"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23: 1-12
This will make no sense unless you read the Introduction and Part 1, first.
Summary from Part 1: Elders are to serve not rule.
Two other verses in Hebrews 13, verses 7 and 24, are very similar to verse 17. It is unclear who the Hebrew writer had in mind. Verse 7 reads: "Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith." Notice the past tense treatment of "had the rule." Verse 24 states: "Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints...." It is very possible that those "that spake unto you the word of God" were the first to preach the gospel to them, including the apostles themselves.
Robert Milligan, a great scholar of the nineteenth century, published a commentary on Hebrews in 1875. Commenting on verse 7 Milligan wrote:
"Remember them which have the rule over you: Or more literally, Remember your leaders (hegoumenon) who spoke (elalesan) to you the word of God; carefully considering the issue of their manner of life; imitate their faith. The reference is to such men as Stephen, James the brother of John, and other faithful preachers of the Gospel who had formerly proclaimed to the Hebrews the good word of God...". (Commentary on Hebrews, p. 375}.
Milligan did not understand these verses as granting authority to groups of elders in congregations as is conceived in the twentieth century. He did see that among groups of Christians there were those who would be respect-fully followed as spiritual leaders, among which would be preachers and teachers of the word of God.
Certainly, elders may be included in Hebrews 13:17, but this verse does not give authority to them in the same sense that is assumed and taught by so many today. Admittedly, if we accept the English words which have been supplied to us, first by the King James translators, and then by the translators of the past one hundred years, we might conclude the authoritarian position is correct. But we should do a word study to determine if we have been given the right English words that convey the proper meanings of the Greek words used in the text. I am convinced that the King James translators, laboring under an "institutional church" mentality, selected the strongest words possible which conveyed the idea that the people must submit to the authority of the Clergy. In this way King James could control the people through the Church, of which he was Supreme Ruler. (For more on this theme consult this article, "Church": From God or From Man?" The Examiner, January, Vol. 2, No. 1). Our word study will reveal that the most logical words which could have been chosen to give the true meaning of the originals were overlooked because they would "soften" tremendously the assumed sense of the verse and do away completely with the authoritarian emphasis.
Now, let's get back to verse 17: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them...." Notice the words that were chosen: "Obey," "rule over you," and "submit." These English words conjure up in our minds a very authoritative concept. A President, Governor or some other political officer has the invested right to command others to submit to his authority and obey.
Come back for Part 3 for a look at: Obey, have rule over you, and submit.