Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Authority in the church

I have written a lot about authority but always felt that something was missing. How could Paul, who was Jewish, have a view of authority which resembled that of the early popes? And why do some churches say that the church elders, leaders, etc, have "authority?"

Tonight, in the fray over here at Denny Burk's blog, where the comments have gone over 900, and are heading for 1000, a group of women are staging an internet sit-in to protest the complementarian interpretation of Genesis. We defy categorization. We are women whose lives have been touched by complementarianism. We are not secular feminists infiltrating the bibliosphere. We are former/quasi complementarian women who protest our condition as "created for subordination."

Thank you, Bonnie, Molly, Corrie, Gem, Paula, Quixote, Madame, Kathy, Cheryl, Ellen, (on the other side, but also a friend of this blog) We want to buck and chafe against the teaching of eternal subordination. Wouldn't you?

In that conversation, the submission of Christians to the authority of church leaders was mentioned. Here is the verse, Hebrews 13:17,
    πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε αὐτοὶ

    Be yielding unto them who are guiding you, and submit yourselves; Rotherham

    Obey your leaders and submit to them NASB

    Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: KJV

    Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. NIV

    Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, TNIV
Oops. Wow. Ideas that are introduced the this text are "obey," and "authority." Odd, these are the words that are so often also added into marriage relations. If these words were not in the text, why do they need to be added into the text? What impulse causes translators to insert words into the text?

In fact, in the Greek NT, I cannot recall any mention that church leaders have authority over anyone at all.

Luther discovered this very same thing. Its too late for me to dig that out now. Here is how he translated Hebrews 13:17,
    Gehorcht euren Lehrern und folgt ihnen

    Obey your teachers and follow them
Notice how Luther interprets this, "your teachers." The difference between that and the KJV, "those that rule over you" and the (T)NIV, "their authority." The text is coloured by translation and sometimes I don't like the colour.

One could just as properly translate this text as,
    Trust your teachers and follow them.
The authors of the epistles were Jewish, right? And what was the Jewish notion of authority?
    In modern Judaism, central authority is not vested in any single person or body, but in sacred texts, traditions, and learned Rabbis who interpret those texts and laws. Wikipedia
Think on these things.


Iyov said...

You are correct that contemporary Judaism is a disorganized religion -- and that one must choose one's teacher.

Bill Heroman said...

SHOUT! (a little bit louder now).

You might also want to take a look at translations of "minister" and "servant". It's the same greek word, but any important character gets to be a "minister" while us regular peons get called "servants". Or "deacons". Why doesn't Paul address the overseers and "ministers" in Philippians 1? It's the old clergical bias - the same thing that kept Titus and Epaphras from being transliterated into "apostles", as I said before.

Now you're getting to the heart of why I am egalitarian in practice, even if (in my verbal mind) I lean towards some of the complimentarian language in theory.

Authoritarianism is an equal opportunity abuser. Gender's just one of the common excuses.

Keep at this thread, please.


Ruud Vermeij said...

What is this "internet sit-in"?

(No, I am not going to read 900+ comments) :-)

Lin said...

Thank YOU! On my blog, in the side bar, I have a series (Elders: Leaders or Servants) devoted, in part, to the incorrect translation of this verse (and others) for centuries. It is a very interesting read.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


The sit in is to protest the subordination of women in creation. Just go and make a comment. You don't have to read any of the comments.