“peithō”

Quick Facts

  • Pronunciation: pā’-thō
  • Strongs Concordance:
    • persuade
      1. to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe
      2. to make friends of, to win one’s favor, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one
      3. to tranquilize
      4. to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something
    • be persuaded
      1. to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing
        1. to believe
        2. to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person
        3. to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with
    • to trust, have confidence, be confident
  • Appears 63 times in 54 verses in the New Testament
  • Common translations
    • persuaded (8x)
    • convinced (7x)
    • persuade (4x)
    • confident, obey (3x each)
    • followed, have confidence, having confidence, sure, trust, won over (2x each)
    • listen, assure, obeying, persuading, put confidence, put…confidence, put… trust. relied, seeking the favor, took…advice, trust, trusting, trusts, urging, win over(1x each)

Where and how peithō is used in the New Testament

Matthew 27:20 – “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.”

Matthew 27:43 – ‘“HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”’

Matthew 28:14 – “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.”

Luke 11:22 – “But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder.”

Luke 16:31 – “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 18:9 – “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:”

Luke 20:6 – “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”

Acts 5:36 – “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.”

Acts 5:37 – “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.”

Acts 5:40 – “They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.”

Acts 12:20 – “Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country.”

Acts 13:43 – “Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.”

Acts 14:19 – “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”

Act 17:4 – “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.”

Acts 18:4 – “And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

Acts 19:8 – “And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.”

Acts 19:26 – “You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.”

Acts 21:14 – ‘And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”’

Acts 23:21 – ‘“So do not listen to them, for more than forty of them are lying in wait for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they slay him; and now they are ready and waiting for the promise from you.”’

Acts 26:26 – ‘“For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.’

Acts 26:28 – “Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

Acts 27:11 – “But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul.”

Acts 28:23 – “When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.”

Acts 28:24 – “Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.”

Romans 2:8 – “but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”

Romans 2:19 – “and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,”

Romans 8:38 – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,”

Romans 14:14 – “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

Romans 15:14 – “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.”

2 Corinthians 1:9 – “indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;”

2 Corinthians 2:3 – “This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all.”

2 Corinthians 5:11 – “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.”

2 Corinthians 10:7 – “You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.”

Galatians 1:10 – “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

Galatians 5:7 – “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Galatians 5:10 – “I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.”

[Note that Paul does not command the disturber to obey? Furthermore, he has confident that the Lord in the saints is sufficient to guard their view. Where is the idea of going after the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ here?]

Philippians 1:6 – “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:14 – “and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”

Philippians 1:25 – Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,”

Philippians 2:24 – and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.

Philippians 3:3 – “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,”

Philippians 3:4 – “although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:”

2 Thessalonians 3:4 – “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command.”

[Note: “Command” in the above can also translated ‘charge’ or ‘implore’]

2 Timothy 1:5 – “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”

2 Timothy 1:12 – “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Philemon 1:21 – “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.”

Hebrews 2:13 – ‘And again, “I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM.” And again, “BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN ME.”’

Hebrews 6:9 – “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.”

Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

Hebrews 13:18 – “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.”\

James 3:3 – “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.”

1John 3:19 – “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him”

My observations and perspective

In most uses of the word peithō, the primary meaning is one of persuading, being persuaded, convincing, having faith or confidence.

Only once in 64 instances is the word peithō used to denote obedience to a human being. That is found in Hebrews 13:17. More on that in a moment.

In four instances (6% overall), peithō is translated as obey. Two of those refer to obeying God and/or His word (Romans 2:8, Galatians 5:7), a third refers to making horses obey by placing bits in their mouths (James 3:3).  The fourth remaining verse refers to obeying leaders. This single reference represents 1.5% of all peithō uses.

Given the majority of ways in which peithō is translated elsewhere, I believe the use of obey in Hebrews 13:17 should be reconsidered. I’m not a scholar, as mentioned elsewhere on this site. Nevertheless, I’d be interested in hearing a scholarly explanation of why the word “obey” was chosen in this context. Obey what? What were the leaders said to be insisting upon? 

Firstly, when a word is translated 98.5% of the time using other terms, perhaps the single remaining occurrence is incorrect?

Secondly, using the “scripture interprets scripture” principal, there are no other reliable instances in scripture where we can see saints obeying leaders. This is something that will be demonstrated through the remainder of this chapter.

If there were other verses showing such, we would have to consider that a possibility here. As such, since those are not available, this is likely a poor word choice for this text.

Only one other such reference exists, which appears itself to be misinterpreted. That verse is 2 Thessalonians 3:14, which is discussed elsewhere on this site.

Also, there appear to be better Greek words (such as hypakoē) that the writer of Hebrews could have used to specifically convey obedience as a matter of compliance to authorities, people, offices, or institutions. However, the writer did not do so, indicating that perhaps this was never the intent.

If the use of peithō in Hebrews 13:17 was compliance or submission to a leadership office within the local church, why would the author have neglected to use something more clearly suitable for doing so? Why use words typically reserved for persuasion if obeying was the intended idea?

Because of these reasons, I believe peithō should not here be translated obey.

Some have suggested rendering the verse in ways such as “allow yourself to be convinced of the truth by your leaders”, or “allow your leaders to persuade you of the scriptures”.  Two published translations appear to do so:

Rely on your leaders and defer to them, because they watch over your whole being as people who are going to be held responsible for you. They need to be able to do this with pleasure and not with complaints about you, because that wouldn’t help you. – Hebrews 13:17 Common English Bible

Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them? – Hebrews 13:17 The Message

I believe these translations of peithō to be superior to obey.

Perhaps the best reason to consider doing so, in addition to the above, is the context. Remember, peithō most often translates as persuade, influence, convincing, being convinced or something equivocal – specifically in regard to the truth of Christ. It is evident that scripture teaches that leaders are to teach saints the scriptures.

If we apply the idea of ‘allow yours leaders to persuade you’ to Hebrews 13:17, it makes perfect sense within the context of the entire book.

Why? Because the context of Hebrews itself is largely the writer trying to persuade those who were trusting in the Mosaic Law regarding the efficacy of the New Covenant priesthood of Christ on their behalf. The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews needed some coaching and encouragement not to head back into the sacrificial systems of the past.

They are trying to persuade the readers (perhaps along with their leaders) that the former way of dealing with sin, and all it’s trappings, had been done away with.

Hebrews is an entire book aimed at persuading the Jewish converts that Jesus was Messiah and that his resurrection and life required changes to their thinking. This kind of persuading is witnessed throughout the epistles and is common in apostolic writings.

It was a struggle for first century Jews to come to grips with the concept that their sins were permanently dealt with. They struggled to believe that they could relinquish some of their ideas and practices, that they no longer needed to follow the prescribed practices given to them by Moses. This is a main theme in the letter to the Hebrews! They needed persuading! They needed peithō!

Therefore, to me, it does not appear that this is a command to obey the commands or governing authority of church leaders. If it were, what are the issues that required such compliance or submission to leaders? Why are they not mentioned with firmness and directness?

Were the Hebrews failing to obey their leaders, or were they failing to be persuaded by their leaders? Context would indicate the latter. It is clear throughout Hebrews that there is an attempt to persuade. Read it yourself and look for persuasion words (urge, take care, consider, Et al.). Here are a few:

“For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” – Hebrews 2:1-3a

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.” – Hebrews 3:1-3

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,…” – Hebrews 3:7-8

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. – Hebrews 3:12

Note that in many uses of peithō, the writer proclaims their trust in the genuineness, sincerity, testimony, conscience,  and general feeling of good-will toward the recipients of their letters!

The spirit of many of the above verses is one of trusting the Lord in the saints and expecting the indwelling Spirit of Christ to be sufficient enough to produce obedience. This is in keeping with the definition of agape in 1 Corinthians 13 and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

Once again, we see a demonstration of using leadership “authority” to build up (2 Corinthians 10:8).

In summary, if one accepts these conclusions, there appears to be no uses of peithō in which obeying a leader’s commands or office is under consideration.

Side note:

Some assume that English translations are somehow infallible in themselves, or they are correct due to the education of the translators. This is an unsound position, and it assumes that all translators are bias free. It is academically and rationally sound to question the bias of translations, in the scenario wherein a usage fails to meet observable patterns or appears to be in disharmony with the remainder of scripture. If this were not so, we would not have the amount of translations in English that we do.

“Blessed is the influence of one true,
loving human soul on another.”
– George Eliot

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