Origin

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.

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18 thoughts on “Origin

  1. Thank you for taking a deeper look and sharing the journey with us! While this passage has often been used to force people into obedience, even to terrible things, by forbidding them question leadership questions, it actually is equally aimed at leaders – they have the obligation to lead rightly and persuade their following of what is right. We’ve always said that “wisdom comes before submission” – while we are called to both, we are not called to submit to every whim of every person, leader, or spiritual being! We are called to discernment, wisdom.

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    1. That’s assuming that leaders are wise enough to not use this verse to bolster their power and force obedience. If they had understood how Jesus laid down his power, they might follow his example. But – as with this verse and the ones telling wives to submit to their husbands, human nature warps them in such a way where those in power use their power to force obedience and submission because they can. It’s the hardest thing in the world to have power over someone and to choose not to use it.

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      1. Agreed. I love the moment of Jesus washing his disciples feet because of that. To have authority and power and to set it aside and take the service role – that is the essence of Christian leadership. Empowering others to do what you wanted to be famous for is an example!

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  2. I was actually thinking about this earlier today…”It was done when words changed their meanings”…I was reading in a Psalm about God being “terrible.” What an odd post title it would be to say, “Come Worship Our Terrible God!” Anyway, I enjoyed reading this and you taught me at least one new word! “Infralapsarian”…very cool! Thanks, Jamie!

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      1. Perhaps what bothers me is essentially being excluded – take a belief like grace and it’s inclusive, there’s no situation out there were a person is beyond grade or it doesn’t apply to them. But … with complementarianism, it doesn’t always have an answer for those without complements other than that there’s something missing … something making me incomplete. They say that marriage is like Christ and his church, well, what’s a church without her Christ?

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  3. While the meanings of any ancient text can be open to interpretation and change, the Bible has a specific problem (in my opinion). Namely that it is claimed to be fully ‘God breathed’ and inspired. With that in mind, shouldn’t there only be one way to interpret it? I think that’s why people have a problem with changing things in the Bible (not that I care so much about that anymore).

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    1. I know that fundamentalist churches try to teach the Bible that way – as if there’s only one possible interpretation and only their pastor can enlighten the church as to what that is. That every other pastor of every other church gets it wrong because none of them are truly saved.
      But I think for us, we never really had a chance to hear that one true interpretation – the Bible wasn’t originally written in English and our translators had to choose: “do I suggest that a person has a choice and go with “be persuaded”, or do I suggest that must submit themselves to an authority’s teaching over them?” We have had thousands of years of people thinking about the Bible giving us their spin on it. For Protestants, the reality is that the church was Catholic first and their interpretation is the historic one of the church that we have rejected. So whatever anyone teaches is really a divergent opinion of what a person thinks is divine truth, but he can’t really know for sure.
      That’s how we ended up with the extremely popular Rapture / End Times teaching dating from the mid to late 1800s that a few generations before would have just been yet another confusing passage of a confusing book. Now it’s a coherent teaching saying that God is going to come back and disappear a small number of faithful believers, then he’s going to systematically murder billions of non-believers in ever more spectacular disasters one after another for seven years before setting up a kingdom of believers only that reigns for 1,000 years. I tend to wonder, what would we think that those passages meant if we didn’t have this Rapture Theology to explain it to us? Would we still think of it as yet another confusing passage of a confusing book?

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      1. Hmm that’s a good point. I always wondered how much the current Bible translations have differed from their original meaning. It doesn’t help that all the books were written during different times by a bunch of different authors, plus when the church had much more power, they would change the meanings of the scripts to suit them. Anyone who didn’t agree with their interpretation was a heretic – their way or the highway. Much of how we interpret the Bible now probably comes from the Catholic church who had an agenda (just my guess).
        In answer to your question, I assume you’re referring to passages in the Book of Revelation? A number of churches I grew up didn’t believe in the Rapture Theology. I do however think the whole Book of Revelation is a pretty confusing book though anyway lol.

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      2. Revelation, with bit of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Matthew 24, and a dash of Daniel 12; and there are probably a few other verses, too. I’ve known my whole life that this world was so sinful, so unholy, so corrupt, that God was going to come back at any moment to take away the faithful and leave the rest behind to a terrible, horrible fate. It seemed with every hurricane, tornado, tsunami, terrorist attack, lone wolf attack, etc. all the elders around me would say: “Put your house in order and see to your affairs, why, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were today.” It was just last month when the Revelation 12:1 prophesy failed to materialize – though I only heard of that one at the start of the month.
        All in all, it’s big business, the Left Behind book and film series, other miscellaneous books that are a variation on the theme, setting dates, getting followers – it’s hard to give up such a good racket when you can intimidate people through fear in the name of God.

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  4. It must’ve sucked being held to ransom by fear like that. I always wonder how many pastors make numerous end time predictions, get it wrong, yet still have people believe them?

    Ah the Left Behind books 🙂 When I was a new Christian I ate them up like chocolate cake, but in recent times I have found them somewhat cringey – especially the Kirk Cameron film they made!

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    1. I liked Reading Slactivist’s take on the Left Behind series: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2015/11/05/left-behind-index-the-whole-thing/
      He really brakes down that it’s not just cringey writing, it’s plain old bad writing.

      For me, one of the hardest things to do is to be alone. When people are not where they’re supposed to be – I sometimes jump to the conclusion that they’ve been raptured and I’m left behind. Fortunately, all I have to do is to turn on the news to see normal television and then I have to realize that there’s a perfectly logical explanation – they’ve gone out shopping or to some appointment and they’ll be back … eventually. Still, those few seconds of fear and doubt always bother me.

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      1. The whole thing of it is that I know that anybody who gets raptured away will be safely sent to heaven, eat at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, and be out of harms way as the earth is devastated by natural disaster and then war for the duration of seven years. I was taught that people who were raptured away had it made – it’s the people who were left behind who were going to die violently.
        So when I wake up and nobody is around where they should be, that’s when I think they have been raptured, are safe and sound, and I missed it and I’m at terrible risk. I don’t know why I don’t think I’ll be raptured but everyone else will, it’s just the reality that’s always been. I wonder if the way we’ve been taught we all secretly have that fear.

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      2. Oh I see. I see how you could believe that if it was continuously drilled into you as a child at church. I am sorry to hear you felt that way. My churches weren’t so big on rapture, but there was always the fear of Hell or that you hadn’t done enough as a Christian (even though saved by grace was taught). I don’t think these pastors deliberately tried to scare us (at least most of them), but religion did seem to have that effect on people (including myself), now just looking back at it.

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