Showing posts with label Bible study. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible study. Show all posts

21 February 2013

Follow my leader

Leaders in the church, Part 2
< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

We take apart the first section of Hebrews 13:17 and put it together again, examining each word and the range of possible meanings before writing out the sense in English. There are cultural, historical and political reasons for the standard translations of this verse, but the verse is capable of different treatment.

Change of direction, change of leader
Before beginning a trawl through the New Testament to study church leadership, I'd like to take a look at the verse in Hebrews that Donna and I discussed recently. Also, to set the scene, there's a basic point to make first.

As I mentioned in that previous post, any attempt at translation from one language to another will be informed by the translator's existing understanding of the subject matter.

When the translation is from New Testament Koine Greek to modern English, this understanding must be based on the flavour of the the rest of the New Testament. In particular, translating a verse about leadership will depend in part on how we understand leadership in the life of the church.

My understanding of this is that Jesus is head of the church (Colossians 1:18), that none of us should be called 'Rabbi', 'Master' or 'Teacher' (Matthew 23:8), that few should teach (James 3:1), that we are to edify and encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11), and that the church is built by Jesus himself (Matthew 16:18) as every part works together (Ephesians 4:15-16). As I work through the series of articles that will be my default position.

Analysing the verse - So now let's look at Hebrews 13:17. We'll take it word by word and then put the words together. I'm going to use the Biblos parallel versions to see how the verse is usually translated, and the Biblos Greek interlinear as a starting point for understanding the Greek. These are convenient as you can click through to check them yourselves.

(Notice that there is no word for 'authority' in the Greek. This was added to the NIV by the translators. Check other translations, the word is simply not there.)

πείθεσθε - This is the first Greek word in the verse, it's pronounced 'peithesthe' and is usually translated 'obey'. This is the only time the verb is used in this form in the entire New Testament but including other forms the verb occurs 53 times. The Strong's number is 3982.

'Obey' is by no means the necessary sense, the core meaning is 'persuade', 'urge' or 'have confidence in' and the root is from 'pistis' (πίστις) meaning 'faith'.  See, for example, Matthew 27:20 in the sense 'persuaded', Galatians 1:10 in the sense 'seek favour or persuade', Romans 8:38 'persuaded' or 'convinced' and 2 Corinthians 2:3 'having confidence' or 'trusting'.

When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 2:3 he did not mean 'I obey all of you' but 'I have confidence in all of you'.

τοῖς - A form of the Greek definite article, meaning 'the' and applying to the next word, 'leaders'.

ἡγουμένοις - This is pronounced 'hēgoumenois' and is usually translated 'leaders'. Once again the word is only found once in this particular form but there are 28 uses of the word including other forms. The Strong's number is 2233.

The range of possible meanings include someone who leads, thinks, has an opinion, supposes or considers. And we need to be careful here because the English word 'lead' has at least two senses. It may mean 'to be ahead' (like someone running a race), or it may mean 'to manage' or 'control' (like a company CEO or a Prime Minister).

Other forms of this word are used to mean 'regard', 'think' or 'esteem' (Philippians 2:6, 2 Corinthians 9:5) and 'leader' or 'chief' (Luke 22:26). The verse in Luke is telling, because Jesus is saying that if you are going to be a leader you should behave much more like a servant.

ὑμῶν, καὶ - These words are the pronoun 'your' (modifying the previous word, so 'your leaders') and the connecting word 'and'.

ὑπείκετε - This word is a Greek verb, it's pronounced 'hypeikete' and the common translation is 'submit'. This is the only time it appears in the New Testament, the Strong's number is 5226 and it means 'retire', 'withdraw' or 'submit'.

The sense is not necessarily submit as in submitting to the law or surrendering in battle. It is just as likely that it suggests giving way, holding back or making space.

How can we assemble this? - Although we haven't examined the rest of the verse yet, we have enough to put the first part into everyday English. So here's my first stab at it.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way.'

But any translation must fit its context, so now let's take a look at that. The writer wants to make some final remarks as he reaches the end of his letter. My friend Sean pointed out that the leaders are also mentioned in Hebrews 13:7 . They spoke Christ (the Word of the Most High) and the writer urges his readers to consider the results of the way they live and also to imitate their faith.

This suggests that these leaders are indeed leading by example, not by command. Just like the cloud of witnesses in chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12, these are living witnesses to the right way to live and the right way to believe. 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way' Don't interrupt them, don't argue with them, hear them out when they speak in a meeting, live the same way they do, believe the same way they do.

Why the normal translation? - All of this leaves a question hanging. Why are these Greek words assigned the meanings 'obey', 'leaders' and 'submit' in most translations? We have seen that they just as naturally suggest 'trust', 'those who lead the way' and 'giving way'.

The answer, I believe, is that we are used to the standard translation. Early English Bibles were intended to support the clergy/laity system and also the rule of the king as head of the Church of England. The Wycliffe translation makes this very clear - 'Obey ye to your sovereigns, and be ye subject to them' - a strongly political statement! Because we are used to the idea of hierarchical church leadership of one form or another we are rarely free to translate this passage differently.

But the Holy Spirit is always leading us on into fresh pastures. Perhaps the old way of viewing this verse is not in line with what he is saying to the church today.

'The Message' puts it much better, 'Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel.'

That's it for now, this blog article is already long. Next time we'll work through the rest of verse 17 and try to put the entire thing together.

Questions:

  • Should we translate the Bible according to tradition or according to Holy Spirit guidance?
  • If we are being shown something new about church life, should we re-examine passages that no longer seem to fit?
  • What are the dangers in making changes to the standard translations?
  • What are the dangers in not making such changes?

See also: (Note I added these links after writing my article. My purpose is to uncover the meaning of the verse for myself and then check it later against what others have written.)


< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

29 October 2012

Biblos

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

Bible Hub is a complex tool with extensive facilities for Bible research including dictionaries, commentaries, interlinears, concordances, versions in original and modern languages, word studies, parsing information and more.

The Bible Hub home page
The Bible Hub web-based Bible tool manages to do a very great deal. The only problem with this breadth of coverage is that it can be tricky to find your way around. But most users will find just a few features that they use regularly and will soon become familiar with those. In other words, don't be put off by the complexity of this tool but focus on learning the parts you need.

Home page - Here's some of the stuff you can find right away on the home page.

  1. Along the top, a row of national flags allow you to choose a language other than English.
  2. Below the flags are drop boxes for Bible book, chapter and verse, Bible chapter outlines, and to select a translation or commentary or original language version or a whole host of other things. The chapter outline autoupdates as you change the book or chapter, a nice feature.
  3. Next is a search box with options for topical, library, Strong's number and multilingual search.
  4. Below that comes a toolbar with 23 icons for all manner of options including advanced search, reading plans, devotions, biblical weights and measures, apocryphal books and more.
  5. And then there are two more toolbars and a set of tabs.
  6. Finally, a set of 28 large icons provides further ways into the data.
Below all of this the home page continues with masses of additional material. There's just about everything you might need for a detailed study of any verse, word, idea or theme in the Bible.

Let's try it out - Starting from the home page I've just used the drop boxes in row 2 to select John 14:1. I immediately see multiple English translations of the verse in the main column with cross references to the right. Further down are concordance links for the key words in the verse and extracts from several commentaries and word studies.

Part of John 14 in an interlinear display
Next I click the Greek icon in row 4 and right away I see a page of Greek interlinear. Bible Hub has unhelpfully forgotten I was in John 14 and shows me the interlinear for Matthew 1. Hmm.

Back to the drop boxes in row 1 and I'm soon back in John, but that was not as smooth as it might have been.

But the interlinear is well done (click the image for a larger view). There are five lines. First come the Strong's numbers with transliterated Greek words below and the original Greek in line three. The Strong's numbers and the transliterated Greek are clickable and bring up definitions, concordance entries and more. The original Greek is not clickable, sadly, neither is the English equivalent in line four. Line five offers useful parsing information (part of speech, case, tense etc).

Serious research - Bible Hub is a good place to do serious bible study for free and online. It contains everything you need in one place, but there are several ways into most of the information and this results in a cluttered and confusing interface.

For looking up a word or two in Strong's, studying a few verses in depth, or translating short passages from Greek or Hebrew it's probably all you need. Bible Hub can even meet some unusual requirements, for example it can display the Old Testament in Septuagint Greek and the New Testament in modern Hebrew or even in Aramaic.

Reading online - I can't recommend Bible Hub for Bible reading online. Bible Gateway is a much easier and cleaner way to do this in a wide range of languages and versions. But in a web browser with BibleHub open in one tab or window and Bible Gateway in another it's quite possible to use the two together to look up details and definitions while reading.

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

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