Was the American Revolution a violation of Romans 13:1-7?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
The American Revolutionary War was a pivotal event in world history, and the constitutional republic that followed has produced the freest, most productive society ever. No one can deny that most of the Founding Fathers were religious men or that the liberty they fought for has benefited millions of people, but was their revolt against England biblically justified? Specifically, was the American Revolution a violation of Romans 13:1-7?

During the years before the Revolutionary War, the issue of justified rebellion was widely debated, with good men on both sides of the issue. Not surprisingly, most English preachers, such as John Wesley, urged restraint and pacifism on the part of the colonists; while most Colonial preachers, such as John Witherspoon and Jonathan Mayhew, fanned the flames of revolution.

Before we weigh the actions of the colonists, we must take a look at the Scripture they struggled with. Here's a verse-by-verse summary of Romans 13:1-7:

The passage starts with a clear-cut command to submit to "the governing authorities" (v1a). Immediately following the command is the reason for it: namely, authorities are God-ordained (v1b). Therefore, resisting earthly authority is the same as resisting God (v2). Rulers are a deterrent to evil in society (v3); in fact, a ruler is "God's servant," bringing retribution to the wrongdoer (v4). Christians should submit to human authority not only to avoid punishment but also to maintain a clear conscience before God (v5). Specifically, Christians should pay their taxes (v6) and pay the proper respect and honor to "God's servants" (v7).

The commands in Romans 13 are quite broad, aimed at "everyone," with no exceptions listed. In fact, when Paul wrote these words, Nero was on the throne. If Romans 13 applies to the cruel and capricious Nero, it applies to all kings. The early church followed the principles of Romans 13 even during the wicked and oppressive reigns of Claudius, Caligula, and Tacitus. No qualifications or "outs" are given in the passage. Paul does not say "be subject to the king UNLESS he is oppressive" or "you must obey all rulers EXCEPT usurpers." The plain teaching of Romans 13 is that all governments in all places are to be honored and obeyed. Every ruler holds power by the sovereign will of God (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21). New Testament examples of believers paying proper obedience and respect towards government authority include Luke 2:1-5; 20:22-25; and Acts 24:10 (see also 1 Peter 2:13-17).

This is not to say that God approves of everything governments do or that kings are always right. On the contrary, Scripture has many examples of kings being held to account by God (e.g., Daniel 4). Furthermore, Romans 13 does not teach that Christians must always obey the governing authorities, no matter what. The one exception to the general rule of obedience is when man's laws are in direct conflict with the plainly revealed law of God. Examples of God's people practicing civil disobedience include Peter and John defying the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:19; 5:29), the Hebrew midwives refusing to practice infanticide (Exodus 1:15-17), Daniel ignoring the Persian law concerning prayer (Daniel 6:10), and Daniel's friends refusing to bow to the king's image (Daniel 3:14-18).

So, as a general rule, we are to obey the government; the lone exception is when obeying man's law would force us to directly disobey God's law.

Now, what about Romans 13 as it pertains to the American Revolutionary War? Was the war justified? First, it is important to understand that many of those who supported the Revolutionary War were deeply religious men who felt that they were biblically justified in rebelling against England. Here are some of the reasons for their perspective:

1) The colonists saw themselves not as anti-government but as anti-tyranny. That is, they were not promoting anarchy or the casting off of all restraint. They believed Romans 13 taught honor for the institution of government, but not necessarily for the individuals who ruled government. Therefore, since they supported God's institution of government, the colonists believed that their actions against a specific oppressive regime were not a violation of the general principle of Romans 13.

2) The colonists pointed out that it was the king of England himself who was in violation of Scripture. No king who behaved so wickedly, they said, could be considered "God's servant." Therefore, it was a Christian's duty to resist him. As Mayhew said in 1750, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

3) The colonists saw the war as a defensive action, not as an offensive war. And it is true that, in 1775 and 1776, the Americans had presented the king with formal appeals for reconciliation. These peaceful pleas were met with armed military force and several violations of British Common Law and the English Bill of Rights. In 1770, the British fired upon unarmed citizens in the Boston Massacre. At Lexington, the command was "Don't fire unless fired upon." The colonists, therefore, saw themselves as defending themselves after the conflict had been initiated by the British.

4) The colonists read 1 Peter 2:13, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority . . .," and saw the phrase "for the Lord's sake" as a condition for obedience. The reasoning ran thus: if the authority was unrighteous and passed unrighteous laws, then following them could not be a righteous thing. In other words, one cannot obey a wicked law "for the Lord's sake."

5) The colonists saw Hebrews 11 as justification for resisting tyrants. Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah are all listed as "heroes of faith," and they were all involved in overthrowing oppressive governments.

It is safe to say that the American patriots who fought against England were fully convinced that they had biblical precedent and scriptural justification for their rebellion. Although their view of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 is a faulty interpretation (there are no provisos concerning obedience in those passages), it was the popular preaching of the day. At the same time, the self-defense argument (number 3, above) is a convincing and substantial rationale for war.

Even if the American Revolution was a violation of Romans 13, we know that the patriots acted in good faith in the name of Christian freedom, and we know that, in the ensuing years, God has brought about much good from the freedom that was won as a result.

See http://www.gotquestions.org/American-Revolution-Romans-13.html

July 01 2013 5 responses Vote Up Share Report

Doktor D W Supporter
War is the result of man's failure to become like Jesus. All war is our substitute for what God would have us do. All war is a useless waste of life. God had a better way in each of our wars. He has a better way for all those wars we are planning today. We will, of course, follow the flesh, the mind, will and emotions, rather than God. When will we (the nations of the earth) ever learn? Never. 


October 18 2013 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Data Tony Flores Tony Flores a servant of Jesus Christ
Wars is the ultimate failure of men, but God uses that failure for His purpose, which will end up in Armageddon and achieve His plan for the end of the world as we know it. All human hearts have to be changed before there will be peace on earth, but that can only happen when all people have turned their life to Jesus Christ and follow Him. The bible was written for us, but to achieve it's purpose, all men would have to know it and comply with it. There have been and there will be Governments that come with evil hearts and are making themselves god on earth. We as Christian's should not follow governments that are contrary to God's word. If men's laws are contrary to God's laws, we should follow God's laws. We should be vigilant to the ways of the world until We meet Him in the Air.

December 09 2013 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Dawn Irion
In order to answer this question one must start with an accurate translation of Romans 13:1
The literal translation says "Let every soul to the higher authorities be subject, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities existing are appointed by God,"
The word "governing" was added by an agenda driven translator.

The actual text recognizes that there are levels of authority and that all proper authority derives its authority from God - the highest Authority.
This is why Peter says, "We must obey God rather than man" meaning that if there is a conflict amongst authorities, the highest authority wins out. 

This leaves us with a responsibility to weigh out where authorities fall and who should be obeyed. In the case of our Founding Fathers, they understood that the King was outside his God given authority because he was denying God given rights. You can't claim God's authority while not following God's directives.

Also, the Founding Fathers set up a system in the Constitution where the People are the highest authority in this country acting through the Constitution. Any leader in America who acts outside the Constitution is without authority. Authority in the US flows from God to the People to the States then to the Federal government as laid out in the Constitution. Sadly neither the schools or many churches teach that proper understanding today.

That all being said we are also instructed to "If possible, and to the extent that it depends on you, live in peace with all people." Romans 12:18 There is no one size fits all situations - we must take every situation uniquely and with prayer and God's wisdom know how to act in this fallen world that is groaning for the return of the Messiah.

June 01 2015 4 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Kenneth Heck
In the primitive church of the book of Romans there was not much distinction between what is called today the clergy (preachers, pastors, ministers, etc.) and the rest of the church. The clergy is responsible for maintaining Christianity as a religion and can't take up weapons of war without violating their priestly function. As a result, they have suffered persecution and death over the centuries for following God's law rather than man's law, often winding up in the catacombs, the deserts and other refuges attempting to escape from evil authorities.

The non-clergy are of spiritual Israel (also with a priestly function) and like ancient Israel, have the right to rebel against evil actions of governments - especially governments originally instituted to protect the very religion they are violating. This was the case with the revolution against King George III of England. The best example of the Jews rebelling against an evil foreign government was the Maccabean rebellion, which occurred during the time between the Old and New Testaments. No condemnation of it was ever made by Christian or Jewish writers. 

In today's End Times Era we see various perversions of government, such as atheistic communism or socialism, and the totalitarianism of the Nazis and Fascists. These are only a precursor to the even worse forms under the antichrist regimes. Christians have no reason to submit to these governments and will inevitably be drawn into the warfare prophesied in the book of Revelation. It is up to each Christian to decide whether to take up arms to defend his country and loved ones, like the Maccabees, or, like Christ, suffer outrageous torture and death for the Love of God and a greater reward in Heaven.

May 04 2014 9 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Dahn Carey
I do appreciate that so many in the old and new testament disobeyed the Law of the Land when it contradicted God's Word and Way.

I recently read a history about John & Charles Wesley and George Whitfield and the Great Awakening and it was brought to light that England may have been saved from the same type of anarchy and bloodshed that France experienced do to so many of the working class be truly saved and shepherded in their newfound faith.

Because the colonies felt tyranny was ruling and they refused to cooperate, Britian inacted violence against them. Many men including Christian leaders believed freedom and righteousness were causes worth fighting for.

On a personal level, it would be difficult to lose a loved one to war and I'm certain that you would need to believe there was a good cause involved for such a sacrifice. It would be very possible to hate war but support the cause for freedom.

As many believers have prayed throughout the ages since Christ's death and resurrection for God's Kingdom to Come and God's will to be done, we have witnessed a surfacing of "Truth" comprehended by The Body of Christ. One has to conclude that Jesus is indeed Lord and all that happens happens for a purpose. 

Yes, so much of what happens illustrates our independence of Living out Christ's life in us, but what followed the Revolutionary War was a desire to live free w/a government set up and based on biblical truth. Like Godly leaders of old said, "It was a government that could only work w/a people who have an active conscience toward God." 

Our nation's freedom was won by the shedding of blood. Our freedom to become the sons of God was bought by the precious blood of The Lamb. I'm seeing that we true believers will ever live as a Nation under God, but clearly, it would appear that a majority in our country do not live under God's headship. I would agree that without Christ as our life, men will always fail and illustrate sin. At the same time, I have to believe in the sovereignty of God to allow events in history like the Revolutionary War in the midst of The Great Awakening, to carry out His Divine Purposes. All loss of lives on the earth from the hand of violence seems wasted indeed, but I'm reminded of all the martyrs that died for their faith (and are still dying for their faith) and know their deaths are not in vain or a waste.

I personally would like to see all tyranny and every form of human suffering gone from planet earth, but actually, God is using all things to draw people closer to him and help them to see the need for His Eternal Life in their hearts. I think it is in mankinds sinful nature, of course, to be at war. If I had to defend my family from evil acts, I think I might rise up to fight even though God's word says to turn the other cheek. Defense seems a logical response to tyranny and aggression. The desire to "Protect" is a God given trait in mankind's heart where as evil aggression (greed,the love of money & self exaulted power etc.) definitely has it's source in sin and Satan.

As God Is in Control and Jesus Is Lord, He is in Charge of all the events on planet Earth. Love is much more powerful than Hate and will eventually rule in The New Jerusalem Forever and Ever! We have a lot to look forward to. 

Did Christians violate God's Law by engaging in the Revolutionary War is a question each believer had to respond to and given the faith of many being truly genuine, it must have been a tough thing to decide. I think a movie that did a great job of answering the question of "war or not" was "The Patriot". Love of family was first and weariness and disgust of war held the father back from participating in The Revolutionary War, but, the unjustness of the aggressor pushed him into participating for the defense of family and the colonies. The cost of death to family members was too painful and great, yet the gift of freedom from tyranny was a prize to be treasured.

May 05 2014 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Richard Haywood
Actually the Revolution was not a violation of the Scripture, it one must have an accurate understanding of history and law in the British empire at that time. The Revolution was not fought because we thought that we no longer needed a king. It was a response to the king's disobeying the law himself. His ancestors and predecessors signed charters, agreements, and bills whereby they agreed that the people were indeed free, and it was the monarch's job to protect that freedom. 

Starting with the Magna Carta the principle of Rule of Law became established, which posited that the law is the king and even the monarch has to obey the law. The people were to be free and it was to be very difficult to make them unfree. It was well understood, and even members of Parliament agreed with the principle. "The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England may not enter. All his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement." William Pitt the Elder. In other words the king had to use due process of law to take away a person's rights, not just his own prerogative.

When the king started overstepping his bounds, the founding fathers recognized it immediately and responded to it. They begged the king and parliament to do what they were required by law to do, and when they refused there was no other option. They did not want to leave the empire. They were proud to be British. If the king does not have to obey the law, what hope is there? Is the king and government exempt from those scriptural mandates? 

Also, by virtue of being created in the image of God one is already free. His freedom does not come from a constitution or government. The arguments of the Declaration of Independence may not be divinely endowed, but they certainly are worthy and not a violation of scripture to expect a government that is bound by law to defend those rights to do what it is supposed to do.

September 26 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini lynne norris
My daughter wrote the following essay for her 9th grade Logic class. I think it shows a very interesting and broader perspective. From a Christian standpoint, liberty of conscience is an inherent right, and can only be taken away by God.

Firstly, when a ruler forbids liberty of conscience, it is the people’s right to revolt. This is basically known as “Calvin’s Resistance Theory.” As authors Gary Amos and Richard Gardiner explain, “Liberty of conscience is the principle that people should be free to believe whatever religious ideas they hold true.” When a ruler or leader declares only one religion to be true, he or she denies liberty of conscience.

However, some Christians believe when a ruler decrees one religion to be true, and therefore denying liberty of conscience, the people must obey. Often, these people cite the Bible, or the belief in the “divine right of kings” as their logic behind their claim.

If a Christian believed what these objectors hold to be true, then he would have to acknowledge that he believed a ruler or leader had power over a person’s soul. This is because the ruler or leader would have a right to decree one religion to be true and enforce it, not only in the behavior of the people, but in the hearts and minds of people.

But, as we know, only God has power over a person’s soul and/or mind. A person cannot control another person’s soul, and cannot force a person to truly believe one religion over another. As Creator, God holds power over a person’s soul, and can exclusively harden or soften hearts, as seen in the Bible.

Therefore, as Christians, we must believe that when a ruler or leader denies religious freedom, or “liberty of conscience,” the people truly have a right to rebel.

(This is a proof of what is known as Calvin’s Resistance Theory. This was not my own idea; I just formatted it and proved its validity. All credit goes to Calvin and the authors of Never Before in History, in which I found this theory.)

(Also, in the days of Revolution the Quebec Act was enforced on the British colony of Canada. The Quebec Act stated Catholicism as the state religion, terrifying the colonists. They assumed if the British were to do this to their Canadian colony, then the American colonists must be next. In order to protect their liberty of conscience, the colonists had to act against the tyrannical rule of the British.) 

Lynne N., Liliana N.'s mother

September 30 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini N S 4th-generation Bible-believing Christian
The British had long-standing laws, especially strong laws against taxing people who did not have representatives in Parliament. The king attempted to tax the American colonists but did not permit them to send a single representative to Parliament. The people in the American colonies realized that by OBEYING the king and paying taxes while not being able to send representatives to Parliament, they would be DISOBEYING the long-standing British law against this! So whether they obeyed or rebelled, they were still going to be breaking the law! They had to choose which way they were going to break the law: Shall we put up with this illegal taxation, or shall we rebel and fight for our independence? The latter option was the sensible one. In fact, by rebelling and fighting for independence, they were upholding the law!

December 05 2018 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Shelley Studdard
A great book to read regarding the struggle with just war is the book written by Jocephus. The War of the Jews. It surrounds the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. The Jews were fighting amongst themselves as well as against the Rimans. It gives great insight into the heart of the people, the struggles with what was happening, Jocephus's response and reasoning not to fight against the Romans.

I keep coming back to what the Puritans set out to do prior to 1776, and how at first glance, it appears the founding fathers were men seeking the laws of God to set up the nation. While I bieve many of the ideals held the wisdom of God, it is evident at one point that the sovreignty of the nation replaced the sovreignty of God. A nation for the people, by the people, is still a nation governed by people whose wills often change. Wills that enslave. That is what we are seeing happen today. If it is ruled by God, under God, then perfect, merciful, just and Sovreign wisdom bring true peace and prosperity. We can not serve two masters. We are under the authority of the ruler God places over us. Even now, he is listening to the hearts of a people crying out for their rights as opposed to crying out for his will to be done. The people chose this administration. They cried out for what they wanted and I think God is saying, let me know how your wisdom works out for you since you have wanted to become like God and use your own wisdom! Sounds like Adam and Eve all over again! He doesn't want theocracy by man,but choice to choose to serve him. He uses the nations as a rod to discipline, rebuke, correct and he hides with his hand those who are obedient and further his will. He also has us live parallel to the world to demonstrate his wisdom and why we should choose to follow him as well.

In 70 a.d., the people who listened and fled to the mountains when they saw the armies camped around outside the temple as Jesus had instructed, they survived. Those who went to temple and did not believe Christ was who he said he was, locked themselves in the gates with the Romans surrounding them. They had a very false sense if security. They all perished. Some of us will be martyrs for the cause like Paul and the disciples. As far as helping the oppressed, the poor, the widowed, protecting our families, we are to do that! Defending self from evil is ok. Peter was told to carry a sword for protection. He had one one him when the soldiers came to take Jesus. When he cut off the ear of the soldier, Jesus reprimanded him saying, "get behind me Satan!" It says nothing about Peter losing salvation when he denied Christ three times. Only when he tried to hinder the will of God. The bible is full of stories of those loved by God sinning, yet lived for their faith and willingness to submit despite our imperfect sinful natures. Abraham, Moses, Jonah!

We submit to all authority (which are tests of being able to willingly choose to submit to the highest authority, the one always in full control of all things). When it goes against the highest authority, the laws of God, not man (much like the Pharicees who added and took away from the law) we are to seek obedience to the higher law at even the cost of our own lives, just as out example Christ did! We live parallel to the world to show why others should choose him. That his wisdom is best. By loving when others hate. By denying ourselves while the rest of the world cries what about my rights. The only rights we have are the ones God gave us. All other "rights", are merely laws given that actually take rights. I find it ironic that even now as Christians are being slaughtered and so hated and it appears this nation is turning it's back on God as we rightly warn to turn from their evil ways, the enemy that is advancing, the one that is tolerated and accepted, has no other goal or purpose than to not only take rights, but to cleanse and kill the very ones opening their as to them. It is as if people are blinded. We are blinded often so we can see!

February 18 2015 1 response Vote Up Share Report

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