Friday, March 28, 2014


What may very well be the most used passage in all of the New Testament by those who teach that pastors or elders have a "ruling" role in local church life is that well known, though not well understood, passage in Hebrews 13: 7,17, 24.

These verses say.....

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

"Obey them that 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

"Salute (to draw to one's self) all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you." Hebrews 13:24.
There are several things that must be pointed out for these verses to be rightly understood.

For one thing, it would do us all well if we were to recognize that neither of the two words most frequently used in modern day church life are found here at all. Neither Pastor nor Elder are here. Period! One may say they are implied, but that's debatable. It is a fact that they are not found exegetically.

But just as significant is the fact that the word "over" is not here either. It has been added in translation in all the verses where the word "rule " is found, but "over" as a word is not to be found exegetically.

It also needs to be pointed out that 13:7  is written in the past tense and is incorrectly translated by the KJV as being in the present tense. In the KJV that verse is translated this way...

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

But, it is better translated this way...

"Remember those who were your guides, whose faith you are to imitate, taking note of how they were faithful to the very end of their life."

This seems to me to be a verse that, rather than telling anyone to submit to Elders, is in fact reminding the Hebrew believers about all those mentioned in chapters 11 and 12 and is saying they should be remembered.

Add to that the fact that it does follow verse 6 which refers to not fearing man, which those people in chapters 22 and 12 did not do and gave their lives because it, you have further reason to think it's actually addressing people who have gone before.  It could possibly be including the Apostles themselves, but to make it mean "elders" is not an option textually.

But the real issue to me is simply the meaning of certain words which must be textually understood. I'm going to take some words in the order of appearance in the passage to address this.

Take the word "rule." In the Greek language it is the word "hegeomai."

Strong's Word Studies says this about it. "This word means, to lead, to go before, to be a leader, it does not carry the idea of "ruling over," but of giving leadership."

As you can see, Strong believed, and I agree with him, that is is speaking of leadership as nothing more than going ahead.

Then there is the ever puzzling word "obey."

In the Greek in this passage it is the word "peitho." This time we'll look at Vine's Expository Dictionary for the meaning.

Vine says, "Peitho" means to persuade, to win over, in the Passive and Middle voices it means to be persuaded to be listened to. [Acts 5:40, Passive Voice, "they agreed"] The obedience is not by submitting to authority, but results from being persuaded."

So Vine says  the word "obey" in this passage does not mean obedience because of authority at all. That would be an external cause for following but here it is an internal cause that beings about a reasoned decision one because of the persuasiveness of the leader and NOT the leaders authority.

Boy, is that different than you usually hear from teachers of this passage.

Now, the final word is of course, "submit." In the Greek [I'm beginning to think the original Greek was important!] it is the word "hypeikete."  It's interesting to note that this is the only place in scripture you will find this word. Most scholars agree that the word probably means yield here. It could mean to follow and, as a present imperative active verb, it could even mean submit, but in context it would have to be voluntary and not inherent authority.

There is a Greek word that means to "be subject to" and "obey." It is "peitharcheo" (peith-ar-KAY-o), one of the words built upon "arche" meaning "ruler." It is found three times in the New Testament, twice in Acts (5:29 and 27:21) and once in Titus (3:1). There, and in other writings out­side the New Testament, it describes obedience to someone who is in authority, civil or God. But that word is NOT used here.

So the best possible translation of the Greek language for these verses with this clarification would be....

"Remember those who had [past tense] been your guides, who led the way with the Word: whose faith imitate, considering the strong way they ended their life." [Heb. 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." [Heb. 13:17]

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

So for myself, I just cannot see a concept of Lording it over or the idea of the members serving under the rule church leaders in this passage at all. In fact, I just don't see that there EVER IS that kind of thing in the New Testament.

There is simply NO TEXTUAL justification for an office of any kind in the New Testament local church with inherent authority vested in it where the congregation does what they're told.

This is NOT to say there are not ministries that can be called pastor or elder or even deacon in a local Church. But it is to say that New Testament local Church authority was totally different than any cultural concept of "being over."

Someone may ask, "But doesn't Acts 20:28 indicate that the elders were over the congregation?" There it is said of them..."Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over [en...which is better translated "among" rather than "over."] which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with His own blood."

This little word "en" translated "over" in the KJV is used 2,700 times in the New Testament and is nowhere else translated "over." It is a simple Greek preposition which means "in or among." In fact, Peter instructed the elders to be very careful that they don't "Lord it over" the flock. [See 1 Peter 5:3]

So what does local Church authority look like in the New Testament?

The scriptural model for Church life is one of gifted people__ anointed by the Spirit and recognized by the people__ functioning as a gift to the whole body__ who then serve by equipping ALL of the body to do the work of ministry__ as described in Ephesians 4:11-13.

This is far different than a few office-holders [Pastor or Deacon] doing the work of ministry and all the people doing what they are told by those in office. It moves from viewing the Church as an organization or institution to seeing Her as an Organism or a body__ properly called__ the Body of Christ.

I will attempt to explain this in the fourth and final part of this post topic next time.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


As I read these posts I cannot help but be reminded of the position which was hammered home in my young days of Sunday School, attending services, and later,listening to, and trusting, professors who "knew better" than I did (?).

I can't help but think about the struggles I had, about what I had previously been taught, and began to teacht the beloved congregations I was deceiving under the assumption I was serving, as the Scriptures began revealing exactly what you are saying in these posts.

Interestingly, those who argue against what you are saying, and I have taught in the later years, never argue from Scripture, but from tradition, and what another "expert" says.

What was it you said regarding a "two-part post"?

Never-the-less, I thank you for your willingness to stand up for the truth.

I yearn for the day when God's people will understand fully that,"The scriptural model for Church life is one of gifted people__ anointed by the Spirit and recognized by the people__ functioning as a gift to the whole body__ who then serve by equipping ALL of the body to do the work of ministry__ as described in Ephesians 4:11-13."

Anonymous said...

We are blessed by many examples of faithfulness, good works, wisdom, love and steadfast submission by members of the congregation, and in families, on a daily basis. These are practical expressions of leadership that point us to Jesus Christ.

The reason why we don't need formally appointed leaders is because we have One who is our Leader. His Spirit and His word abide within our hearts to meet all essential needs. We are called to follow Him.

We thank God for the differing gifts and talents among us which enrich our lives, whether these be in administration, teaching, music, generosity or whatever. And not one of us is without some gift/talent to bless another.

Leadership is really a case of 'handsome is as handsome does', and even a child can be a leader in this regard, as Jesus said.

Many have become restricted in their Christian service under authoritarian and regulative church structures. They have lived to regret selling their souls to the company store!


Victorious said...

Paul, if you (and others) can clearly see these erroneous teachings about power, authority, and obedience, how do we account for the popularity of them in so many churches today?

And more importantly, is it possible to go backwards? Will those who usurp power and authority ever retract such teachings do you think?

Thank you so much for the time and effort involved in this detailed teaching. I look forward to your part four.

Mary Ann

Paul Burleson said...


I've been away for several days in conference and have just returned to my computer for responses to your comments. Sorry for the delay in responding to your very good comments.

Mary Ann, I think something Aussie J said may give a clue as to why so many have not yet come to a clear understanding of the scripture and authority in the local church. He articulated where I was as well, and that is, I was wrapped up in TRADITION.

It's tough for many to get over tradition in any area and that's especially true in the area of theology.

When we DO become aware of our mistake in doing that, what Gordon said is so right on for us at that point, "They have lived to regret selling their souls to the company store!" I've faced that moment in my own life as Aussie J, confessed he did as well.

There are maybe many other reasons as well, but that thing of the clutches of tradition is dominate I'm thinking.