Romans 13:1 is translated into English as "there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

According to my NIV Greek Interlinear, the English word 'established' occurs eight times in the New Testament:

To arrange, to set, appoint, in a certain situation, Luke 7:8; Romans 13:1;

The Greek word can also mean to set, devote, to a pursuit (1 Corinthians 16:15); to dispose, frame, for an object (Act 13:48); to arrange, appoint, place or time (Martthew 28:16; Acts 28:23); to allot, assign (Acts 22:10); to settle, decide (Acts 15:2).

I've been asked if the use of the English word 'established' in Romans 13:1 means that God must have taken deliberate action to arrange for authorities to come to power (evil as well as benign) as opposed to simply just allowing things to happen.

What is the proper meaning behind the Greek word translated into English as 'established' in Romans 13:1?

  • 1
    That word is translated from the Hebrew word דּגל in the LXX and is used in (a derivative) 1 Chr 9:33, and SofS 6:4,10 as (duty) or banner/standard. Be interesting to see why this word was used by Apostle Paul. My feeling is he was conveying that they were setup, put in place, ordered by God, like one sets up banners along a city wall. It’s intentional and representative of a king’s decisions. Good question +1 Jul 26, 2019 at 15:04

3 Answers 3


Thayer gives the meaning of τάσσω (tassó) as :

To place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a place to, to appoint [to ordain]

This is very close to the English word 'ordain', as listed in the OED :

I. To put in order, arrange, or prepare

Oxford English Dictionary

. . . which is the word used by the KJV :

... the powers that be, are ordained of God [Romans 13:1]

which is also given by Green's Literal.

However Young gives 'appointed', as does the Englishman's Greek New Testament Interlinear.

J N Darby has 'set up'.

My own understanding is that it is the office that is ordained, not the individual. The 'powers that be' are the layers of authority that, naturally, exist in society and that all nations, by nature, set in array as proper government.

My understanding is that it is the structure that is to be respected, not (necessarily) the individual occupying the office at any one particular time.

For which reason I see no cause to depart from the choice of the KJV - 'ordained' which choice is very, very close to Thayer's documentation of the original Greek word.

The word 'appoint' usually means that an individual has been appointed to an office. Thus I would suggest that its usage is not exactly what is required in this particular place.

The office is ordained : the individual is appointed.

  • 1
    Interesting to note the KJV use of "ordained". By the way, I think you mean Romans 13:1 rather than Romans 1:13?
    – Lesley
    Jul 27, 2019 at 11:16

I would render Rom 13:1 as:

Let every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are appointed by God.

The word I have translated as "appointed" is "established" or "ordained" in other versions is from the Greek, τάσσω (tassó) occurring 8 times (Matt 28:16, Luke 7:8, Acts 13:48, 15:2, 22:10, 28:23, Rom 13:1, 1 Cor 16:15).

According to BDAG, this word has two basic meanings both of which have the idea of appointing something/someone or putting something/someone in place.

  1. to bring about an order of things by arranging, arrange, put in place, eg, Rom 13:1, Matt 8:9, Luke 7:8.
  2. to give instructions as to what must be done, order, fix, determine, appoint, eg, Acts 15:2, 22:10, 28:3, Matt 28:16.

Thus, Paul in Rom 13:1 is saying that God only permits civil authority [ἐξουσίαις (exousiais)] by His own sovereignty. Presumably there would be many more authorities and many would-be authorities but God only allows a select set of these to exist.

Note that the verb form here is τεταγμέναι is passive voice - a common idiom in Hebrew thinking of the Divine passive. This does not suggest that God directly sets-up such civil authorities but passively does not prevent them from being set-up. That is, in the Hebrew mind, God being omnipotent, is thought to cause that which He does not prevent. (See 2 Sam 24:1 vs 1 Chron 21:1 & James 1:13; 1 Sam 16:14, 16, 18:10, 19:9; Judges 9:23; Ex 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8; for more examples of this divine passive.)

  • Would you confirm that this is not pre- appointed but appointed at that particular time? @Mac’sMusings Jul 26, 2019 at 21:33
  • I am not sure I understand you comment. The text does not discuss time or when the authorities were "determined". Are you alluding to Acts 17:26?
    – user25930
    Jul 26, 2019 at 22:11
  • That’s all I’m asking you confirm that in fact it does not specify that it’s preestablished. Jul 26, 2019 at 23:44
  • 2
    I can find little or no suggestion that this is pre-ordained or pre-established. If that were the intention, there is no hint of it in the text here.
    – user25930
    Jul 27, 2019 at 8:45

Αʹ Πᾶσα ψυχὴ ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις ὑποτασσέσθω. οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ, αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμέναι εἰσίν. NA28, ©2012

Among other meanings, the Greek verb τάσσω is defined as:1

II. appoint to any service, military or civil, the latter being metaph. from the former, “ἄρχοντας” X.HG7.1.24; τινὰ ἐπί τινι Id.Cyr.8.6.17, D.17.20, etc.; “ἐπὶ τὰς πράξεις” Isoc.5.151, cf. Pl.Ly. 209b, etc.; “ἀξιῶ σε τάξαι με ἐπί τινος” PCair.Zen.447.3 (iii B.C.): also τ. ἑαυτὸν ἐπί τι undertake a task, Pl.R.371c, D.8.71, etc.; “πρός τι” X. Mem.2.4.6:—Pass., “οἱ τεταγμένοι βραβῆς” S.El.709, cf. 759; “πρέσβεις ταχθέντες” D.19.69; τετάχθαι ἐπί τινι to be appointed to a service, Hdt. 1.191, 2.38, A.Pers.298, E.Ion1040, X.Cyr.4.6.1; “ἐπί τι” Ar.Av.637, X.Cyr.1.4.24, etc.; also “ἐπί τινος” Hdt.5.109 (ἐπ᾽ οὗ, v.l. ὅκου), D.10.46; “τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς σφαγῆς τεταγμένον” Plu.Cleom.38, cf. Plb.3.12.5; ὁ πρὸς τοῖς γράμμασι τεταγμένος secretary, Id.15.27.7; οἱ πρὸς ταῖς φυλακαῖς (tolls) τετ. PCair.Zen.31.15 (iii B.C.).

In the context of Romans 13:1, the verb simply means that God appointed the higher powers. For that reason, everyone should submit to them. It was a common belief among the ancients (Greeks, Romans, and even Hebrews) that such higher powers were appointed by God.2


1 LSJ, p. 1759, τάσσω, II.
2 For a list of such references, see Heinrich Meyer’s commentary on Rom. 13:1 (p. 489, footnote 1). Also, cf. Dan. 5:18:

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. NKJV, ©1982


Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

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