Romans 13 often comes up in conversations about Christian pacifism. Wherever I question Christian militarism it’s not long before someone says, “Look at what Romans 13 says: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” Now, I must admit, as verses go that seems pretty clear … except that it’s not.
You see, there’s a big difference between passive submission to a government and aggressive support of a government. Militarists suggest one implies the other. Pacifists beg to differ. What can settle the matter? Well, whenever difficulties come up in scripture it’s always good to check the context. What was the context of this verse? Life under an expansionist Pagan dictatorship. Think about it.
Given the context I find it hard to imagine Paul is saying join the army. I find it a lot more reasonable to interpret this as a caution against armed rebellion and tax avoidance. So, are there any hints that this may be the case? Well, why don’t we read the passage immediately prior to Romans 13, in fact, why not read the verse immediately prior to Romans 13? What does it say?
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
Does that sound like a mandate for militarism to you?