Can Someone School Me on Romans 13?

Robert Jeffress, a follower of the Lamb of God¹ and a loving shepherd of His flock—and one of Donald Trump’s favorite pastors—is apparently pretty stoked at the idea of launching hellfire on North Korea:

When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.

The book of Romans, huh? It turns out that Jeffress is talking about Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God….Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.

I always learn something interesting when I ask about Bible passages, so let’s ask about this one. Its meaning seems pretty obvious: Paul is talking about obeying the civil authority under which you live. I, for example, am required to obey the laws of the city of Irvine, the state of California, and the United States of America. But I don’t have to obey the laws of, say, Brazil, because I don’t live there and they aren’t my “governing authority.”

Jeffress, however, is suggesting that this passage is not just about the power of a governing authority over those it governs, but also over anyone it thinks is evil. I’m sure this is ridiculous, but it often turns out there’s some arcane but longstanding theological debate behind this kind of thing. So school me. Is there an interesting story to tell here? Or is Jeffress just a lone crackpot?

¹And you know he’s for real because he’s called Islam “evil,” Catholicism “satanic,” and Mormonism “a cult.”

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Give a Year of the Truth

at our special holiday rate

just $12

Order Now

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.