The Bible is conspicuous in its many graphic depictions of the responses of men to the words and will of God. Responses that are avowedly favorable to such a degree that one is persuaded to act are called “hearing,” “believing,” or more simply “obeying.” Other responses that are apathetic or disregard God’s Word are characterized as “rebellion,” “unbelief,” or “disobedience.”
Studies of obedience situations have tended to emphasize either the external and more formal aspects of the response or the inner nature of the respondent and the spiritual aspects of his attitude. Justice should be done to both of these elements.
שָׁמַע, H9048, to hear, to listen reverently, πείθω, G4275, to obey, to put one’s trust in, ὑπακοή, G5633, hearkening submissively, ὑπακούω, G5634, to listen to, to obey, to follow
In its simplermeaning the word signifies "to hear," "to listen." It carries with it, however, the ethical significance of hearing with reverence and obedient assent. In the a different origin is suggestive of "hearing under" or of subordinating one’s self to the person or thing heard, hence, "to obey." There is another New Testament usage, however, indicating persuasion from, peithomai.
The relation expressed is twofold: first, human, as between master and servant, and particularly between parents and children. "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that, will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and, though they chasten him, will not hearken unto them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place" (
Obedience in the Bible
The Bible, by exhortation and commandment, requires submission and obedience to six principal authorities:
The highest significance of its usage, however, is that of the relation of man to God. Obedience is the supreme test of faith in God and reverence for Him. The Old Testament conception of obedience was vital. It was the one important relationship which must not be broken. While sometimes this relation may have been formal and cold, it nevertheless was the one strong tie which held the people close to God. The significant spiritual relation is expressed by Samuel when he asks the question, "Hath Yahweh as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (
In prophetic utterances, future blessing and prosperity were conditioned upon obedience: "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land" (
This obedience or disobedience was usually related to the specific commands of Yahweh as contained in the law, yet they conceived of God as giving commands by other means. Note especially the rebuke of Samuel to Saul: "Because thou obeyedst not the voice of Yahweh, .... therefore hath Yahweh done this thing unto thee this day" (
In the New Testament a higher spiritual and moral relation is sustained than in the Old Testament. The importance of obedience is just as greatly emphasized. Christ Himself is its one great illustration of obedience. He "humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (
The external nature of obedience
An external and somewhat formal approach will tend to focus attention on observable circumstances or inferable causes and consequences of the act.
The most evident aspect of obedience is the presence of a person (or group) with authority who commands or requests another to comply with his expressed will. This authority can be recognized because usually it is expressed through the media of accepted customs and traditions, of venerated ordinances and laws, whose value to human life are unquestionable. To obey is to adjust to demands judged to be worthy. Obedience, thus, can be seen as being motivated by such things as convention, habit, fear of punishment, and hope of reward. When Moses says, “If you obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey...” (
A word of caution is necessary, for it is easy to make the inference that the Biblical writers advocated obedience to God only for practical reasons. Such an inference would be too naturalistic in its understanding of the Old Testament and New Testament, and ignores the deeper spiritual aspect of obedience found even in the Old Testament, e.g., in
The manner in which the obligation to obedience is developed and applied is a formal element of obedience. The psalmist, e.g., is urging obedience when he stresses the dependence of man, as a created being, upon God as the uncreated Being (
The internal aspects of obedience
When Jesus rebukes those who outwardly comply with the law but inwardly do not (
The obedience of Christ
Obedience in both its external and internal senses underlies the Biblical explanation of how man has been reconciled to God. Paul describes Christ’s work of redemption as an obedience unto death (
Not only Christ’s work, but also His person can be understood in terms of His obedience. For John, Jesus is the