the weblog of Alan Knox

Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…

Posted by on Mar 8, 2007 in elders, service | 10 comments

In two previous posts (“Leaders and Servants…” and “More on Leaders and Servants…“) I examined Jesus statements in Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, and Luke 22:24-26 concerning leaders among Christians. Jesus said that for non-believers, leaders exercise authority. But Christians should follow those who serve. This does not mean that leadership is a new type of service.

In other words, who would Jesus point out if he were asked, “Who is the best leader?” He would not point to the one with good leadership skills, decision making ability, educational background, communication skills, personality traits, charisma, etc. Instead, He would point to the one who was serving and say, “Do you see how much that person is serving? Follow his example.”

But, how does this correspond with Scripture’s command to obey our leaders?

I’m still studying this issue. I’ve been looking into various words and the scriptural contexts in which they are used:

επίσκοπος (επισκοπέω) – Does this noun (and verb) indicate an administrator of an organization or someone who cares for people? What’s the difference for the church?

ηγέομαι – Does this mean “rule” or “lead”? What differences does this make in Heb 13:7, 17, and other passages?

πείθω – Does this mean “obey” or “be persuaded/convinced by”? How would each definition affect passages such as Heb 13:17?

υπείχω – If one person “obeys” or “submits to” another person, does that meant that the second person has “authority” over the first?

εξουσία – Why does Scripture never use this word for “authority” in the context of pastors or elders?

So, these are a few of the questions that I’m exploring. As you can see, many of the words have wide semantic ranges. In English, they can be translated with words that have different meanings.

Of course, I’m not beginning this study without presuppositions or biases. I recognize that I have a certain understanding of Christian leaders. In particular, I believe that Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels should influence our understanding of leaders: i.e. we should follow those who serve. I also think this corresponds to John’s warning against Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9 and Peter’s instructions for elders to care for people by “not domineering… but being examples” (1 Peter 5:3 ESV).

As I continue to study these words and passages, I’ll post more here. If you have any comments on this issue, I’d love to hear from you.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-8-2007

    I don’t really have any comments, I just wanted to say thanks … I appreciate your posts like this where you are thinking out loud about the true meaning of Scripture!


  2. 3-8-2007

    I believe that Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels should influence our understanding of leaders

    I so appreciate you saying this. There are many situations where I feel like we kind of ignore the teaching of Jesus and, in so doing, misread the rest of the NT.

  3. 3-8-2007


    Thank you for the encouragement. If Scripture is important – and I think it is – then we should try to understand what it is saying to us.


    I agree. I think Jesus’ words are very important and should not be ignored.


  4. 3-8-2007

    We too have had to come to grips with the Hebrews verses and the whole issue of authority amongst our network of house churches. I would be interested in your continued discoveries and conclusions drawn from your study.

  5. 3-8-2007


    I’d love to hear what conclusions you came to and why.


  6. 3-8-2007

    Looking forward to your conclusions. I’ll be following this.

    When in seminary, Dr. Patterson preached in chapel on Hebrews 13:7, and in his guttural, throaty, tone, said, Do you know what ‘rule’ means in this verse?”

    He responded to his own question without missing a beat, “Rule.”

  7. 3-8-2007


    I respect Dr. Patterson very much. I’m not sure that I agree with him at this point.


  8. 3-8-2007




  9. 11-28-2012

    Brother Knox I REALLY REALLY appreciate you articles and musings. They are scholarly yet firmly based in God’s Word. Absolutely refreshing!
    I have been part of a church that started out with all the ideals of NT church: Elders,body ministry (Eph 4:16)and having no formal liturgy. Under the pressure to “do well” and appeal to the mores of the primarily middle class, highly educated membership (a term we originally eschewed confining it to those belonging to Christ), we are moving inexorably to the very structures of leadership and relationship we all came out of 30 years ago.
    Brother I really think the church functioning as Christ intends is CRITICAL to the discipleship and evangelistic (in the broadest sense) role Christ set out in Matthew 28. I really would love to read more of your material and read that thesis when you are done and benefit from your ministry over period of time. I live in Jamaica,have no theological training but love the Word properly divided.

  10. 11-29-2012


    Thank you for the comment and the kind word about my posts. It sounds like you have great theological training, even if you don’t have formal education. Keep at it!