; and that, seeing the figure of a crown in the heaven, he got a golden one made like it, and put it on his head; hence it was commonly reported, that the crown descended to him from heaven.

Rutherford draws out the implications.

Conquest without the consent of the people is but royal robbery… Mr Marshall saith, (Let. p. 7,) a conquered kingdom is but continuata injuria, a continued robbery… If the act of conquering be violent and unjust, it is no manifestation of God’s regulating and approving will, and can no more prove a just title to a crown, because it is an act of divine providence, than Pilate and Herod’s crucifying of the Lord of glory, which was an act of divine providence, flowing from the will and decree of divine providence, (Acts ii. 23 ; iv. 28,) is a manifestation that it was God’s approving will, that they should kill Jesus Christ…

Mere conquest by the sword, without the consent of the people, is no just title to the crown… It is not to be thought that that is God’s just title to a crown which hath nothing in it of the essence of a king, but a violent and bloody purchase, which is in its prevalency in an oppressing Nimrod, and the crudest tyrant that is hath nothing-essential to that which constituteth a king ; for it hath nothing of heroic and royal wisdom and gifts to govern, and nothing of God’s approving and regulating will, which must be manifested to any who would be a king, but by the contrary, cruelty hath rather baseness and witless fury, and a plain reluctancy with God’s revealed will, which forbiddeth murder. God’s law should say, ” Murder thou, and prosper and reign;” and by the act of violating the sixth commandment, God should declare his approving will, to wit, his lawful call to a throne.

Submission to Nebuchadnezzar’s Yoke

If that is the background Paul has in mind in Romans 13, then he is not referring to the ordination of the office of magistrate, but to the providential use of mighty men for His purpose. But if that is the case, why are we commanded to submit? Obedience is a response to God’s revealed, preceptive will, not his secret, decretive will.

A clue lies in the fact that God commanded Judah to submit to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar.

Jer. 21:8 “Now you shall say to this people, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and [c]defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. 10 For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the Lord. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” ’

Why did God command them to submit? Was it simply a matter of natural law that they had to submit to a conquering tyrant? No, as Rutherford explains

Conquest, seeing it is an act of violence, and God’s revenging justice for the sins of a people, cannot give in God’s court such a just title to the throne as the people are to submit their consciences unto, except God reveal his regulating will by some immediate voice from heaven, as he commanded Judah to submit to Nebuchadnezzar as to their king by the mouth of Jeremiah. Now this is not a rule to us; for then, if the Spanish king should invade this land… it should be unlawful to resist him, after he had once conquered the land : neither God’s word, nor the law of nature could permit this. (Lex Rex, 41)

(Consider Abram’s behavior in Genesis 14).

He commanded them to submit, by a positive law, in order to weed out the faithful remnant in Judah and spare them. Those who trusted in the LORD and believed his word concerning their judgment would be spared (it wound up being 7,000). Those who did not listen to his warning but listened to the false prophets proclaiming peace in the city would be destroyed.

Jer. 27:8 And it shall be, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation I will punish,’ says the Lord, ‘with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. 9 Therefore do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your [c]dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who speak to you, saying, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.” 10 For they prophesy a lie to you, to remove you far from your land; and I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11 But the nations that bring their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let them remain in their own land,’ says the Lord, ‘and they shall till it and dwell in it.’ ” ’ ”

12 I also spoke to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live! 13 Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? 14 Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy a lie to you; 15 for I have not sent them,” says the Lord, “yet they prophesy a lie in My name, that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you.”

This is the context in which the LORD said that the just shall live by faith.

Habakkuk 2:2 Then the Lord answered me and said:

“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.

4 “Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.

The Times of the Gentiles

Rutherford says “Now this is not a rule to us.” But is it? Samuel Waldron’s unpublished Masters’ Thesis titled “Political Revolution in the Reformed Tradition: An Historical and Biblical Critique” provides an extremely helpful analysis.

It is the subject of the Theocratic kingdom along with its disruption which form the controlling backdrop of the prophecies of Daniel (Dan. 1:17, 9:127). This is wellknown, but its pervasive significance is not generally appreciated. This is particularly true of the foundational visions of Daniel 2 and 7. Why are just these four kingdoms chosen? What is so special about them? Why are not the earlier Egyptian and Assyrian empires the subject of like prophecy? Is it their extent which controls their selection? It is rather the Theocratic disruption which provides the rationale for these prophecies. They begin with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon and span MedoPersia, Greece, and Rome, because these empires were those to bear rule over the people of God during the Theocratic disruption. They retain this authority till the restoration of the Theocracy (Dan. 2:34, 35, 44; 7:2327). One of the main purposes of these visions was to warn the people of God that not merely the Babylonians, but three additional Gentile kingdoms would bear rule over them before this restoration. Their message is, thus, analogous to that of Dan. 9:24f. It is that not merely 70 years, but 70 sevens must transpire before the Davidic reign returns. Fairbairn perceives this relation.

Not only so; but when the kingdom had fallen to its very foundations, and to the eye of sense lay smitten by the rod of Babylon as with an irrecoverable doom, that precisely was the time, and Babylon itself the place, chosen by God to reveal, through his servant Daniel, the certain resurrection of the kingdom, and its ultimate triumph over all rival powers and adverse influences. In contradistinction to the Chaldean and other worldly kingdoms, which were all destined to pass away, and become like the dust of the summer threshingfloor, he announced the setting up of a kingdom by the God of heaven, which should never be destroyed,a kingdom which, in principle, should be the same with the Jewish theocracy and in history should form but a renewal and prolongation, in happier circumstances, of its existence; for it was to be, as of old, a kingdom of priests to God, or of the people of the saints of the Most High; and as such, an everlasting kingdom, which all the dominions were to serve and obey.

The period of the Gentile kingdoms is, then, the period of the Theocratic disruption. The special thing about these kingdoms is not their geographical extent, but the fact that they bear rule over the people of God in the interim between the disruption and restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. They replace the Theocratic government during this interim.

All of this raises the question of the character and timing of the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. This is all the more necessary if we are to assess the significance of all this for the church. If the Theocratic disruption continues today, the Church’s relationship to civil government [or rather “to Gentile kingdoms” since we are talking about persons, not an office] will be governed by the principles which governed Israel subsequent to the Exile…

A growing number of evangelical scholars are committed to what might be called a synthesis of these views at least in regard to their view of the coming of the kingdom. These scholars recognize a tension in the N. T. regarding the coming of the kingdom: an “already” and a “not yet” in the coming of the kingdom. They believe the kingdom prophesied in the O. T. unfolds itself in two successive stages. The kingdom foretold by the prophets without selfconscious distinction between these two phases (1 Pet. 1:10, 11) comes indeed, but first in an inaugural and then in a consummate form. This is perhaps the unique feature of N. T. eschatology and pervades its thoughtstructures (cf. for example 1 Cor. 15:20-28)…

Applying this framework to the interpretation of Daniel and the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom, one obtains the result that a tension exists between the “already” and “not yet” aspects of the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom… The “times of the Gentiles,” a reference to the period of the supremacy of the Gentile powers of Daniel, continue till the end of the age. The new Jerusalem in its earthly manifestation is not yet, Rev. 21:17. Jesus, Paul, and Peter command submission to Daniel’s fourth kingdom (Matt. 22:15f.; Rom. 13:1f.; 1 Pet. 2:13f.). Jesus refuses the offer of a position of civil authority in the days of his flesh (Luke 12:13, 14; John 6:15).

Romans 13

Waldron continues

The Apostle Paul utters what is only the logical conclusion of all this in Rom. 13:1 when he says, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” The statement is often understood (and is certainly true) in the abstract or general sense, but it is nonetheless the fruit of a rich historical movement. For it was of the Roman Empire, the fourth and iron kingdom of Daniel 2, of which Paul was speaking. The four Gentile kingdoms of Dan. 2 include ultimately all nonTheocratic civil authority ruling over the people of God till the end of the age and the dawning of the Theocratic kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar’s authority becomes that of his sons, and their authority devolves to Cyrus and his successors, and thence to Greece and Rome. Rome’s authority unfolds to include all human, civil authority during this age until its eschatological consummation in the kingdom of Antichrist…

[The background to Romans 13] was the influence which Paul feared Jewish nationalism with its revolutionary tendencies might have on the Christian community in Rome. This occasion, I am convinced, provides the key with which to unlock the intent and meaning of Romans 13:1-7… Matt. 22:16, 17; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21, 22… Acts 5:36, 37… Acts 18:2… Luke 23:19… Luke 13:1… Matt. 24:5, 11, 23, 24… 1 Pet. 2:13-17… 3:13-17; 4:14-16… The warnings and commands of Matt. 5:38-48 were spoken against the backdrop of and in opposition to the attitudes of violent, Jewish zealotry. Matt. 5:38-48 is, however, connected to Rom. 13:1-7 by a web of exegetical connections. This clearly manifests that the kind of attitudes being opposed in Matthew 5 are also the occasion of Rom. 13:1-7 and suggests that the source of these attitudes is the same, violent, Jewish zealotry… Indications are not lacking in the immediate context of Matt. 5:43 which confirm that the enemies mentioned in Matt. 5:43 were specifically the Roman enemies…

This interpretation of these verses delivers the statements of Jesus from being interpreted as universal rules of conduct to be applied in every conceivable situation. Too often evangelicals have made applications of these verses to daily life which are not only totally unrealistic, but completely miss Jesus’ point. Jesus had no intention in these precepts to forbid self-defence or all recourse to legal authority to secure our legitimate rights. He is simply intent on quelling violent and revolutionary tendencies against the Roman authorities among His followers…

The word Paul uses (the Greek verb, hupotasso) is precisely the one we would expect if Paul is intent on inculcating the opposite of revolution and rebellion. Subordination (the translation I favor for bringing out the meaning of the verb, hupotasso) is the virtue which has for its contrasting vice, rebellion… Ordinarily, of course, subordination includes obedience. These two things, however, cannot be simply equated… Is the conscientious disobedience mandated by the Scriptures an exception to the requirement of subordination found in Rom. 13:1? To put the question more clearly, Is such conscientious disobedience insubordination, rebellion, or incipient revolution? The answer clearly must be negative! Conscientious disobedience to certain of the demands of ordained human authorities is clearly consistent with the strictest subordination to their general authority. Lenski sees the matter very clearly when he asserts, “Refusal to obey was not in any way standing against the arrangement of God and the governmental authority this high court possessed.”

(Note that Waldron follows Calvin’s blending of person and office and thus believes these Gentile rulers, including Nebuchadnezzar, are appointed to a legitimate, legal office. His comments here should not be taken as agreement with all of the above. Please encourage him to publish the book. It is very helpful throughout.)


The distinction between person and office in Romans 13 goes back at least to Chrysostom. Most have either argued that Romans 13 refers to both or that it refers only to the office. In light of the above, I think there is strong evidence to consider Romans 13 as referring to the person and not to an office. God providentially empowers mighty men to reign as “king of the hill” during the “times of the Gentiles.” These men do not possess legitimate, legal authority on a human level, but nonetheless Christians are not to seek to overthrow them. We are to wait patiently for our king to return. As the author of Lamentations, representing the faithful remnant, said

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.

One thought on “Nebuchadnezzar and Romans 13: Person (Decretive) or Office (Preceptive)?

  1. Pingback: Yes, Masks Are a Conscience Issue – Contrast

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