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When members of the early Jerusalem chuch were arrested, they defended their actions thusly:

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”—Acts 5:29-32 (ESV)

The word I'm wondering about is archegos <747>, which Peter previously used (Acts 3:15) in relation to Jesus. Outside of that, the word isn't used in the New Testament. (A related word, ἀρχαὶ, is far more common in the corpus, however.) Translations variously render the word:

  • "Leader" (ESV, NET, NRSV)
  • "Prince" (NIV, NASB, NLT, MSG, NKJV)
  • "Ruler" (BBE)
  • "Founder" (NET footnote)

That seems like a pretty clear picture, but when we look at the same word in Hebrews 12:2, we get a diffent range of translations:

  • "author" (NIV, NASB, NKJV)
  • "pioneer" (NET, NRSV)
  • "guide" (BBE)
  • a paraphrase that references starting a race (NLT, MSG)

This is a completely different set of meanings. Obviously the contexts are somewhat different too: Peter emphasises Jesus' authority and Hebrews is creating an analogy based on a race metaphor. But it seems at least posssible that Hebrews used ἀρχηγὸν to allude to Peter's usage.

Can these two sets of meanings be unified or would it be better to think of the word used in two separate senses?

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(+1) This is a really cool question. You know, it also made me wonder, should word meanings be unified... perhaps that would be a good topic for another question. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 23 '12 at 19:22
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2 Answers

According to Liddell and Scott's lexicon, ἀρχηγός can mean1:

I. beginning, originating a thing, c. gen.
II. as Subst., like ἀρχηγέτης, founder, of a tutelary hero.2
2. a prince, chief.
3. a first cause, originator.

Of particular interest is "II. founder". Founders of companies and other institutions often get an extra level of respect. For instance, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak3 are revered for their roles in establishing Apple. Historians hotly debate whether Newton or Leibniz can be called the "Father of Calculus". People of ambition strive to obtain titles like princeps civitatis (literally, "first among the citizens") because of the honor and authority it conveys.

It's also interesting that while there are a wide range of meanings, each has some relation to "I. beginning, originating a thing". Given other words that Peter and the author of Hebrews might have used (and even did use in those same passages), it seems that they purposely picked archegos in order to identify Christ's role in beginning Christianity.


It's instructive to see how the word was used by other Greek writers:

Cousins and other relatives derive their attachment from the fraternal relationship, since it is due to their descent from the same ancestor; and their sense of attachment is greater or less, according as the common ancestor is nearer or more remote. 5

The affection of children for their parents, like that of men for the gods, is the affection for what is good, and superior to oneself; for their parents have bestowed on them the greatest benefits in being the cause of their existence and rearing, and later of their education. 6—Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1162a

The translator of this text chose "common ancestor". Notice that Aristotle compares the roles of parents to that of gods in the sense that each initiates or is the first cause.


Sinclair Ferguson notes:

Archegos describes an inaugurator, a trail-blazer, a pioneer—someone whose achievements make it possible for others to experience the benefits of what he has done. The school our two eldest sons attended held an annual “Founders’ Day” service at which the two brothers who had first begun the school centuries before were remembered and honored. They had begun something the benefits of which our children entered into and shared. They were archegoi.

More evocatively, he compares Jesus to a Navy SEAL. Just as those men infiltrate enemy territory to clear the way for others to mount an attack, Jesus infiltrated the sinful world to lay the foundations for the Church.

Conclusion

Both Peter and the author of Hebrews seem to have in mind the idea that Jesus began the Christian faith. Therefore, Christ deserves a particular type of honor reserved for those to show us the way.


Footnotes:

  1. I removed a references to Greek works and other meta information in the definitions.

  2. I had to look up "tutelary". It appears there may be a link (however loose) to the idea of a guardian/tutor.

  3. Poor Ronald Wayne.

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I think the meaning is the same in both places. The reason for my thinking this way is that when considering Jesus at the right hand of the Father we ought to think primarily in terms of his human nature, for that alone was exalted to the Father's side as the new Adam and captain or leader of many men into salvation. His divine nature was always there.

The concept in both places includes his incarnation, gathering of elect and then leading them to a throne as their leader and brother.  In this sense he is a brother or comrade in arms, defeating the enemy and gaining a prize for us all as our captain.

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