In Romans 13, what is the difference between rulers and elected officials?
To answer this question, we will look at all of the words used to describe authorities by Paul in Romans 13:1-7. The original words in Greek will help us to know if Paul is making a difference between different types of authorities.
Let me first list all of the references to authorities throughout the passage:
- Romans 13:1, 2, 3 – ἐξουσία (exousia, authorities) – people in the government with a power to give orders, government officials.
- Romans 13:3 – ἄρχοντες (archon, ruler, governor, official, lord, prince) – Used of magistrates and government officials.
- Romans 13:4– διάκονός (diakonos, servant, agent, intermediary) – Gen. service, beginning at the table and cleaning the home. Here it is used for an office that gives the service to the public. In this case, he serves God by punishing injustice.
- Romans 13:4 – ἔκδικος (ekdikos, avenger, punisher) – a word that comes from mythology but is not used here in this way. It speaks of those who have the authority to avenge for injustices and unrighteousness.
- Romans 13:6 – λειτουργοὶ (leitourgos, ministers, servants, aides, assistants) – This is usually used in the context of the priests as servants of God. But here it doesn’t mean priestly, only the servant or minister as we would understand them in government (e.g. Prime Minister).
If a person wants to make the case that we do not have to listen to one type of roller mentioned above, they have misread the passage. In fact, it is the opposite. Paul includes both authorities and rulers under the mandate that we must be obedient and submissive to them.
No matter what you call those in authority over us, the whole point of the passage is that no matter what name we give an official or ruler, God expects us to follow their commands as long as they are not unbiblical or ungodly.