Analysis #1 for Lead(er)/Rule(r)


Here we will perform Analysis Item #1

  • How are other Greek words that are translated into the same English word/clause.
  • How does the contextual use of these other words in other verses inform our understanding of the use of the same English word in this verse.

In summary, we are identifying whether the word in this verse should be thought of in the same sense that we typically think of the word in English OR are there some refinements and/or boundaries on how we should understand this word in this context.

Because translations are split between “leaders” and “them that rule over”, we will look at both “lead(er)” and “rule(r)”. There are more than just a few Greek words to look at, but still a small enough number for us to analyze and distinguish their similarities and differences.


This word study has an additional need beyond just looking at other Greek words that are translated to the same English word(s)/clauses. We also need to look at the complimentary words “authority” and “authorities”. A study of lead(er)/rule(r) without bringing authority/authorities into view would not be completely valid. We will not be able to fully address the subject of authority/authorities in this section.  We will have to more fully develop this in another section of this writing <TBD>.

English Definition of Lead

  • to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort: to lead a group on a cross-country hike.
  • to conduct by holding and guiding: to lead a horse by a rope.
  • to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.: You can lead her around to your point of view if you are persistent
  • to command or direct (an army or other large organization): he led the army during the war
  • to be superior to; have the advantage over: the politician leads all others in the polls for the election

Lead has multiple senses. Some of them showe the idea of leading as setting an example or a pathway by the one leading. Other definitions bring us back to the idea of command authority of one person over another person.

We need to look at the Greek words to understand whether they will assist us in identifying the true sense of our Greek word (hegeomai) in Hebrews 13:17.

English Definition of Rule

  • control, government, or dominion: under the rule of a dictator
  • to control or direct; exercise dominion, authority, or influence over; govern: to rule the empire
  • to be superior or preeminent in (a specific field or group); dominate by superiority; hold sway over: for many years, John ruled the organization

Rule also has many senses, but we have only presented the ones that match the sense of what is in Hebrews 13:17. It is clear that the Hebrews 13:17 use of the word rule is NOT like the rules of a game, a regulation/law, or any of the other senses possible with this word. The most applicable definitions of this word bring us to the idea of command authority of one person over another person.


We will look at both noun and verb forms of the words leaders / rulers so that we get a full sense of the range of words available in the New Testament in its original language of Greek. It is necessary to expand our scope to all of them, so that we can then come back to the Word in Hebrews 13:17 and have a proper sense of what it really means in this context.

Greek Verbs Translated to Lead(er) / Rule(r)Words translated to Lead(er) / Rule(r)

Chart Legend:

  • Red Words – these are words where clear Biblical evidence shows these words should not be used for christian leaders
  • Blue Words – these are words where clear Biblical evidence shows these words should be understood to understand christian leadership
  • Black Words – these are words that there isn’t clear evidence that these words should or should not be applied to christian leadership

Note: We have recalculated the percentages here to not include the cases where hegeomai is translated as considering, regarding, esteeming. We are only looking at the verbs that are translated to lead and rule.

Breakdown of Verbs

  • 5 of 36 (14%) – ho [definite article] (Strong’s 3588) hegeomai [verb] (Strong’s 2233) – translated as “the one who leads” and leaders, principal speaker
    • this is a particular construction in the Greek which combines the definite article with this verb, hegeomai. It is counted separately here.
    • Luke 22:26; Acts 14:12; Hebrews 13:7, 13:17, 13:24
  • 3 of 36 (8%) – hegeomai [verb] (Strong’s 2233) – leader, ruler
    • Matthew 2:6; Acts 7:10, 15:22
  • Verb #1 – 7 of 36 (19%) – kurieuo [verb] (Strong’s 2961) – rule, lord, master
    • Luke 22:25; Romans 6:9, 6:14, 7:1, 14:9; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Timothy 6:15
  • Verb #2 – 6 of 36 (17%) – proistemi [verb] (Strong’s 4291) – lead(s), rule over, manage
    • Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12, 5:17
  • Verb #3 – 6 of 36 (17%) – ago [verb] (Strong’s 71) – to lead, take with one; to guide/direct
    • Luke 4:1; Romans 2:4, 8:14; 1 Corinthians 12:2; Galatians 5:18; 2 Timothy 3:6
    • This is a filtered subset of this word where it is translated to led/lead
  • Verb #4 – 5 of 36 (14%) – hodegeo [verb] (Strong’s 3594) – to be a guide or teacher, lead on one’s way, to give guidance
    • Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39; John 16:13; Acts 8:31; Revelation 7:17
  • Verb #5 – 2 of 36 (5%) – archo [verb] (Strong’s 757) – rule
    • Mark 10:42; Romans 15:12
  • Verb #6 – 2 of 36 (5%) – hegemoneuo [verb] (Strong’s 2230) – to be leader, to rule/command
    • Luke 2:2; Luke 3:1

Greek Nouns Translated to Lead(er) / Rule(r)

Chart Legend:

  • Red Words – these are words where clear Biblical evidence shows these words should not be used for christian leaders
  • Black Words – these are words that there isn’t clear evidence that these words should or should not be applied to christian leadership

Breakdown of Nouns

  • Noun #1 – 37 of 107 (34%) – archon [noun] (Strong’s 758) – ruler
    • Matthew 9:18, 9:23, 9:34; 12:24; 20:25; Mark 3:22; Luke 8:41, 11:15, 12:58, 14:1, 18:18, 23:13, 23:35, 24:20; John 3:1, 7:26, 7:48, 12:31, 12:42, 14:30, 16:11; Acts 3:17, 4:5, 4:8, 4:26, 7:27, 7:35, 13:27, 14:5, 16:19, 23:5; Romans 13:3, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 2:8; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 1:5
  • Noun #2 – 21 of 107 (20%) – chiliarchos [noun] (Strong’s 5506) – military tribune/leader
    • Mark 6:21; John 18:12, Acts 21:31-33, 21:37, 22:24, 22:26-29, 23:10; 23:15, 23:17-19, 23:22; 24:22, 25:23; Revelations 6:15, 19:18
  • Noun #3 – 20 of 107 (19%) – hegemon [noun] (Strong’s 2232) – governor, ruler
    • Matthew 2:6, 10:18, 27:2, 27:11, 27:14-15, 27:21, 27:27, 28:14; Mark 13:9; Luke 20:20, 21:12; Acts 23:24, 23:26, 23:33, 24:1, 24:10, 26:30; 1 Peter 2:14
  • Noun #4 – 11 of 107 (10%) – arche [noun] (Strong’s 746) – ruler(s)
    • Luke 12:11; Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21, 3:10, 6:12; Colossians 1:16, 2:10, 2:15; Titus 3:1; Jude 6
  • Noun #5 – 9 of 107 (8%) – archisunagogos [noun] (Strong’s 752) – leader of the synagogue
    • Mark 5:22, 5:35-36, 5:38; Luke 8:49, 13:14; Acts 13:15, 18:8, 18:17
  • Noun #6 – 5 of 107 (5%) – hodegos [noun] (Strong’s 3595) – a leader of the way, a guide
    • Matthew 15:14, 23:16, 23:24; Acts 1:16; Romans 2:19
  • Noun #7 – 2 of 107 (2%) dunastes [noun] (Strong’s 1413) – rulers
    • Luke 1:52; Acts 8:27
  • Noun #8 – 1 of 107 (1%) kosmokrator [noun] (Strong’s 2888) – world ruler
    • Ephesians 6:12
  • Noun #9 – 1 of 107 (1%) hegemonia [noun] (Strong’s 2231) – reign
    • Luke 3:1

Additional Relevant Greek Words Considered

  • Verb – 11 occurrences – poimaino (Strong’s 4166) – sheperding, ruling
    • Matthew 2:6; Luke 17:7; John 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 9:7; 1 Peter 5:2; Jude 12; Revelation 2:27, 7:17, 12:5, 19:15
  • Noun – 17 occurrences – poimen (Strong’s 4165) – shepherd
    • Matthew 9:36, 25:32, 26:31; Mark 6:34, 14:27; Luke 2:8, 2:15, 2:18, 2:20; John 10:2, 10:11-12, 10:14, 10:16; Ephesians 4:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25

Greek Words Not Considered

  • oikodespoteo (οἰκοδεσποτέω, Strong’s 3616), from oikos, “a house,” and despotes, “a master,” signifies “to rule the household”; so the rv in 1 Tim. 5:14 (kjv, “guide the house”).
  • brabeuo (βραβεύω, Strong’s 1018), properly, “to act as an umpire” (brabeus), hence, generally, “to arbitrate, decide,” Col. 3:15, “rule” (rv, marg., “arbitrate”), representing “the peace of Christ” (rv) as deciding all matters in the hearts of believers; some regard the meaning as that of simply directing, controlling, “ruling.”
  • politarches (πολιτάρχης, Strong’s 4173), “a ruler of a city” (polis, “a city,” archo, “to rule”), “a politarch,” is used in Acts 17:6, 8, of the magistrates in Thessalonica, before whom the Jews, with a mob of market idlers, dragged Jason and other converts, under the charge of showing hospitality to Paul and Silas, and of treasonable designs against the emperor.

Roadmap for Comparing and Contrasting

Since the number of words involved in this study is more than just a few, the following roadmap is provided to help give the reader a sense for the relevance of various words.

  • Noun versus Verb
    • Our word (hegeomai) in Hebrews 13:17 is a verb. As you survey the nouns there are noun / verb pairings which are more closely related.
      • nouns (archon, arche) / verb (archo) – these words all connote “positional” authority
      • nouns (hegemon, hegemonia) / verbs (?hegeomai?, hegemoneuo) – the noun, hegemon and hegemonia both connote “positional” authority. The verb hegemoneuo is “to be a hegemon”. But the verb, hegeomai, is a more complex word that is more difficult to easily correlate to with the other similar words.  Hegeomai has two major and somewhat disparate senses – 1) to lead, 2) to consider, esteem, regard.  There are some questions whether hegeomai should be paired with these other words (See Strong’s 2233 entry which points to Strong’s 71 as a source of this word).  Since there is conflicting information from various lexicon’s hegeomai is included in this word pairing, but keep in mind this may not be valid.
      • noun (hodegos) / verb (hodegeo) – These are not common words, we will look at one aspect of the verb, hodegeo, to refine our understanding of hegeomai.
  • Relevant in Opposition – words that help us understand what hegeomai isn’t.
    • archo (verb)
    • archon (noun)
    • arche (noun)
    • kurieuo (verb)
    • hegemon (noun)
    • hegemonia (noun)
    • hegemoneuo (verb)
    • archisunagogos (noun)
  • Relevant for Refining – words that are similar or complimentary that help us gain a refined understanding of hegeomai.
    • proistemi (verb)
    • ago (verb)
    • hodegeo (verb)
    • pomaino (verb)
    • poimen (noun)
  • Not Very Relevant – words that don’t provide much extra information after looking at the previous words “in opposition” and “for refining”
    • hodegos (noun)
    • chiliarchos (noun)
    • dunastes (noun)
    • kosmokrator (noun)

Relevant in Opposition

We have several words that help inform our understanding of hegeomai by showing us what hegeomai is not. We know that hegeomai is not like archo, archon, arche, kurieuo, hegemon, hegemonia, hegemoneuo, and archisunagogos for the reasons covered next.

In all of these examples that are relevant in opposition a common theme occurs. Outside the church, the person bearing a title can act as they wish (with some bounds) and affect the lives of those under their dominion according to their own wishes even if it is not to be best interest of the individuals. Their position provides this right. Keep this in mind as we begin to consider how it is different in the church setting.

Archo, Archon, Arche, Kurieuo

archo is used in Mark 10:42-43 where Jesus directly opposes this type of rule for the disciples

(42) And Jesus called them to himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered to rule over (archo) the Gentiles lord it over (katakurieuo) them, and their people in high positions exercise authority over them. (43) but it is not like this among you. But whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, (44) and whoever wants to be most prominent among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”

archon is used in Matthew 20:25-28 (a parallel passage to the previous passage)

(25) But Jesus called them to himself and said, “You know that the rulers (archon) of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions exercise authority over them. It will not be like this among you. But whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be most prominent among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

kurieuo is used in Luke 22:25-27 (a similar passage to the previous two passages)

(25) So he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over (kurieuo) them, and those who have authority over them are called benefactors. (26) But you are not to be like this. But the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the one who leads (ho hegeomai) like the one who serves. (27) For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am in your midst as the one who serves.

It is clear in these passages that Jesus is setting up an opposition to the the methods of the Gentiles and he specifically uses archo, archon, and kurieuo in opposition to what is expected from the disciples. Mark expressed what he heard from Jesus using the verb (archo), Matthew expressed what he heard as the noun (archon), and Luke expresses what he has heard as the verb (kurieuo) so all of these are covered by the opposition of how the disciples should think about leading that Jesus addressed.

Important Note: There are several similar passages (Luke 22:25-30; Matthew 18:1-4; 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45) that account for at two or three distinct settings where Jesus emphasized the difference between how the “world” (aka Gentiles) think of leadership and authority and how Jesus practiced leadership and expect his disciples to do the same. These are extremely essential passages to coming to a proper understanding of leadership, authority and submission in the context of the church.

arche is closely related to archo. We do not have a clear verse that shows the specific opposition between this word and the way authority should be exercised among believers. However, these three words are very similar, so the assumption is made that arche is also in opposition to what God wants to be conveyed through hegeomai in Hebrews 13:17.

Hegemon, Hegemonia, Hegemoneuo

All three of these words are very closely related and clearly distinguishable from our word hegeomai. Given what we learned in studying archo, archon, arche and kurieuo and that these three words are all tied to the same class of individuals (Gentile/worldly rulers), we can treat these in opposition to hegeomai (our word in Hebrews 13:17)

hegemon is used exclusively to identify earthly rulers and they are all clear cut worldly rulers. The most common translation of hegemon is “governor”. In Biblical times, a governor is definitely not a king (aka Caesar), but is an administrator of a portion of a king’s empire and can exercise authority within the king’s realm even up to and including administering over life and death of citizens. The only reference that introduces any additional thought is Matthew 2:6 which is a quote from Micah 5:2.

Matthew 2:6 – ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers (hegemon) of Judah, for from you will go out a ruler (hegeomai) who will shepherd my people Israel.’

hegemonia and hegemoneuo are clearly related to hegemon. In the case of hegemonia it is only used once in the Bible (Luke 3:1) and it is describing the reign of Tiberius Caesar. In the case of hegemoneuo, which is a verb, we only have two references (Luke 2:2, Luke 3:1) which both describe someone being governor.


archisunagogos is a compound word comprised of arche and sunagoge (synagogue). This word means chief ruler of the synagogue. It is believed that God does not desire a chief in the same way that was exercised in the synagogue. There are some similarities between the model of synagogue and the model of the early church, but the early church also had the Holy Spirit flowing through the members as seen in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 and there wasn’t a human ruler over the proceedings, but rather the Holy Spirit.

(26) Therefore what should you do brothers? Whenever you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it must be on one occasion two or at most three, and on after the other, and one must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, he must be silent in the church, but let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and the others evaluate. And if something is revealed to another who is seated, the first must be silent. For you are all able to prophesy in turn, in order that all may learn and all may be encouraged, and the spirit of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

Important Note: the word prophesy does not specifically mean foretelling the future. It is to speak what God is inspiring one to speak. It can foretell the future, but it should not be limited in your understanding to future telling, but rather speaking the truth in coordination with what is on the Holy Spirit’s mind in a particular congregational setting.

Relevant for Refining

Now let’s look at a few Greek words that will enhance our understanding of hegeomai because they are close in meaning or they are used in contexts which speak to the idea of “leaders” and/or “them that have rule over”.


This is probably the most important word for enhancing our understanding of hegeomai in our Hebrews 13:17 context. Everything that is shared next is confirmed by the entry in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT). It is shared here in a manner that is slightly more readable to those who are not versed in Greek.

There are eight (8) uses of proistemi in the New Testament. Six (6) of these verses are relevant to the subject of “leaders” / “them that have the rule over”. These six (6) verses are quoted here with brief analysis.

Romans 12:8 – if it is one who exhorts, by exhortation; one who gives, with sincerity; one who leads (proistemi), with diligence; one who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 – Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and rule over (proistemi) you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them beyond all measure in love, because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

1 Timothy 3:2-5 – Therefore the overseer must be irreproachable, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, skillful in teaching, not addicted to wine, not a violent person, but gentle, peacable, not loving money, managing (proistemi) his own household well, having children in submission with all dignity. (but if someone does not know how to manage (proistemi) his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)

1 Timothy 3:12 – Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing (proistemi) their children and their own households well.

1 Timothy 5:17 – The elders who lead (proistemi) well must be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor by speaking and teaching.

These verses provide a wealth of information.

In each case, there is either a) the implication or b) a direct causal connection between leadership and service (i.e. “servanthood”). These two concepts are inseparable in true christian leadership. This has already been shown in previous sections where Jesus himself setup a contrast between worldly rulers and their modus operandi (lording it over) versus what He expected from the disciples (serving to lead). Now we see Jesus’s conception restated in several ways and several places with a connection to this word proistemi. The concepts presented in each of the contexts using the word proistemi match the context we are dealing with in Hebrews. We are looking at “leaders” / “them that have the rule over” in the church.

Hebrews 13:17 needs to be read and understood with the spirit of proistemi being integrated into our understanding of Hebrews 13:17.

By this point, it is getting clearer that the common conceptions that many might draw on from their other experiences in life related to the phrase “ruling over” aren’t the best way to describe the idea(s) of “leading” in the Bible and the church.  In another portion of this writing we will deal with how rare it is for Paul to command rather than appeal. <TBD>  This will further emphasize that to “lead” in the church really is to serve without exercising command authority.

As we solidify that leading is really serving, then we need to transition to the point of view of the individual believer and how they should conduct themselves in relationship to “those leading”. Hebrews 13:17 helps us to understand an appropriate relationship to the ones who are truly leading. However, we must also consider that there have been many in leadership who use Hebrews 13:17 to set the expectation of subservience onto believers. This is not the spirit nor the intent of Hebrews 13:17 even though the English translation implies this possibility.

Important Note: There is one aspect of these verses that will be dealt with separately. In 1 Timothy some of the qualifications of an overseer / deacon are compared to that of a man related to his own house (e.g. family). This might cause people to believe that the role, responsibility and authority in the home setting matches what should exist in the church setting. This would position the overseer like a father and others like children. There are some things that can be drawn from family relationships which are valid, but the idea of an overseer having command authority and expecting followers to believe that they should “obey” like a child is instructed to “obey” his parents, is NOT included.  This will be specifically addressed and dealt with in other portions of this writing. <TBD>.


This word has several different senses and is considered here because of it’s relationship to hegeomai. Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon points to this word, ago, as closely related to hegeomai. Strong’s says, hegeomai is the “middle voice of a (presumed) strengthened form of ago.

A quick review of ago shows us the following senses of the word

  1. to lead by taking one along to a destination
  2. to lead, guide, direct
  3. to pass a day, keeping a feast or celebration
  4. to go or depart
Of these senses, we are most interested in the second one (to lead, guide, direct). Of the 69 occurrences of ago, there are about six (6) that match this sense.
  • Three (3) of them show the leading of the Holy Spirit – Luke 4:1; Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18
  • One (1) of them shows God leading us to repentance – Romans 2:4
  • The other two (2) show people being lead to idols and to their own various lusts – 1 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Timothy 3:6

In each of these cases and many of the other ones not addressed, we see one common theme which is a guidance to a destination (metaphorically or physically). This is a complimentary word to hegeomai which may not provide a tremendous amount of light on hegeomai itself, but it does show us another aspect of leading related to God and to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not lead (hegeomai) us, but rather leads (ago) us. Those leading (hegeomai) do not lead (ago) us, but they lead (hegeomai) us.

So, the refinement we can find here with ago is that what men are doing to lead is different in some way(s) than what the Holy Spirit is doing in the believers live.


The next word we will look at to refine our understanding of hegoemai is interesting. It is only seen a handful of times (5) in the Bible. They all have a similar sense of leading as a guide and/or a teacher and one that deserves some special attention because it is a very important verse related to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

John 16:13 – But when he–the Spirit of truth–comes, he will guide (hodegeo) you into all the truth. For he will not speak from himself, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will proclaim to you the things to come.

This leads us to several other connected verses that are worth mentioning here.  These do not contain hodegeo, but they should be brought in to this review and considered.

Luke 12:12 – for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that same hour what it is necessary to say

Matthew 23:8 – But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ because one is your teacher, and you are all brothers, and do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your heavenly Father. And do not be called teachers, because one is your teacher, the Christ.

John 14:26 – But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name–that one will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything that I said to you.

These verse may seem somewhat unrelated to our topic. What these verses do is show us who has responsibility for being the “teacher” and “guide” (hodegeo)

  1. Those leading are not hodegos (guides/teachers) nor are they leading/guiding (hodegeo). The Holy Spirit is guiding and teaching according to the teaching of Jesus Christ and this is occurring directly into our beings directly from the Holy Spirit even if the conduit is through other men.
  2. Hegeomai is able to express the idea of leading without positioning the person who is leading into the place of a ‘rabbi’ (aka teacher) as they existed in Jesus’s time. In Jesus’s time, the Rabbi was the person you wanted to be like, not just the person you wanted to learn a concept from. You actually wanted to be just like the person of the rabbi and thus the disciples of a rabbi would become followers of that man. Jesus wanted to avoid this conception in the mind of the disciples, so he made it very clear that He (and only He) was their teacher. This remains true to this day. We all follow one teacher (Jesus Christ) and we all have one Helper (the Holy Spirit) to lead/guide us. Those leading (hegeomai) do not step into that place or role in our lives as a rabbi would have in Jesus’s time.
Note:  By preserving the title of “teacher” to Christ and the Holy Spirit, this does not invalidate those who are gifted with the ability to “teach”.  The process between one who is gifted and God should be a collaborative one where God is leading and the christian leader is acting in cooperation with God’s will in the follower’s life.  This includes being sensitive to where the follower is in their walk with God and acting in cooperation (not contradiction) with God.

Poimen, Poimaino

We will close our consideration with two words (a noun/verb pairing) that move in a slightly different direction, but they are important to round how our concept of hegeomai. The vast majority of the time these words are translated as shepherd/shepherding (there are a few instances of ruling).

Let’s look at several key verses with these words to establish the connection between our current word study hegeomai and poimen/poimaino. The connection won’t be as strong and direct as some of the previous ones.  The connective tissue will be in the same concepts of serving rather than lording that we have seen emerge with other words we have already reviewed. We will also see connective tissue because those who are given oversight (the type of leadership that exists in the church) are tied to both the words hegeomai and poimen/poimaino through several Biblical passages.

Poimen is a noun (shepherd) and poimaino is a verb. These words are a noun / verb pair. We are not considering the examples from Revelation where these words are used in this analysis because they are pointing to future conditions. We are interested in understanding this word and how it can inform our understanding of hegeomai in the church age.

In the most general sense, all of the instances of both the verb and noun are addressing matters of a) being a shepherd or b) shepherding. There are several verses using this word that are highly informative about those God has gifted as overseers and those leading in the church. We will look at several verses and notice the following things:

  • conceptual overlap with the same ideas of leadership through service as we have already been seeing above
  • continued pattern on focusing on doing rather than bearing a title.
  • added emphasis on the need for care and feeding of God’s flock
  • clear indication that God’s flock never becomes a leader’s flock even when the leader is caring and feeding for them

(Verb) John 21:15-17 – Now when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs!” He said to him a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Shepherd (poimaino) my sheep!” He said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed because he said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything! You know that I I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep!” (Note: the word “feed” in “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep” is the same Greek word, bosko – Strong’s 1006)

(Verb) Acts 20:28 – (Paul speaking) – Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd (poimaino) the church of God which he obtained through the blood of his own Son. (Note: the word “overseers” is the Greek word episkopos – Strong’s 1985)

(Verb) 1 Peter 5:1-2 – (Peter speaking) – Therefore I, your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a sharer of the glory that is going to be revealed, exhort the elders among you: shepherd (poimaino) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not by compulsion but willingly, in accordance with God, and not greedily but eagerly, and not as lording it over those under your care, but being examples for the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

(Noun) Ephesians 4:11-13 – And he himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors (poimaino) and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for building up the body of Christ, until we all reach the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to a measure of the maturity of the fullness of Christ.

In the preceding verses, we can also see that those leading are not always referred to exclusively by verbs. There are a few nouns ascribed to those leading in the church. We will see a connection between “those leading” (verb form) and the noun, shepherd (poimen), in Ephesians 4:11. We will also see a connection between “those leading” and the noun, overseers (episkopos) in Acts 20:28. This study has been emphasizing the fact that the emphasis in the Word of God is on those who are actually doing something and not on a titled position. This is true, but it does not mean that there is a total lack of titles or believers who can be thought of in a role even when they are not actively doing it. For some, this distinction between someone doing something versus someone being titled as something may not seem that important. It is because the Word of God performs some important fine slicing between the way leadership works in other realms of life verses how leadership works in the church. It is also important because the Word of God also addresses (in a very negative sense) those who are pseudo (false) ones. False brothers, false apostles, etc. These ones claim a title, but are acting against the title and this sets them in a very bad category from God’s point of view.

Additional Notes:

  • The majority of these verses emphasize doing the shepherding, not holding the title of shepherd. Ephesians 4:11 is a very broad verse written in a very general sense with a global view of the church and the roles in it. It does nothing to establish any kind of command authority for the role of the one gifted as a shepherd.
  • Neither poimen nor poimaino explicitly setup command authority for those operating in these roles in any of the verses it is used. In fact, it is clear from 1 Peter 5:1-3 that shepherding is to be done a) using oversight rather than lording, b) without compulsion, c) by example, d) in accordance with God. This isn’t easy and this is why we see Peter exhorting others to do this. He knows it isn’t easy.
  • In the verses from John, we should make note of a few important items
    • Jesus is emphasizing the importance of shepherding and feeding the flock. Jesus pushes this point to the point of frustrating and Peter. He wants it to be remembered.
    • Jesus is also very clear about something else here: “Feed my lambs”, “Shepherd my sheep”, “Feed my sheep”. Jesus retains ownership and this holds true elsewhere in the Bible.
  • Let’s also consider Peter’s comprehension and retention of what Jesus emphasized (even vexed Peter with) in challenging him 3 times. It is clear that Peter understood this. Listen to a few snippets of 1 Peter 5:1-3 again and you will see that he understood it.
    • Shepherd the flock of God among you” – Again, the verb (poimaino), not the noun (poimen). Whose flock? God’s flock, not Peter’s or anyone else. Peter is still clear who owns every single one of them. Where? Among you, not under Peter or anyone else. Peter doesn’t show any form of hierarchy here. He avoids it.
    • “And when the chief Shepherd appears” – This is a title and Jesus is “the shepherd”. He is also the chief or head shepherd (archipoimen). This is a noun.

Additional Reading:

  • If you review all the other instances of poimen, (the noun “shepherd”) you will see that many of them point to Jesus as the shepherd. In several cases, the emphasis is on him being the one shepherd of his whole flock. This does not mean that others cannot do some shepherding or even be gifted as shepherds, but the emphasis lies on Jesus as our shepherd.


  1. Leading in the church setting is not like leadership and authority in other settings in life (civil government). The titled based concepts of authority that DO apply in civil settings, DO NOT have a direct parallel in church settings.
    1. Note: This word study only shed light on two realms of leadership and authority (church and civil government). There are a few additional realms which the Bible addresses, but they are not covered here (Work, Family).
  2. Words in the Greek that talk about “rule”, “ruling” in the church setting have to include all the concepts of a) serving, b) leading by example, c) oversight not lordship, d) ensuring that those following are in willing agreement and not being by compulsion, and e) in accordance with God. In other settings ruling doesn’t have to include these concepts.
  3. Those leading in church settings should always be operating in a complimentary fashion to God and never according to their own will.
  4. Jesus and the Holy Spirit play special roles in each of our lives which the Bible does not prescribe or describe being usurped by church leadership. Based on this study, we see no basis for hierarchy established between God and each man. The lordship of Christ over each believer is direct and without passing through secondary parties. This does not reduce the usefulness of those leading or any gifted ones from functioning in their respective God-given capacities. It just has to be done in full respect of Christ’s headship over believers.
  5. Is the emphasis of the Word of God on titles in the church setting OR is the emphasis being doing the work that is described by the title? A considerate review of the materials above, provide a clear answer. The emphasis is on doing the work that is described by the title. This is a strong emphasis, but it does not completely remove the place of a title. It is important to find the right balance in our understanding between these two aspects.
  6. The only way to bear a leadership title in the church setting is to be doing the work of that title. When one stops functioning according to the title then the title effectively ends. This doesn’t take away gifting which is permanent. The gifting is just out of service and others who are acting according to their gifting and leading should be followed instead.
    1. Important Note: We are all earthen vessels and flawed. It is impossible for those in those leading to function according to their gifting 100% of the time in the same way that it is impossible for anyone to function according to their gifting 100% of the time. We also have to account for those who are gifted, but not yet matured in their gifting.

Unresolved Questions

If we expand our scope to look at authority (exousia) and how it is tied to christian leadership and other types of leadership, does that change our view of Hebrews 13:17?