Thursday, March 22, 2012

Obey Those Who Rule Over You and Be Submissive, Part 2

In Part 1, I shared my story about how Hebrews 13:17 was used with me as I questioned an elder about the firing of our personal friend.  I discussed the feelings I had when it felt like the elder was lording over me the idea that it was my job to obey and submit to the elders and authority that God had placed before me instead of being able to ask questions and air my concerns. 

Much later I discovered that although the words “obey” and “submit” are used in many translations of the bible, the definitions that we use for “obey” and “submit” in today's language does not line up well with original Greek translations.

This may be new to some, so I want to explain the process I used to find the correct meaning of the key words in the verse.  I used this site for looking up the key words:   Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.  (It is now in my sidebar for future reference.)  There are other Greek lexicons available for researching, but this one is readily available online and quite easy to use.  Simply type the word you want to look up in the search field.  This will give you listing of Greek words associated with the English word.  Sometimes the word we use in English may have many words associated with it in Greek.  For example, when I looked up the word "rule" in the search field, I found eight entries in Greek.  In that case, I needed to search through all eight entries to find the entry that referenced the specific verse "Hebrews 13:17".  Scripture references are clearly listed in each entry so you are able to identify which entry listing is the most accurate translation.  This is such a great tool for Bible study.

Here are the definitions from Vines Expository Dictionary for three key words in the Hebrews 13:17 verse:  obey, rule, submissive.  Take a look:

Obey:   <B-2,Verb,3982,peitho>

"to persuade, to win over," in the Passive and Middle Voices, "to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey," is so used with this meaning, in the Middle Voice, e.g., in Acts 5:36-37 (in Acts 5:40, Passive Voice, "they agreed"); Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 3:3. The "obedience" suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion.

Rule:  <B-4,Verb,2233,hegeomai>

"to lead," is translated "to rule" in Heb. 13:7,17,24 (AV marg., in the first two, "are the guides" and "guide."

Submissive:  <1,,5226,hupeiko>

"to retire, withdraw" (hupo, under, eiko, "to yield"), hence, "to yield, submit," is used metaphorically in Heb. 13:17, of "submitting" to spiritual guides in the churches.

Please notice that all three words have Hebrews 13:17 referenced.  These are the intended meanings for the words.  I don’t understand how translators determine which words they select for translation work, but it is clear that not every word that you read in the Bible can be defined by using our modern meanings.

In many current Bible translations, the use of these three words give the verse an authoritarian tone.  However, when looking up the meaning of the original words in Greek, the tone of the verse changes significantly.    Let’s look at the original NKJV translation and then replace the three words with the Vines Greek translation to see how the verse tone changes.

Original NKJV:  Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls . . .
Vines:  Listen to or be persuaded by those who guide you and yield to them, for they watch out for your souls. . .

The original NKJV sounds heavy-handed, like a master/slave relationship.  The Vines version sounds like a relationship of mutual love and respect, like a mentor.  There is a willingness to yield to a mentor/leader like that because of the trust established in the relationship. 

I can appreciate the kind of relationship demonstrated using the Vines meanings.  I want that kind of person involved in my life, investing in me, guiding me.  That kind of relationship compels me to follow and imitate their lives.  I do not respond well to authoritarian-type personality, someone who lords over me as a master/slave who seems not to care about my well-being, but promotes his position of authority.

Think about the ramifications of this distortion of truth.  I don't consider myself to be one who typically let's someone walk over me, but I was amazed at how this verse (understood with the wrong translation) affected me for several years.  Did these "shepherds" bring God's truth to me or something distorted?  What was the effect of the distorted truth on me?    I trusted godly men to present the truth to me.    This is serious stuff, people!  God's truth must not be distorted for personal gain. 

I will leave you with more resources regarding this verse at the bottom of this post.  There are a multitude of sites devoted to this one verse.  I hope this helps you to see that pastors/elders are not to lord over those they shepherd.  For them to take that stance is wrong and distorts God's intended purpose for an elder/shepherd.  

The following description of an elder sounds like a breath of fresh air to me and note how the tone is more in line with the "Vines" verse above.   I hope everyone can be blessed in a church where elders are like this:
1 Peter 5:1-4:  And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2 Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4 And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Additional References/Articles on Hebrews 13:17

Obey and Submit (Hebrews 13:17) 

Solving The Hebrews 13:17 Dilemma

“Obey” and “Submit” to your Leaders? The Hebrews 13:17 Deception

Hebrews 13:17

Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 1
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 2
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 3 
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 4 


  1. Hello my dear sister in Christ,

    Thank you for linking to my series on Elders. I did a lot of research on that badly translated passage that is misused by those who love to lord it over others.

    I was thrown under a bus at a mega church as a staffer and lost everything including my home. And all because I did not go along with ruining other people or playing power games. Turf wars. It was the most evil place I had ever worked and that is sayng a lot since I was a trainer in many secular companies for 20 years. There is nothing more evil than evil done in the Name of Christ. At least the secular workplace has employment laws to obey. The church does not. They are exempt. I saw many people thrown under the bus.

    I decided that I did not know Jesus well at all or I would have discerned it earlier as a pew sitter and never trusted my life to them. Thus began my deep study of the Word. Now I know that most of what takes place out there in these institutions has nothing to with Christ.

    We are finding one another thanks to the internet. And we can warn others of the wolves and hirlings. Love in the Lamb. Lin

    1. Greetings, Lin!

      I'm so pleased to see your comment here. Your series was very helpful to me.

      Thank you for sharing part of your story. That pain is real and your example shows that is not only emotional and spiritual, but can be physical, too - as you lost your home. What a horrible situation! How are you doing now? Feel free to email me:

      It's interesting how so many of us who have experienced the pain of spiritual abuse now are able to use that experience to connect with others and provide very real help as they are on their process of learning and healing.

      I am so thankful for the internet and the connections that have been made. You are right - we can and should warn others. Thank you for your post. It meant a lot to me!

      Happy Easter!

  2. Another useful Greek/English reference is the Liddell and Scott lexicon. You should be able to find one of the smaller ones in a used-book shop (that's where I got my copy! It saved my grade in Greek 102). Chase and Phillips's A New Introduction to Greek is also excellent (and more useful but less commonly found than the lexicon), and the UBS compilation of the New Testament in Greek is very accessible.

    Or you could check Amazon, I suppose. When I was learning Greek, Amazon wasn't yet a thing.

    Full disclosure: I study pre-Socratic philosophy (mostly ca. 400 BC), so these tools may not be perfectly suited for Attic writing (the bulk of the New Testament, ca. 30-300 AD as compiled), but they're a useful jumping-off point at least.

  3. Danger-- THIN ICE

    1st and foremost, you have my attention. We came (moved) to Beaverton with the express intent of joining your old church because we found former Marine and now Pastor Chuck on Sermon Audio, and was looking for a church that practiced street evangelism like Way of the Master taught.

    We wanted to be involved in street ministry.

    We got abandoned and shunned by that church in only a matter of weeks (2008) so we moved on, and that is why I have an ear for your story. And as thankful as I am now that it was over so quick, I am also growing quite concerned the more of your blog I read. It's easy to make mistakes, and it's easy to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. (in other words go from bad to worse) A Biblical similitude to one told by Jesus in Matt 12:43-45 about new freedom from demon possession.

    The Devils favorite trick, is and always has been, to discredit the Word of God. You find his first words in Genesis "Yea hath God said?" Wrong translation this, wrong word that... those stupid translators... blah blah blah.

    Do you really think that your most powerful enemy is really going to let you off the hook and give you the secret decoder ring so you can translate what every translator (even those who were burned alive for it) missed? This is how cults really are born. Discredit the Bible and inject a fresh translation that finally fixes all the "problems".

    Men who lived and breathed the language who were later tortured and killed to bring you a faithful translation, and were not stupid unintelligent oafs filled bumblings. Gave their lives to bring you a faithful translation. If you are going to embark on a few dictionaries and/or textual apparatus or interlinear Bibles as "good enough" you will soon be producing your very own BGBCS translation, for the secret ring club of the elect few wise ones who escaped the snare of the devil, only to fall into the trap.

    There really is something to Bible version debate, and I urge and beg you to make it a priority to figure out please.


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