The leader – also called pastor, minister or preacher – occupies a key position in many churches.
The nature of leadership is discussed in this study, as referred to in Hebrews 13.
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. (Hebrews 13:17)
Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. (Hebrews 13:24)
Explanation of the word.
The noun ‘leaders’ is the translation of the Greek verb ‘hegeomai’.
The OLB translates ‘hegeomai’ as:
- to lead – to go before, to be a leader
- to be of the opinion, to accept, to suppose
The Greek/Dutch dictionary translates ‘hegeomai’ (among other things) as:
- to go first, to show the way
- to form the vanguard, to be in charge, to lead
- to be of the opinion, to believe, to hold
It will be noticed that, in both cases, a double meaning is given:
- First explanation: to go first, to lead, to be a leader, to be in charge, to rule, to go before, to show the way.
- Second explanation: to be of the opinion, to accept, to suppose, to believe.
Both meanings are examined, in order to understand the concept of ‘leaders’ in the above-mentioned texts correctly.
Explanation of the concept of ‘leaders’.
The verb ‘hegeomai’ appears in 27 verses of the Bible.
Because the conjugation of a verb is important for the interpretation of the text, all the texts in which ‘hegeomai’ is conjugated in the same way as in Hebrews 13 – i.e. in the present tense, as a participle – are reproduced below.
First explanation: to go first, to lead, to be a leader, to be in charge, to rule, to go before, to show the way.
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers (hegemoon) of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler (hegeomai = literally: leading person) who will shepherd my people Israel. (Matthew 2:6)
This verse refers initially to rulers, as the translation of the Greek ‘hegemoon’.
‘Hegemoon’ is derived from ‘hegeomai’ and appears in 21 texts, translated 20 times as ‘governor(s)’ and only in Matthew 2:6 a ‘rulers’.
Governors (hegemoon) were officials who administered a province on behalf of and under the authority of the Roman emperor.
‘Hegemoon’ is described as: a procurator, an official attached to a proconsul with supervision of the imperial revenues.
Governors acted independently, under authority granted by those in charge.
The ‘ruler’ (hegeomai = literally: leading person) foretold in Matthew 2:6 is a ruler, who will not rule as ‘hegemoon’, but who will shepherd the people of Israel.
This ‘ruler’ is Jesus.
As the Son of God Jesus acted with authority from God as ‘hegemoon/governor’, over sickness and death and over the realm of darkness.
However Jesus said of Himself as ‘ruler’ of the people (literally: leading person of the people, or: He who leads the people):
I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:27)
This is precisely what Jesus also expects of leaders in the church.
… the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules (hegeomai = literally: the leading person) like the one who serves. (Luke 22:26)
A ‘hegeomai-leader is not a ruler, but someone who goes in front, shows the way, forms the vanguard and who sets himself up as a servant, as someone who serves.
Like Joseph. Stephen says:
So Pharaoh made him ruler (hegeomai = literally: leading person) over Egypt and all his palace. (Acts 7:10)
Joseph was appointed – with the authority of a viceroy – to rescue the Egyptian people from the famine and appointed head over Pharaoh’s household.
He is not regarded as a ‘hegemoon’, a ruler, in this verse, however, but as a ‘hegeomai’.
Pharaoh’s commission was:
You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit (literally: to kiss you) to (literally: on the grounds of, according to) your orders (literally: mouth) … (Genesis 41:40)
This can also be translated literally as: … and my whole people will be grateful to you on the grounds of what you have said.
In the text from Acts Stephen remarks that Joseph was not appointed as an absolute ruler, but as someone who was given the task of rescuing the people from the famine, in accordance with the advice that God had given him.
Nor did he rule over Pharaoh’s household, but was given the task of giving leadership to his household.
In that sense Joseph was a ‘hegeomai-leader’ who was given the task of serving.
… Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker (hegeomai). (Acts 14:12)
The word is in the genitive and could therefore have been translated as: of the word.
Paul was called Hermes, because he was ‘the leader’, ‘the leading person’ of the word.
Second explanation: to be of the opinion, to accept, to suppose, to believe.
… Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders (hegeomai) among the believers. (Acts 15:22)
Literally: … leading men among the brethren.
People who are ‘in leadership’ in the church, (put otherwise: to be a leader, to go before) have no authority on account of their position.
Leaders in the church receive their position because the church members grant them the necessary authority.
This grant is also the background of the following two texts:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value (hegeomai) others above yourselves … (Philippians 2:3)
Humbly valuing others above oneself does not mean that they are also so much grander, but that one behaves humbly towards them.
Their idea (hegeomai) of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. (2 Peter 2:13)
Peter is writing here about people who live dissolute lives.
They think that their feasts are the highest form of pleasure, without being conscious of the fact that their lifestyle is leading to their downfall.
As shown by the explanations above, the verb ‘hegeomai’ has a double meaning:
- To go before, to be a leader (literally: to be a leading person)
- To be esteemed (literally: being esteemed)
Up to now the meaning of the verb ‘hegeomai’ has been sketched as it is translated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, as ‘leaders’.
In what follows the meaning of the concept of a leader as ‘minister’, or ‘pastor’ in the church is explored.
1.- What is meant by leaders in Hebrews 13?
As the translation of ‘hegeomai’ as ‘leaders’ says, they go before.
The ‘leaders’ go before the church members, in word and deed, along the way of a life under the authority of Jesus Christ and His Word.
They are an example to the church members by their behaviour.
Just like Jesus says of Himself, ‘leaders’ should set themselves up as ‘servants’.
According to the interpretation of ‘hegeomai’ leaders do not occupy a position of authority, but authority is granted to them by the church members.
According to Jesus’ commission they are also designated to serve.
Consider the declaration of ‘placed/designated’ in the text from 1 Corinthians 12:28.
‘Hegeomai’, translated as ‘leaders’ in the texts from Hebrews 13, can also be translated as:
- those who are esteemed in the church
- those who receive esteem in the church
2.- Who are these ‘leaders’?
In Hebrews 13 they are people who receive esteem on the grounds of their behaviour.
In the first place they will be those who are designated by God for a place in the organisation of the church.
More generally, they are those who are esteemed in the church and to whom authority is granted, on the grounds of their spiritual life in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Notice that the plural is always used in Hebrews 13.
The fact that ‘hegeomai’ is translated as ‘leaders’ is understandable. After all, they must go before the church, lead the members of the church in a life in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Limiting this to one person, who is the only one to whom the highest authority in the church is granted, is not justifiable on the basis of the Bible.
Paul, who is generally considered to be the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, does not mention the leader as being part of the structure of the local church, as he sketches this in 1 Corinthians 12:28.
A leader, or pastor, such as is generally known in many churches is a function that is not supported by the Bible.
The ‘leaders’ in the Epistle to the Hebrews are meant to be the leaders in the church, those to whom the members of the church grant authority, because of a life in word and deed, under the authority of Jesus Christ and His Word.
See also the study: Hebrews 13:17 – Have confidence in your leaders.
Print this study as a PDF document: