Showing posts with label Hebrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hebrews. Show all posts

06 March 2013

A joy, not a burden

Leaders in the church, Part 3
< Follow my leader | Index | Leading, Matthew 1:11-17 >

Having examined the first part of Hebrews 13:17 in detail, we can work through the rest of the verse more easily. We are to be a joy to those who are watchful amongst us, being a burden to them would be counterproductive and unhelpful.

Watching and alert
Working through the first part of Hebrews 13:17 in detail showed that the translation might be 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't obstruct them.'

The rest of the verse explains why we should trust them and the result of doing so. (Hebrews 13:17 - Greek interlinear)

Those who 'lead the way for us' are pioneers, and like all pioneers they are alert, even wary. The Greek word ἀγρυπνοῦσιν (agrypnousin, Strong's 3982) suggests watchful awareness.

This watchfulness is applied to our lives (ψυχῶν, psychōn, Strong's 5590) as we follow in their footsteps. ψυχῶν is translated 'lives' more often than 'souls'. It's used, for example, in Matthew 10:39, 'Whoever finds their life (ψυχὴν) will lose it and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it'.

Watchful pioneers - These watchful pioneers are alert not just on their own account, but especially concerning the lives of those with them. They have a strong sense of responsibility and a duty of care. Think of this verse in terms of a young church recently planted and you'll get the idea.

If you are a more experienced believer helping half a dozen new followers of Yahshua you will be concerned about every aspect of their lives and keen to see them grow up into the fullness of the stature of the Messiah. You would share the sense of duty and responsibility described in this verse. You would want them to grow true and strong until they, in turn, could go out to make disciples.

It's the same sense of duty and care that drove Paul to write so many letters to the churches he had planted.

Moving to the last part of the verse, note that the word 'work' in the NIV translation is not there in the Greek. The word ποιῶσιν (poiōsin, Strong's 4160) means to do or make something. If it's work at all it's in the sense of assembly or construction, but more likely it merely refers back to the doing. 'That they may do it with joy and not with groans'.

The verse in English - Putting the entire verse together we might translate it something like this.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't obstruct them. They look out for you with a sense of duty so let them do it with joy rather than groaning. There'd be little value for you in that.'

There is no sense in this verse to support any form of hierarchical leadership structure. Rather, it describes an organic, flowing process involving a following of those who have gone further and leading to increasing maturity in the body as a whole.

Jesus came to bring life, more abundant life. He does this by setting us free from ourselves and enabling us to live in and with him, daily. We can all be helped along the way by associating with those who have travelled further, responding to their watchfulness and hearing what they say.

There's little value for us in being troublesome. That will simply slow our own progress. Is that what we want?

Questions: 
  • Does this translation make more or less sense to you than the traditional versions?
  • Is there someone who personifies this 'leading the way' role in your own life?
  • Are you watching over others? Is is a joyful experience or a cause of groaning?

See also:


< Follow my leader | Index | Leading, Matthew 1:11-17 >

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 >

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