Saturday, February 09, 2013


When I tell people that I do not believe there is a single verse of scripture that allows anyone, or any "office" held by anyone, to "rule over" others in the local body of Christ called a church, [That's not to say a set of church bylaws might stipulate otherwise.] I'm immediately challenged with the three verses in Hebrews 13 that seem to say the contrary to that. Those particular verses are verses 7, 17, and 24. 

Here is what those verses say in the KJV.

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God, considering the end of their conversation. [Hebrews 13:7 KJV]

"Obey them which have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."  [Hebrews 13:17 KJV]

"Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you."  [Hebrews 13:24]

Well, there are several things I would point out about these three verses.

1__The word "over" is not actually in any one of those three verses in the best manuscripts we have. It was included in the KJV evidently to [who knows for sure!] give some weight to the already existing hierarchy and structure of Priests, deacons, and Bishops that were in place at the time of the translation of the KJV. 

So we can, and I do, categorically declare it to be an unfortunate and unwarranted addition to the text by the translators of the KJV and will lay it aside as not being true to the text itself at all.

2__You also can see the word "elder" does not appear in these three verses either. It simply is not there. So to declare this is a reference to "elders" is an interpretative addition and not a translation. We're looking to see what the text ITSELF is saying as best we can.

3__Notice also that verse 7, when properly translated, is found to be in the past tense. [aorist tense] The KJV incorrectly translates it in the present tense. So the proper translation is..."Remember those who were your guides, whose faith you are to imitate, taking note of how they were faithful to the very end of life."

In that verse "Guides" could refer to the Apostles, and if so, probably those who had already died. This is because the writer mentions the "end of their manner of conversation." That word "Conversation," we know means "way or walk of life" and "the end" of it certainly indicates their death. 

But "guides" could also be referring to all the ones who had just been mentioned in Hebrews 11. [The hall of spiritual heroes.] remember, there were no chapter or verse divisions in the original, thus those people spoken about in chapter 11 would certainly be on the minds of the readers of Hebrews.] Whichever, it is very clear that the text does not say "elders rule over." [With all due respect to the KJV.]

4__In Hebrews 13:17 there are three words however, that on the surface, give my opening statement some problem. At least as translated by those pesky KJV translators. As already mentioned, the word "over" IS NOT in verses 17 or 24 just as it is NOT in verse 7, so we'll lay that problem aside as having already been addressed.

But the big three are there. "Obey, rule and submit." Now that's a mouthful and automatically loads the shotgun of most bible readers who favor a hierarchical system in both the home and the church. "See, I told you so. Pastors and husbands are to rule," they say.

OK, let's see! "Obey" is the Greek word peitho. In the passive and middle voice [Just Greek language rules you understand] it means to be persuaded or to be won over. In this verse "obey" is in the middle voice and does NOT have an authority demanding it at all, but a gentle persuasion by one resulting in agreement by the other. W. E. Vines Expository Dictionary of N.T. words explains this rather well.

In Oklahoma we take "obey" to mean " I said so." But the Greeks would have laughed at that Western view for this text. To those who understood the Greek language, the writer was saying they were to come to a full agreement by internal reasoning and NOT an external conformity because someone said to.

But then, there is that word "rule." Well, it is Greek originally too, right! So what did it mean to them? "Hegeomai," is the Greek word translated "rule" in the KJV. The word did mean leader, but it wasn't connected to authority at all. It meant to go before, lead, as a guide or point-man, like in the army. Rank was not involved here. You will see this in Strong's Word Studies which I recommend you check out. 

There is a Greek word for "rule" which means first place, headship. high estate, eminence and it's the word "Arche." [Ark-hay] It was used six times by the writer of Hebrews, all in the first seven chapters as he described Christ, but was not used once after chapter 7 and not used in relation to members of the church at all.

Now the biggy. "Submit." That says it all doesn't it! Does it? 

There is a word in Greek that means to "submit... cause I said so." It is the word "peitharcheo" and is a word build on "arche." [See above] It is used three times in the New Testament, twice in Acts [5:29 &27:21] and once in Titus. [3:1] In those three places and in other non-biblical writings of that era it is used for obeying or submitting because the other guy is the big cheese, like civil authority or even God Himself. But it's NOT used for people in the church with each other.

Paul even said of himself one time that he wanted the people to know that he wasn't the head cheese. He said it this way..."Not that we have dominion [archo] over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for by faith you stand." [11 Corinthians 1:24]

Now you see why it's important to see that the word used in verse 17 for "submit" is hypeikete instead of Arche. It is in the present imperative active tense [Greek language guide rules again] and should be translated to "choose to yield or to follow." This is the ONLY time this word is used in the scriptures.

5___Now let me translate verse 24 from ONLY the text itself, following what has been said so far....

"Embrace all those who are your guides or leaders, as well as all the saints. They of Italy embrace you as well." [Hebrews 13:24]

Whew, just about done. Let me translate all three together.

"Remember those who had [past tense] been your guides, who led the way with the Word: whose faith imitate, considering the strong way they finished their life." [Hebrews 13:7]

"Choose to yield to those who are out in front leading you because you are persuaded they are likewise being faithful in their task, knowing they will be held accountable." [Hebrews 13:17]

"Embrace all those who are your guides or leaders, as well as all the saints. They of Italy embrace you as well."  [Hebrews 13:24]

There is simply no concept of lording it over someone in the church and certainly no textual justification for such an action based on an office in the local church. We will look at the idea of "office" next time.

This isn't to say there are not certain ministries that can be called pastor, elder, deacon, but whatever we find those to mean, it will be completely different than what is found in many modern day fellowships that are, unfortunately, more cultural than christian.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


Thank you for the effort that went into this excellent article.

Of course, I am always pleased to read something which affirms my own studies and thinking,aren't we all?

It brings back many memories of some enormous personal struggles during my first decade of denominational ministry. I was soon to learn as I observed some of my peers that many of the "big cheeses" were so malodorous that they surpassed any cheese from the shops.

The practice of 'pietho' was the major reason for the gathering of all free Greek citizens who had been summoned to hear discussion on matters pertaining to their society. Interestingly, every citizen was a member of the 'ecclesia' simply because they were citizens.

Apparently, many attended the gatherings purely for the entertainment value, but some were serious about the issues which affected their societies.

Something familiar about that: Do you agree?

Aussie John said...


I didn't answer your question: WHO RULES THE CHURCH?

"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— ONE LORD, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, WHO IS OVER ALL and through all and in all".

Seems rather clear!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

i said it isn't the elders and you said it is the Lord. Together we gave the biblical answer. It can't be said better than that can it! ;}