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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Obedience

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The principal word which calls for notice under this head in the apostolic writings is the noun ὑπακοή, with the corresponding verb, ὑπακούω, and adjective, ὑπήκοος. ὑπακοή is unknown in classical Greek. It occurs once in the Septuagint -2 Samuel 22:38; in the NT it is common. Its general meaning is ‘obedience’ (Romans 6:16; cf. the verb in Ephesians 6:1; Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:20; Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 3:6, and Romans 6:12; Romans 6:16); but it has also the special sense of submission to the Divine will, and is thus found of the obedience of Christ (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 5:8; cf. Philippians 2:8, ὑπήκοος). In regard to Christians it comes to have the still more special sense of subjection to the saving will of God, as revealed in Christ, and is thus brought into close connexion with the idea of faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:22, ὑπακοὴ τῆς ἀληθείας; Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26, ὑπακοὴ πίστεως; 2 Corinthians 10:5, ἱπακοὴ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Cf., in the same sense, the usage of ὑπακούω in Acts 6:7, 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Finally we find ὑπακοή standing alone, as a mode of manifestation of Christian faith (Romans 15:16; Romans 16:19, 2 Corinthians 7:15; 2 Corinthians 10:6, Philemon 1:21, 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:14; cf. the verb, Philippians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 7:15, and the adjective, 2 Corinthians 2:9).

The other words signifying ‘obedience’ in the NT are the noun ὑποταγή, properly ‘subjection,’ and the verb ὑποτάσσεσθαι. These are sometimes used as synonyms for ὑπακοή, etc. (cf., for the noun, 2 Corinthians 9:13, Galatians 2:5, 1 Timothy 2:11; 1 Timothy 3:4; and for the verb, Romans 10:3, James 4:7, 1 Peter 2:13; 1 Peter 5:5, Hebrews 12:9).

In the sub-apostolic writings both series of words are found in much the same senses as in the NT. The particular circumstances of 1 Clem., an Epistle written to deal with a state of disorder in Corinth occasioned by the insurrection of some of the younger men of the Church against the elders, bring it about that the virtue of obedience and subjection is particularly commended in this Epistle (cf. ix. 3, x. 2, 7, xix. 1, lxiii. 1, etc.). The keynote of the whole Epistle is struck in xiv. 1, when it is said: ‘It is just and right, brethren, that we should rather become obedient unto God than follow those who in vainglory and sedition have become the leaders of a detestable emulation’ (cf. also Ign. Eph. ii. 2, where subjection [ὑποταγή] to Christ is the same thing as subjection to the bishop and the presbytery).

In conclusion, reference may be made to a passage in which Thomas Aquinas endeavours to define the special virtue of obedience (Summa Theologiae, II. ii. quaest. 104, article 2).

‘To all good works, which have a special ground of praise-worthiness, a special virtue is assigned. For this is what properly belongs to a virtue, that it renders a good work. But to obey one’s superior is a debt we owe in accordance with the Divine order immanent in things; and as a consequence is good.… The act we are considering has, however, a special ground of praiseworthiness on account of its special object. For while inferiors have many duties towards their superiors, amongst the rest there is one duty in particular, that they are required to obey their commandments. Wherefore obedience is a special virtue, and its special object is the commandment, whether implicit or explicit. For the will of the superior however made known is in a way an implicit command: and obedience appears so much the more ready, in proportion as it anticipates an explicit command by obeying, when the will of the superior is perceived.’

It is this obedience not merely to the express commands of God, but to whatever is understood to be His will, which constitutes true Christian obedience, which is an obedience from the heart (Romans 6:17), an obedience even of the thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Literature.-H. Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lexicon of NT Greek3, 1880; H. E. Manning, Sermons, 1844, pp. 117, 129, 287; R. Whately, The Use and Abuse of Party Feeling in Matters of Religion, 1859, pp. 167, 196; J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, 1868, i. 228, viii. 201; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 2nd ser., 1875, p. 94; J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, 1879, ii. 79; P. Brooks, The Light of the World, 1891, p. 340; W. R. Inge, All Saints’ Sermons, 1907, p. 172; B. P. Browne, The Essence of Religion, 1911, p. 209; A. B. D. Alexander, Christianity and Ethics, 1914, p. 164.

Robert S. Franks.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Obedience'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/o/obedience.html. 1906-1918.

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