Romans 13 1-2 "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished."

Christian missionaries go to countries that forbid or restrict the distribution of Christian literature. They hand out Bibles and Christian literature which is against the law of that country.

So, for instance, in China religion is severely restricted. Yet, I know Christian missionaries that smuggle Bibles in to hand out and have underground studies. In this case, the Christian knowingly and purposely broke the law in China.

VOM (Voice of the Martyr), sends out prayer requests for folk known to be in countries that forbid Christianity or have restrictions on teaching Christianity and/or talking publicly about it. In these instances, the Christian Missionary is in violation of that countrys' laws.

My question is - shouldn't we abide by the laws of the country we are in at the time? For instance, if China allows only 1 bible per person and a missionary smuggles in 10 to hand out, aren't we defying Romans 13 1-2?

  • 'Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge ye,' was said in a similar context to the one you mention. Acts 4:19 [KJV].
    – Nigel J
    Oct 7, 2017 at 2:14
  • All authority comes from God. - If this is indeed the case, then it stands to reason that those who go against His will have thereby implicitly lost their right to possess it, and have become usurpers, as the wicked husbandmen from the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16). Certain Roman emperors, for instance, have outlawed Christianity. Not quite sure if abandoning Christ and worshiping pagan idols is what Saint Paul had in mind in such situations.
    – Lucian
    Oct 7, 2017 at 11:50
  • @Lucian that may be so, but under what authority do YOU judge their right to possess it? Are YOU the owner of the vineyard? Oct 7, 2017 at 14:00
  • @Possibility: No. I am one of His subjects. It stands to reason that secondary or inferior forms of authority cannot go against the primary or superior authority which installed them in the first place. For instance, presidents of democratic countries cannot go against the constitution to which they own their presidency in the first place. Similarly, children are to be obedient to their parents, since the latter are an image of the Father. But this obedience ceases once the parent asks the child to engage in activities which are contrary to God's Law.
    – Lucian
    Oct 7, 2017 at 14:15

5 Answers 5


Not always. God comes first. He is above all. Let's examine a few key sections of Romans 13:1-4:

"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,

2 so that he who is setting himself against the authority, against God's ordinance hath resisted; and those resisting, to themselves shall receive judgment.

3 For those ruling are not a terror to the good works, but to the evil; and dost thou wish not to be afraid of the authority? that which is good be doing, and thou shalt have praise from it,

4 for of God it is a ministrant to thee for good; and if that which is evil thou mayest do, be fearing, for not in vain doth it bear the sword; for of God it is a ministrant, an avenger for wrath to him who is doing that which is evil." (YLT)

The civil authority is to be a ministrant for God, to do good works, to judge righteous judgment, to uphold God's word.

Psa. 2:10-11,

"10 And now, O kings, act wisely, Be instructed, O judges of earth,

11 Serve ye Jehovah with fear, And rejoice with trembling." (YLT)

Psa. 47:8-9,

"God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.

9 The princes of the people have gathered together, The people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted." (NKJV)

Psa. 148:7, 11;

"7 Praise ye Jehovah from the earth,

"11 Kings of earth, and all peoples, Chiefs, and all judges of earth,"

The civil rulers answer to God, and they are to be ministers of good for God. The definition of "good" is of and pertaining to God, what originates from God (Strong's Greek 18). They cannot do evil and at the same time be ministers of good things of God.

The Bible has to be taken as a whole, and one or two verses may not be used out of context to justify a particular idea or desire of man.

When the civil rulers and authorities pit themselves against God, we are not bound by their ungodly laws.

Acts 5:29,

"Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men." (KJV)

The common argument that we must obey every law of any civil authority is trotted out by tyrants to excuse their evil deeds. They are not allowed by God to run rampant, to exercise unrighteous judgment, nor to oppress the people. Solomon's prayer in Psa. 72 was to be able to rule and judge with the righteousness from God.

Whenever any civil rule or law or code defies God we are not obligated to follow it.

Look at the lesson Pastor Chuck Baldwin brings on Romans 13 here.


Christian missionaries go to countries that forbid or restrict the distribution of Christian literature. They hand out Bibles and Christian literature which is against the law of that country.
-- OP

Yes, and Jesus walked throughout 1st century Palestine publishing the Gospel and causing all sorts of concern for the ruling authorities in that regard, as did John the Baptist before him.

There is a clear hierarchy of authority depicted in Scripture:

         children --> mother --> father --> master --> king --> God

At the top of the tree is God, and when He says ...

Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
-- Mark 16:15 (KJV)

... there are going to be those among men who will follow His instruction in defiance of interim authorities who are opposed to it. However, such actions will be assessed differently by the ultimate authority who sits in judgement of all things:

22For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: 23That all [men] should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
-- John 5:22-23 (KJV)

The Gospel would not have made it beyond Jesus' little band of followers had those men decided to please the interim authorities above their Master, King and God.

  • Firstly, Jesus did not publish the gospel. He was a teacher with a new way of looking at things, and yes he certainly caused concern, but did not break the laws of the ruling authorities. Secondly, your claim that 'the gospel would not have made it...' is merely speculation. Thirdly, the passage doesn't say to 'please' the interim authorities, only to 'submit' to them, as Jesus did, even to his death, knowing that it was God's will. You're free to upset them as much as you want. Just stay within the laws. Oct 7, 2017 at 13:09
  • That's not what Matthew and Luke tell us, @Possibility. "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people." (Matthew 4:23 - KJV); "And it came to pass, [that] on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon [him] with the elders," (Luke 20:1 - KJV)
    – enegue
    Oct 7, 2017 at 13:19
  • Okay, I'll agree with you there, but his 'preaching the gospel' was not against the ruling authorities (who were not the chief priests, scribes, or elders by the way), so I still stand by all three points. Oct 7, 2017 at 13:47
  • @Possibility Well you are in conflict with Luke again here: "And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him." (Luke 24:19-20 - KJV). Jesus was taken to Pilate by the rulers of the people, i.e. those who were delegated authority over him as a citizen of the community, and they did so because they didn't like what he was publishing among the people.
    – enegue
    Oct 7, 2017 at 14:02
  • "Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him." (Luke 23:13-16 NIV) He did not break any laws. Oct 7, 2017 at 14:14

Obedient christians are law abiding citizens, but, when government requirements conflict with God's laws, christians “must obey God as ruler rather than men.”​—Acts 5:29. Mark 12:17. Please see Exodus 1:15-17 and 2 Kings 19:14-37 for examples. Gamaliel's advise in Acts 5:38-39 seems relevant to this question too.


Yes, you should abide by the laws of the country you are in at the time. If you break the laws, then expect to be punished for it... by the authorities in that country. This is common sense.

It is self righteousness that has people thinking they can break any laws of another country that they don't agree with, and then expect to be protected by their own and protected by God when they are caught. It is the self righteousness of a country, an organisation or a religion that motivates them to encourage and then fight to free people who are penalised for knowingly and purposely breaking the law. By their actions in defiance of established laws, they judge that country's authority to be 'wrong'.

Just because a country doesn't accept their definition of God, doesn't mean those in positions of authority have not been placed there by God. Where do they get authority to judge whether the laws are right or wrong? Not from God, and certainly not from Jesus, who clearly instructed:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged." (NIV Luke 6:37)


I'm sure this issue must have been raised before and addressed in the literature somewhere. The heart of the question points out a contradictory argument - I obey the laws of the land because it is instituted by God, but those laws forbid me to worship/obey God.

I'm no theologian and my bible knowledge is of a lay churchgoer, hence my ability to answer this is limited. As previously stated, Jesus did cause all sorts of commotion, but he never broke any laws per se, we see that in the trial with Pontius Pilat. Yet we also know that Christians will be persecuted for their beliefs and practices, and this is rampant in scripture.

IMHO obeying the laws of the land is might be a reflection of the state of our hearts, do we exhibit humility, humbleness and meekness? Do we have a sense of deep hatred to our governments that we would take up arms and form militia groups against them? Don't you think that a Chinese Christian can still be loyal to his/her country even though the CCCP is persecuting them just because they put their faith first?

Coming back to the question - perhaps bringing in 10 bibles is breaking the law. But again, is spreading the gospel or salvation dependent on how many bibles you can bring in to a country? I know there is a dire need for bibles in China, there is a yearning that puts many other Christians to shame. If we can only bring in 1 bible per person, well I guess that simply means we just need a lot more time transporting bibles over there...

Anyway, I'm just a layperson giving an honest answer.

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