Obedience (2) – 1 Peter 1.2, 22
After last week’s blog on ‘obedience’, how are you feeling about women in the church and with their husbands? And has it in any way affected your attitude to government and law?
In that blog we observed how hupakouo and hupotasso occur quite frequently in 1 Peter 1.2, 22; 2.13, 18; 3.1, 5/6. Now we need to look at the other two words which are often translated ‘obey/obedience’ – peitho and peitharcheo. Although the New Testament uses peitho very commonly, strangely Peter never uses it at all except in its negative form (apeitho: 3.1; 4.17). Peitharcheo only comes four times in the New Testament (Acts 5.29, 32; 27.21 and Titus 3.1).
“Please do not walk on the grass!” Some people react rebelliously to such notices and immediately make a point of walking defiantly across that area of green. Peitho particularly forbids such attitudes. It carries the sense of yielding to persuasion. In fact it is quite often rightly translated in the New Testament with the words ‘persuade’ (e.g. Acts 18.4; 26.28; 2 Corinthians 5.11; Hebrews 6.9), ‘yield’ (e.g. Acts 23.21) and ‘believe’ (e.g. Romans 11.30/31). But the old Authorised Version commonly uses ‘obey’ for ‘peitho’.
In Hebrews 13.17 NIV states “Obey (peitho) your leaders and submit (hupakouo) to their authority”. This would be more accurately translated as ‘Yield to your leaders and listen humbly’. We may note that the Greek does not mention ‘authority’ at all. As Christians we are called so to respect our leaders that we generally expect their suggestions to be right. Normally therefore we should follow what our leaders say, but their words are to be carefully and biblically weighed. They have no right to demand obedience – we may remember from our study of hupakouo and hupotasso that they do not mean total blind obedience, so leaders should not expect it.
As a lecturer at All Nations I never ordered a student to do something, but always suggested it and, where necessary, gave my reasons why I thought it would be right. Normally I expected students to respect my position as a tutor with the knowledge and experience God had given over the years. But if they with good reason rejected my wishes, they would have my support. They were within their rights. But at our wedding, Elizabeth and I still followed the traditional Marriage Service and so she promised ‘obedience’. Together we have long since agreed that wives should not be expected automatically to obey their husbands. Of course this applies equally to Christians with their church leaders and to citizens with their government and laws. But again we need to stress that rebellious behaviour goes right against the word of the Lord. It is good to respect and honour one another with humility. Let us therefore respectfully yield to good biblical persuasion!
Now at last we come to a word which really means ‘obedience’! We immediately notice that it relates closely to peitho, but it has the additional ‘arch’. The English language has taken over this Greek form in words such as ‘monarchy’, ‘oligarchy’ or ‘archbishop’. ‘Arch’ carries the idea of authority in Greek, as in English.
In Acts 5.29 the High Priest strictly ordered the apostles not to teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 5.27/28), but Peter and the other apostles replied “we must obey (peitharcheo) God rather than men”. They then observe that God has given his Holy Spirit “to those who obey (peitharcheo) him” (Acts 5.32). While respectful yielding to persuasion should characterise our attitude to leaders, obedience to authority is due only to God, not to other human beings whatever their position in the church or society.
Although we should only peitharcheo God, not other people, actually Paul tells sailors that they should have ‘taken his advice’ (Acts 27.21). Paul here uses the word peitharcheo, thus making it clear that his words had been God’s command to the ship’s officers. The fierce storm they now faced and the impending ship-wreck resulted directly from disobedience to God, not just to Paul. What amazing confidence Paul had! He knew for sure that his warning had been from God (Acts 27.9/10).
Likewise in Titus 3.1 Paul directs that his readers should hupotasso their political authorities and then adds the much more authoritative word peitharcheo. He considers such political leaders to be acting on behalf of God himself in so far as it leads to ‘doing whatever is good’ which includes “slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show humility towards all people”. So we may observe that we only peitharcheo other people when their commands carry the nature of God and lead therefore to “whatever is good” – in the Bible God is revealed as “good”, so true goodness reflects the very character of God himself. Commands that lead to true goodness may therefore require absolute obedience, as to God himself (peitharcheo, not just peitho, hupakouo or hupotasso).
As we have examined the biblical words used in 1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament, we discover that the translation ‘obey’ for each of these four Greek words has sometimes misled us in our attitudes to leadership, in marriage and in other relationships.