A Revelation of Jesus Christ - Revelation 1:1

Tag: obedience

The Hebrews 13:17 Dilemma

Carl Heinrich Bloch's depiction of the Sermon on the Mount

Carl Heinrich Bloch’s depiction of the Sermon on the Mount


This is the second in a series on the subject of “Leadership, Authority and Submission”. The first article was entitled Jesus – The Chief Shepherd.  It discussed the often misapplication of 1 Samuel 15:22-23.

What do the scriptures have to say about the subjects of authority and submission? Well, Jesus had a lot to say about spiritual leadership. He said that leaders in the church should be servants. Christian leaders should not act as gentiles who “lord it over” people. A good example of this principle is found in Matthew chapter 20.



Matthew 20:25-28 (KJV) – “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Authority and Submission – Misapplied Scriptures

In my experience these are the Bible passages and issues regarding authority and submission that have been misunderstood and misused within the Christian church:

  • 1 Samuel 15:22-23
  • Hebrews 13:17
  • Romans Chapter 13
  • 1 Peter 5:5
  • Psalms 105:15
  • Shepherding Movement
  • Exodus 19:12

These passages are often taken out of context and misused. Misused in that there is no attempt to study the meaning of each scripture. There’s no attempt to look at the whole body of scripture that deals with the subject of authority and submission within the church. Concordances, commentaries and translations other than the King James Version (KJV) are never consulted or studied. Whether done out of ignorance or malice, the word of God is never rightly divided. Let’s take each passage and see what the scriptures reveal. Our first article discussed the true meaning of 1 Samuel 15:22-23.  This article will focus on Hebrews 13:17.

Does “Obey” mean “Obey”?

Hebrews 13:17 (KVJ) – “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 is often quoted as a half verse and incorrectly translated. It has been used by countless authoritarian church leaders in an attempt to put their congregations into subjection to their personal vision for how they feel that the church should operate. This is contrary to the clear teachings of the Scriptures. The dilemma rests in the fact that many Christians refuse to accept the Bible’s teaching against authoritarianism in the Church. Here are just a few of the Bible passages that stand against authoritarianism: Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, 1Peter 5:1-3, Matthew 6:24, Matthew 23:8-12, and 3 John 1:1-3.

How often have we heard this passage? “Obey” means obey, right? Well, let’s take a closer look. The Greek word for obey, as it appears in the text, is peithesthe. It is the second person, plural, imperative, middle voice form of “peitho“. However “peitho” doesn’t mean to “obey,” at least not in the strictest sense.

There are thirteen potential English equivalents for the Greek word “Peitho”. Many translators chose to translate “Peitho” simply as “obey”. This list was taken from both Vines’ and Strong’s concordances:

• Be convinced
• Give assent [agreement]
• To rely on (by inward certainty)
• Agree with
• Believe
• Have confidence in
• Become content with
• Make friends with
• Obey
• Be persuaded by
• Trust
• Yield to
• Be assured by

Now look at all the possibilities on this list. Yet the translators chose to translate “Peitho” into English as just “obey”. In doing so, the central theme and nuances of the true meaning in the Greek are totally lost. The essence of this important Greek word cannot possibly be conveyed in English by the single word “obey”.

When we study the context with the rest of this Scripture and with the other words properly translated, that “Peitho” simply means believing, trusting, obeying and accepting. The question is believing and accepting what? The answer from the context is this: believing, trusting, obeying and accepting God’s Word as accurately or faithfully presented by true elders.

It is assumed or implied that these are true not false elders. When the Bible mentions things in passing like the subject of elders, it is always assumed that these things are genuine and true. So we know the Bible is not allowing or endorsing false elders.

This word “Peitho” here does not in any way suggest or license blind obedience to a self-proclaimed dictator or groups of co-dictators. There is a similar translation problem with the words “rule”, etc. and God willing we will look at that another time.

Hebrews 13:17 is clearly not a license for men to dictate, rule, control, command, dominate, and otherwise exercise authority over others in the church. We know this first and foremost because Jesus and His Apostles told us that such things are forbidden! The obedience suggested in Hebrews 13:17 is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion.  A true Pastor, elder or church leader is a servant-guide protector, not a dictatorial lording leader. A true elder should not model himself after a military commander or corporate executive. Rather a Christian leader is one who feeds and protects the sheep, not for his personal gain or to support his personal agenda.

Submit – To What?

What about the word “submit” in Hebrews 13:17? According to Vine’s and Strong’s concordances the English word “submit” is translated from the Greek word hupeiko. This word occurs only once in the Bible. It is here in Hebrews 13:17. Since it is already qualified by the requirement to “be persuaded” before you “submit”, this verse cannot be used to advocate blind obedience that is sometimes required by leaders. We are required to “submit” to those things that we can “be persuaded” are true according to the Word of God. There is a dangerous false teaching that says that even if we do not agree with church leaders we are to “submit” and somehow we will be blessed. This teaching is not backed up by the scriptures.

The obedience and submission required by Hebrews 13:17 is about instruction in the Word of God. It is about having the heart of a humble servant. It is about following a religious leader who is proclaiming truth and holiness. The submission required by Hebrews 13:17 is not an absolute submission without qualification. It is submission based on the will of God as revealed in His Word. Every Christian is responsible for studying to show themselves approved and to rightly divide the Word of truth.

The true intent of Hebrews 13:17 then is for the Christian to yield to the wisdom of the older, more matured, spiritual leaders. It is not a question of submitting to someone unconditionally who has “authority over you”. It is simply respecting another’s experience and wisdom. When a church leader is weak in the knowledge of the scriptures or has shown himself to be anything but spiritually minded, there will not be the respect for him. Congregations have “made” someone an “elder” or “Pastor” and then expected everyone to “submit” to his “authoritative position.” Hebrews 13:17 in no way supports the authoritative position.

Matthew Henry Commentary brings further light on this verse: “The duty – to obey them, and submit themselves to them. It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word; and yet it is truly obedience and submission, and that not only to God, but to the authority of the ministerial office, which is of God as certainly, in all things belonging to that office, as the authority of parents or of civil magistrates in the things within their sphere. Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

Barnes Notes on the New Testament makes these comments: “They were to show them proper respect, and to submit to their authority in the church, so far as it was administered in accordance with the precepts of the Saviour. The obligation to obedience does not, of course, extend to anything which is wrong in itself, or which would be a violation of conscience.”

Let me also say that for your edification, you might want to do your own word study of Hebrews 13:17. Use a good Greek concordance such as Vine’s or Strong’s and specifically study the words “obey”, “rule”, “submit” and “authority”. Study the scriptures with a mind that is open to God’s truth. Look at the context of each passage keeping in mind that no Scripture conflicts with any other Scripture. Then you will undoubtedly be in for an eye-opening revelation. In this manner will allow the scriptures to be revealed to you.

This is the second in a series of articles on the subject of “Leadership, Authority and Submission” within the Church. The articles focus on the misuse of scriptures that relate to this subject. The first article was entitled Jesus – The Chief Shepherd. The next article will focus on the passages in Romans chapter 13.

Gotcha’ Covered – The Shepherding Movement

James Tissot - The Good Shepherd (Le bon pasteur) - Brooklyn Museum

James Tissot – The Good Shepherd (Le bon pasteur) – Brooklyn Museum

Before preparing this article I had never heard of “shepherding.” What exactly is “shepherding”? What does “shepherding” have to do with the subject of authority and submission? The teachings of this movement focus upon accountability, obedience, and submission to spiritual authority. However “shepherding” equates the authority of and submission to a leader to the authority of God. The religious leader’s voice is equated with the voice of God. Those who disagree with the religious leader are seen as in rebellion to God. This movement teaches that religious leaders provide a “covering” for their congregation. Step out from under the “covering” and you expose yourself to the full attack of the devil. At least that is what is taught. The question then becomes: is this teaching supported by scripture?

This type of teaching is common in some religious circles. There is a love of invoking Old Testament (O.T.) imagery. Theological conclusions are then drawn from that O.T. imagery. However, the conclusions are drawn without taking into account the discontinuity between the ways God established for Old Testament Israel and the fact that there has been a tremendous change under the New Covenant. Drawing upon O.T. imagery is used to stress, in particular, the authority, power, and rights of religious authorities.

1 John 4:1(KJV) – “… believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Why test every spirit? Why? Because the Bible says, there are many false prophets! No one should want to be deceived. The Bible warns us that even the “elect” can be deceived. The best way to ensure that we are not misled is by testing all things. Moreover, we must test all things ourselves. We cannot afford to rely solely on any human authority figure to protect us or give us their “covering”. The word “covering” only appears once in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:15. In that passage, it is used in connection with a woman’s head covering. We do find the word “covering” in the Old Testament, but it is never used in a spiritual sense. It is never used in reference to the authority of one person over another.

Thus, we cannot afford to put ourselves under the unbiblical “covering” of human authority. What I believe you will find is that in churches that teach a distorted view of leadership authority, the idea of “covering” will also be taught. Although many of these denominations deny having a hierarchical authority structure, they admit to eldership or pastors “covering” the flock. Moreover, often they believe they are under the “covering” of another man or ministry. Now please understand me. I am not saying don’t seek the wise counsel and advice of elders and other Christians. However, each of us is responsible to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

In the end, we are responsible for our Christian walk. We are all under the headship of none other than Jesus Christ. If anyone, including our church leaders, speak error, it is our duty to reason with them. We must attempt to correct their doctrinal error with patience and love. If we are in error, the same applies. Our only authority is Jesus Christ and His Word.

As far as submission is concerned, many of those in the “shepherding” movement today require absolute submission to the authority of the church elders. People are not to contradict elders or speak out against their sin or false teachings. The church congregation is cautioned not to “touch God’s anointed”. They are told to stay in submission to the elders. They are taught that their obedience to the elders of the Church provides them with a spiritual “cover”. Obedience to human authority is emphasized while neglecting to mention obedience to God.

Paul, the chief Apostle to the Gentiles, used only the Word of God to correct people in the church, never his authority. Paul never used his position to demand obedience. We see in Corinth, a church that had its share of problems. Paul went to the Word of God, the highest authority to solve church difficulties.

2 Peter 1:3 (KJV) – “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the full knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.”

The problem in shepherding churches is that they teach absolute submission to religious leaders as well as the Word, (if that were possible). Who then oversees the religious leaders? Shouldn’t it be Jesus Christ? How do we know that they are not leading the church into error if they cannot be challenged?

Any Christian that is into shepherding or submitted body ministry has a real problem if the leaders go astray. There simply is not a mechanism for correction. There is no system of checks and balances. If correction is necessary who is going to be administering the correction? The answer is in 1 John 2:26-27, which tells us that we are given the Holy Spirit.

1 John 2:26-27 (KJV) – “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

The “anointing” mentioned in the passage above applies to all born-again Christians, not just to the “ministry”.  It’s the Spirit of Christ that gives that “anointing”.   The anointing “abides” or lives in those who “abide” in Jesus Christ (John 15:1-11).


The scriptures clearly reveal that all “authority” comes from God. We are to “submit” to God thru His Word. It is impossible to separate God from His Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Religious leaders must declare the truth of God’s Word. Human leadership in the biblical sense is necessary and acceptable. However, hierarchical and authoritative leadership is not acceptable. Submission is Godly when we are persuaded that what the minister says lines up with the Word of God. Jesus came to earth, not as a king, but as a servant and we are called to imitate Him.

We have the responsibly to seek out the truth and obey the commandments of God. Jesus says, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). It is unscriptural to submit to human authority if that authority does not come in harmony with the Word of God. We need to choose – either follow the Word of God or the word of man. Where there is error, reason with one another. However, let the Bible be the basis for our beliefs. Moreover, we can either stand up and speak out or stand up and leave when confronted with error. We should not simply sit and tolerate the error.
Most abusive leaders use their position to demand loyalty and submission. They may demand obedience based simply on their position. In essence what they are saying is “because I am the leader, you must follow me.” Their demands are not based on truth but their position or title. Appealing to position is ultimately a false basis of authority. The only authority God recognizes is the truth of His Word.

Many religious leaders are fond of using titles such as “God’s man”, “the Lord’s anointed” or “the man of God”. This is done so that others will treat them with special reverence and to keep themselves above accountability. While never admitting it, they want to hold the congregation accountable to them and not to God. We are to “honor” men but give “reverence” to God. The purpose of appealing to position, unique claims or special anointings is to create a hierarchy in the church. This allows abusive leaders to easily control those beneath them. They can also defend themselves against any who might challenge them. This is the very same error that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 20:25-28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4.  In summary, Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ only is our “covering”.  No man, no matter how knowledgeable, loving or wise can provide that for us.

Related articles: Who’s Got the Anointing? Psalms 105:15, Who Is Subject To Whom, Romans Chapter 13 – Which Power?, Jesus – The Chief Shepherd

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