At Romans 13, Paul states:

All of you must obey the government rulers. Everyone who rules was given the power to rule by God. And all those who rule now were given that power by God. So anyone who is against the government is really against something God has commanded.

This sounds like the medieval European doctrine of divine right of kings.

Yet John 12:31 seems to state "the ruler of this world" is Satan and Matthew 22:21 more unambiguously states:

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.

At John 18:36, Jesus famously states:

“My kingdom does not belong to this world. If it did, my servants would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom is not an earthly one.”

Since in my eyes the rulers of this world, throughout history, have often done some very evil things (such as genocide or mass murder millions of people), or even done things such as destroy the Jewish temple in 70AD & persecute the new Christian church, how is Romans 13 to be understood, particularly in contrast to John 12:31, Matthew 22:21 & John 18:36?

  • Why does it have to be one? Who was ruler of Israel, Herod, Pontious Pilot, or Caesar? The answer is all of them... – James Shewey Oct 12 '16 at 14:36
  • Paul said: "all those who rule now were given that power by God...something God has commanded" thus seems to infer God rules. Personally, I do not agree with Paul, which is why I asked the question. My sense is God stopped ruling the earth at Genesis 8.21 and now waits in heaven for those that perfect love & purity of spirit (as Jesus taught). For me, for the most part, the violence of Satanic men rules the earth (although, occasionally, some good men offer some respite). Is there anywhere since Genesis 8.21 where weapons & war were not used by people, including the Israelites, to rule? – Dhammadhatu Oct 12 '16 at 17:42
  • James 1.13 states: "no one should say, “God” is tempting me. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when by his own evil desire..."...therefore, I again cannot agree with Paul – Dhammadhatu Oct 13 '16 at 1:25

It's a case of context.

In the sense of final destiny or ultimate control, yes, God rules the world. This is demonstrated all throughout the Old Testament, with passages like Ps. 47:7 and 2 Chr. 13:8 giving examples. In the sense of the fall of man, Satan has a measure of dominion over humanity. As you note, John 12:31 implies this. Politically, however, Caesar ruled the world at that time: our modern political systems are in control now.

The different contexts are used to make different points. The easiest point to understand is the assertion that God is in ultimate control--that's a theme throughout the entire Bible. The orders and advice in Rom. 13 is also easy to understand--yes, Paul was saying that Christians must submit to the governmental authorities, even when those authorities do "evil" things.

The assertion that Satan is the current ruler of this world is the most difficult, and in some senses the most interesting. The best explicit statement of Satan's authority is in Matt 4:8-10. Satan has authority over all of the kingdoms of the world--note that while Jesus rejected Satan's offer because of the condition, he did NOT say that Satan does not have the authority to give him what was offered.

As a side note: the passage I cite in in John 4, the passage you cite in John 18, and Col. 3:2 are to my mind a perfect argument against the teachings of Dominionism. We humans cannot take dominion over a thing without also setting our affections on that thing--and if Christians believe Jesus, then they should understand that attempting to take dominion over the Earth is the wrong way to do things.

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