by Milton Dunavant


On the subject of “Rulers,” as found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13 and verses 7 & 17, there is a basic ingredient which seems to have been generally overlooked although its a very enlightening part of the inspired text. It seems to have escaped the attention of some brethren because their teachings are so adverse to it. Nevertheless, It gives insight as to: “The identity of those Rulers,” “Recognizing them,” “Their qualifications?” “Over whom they ruled,” “The type of rule,” “Those told to obey,” “The consequence of not obeying,” and “The immediate need for their obedience.”

Authoritarian church leaders claim an authority which is both abusive and unscriptural, based upon their erroneous concept of this passage. A unity of error is held contingent upon everyone obeying the, so called, “rulers” in an unreserved submission which destroys the biblical concept of serving God instead of men.

The following study contains very strong and convincing evidence that Hebrews 13, does not support the idea of an office of “Rulers” in the church occupied by undefined churchmen and of unstipulated qualifications nor of leaders, to whom the flock must obey to the extent of unreserved submission to men or else be abandon by their physical and spiritual family, thus dividing asunder both “Christian Homes” and the “body of Christ.”

The following study, entitled, “Rulers” is submitted for those who cares to search the scriptures as did the Bereans and see whether it be so.


Hebrews 13:7-9; 17-19

During Christ’s personal ministry on earth, there was a time when His disciples disputed among themselves as to which of them would be the greatest in the expected kingdom. The apostles, James and John, aided by their mother, asked that they might sit on either side of the Lord in the kingdom (Mat. 20:20-21 and Mk 10:35-36). No doubt, they sought the favored seats so they, too, could rule with dominion and authority over others.

Words of The Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus, knowing their desire and intent, called them unto him, and said,

“Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister (servant in orig.): And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant (bond slave in orig.) of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mk. 10:42-45.

This text clearly portrays Christ’s intended relationship among His disciples. None of them were to have authority over the others and none could condemn the others for their lack of submission to him. If we assume Heb. 13:7 and 17 are teaching church members to submit and conform to the convictions and the assumed authority of church leaders, we would cause a direct contradiction between Heb. 13, and Mk. 10.

Does Christ’s instruction, given to His disciples, apply to the church, today?

Does His instruction include church leaders, today? Or has His instructions changed for them? Are “church leaders” exempt from this truth?

“But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” (Mat 23:8-10)

Church leaders, who demand ultimate agreement and submission to their judgment decisions, require their brethren to own them as spiritual “Rabbis” and “Masters,” whether they wear the title or not. Their exercise of authority and dominion upon their brethren is a glaring violation of such Bible references. How could one reconcile this text with Heb. 13:7 & 17?

The Inspired Apostle Peter

The inspired apostle Peter, who was an elder, said to the elders of his day,
 “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Have church leaders become OVERLORDS, when they force submission and participation in their judgments under the penalty of excommunication? What more must they do to be overlords? What possible value does this truth have in the hearts of such dominating leaders? Again, Peter, by inspiration, said,

“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5-6).

All Christians should submit one to the other in a peaceful manner, consistent to their spiritual relationship as brethren; however, this is not a domineered submission by which fellow Christians are to be disciplined and rejected for failing to share another’s convictions or for failure to observe his judgments, especially to the extreme extent of dividing families asunder. We should let Christ be our priest, our leader, our ruler, and our Lord and let us be “brethren.”

Paul, the Inspired Apostle to the Church

The inspired apostle Paul said,

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Rom. 12:16).

Certainly, this truth was given to church leaders as well as to the common Christian. Church leaders and Bible teachers are not to be high minded men, demanding rulers, or chastening overlords; but should condescend to men of low estate, walking in the same humility as they expect of other. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

This writing is not an effort to defend or justify anyone’s carnal independence against God, but an open declaration that every Christian should be individually and sufficiently independent from church leaders to PROVE ALL THINGS, and HOLDING FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD (1 Th. 5:21). The apostle Paul said,

“Ye are bought with a price; be not servants of men.” (1 Cor. 7:23).

“Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:20)

He also wrote to the Ephesians, saying,

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;” (Eph. 5: 1)

Again, he wrote to the Corinthians, saying,

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11: 1)

Paul’s admonition to follow him was predicated solely upon the determination that he was following the Lord, putting the personal responsibility upon the individual to prove it for himself.

The Bereans were commended for their diligence to “prove all things,” saying,

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

All such verses make it unmistakably clear. No one should be coerced to accept or participate in another’s conviction, but be free to prove it for himself and to walk in the light he has.

Only one generation ago, these ancient landmarks were fervently taught by some ministers as shown by the following excerpts from a Bible tract entitled, “Gullibility in Religion,” by the late Ed Stevens:

“A tragic and far reaching gullibility is associated with the supposed power and authority over the bodies and souls of men through the distorted doctrines of a man-organized, so-called “church” and its officials. ... The true church of the Bible, a God-organized organism, as composed of saved sinners throughout the world who are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Acts 2:47; Galatians 3:28), has no autocratic power over men. This rests, solely in its head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:18; 2:19; Ephesians 5:23. True, His ministers are to “rule” in the church (1 Tim. 3: 5; 5: 17), but this word means “to guide” or to lead believers in the truth of God’s Word and to beseech them to heed and to obey it. According to John 18:36; Philippians 3:20 and 1 Peter 2:11, Christ’s church has no part or activity in the political and militant ways of “this world” for His kingdom is not of this world order! ... Instituting continuance of the Old Testament (covenant) Aaronic priesthood and imitating it in this present dispensation of the formation, of “the church which is Christ’s body” (Eph. 1:22; 3:1-11), is to put people under the law and its characteristic fleshly ordinances, or rituals, under the mediatorial office of man-made clergymen, priests and popes. ... To know that the Bible can be sufficiently understood by any humble believer anywhere, anytime, apart from clerics and popes in a religious hierarchy, please read John 14:26; 16: 13-15; 1 John 2:27 and 2 Tim. 2:7, “Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.” (End of quote).

Within a matter of a few years, some of the same people and congregations, who had acknowledged the foregoing instruction, adapted a system of authority and domination that was both cultic and tyrannical. In an effort to present some biblical basis for their practice, they claimed Heb. 13:7 and 17 as “church” rulers and church discipline became an obsession. Church ministers and teachers assumed the role of “rulers” without designated qualifications. Often, individuals, with no distinctive qualification, were encouraged to sign “letters of marking,” as though they were “rulers.” “Marking letters” became a screening tool for the detection of opposition. Any, who opposed their severe chastisement, and would not participate in the “marking and avoiding” of others, were declared disobedient, heretical, divisive, rebellious, insubordinate, disorderly, etc, and were cast out of the church.

Heb. 13:7 and 17

When we look at the text of Hebrews 13, if we assume the words, “them, that have the rule over you,” are church rulers; we immediately are faced with an inescapable contradiction. Surely, the apostle Paul did not teach the Corinthians one thing and the Hebrew another in hopeless contradiction. As we look more carefully at the text, we will find that churchmen, who claim to be “rulers,” on the authority of the book of Hebrews are claiming something that does not belong to them and have failed to rightly divide the word of truth.

Undoubtedly, the apostle Paul was the prisoner (Heb. 10:34), who wrote the Hebrew epistle, being the only epistle written by him to the Hebrews (2 Pet. 3:15-16). The epistle of “Hebrews” was written to the Hebrew people, the children of Israel, to brethren after the flesh (Heb. 1: 1-2). In the thirteenth chapter Paul was speaking of their Hebrew rulers, who had “rule” over them. It was written to them to whom the oracles of God had been given, who had been instructed about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, throughout the Old Scriptures. They were promised a King to sit on the throne of David and to reign in righteousness. Yet, most of Israel had rejected their promised Saviour and King.

“He came to his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11).

The word, “ruler” or “rulers,” is found many times in the new scriptures, each time referring to the rulers of Israel, the Hebrew nation. On one occasion when Paul was apprehended in Jerusalem, the high priest commanded the soldiers to smite him on the mouth; whereupon, Paul said, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” And they that stood by said, “Revilest thou God’s high priest?” Then said Paul, “I wist not, brethren that he was the high priest: for it is written, “Thou shalt not speak evil of the RULER of thy people.” (Acts 23:1-5).

According to the apostle Paul, the high priest, Ananias, was a ruler of the Hebrews. This statement is typical of most all verses, using the term “ruler.” One exception is found in Rom. 13, where Paul says, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil,” as he spoke of the “higher powers” and “the powers that be,” which referred to rulers in the Gentile nations as well. Here, it was the apostle’s instruction to the Roman Christians, to be subject to the higher powers of the Roman government. In Hebrews 13, Paul was teaching believing Hebrews to be subject to those that administered the Law of Moses which was also the government of the nation of Israel. Paul’s admonition to the believing Hebrews (Heb. 13:7, 17), bore out the same thought as he had taught the Roman Christians.

How were the Hebrews, who had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, to conduct themselves toward their Hebrew law and government? Some believers had been cast out of the synagogues and otherwise mistreated. Paul had been apprehended and imprisoned for a few years and was seeking his release. Paul never conducted himself as a rebel to the law, the temple, or the people of Israel, neither had he taught others to do so; though, a false rumor had spread in Jerusalem to that effect. Paul openly observed the law in Jerusalem to prove that the rumor about him was false and that he walked orderly and kept the law. Paul proclaimed his allegiance to the law and to the truths taught by the prophets and gave due respect and submission to the “rulers” of Israel. When a Hebrew became a believer in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their King, it did not make him a rebel to the law, the prophets, or the temple. It was only consistent for the apostle Paul to admonish his Hebrew brethren to be submissive to the Hebrew “higher powers” as well as the Gentiles. Christian Jews were not to be disrespectful to the “rulers of Israel,” whom God had given to the nation of Israel to “rule” the people of God, according to His righteous dictates.

Heb. 13:7-9

7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.

9 Be not carried about with divers and, strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

“Them which have the rule over you” were the rulers of Israel. Those, “who have spoken unto you the word of God” were the judges, prophets, and priests of Israel, who had taught them the word of God and of whom are attributed the writings of the Old Scriptures. “Whose faith follow,” were those, who walked by faith like those recorded in Heb. 11. “Considering the end of their conversation,” reveals that they were men, who had lived their lives so that it was possible to consider the “end” of their conversation or manner of life.

These rulers were more than officers of the law of some Gentile nation; they were rulers of Israel, whom God had designated to administer the law of Israel which contained the spiritual standards of the Almighty God. The Hebrews were told to remember such “judges” and “rulers” as Moses and David and those that served as judges and prophets of God - to remember the truth, they taught, and the example of their faithful walk, in order to prevent themselves from being carried about with divers and strange doctrines. The Hebrews were further told that it was a good thing that their hearts be established with grace; not with meats, which had not profited them. They were not to be satisfied with only the ceremonial observances that had occupied a place of importance in the Hebrew culture and temple worship, but to lay hold on the spiritual reality, taught by those observances of the law - as a school master to lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ - the true Bread, the Lamb, the High Priest, the water of Life, etc. Oh! Had they only remembered and received their promised Saviour, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever; the Hebrew nation would not have been enemies of the gospel until this day.

No other man could equal the apostle Paul in church authority, because he was the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13) and to the church (1 Cor. 1:1-2) and the one through whom the Lord revealed church truth by divine revelation, yet he did not refer to himself as a ruler, nor demand explicit obedience to himself. In Heb. 13, Paul speaks of them which have the rule in the third person, not in the first person to include himself. His ministry was, “I beseech thee,” “Whosoever will may come,” and “Search the scriptures, whether those things are so.” In his relationship in the church with fellow Christians, he said, “Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11: 1). His instructions laid the burden of choice on the individual Christian to prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thes. 5:21). The apostle Paul had authority in that it was given unto him to reveal the truth - the authority of God. He did not teach nor practice a doctrine of submission to himself as a ruler in the church nor did he project any other man into a position that required explicit obedience of other Christians. Again, he said, “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed” (2 Cor. 10:8).

Heb. 13:17-19

17 Obey them that have the RULE over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.

19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

At this point, if anyone has not been fully convinced by the preceding verses, this passage should leave no doubt in his mind. This passage not only teaches the Hebrews to “remember” the teachings of faithful saints of old, but to “submit” to them and “obey” them. By so doing, the unsaved would be brought to the Lord and the saved would observe the law, understanding the spiritual meaning of them as never before. They would be obedient to the word of God, as James said, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” (Acts 15:21). These teachers taught the word that was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Gal. 3:19).

The Hebrew rulers were ordained of God to watch for their souls as they that must give account. If their accounting of believing Hebrews was good, it would be “with joy,” and “not with grief.” Likewise, Paul asked for their prayers for him and others with him; because, they trusted that they had a good conscience in all things, and that they, too, were willing to live honestly according to the word of God taught by the rulers of Israel.

In this key verse, Paul concludes his admonition, beseeching them to do this that he might be restored to them the sooner. Think of it! The Jewish leaders were the very ones, who had made false charges against Paul and continued to be the influence that kept him in prison, but the good testimony of believing Jews, relative to the law and the administrators of it, would work together for good toward his release.

Paul (the writer) was fully observing the law of Israel, during the historical time recorded in the book of Acts, as shown in Acts 21, when he went into the temple, and was at charges with four other men to prove that he walked orderly and kept the law (Acts 21:24).

Paul defended himself before Felix, Ananias, and the elders, saying, “And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:” (Acts 24:10-14).

While defending himself before Festus and the high priest and other chief Jews, Paul said, “Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all” (Acts 25:8).

Before Festus and King Agrippa, it is recorded, “And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him: for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:24-28).

The apostle Paul almost persuaded King Agrippa to be a Christian by the same word of God taught by the prophets and Moses who were “rulers” of the Hebrews. Paul was endeavoring to persuade the king to submit to the prophets and administrators of the law - those that had spoken unto them the word of God - whose faith followed - whose end of their conversation (manner of life) could be known and considered, knowing their patience and faithfulness throughout their lives.

When Paul was delivered to Rome as a prisoner, he called to him the chief Jews and said, “Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or the customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of. For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28:17-20).

Paul made his defense upon the basis of his adherence to the law and the prophets and the temple. He had not offended at all. Also, it is overwhelmingly evident; it was the Jewish leaders that continued to falsely accuse the apostle Paul and were responsible for keeping him in prison.

In verse 17, Paul (the writer of Hebrews) admonished the Hebrews (especially believing Hebrews) to be submissive to the Jewish “rulers,” who would be watching them most carefully so that their accounting of them would be a good report, made with joy and not with grief. If their rulers must report of them wickedness and unruliness, it would be unprofitable for them. The good reputation of believing Hebrews, like Paul’s example, would be a testimony to the Hebrew “rulers,” which would work toward Paul’s release from prison and his restoration to them the sooner. Therefore, we conclude the unmistakable fact that these “rulers” were not “rulers” in the church, but the “rulers of Israel,” who could affect his release.

A careful examination of this portion of scripture will show it never gave church leaders a weapon to require unreserved submission to their dominating dictates. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10). Likewise, Hebrews 13 did not teach the believing Jews to submit to the ungodly beliefs and conduct of a wicked ruler. It was a submission to proven rulers in the Jewish system of law and order, much like Paul admonished Christians to be subject to the powers that be in Rom. 13. Hebrews 13 gives no justification for domineering churchmen, to misuse its text to divide asunder Christian families in a doctrine that completely nullifies the Bible verses regarding the family relationship and the Christian home.

Milton Dunavant, P O Box 37122, Fort Worth TX 76117, millindun@sbcglobal.net

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