Just War Theory: Romans 13 and the Paradox of Rebellion

Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.

Part 13: Church Tradition and Rebellion, Tradition on Romans 13 and the Paradox of Rebellion

By Leonard O. Goenaga

The common elements shared by Christendom’s greatest minds would be both tyrannical government as delegitimizing its authoritative claim, as well as “the principle of the rule of law . . . [implying] the right to rebellion.”1 Connecting the conclusions of these contributions, Grudem responds to our initial Romans 13 concern regarding whether it is ever right to overthrow a government and obtain freedom, especially with the American Revolution in mind, with three important points:

[1.] Therefore, the leaders who founded the United States and declared its independence thought of themselves as doing something that was morally right and even necessary, for they were protecting those citizens in their care from the evil attacks of King George III of England, who had repeatedly acted as a “tyrant”. . . . [2.] the Bible does not ever say that it is wrong to change an existing government. . . [and 3.] the Bible gives some examples where God raised up leaders to deliver his people from the rule of tyrants, such as Moses leading his people out of Egypt and out of the rule of Pharaoh.2

Given the treatment of these principles on government and rebellion by various prominent Christian Just War contributors, it may be concluded that a historical reading of Romans 13 allows the right to rebel and overthrow an existing tyrannical government. There seems to be common agreement between Christendom that tyranny is a just cause for rebellion, and that the government’s primary concern is the common good of its subjects (Rm. 13:4). Locke develops this further by arguing that the common good is dependent upon various natural rights, and so prepares the way to understand exactly what the Colonists meant when they charged the Crown with tyranny, and claimed this to be a just cause for rebellion. As Jefferson states in the Declaration of Independence, “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.” It is this claim of tyranny that Keown most hotly objects. Having followed both Scripture and Tradition to arrive at this point, what remains is to examine these “Facts,” and whether the context of “repeated injuries and usurpations” warranted the charge of tyranny.


1 Ibid. 89. Grudem quotes the scholar and expert in the history of governmental theory, Greg Forster, on the two common arguments among Christian writers.

2 Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 89-91. Grudem also presents a series of questions that rightfully bring into question a hyper-literalist reading of Romans 13. Does a Christian break Rm 13 when he votes to elect leaders different from the ones currently in office? Is this not essentially seeking to change a government through an election? What then about other means, “such as declaring one’s independence, and then defending that independent status against attack?” Does a Christian break Romans 13 for not submitting to Caesar, or another such leader read literally in the text? “The Bible says that ruling officials have been ‘appointed’ by God, but God certainly works through human actions to appoint different leaders at different times.” The same could possibly be said of the American Revolution, although this is solely within God’s omniscience and sovereignty, unbeknownst to us.

Self-Educated American Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga
, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at Leonardooh.com