Biblical submission is not the same in every use of the term you see. What do I mean?
I mean that submission we see described in the Scriptures, while it may look like the same English word, can actually be entirely different words in the Greek our English translations come from.
Why didn’t translators choose an English equivalent? Simple – because English lacks the word. Instead, we’d have to write out the meaning.
An area some get touchy about when it comes to submission is on the topic of marriage. People read the term “submit” in regards to a wife submitting to her husband and suddenly think that women/wives are being called to be subservient to their husbands.
Wrong! Let’s look at this more closely and with what it is related:
First of all – this is a submission calling for wives and wives only. Not married? Well, then you have absolutely ZERO calling to submit to a man! This calling we find in Ephesians 5 is for the wife.
Second – this does not mean that the wife is being called to be some sort of unquestioning servant. The Greek verb here (hu-po-ta’s-so) carries the meaning, “to submit to; to put under, or to relinquish one’s rights, or to arrange yourself in rank under.” Now, some will say – now that looks like slavery! Don’t be dim! Look again! This is a verb directed toward the wife to carry out. This isn’t meant as a heavy-handed command from her husband. “to arrange yourself in rank under” – the wife is called to choose to do this. This is in stark contrast to the submission described of children which is a different Greek term that describes a call to obey their parents’ commands. So, a wife is called to willingly submit to her husband’s lead (not unquestioning) and the kids are commanded to an intense “servitude” to submit to both of their parents (more or less unquestioning).
Third – both wife and husband have equal worth before God as image bearers and are both called to submit to the authority of God. Submitting to God is where they can find their greatest joy and fulfillment in Him.
Fourth – much of the marriage layout goes back to the fall in the Garden of Eden. As a result of the curse upon humanity, wives would now become inclined to usurp and dominate their husbands. Husbands, again because of the curse, would be inclined to retaliate with force and what we would call today as an oppressive, heavy-handed, chauvinistic manner. The calls to submit we see in Ephesians are designed to counteract these sin-cursed tendencies within men and women who enter into marriage.
Fifth – husbands are called to also submit! They are called to submit to God (as are all) but they are also called to submit to God’s direction in leading their families. How is this done? In love! A husband is not ever meant to respond to his wife with neglect, verbal/physical abuse, &/or abandonment of his family. He is called to lovingly direct his family in a self-sacrificing manner that seeks the well-being of his wife and children. A husband should be the exemplary image of what it means to be a servant-leader.
Sixth – I realize these points may seem like they’re going well beyond the original questions; however, they are all interrelated and one particular element helps to unite much of the submission described – service. All those in Christ are called to be servant-leaders. Husbands are supposed to be the prime example but each believer is still called to lead by example and to outdo each other in serving one another. Romans 12:10 is an example that shows this calling. Couple this with the unique roles found within marriage and you are left with an image that parallels Christ and the Church. Christ – lovingly leading & the Church – respectively submitting to that lead.
Entire books can be (and have been) written on this subject (though I’ll admit most are sermons). I don’t intend on getting into every use of submission there is in the Scriptures in this article. However, I do want to leave off with a few points that all too commonly get overlooked when people open their Bibles and sadly have been neglected on this very topic:
- Read carefully. Too often people simply go off of what their first impression is after reading a passage. This too easily leads to errant thinking and belief.
- Read in context. All portions of Scripture are part of a larger whole. If you try to derive meaning from one piece without reading it in its context (the surrounding text), you become quite capable of making it say something that it, in actuality, does not say. Such an error can occur with any text read.
- If a particular word is proving troubling to you and your understanding, look up the word from which it was translated and its meaning. New Testament books will be in Greek originally and those of the Old Testament will be in Hebrew.
- Cultivate a desire for the truth. Don’t simply settle for a quick explanation; seek to understand the explanation and why that explanation is correct.
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” – Psalm 145:5
3 thoughts on “Submission”
There is obedience implied in submission. Hypotasso has a meaning of to be under obedience, and this would meet the military connotation of the word. Also, if you look at 1 Peter 3:6, it follows the word subjection (same word–hypotasso) to a husband with “even as Sarah obeyed Abraham” which carries the connotation of listening to a command. This becomes easier to understand if we look at the whole of Ephesians 5 and realize the overall symbolism of the Church in submission to Jesus. Even as the Bride listens to Jesus, women are called to obey their husbands. Until the 1970s, this was not a big issue. The man was the head of the household and called the shots. And women did not feel oppressed by it.
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I don’t disagree. Even so, it is something the wife is called to willingly choose to do which was what I was emphasizing. Just as we are to willingly submit to Christ’s authority. Also, the point was to emphasize the difference between the sort of submission the wife is called to versus the children.
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Great article on a very important passage. I like your emphasis on distinguishing the roles of wife and husband. God is speaking to each separately, and husbands shouldn’t be “listening” and repeating to the wife what God has asked them to do, and vice versa. Abby and I have also been studying Emerson Eggerichs’ book “Love and Respect” which emphasizes the biblical role of the wife to “respect her husband” (Eph. 5: 33) while the husband is to “love your wife” (Eph 5: 23,28).
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