In a previous time, prior to the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, there was a separate class of servants called priests. These were set apart by God to serve in the things of God; they consisted exclusively of the descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
We observe that the priest had four functions.
1) Take charge of the sanctuary and altar. "Yahweh then said to Aaron: You, your sons and your ancestor's line with you will be answerable for offences against the sanctuary. You will take charge of the sanctuary and charge of the altar, and retribution will never again befall the Israelites." (Num. 18:1,5,NJB) And, "The priest Eleazar took the bronze censers which had been carried by the men destroyed by the fire. They were hammered into sheets to cover the altar. They are a reminder to the Israelites that no unauthorized person, no one not of Aaron's line, may approach and offer incense before Yahweh, on pain of suffering the fate of Korah and his party, as Yahweh had said through Moses." (Num. 16:39,40,NJB)
2) Teach. "For a long time Israel did not have the true God or a teacher-priest or a law; but when in their distress they turned to Yahweh, God of Israel, and sought him, he let them find him." (II Chr. 15:3,4,NJB)
3) Preserve God's law. "’Come on,’ they said, ‘ let us concoct a plot against Jeremiah, for the Law will not perish for lack of priests, nor advice for lack of wise men, nor the word for lack of prophets.’" (Jer. 18:18,NJB)
4) Ascertain the will of God. "He will present himself to the priest Eleazar who will consult Yahweh on his behalf by means of the rite of urim." (Num. 27:21,NJB)
These functions could only be performed by the descendants of Aaron. As can be seen from Numbers 16:39,40, death was the penalty for those not a priest should they even offer incense at the altar.
One large "Christian" group with headquarters in Rome has retained this caste and their practitioners wear special apparel to designate themselves as members of this priestly collective. However, as we search the new covenant scriptures we are unable to find any authority for a reestablishment of such a caste and, in fact, find that, with the advent of Christ's indwelling life in every believer, we are all called to minister to one another and to God in this capacity. In other words, every Christian is considered, and should function as, a priest; not in arid servitude but in the enjoyment of the freedom found as Christ's presence is realized within.
A brief review of the duties of Old Testament priests would be helpful. We shall consider these duties in the light of our call to enjoyable service in the present hour. The first of these priestly duties, the charge of the sanctuary, will have to do with types, that is to say, foreshadows or symbols of a greater reality.
The priests would first serve in the outer court of the tabernacle and the temple. There are wonderful lessons to be learned in their duties there as well, but we shall not attend to those observances and only note their actions in the inner court.
In the holy place of the sanctuary, where the priests serve, we see three items: the showbread table, the lampstand, and the incense altar. After the priests had discharged their call in the courtyard they would enter through the linen curtain into the holy place and come to the table of showbread.
The showbread was eaten by the priests in the holy place. The table spread with bread typifies Christ as our heavenly food. In this age we each can "feed" on Christ and enjoy Him as our food. Especially, eating Him through dining upon His word (Jn.6: 53-58,63).
Whenever we partake of Christ as food we are nourished and strengthened in our inner being. We experience health in our spirit and are constituted with Christ. This experience is not for a special class but for every believer.
The lampstand, also in the holy place, with its seven branches, burned olive oil. The presence of the number seven and the use of oil clearly signifies divine light. The light of God. What a light to have burning in the holy place! The priests were to trim the wicks, add the oil, and light the lamps. The light of God is no longer hidden in the holy place, but shines forth as a testimony to all the world; first in Christ (Jn. 1:4), then in the believers (Mt. 5:14-16). We are commissioned to trim our lamps (Mt. 15:7) and buy oil (25:9). This commission is for every believer.
The incense was burned before God in the holy place. Incense represents the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8). All our prayers, when offered in golden bowls, that is to say, when of divine origin (prompted by God), are a fragrant and pleasant aroma ascending to the heavens, and are thus received by God with gladness. This privilege is for every believer.
The priests were also the teachers under the, old way. Now we see that we are all required to teach. "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another..." (Col. 3: 16) "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you..." (Heb. 6:12) This responsibility is for every believer.
The old covenant priests preserved God's law. Under the blessed promise now fulfilled in us, God is writing His law in our hearts (Heb. 8:10). We ourselves are a letter of Christ, written by the Spirit (II Cor. 3:2,3), our lives reflecting the law of God, not in a legal way of outward performance, but in the way of life, allowing God's life to live out through us as we enjoy Him.
We are charged to preserve and protect our hearts. "Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap". (Lk. 21:34) This charge is for every believer.
The priests in days gone by ascertained the will of God through the rite of the urim (sometimes urim and thummim). The nature of that rite and the substance of the urim (it may have been a stone) are lost in antiquity. We will not know what they are until we are one day with the Lord. But only a priest used the method to discover God's will.
Now the believer is exhorted to understand the will of the Lord. "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." (Eph. 5:17) "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Col. 1:9) "...that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (4:12) This exhortation is for all believers.
Not only is the disciple of Christ directed to carry out the functions of priests but he is also addressed by the term. "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ... But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (I Pet. 2:5,9)
See also Rev. 1:5,6; 5:9,10.
There is no longer a separate group of priests, intermediaries, or clergy among the redeemed. Every member is equal and able to live as a priest. God does not command us to perform without equipping us for its accomplishment. Each one of us, if we but choose to do so, may live in this way, as a priest, experiencing the presence of God, eating Christ, lighting the lamp of God’s light, sending our prayers heavenward, teaching others, living as a testimony of God's law, and discerning His will. You are able!
In Christendom we have a class of people who act as priests to the exclusion of other disciples. In some denominations they actually take the name priest. With the reformation 500 years ago the scriptures were opened as they had not been in over a millennium and it was realized that there was no class of priests in the new covenant. The title was forsaken but the practices of those who entered positions of leadership changed little. There were a few positive changes but the class continued its monopoly on service only with new titles. Instead of priests there then were bishops, in other places Reverends, in still other denominations, Pastors. Those churches of the restoration movement saw the problem and escaped it for a short time - during the first 50 to 70 years or so, but they too succumbed to the two-caste system and ended up with "Preachers," "Evangelists," and "Ministers." Most have a body of men called the eldership which are also a part of the upper class in the church. Some of these titles are taken from the Bible but they have little similarity to the way the words are used in the Bible.
Whatever the person who stands in front of the congregation and sermonizes calls himself, you will observe that he is the one who does the vast majority of teaching. If others do any teaching it must be approved by the Presider (this term will encompass pastor, minister, preacher, etc.) or the eldership, depending on the denomination. The Presider is the one who preserves God's law which means the peculiar interpretation of the Scriptures which that particular denomination (or "non-denomination") holds to. So, if someone were to teach something contrary to what the Presider believes, this would constitute "rebelling against God's appointed authority" and the interpretation of scripture would be in jeopardy. This sort of control is almost universally present in all so-called churches. In some churches the "eldership" exercises the control. In Christianity there are far fewer groups that are controlled by an eldership than by a Presider. But there is little difference. In structure, leadership over a local church should be by a plurality of men called elders or bishops. But in practice modern elders misuse their position just as comprehensively as in the Presider system and so maintain the two-caste system.
The Presider will ascertain the will of God for you, both from the Scriptures and for your personal decisions. The Presider system effects a state in which the other members no longer think for themselves. They have consigned that function, at least in all spiritual matters, to the Presider. The other day I had my car washed by a group of people who were washing cars as part of a fund-raiser. I was speaking to one of the men washing my car, a man who looked to be in his late thirties. I found out that this was a fund-raiser for a church and was quite pleased to meet another Christian. I happily exclaimed that I too was a Christian and gave him a tract for believers saying, "Here, this will encourage you!" His reply was, "Can you give that to the pastor up there?" (He was washing the next car up.) I commented that this was something for him so he took it and immediately stopped washing my car, walked up to his pastor and gave him the tract, mentioning that someone had just given it to him. He would not read it! It had to be cleared by the pastor! Sorry to say that this is not just an isolated case. Over and over this sort of thing happens. Men and women of God are afraid to think for themselves. They are like blind sheep obediently following their leader(s). Is it any wonder cults and sects are so prevalent when the system fosters this sort of non-thinking adherence to person and dogma?
Although most Protestant groups will verbally pledge concurrence with the revelation of the priesthood of all believers, their practice manifests that they do not truly believe it. The Presider functions as a priest and the rest of the members are only the parishioners.
Some Christian groups speak often about "the five acts of worship." These so-called acts of worship are usually taught in reference to the assembling of God's people. Ephesians and Colossians are usually referenced but the context of the chapters from which references are taken have to do with the character and practice of the individual believer's life not a corporate assembly. Likewise, I Timothy and I Thessalonians are cited but, again, these have to do with individuals.
The whole idea of there being "acts of worship" that are acts of worship in themselves and which, by definition, exclude other more mundane actions is faulty and should be rejected. As Leroy Garrett and others have clarified, worship is something that should characterize all that we do and is not limited to certain, specific acts.
Neither do we necessarily see in scripture that the five acts often spoken of and practiced (teaching, giving, breaking bread, praying, and singing or praising) are always implemented at the same meeting of the saints. Neither do we find the early Christians meeting regularly on Sunday (not that it is wrong to do so). Neither do we read of them meeting in a "church building." Neither do we even see a "church building." Is it possible we have developed something that we assumed to have biblical precedent when, in fact, it is all just a hold-over from the Catholic Church, the apostasy from which we are still trying to be freed? This may very well be. Even so, we do see that the Christians did meet together in the early years of the church and it might be helpful to examine in what manner they did this.
There are only two books of the New Testament which tell us anything about the meetings of the churches, Acts and I Corinthians. The accounts in Acts are brief but numerous, leaving us no doubt that the early church practiced coming together often. Hence, it would not be in accordance with the practice of the early church to not meet with other saints on a regular basis. The accounts in Acts, with respect to the meetings of the saints, are characterized by brevity and may be anomalous in that we observe the presence of the apostles throughout. For these two reasons Acts may not be the best place to seek examples of how the Christians met.
I Corinthians 14 contains the only detailed account of the covenant community convening together. There, in Corinth, the Christians met together as a church (This only means that the believers living in that city came together. It does not mean that the church took on some sort of corporate existence apart from the believers themselves.) and no apostles were present; hence, it might be considered more normative.
There are some who would reject this entire chapter because it deals with some supernatural gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit and they do not believe that those gifts operate any longer. This paper will not address that issue at all. But, in passing, it is evident that the Christian community at large has made far too much of this issue. Rather than debating on whether the supernatural enduements have ceased altogether or not it seems it would be more prudent and less divisive to simply be sure that any so-called gift being exercised in our own gathering is genuine, and that with a spirit of tolerance and gentleness.
The message of chapter 12, of which chapter 14 is a continuation, is that each member functions differently just as each member of our own body works differently. There are teachers, helpers, and administrators, among others. Those particular gifts are not supernatural but they are still Spirit-given.
I am convinced that prophecy in the New Testament, along with teaching, helping, and administrating, is not supernatural in the sense that it was in the Old Testament; but that, as a gift, it is supplied by the Spirit, and, as an exercise, it is initiated by the Spirit. This means that the one who is prophesying can be in error; for, although the prophecy is initiated by the Spirit, its direction may go astray under the free operation of the prophet. This is why the Corinthians are instructed to evaluate the prophecies (14:29).
One thing that has led me to this conclusion is the very meaning of the Greek word, propheteia, which only means "a speaking forth" (W.E. Vines). Liddell and Scott give the definition: "the gift of expounding of scripture, public instruction, preaching." (Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford, 1977, P. 611.) Under this rubric would be teaching, testimonies, words of encouragement, words of comfort, any kind of speaking which builds up the hearers.
J. I. Packer defines the prophet's ministry in this way, "the essence of the prophetic ministry was forth telling God's present word to his people, and this regularly meant application of revealed truth rather than augmentation of it. As Old Testament prophets preached the law and recalled Israel to face God's covenant claim on their obedience, with promise of blessing if they complied and cursing if not, so it appears that New Testament prophets preached the gospel and the life of faith for conversion, edification, and encouragement... By parity of reasoning, therefore, any verbal enforcement of biblical teaching as it applies to one's present hearers may properly be called prophecy today, for that in truth is what it is."1
Whether we list New Testament prophecy as supernatural or not, chapter 14 reveals a principle of how the meeting is coordinated by the Spirit. A present day gathering of God's people being guided by God's Spirit can be realized by following the principle in chapter 14.
"What, then, is it, brethren? Whenever you may be coming together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a language, has a translation. Let all occur to edification." (I Cor. 14:26,CL)
Here, in the only description of a church gathering in the absence of an apostle, we see a divine principle unfolded. The principle is plainly evident - every member functions in some verbal way. We have already seen in chapter 12 that the church, in general, is composed of heterogeneous members who have different skills, divinely apportioned, and some of these skills were certainly meant to be exercised outside the context of an assembly, such as the gift of help or support (12:28). Now Paul specifically addresses the assembling of the saints and makes known the principle of mutual strengthening. It is not that Paul is tendering something new, rather, he is merely declaring what the Corinthian church is already practicing. And, unlike some of their sinful practices, he does not call them to forsake the practice but only corrects their misuse of it. He reminds them that tongues, or speaking other languages by the power of the Holy Spirit, is only one gift among many and that the others should be exercised as well, and that by each person.
By psalm, I find Paul to mean a song. Frequently this would have been one of the psalms of David, but not exclusively so. Teaching indicates some instruction from the word of God, probably prepared beforehand. Revelation, something that God has revealed to one during the meeting but still circumscribed by the word. Language, or tongues, a supernatural ability to speak a foreign tongue. And translation, or interpretation, the ability to translate that language for the benefit of those present who would not know that language, which would be most of, or all, the assembly.
As we read verses 27 through 30 it appears that Paul divides up the gifts mentioned in verse 26 into at least two categories (psalming, or singing, may be a third but Paul does not mention it), (1) tongues & interpretation and (2) teaching & revelation, which he designates as prophecy (He explicitly includes revelation as prophecy and implicitly includes teaching by use of the phrase "so that all may learn" in verse 31.). Then, in verse 31 Paul again brings out the aforementioned principle: "For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted" (NAS).
For many years I thought that prophecy was an infallible, supernatural utterance that was no longer seen or heard since the days of the apostles. After a brief study of the Greek word and positive experiences in meetings with my fellow members I have learned that prophecy is not an inspired type of speaking, simply a speaking forth for God. When Christians are gathered together in a simple way, without any Presider except God's Spirit, the Lord can move in wonderful ways. Many times have I sat in these meetings listening to one brother share something from the word of God that truly and deeply encourages me, that stirs up a greater love for our Savior or our God, and then I will receive a revelation - not something new, but a conviction out of the word of God that I may not have thought of for some time, and, occasionally I will receive something new, to me, so I then look at a few verses to verify that what I am thinking is true. When it becomes clear that it is I stand up and share it. It will be along the same theme as that which the person before me spoke, usually with just a little additional revelation. Then, often, another will stand and speak something further. When the meeting is over a beautiful thing has taken place - God has spoken through His word in a rich way. I tell you, I do not think it would be possible for a Christian to be so positively affected by a pastor's sermon, not even someone as eloquent as Charles Spurgeon. For participation causes one to enter into joy and belonging which spectatorship does not. Even when we do not speak during this kind of meeting we still see God's hand in the working through each member which we do not see in the Presider system. It is God's way, both scripture and experience testify to this avenue of building ourselves up on our most holy faith.
I have been to many denominational meetings, and "non-denominational" meetings, always observing the same general format: a prayer, songs, partaking of the Lord's table, another song, passing the collection plate, the sermon, closing song, closing prayer. The order is different in the various denominations. Noticeably absent is the opportunity for each one to prophesy or speak forth for God. The one who gives the sermon, the clergyman, is the only one permitted to prophesy. Hence, the current system militates against the God-ordained way of learning and being exhorted. We can still be taught and still be exhorted by only one man speaking but we should recognize that this is not the Lord's way and there is no scriptural authority nor example of employing this method when the church comes together.
In studying the scriptures many leaders in the church at large have seen the principle of all members participating and so have attempted to implement the practice by having "a time of sharing" at the beginning of the "worship service." The intent may have been good but this is only an anemic simulation of the principle Paul describes in I Cor. 14:26-33. In the many times that I have observed this performance I have noted that "the time of sharing" is usually brief, five or ten minutes, while the sermon remains at thirty to forty minutes (or longer!). Even in those places that put emphasis on the time when all members speak and it stretches out to fifteen minutes or more, the Presider still sermonizes for the traditional thirty minutes or so. The meeting then simply becomes longer.
I have also observed that what is spoken during this time is an experience the person has had during the week. Very rarely have I heard someone share something from God's word other than a verse or two. It can be imagined that if one were to speak a grand truth from the Bible and it was not in accordance with the doctrinal position of the Presider or the Elders he would soon be spoken to and instructed not to speak those things again! But it need not be imagined for it has happened to brothers that I know. The fear of being corrected by the Presider or Elders may be the reason that God's word is not spoken in those places that do try to have a time of mutual edification. But, more likely, the reason is simply that speaking in front of the assembly has become a professional matter and others doing it simply does not fit into the format. They have no experience doing it and no training, thus do not feel comfortable exercising their latent gifts.
Attempting to tack on plenary prophesying to the existing traditional church meeting will not work. It is a putting of new wine into old wineskins. I do not say this lightly nor as a cliché. In plenary prophesy it is the Holy Spirit who is moving amongst the members, orchestrating a message and its accompanying inner enjoyment. The traditional "church service" is a man-made construct, although the Spirit may intermittently attend some of the hearers as God blesses His people even in their ignorance and disobedience. The two are not compatible. One or the other needs to be forsaken.
The fellowship of the primitive Christians was characterized by equality, mutual teaching, mutual encouragement, freedom of expression, unfettered by man-originated authority figures and structures. There was divine authority, as we shall see shortly, but after the passing of the apostles there were no men with authority over others in a congregation.
There were only two types of men who had authority among the early churches - apostles and their emissaries. The authority of an apostle is undisputed. Although even this authority was for building up, not tearing down (II Cor. 10:8) as is seen far too often in our day.
As an example of an apostle's emissary we see Paul sending Titus to Corinth along with another unnamed brother (IICor.12:17,18; 7:13-15), also sending him to Crete (Tit. 1:5). Likewise, Timothy was sent to Corinth (I Cor. 4:17) and to Thessalonica (I Thes. 3:1,2) by Paul and also had a special gift bestowed by Paul's hands (II Tim. 1:6). Titus and Timothy, as those sent by an apostle carried similar authority.
If apostles are no longer with us then there can be no emissaries. If there are neither apostles nor emissaries then there are no men with authority in the church. The unstated premise in the above syllogism is that there are indeed no apostles today. I recognize that there are some Christians who believe that there are still apostles today. In Christendom these dear saints make up a small minority so no attempt will be made to present evidence that this is not the case. Rather, the more popular misconception that the Presider and the Elders have authority, and should be obeyed, shall be addressed.
When the Presider or the Elders wish to demonstrate the legitimacy of their presumed authority and their call upon the other members to obey they frequently appeal to Hebrews 13:17: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch over 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." (KJV) Well, if we would quietly accept the ideas of the translators from 1611 then the matter is settled. However, would it not be wise to search the scriptures to see if this is so? The scriptures were not written in English but, as every reader knows, in Greek. Could it be possible that the translators of the King James Version made an error in the translation of certain words? Of course it is possible. Is it probable? Were they under any sort of influence
other than God's? (I do believe that God did influence them in a good way.) Of course they were under competing influences. Every man is under competing influences in every endeavor he undertakes. Yes, it is probable.
Students of Greek are familiar with the multitude of errors in the translation of not only the King James version but most other versions as well. (Thankfully, these errors are not of major importance and do not effect any truly significant doctrines of the Christian faith. Hence, one can pick up almost any version of the Bible [with rare exceptions, e.g., the New World Translation] and rest in knowing that God is communicating to him or her in a way that will bring blessing.) Therefore, when a particular matter in God's word comes into question it is prudent to consider the possibility that the translators made an error and to search for the meaning of the original words found in the particular passage under examination.
An objective study of the Greek words used in Hebrews 13:17 will show that not only has the King James version mistranslated the passage but most other translations have as well, including NAS, NIV, NJB, and TEV. There are some that have translated it correctly and these will be mentioned shortly.
We shall examine the three words "obey", "rule", and "submit" as found in our passage. Dusty Owens has made two observations with which I concur:
"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. Verse 17 is translated in such a way as to carry that image over into some imagined ecclesiastical office called Bishop or EIder. It is conceived and taught that these ecclesiastical officers do have the authority to command and to expect obedience from all who submit to that authority. (In fact, in some congregations, one may not be considered a part of that group until he/she publicly declares allegiance and submission to the Elders). If Christians want to enjoy the fellowship in certain congregations but are unwilling to obey every judgment call made by the Elders, they face the threat of excommunication. Elders (Bishops) expect to be obeyed. All this in spite of our Lord's teaching that there will not be rank and authority in the spiritual Kingdom of God (Matt. 20:20-28)."2
All of the above applies with equal validity to the Pastor in the Presider system. And, brother Owens also comments:
"1 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."3
These lucid observations will serve as an introduction to a brief study of these three words.
The word translated as "obey" is peithesthe which is derived from the verb peitho, "to persuade."4 Peitho, being in the active voice, means to persuade others. Since verbs in Greek are represented in the first person singular, peitho is actually "I persuade." The passive voice would present the subject as being acted upon; for example, "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." (II Tim. 1:12, KJV) "But that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. (Heb. 6:8,9, KJV)
The middle voice presents the subject as being acted upon by himself. So Paul, in speaking to King Agrippa, "For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner." (Acts 26:26, KJV)
Each voice has a distinctive form in each Greek verb (with some exceptions) so it is not difficult to determine which voice the verb is in. Returning to the word for "obey," peithesthe is in the middle voice which means to "be persuaded by." One could properly translate the word "persuade yourselves by listening to..." Since the middle voice form can also be used in a passive way, either translation is acceptable.
Why have the KJV and most other popular translations chosen the word "obey" here in this verse when it is predominantly translated as "persuade" or "be persuaded by," depending on whether it is active or passive, elsewhere, even in the very same versions? Peitho and its various forms are found 55 times in the New Testament scriptures. In the KJV it is translated as "obey" only once with respect to man-to-man relationships and that is here in Hebrews 13:17!! Reader, don't you find this odd? All other instances of the word in the context of human relationships finds it being translated as "persuade," "be persuaded," or some other near synonym such as "trust." Why only here is it translated as "obey"?
Translators have been influenced by the hierarchical status quo universally present in all "churches." Is it not reasonable to conclude that if a translator attends and participates in a particular denomination, which teaches obedience to spiritual leaders, that he will be predisposed to think in those terms?
There are Greek words for "obey." What are they? One is hupotasso, "to subordinate," or "to subject" in the active voice. This word comes from tasso, "to order," and hupo, "under." An even more literal rendering might be "to order under."
In the passive voice, hupotassestho, the meaning is "to obey," "be subject," "be under order." And so, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." (Rom. 13:1, KJV) In context, the higher powers are the civil authorities. Christians are to obey the civil authorities. But the author of Hebrews did not use this word in verse 17.
Another word for obey is peitharcheo. Here, the root, peitho, is combined with the root word arche, rule. Hence, the word can mean "to obey." But this word is never used to describe relationships among God's family, only obedience to God Himself (Acts 5:29) and civil magistrates (Tit. 3:1).
Finally, there is hupakoe, which can mean "obey" or "answer" depending on the context. The author of Hebrews could have used any one of these words yet he chose a word which carries the meaning of "be persuaded," a word which depicts an attitude as opposed to an action.
Our next word is translated as "them that have the rule," hegeomai. This word is used 28 times in the New Testament scriptures and only here in ch. 13 is it translated as "them that have the rule" in the KJV. Again I would ask, is this not a little peculiar? The word is properly translated as "leader." We do have leaders in the church and these are to lead by example not by rulership.
There are Greek words for "ruler," notably archon and hegemon, but the author of Hebrews did not use these words.
All other translations have translated the word as leaders," including NAS and NIV. Finally, let us examine the word that is translated "submit," hupeiko. This word only appears once in the new testament articles. Its correct translation is "to defer" or "to yield." Those in God's family who manifest the character and life of Christ should be deferred to out of respect for what Christ has gained in them. It is not a matter of submission because of being "under authority"; in fact, it cannot be because of our Lord’s explicit teaching in Matt. 20:25,26.
There are Greek words for "submit," as the passive of hupotasso, mentioned earlier, and doulagogeo. The author of Hebrews chose to use neither of these words in ch. 13.
How then should the verse be translated? I think this to be a good translation: "Persuade yourselves by listening to your leaders, and defer to them..."
Are there translations that translate the words as we have indicated in the foregoing considerations? Yes, there are. The Concordant Literal has it: "Be persuaded by your leaders, and be deferring to them, for they are vigilant for the sake of your souls, as having to render an account, that they may be doing this with joy, and not with groaning, for this is disadvantageous for you." (Heb. 13:17, CL)5
The Christian Bible: "You must be continually persuaded by your leaders, and must be continually deferring to them; for they are continually being vigilant on behalf of your sentient beings, as ones who will have to pay back an account! You must be letting them, so that they might be continually doing this with joy and not with groaning, since that wouldn't be to your advantage!" (Heb. 13: 17, CB)6
Arthur S. Way: "Follow the advice of your spiritual leaders: yield them submission. They watch sleeplessly over your souls, as men who will have to render an account for them, so that they may render it with rejoicing, not with sighing; for this would be disastrous for you." (Heb. 13:17,AWT)7
Emphasized Bible: Be yielding unto them who are guiding you and submit yourselves; for they are watching over your souls as having an account to render, that with joy the same they may be doing, and not with sighing-for unprofitable unto you were this." (Heb. 13:17,EB)8
This is the lone verse the clergy cling to in their attempt to prove that they have authority to which you are subject. But it does not say what they wish. Once this last vapor is dispersed under the cool and refreshing zephyr of examination they are left exposed and naked and forced to hide in shame or continue to pretend they have authority with an affected boldness which only further reveals their desire for preeminence - the sin of Diotrephes.
When we perceive that a man or woman of God has a heart that is filled with Christ, His love, and His goodness, when there is that flavor of divine life carried in the bosom of humility, we are naturally attracted to that person and wish to follow their example and listen to their wisdom. I have been favored by God to have known men and women who match this description. They have had a positive affect upon my understanding of Christ, His love and His care. This kind of leader is few and far between. When you come to know one in whom Christ has been wrought there is never a question of submission to authority because you are desiring to be like Christ, inwardly, and the example of that person is the means by which that desire becomes a reality.
No, it is not a matter of authority. It is a matter of life. Christ will gain something in those to whom His favor is extended. As long as we do not give ground to ambition and envy within ourselves, we will see Christ in certain ones, in abundant measure. We will enjoy their presence and their friendship, experiencing the enjoyment that comes with intimacy centered around God who purifies every relationship and sanctifies every gathering no matter how small. Then will we follow with gladness and contentment.
Although there is no authority among the members of the body of Christ in their relationship as members yet there is authority in God's universe. There is the authority Christ has over the church. We see that the husband has authority over his wife and is therefore under obligation to see that he exercises this authority prudently and lovingly. There exists authority of parents over their children. We have already seen that there are civil authorities. There also exists the authority of master over slave and employer over employee. These ministrations are right and good, ordained by God, although the stewardship of these ministrations may be abused.
Each authority has differing extent and status in comparison to the others. Some we may voluntarily dispossess (but we must remain in submission until we do), others are enduring throughout our lives. We should be careful to obey these authorities. Too often in the past have I found myself sorely tempted to disregard and disrespect some of these authorities. We should all be on guard - disdain for authority is a sign of unbelief (Jude 5,8) and is the very root of many other sins. God is good and has established these authorities for our benefit.
Cognizant of genuine authority, the believer errs when he places himself under an authority that is not ordained by God. The so-called "ordination" of the clergy is an ordination by man not by God. Countless men have been "ordained" who have been infidels, believing not the virgin birth, denying even that the Bible is the word of God, leading people astray, offering dead men's bones in place of living water.
A godly leader who has been "ordained" is godly because God has made him so by His grace and His grace alone. The very predilection to follow Christ and to study His word was given to him because of God's favor towards him. Recognition by some council of men has neither meaning nor scriptural precedent.
The Clergy have invented an authority structure which will greatly impede the believer's progress towards the next manifestation of the kingdom of God. How this progress is impeded has been shown to some extent already but will be addressed in more detail at a later time if the Lord permits.
Reader, if you are seeking a more meaningful relationship with our Lord, a deeper communion with Him, then you must come out from under the structure of authority found in all denominations. You will discover a spirit of discovery if you take this step.
Alexander Campbell said 150 years ago that the clergy, the two-caste system described herein, is the gravest error that the religious world has ever fallen into. Greater numbers of Christians are seeing that this is indeed the case.
This system is so pervasive that it may be difficult for some to even imagine what the Christian life would be like without it. But for those who have been freed from its nearly ubiquitous influence there is the realization of freedom and opportunity for growth hitherto unavailable.
We have seen that the clergy-laity system prevents the believer from functioning in his full capacity as a priest because these privileges are retained by the Presider.
We have also seen that the system denies the Spirit of Christ to operate in the meetings through "each one." The members are not permitted to prophesy; rather, the Presider does all the prophesying and Paul's admonition in I Cor. 14 is treated with indifference.
Finally, an authority structure is claimed without biblical sanction and the saints are inhibited from following the dictates of their conscience and the word of God, for should their conclusions differ from the Presider's or the Elders' they must keep silent. The members are no longer "one in Christ Jesus" but two - those with authority and those without it.
One man of God has said that many a truth has been lost because of a Christian's carnal refusal to come out of this kind of system. There are many wonderful truths you may never experience because of staying at ease in Zion. For admittedly, remaining in the system is easier than serving the Lord in our every day life. But so much is lost.
1. J.l. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1984) p.215
2. Dusty Owens, "Do Elders Rule?" The Examiner, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 8
4. W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1966) p.124
5. Concordant Literal New Testament (Concordant Publishing Concern, 15570 West Knochaven Road, Canyon Country, CA 91351)
6. The Christian Bible, New Contract Writings Portion (Christian Bible Society, P.O. Box 530, Mammoth Spring, AR 72554)
7. Arthur S. Way Translation (Kregel Publications, P.O. Box 2607 Grand Rapids, MI 49501)
8. The Emphasized Bible (Kregel Publications)