My topic here involves how we are to understand the sword – and the state’s use of it – as found in Paul’s discussion of government authority in Romans 13:1-7. Many scholars understand this to be a reference to the death penalty, and that is the case I seek to make here.
I should first point out that the Bible makes it clear that God has ordained the death penalty (even before the giving of the Mosaic law), and it is not rescinded in the New Testament. But read this two-part article for much more detail on this:
The passage in Romans speaks about the reason why God has ordained human authorities to rule in a fallen world, and the first five verses provide the context for the verse about the sword (v. 4):
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
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