Updated: Nov 4, 2021
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the virus that affects one respiratory system and has been described as being more ferocious than the flu was first reported from Wuhan China in December of 2019. Ever since then it has been at the forefront of the minds of everyone in the world. At the inception of this virus, there were very few people who knew about the transmission of this virus, how the virus mutated, and the strength of this infection. With little information about the Coronavirus, this naturally led to people being very concerned about their lives and the lives of those around them. It was then, for the sake of safety before the world knew about the activity of the virus that governing authorities all over the world-begin to implement emergency powers and mandates as a preemptive measure to mitigate the spread of the virus, as everyone was concerned that hospitals would be overwhelmed with patients that would be infected with the Coronavirus. There were mask mandates in every county all across the nation. The social distancing of six feet was a requirement to pick up something at your local grocery store. Countless businesses were closed due to those who were doing their part to assist in stopping the virus. Children even stayed home from school and businesses like Zoom and Google Classroom saw their products increase rapidly with growth because school was being conducted from home. It all seemed to make sense considering there was no information on this particular virus and what all of the governing authorities were telling people at the time was this could have possibly have been a disastrous situation where millions of lives all around the world could have been lost. The measures that were taken at the time were extreme, and they were justified to the lack of information and research related to COVID-19.
Fast forward more than a year and some things have now changed, and yet some things have not. We know more about COVID-19 than we did the year before. We have been able to track the death rate to people as it relates to this virus, and there have been numerous studies in the United States, and abroad, about the mitigation efforts that were used the previous year concerning the Coronavirus. There are possible alternative remedies that may assist in decreasing or eliminating COVID-19, as well as the various therapeutics (also known as the "vaccines") for the Coronavirus. Yet, even with all of this data, and all of these choices, there are employers who are requiring their employees to either get the therapeutic shot or be fired from the job. This is especically true among those who work in the medical field and there are other employers who are requiring masks due to the mandates that are levied by their state down to their local county.
This trend has also affected the body of Christ. Due to the mandates that have been ordered by governing authorities state and local some local churches in the United States have adopted these mandates on their own congregants. There are those who are leaders among the body of Christ that will state they are doing it for the safety of their congregants, which is certainly understandable considering that the infection rate increases dramatically for those who are advanced in years. However, there are those who argue that one should adopt these measures because of what Paul wrote to the believers Rome
Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience (Romans 13:1-5 NASB20).
Paul after laying out in great detail in the first eleven chapters the mercy of God on humanity Paul began to write concerning how the believer ought to live due to the mercy they have received from God. In chapter 13 Paul begins to discuss the purpose and service of governing authorities (exousia hyperechō) and that every person ought to willingly subject themselves to them. Paul explained the reason that the authority they receive comes from God Himself and anyone who opposes this person who has been given this influence, in essence, opposes God Himself. Paul asked a rhetorical question to the churches in Rome and answers it by saying do good and they will be praised by these governing authorities. Consequently, those who do evil Paul wrote they are to have a healthy dose of fear because they do not "bear the sword" (i.e., given the ability to punish, even by death). Paul explained they are servants (diakonos), and an avenger (ekdikos) one who exacts punishment and destroys the one who practices evil. Furthermore, Paul wrote that one ought to follow the governing authorities for the sake of their own conscience.
There are several things to note when observing this particular text, which is described below:
1) Viruses and infections are not people. Those who use these verses to make an argument concerning COVID-19 may be neglecting all of the words that reflect a person in this text. viruses and bacteria do not resist authority, infections do not fear (or revere) governing authorities, virus and infections do not subject themselves to the ordinances governing authorities establish. All of these activities that Paul describes in this passage of Scripture are related to people, not to viruses or infectious diseases.
2) The Greek word for evil in this text is the word kakos. This word is used two times in this particular text by Paul and the usage of this word refers to conduct not a virus or infection. Paul used this word to communicate to the Roman believers concerning evil acts (in the context this could be talking about hurting, damaging, or stealing from another person). Viruses and infectious diseases do not do evil deeds because in order for this to be possible a virus or bacteria would have to have evil intent or motive. Governing authorities do not punish viruses, they punish people who express by their deeds ill or evil intent.
3) The ultimate purpose of governing authorities is to reward good behavior and punish evil behavior. In this case, good behavior and evil conduct are defined clearly by the context. In light of our current situation who catches a virus from another from a Biblical perspective is not an evil person and they have not done an evil thing. This is the reality of living in a world that is fallen due to sin.
4) Governing authorities are to keep humanity safe in a specific way. Paul wrote that governing authorities bear the sword to punish evil deeds. Paul did not write that the government has the authority to tell people where to go, what to eat, where to sleep, where to shop in the marketplace, what places to avoid, etc. In one sense based upon what Paul wrote these things is an overextension of what Paul sought to communicate to the saints in Rome.
5) Paul uses the word Greek word translated as "servant" (diakonos) two times in this passage. The governing authorities ought to serve the ones under them by protecting them from those who seek to destroy them without and within.
6) Governing authorities (ought) to serve in truth. Paul explained that God is the highest authority and there is no other authority other than Him and that the authorities who serve in this manner ought to understand God has given them this influence to have to be an avenger to protect those who conduct themselves well in society. Furthermore, since they are serving God who is the source of all truth (c.f., Psa 31:5, Isa. 65:16), all of the things they do in word and deed ought to be from this perspective. The sad part reality is some governing authorities do not recognize or accept this God-given position they are have been given, and thus they either bear the sword on those who are speaking and acting in accordance with reality.
This particular period in history is very difficult as we strive to navigate through all of the rapid change that is happening, and each of us is going to have to make our decisions on a personal level. However, there is one thing that is clear: Us believers in Christ ought not to use Romans 13:1-5 as a justification text concerning the Coronavirus. Based on the language Paul is using from the text Paul is not talking about being willing to place ourselves under governing authorities because it is just the right thing to do, or because we are Christians. Paul makes the case that one ought to be willing to place themselves under governing authorities because they are the avengers of evil and arbiters of the truth.
It is with this statement I end this article with one thought and two questions for you to consider. Several studies have been released fairly recently concerning the efficacy of masks and the Coronavirus. One such journal published that if there were any holes on the side of the masks (what the researchers referred to as leakage), even if the opening was 3% the mask was essentially ineffective in stopping the infection. Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the center that has informed our governing authorities which has led to all of the mandates we observe today, last year conducted a research study involving 169 schools (totaling 90,000 students) in the state of Georgia in K-5th grade. The study concluded that looking at all of the mitigation efforts to contain or stop the virus the study showed little to no decrease in spreading the virus. One such article commented on the study as follows, "These findings cast doubt on the impact of many of the most common mitigation measures in American schools. Distancing, hybrid models, classroom barriers, HEPA filters, and, most notably, requiring student masking were each found to not have a statistically significant benefit. In other words, these measures could not be said to be effective." (Zwieg, 2021).
If the governing authorities' position is to avenge evil and promote truth, and one of their own organizations has not told this information above to those who they are supposed to serve it makes one wonder how much more information like this has been obscured from public view? And why would we as the body of Christ, who also advocate truth desire to promote and support a practice that according to the data does not correspond to reality?
Until Next Time...
Soli Deo Gloria!