(The Epistle to the Hebrews)

by Al Maxey

The authorship of this epistle is unknown, although there is compelling evidence that it may have been Apollos (a host of other names have also been suggested over the centuries). Very few scholars believe it was written by the apostle Paul; there is simply too much that argues against his authorship. This epistle was written to Jewish Christians who were in danger of returning to the Law and their former Jewish customs & traditions. It is a superb comparison and contrast of Judaism and Christianity, with the latter clearly demonstrated to be the better way to achieve justification and salvation. Many scholars date this epistle in the late 60's A.D., and believe it was sent to Jewish Christians living in the city of Rome.

Hebrews 13:7

This verse speaks of former leaders. The service rendered by these leaders has been completed, very likely because of death (possibly martyrdom). The Hebrew disciples are encouraged to look back and reflect upon the faith and devoted service of these committed spiritual leaders; to keep the lives of these leaders fresh in their hearts and minds, and to follow their example. There are three major statements made in this passage:

#1 --- "Remember those who led you" (NASB). "Remember those who are taking the lead among you" (NWT). "Remember your leaders" (NIV). "Appreciate your pastoral leaders" (The Message). Other translations which use the term "leaders" are Phillips, Goodspeed, Williams, McCord, CEV, TEV, RSV, SEB, Berkeley, Lamsa, NAB, NEB, LB. "Remember them which have the rule over you" (KJV). The ASV reads, ".....that had the rule over you." These last renderings, which use the word "rule," have the potential of being misleading, as the concept of ruling, as it is usually understood in the world, is not present in this particular Greek word. Leading rather than ruling is the intent!

The word is hegeomai, the same word as was used in Acts 15:22 ("leading men among the brethren"). The main idea of this word is "the ambition to be chief" or to take the lead (W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words). It denotes a state of mind, or mindset, which motivates one to leadership; the ambition or aspiration to lead (see: I Timothy 3:1). This is not to suggest that the men discussed in this passage in Hebrews were only desirous of leading God's people, but that they in actuality had not yet achieved that goal. They obviously were indeed leaders. They may even have been serving as elders, although such is not conveyed by this word alone. The word simply states that they were individuals among the brethren who "took the lead; led the way" --- an action motivated by their desire/ambition to lead.

Who were these men who had "led the way" among the Jewish Christians in the city of Rome? Some feel they were "Paul and Peter, both of whom were martyrs when this epistle was written," and both of whom labored and died in Rome (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 476). "It is difficult to say precisely who these leaders were or what they did. They may have been elders, but that word is not used of them and so we cannot be sure that they were elders" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 148). "It very likely refers to faithful preachers who had preached the Gospel to the Hebrews; there were no 'bosses' in the early church, but men who were leaders because of work" (Don Earl Boatman, Helps From Hebrews, p. 434). "It means teachers --- preachers; either apostles or others --- appointed to lead or guide them to eternal life. It does not refer to them so much as rulers, as guides. Respect is to be shown to the ministerial office by whomsoever it is borne" (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Hebrews, p. 318-319). "Nothing is of more moving and lasting power than a faithful example; and the author calls to mind the noble elders and ministers, already passed to their reward..... The lives of such noble leaders were to be imitated, not necessarily in regard to all their deeds, but rather in the supreme matter of their unwavering faith" (Burton Coffman, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 347).

#2 --- "Who spoke the Word of God to you." Some translations read "God's message" (Goodspeed, CEV, TEV, SEB, NEB, Berkeley, Williams, McCord). A few will also substitute "taught" for "spoke." Whoever these individuals were, it is evident that one of their primary functions was preaching and teaching (see: I Timothy 5:17).

#3 --- "Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." The Berkeley Version reads, "Observe how they closed a well-spent life, and copy their faith." "Reflecting upon the outcome of their life and work, follow the example of their faith" (NEB). "Remember how they lived, and imitate their faith" (Phillips). Hebrews 11 is a good chapter to read in light of this advice! These leaders were individuals who obviously led by example; their lives were visible demonstrations of commitment and faithfulness. Even after their deaths, through the remembrance of their lives, they still had the ability to inspire others to be devoted disciples.

Hebrews 13:17

In this passage from the epistle to the Hebrews the author makes four statements about those who were serving God as "leaders" among the brethren and the responsibilities of the disciples of Christ to them:

#1 --- "Obey your leaders" (NASB, NIV, CEV, TEV, RSV, NEB, SEB, NAB, Berkeley, Williams, McCord). "Obey your spiritual leaders" (LB). "Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you" (NWT). "Listen to your spiritual leaders and obey them" (Lamsa). "Be responsive to your pastoral leaders" (The Message). "Obey them that have the rule over you" (KJV, ASV). This is the same Greek word as the one used in vs. 7. However, unlike those mentioned in vs. 7, these leaders are still very much alive and actively serving as spiritual guides of the disciples of Jesus Christ.

Once again, it is difficult to determine with any exactness the identity of these individuals. They are obviously in a position of spiritual leadership, and are there because they desired to be (see the previous discussion of this Greek word; also I Peter 5:2). As already discussed, the two most likely identifications of these leaders are: Elders and/or evangelists. Prophets, deacons, and apostles have also been suggested by scholars.

The word translated "obey" is peitho = "to obey; listen to; follow; confide in; trust; rely on; place confidence in" (Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 314). "Depend on; trust; put one's confidence in; take the advice of; obey; follow" (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 639). This suggests the disciples obediently follow the example and lead, with full confidence & trust, of those who are guiding the flock spiritually. "They were to show their religious teachers 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" (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Hebrews, p. 323).

#2 --- ".....and submit to them" (NASB, RSV, ASV, NAB). "...give way to them" (Goodspeed). "...submit yourselves" (KJV). "...do what they say" (CEV). "...be submissive" (NWT, Williams, McCord). "...yield to them" (Berkeley Version). "...listen to their counsel" (The Message). "...defer to them" (NEB). "...be willing to do what they say" (LB). The NIV reads, "...submit to their authority." This is an addition! It is not in the original text! "There is nothing in the Greek to correspond to the NIV's 'their authority'" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 152).

This is the Greek word hupeiko = "to yield; submit; give way to; defer to." "A church can't go forward with elders going in one direction and the membership trying to go another. Of course, not every elder is qualified to lead. Many problems arise when churches carelessly elect unqualified leaders. If elders are qualified, the members will be glad to submit" (Don Earl Boatman, Helps From Hebrews, p. 446). "He is not fit to 'rule' who is not capable of 'guiding'" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 788).

#3 --- "They keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account" (NASB). The phrase "keep watch over" is the Greek word agrupneo = "to stay awake and watchful; to be vigilant." Other translations are: "They are keeping watch in defense of your souls, as men accountable for the trust" (Goodspeed). "They are watching over you, and they must answer to God" (CEV). "They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God" (The Message).

"The leaders are concerned for the deep needs of their people, not simply for what lies on the surface. We see here a reference to spiritual well-being" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 153). "They have no selfish aim in this. They do not seek 'to lord it over God's heritage.' It is for your own good that they do this, and you should therefore submit. As they must soon be called into judgment.....they will pursue only that course which will be for your good" (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Hebrews, p. 324).

"Those who are called to watch are to give the alarm at the approach of danger; they are to give it early enough so that those who are watched over may meet the danger or may escape it. When an appointed watchman proves a dumb dog, calamity results. Woe to the people whose leaders are blind watchers, unable to distinguish foe from friend or to recognize danger before it is too late" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 490).

#4 --- The writer of Hebrews gives the following advice to those being led by these leaders, "Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you" (NASB). The NIV says, let "their work be a joy, not a burden." "Try to make their work a pleasure and not a burden---by so doing you will help not only them but yourselves" (Phillips). "So act that they may fulfill their task with joy, not with sorrow, for that would be harmful to you" (NAB). "Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?" (The Message).

God's people can make the work of leadership either a joy or a burden! "It is a joy to be a leader of a devoted congregation" (Don Earl Boatman, Helps From Hebrews, p. 446). "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth" (III John 4).

Hebrews 13:24

In closing this epistle to the Hebrews the author writes, "Greet all of your leaders" (NASB, NAB, NEB, Phillips, Goodspeed, McCord, LB, NIV, CEV, TEV, RSV, SEB, Williams, Berkeley). "Give my greetings to all those who are taking the lead among you" (NWT). "Salute all your spiritual leaders" (Lamsa). "Say hello to your pastoral leaders" (The Message). "Salute all them that have the rule over you" (KJV, ASV). This is the same Greek word for "leaders" that appears in vs. 7 and vs. 17.

That these leaders "are to be greeted by the recipients of the letter makes it clear that the 'leaders' were not the recipients" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 157). This inspired letter was sent to the entire assembly of believers, of which the leaders were merely a part. The leaders were not intended to be the primary recipients of this letter, nor that they would then "pass it on to the congregation" as they saw fit.

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