Tag Archives: Leaders

Obey or Be Persuaded, that is the Question

 

“Obey your leaders….” Hebrews 13:17a

Following up on the post, Follow the Leader, where we looked at Hebrews 13:7, we now arrive at Hebrews 13:17 to examine the closing passage of the inclusio in chapter 13.

In our first passage we saw the commands for the recipients of the letter to remember, consider, and imitate their leaders, defined as those who spoke the word of God to them.  Here in this passage it would appear the response has advanced from emulation to subordination.  That apparent shift should give us pause to consider our interpretation carefully.  The difficulty hinges on the word “obey”.

All major English translations use this same word, but because of the difficulty squaring this with the context that we’ve seen so far, a wise suggestion is to look at the semantic range, or glosses, of the Greek word, peitho, and consider if obey fits the context best.

According to Strong’s concordance, we find the following outline for the range of possible meanings

  1. persuade
    1. to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe
    2. to make friends of, to win one’s favor, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one
    3. to tranquilize
    4. to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something
  2. be persuaded
    1. to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing
      1. to believe
      2. to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person
    2. to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with
  3. to trust, have confidence, be confident

As seen above, obey is certainly an option, though perhaps less frequently used.  In fact, of the 55 occurences of this word in the New Testament (KJV Concordance), only 8 times it is translated as obey.  By the way, 22 times it is translated as persuade, 8 times as trust, 8 times related to confidence (this is according to the KJV count, as per blueletterbible.org).  For comparison, the word (or those related) occurs in the NASB 64 times in 55 verses, translated as obey four times, Romans 2:8, Galatians 5:7, Hebrews 13:17, and James 3:3.

(As a side note: in Greek mythology, which predates the New Testament writing, Peitho was the Greek Goddess of Persuasion.  This of course is not authoritative, only provides some cultural context towards a possible meaning)

Given the list of possibilities, why choose obey?

Typically in translation, the context determines which gloss best fits. When we hear or use obey in the English language we immediately think of authority and subordination as in, “Children obey your parents” “Servants obey your masters”, these however use a different Greek word.  Interestingly, peitho  was used earlier in Hebrews 6:9 and again in verse 18.  Below are the ESV translations

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Of all the possible meanings for the word in our verse, peitho – obey – seems to be the weakest in that it carries an idea of subordination that is not supported by the context.   Instead, a better fit would be, “be persuaded or believe” your leaders, as it clearly relates to their speaking of the word of God.  The authority is God’s Word, not the leader.  Even here, the persuasion is not towards the leader, but towards the leader’s speaking of God’s Word.

Obey or be persuaded, that is the interpretive question in this passage.  If one assumes ecclesiastical authority and the reads the meaning of the English word obey into the passage, then it is not difficult to arrive at most translations and commentaries.  However, if we allow the context and the meaning of the actual words to interpret the passage, we arrive at a different conclusion.

In the next post, we’ll examine the second command from this verse, ‘submit’.  For more, see the recent video on Pastoral Authority by John MacArthur

 

Follow the Leader

 

A few weeks ago, I had the delight of revisiting one of my favorite books of the Bible, The Epistle to the Hebrews, for the third time in four years.  It’s caused me to reflect back on fond memories of having either participated in or led an in-depth study through this wonderfully challenging book, but also to look back through my notes for gaps or areas where I hadn’t yet fully fleshed out my interpretations (see the Scriptural Index).

Apparently this was the case in the last few chapters, but the last chapter more specifically.  In that chapter, which is full of practical and ethical exhortations, we have mention of the term “leader” three times, so clearly it is at the forefront of the Author’s mind.  The first two uses form brackets around a particular series of exhortations, while the last use is part of the Author’s salutation. Though it has a variety of uses, including references to specific people such as David or Joseph, the word for leader here means leaders in general.

The first use occurs in Hebrews 13:7 forming the opening bracket

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Several observations need to be made on this use of leaders.

Remember your Leaders

First is the command to remember them.  These leaders are identified as “those who spoke to you the word of God.”  While it doesn’t clarify whether this speaking was by way of preaching, teaching, discipleship, individual exhortation, etc., nevertheless these leaders communicated the word of God to the people, and subsequently the Author has exhorted the readers to remember them.  It’s quite possible that the leaders being referenced here had died and their life is to be called to mind.

Consider their Life

Second, we see the command to consider the outcome of the leaders way of life.  As stated, its likely that these leaders had died, therefore having completed the race that was set before them, their life should now be viewed as a model of faithfulness.  The call then is to consider, literally to hold up and look at repeatedly, the body of their life’s work.

Imitate their Faith

Finally we have the third command to imitate the faith of these leaders.  Not only were they to be remembered, specifically their teaching of God’s word and their lives to be considered as an example, but also their faith was to be emulated.

To this pattern of following and emulating godly leadership in doctrine and practice, the Scriptures express the exact same sentiment elsewhere, including a prior use in Hebrews

“so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:12

Similarly we have the following passages throughout the New Testament:

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.“1 Cor. 4:14-16

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” 1 Thessalonians 1:6

“It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” 2 Thessalonians 3:9

The pattern for follow-the-leader is a clear Scriptural principle.  Never in any of these passages do we see an example of a leader “lording” over or demanding blind allegiance.  Instead we see a pattern of humility in following the Lord , submitting to His word, and a call for other believers to imitate these qualities in the lives of those who lead them in the Word of God.  This is the mark of a leader and the definition of discipleship.  It represents what biblical leadership among the gathering of God’s people should look like.