New Testament Word Studies – Parakoe, Apeitheia

Both these words convey the idea of ‘disobedience’. Parakouo, the verb related to the noun parakoe, means basically ‘to listen inattentively, to take no notice of what is heard’. It is used in this sense of the Lord in Mark 5. 36. R.V., ‘But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken’, and again of the brother that has sinned, Matt. 18. 17, ‘if he neglect to hear thee’, i.e., if he refuses to take any notice of what you say. The word then takes on the further idea of disobedience that naturally issues from taking no notice of a command laid down. In this sense the word is used of Adam’s disobedience, Rom. 5. 19, of the disobedience of those who gave no heed to the commands of Moses’ law, Heb. 2. 2, and of the disobedience even of believers, 2 Cor, 10. 6
Apeitheia, while it too denotes disobedience, is a somewhat deeper and fuller word. We may sketch its background thus: the verb peitho means ‘to persuade’; peithomai means ‘to be prevailed on, won over, persuaded to comply’; apeitheo is the negative of peithomai and means ‘to refuse compliance, to be disobedient’; hence apeitheia is disobedience that springs not merely from carelessly or even wilfully taking no notice of command, but rather from a failure or refusal to be convinced, a rejection of attempts to persuade, a refusal to own the compelling claims of a message or command, a refusal to yield compliance.
It is this meaning that makes the word so suitable as a description of the attitude of the person who not merely neglects but deliberately rejects the Gospel and its implications. The contrast in John 3. 36 R.v. is instructive: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life: but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life …’. Obviously the man described by the second part of the verse is an unbeliever. ‘Not obeying’ is here the opposite, not of keeping a set of detailed commandments, but of ‘believing on’. So again we read in Acts 19. 9 of certain Jews, who, when they had had the Gospel explained and urged upon them, were hardened and disobedient. We meet this class of person again in 1 Pet. 2. 8 r.v., ‘… they stumble at the word being disobedient’. Here too the attitude described is that of deliberate rejectors of Christ, who stand in contrast to the ‘you which believe’ of verse 7.
This almost technical sense of ‘disobey, disobedience’ indicating a refusal of the Gospel, a rejection of God’s revelation in Christ and a repudiation of its implicit and explicit claims, should be borne in mind when reading the Revised Version translation of Hebrews 3. 18; 4. 6, 11. The Revised Version of Hebrews 4. 6, for instance, says'… they … failed to enter in because of disobedience’ and in 4. 11 it exhorts us ‘that no man fall after the same example of disobedience’. In what sense disobedience? Is it referring to individual acts of disobedience on the part of people that are, nevertheless, genuine believers? Obviously not. The word is apeitheia and, consistent with its usage in the passages cited earlier, it means disobedience in the sense of rejecting the Gospel. Thus in 3. 18 the verb apeithesasin (R.v., ‘them that were disobedient’) stands parallel in meaning to the phrase in the next verse ‘… because of unbelief, and in 4. 2 we are explicitly told that what they disbelieved and disobeyed was the Gospel message. Similarly the ‘disobedient’ of Hebrews 11. 31 R.v. were not believers who had temporarily fallen into acts of disobedience, but unbelieving Canaanites who rejected and opposed what God was revealing and doing through Israel.
In all these passages in Hebrews the Authorized Version translators have used ‘unbelief, believed not’ for apeitheia and apeitheo rather than ‘disobedience, disobey’. This was not carelessness but a deliberate indication of what they considered the true interpretation.