We Honor the Governing Authorities (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.) The apostle Peter tells Christians that we must “honor” and “submit to” governing authorities like kings, presidents, governors, and other similar rulers (1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17).  Peter doesn’t say we should honor and submit to some governing authorities, but to all of them (1 Peter 2:13a).  One thing this means is that Christians should be law-abiding citizens.  It also means we should not slander those in authority, call them names, disrespect and rant about them on social media, or dishonor them in other ways (even if everyone else is doing it!).  In fact, Jesus’ call to love our neighbors includes those who rule over us.

Peter wrote those words about governing authorities when Nero was the head of the Roman state.  Therefore, we can’t say that Peter would’ve used other words if the government of his day was anti-Christian.  This is one reason why the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them” (WCF 23.4).  Here’s how Calvin said it in his comments on 1 Peter 2:13-14:

It may, however, be objected here and said, that kings and magistrates often abuse their power, and exercise tyrannical cruelty rather than justice. Such were almost all the magistrates, when this Epistle was written. To this I answer, that tyrants and those like them, do not produce such effects by their abuse, but that the ordinance of God ever remains in force, as the institution of marriage is not subverted though the wife and the husband were to act in a way not becoming them. However, therefore, men may go astray, yet the end fixed by God cannot be changed.

Were any one again to object and say, that we ought not to obey princes who, as far as they can, pervert the holy ordinance of God, and thus become savage wild beasts, while magistrates ought to bear the image of God. My reply is this, that government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honor even tyrants when in power. There is yet another reply still more evident — that there has never been a tyranny, (nor can one be imagined,) however cruel and unbridled, in which some portion of equity has not appeared; and further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy.

 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 82–83.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

1 thought on “We Honor the Governing Authorities (Calvin)”

  1. I am a lay person as far as these matters are concerned but incidentally I read a piece written by another reformed American. He says : Michael Brown: “As followers of Jesus, we are called to submit to the laws of the land and to honor those in authority. The New Testament is very clear on this (see especially Romans 13:1-7).”

    This is true regarding Romans 13 but *only* as it applies to the government clearly depicted in Romans 13.

    There is absolutely nothing in Romans 13 describing a secular civil government. Rather, everything therein depicts a biblical civil government. The one word “continually” or “devoted” (depending upon your Bible version) in Verse 6 (amplifying Verses 3 & 4) alone demonstrates the point.

    Unless someone’s prepared to claim that the Roman Empire (one of the most notorious for murdering Christians) was a government that *continually* blessed Christians and terrorized/punished the wicked, they best rethink their theology regarding this extremely important passage of Scripture.

    There are passages (Exodus 1, Acts 4 and 5, etc.) that pertains to our responsibility to disobey secular governments that require that we violate God’s law. Romans 13 and related passages is our mandate for erecting a biblical civil government based upon Yahweh’s moral law and governed by biblically qualified men of God.

    For more, see free online book “The Romans 13 Template for Biblical Dominion: Ten Reasons Why Romans 13 is Not About Secular Government” at https://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/Romans13/Romans13-contents.html

    He the place a link to an article which urges Californian parents to defy the law.

    I also remember the case where Peter and John were called and put on trial by the Jewish authorities and they said it is better to obey God than man.
    I cannot see a Christian could obey a secular or godless government which requires from the cities to defy the law of God and biblical truth and principles.


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