Dr. Stephen Crosby
I AM REVEALED
Sep 03 2012
In the previous chapters, we examined biblical authority from a thematic and philosophical perspective. The time has
come for some textual plowing in the Scriptures. I realize a good portion of humanity does not have much appetite for
the details of biblical language word studies. It is as thrilling for some as a root canal without Novocain. However, there
is simply no getting around the need. Salvation is simple. A four-year-old can understand enough to be converted.
However, rightly handling the Scriptures and correctly applying its teachings to our lives is not as easy. It requires
work. While not attempting to build a skyscraper of biblical brilliance here, it is necessary we roll up our sleeves a bit
and at least turn over a few shovelfuls of exegetical dirt. Chapters 5-7 of this book will examine the more practical local
church applications of these authority and submission issues. Perhaps they will be more immediately relevant to
readers and a bit less brain-stretching and tedious than some of this chapter.
So grab your hard hat and watch out for falling rock. Stick with me for some foundational digging. Perhaps we can turn
over a theological rock or two, lay a brick of new insight here and there, and potentially put in the foundation for a
completely new building.
Church expression concerning authority and submission ranges from dictatorial authoritarianism to lawless libertinism. It
is impossible to have discourse without agreement on definition of terms. Coloring the definition and usage of these
terms with contemporary cultural values is a serious weakness in traditional teaching on authority, submission, and
When your marriage is under assault, your children are going crazy, and your finances are in the tank, Greek
definitions may seem as relevant as a camel in Siberia. However, conforming our lives to God’s Word requires
accuracy. Theology is seriously relevant business. If we are going to establish new thinking on the subject, we need to
closely reexamine some language. So, in this chapter we will examine the meaning and usage of Greek words
translated in the King James Version as command, ordain, order, rule, obey, submit, head/headship, and authority over.
Clearing Our Culture
If we are going to lay a new foundation, the first thing we need to do before we can even dig is remove the underbrush
of culture from the land. The New Testament uses several different words related to authority and submission. It is
important to understand each, to know its definition, usage, and limitations. Unfortunately, many times, English
translations are neither consistent nor clear but rather contradictory. Confusion frequently results from the imposition of
modern Western cultural values onto biblical terms, which gives them meaning the authors of Scripture never intended.
We all bring cultural bias to the biblical text. As Westerners, we bring our individualist, capitalist, imperialist culture and
corporate business mindset to the Scriptures. These are serious detriments to correct understanding of the Word. Part
of the chore associated with understanding Scripture is trying, as best we can, to recognize this tendency and avoid it.
We must understand what words meant to those who heard and read them before we try to apply them to our
circumstances. This is called the interpretive principle of originality. What did the author intend? What did his hearers
understand? How did they apply it? Only after we have established these in some degree of accuracy can we apply
the Scriptures to ourselves. Failure here has serious consequences. In local churches I have pastored, I often joked
that I would die a happy man if my tombstone read: “He got God’s people to pay attention to context and culture!” Don’t
preach or teach a verse apart from its context, and pay attention to culture. Don’t read ours into it, and don’t transfer
theirs out of it! We will start by looking at the English word, command.
Are believers required to obey the commands and instruction of their leaders? How and to what degree: Does a
leader, particularly an apostle, have the right to expect or require compliance with his leadership? If yes, are there any
There are several different words translated as command in the King James Version. Here they are with abbreviated
The Scripture uses only two of these to describe interactions between believers and their leaders: epitassō and keleuō.
EPITASSŌ (Philemon 8). Only Philemon 8 uses epitassō inter-relationally between believers. Paul refers to his right
to require compliance in the conflict between Onesimus and Philemon. Although Paul claims the right, he declines to
use it, choosing rather to appeal to love. This has significant bearing on the whole issue of apostolic authority. I am
alarmed and discouraged that so much of the current discourse in the apostolic movement is focused on the authority
of the apostles. For example:
do have authority over the church on behalf of Christ or they do not. If apostles do have authority, then the
church needs to listen to them. (John Allen – Peter Wagner)
Calvary love, we have at least failed the test of a Pauline spirit if not the letter of Pauline doctrine. The context of Paul’s
letter to Philemon was a life and death matter! With issues of that magnitude at stake, it makes sense to speak and act
with “command authority.” However, it is a mistake to: a) base doctrine or method on singular proof texts, and b) make
normative that which is intended for crisis!
PARAGGELLŌ (I Corinthians 7:10, 11:17; I Thessalonians 4:11; II Thessalonians 3:4, 6, 10, 12; I Timothy 1:3, 4:
11, 5:7, 6:13, 17). In I Corinthians 11:17, paraggellō simply means “declaring a truth or transmitting a message from
another source.” In I Corinthians 7:10, Paul is likewise simply transmitting a message as from the Lord. Paul is
speaking as the Lord’s very representative, with authority, to a moral issue. Paul is very discreet in his writings when he
is aware and believes himself speaking with immediate divine unction. He is careful to differentiate his “leadership
counsel” from the word of the Lord. We would do well to do the same. Speaking with authoritative command was not
Paul’s normal method. He reserved it primarily for correcting doctrinal or behavioral (sin) issues.
In I Thessalonians 4:11 and II Thessalonians 3:4,6,10, and 12, Paul uses paraggellō in the same general exhortation to
the same people on the same issue. These verses primarily deal with two situations in Thessalonica that appear to be
local: conformity to apostolic doctrine and the sin of laziness.
In I Timothy 1:3, 4:11, 5:7, 6:13, 17, Paul enjoins and empowers a younger Timothy concerning instruction in areas of
core doctrine and behavior: Gnostic incursion, care of widows, defending the faith, and the deceitfulness of riches. He
is taking his apostolic authority transmitted to him from the Lord and transmitting it to Timothy to teach apostolic doctrine
From this simple analysis, we see there is no biblical basis for expecting a believer to unilaterally submit to a leader
based on the King James Version rendering of command. Being in right relationship to a leader does not mean a
perennial posture of deference and approval seeking for every decision of life, supposedly for “safety’s sake.” Leaders
have command authority for doctrinal and moral/behavioral issues that are explicitly sin. Other than that, their role is
advice and counsel.
Ordain and Order
There are a couple of Greek words that the King James Version translates as ordain or order. Though not technically
the same as command, they are authoritative and worth examining. They are:
DIATASSŌ (I Corinthians 7:17, 9:14, 11:34, 16:1; Galatians 3:19; Titus 1:5). Paul uses this term in the Galatians
passage to describe the activity of angels. For our purposes regarding local church issues it is not relevant. This is
also the case in I Corinthians 9:14 where the term refers to the Lord’s own personal authority. No one disputes that.
What is the context of the remaining four passages?
It is significant that this term is only found in Paul’s communications with Corinth and Crete. They had something in
common: gross disorder and dysfunction. In Crete, there were many unruly people (abominable, disobedient, and
reprobate) putting forth grievous false doctrine (affecting entire households), fables, and Jewish mythology, all for the
love of money. When one of your own poets says your god is your belly, it is not a compliment. The situation in Crete
was doctrinal and moral corruption. The situation in Corinth was worse. For all their spirituality, the Corinthian church
was the poster child for church dysfunction. The entire letter is basically nonstop correction in one form or another.
Paul uses diatassō to describe his apostolic role of bringing young, emergent, and seriously dysfunctional churches into
alignment with apostolic doctrine, ethics, and moral behavior. This is legitimate apostolic function. On fundamental
gospel issues and in the presence of gross moral and doctrinal disorder, it is appropriate for apostles, or anyone else
for that matter to exercise authority to bring order. However, the circumstances limit the scope.
It is exegetically illegitimate to make normative that which is exceptional. Authority standards, methods, models,
structures, philosophies, ethics, etc. designed for abominable, disobedient, and reprobate people do not apply to
believers who do not fall into those categories! You do not use a screwdriver to drive a nail. (Unless you are like me
and have lost the hammer and don’t want to bother looking for it!) It is a legitimate tool that does not apply to the need
or circumstance. Diatassō authority is functionally and circumstantially limited.
Even conformity to apostolic authority in doctrine is limited to core gospel truths, not secondary biblical themes and
“revelations” that an apostle (or any teacher) may present and teach at a given moment. All Christians must yield to the
core apostolic teaching of I preach Christ and Him crucified. However, other thematic teachings must be scrutinized and
kept or tossed based on their alignment to the core message.
Ability to discern core alignment is rare in American Christian culture of low biblical literacy (in both pulpit and pew)
where religious performance and legalism abound. In charismatic circles, we routinely preach preference, themes,
topics, typology, things, “isms,” dreams, visions, and “new revelations” as doctrine to the neglect of the core gospel
message. Doctrinal drift and bizarre behavioral codes are the inevitable result. The notion is absurd that believers
must yield to or submit in an awestruck manner to whatever pops out of an apostle’s mouth simply because he is an
Some believe expanding spheres of authority define the apostolic dimension. Rather than believing for expanded
spheres of apostolic authority, the apostolic movement needs to seek ways to restrain carnal and ambitious apostolic
authority, which frequently masquerades as being visionary. Apostolic authority must be limited to its biblical
This is a significant point. Much written and taught today concerning the apostolic movement insists that believers must
stay “apostolically aligned” to “their covering apostle” in order to be blessed and under God’s favor and spiritual
protection. The divine purpose of apostolic authority is to keep the believer Christ-aligned, living in the
realities of the New Covenant and morally clean. It is not to assure personal alignment with the apostle bringing
the instruction! “Biblical alignment,” if one wants to use the term, is to Christ, through a ministry, not to the person or
the “office.” Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their thinking of alignment unto certain men: I am of Paul, I am of Apollos,
etc. Let me modernize it a bit: Apostle__________ is my covering. Apostle__________ is my authority.
Apostle__________ is my spiritual father.
It is illegitimate and a wrenching out of context to use these verses for an alleged permanent order of apostolic covering
where believers and churches must be beholden to a covering apostle. The passages say nothing about an obligatory
system whereby one’s spiritual covering must pre-approve personal life decisions. An apostle is not the chief
executive of the church or network. Spiritual jeopardy does not categorically result from failure to get apostolic
sanction and blessing on the routine decisions of life in God. A leader’s counseling role is not to tell the other person
what to do but to teach him/her how to touch Christ by the Spirit. The leader’s role is not to provide sanctions or non-
sanction for a seeker but to facilitate a divine encounter that enables godly decision making and to blow the whistle on
overt sin when present. The level of exercised apostolic authority should diminish, not expand, in proportion to the
maturity of the saint or church.
Apostolic authority in not a static quality vested in an office; it is a functional grace, activated by the Holy Spirit as
needed for the people and circumstance that need it. When the foundation is done, the apostle needs to get out of the
way, not retain executive authority over the church(es) as he attempts to build the financial infrastructure to support
EPIDORTHOŌ (Titus 1:5). The fact that Scripture uses this word only once should tell us a little about the limitation of
its scope. Again, the context is significant. It deals with the situation in Crete where from stump-worshipping, unruly
pagans Paul was trying to raise a church. It derives from a root word with the thought of “straightening out.” In
American culture, an orthodontist straightens teeth. You can see the same word root, ortho. The thought seems to be
that Paul left some straightening undone. He commissions Titus to finish the job. No problem – as long as the
alignment is to Christ and not to the apostle himself or alleged revelations he may have on subordinate issues. The
church at Crete needed serious straightening. But just as when the teeth are straight you remove the braces, so
apostolic authority and influence needs to be lifted and removed when the job is done not held and exercised in
perpetuity through office or rank. The apostle, if he is one, needs to move on.
The King James Version translates different Greek words as rule, rule over, or ruler:
The New Testament never uses kanōn, brabeuō, and archōn to describe any relationship between believers or with
their leaders. Kathistēmi is used only once (in Titus 1:5) in relationship to church governmental order (please refer to
the previous paragraphs). The New Testament uses archōn or archē in reference to civic and secular authorities and
demonic powers, but never in regard to any relationship within the church, including church authority, positions, offices,
husband/wife relationships, parent/child relationships, and believers to leaders or vice versa. Archōn is never used in
the New Testament describing any relationship between believers. The concept of one person ruling over another in a
local assembly should never be among us.
Poimainō means literally “to shepherd.” The thought is “going before, leading,” not “sitting over” or ruling in a
hierarchal sense of superiority due to office or rank. Overseeing shepherds lead and feed, they do not rule over
subordinates. Proistēmi (I Thessalonians 5:12; I Timothy 3:4, 5, 12, 5:17; Titus 3:8, 14) is almost the same. It means
“to go or stand before” (Gr. prefix: pros) not “over” (Gr. Prefix: epi). It means “to preside, to act out, perform, to
produce,” not “rule over.”
Wait a minute, Crosby, doesn’t the Scripture say we are to obey them that have the rule over us? It can’t be any plainer
than that! Before authoritarians everywhere jump up and say, “See, I told you so!” We best examine the context of this
verse: To Whom was the author speaking? In what location? About what? Why?
HĒGEOMAI (translated as rule in Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24). Let’s use the synthesis principle (letting Scripture interpret
Scripture). The Hebrew epistle was written to Jewish believers facing extreme disappointment in their faith. They were
in crisis. They were under the duress of physical persecution. The delay of the return of the Lord left them wavering in
their faith. They were considering abandoning their new Christian faith and returning to Judaism. The context of the
Hebrews passages is one of crisis and apostasy. The matter is one of concern for their souls: a life and death,
salvation, or perdition issue.
These verses in Hebrews are the only place the King James Version translates hēgeomai as rule. It is translated
elsewhere with the connotation of “esteeming, to evaluate, judge, to count or consider” something. In a situation of
persecution, impending disaster, mass backsliding, or apostasy, it is appropriate to use the term and to speak of
leaders authoritatively. Using the Hebrews verses normatively when similar circumstances do not exist is inappropriate
and exegetically illegitimate.
The concept of an eternal subordinancy of one believer to another as some sort of “spiritual covering” is alien to the
norm of the New Testament. The exception is in times of corporate crisis when someone’s eternal soul, the welfare of
the entire body, or partnership in the gospel is at stake.
Obey and Obedience
Can we salvage these terms from Old Covenant, hierarchal, authoritarian, controlling abuse; and contemporary,
reactionary, independent, rebellious anarchy? Let’s try. As in our other examinations, there are different Greek words
translated as obey/obedience in the New Testament: They are:
The New Testament never uses peitharchō and ginomai in regard to the relationship between believers and their
leaders. The King James Version inconsistently translates peithō. “To trust, or to have confidence, or to be
persuaded” are the most common and frequent King James Version renderings. We are to trust, have confidence in,
and yield to our leaders, especially in crisis, but not unilaterally obey them. The King James Version translators
projected their relationship to their king onto church relationships, and we have suffered for it ever since. In Galatians 3:
1 and 5:7, believers are told to obey peitho, the truth – a most appropriate rendering. We owe the truth absolute
obedience but not our leaders.
The word, hupakouō, expresses the believer’s relationship to God or the gospel but not one another or leaders. There
are exceptions in two verses: Philippians 2:12 and II Thessalonians 3:14. In these two passages it means to “attentively
listen to and yield to” core gospel doctrine and moral instruction – Pauline preaching. It does not describe a
relationship of rank: someone superior to another, one who must yield to another. The New Testament exhorts children
and slaves to obey (hupakouō) but not believers to leaders, nor wives to husbands. The significance of the absence of
this word has profound implications on the whole submission to authority issue. Unilateral submission to a leader simply
because he or she is one does not exist in the New Testament. Yielding to core gospel doctrine and moral injunctions
does. A fixed position of relational subservience does not.
On the negative side, the Scriptures refer to disobedience. It is the Greek word apeitheia: “disbelief, obstinate, and
rebellious.” The King James Version also translates it as unbelief. In the post-Pentecost era, the New Testament never
uses it in reference to believers. The Scriptures think more highly of believers than most of us do. There is only one
New Testament use of parakōe (in II Corinthians 10:6), meaning “inattentive listening,” implying disobedience of those
whose minds are exalted against the knowledge of God. It is not referring to the disobedience of the believers but of
the high-minded unbeliever, judgment upon them being contingent upon the believer’s obedience.
Submit and Submission
The word used in the New Testament for submit and submission is very unique and worth careful examination. It is
hupotassō. It means “to order, align, or arrange under, to subject.” It comes from a root military word meaning the
alignment or arrangement of troops. It is not commonly found in Greek literature but is quite common in Greek papyri
describing business transactions where it means “to support, append, or uphold.” The idea is of what we might call an
appendix or addendum, something added to a document or transaction to “support” the main document.
The King James Version does not consistently translate the term. Sometimes it is submit, submission, or subjection;
sometimes, obey/obedience. It does not mean obedience. Obedience is related to conduct, and it is relative, never
absolute. Submission is related to heart attitude, which is absolute. I can be submissive and yet not obey. The New
Testament requires only children and slaves to obey. Believers (wives and husbands) are required to submit.
Submission is an attitude or posture of yieldedness, not categorical compliance to authority. This is the requirement
and distinctive of freedom. Only slaves and children can be compelled because of their status. They are not free.
Free people can submit, but they never cannot be compelled to obey. Slaves obey because demand requires it. Sons
obey because it is in their submissive, compliant nature to do so.
The only active usage of hupotassō in the New Testament in an authoritative and mandatory sense is in reference to
God’s own activity and in Luke 10 where the believer’s authority requires demons to submit. Indeed, God has the right
to require others to unconditionally submit. Believers can require demons to submit. We may not require one another
to submit. In a Christian and biblical context, the best renderings for hupotassō would connote “yieldedness,
compliance, support, deference, agreeable, non-combative,” rather than “aggressive resistance.” Try reading the many
familiar submit and submission passages inserting these words instead of “obey and subject” and see the effect it has
on your understanding (e.g. I Peter 5:5; Ephesians 5:21).
Biblically, hupotasso is a “self-surrender,” a readiness to renounce one’s own will for the sake of others. It does not just
apply to females and wives. It applies to everyone. To recognize the other person as Christ’s own representative and
to conduct yourself accordingly, recognizing and submitting to the Christ in one another.
Believers must obey their leaders in matters of doctrinal conformity and moral issues. Even then, only in crisis and
conflict. The rest of the time believers submit: voluntarily looking for and yielding to Christ in one another and their
leaders. God alone receives unqualified obedience without measure; any person lower than God can only
receive qualified submission.
Head and Headship
When it comes to the biblical terms head and headship, we run into a situation of conflicting metaphors. Different
cultures use different body metaphors to explain things. In Western cultures, our heart is the seat of our affections. In
the biblical Semitic culture, it was the bowels. In the Philippines, when you love some one, he/she has “captured your
liver.” “Fat” is a compliment in the Philippines, meaning “healthy, vibrant, full of life,” very similar to a Semitic view of
“fatness” as something positive. Not so in Western culture? In American culture, we have “smart mouths” meaning
“sassy obstinate, resistive, or non-compliant.” In Semitic culture, the forehead (i.e. having a whore’s forehead) was a
metaphor for the same. In Western culture, the head speaks of executive authority and rulership: e.g. the “head” of an
organization being the singular chief executive endued with authority, if not absolute authority. That is because, in the
West, we think, act, decide, “will” from our brain/head. Therefore, for us, the head “logically” represents executive
decision-making authority. Where did the people of Scripture believe executive authority resided? Here is a brief
For Semites, the heart, representing the whole of a person, not the head, was the seat of executive authority. It is a
mistake to read our culture into the biblical text. Before we can make any principle of application to ourselves, we need
to apply the principles of context, culture, and originality and ask how the people of the time understood the head
In Hebrew, the word translated as head is ro’sh as “chief, leader, tribal leader, superior in authority” about 180 times.
The LXX rarely uses the Greek kephalé when translating the Hebrew ro’sh (approximately five percent of the time), but
rather prefers archon or archē, which we earlier saw, never describe the relationship between believers. Kephalé likely
derives from the root, kapto, meaning “to seize.” It literally means that which is most easily seized because of its
prominence, not its rank. The New Testament uses it literally for our noggin, because, well, it sticks out; not because it
rules our body!
Though not common, kephalé can also mean “source or origin.” As hard as it may be for us to believe or understand,
the ancients believed that semen came from the male brain (the head). For them the head represented the source of
life. Aristotle taught this and influenced generations after him. Because of this belief, the Romans euphemistically
referred to sexual intercourse as “diminishing one’s head.”
Christ is head of the church. Using the synthesis principle again, let’s allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. There are
seven explicit New Testament verses that speak of Christ’s headship. How do they explicitly relate to executive
authority, government, ruling, and order?
things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)
completer by reason of His work, He is “preeminent.”
and knit together increaseth with the increase of God. (Colossians 2:19)
sustainer, originator, and nourisher of life.
whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual
working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
head and body and Christ as the nourisher and sustainer of growth and life.
head of Christ is God. (I Corinthians 11:3)
head and see something that is not there. This is a notoriously difficult passage. If we substitute “authority over” for
“head” and read the passage, it makes no sense. God is not in authority over Christ, neither is the man “authority over”
There is no rank or hierarchy in the Godhead! There are not conflicted wills requiring one executive God making sure
the other subordinate God stays in alignment with His will! Such thoughts are pagan (and too often believed by
Christians!). Where there is only one will, there is no need for authority. Authority exists only in an atmosphere where
alternate wills are possible. God is not conflicted within Himself, within His persons. Authority and submission structures
are designed for the angels and humanity as a result of satan’s and Adam’s fall. They are necessary in an atmosphere
where agape does not rule one hundred percent of the time and where independent self-will is a possibility. They are
not eternal orders or operation the Trinity self-imposes to keep one another in line! How absurd!
In the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:21ff.) for example, authority and submission are the “fall-back position”
necessary to maintain order when love fails. They are a necessary fruit of the fall, not a mirror of the Trinity’s essential
nature. There are twice as many exhortations to the husband to love as there are to the wife to submit. When Calvary
love fails, authority and submission are necessary to keep order. This does not mean the female unilaterally submits to
the male because of gender-based, role theology. It means that if the husband and wife cannot find unity, the husband’
s job is to manifest selfless Calvary love (not executive authority), and the wife is to submit to it: as Christ is to the
Christ is indeed the sovereign of the church because He laid his life down for her and continues to broker life to her.
Christ’s own “authority” is conditioned on His willingness to embrace death and release life. Though He was King from
eternity, He was “vested” with His rights in the resurrection, because He was willing to taste death (Philippians 2:6-11).
In a limited sense, He “earned” His rulership as sovereign, though sovereign from eternity past. It is not unlike a prince
taking the throne. A prince is a prince by reason of birth. But there comes a day when, educated and hopefully proven,
He takes the throne. He is “vested” with the authority that was always his by reason of birth. In this limited metaphorical
sense, Christ was “given” a name above every other to whom all will bow. Why? Because of His willingness to taste
death for every man. Excuse me a moment of worship: Glory to God! Hallelujah, I am rescued! What a great king,
lover, and friend!
That is the correct image for the husband in the marriage relationship, not “authority over and ruling” because I am the
male and males rule! Love and self-sacrifice are the “norm” for the marriage relationship. Authority and submission are
the guardrails of oneness when love fails. If a couple cannot find harmony, the husband’s “point of view” is not the “final
word” because he is the male and the executive head. Both individuals must yield to higher authority – submit to
spiritual leadership in their crisis.
The church declared the doctrine of the eternal subordinancy of the Son heresy two thousand years ago. It is
experiencing a resurrection in some fundamentalist circles among authoritarians who believe that being male is
equivalent to having role-based authority. It is also experiencing resurrection in apostolic restorationist circles among
those who believe that an apostle possesses functional headship over others, supposedly like the Father does over
Christ. If kepalé (head) means “preeminent, source, or originator,” as in the other verses, it makes more sense in its
context. This verse does not mention submission. It must be read into it.
Isn’t a woman supposed to be under authority and “covering”? We will talk about covering in the next chapter. Here,
the word for authority is not passive. It is active. The authority “over” her head is hers to exercise; not someone else’s
to exercise over her. She has authority over her own head. In I Corinthians 11:10, the New International Version adds
the phrase, “sign of,” in its translation. It is not in the original language text, and is an unfortunate addition. First
Corinthians 11:3 is not an authority hierarchy or flowchart. It is best understood as a sequential time line of origination,
not rank or hierarchical spiritual covering.
body. (Ephesians 5:23)
the meaning of “head” (kephalé). The context speaks of love and self-sacrifice, not a word about ruling over. Neither
archon nor exousia can be found in the passage. They are simply not there. It must be read into the passage: a case
of classic eisegesis, if not pure fantasy.
body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
metaphor emphasizing unity, oneness, exaltation, superiority, and preeminence. The context (verses 20-23) is
speaking of Christ being above all “authorities and powers”; Christ’s authority extends from crown to feet.
principality and power… (Colossians 2:9-10)
metaphor emphasizing unity and oneness. In 2:10, a better rendering would be “top, crown, or preeminent.” Christ is
preeminent because of His exalted position by virtue of His cross and resurrection, and in His primacy and creatorship
He is the originator of even those spiritual powers that resist Him.
What is the end of this? If Christ’s relationship to the church is the pattern for a husband and wife, and inferentially,
leaders to the church, biblical headship has nothing to do with government and ruling. We must not mix cultural
metaphors. For Semites, the head was the source of life, not the seat of government. The heart was the seat of
government and ruling. Kephalé was rarely (five percent in the LXX) and uncommonly used for “leader or chief,” but
never authority over” (exousia) or “ruling” (arche). The best renderings connote the ideas of preeminence and, less
strongly, “source or origin.”
Exousia. This is the most significant of all the words related to our topic. It means “to have authority or authority
over.” It is an “abused” concept – on both extremes. Jesus is indeed, Lord. We are a part of a kingdom, not a
democracy. This is inherently authoritative. However, the kind of authority the kingdom has and how it is implemented
is the difference between something healthy and something abusive.
The word derives from the Greek exesti: it is lawful, meaning at its simplest level “to have ability, capacity to act,
competency, to have leave, permission, power of choice, ability, or capability.” Originally, exousia meant the liberty of
doing as one pleases, which developed into the thought of the ability or strength with which one is endued. The King
James Version translates it sometimes as power, sometimes as authority – unfortunate and confusing because of our
language’s connotations. Power in Greek is dunamis. Authority is exousia. They are not the same. Exousia
(authority) is the right to exercise dunamis (power). Over time, the language changed and the meaning
developed into the exercise of power and the power given to rulers.
How does the Scripture use exousia?
Did you notice anything conspicuously absent? Leader “exercising authority over” believers and believers “exercising
authority over” one another – it’s not there. I know of one local church whose bylaws explicitly state that the pastor
presides over the congregation like the president does over a country and that the members must obey the pastor as
they would the president. It is alleged that apostles serve the same role over churches and networks. It is heartrending
to see such a weak, illegitimate, biblically unsustainable metaphor used to mislead and, yes, control God’s people.
The Lord explicitly admonishes us not to use or model the world’s thinking and methods in terms of government!
President is to country as pastor is to church or apostle is to network are not benign metaphors. They are the
philosophical seedbeds of abuse. Control with a smile, velvet-glove smoothness, charm and personality warmth is just
as devilish as methods less sophisticated and aggressive. It makes it more devilish, as it is harder to recognize. Some
of the “nicest” people in the church are control abusers.
Every time the word exousia is used in the New Testament in its verb form, it is active, not passive. You probably slept
through seventh-grade grammar like I did. Let’s try an accurate but simple definition. An active verb describes action
being done by someone. A passive verb denotes action being done to someone. Try this: “Ignorance is considered by
some people as a fault.” This is passive. Fault is an object receiving another’s consideration. Consideration is acting
“People consider ignorance a fault.” This is active. People are doing their own considering.
Both phrases convey the same thought, but one is passive and one active. Biblical authority is always active. It is
something I possess and exercise, not something that is exercised by someone else over me.
I know that what I am presenting here sounds contrary to the prevailing teaching on this subject. Perhaps rallying some
scholars whose brains exceed mine might help convince the reader that I am not endorsing some novel concept
conjured up out of my inflated ego or in reaction to my own experience with abusive authority (I know some of you have
been thinking that!). The italicized emphases are mine!
person is set under someone. William Ramsay poured scorn on the idea that the term can indicate women’s
subjection, seeing this as a preposterous idea, which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New
Testament (cited in Robertson and Plummer).
For that they need authority and he is saying that their head covering is their sign of authority. As M.D. Hooker
puts it, “Far from being a symbol of the woman’s subjection to man, therefore, her head covering is what Paul
calls it – authority: in prayer and prophecy she, like the man, is under the authority of God.
can take it back. Submission can be received, not taken. Authority is not resident on a church officeholder. It is
resident in the individual, who, from his or her volition may give it to those who are worthy of the individual’s trust. This
protects from victimization and abuse. Before God, as a result of endowment and calling a leader has “authority” in the
sense of being accountable to God for those under his or her care: the leader has authority “over.” But before the
people, the leader is not over them but among them.
imply that individuals do not possess authority. Exousia is indeed referred to. However, even here it is not as
something one member “exercises” over another but as something both partners have to give away to the other!
The context is the mutual exchange of authority, not the exercise of authority one over the other. The context is
neither party has any exousia! This excludes, of course, abuse and defiling of conscience.
2. Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10. Those who strongly emphasize submission to authority in the context of
leadership often use the story of the centurion as justification of their view. Our Lord does not commend the
centurion’s submission to authority but rather the fact that the centurion recognizes Christ’s delegated authority
from the Father! Indeed, Christ has authority! The commendation is for the centurion’s faith, not submission to
authority. Submission to authority was the centurion’s point of reference to faith and recognition of who Jesus
covenant. Indeed, the Word says the Gentiles rule over one another! It is fine for them. It is not to be so among
us. Jesus was not endorsing some eternal principle of authority-submission order. He was commending the
centurion for being able to “connect the dots” from this world to Christ’s commission. Jesus was not endorsing
Gentile structures of authority and submission as the model for His covenant community in the future era (after
His resurrection). He was simply saying, paraphrased and in popular language: “I wish my own people could
connect the dots and recognize who I am, the authority I have, and what my mission is like this guy!”
3. II Corinthians 10:8, 13:10. In the entire New Testament, these are the only two verses that speak of a leader
and his exousia over a congregation. Considering the volumes and volumes of material written about leadership
authority and the submission required, one might reasonably expect there to be a bit more explicit Scripture to the
point. The fact that there is not tells us how much inference and assumption has gone into much of what is
taught on the subject. There are 346 references to elders, four to overseers, and one to pastor! If you believed
what many are writing about the emerging apostles, you might think the emphasis was reversed!
Second, his tone is again deferring, declining to exercise what had been given him. Paul had authority, but
wisely, as in Philemon, defers from using it. We should follow his example.
The New Testament never normatively uses exousia, “to have authority over,” to describe relationships between
believers or believers and their leaders in a passive way. Authority is something an individual possesses, not a power
or privilege someone exercises over another. It is like honor: It can be given or withheld. The power or ability to give or
withhold authority belongs to the individual. Others cannot take it or demand it because of function or position. If I give
authority to someone, they have exousia “over me.” If I withhold it, they do not, even if he is a water-walking apostle.
The concept of one believer exercising authority over another, or a leader exercising exousia over another as the
biblical norm, is alien to the New Testament. God established authority as necessity in a fallen world to maintain order
when love has failed. Love is the norm. Authority is for crisis and in limited spheres of relationship in the church (as we
discussed earlier: Paul in his relationships to the disorder in Crete, Corinth, and Thessalonica). We are called to serve
one another in love, not rule over one another. Godly authority must have key qualities to be legitimate:
AUTHORITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE APOSTOLIC MOVEMENT, by Dr. Stephen Crosby, Copyright 2006,
Pleasant Word (WinePress Publishing).
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