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The following explanation of the two words for ‘obey’ in the Bible — peitho and hupakouo — come from a young technology marketing writer Mark B, aka tsupasat, who also evangelises among young professionals in the Seattle area.

Mark’s source is Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. What it says and what he says sheds light on how far Christians should go in obeying pastors. It also expands on Revd Paul Burleson’s comment in the body of yesterday’s post on authoritarian churches.

Emphases mine below:

The Bible does say that we should obey our leaders, and that it is healthy and beneficial for believers to obey their spiritual overseers in the local church. But usually there is some misunderstanding concerning the nature of this obedience. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (NIV)

According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, the Greek wor[d] translated in Hebrews 13:17 as “obey” is peitho.

Vine’s tells us that elsewhere in the Bible peitho is translated as: to yield, to believe, to be assured, to have confidence in, to trust, and to be persuaded by. Therefore, the obedience that peitho implies comes from a trusting relationship between human beings.

There is another Greek word that is translated as obey in other parts of the Bible: hupakouo. This type of obedience is not about being persuaded or trusting in someone. Hupakouo is about unquestioning, automatic obedience that comes from domineering authority. According to Vine’s, hupakouo is used for obedience in the following instances:

a. Obedience to God by everyone and everything (Hebrews 5:9 and 11:8)

b. Obedience to Christ by natural elements (Matthew 8:27)

c. Obedience to disciples of Christ by the mulberry tree when they commanded it to uproot and cast itself into the sea (Luke 17:6)

d. Obedience by new believers to the faith (Acts 6:7), to the Gospel (Romans 10:16), and to Christian doctrine as to a form or mold of teaching (Romans 6:17)

e. Obedience to apostolic injunctions by Christians (Philippians 2:12)

f.  Obedience to Abraham by Sarah (1 Peter 3:6)

g. Obedience to parents by children (Ephesians 6:1)

h. Obedience to masters by servants (Ephesians 6:5)

i. Obedience to sin by ourselves if unaided by God (Romans 6:12)

As we can see from this list, hupakouo is never used for the obedience that should occur between church members and their spiritual overseers. Instead, the Bible uses the word peitho in Hebrews 13:17. The vital difference is that peitho is a trusting relationship that produces a voluntary yielding and submission. Hupakouo is unquestioning obedience, whereas peitho implies that the person obeying weighs the instruction in his or her mind, and then deliberately decides to submit to a fellow human being. (Of course, our relationship with God is also trusting like a sheep with its good shepherd or between close friends, but our obedience occurs because He is our Lord and Master.)

How does this apply to spiritual authority and obedience in the church? It means that we should consider the results of our leaders’ faith. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (NIV) We should know their lives and their conduct. This should produce a natural trust …

Moreover, we consider what they say. Like the Bereans in Acts 17, we should look in the Bible to see what they say is true or not. Then we can weigh in our minds whether or not to voluntarily obey them. If what they command is biblical and we know the results of their life example, the Bible says that we should allow ourselves to be persuaded [to] obey our leaders.

You can explore Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words free online for yourself at

I hope this helps in your relationships with your pastors.

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