22 February, 2007

Elders: Rulers or Servants? Part 3

Please start at the Introduction , Part 1 and Part 2

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2: 9-10

In Part 3, lets take a look at certain words in scripture that may have lead us into wrong paths of church authority.

According to W.E. Vine, the Greek word peitho means "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. THE OBEDIENCE SUGGESTED IS NOT BY SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY, BUT RESULTING FROM PERSUASION" (emp. mine. An Expository Dic-tionary of New Testament Words, Vol. 3, p. 124).
The thrust of the word peitho is not one of submission to authority; it is one of listening to someone out of respect and taking their advice. A better translation of peitho in verse 17 is "Listen to," not "Obey them."

Peitho is sometimes translated "trust" in the King James Version of the New Testament and would have been an ideal translation in verse 17: ‘Trust them....’ This leaves the reader with a different flavor entirely than does the translation "Obey them..."

"Have The Rule Over You"
This is the part of verse 17 that really shows the bias and intent of the translators. "Have the rule over you" (KJV) was given as the meaning of hegeomai. It is used 28 times in the New Testament and translated variously as "count," "think," "esteem," "be governor," and other miscellaneous words such as "chief' and "leader."

It is significant to me that the King James translators used the strongest possible English words to translate hegeomai. Out of the 28 times the word appears, they elected to translate it "rule over you" three times: Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24, thus, strengthening the concept that the Church officer had unquestionable rule and authority and must be obeyed.
If the Holy Spirit wanted to convey the idea that Elders (Bishops) had the authority that they now claim, He would have used the Greek word arche, which translates into "rule" or "power." One who had the authority to rule was archon, "a ruler" or "a magistrate.' By choosing hegeomai the Holy Spirit indicated that these men who "watch(ed) in behalf of your souls", were the leaders among them.

Mr. Vine defines hegeomai "to lead, is translated to rule in Heb. 13:7, 17, 24 (A. V. marg(in) in the first two, ‘are the guides’ and ‘guide.’)." Thus, Mr. Vine acknowledges the word to mean "to lead." It is interesting that the King James translators did insert the marginal rendering "are the guides." I believe that is exactly what they are in this case. They are the men who have the respect of the group to be the group's leaders or guides.

Significantly, translators of the last sixty years have deferred to "leaders" as a proper rendering of hegeomai and have been willing to drop the phrase "have the rule over you." However, their desire to retain the authority of the Institutional Church officers shows up in their translation of verse 17 as a whole. Here are some samplings:

Revised Standard Version: Obey your leaders and submit to them ....
New American Standard Version: Obey your leaders, and submit to them ....
Living Bible: Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say.
Today's English Version: Obey your leaders and follow their orders.
New International Version: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.
Jerusalem Bible: Obey your leaders and do as they tell you.
New English Bible: Obey your leaders and defer to them ....
The Goodspeed Translation: Obey your leaders and give way to them ....
The Moffatt Translation: Obey your leaders, submit to them ....
Berry's Interlinear: Obey your leaders, be submissive ....

There can be no doubt that have the rule over you is not a proper translation of hegeomai, there is not a Greek word in this verse that carries the idea of "rule." Recent scholarship testifies to the fact that "leaders" is the best translation, as we have demonstrated above.
Also, you will find in those translations, "leaders" in verses 7 and 24, and you will not find "have (had) the rule over you" in verse 7. This is an improvement in the renderings.

As we have pointed out before, the problem with the word "rule" is that we associate it with power and authority. Jesus has all power and authority (Matt. 28:18) and has not delegated any of it to any man or group of men. Now, you might be thinking of other scriptures that seem to teach that elders have the authority to rule. Let's look at them:

Romans 12:8 - "...he that ruleth, with diligence." First, we are not told that this pertains to elders, it must be assumed. The word "ruleth" is from proistemi, not archo, and means "to stand before, hence to lead, attend to (indicating care and diligence)..." (Vine). Paul is talking about those in leadership roles.

First Thessalonians 5:12 -"...know them that labor among you, and are over, you in the Lord, and admonish you." Again, we must assume these to be elders. This may not necessarily be so. Definitely, "over you" is a biased translation of proistemi. There is no word in this verse that should be translated "over you." Proistemi means "to lead, attend to." Literally, it means "to stand before," according to Mr. Vine. Once again, we have the idea of "leaders" among the saints. This verse does not contain the idea of authoritative figures ruling congregations.

First Timothy 3:4,5 - "...ruleth his own house...." Since proistemi is our Greek word, we must understand that elders are charged with "leading," "attending," "caring for" their own house as well as the "house of God." Power and authority are not inherent in this word. The emphasis is on provision. The same is true in regard to the charge made to deacons in verse 12.

First Timothy 5:17,- "Let the elders that rule well..." Again, proistemi tells us that the reference is to leadership, not authority. In Berry’s Interlinear, he calls them, the 'take the lead elders'. Rule conveys the idea of "power and authority" and should give way to "lead" as a proper translation of proistemi.

All of these scriptures are saying the same thing, matching exactly what the writer of Hebrews wanted to convey. Spiritually matured men were charged by GOD with responsibilities to lead the flock. This included feeding (teaching) and caring for the people of God. They were to watch out for their souls. None of these requires power and authority. Neither was given by God.

H. Leo Boles, writing on this subject in 1944, could just as well have been writing for us today:

"There are elders who think themselves clothed or invested with all authority. They do not regard the wishes of the congregation, but impose their own dictatorial authority of the church. They never attempt to get the wishes of the church; and when the wishes are known, they do as they please. They 'boss' the affairs of the church. They usurp the authority from Christ, and are dictators over the church." (Gospel Advocate, Feb. 2, 1944, p. 2).
Those who push the Authoritarian position usually say, "If the 'rule over you' doesn't get you, the 'submit to them' will." Let's see if that is true.

Hupeiko is only found one time in the New Testament, in Hebrews 13:17. Mr. Vine says it means:
"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" (Vine, Vol. 4, p. 87).
Notice the thrust of this word. It means "to yield" or "to give in to." The thought in this verse, then, is for the Christian to yield to the wisdom of the older, more matured, spiritual leader. It is not a question of submitting to one who has "authority over you," but just simply respecting another's experience and wisdom. If that one has a track record of being weak in the knowledge of the scriptures, or has shown himself to be anything but spiritually minded, or is not a tested, proven leader among the group, there will not be the respect for him, and a thousand "appointments" will not make him into an "elder." There have been far too many instances where a congregation has "made" someone an "elder" and then expected everyone to "submit" to his "authoritative position." You cannot get that teaching out of Hebrews 13:17. You cannot find it anywhere in God's word.

There are other words in the Greek that are translated "subject,' "subjection,'' and "submit," but interestingly, not a one of them applies to "elders." Hupotasso is a word that is used 40 times, not once pertaining to "elders." Mr. Vine states that it is "primarily a military term, to rank under..." (Vine, Vol. 4, p. 86). Can you see why this word could not be used to describe the relationship between the congregation and the elders? In the Kingdom of God, there is no one with "rank" or authority over others! Therefore, the Holy Spirit used hupeiko and not hupotasso.

It should be stated, however, that hupotasso doesn’t always carry with it the idea of rank and authority. While we are subject to Christ (Eph. 5:24), to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3), and to His law (Rom. 8:7), we are subject to the earthly governments (Rom. 13:1). Wives are subject to their husbands (Col. 3:18), children are subject to their parents (I Tim. 3:4), and servants are subject to their masters (I Pet. 2:18). Now, we all recognize that rank and authority may be included in these examples, however, in Ephesians 5:21, Paul encouraged "subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ." This is a use of hupotasso as well.
We know there can be no rank and authority intended because Jesus said that in the spiritual kingdom "it would not be so among you" (Matt. 20:26). Christians are to be yielding in spirit and serving in disposition toward one another.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:27-29


David Dansker said...


Very fine study of "rule" and of the word hēgeomai occurring three time translated "them that have the rule over you," and other words. The King James was violently opposed by popish advaseried, and this is probably an example of some successes they had in pushing on that translation. The most famous is the love chapter, I Corinthians 13, where agapē is translated "Charity" throughout.

Great series, I am enjoying it. Thanks for taking the time to run it, and thank you for dropping by to comment on my post: yours is a most welcome voice,


Jen said...

Very interesting, Lin. I hadn't studied the word "rule" before.

<< "The thought in this verse, then, is for the Christian to yield to the wisdom of the older, more matured, spiritual leader." >>

Isn't this what we automatically, naturally do anyway? I know that I will gravitate toward someone who has earned my respect rather than toward someone who is a position of authority, just because they are in that position. A title of any sort is meaningless to me unless they "serve" well.

When I think about the men especially of whom I would seek out for spiritual advice, none of them fall in the "elder" category.

Thanks for making us think this through.

Lin said...

>>When I think about the men especially of whom I would seek out for spiritual advice, none of them fall in the "elder" category.>>

Me either and some are older women who are totally sold out to Christ.

Christ taught us that we would be able to tell who was who in Matthew 7

Diotrephes_Survivor said...

Thank you for you labor here.

Overlords and modern day Diotrephes (Third John Verse Nine) have polluted the gospel. It is sad. Yet it happens every day, probably in every city and town around the world. While the internet is a double-edged sword, it allows someone to research and find articles like this to try and deprogram from the "sound teaching" of these overlords.

My personal Diotrephes actually preached from the pulpit "eld3rs rule the flock and the fl0ck obey the elders". When I showed some of the leaders commentaries and greek word studies that did not support that overlording teaching....I was persecuted and run out. Sad by true. But I'm glad to be out of the kingdom of Lord Diotrephes.

Here are some commentary notes and such, ones that got me blackballed.


James 3:17 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable (eupeith─ôs), full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
eupeith─ôs : "willing to yield", "open to reason", "not self-willed"

"James still has the teachers in mind: they must be teachable and persuadable and capable of letting evidence and arguments carry the day; they must know when to hold firm and when to adjust."
"The wise teacher, because he or she knows mental and moral limitations, nurtures a willingness to listen and to change. For this reason, pastors and teachers do well to have someone to whom they are accountable"
NICNT: The letter of James. Scot McKnight


4. "[Serve not] as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (v. 3). ( 1 Peter 5:3 )
God has not called us to be dictators to the flock of God, not even benevolent dictators.
Unfortunately, that is the model being provided for us by many pastors and many local churches in the present day.
To be sure, such a form of government may seem very efficient, but it can be very devastating.

Cedar, P. A., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1984). Vol. 34: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 34 : James / 1 & 2 Peter / Jude. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (189). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.


641. Intolerance; Pharisaism

In fundamental circles a generation ago we had a hierarchy that was just as powerful and just as tough as the hierarchy that controls the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, they never had been elected; they just appointed themselves. And if you said anything that didn't jive with the notes of the Scofield Bible you were out on your ear, skidding across to the other curb.
Everybody had to believe exactly the same thing about everything, including the second coming and the antichrist and all the rest. Everybody had to believe exactly what everybody else believed. I grew up in that kind of an atmosphere and I was one of the first ones to rebel against it and fight it.

Matthew 23:23-24; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 14:5
Success and the Christian, 93.
Tozer Topical Reader - The Tozer Topical Reader – Volume One.