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Paul’s thoughts on superiors and subordinates: defining the terms

Posted by on Aug 22, 2012 in discipleship, office | 10 comments

Paul’s thoughts on superiors and subordinates: defining the terms

In yesterday’s post, “What did Paul think about his subordinates?,” I explained that in the next few post I intend to examine what Paul thought about the people who traveled with him and the people he worked with in various cities. Did he think of himself as being a superior with them being subordinates? Did he think of them all as equals?

Before I get into the evidence from Scripture, I think it’s important that I define the terms that I’m using in this series.

A person higher than another person in rank, status, authority, or quality

A person lower in rank, status, authority, or quality in comparison to another person

And, since this word will probably pop up from time to time, I will include it as well:

A ranking of different people based on status, authority, or quality

In reality, in the way that I’m using these terms, the three go together. A hierarchy requires superiors and subordinates. The presence of superiors or subordinates automatically dictates the presence of the other and automatically forms a hierarchy.

So, if I rephrase the original question using these definitions, then this is what I’m asking: Did Paul think of himself as being higher in rank, status, authority, or quality than the people he traveled with or the people in worked with in various cities?

Now, I want to point out something very important. I am not talking about extreme cases of superiority or subordination. I’m not talking about dictatorial leaders or blind followers. I’m simply talking about hierarchy of any kind, and superiors and subordinates of any kind.

A kind, benevolent, caring, supportive, and empowering superior is still a superior and is still above his/her subordinates in a hierarchy based on some rank.

So, in the remaining posts in this series, I will examine the terms that Paul used to refer to his traveling companions and other believers in various cities in order to determine if he used terms denoting a superior/subordinate relationship or if he used terms denoting an equal relationship.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the definitions I’m using.


Series: Does Paul refer to other Christians as superiors/subordinates?

  1. What did Paul think about his subordinates?
  2. Defining the terms
  3. The ways that Paul most often refers to other believers
  4. When Paul refers to other believers using father/child language
  5. Examining Paul’s use of the father/child language
  6. Does Paul use the term apostle to refer to a superior/subordinate relationship?
  7. When Paul DOES use the language of superiors and subordinates


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-22-2012

    Those sound like fair definitions to me.

  2. 8-22-2012

    Our Father is a God of order, no matter how fervently folks would seek to dismiss this about His character.

    I have a spiritual father above me in whom I willingly submit to his authority. He has someone above him, and so on. The day will come when I will have younger men looking to me to be their spiritual father. Orderly, indeed.

    Authority can never be demanded. Authority must be received by others. Authority without consent, (if you will), is merely a forced abuse of power. It takes The Spirit to make this happen. Paul had authority all over him. He wore it like a mantle.

    It would not be uncommon for others to naturally submit to him, (not because he was Paul and had a reputation), but because they discerned the authority The Spirit laid onto Paul. Kinda the whole, ‘respect the rank, not the person’ mentality.

    As to hierarchy, of course there is one within The Kingdom. As a former grunt of special caliber, I fully understand authority, boundaries, and hierarchy.

    I think you are spot-on, Alan. I am looking forward to reading further along. (Hey, btw, you haven’t commented on the dialogue Chuck and I are having regarding tongues, Acts, and 1 Corinthians! Your input would be valued.)

  3. 8-22-2012


    Thanks. Hopefully I will be consistent in using those definitions in my posts. 🙂


    If I can submit to someone, then that person does not have authority over me. Submission requires a choice on the part of the one submitting; authority does not. I hope that makes sense.


  4. 8-22-2012


    I forgot to reply about something: I’m following the conversation between you and Chuck on your respective blogs. I’ve enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, I have not been able to take time to comment. Hopefully, I’ll be able to comment on the entire discussion once you both write all of your posts.


  5. 8-22-2012

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts when you can comment, Alan! 🙂

  6. 8-22-2012


    You said:
    “If I can submit to someone, then that person does not have authority over me. Submission requires a choice on the part of the one submitting; authority does not. I hope that makes sense.”

    No. It didn’t make sense to me. Can you dumb it down for me?

    I submit willingly to my spiritual father. He receives this submission and considers it a huge responsibility. So in that sense, it is a two-way street.

    If you’re saying authority is its own qualifier, and it matter not whether we accept it as being true, I agree only in the sense that Jesus has full authority, but many to this day still refuse to believe it. It doesn’t make Him any less than what He is, as if our opinions of Him can add or take away from His Lordship.

    Is that where you were going with what you said?

    And like Chuck, I am looking forward to your input after he and I lay it all out there. 🙂 You are one of the few people I “know” that can capture my attention when you speak.

  7. 8-22-2012


    Thanks. 🙂


    My boss has authority over me at work. I do not have to submit to him in order for him to have authority. He has authority based on his position.

    Occasionally, I have a good idea. My boss submits to me… but that does not mean that I have authority over him.


  8. 8-22-2012

    I am reminded every day, it seems like, that “things are a-changing” and not necessarily for the better. One of the areas in which change is occurring is our view of the church. We are harkening back to the old hierarchical views with the flip side of losing our doctrine of being equals as the blood bought children of God. Recently, I read where one fellow said he hated the idea of the church as a congregation; he was that much into elders and eldership rule. My six years of research in church history (all 2000 years from the underside of the sects and groups regarded as heretics at worst and schismatics at best) made me thoroughly sick of the idea of the hierarchy in a this-worldly garb (not so in the Heavenly realm). In Heaven, due to the lack of sin, the hierarchy works just fine, but even there the inferior/superior takes a walk as when the angel says to John, “I am a fellow servant with you…”(Rev.22:8).

  9. 8-23-2012

    Someone recently posted this on my facebook wall.(There, I resisted the temptation to take credit for it.):
    The way to distinguish true authority is the absence of control. The apex of dominion is submission through faith.

  10. 8-23-2012


    I also think that hierarchy has caused problems among the church. Not everyone agrees with us, of course. 🙂


    It is interesting that we all agree that Jesus has true authority. The relationship between his authority and control and submission is certainly something to consider.