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Be Persuaded!

The pages of Bible are full of gems, pearls of wisdom that seem to be without end. Many are right on the surface but others lie deeper and take some effort to uncover. One gem that was unusually deep was found in the book of Hebrews. It says:

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, KJV)

The key words here are: obey, rule and submit. They are given as a guide for the relationship between Christians and pastors or teaching elders. It appears to give the pastor considerable authority. He is to be obeyed, he rules over the congregation and they are to submit to him. These words hark back to the priesthood of medieval Catholicism and seem to be in conflict with the general tone of Scripture where we see that leaders are told to be servants. Consider for example Jesus’ own words and actions:

25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.   26 But ye shall not be so:  but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. (Luke 22)

13 Ye call me Master and Lord:  and ye say well;  for so I am.   14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet;  ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.   15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (John 13)

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (Phil. 2)

Consider also the Apostle Paul’s instruction to pastors and his own attitude toward a difficult church:

24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive;  but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;  if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; (2 Tim. 2)

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (2 Cor. 6:1)

Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…(2 Cor. 10:1)

How can we reconcile this tone of service, meekness and gentleness with the wording of Hebrews 13:17? The answer lies in the translation. When we look at the original Greek in the Textus Receptus, from which the King James was derived, we see that “peithesthe,”1 the word translated obey, is not in the active voice that would justify “obey” but is in the middle/passive voice and should be translated as “be persuaded.” The word translated “rule” is best taken as “ones-leading” and the word translated “submit” means “be ye deferring.” 2 The verse with these words substituted then reads as follows:

Be persuaded of them that are your leaders and defer to them: for they watch for your souls…


This change of words puts a very different light on the meaning of the verse and has some significant ramifications:

First, when “obey” becomes “be persuaded,” more is required of the church member; he can no longer just listen and simply accept what the pastor says. Rather, he must first get a good grasp of the biblical basis of the pastor’s teaching. He cannot just acquiesce to what he is told but must actually “be persuaded” of its truth. It’s too easy for Christians today to settle for a skimpy, superficial knowledge of Scripture. Obedience to this commandment would require greater attentiveness to what the pastor has to say and would also necessitate the expenditure of some effort. Bible study becomes more important; the member might need to do some serious study, especially to understand the more difficult concepts. There might also be a need for questions and a desire for discussion with other members. It would seem that this approach could substantially increase both the member-pastor and the member-member interaction as they check with one another on various points of the sermon. This kind of interaction is encouraged in Scripture (see Hebrews 10: 24-25

The point here is not to encourage criticism of the pastor; “be persuaded” doesn’t mean “be critical.” It means studying to understand what is being taught in sufficient depth to be able agree with it. Christians are not permitted to just get by; they are required to know God’s word. This is something every believer can do, some will go to greater and some to lesser depth, but all are required to learn (Col. 1:9-10).

There is good precedent for this. Remember the Bereans:

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

These men of Berea were serious students of Scripture and had to “be persuaded” of the truth of the apostle’s preaching. Compare them with today’s churches where the discussion following the Sunday service is typically on any subject but the sermon and there is little Bible study done all week.

Second, the pastor is affected; he cannot just tell his audience what the passages of Scripture mean and expect them to believe him. He must work to “persuade” them, a much broader and more difficult task! He must take care to make his sermons, not only scripturally accurate, but coherent and understandable. He must spend the time and effort needed to get to know the capabilities of his congregation as well as to prepare sound and relevant sermons. He knows he will pay for any lapses when the questions come. So pastor as well as member is motivated to improve his abilities and the quality of his sermons.

Third, the pastor-member relationship is materially affected. The pastor doesn’t rule, he leads. The member doesn’t submit as to a “ruler,” he defers; that is, when there is a difference of opinion, he respects his pastor’s greater knowledge and yields the benefit of the doubt. Deference though, is not the same as submission. It is between equals and does not imply a status or class difference. Although the pastor is the teacher and presumably has a better overall grasp of Scripture, the member is not an inferior that must obey him. Both see the Lord as their only master and can communicate as equals, each respecting the other’s particular skills and tasks. The pastor leads in the church but both are responsible only to God.

In addition, the pastor must realize that he cannot be the only teacher. His audience is not monolithic; there is often a considerable range of understanding in the congregation and he needs the help of the more mature and more knowledgeable to teach the others. For this to be effective, he must be seen as a leader, one of the congregation, and not as their ruler.

Fourth—and perhaps most important—the member’s relationship to Christ can be affected. Scripture tells us that “the head of every man is Christ…” (1 Cor. 11:3). The pastor must take care to encourage and not interfere with this one-to-One relationship. Too many church members tend to see their pastor as someone that is closer to the Lord, a higher spiritual authority, one they should obey. When this is not discouraged, the believer-Christ relationship is compromised. To some extent, the believer sees the Lord’s commands as coming through the pastor; to that extent he becomes a father figure and the believer’s progress to full maturity as a Christian is impeded. This is commonly the case in Catholicism where the priest is typically such a figure but it is also true whenever obedience replaces persuasion.

When the pastor restricts himself to being a teacher (or persuader) and not only refrains from issuing orders but explains that it is not his place to do so, he precludes the development of this unbiblical condition. The believer can go to his pastor as to an advisor but must understand that he answers only to his Lord and there are no intermediaries. When this sinks in and the believer sees that his responsibility is to the Lord and not his pastor or anyone else, God’s commandments become personal, immediate and therefore more urgent. This coupled with a greater freedom to act on his own, can empower him in a way that no human authority figure ever can. His highest priorities become: first to understand and then to complete, his God-given assignments. He becomes a powerful force, one that stands on the Rock and strongly influences his world.


We see that changing the message from “obey” to “be persuaded” is significant and has consequences. It could represent a step toward an active, informed laity, something sorely needed in today’s churches. But where does obedience come in? What constitutes legitimate, godly obedience?

Scripture clearly tells us that everyone is to obey God and submit to church and civil authorities. Children are to obey their parents, slaves are to obey their masters, and wives are to obey their husbands. For the Christian, obedience to officials in church or state is actually obedience to God, who requires it only when it doesn’t conflict with God’s law (Acts 5:29; Romans 13:1-6). The fact that disobedience is required whenever there is a conflict, demonstrates that it is only God that is actually obeyed!

This freedom from bondage to any earthly power is one aspect of the freedom Christ spoke of when He said:

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:36).

The knowledge and firm belief of the truth that I have only one master and He is in heaven brings freedom. This freedom from all earthly masters is a key factor in the Christian dynamic. It is the freedom the early saints expressed when they refused to acknowledge Caesar as lord and instead chose the arena. It is the freedom all Christians should be expressing today in opposition to the humanism that pervades society. One reason they do not do so is because they are not truly free. They have been taught to obey instead of to be persuaded.


We saw that at Hebrews 13:17, there is a marked contrast between the language of the KJV and that of the original Greek (Textus Receptus). We know that the English language has changed considerably over the centuries since the King James Version was written; but for some reason, the newer English translations (NKJV, NASB, RSV, NIV, and others) have adopted essentially the same wording. A study into why they elected to depart from the original is needed. It may be related to what R. J. Rushdoony called “Church Imperialism.”3

At first glance, the mistranslation of a single verse may seem unimportant but it has a greater significance than immediately meets the eye. It is an indication of a much deeper issue; a distortion of the intended nature of the inner workings of the body of Christ is involved. It was never meant to be a top-down order comprised of a pastor class and a member class where one rules and the other obeys. It is a single body without class distinctions where all cooperate to bring it to maturity. All exercise their unique God-given talents and all benefit thereby.

The churches need to get back to where they were in the early centuries, when they had a more biblical internal structure. The pastors, then called bishops, typically serviced several churches and could not preach at any one very often. Most of the preaching and teaching was done by local elders that, while they were in charge, were not authority figures from a central governing agency but were seen as fellow members of the congregation. The true meaning of Hebrews 13:17 was reflected in those assemblies.

The Church (the body of Christ) will not pull out of its current doldrums until Christians begin once again to recognize that Christ has given them, in a very personal sense, the responsibility to be salt and light and to assert His authority over every aspect of man’s life in this world (Matt. 5:13-14; 28:18-20). The reestablishment of a biblical environment in the churches would represent a step toward getting Christians back to doing the work they were commissioned to do.


1 Had the author of Hebrews intended this verse to reflect obedience, another Greek word (hupakouo), which clearly means obey, could have been employed. It appears at Hebrews 5:9 to reflect Christ’s obedience and at Hebrews 11:8 for Abraham’s obedience.

2 See Hebrews 13:17 in the “Greek Interlinear Bible” at:   

Also see, “peitho in Hebrews 13:17” by Jason Dulle

3 See “Law and Society” R. J. Rushdoony. 339-342