A high percentage of poll respondents believe that the Bible explicitly states that: “A woman should submit to her husband.” I agree. As mentioned in the first post in this series on the poll, the Greek word translated as “submit” in most English versions is hupotasso. It is possible that some respondents question whether the English word “submit” is the best translation for this Greek word. And it is always a reasonable question to ask whether a particular word is the best translation of a biblical language word. The lexicons consistently support “submit” as one of key English glosses for Greek hupotasso.
Many English versions do as well (KJV, ESV, NIV, TNIV, HCSB, NET, GNB/TEV . Some versions translate hupotasso as “be subject to” (RSV, NRSV, NASB, REB) and “yield to” (NCV), both of which I consider to be synonymous with “submit to.” The God’s Word (GW) translation words the concept as “Wives, place yourselves under your husbands’ authority.” I’m not sure that authority is in focus in this context since the concept of hupotasso is introduced first as being a mutual relationship in Eph. 5:21, and I do not understand how people could be under mutual authority to each other.
The CEV translates the concept as: “A wife should put her husband first, as she does the Lord.” It seems to me that putting someone first quite possibly includes include submission, but I do wonder if the CEV wording is weaker than “submit” or “be subject to.” Definitely weaker is the wording in The Message: “Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ.”
What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband? As I discussed in my previous post, to hupotasso means whatever it means for any member of the body of Christ to hupotasso to any other member (Eph. 5:21). It is the relationship of mutual hupotasso (submission) within the church which is explicitly stated in Eph. 5:21. The relationship of wives to their husbands is not explicitly stated in the next verse, but it is linguistically reasonable to assume that that relationship is implicitly submission. Wives are explicitly told to submit to their husbands in Col. 3:18, and by implication, following the complimented actions of “the holy women of the past”, Peter expects women to submit to their husbands (1 Pet. 3:5).
From my own point of view, not enough biblical teaching has occurred on what it means for Christians to mutually submit to each other in comparison with how much teaching there has been on wives submitting to their husbands. The larger amount of teaching devoted to wives submitting to their husbands does not align with the fact that the first relationship Paul addresses in this section on submission is that of Christians to each other. That relationship is explicitly stated in Greek. It seems to me that other relationships of submission flow out of the teaching that mutual submission is God’s design for his children. I think that much of scripture tells us, in one way or another, how to submit to each other, and such submission would define what a wife’s submission to her husband should look like. Mutual submission surely involves love (John 13:35), honor, respect, deference, being like-minded, and being one in spirit (Phil. 2:2). Perhaps you can think of other qualities or actions which submission would likely include, and can mention them in comments to this post.
I will complete this series in the next post.