It occurs to me that I never really talked about where my blog’s identity: “Be Persuaded” came from. It hails from an unlikely Bible verse: Hebrews 13:17, which says:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” – HCSB
You might say: “I don’t really see how you’d get “be persuaded” out that. True – it’s not exactly suggested in any of the English versions of the text. But this verse wasn’t originally written in English.
One way of writing it looks like this: “peithesthe tois hēgoumenois hymōn kai hypeikete autoi gar agrypnousin hyper tōn psychōn hymōn hōs logon apodōsontes hina meta charas touto poiōsin kai mē stenazontes alysiteles gar hymin touto”
As a version of this: Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες, ἵνα μετὰ χαρᾶς τοῦτο ποιῶσιν καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες, ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο.
One thing you learn about Greek: the voice matters. Any word can be voiced in an active mode, middle mode, or passive mode – depending on which one you use, the meaning of a word can change.
The word peithesthe (Πείθεσθε) has generally been interpreted to mean ‘obey’, but a more nuanced meaning would look like: “be persuaded by” (I’m new to Greek, so I’m not sure if the difference is in the passive or middle or active voice, it’s the same word and same meaning – just different uses). To me, that always made sense. When Christianity was forming, it wasn’t about an authority demanding submission. Even in Jesus interactions, it was more like an attempt to persuade others – Jesus used parables, Paul used logic, Peter used his own life experiences.
And most people are sort of fine with that logic – you make people obey and submit to something they aren’t persuaded is real and true; but if somebody is persuaded something is true, they kind of choose to go along with it. But once they’re in for a penny, they’re in for a pound. Something that used to be about persuasion, getting you to agree now becomes a matter of authority and obedience and submission. Elders no longer need to persuade the members of the church because of this verse. But it’s been used to do terrible things.
I remember watching this one television show featuring a young woman who had an usually powerful gift, she could command anyone and bend them to her will. This verse does something similar. But with all that power, the young woman who wields it comes to believe that it’s a sad thing when a few people force their views on everyone. That’s something I agree with. With Christianity being a matter of persuasion, it’s far less malevolent than being forced. But I suppose even persuasion can be used in a wrong way. I can see that with the wildfire popularity of teachings coming from complimentarian circles, trying to persuade everyone else that only they have the truest truth of all truths. I just can’t help but wonder if our Christianity was the one Jesus envisioned as he was laying down the foundation of the church. There are days when I think it is … and there are days when I think we’re the furthest thing from it.
At any rate, I try to voice the other side of the argument; to do as Jesus would have done and try to be persuasive. I’ve come to learn a lot about the ancient world in the process. How rhetoric was a fundamental principle of education in the ancient world. How like us, they were shaped by the important thinkers of their day like Plato and Aristotle – thinkers who still have a impact on us today. I know a lot of Christians take a look at the “cultural” argument of the Bible and then proceed to make the slippery slope argument: “if part of it’s not true, then none of it must be true!” As a result, the way we read the Bible itself is as if it’s isolated from the time and place it was written in order to apply over all times and places and cultures the world over.
But I think that’s a rather simplistic way of looking at it. Christianity is famous for it’s big churchy words – infralapsarian, premillenialism, dispensationalism, justification, etc. I’m quite surprised that nobody has found a way to explain God as eternal despite using cultural mediums to communicate truths. To me, elements of culture is like faint music that has long since ended, Christianity still asks us to dance to that same old tune; ignoring the fact that new music, new tunes are the pattern by which we now live. We are no longer in sync and wonder why we’re so out of step. To me, two solutions seem aparent, change our world to match that of the Bible or accept that the Bible was not written for our world and adjust it’s message to match our own world.
I know that many would say changing the Bible is heresy, we don’t have the authority to do that … but the truth of the matter is that it has already been done. It was done when our culture sailed down a different path than those in the Bible. It was done when words changed their meanings or were lost in interpretation. It was done by having different values and beliefs about the world around us partially because we’ve always existed in a world with the Bible as our guide; we’ve never had to look to prophets or apostles who are in the know. Ultimately, I still stand by what I said when I first started:
These last few years, I’ve been growing concerned by the narrowing of definitions of what is acceptable. It’s as if there’s one right way and everything else is wrong … which strikes me as wrong in and of itself. In matters of belief, there should be common, level ground. No one person should be raised above another or considered inferior to another especially in the name of doctrine. I’ll question every ‘default’ teaching because there is usually more than one side to each argument, and you deserve to decide for yourself what you will believe.