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:
"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.
"to lead," is translated "to rule" in Heb. 13:7,17,24 (AV marg., in the first two, "are the guides" and "guide."
"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.
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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
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 1
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 2
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 3
Elders: Rulers or Servants Part 4