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Submit to Government? (1 Peter 2)

It was Peter who uttered the words, "We must obey God rather than men!"1 to the Sanhedrin. Does he later tell us, in 1 Peter 2:13, to submit to secular governing authorities rather than God?

Read these two versions of the text.

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God ... Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." (1 Peter 2:13-17 NASB unless stated2)

‍ "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme..." (1 Peter 2:13 KJV)

"Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God's sake: whether it be to the king as excelling..." (1 Peter 2:13 DRA3)

"Be subject, then, to every human creation, because of the Lord, whether to a king, as the highest..." (1 Peter 2:13 Young's Literal Translation)¶

The first version seems to suggest we should submit to every human institution, while the second, an 1899 version, reads as though he is admonishing us to be submissive to every human creature alike and show them honour for God's sake. What was Peter saying and to whom?

In answer to whom, it is important to remember that Peter was appointed as the Apostle to the Jews4 and in the opening verses he writes:

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia," (1 Peter 1:1)

He is writing to the Jews scattered in the areas mentioned. The question then becomes, “How is he instructing the Jews in respect of their relationship with authorities?"

What then is Peter saying, "Are the Jews, scattered in those areas, required to submit to a human institution or to a human creature?" Other more recent translations have interpreted these to mean secular government5 or authorities instituted among men.6

The difference is in the interpretation of the Greek word ktisis, which means "creation" (the act or the product)7 and is translated as such in every case, except here in 1 Peter 2:13 of some versions. This word, ktisis, is also used by Paul to describe the new creature that people become in Christ Jesus.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Most modern lexicons will tell us that ktisis can mean creation, creature, or institution. To submit to any human creation or institution is tantamount to idolatry since we would be submitting to a thing we have created or formed. A cursory investigation of ktisis leaves me wondering how the word institution came to be included as a definition. Is it there because that is how it has been translated or that is what it means? I suggest that this is an interpretation of the Greek word and not a translation.

In modern legal circles, we have two main types of entities, one living, created by God and the other an artificial one such as a corporation, created by man. A corporation is an entity that has been given "personhood" by man through a legislative act. All our modern ‘governments’ are mere corporations. Are we to submit to a thing created by the hand of man or to individuals selected by Jesus for positions of authority within the local body of believers?

The University of Hawaii’s study determined that since 1900 secular governments have been responsible for the murder of 262 million people. If you haven’t already determined that our modern governments consist of pathological liars and are inherently evil you are wasting your time reading this.

The word translated as 'whether' is the Greek word 'eite' where it is defined as "a conditional disjunctive conjunction bringing together two objects in one's thoughts while keeping them distinct from each other." I would suggest that this could be better translated "as if" suggesting that Peter is presenting as a simile, "Submit to one another as if to the king or governors." This is much more congruent with the context and with the rest of scripture.

This is not about institutions; it is about relationships between people. You may love shopping, but when Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves, He did not mean corporations, or artificial entities, such as Walmart® or Monsanto® which are given the status of legal persons in man-made law. Man-made law can only, lawfully, govern the activities of man-made entities.

Young's Literal Translation, above, posited an interesting slant in that it avoids the phrase "for the Lord's sake" as used in most versions. The Greek word used here dis means 'through' or 'because of.' I wonder if Peter meant to say, "Be subject to every human being, there because of the Lord." This is in better harmony with other scriptures (Ephesians 5:21) where we, Messianic believers, are admonished to obey those that the Lord has placed in authority over us—within the body of Christ and within the Kingdom of God.

In context then, Peter is admonishing the Messianic Jews, for the sake of their testimony to those around them, that they show honour to every human being whether they are kings, cops, or commoners. He summarizes well his intention for this chapter in verse 17 where he writes, "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." Each of these entities is a living being, not an artificial entity. His main point, I believe, is that they submit to those God has placed in authority over them, not those (s)elected by voting machines and corporate donations for nefarious reasons.


1 Acts 5:29

2 New American Standard Version

3 The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition. Very literal translation of the Latin Vulgate.

4 Galatians 2:7

5 God's Word to the Nations - GWN

6 New International Version - NIV

7 Strongs Concordance

©2009,Dr Steven Bydeley, a man.

All publishing rights reserved. Permission is herewith granted to reprint this article for personal use and to link or refer to it; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.

Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and has taught internationally on various topics.

Without Prejudice. © 2023, Steven., house of bij de Leij., of man.