Does ὑποτασσω mean ‘respect’ in Ephesians 5?

It’s not often that a political event provides fodder for a BBB post. But I’m going to take fodder from Iowa (a lot of fodder is harvested there) where the Republican candidates for President of the U.S. debated each other last night and turn it into grist for this BBB post.

Michelle Bachman, an evangelical Christian and the only Republican woman candidate, was reminded by co-moderator Byron York:

about her 2006 remark that her “husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, ‘But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'”

Then York asked Bachmann:

As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”

Bachmann answered:

“Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful godly man and great father.

“He respects me as his wife; that’s how we operate our marriage,” she continued. “We respect each other; we love each other. I’ve been so grateful we’ve been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We’ve built a business and life together, and I’m very proud of him.”

News commentators, and news and religious bloggers have been having a hayday (hay is also grown in Iowa) commenting on this exchange.

And now we at BBB get our chance to weigh in on the translation question which is related to that exchange:

Does the Greek word ὑποτασσω in Ephesians 5:21–and assumed by almost all Bible translators to be implied in the next verse–mean ‘respect’ or something else?

Last night Bachmann did not quote from Ephesians 5 as she did in 2006. Instead she said that submission means ‘respect’ within her marriage to Marcus Bachmann.

Will Bachmann’s definition of submission be satisfactory to those who emphasize wives submitting to their husbands today? Does it bring home the bacon (a lot of hogs are raised in Iowa) for you, as you understand the meaning of ὑποτασσω?

All comments on this post will be moderated. Only those which address the meaning of the Greek word ὑποτασσω will be approved for posting. No comments will be permitted which address any other gender questions in Bible translation, unless they directly relate to the translation of ὑποτασσω. This is not an attempt to censor BBB comments, but, rather, to keep the comments from flaming or attacking any Bible translators or anyone else. Some got the mistaken notion from a recent BBB prohibition on discussion of gender on the WELS post on the NIV2011 that gender issues in Bible translation could not be discussed on BBB. We BBB bloggers did not intend any such prohibition. Gender is a topic critical to current English Bible translation and must be discussed. But there must be boundaries on how we discuss it and what is discussed at any one time, so that comments can stay on-topic for each post.


UPDATE (Aug. 15): Comments which are non-translational but otherwise pass BBB gudelines now appear on a spillover blog:


Additional details about this new blog appear as a comment from me today on this post.

39 thoughts on “Does ὑποτασσω mean ‘respect’ in Ephesians 5?

  1. Mike Sangrey says:

    Very good, Wayne, thank you for posting this.

    I’ve often thought that one needs to approach a definition of ὑποτασσω by considering at least these two things (I’m sure there are more):

    1. That there is a significant difference in meaning between the passive and active voices. The participle in Eph. 5:21 is passive. An example of the active verb is Eph. 1:22. And the word is framed with similar words in Eph. 1 as it is in Eph. 5. So, these texts provide interesting exegetical and lexicographical fodder.
    2. That there must be collocational coherence between the passive of ὑποτασσω and ἀλλήλων. We have ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις in Eph. 5:21. So, what ever the passive of ὑποτασσω means, that meaning has to somehow work in a real-world, grammatical way with the meaning of mutuality. In other words, whatever ὑποτασσω means, as one understands how that meaning plays out in the real world, the activity of ὑποτασσω must be able to be doable in both directions of a relationship.

    I suggest the similarity in framing between Eph. 1 and 5, coupled with the clear inapplicability of mutuality in Eph. 1, draws a clear semantic distinction between the active and passive voices.[1] The passive voice can be mutual. The active voice can not.

    [1] One difficulty working through this is the requirement of being self-conscious of “thinking in Greek” and “thinking in English.”

  2. Ben says:

    Since she never directly referred to ὑποτασσω (at least not in the parts quoted in this article), I would have simply assumed that she used “respect” with reference to Eph 5:33 (ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα) as a pars pro toto for one important part of the wife’s part of submission (see 5:21-22).
    In my humble opinion, Eph 5:22-33 is expounding v. 21, which ties all the way back to v. 15. Husbands and wives are given different ways to submit to each other here. V. 33 is then a summary of each partner’s task. φοβῆται arguably does mean fear as in respect here (“as to the Lord”, see v. 22), and if Paul summarizes a wife’s way of submission (again, maybe as a pars pro toto) as respecting her husband, I think it is legitimate for any wife to do so.

    Ergo: Not legitimate to translate ὑποτασσω this way, but legitimate to talk about respect as submission in this way.

  3. J. K. Gayle says:

    the activity of ὑποτασσω must be able to be doable in both directions of a relationship.

    But Wayne Grudem suggests something different:

    “[E]vangelical feminists take another illegitimate step in Bible interpretation when they change the meaning of the word hupotasso (“submit to,” “be subject to”), giving it a meaning that it nowhere requires, something like “be thoughtful and considerate; act in love” (toward another), without any sense of obedience to an authority. This is not a legitimate meaning for the term, which always implies a relationship of submission to an authority. It is used elsewhere in the New Testament of the submission of Jesus to the authority of His parents (Luke 2:51); of demons being subject to the disciples (Luke 10:17—clearly the meaning “act in love, be considerate” cannot fit here); of citizens being subject to governing authorities (Romans 13:1, 5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13); of the universe being subject to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22); of unseen spiritual powers being subject to Christ (1 Peter 3:22); of Christ being subject to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28); of church members being subject to church leaders (1 Corinthians 16:15-16 [with 1 Clement 42:4]; 1 Peter 5:5); of wives being subject to their husbands (Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:5; cf. Ephesians 5:22-24); of the church being subject to Christ (Ephesians 5:24); of servants being subject to their masters (Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18); and of Christians being subject to God (Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7).”


  4. Brett says:

    I wonder if it really matters, at least for this specific passage, in this context. If ‘ὑποτασσω’ really means submit it is still talking about submitting in the context of a marriage. If she has consulted with her husband and he agrees for her to run for president, then in that sense she has submitted to him. Presumably he has a general understanding of what is involved with being president and understands that he won’t be the one making decisions behind the scenes.

    Of course if it means respect (I have no idea) then there is no issue there either. I don’t know the details of the original meaning; even if it means submit there may be some subtleties to the meaning in the original language that I’m missing.

  5. Iver Larsen says:


    I agree with you. I also thought of Eph 5:33 where most English versions translate φοβέω with “respect” rather than “fear”. I would use the same translation here. However, the middle forms of ὑποτασσω indicate more than respect, as you say, although I again agree that respect is part of it. I don’t think “submit” is the best translation in English, but I don’t have a good suggestion.

    One of the best ways to explore the meaning of a Greek word is to study all the places where this word occurs. The active sense that Mike refers to is not common. It means “put under the control of”. It is found among other places in 1 Cor 15:27-28 and in Heb 2:8. In both cases we have examples of both the Greek active and passive. If A puts C under the control of B, then an active form is used, and in order to describe what happens to C a passive form is used.

    The word is used in a context of authority structure in Luk 2:51 (child under the authority of parents), Luke 10:17 (demons under the authority of Jesus), Rom 13:1 (citizens under the authority of government), 1 Cor 14:32 (prophetic spirit is under the authority of prophets), Eph 5:24 (church under the authority of Christ), Tit 2:9 (slaves under the authority of their masters), Tit 3:1 (citizens under government). In this last case, the word is used parallel to “obey” as a synonym. In Greek, the same grammatical form is often used for middle and passive, so the distinction is often not clear.

    One can also look at the standard dictionaries:

    Louw and Nida suggest for the active form: “to bring something under the firm control of someone—‘to subject to, to bring under control.’” They do not list a separate entry for the middle form.

    BDAG suggest for the passive/middle form: “subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey abs. … Ro 13:5; 1 Cor 14:34 (cp. δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις Gal 5:13); 1 Cl 2:1a; 57:2. Of submission involving recognition of an ordered structure, w. dat. of the entity to whom/which appropriate respect is shown (Palaeph. 38 p. 56, 15; 57, 2): toward a husband (s. Ps.-Callisth. 1, 22, 4 πρέπον ἐστὶ τὴν γυναῖκα τῷ ἀνδρὶ ὑποτάσσεσθαι, s. 1a above) Eph 5:22 v.l.; Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1 Pt 3:1,5; parents Lk 2:51; masters Tit 2:9; 1 Pt 2:18; B 19:7; D 4:11; secular authorities (1 Ch 29:24; Theoph. Ant. 1, 11 [p. 82, 14]) Ro 13:1; Tit 3:1; 1 Pt 2:13; 1 Cl 61:1; church officials 1 Cl 1:3; 57:1; IEph 2:2; IMg 2; 13:2; ITr 2:1f; 13:2; IPol 6:1; Pol 5:3; νεώτεροι ὑποτάγητε πρεσβυτέροις 1 Pt 5:5. To God … 1 Cor 15:28b; Hb 12:9; Js 4:7; 1 Cl 20:1; IEph 5:3; to Christ Eph 5:24. To the will of God, the law, etc. Ro 8:7; 10:3 — Of submission in the sense of voluntary yielding in love 1 Cor 16:16; Eph 5:21; 1 Pt 5:5b v.l.; 1 Cl 38:1.—The evil spirits must be subject to the disciples whom Jesus sends out Lk 10:17, 20. Likew. the prophetic spirits must be subject to the prophets in whom they dwell 1 Cor 14:32.

    The use of ἀλλήλοις in Gal 5:13 is an interesting parallel. (Serve each other as slaves.)

  6. Gary Simmons says:

    Wayne, excellent post. I laughed at the Iowa comments.

    I find myself largely agreeing with Ben and Iver: we need to analyze several occurrences of the word, including the active/middle/passive distinction first mentioned by Mike.

    I will bow to the greater experience and resources of others who say that the active form is uncommon. That accords with my limited experience. Actually, it seems somewhat akin to the English “to infatuate.” In the active form, it means “to make someone be/act silly.” This active form is rare. The passive form is common enough, however, but I doubt most English speakers even consider the active form, given how rare it is.

    But discovering the active form and its meaning for the first time, you can’t help but laugh. Infatuated people do act silly, so it’s all too easy to see the connection between the active and the passive form.

    So, here is where the parallel may end. Sometimes the active and the middle or passive forms are so different in meaning that one can’t establish a link. Similar to Grudem, my intuition sees a link between the active and passive that leads me to believe that ὑποτάσσω in the passive indeed means “submit”.

    Obviously, however, I am no native speaker. What I *do* know is ἅπτω means “touch” in the active, but “kindle” in the middle. I see no logical connection, other than that one touches a lamp with a lit kindling in order to kindle it. Perhaps ὑποτάσσω in the middle/passive likewise has little to no logical connection to the active form. It contradicts my intermediate nonnative intuition, but it’s possible.

    As a possible clarification: “to place under the authority of” is a bit broad. From the examples cited, the verb seems to be used uniquely within the context of interpersonal relations, or of persons in subjection to a human/divine cultural construct, such as a law or authority position. Although I don’t know if this clarification is helpful, it’s worth noting that we’ve seen no examples so far that ὑποτάσσω is used for taming animals or subjugating inanimate/non-personal forces — Eph. 1:21 being the exception to that, as God is able to subjugate elemental forces as well as persons and animals.

  7. John Hobbins says:

    Great post. Michelle Bachmann’s example of an instance in which she followed the lead of her husband is well-chosen. I can think of many examples in which I have followed the lead of my wife, against my better judgment as it were, and with that came a blessing. Likewise, on other occasions she has deferred to my judgment, and acknowledged afterward that in so doing she made a wise decision.

    That said, I am not convinced that Ephesians 5:21 is meant to teach that principle. The verse is not about mutuality in that sense. Rather, it summarizes a common feature of the counsel that follows, in which Paul advises that (1) in marriage, the wife is to submit to her husband (not the other way around); (2) in the family, children are to submit to their parents (not the other way around); (3) within the household, servants are to submit to their masters (not the other way around).

    Everyone agreed on the above in Paul’s day. For a Christ-believing wife or child or servant not to be respectful of the social arrangements of which they were a part would have brought shame on the name of Christ.

    Moreover, Paul stresses that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church; a higher standard is impossible to imagine; love often (not always) involves submitting to someone else’s needs or heeding their requests.

    Practically speaking then, the principle of mutuality is affirmed in this passage. It is affirmed however while simultaneously affirming lines of authority agreed upon by all. Such is the common teaching of Ephesians 5-6; Colossians 3-4, and 1 Peter 2-3.

    The traditional “love/obey” framework of marriage, the one the Bachmanns inherited from their belonging to a WELS Lutheran church, if put into practice with care and without giving unrestricted scope to *either* side of the equation, was and remains a healthy one in the context of a commitment to justification by faith (not works). That is, we have to imitate God in the sense of putting someone in the right before they are in the right, while they are yet sinners.

    Marriage, family, the workplace: all three depend on domain-based hierarchies, but none of them function well unless grace is the container in which law is allowed to have scope.

  8. Mike Sangrey says:


    Grudem’s (and also Piper’s) definition of ὑποτασσω within their marital model doesn’t adequately take into consideration the mutuality explicitly stated in Eph. 5:21. I can’t make sense of an “X and Y are to mutually submit to each other’s authority” when the one role is defined as the one having the authority. Something semantic has to give.

  9. Mike Sangrey says:

    I’m going to use Iver’s observation regarding Gal. 5:13 to highlight a key consideration of ὑποτασσω.

    Yes, that’s an interesting case and I think it should be considered in this discussion, even though it doesn’t use ὑποτασσω. It brings up the good question: How does mutuality work when the verb indicates some sense of deep service to another? This is an especially good question if one assumes there’s an inherent sense of authority within ὑποτασσω since such a sense is clearly there with δουλεύω.

    However, there’s a fundamental difference between the two texts.

    A couple of years ago friends (Christian brothers and sisters) organized a work day at our home. I got to dictate the requirements. I delegated out certain key tasks to a few others. The result: In a Saturday morning, they brought in about 10 chord of wood, that’s 1440 cubic feet of wood. About 6 chord was split and stacked. That was extremely helpful to me. They were slaves for a morning and my family were the sole recipients of the benefit (basically). I’ve done the exact same thing for one of them. I’ve also served in other ways. The relationship was reciprocal. And, that included how the authority worked.

    So, a reciprocal authority as expressed in Gal. 5:13 works in the real world–I’ve done it. But, Eph. 5:21 is different. In Eph. the text appears to me to be about relating within specific, formalized relationships: wife-husband, child-parent, and (to express it in modern terms) employee-employer. There’s something about exclusive roles going on there. A wife can’t switch positions with a husband or vice-versa. So, the reciprocity of authority that works in Gal. 5:13 doesn’t work here. We could time-box the authority in Gal. 5:13 by me being the “master” in one case and me being a “slave” in the other. However, here in Eph. the wife is 100% wife, 100% of the time. Same can be said of the husband. So, depending how one defines ὑποτασσω, the reciprocity breaks.

    However one defines ὑποτασσω, one must be able to express it in terms of mutuality and do so within the real world context of the wife and husband roles. Otherwise the definition simply doesn’t work in Eph. 5. We run into the same problem I mention to Kurk above–something semantic has to give.

    Also, I would suggest that the concept of authority very naturally collocates with ὑποτασσω, but it is not an inherent part of its meaning. Without necessarily stating that ὑποτασσω means respect, respect works just like this.

  10. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think there needs to be at least one other consideration when working up a definition of ὑποτασσω.

    The use in Eph. 5:21 is a Greek participle and therefore is giving more precise definition to the main verb.[1] In other words, ὑποτασσω is one highlighted characteristic of what it means to be “filled with the Spirit”. I would suggest, then, that being filled with the Spirit, as it is lived out in the real world of wife-husband relationship, looks like 5:22-33 (whatever that actually means). The same can be said for child-parent and employee-employer relationships.

    In other words, however one defines ὑποτασσω, ὑποτασσω should bring clarity to what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

    [1] The major break between 5:21 and 22 is awful, IMO. Even worse, some translations provide a major break before 5:21–in the middle of a sentence! I believe the major break should be before 5:18. Eph. 5:17 concludes a section which started at 4:17. But, this footnote is an aside.

  11. John Hobbins says:


    You say:

    “So, a reciprocal authority as expressed in Gal. 5:13 works in the real world–I’ve done it. But, Eph. 5:21 is different. In Eph. the text appears to me to be about relating within specific, formalized relationships: wife-husband, child-parent, and (to express it in modern terms) employee-employer. There’s something about exclusive roles going on there. A wife can’t switch positions with a husband or vice-versa. So, the reciprocity of authority that works in Gal. 5:13 doesn’t work here.”

    I concur. That is, I’m convinced that is what Ephesians 5:21 tees up. Context is always king, and the context makes it clear that reciprocity of authority is not intended by the call to submit to one another.

    As for how to chunk the text, the unit begins in my view with verse 15, and might be entitled: “Live carefully, joyfully, and in the strength of the Lord.”

    Be very careful, then, about how you walk — not as unwise people but as wise — making the most of the time, because the days are evil:

    Don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is;
    Don’t get drunk with wine, which is debauchery,
    but be filled with the Spirit.

    Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,
    sing and make music to the Lord in your heart,
    give thanks always for everything
    to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

    Submit to one another in the fear of Christ,
    *wives to husbands as to the Lord,*
    for the husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the
    church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to
    Christ, so should wives to their husbands in everything.

    – husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave
    Himself for her . . . To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as
    himself, and the wife is to respect her husband;

    *children, obey your parents in the Lord,*
    for this is right.
    “Honor your father and mother”— which is the first commandment with a
    promise — “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long
    life on the earth.”

    – fathers, do not exasperate your children;
    but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord;

    *slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear,
    and with sincerity of heart, as you would obey Christ.* . . .

    – and masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them,
    since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven,
    and there is no partiality with Him.

    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
    Put on the whole armor of God,
    that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    1) We know that hupotasso does not necessarily imply authority from other examples of its use.

    1 Clement 38.1:

    “So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each man be subject (ὑποτασσέσθω) to his neighbor, to the degree determined by his spiritual gift,”

    2 Macc 13.23,

    ”[King Antiochus Eupator] got word that Philip, who had been left in charge of the government, had revolted in Antioch; he was dismayed, called in the Jews, yielded (ὑπετάγη) and swore to observe all their rights, settled with them and offered sacrifice, honored the sanctuary and showed generosity to the holy place.”

    2) History of Interpretation,


    Let there be an interchange of service and submission. For then will there be no such thing as slavish service. Let not one sit down in the rank of a freeman, and the other in the rank of a slave; rather it were better that both masters and slaves be servants to one another;—

    He clearly indicates that this verse explicates mutual relations and not simply the reinforcement of the hierarchical value of the submission of some to others.


    God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn.

    Adam Clarke,

    Submitting-one to another] Let no man be so tenacious of his own will or his opinion in matters indifferent, as to disturb the peace of the Church; in all such matters give way to each other, and let love rule.

    And here is BDAG,

    “Of submission in the sense of voluntary yieding in love. 1 Cor. 16:16, Eph. 5:21 … 1 Clement 38:1″

    So, I think Mike is right that since hupotasso collocates with allelos it must allow for mutuality.

    3) Other scirpture assigns reciprocal authority in marriage. ie 1 Cor. 7

    It is fair enough for Bachman to call it “respect” or “mutual submission” or “mutual respect.”

    My major concern here is that if submit is interpreted as “obey” and a woman has made a vow of obedience to her husband, this impairs her ability to perform in office. It is not possible to separate domains. What happens in the home may very well affect her ability to carry out her job. I believe that no woman who has made a vow of obedience should be allowed to take a political office or even vote. On the other hand, if there were restrictions on the vow of obedience it might be possible. But the problem with that is that it is impossible to list all the ways that a woman should have the right to make her own decisions, and in what she ought to submit. I don’t know if an appropriate list could be made.

    I apologize if this comment is too long, but the historic material should always be considered.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    One problem is that some are teaching that Eph. 5:21 does not mean “to each other” but that it means “some … to others.” So, it is important to establish that it really does mean “to each other.” And that is what Bachman is talking about. She should be affirmed in this.

  14. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    In response to further comments, (and I hope readers of this thread will understand that posting of comments is not chronological) I would have to reiterate that for the most part, the Greek of Eph. 5:21 has historically been interpreted as being reciprocal or mutual, but Mike and John appear to disagree.

    Is there new information about the word allelos that we have not previously known, that now enables us to reinterpret Eph. 5:21 from “one another” to “some … to others.” Can the filling of the spirit really be about some people submitting to or respecting other people?

    I am wondering how one justifies such a departure from historic interpretation? If allelos is called the “reciprocal pronoun” is it possible for it to mean “some do this to others?”

  15. John Hobbins says:


    Your point is valid, but I wonder if you are overlooking a necessary corollary: the deployment of the verb upotasso does not imply that pre-existent authority structures, people’s respective stations in life, are being questioned or abolished.

    For example, the passage in 1 Clement you cite, in which everyone is to be subject to his neighbor, continues as follows (38:2):

    Let not the strong neglect the weak; and let the weak respect the
    strong. Let the rich minister aid to the poor; and let the poor give
    thanks to God, because He hath given him one through whom his wants
    may be supplied. Let the wise display his wisdom, not in words, but
    in good works. He that is lowly in mind, let him not bear testimony
    to himself, but leave testimony to be borne to him by his neighbor.
    He that is pure in the flesh, let him be so, and not boast, knowing
    that it is Another who bestoweth his continence upon him.

    Each is advised to be subject to the other in ways connatural to his or her “grace.” Each is to be meek, but in gift- and station-specific ways.

    Chrysostom too did not consider an emphasis on mutuality and mutual service to be incompatible with a commitment to a hierarchical understanding of marriage. I seem to remember you acknowledge this; if not, I’m happy to cite evidence for it.

    I also seem to remember that you are aware that the biblical notion of authority in the positive sense is authority “on behalf of,” not “over against.”

    The 2 Maccabees passage you cite nicely illustrates the need not to read too much into upotasso per se. The hierarch submits but does not thereby relinquish his position in the hierarchy.

    So it’s possible to understand Eph 5:21 as a call to mutual yielding, in which the yielding is embodied in ways specific to the station of each.

    What is not possible is to understand the yielding to which wives are called to imply the abolition of a hierarchical understanding of marriage. The hierarchical understanding is underlined by Paul by means of the phrase “as to the Lord” immediately following, in 5:22. A similar accent can be heard in 1 Peter 3.

    I predict that someone will argue for translating upotasso with “yield.” I wonder, though, if it is an improvement from any point of view to have Eph 5:24 read:

    Now as the church yields to Christ, so wives should yield in all matters to their husbands.

    as opposed to:

    Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)

    On another note, ESV is better than NIV in this verse: “in everything” is not situated in what linguists call a “focus” position, as it is in NIV.

  16. Wayne Leman says:

    I’m not sure that hierarchy is being taught in Eph. 5. I agree that submission is taught, but it is a submission within the bounds of proper behavior within each role, as you have carefully pointed out. I suspect that Paul has left much unsaid that could have made things a lot clearer for us here.

    I don’t see any need to relinquish the traditional understanding of mutual submission in Eph. 5:21. I don’t think that the submission within certain roles that follow Eph. 5:21 obviates the overarching mutual submission.

    I don’t see anything about hierarchy or authority taught in Eph. 5. Perhaps they are implicit within Paul’s teaching but they may not be. Paul has taught some radical stuff that showed that he believed that ontological equality in Christ was a reality: neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, etc.

    Somehow all of this initially confusing contradictions must meld together under the banner of love and mutual service and submission within relationships which Paul so clearly teaches in his letters.

    I do agree that Paul, along with Jesus, did not teach overthrow of cultural roles. But the seeds of significant change for those roles are there in the way Jesus treated women and Paul taught ontological equality. And even in Paul’s lists of gifts and gifted individuals within the church there is little that is gender related. There aren’t restrictions for teachers to be only free. I can imagine that a mature slave could have been a teacher or pastor. Slave owners would have had to submit to the godly teaching of such gifted slaves.

    I like to take hupotassw and allelos at face value and not try to tweak them to fit either a complementarian or egalitarian viewpoint. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious about this, but I think that sometimes we would do better to seek a biblical viewpoint rather than a systematized theological viewpoint.

    Here’s one way I’m comfortable to live with the tensions within Eph. 5 and its co-texts: Mutual service and submission in love seem to me to be one of the highest principles in all of Paul’s teaching. Somehow everything else needs to fit within that. Paul has taught that men and women are equal in Christ. There are almost no gender restrictions on gifting to individuals within the church. Christian women could easily have drawn the conclusion from Paul’s teaching that they no longer needed to act like they were “submissive” to their husbands. But that could easily have disgraced the gospel and given more evidence to those who suspected Christians of being subversives of some kind.

    So after teaching mutual submission, Paul reminded women, children, and slaves to respect the social roles they were in. I don’t think he would have gone so far as to say “These roles will never change.” Who knows if he forsaw the day when slaves would be freed? But I think he would have rejoiced at that social development as would Jesus. And I think both would have rejoiced at marriages in which husbands love their wives so much (as Christ loved the church) that they defer often to their wives’ desires. So much so that outsiders looking at their marriage could think that they were egalitarians. I think in our human attempts to understand how these disparate passages and teachings might fit together, we something get too categorical and try to systematize things. We assume that “head of the wife” means “head of the home”. We assume that “head” means authority, when authority may not be part of headship at all. Instead, servanthood may be the highest responsibility of headship. Jesus seemed to teach that when he washed his disciples’ feet after they had been arguing over authority.

    Any husband who demands that his wife submit to him because he is her head has, I suggest, forfeited his proper role as her head. And any wife who won’t listen to what her husband has to say, because she is, correctly, his spiritual equal, has forfeited her proper role. She is never to be a doormat on which her husband wipes his feet. I feel strongly about this since I grew up in a family where my father ruled by demand, anger, and physical violence, beating our mother and their children. He misunderstood headship. And any woman who is in such as abusive situation needs to get out. I don’t think Paul or Jesus would want her to stay where her husband is not sacrificially loving her, but, instead, abusing her, sometimes in the name of headship and submission.

    We don’t understand submission very well today because we know too much about exploitation of those who are told to be submissive. Something is very wrong when sacrificial love is not covering all of this.

    I think we still have a lot to learn about these difficult subjects. But if we would focus on the teachings that are clear and seem to be the highest priorities of Paul’s teaching and that of Jesus, I think that there wouldn’t need to be so much discussion and rule-making about what wives can and can’t do. Focusing on lower-level things is often a precursor to legalism and even spiritual abuse within churches.

  17. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I am glad to see that you have now read Clements passage. This allows for a new beginning point. As Clement says,

    “Let the rich minister aid to the poor; and let the poor give
    thanks to God, because He hath given him one through whom his wants
    may be supplied.”

    The poor responds with thanks to God, not with obedience to the rich who has supplied for his need. The rich serves the poor, but the poor does not have to obey in return. It’s true that Clement does not recommend communal living as in Acts 2. There are different forms of social organization in different Christian communities. They are not all alike.

    But let’s go back to the Greek. Does allelos mean “one another” or “some to others?” I am personally happy to accept that there is a conflict between one part of the passage and the other so I firmly believe that Eph. 5:21 does not promote hierarchy, while the rest of the passage accepts the reality of slavery and subordinate wives. I believe that Christianity posed a paradox. That we have to learn how to live out Christianity. And I firmly believe that living out the law of Christ means that you do not have slaves and you do not hold other people in a similar position. But I don’t feel the need to harmonize or interpret the passage in this comment.

    I do feel that we need to know if Eph. 5:21 says “to one another” or “some to others.” I think this has a huge significance for how we understand Christ’s message.

    I predict that someone will argue for translating upotasso with “yield.”

    I am quite sure that somebody has done that – can’t think who, but it will come to me.

    I don’t have any difficulty understanding that the author of this epistle thought of marriage as a hierarchical arrangement in the same class as slavery. And slavery is an especially important metaphor for Christ’s service on earth. That does not mean that we should perpetuate slavery. I would try not to promote slavery, no matter what society I lived in.

  18. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful reflection. I think it is something like a monarchy or dictatorship. We constantly work towards forms of government that are regulated and fully responsible to those governed. We do this politically because of the possibility of abuse. If men wish to lessen the possibility of abuse for themselves by establishing an elected governement fully responsible to the people, why don’t men turn around and offer women the same thing? Should not women benefit from the same protection from abuse as men have demanded and earned for themselves. I read in so many places that we must have an elected government to lessen abuse – but in the home this is not the case – in the home, women unilaterally must submit.

  19. J. K. Gayle says:

    I like to take hupotassw and allelos at face value and not try to tweak them to fit either a complementarian or egalitarian viewpoint. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious about this, but I think that sometimes we would do better to seek a biblical viewpoint rather than a systematized theological viewpoint.
    – Wayne

    I don’t have any difficulty understanding that the author of this epistle thought of marriage as a hierarchical arrangement in the same class as slavery. And slavery is an especially important metaphor for Christ’s service on earth. That does not mean that we should perpetuate slavery. I would try not to promote slavery, no matter what society I lived in.
    – Suzanne

    When Michelle and Marcos Bachmann interpret hypo-tasso in a way that may affect a whole nation and even the world, then what Paul wrote and how those in Ephesus read it and what is biblical and what is Christian in a paradoxical way really is irrelevant. Wayne Grudem, in the article I linked to, uses the word “today” 15 times. There’s a contemporary construct from the NT, one of power, woman under man, wife ordered below husband, that systematizes a theology of consequence. Grudem won’t allow mutuality the way Bachmann, when pressed in public, will. But neither Grudem nor Bachman want to give up on the unmutual and contemporary hierarchy of man on top, woman below.

  20. John Hobbins says:


    No doubt Paul said some very radical things; in particular, the way he frames the relationship of faith to works was radical, and Christians have taken note of it and responded in a variety of ways. See, already, the different approaches of James and Peter.

    But in Ephesians 5-6, Colossians 3, or elsewhere, is Paul abolishing the traditional understanding of marriage, family, and the domestic unit as a set of interlocking domain-based hierarchies in which the pater familias had ultimate authority?

    Yes and no.

    Yes, because ultimate authority is assigned to God as revealed in Christ. That relativizes the authority of the pater familias; it also gives specific Christological content to the way authority is understood.

    No, because Paul nowhere contests the traditional authority of husband (and wife, who is governor in the home), of father and mother, and of master and mistress. On the contrary, he endorses the traditional authority structures.

    Suzanne rightly notes that there must be strong reasons to overturn the historical interpretation of NT passages by native-tongue interpreters. The interpretation I offer is the one we find throughout the ancient church.

    It really is the plain sense reading of the text.


    But there is no necessary contradiction between 5:21 and following, The passages you cite demonstrate that.

    There is no need to assert that 5:21 and following are in contradiction. No one in the Greek-speaking ancient church understood the passage along the lines you do. On what grounds do you set aside the historical interpretation?

  21. Mike Sangrey says:

    But let’s go back to the Greek. Does allelos mean “one another” or “some to others?”

    I’ve always believed it means “one another”. It’s reciprocal. If we could figure out what the reciprocity looks like between husband and wife, it will go a long way to defining ὑποτασσω. I honestly believe neither the complementarians nor the egalitarians have figured that out yet.

    I know I have an opinion of what that looks like and it’s clearly reciprocal, and it’s even mutually reinforcing (ie strengthens the other person to do what they are called to do).

    FWIW: I tend to think the passive ὑποτασσω is pretty close to “an active and strong support of another.” The clearest illustration of this I can think of is what is mentioned in the acknowledgements very often occurring in the beginning of books. That is, the author gives grateful acknowledgement to all the strong support he or she has received. Also, this meaning is very consistent with a context framed with authority–any person worth being an authority recognizes he or she could not have done what ever they had the responsibility for without the support of others.

  22. J. K. Gayle says:

    John says:


    But there is no necessary contradiction between 5:21 and following, The passages you cite demonstrate that.

    There is no need to assert that 5:21 and following are in contradiction. No one in the Greek-speaking ancient church understood the passage along the lines you do. On what grounds do you set aside the historical interpretation?”

    In fact, Suzanne agrees with Willis Barnstone, who in his Restored New Testament is so convinced of the contradiction Suzanne sees that Willis asserts that Paul must not have written it! See page 897.

    And if any would like to see how Willis Barnstone, Richmond Lattimore, and Ann Nyland have translated this word in this context, I’ve posted that here:

  23. John Hobbins says:

    I have no reason to doubt that the first readers of the New Testament understood the household and church order codes therein correctly. They saw no contradiction between things like love, mutual support, and hierarchy. On the contrary, they understood hierarchy as a God-given means through which to make things like love, intimacy, and mutual support real.


    On an exegetical level, biblical egalitarians and biblical complementarians alike have shown a proclivity for wanting to make the relevant NT passages rule in their approach to gender construction and rule out that of their adversaries. In my view, it’s all a waste of time and worse: a sign that both factions have a gospel other than the gospel of Jesus Christ which they wish to impose on others.

    On another note, I don’t think the “one another” / “some … others” binary is productive. The former does not exclude the latter. This is clear from Ephesians 5 and 6 itself. The “one another” is specified in terms of what some are called to do in relation to others. The “one another” works itself out in station-specific ways.

    Finally, I think a word-study of upotasso is of limited value. The problem is not that we don’t quite get what passive upotasso means. That’s not the problem because words outside of content do not have meanings in the first place.

    Meaning is not created in a text at the word-level, but at the level of *constructions* large and small.

    Moreover, words don’t have meanings. Meanings have words.

    In my view, these are essential linguistic truths. Meanings are expressed, not through individual words, but entire sentences and discourses.

    The ancients knew this well. The relevant sermons and exegetical literature on the household and church order codes of the NT rarely isolate a specific verb or noun and try to give it a sense abstracted from specific occurrences. The word-study approach to meaning, an approach thoroughly debunked by James Barr long ago, was unknown to them. In the relevant ancient literature, the meaning of a *passage* (not a word, and rarely a single clause) is normally elicited by iterative recasting of the sense of the *whole* through a Gestalt perception of the sense.

    We would be wise to follow suit.

    Since I grew up in an egalitarian home, am a third or fourth generation egalitarian myself, and minister to congregations in which many people self-identify as egalitarians, though many of them are complementarians to a large or small degree by mutual consent, and still others are comfortable with the love/obey vows they pronounced fifty years ago, I would note that “man up – woman down” and also “woman up – man down” abusive relationships are more common than one would wish across all the frameworks.

    In particular, it needs to be noted that egalitarianism combined with sin and sickness is just as toxic as is traditional “love/obey” or complementarianism combined with sin and sickness.


    On the other hand, there is a great need for support groups for men, women, and children in abusive domestic and work-related situations. In my community, Catholics and evangelicals are just as committed to meeting this need as are liberal Protestants. It is unwise in the extreme to accuse the many people who do not self-identify as egalitarians or feminists of being wife-beaters or passive supporters of wife-beaters. Not only is the accusation false; it is profoundly alienating and destructive of good will.


    I find this approach more helpful than opting for 5:21 and discarding the husband-wife and master-slave advice following, as Suzanne proposes.


    Thank you for stating your objections clearly.

  24. John Hobbins says:

    I realize now that I should have given a cite for the “words do not have meanings, meanings have words” concept. Here goes (though I don’t believe Geoffrey Williams coined the phrase):

    Words do not have meanings, meanings have words. This may seem obvious, and is the basis of the Saussurean notion of the arbitraire du signe, but it is often far from our everyday attitude to language. The contextualist school of thought that derives from Firth (1890-1960) puts flesh onto the notion of arbitrariness in declaring that the meaning of a word can only be fully appreciated in context, the context is primordial. This poses a major problem in dictionary writing as an entry is always out of context. Meaning thus represents a challenge to both the lexicographer and the dictionary user. For the lexicographer meaning must be transferred from context to the dictionary entry using a metalanguage that is sufficiently clear to the user. For the user, the challenge is to transfer meaning from the dictionary to the text, and in writing from the dictionary to a new context.

    A revolution in dictionary making came with the development of corpus linguistics, built on the contextualist view of meaning, and its transfer to lexicographical practice through the COBUILD dictionaries. Corpus linguistics meant analysis of words in context to demonstrate use in context, which entailed changing the dictionary format so as to enable the transfer of this contextual knowledge back to the user. This has created a revolution in both mono~ and bilingual dictionaries. The contextual approach is now transforming even terminology as, in such real life usage, conceptual rigidity no longer holds.

    End quote of the first two paragraphs of a great article:

  25. J. K. Gayle says:

    I like to take hupotassw and allelos at face value and not try to tweak them to fit either a complementarian or egalitarian viewpoint. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious about this, but I think that sometimes we would do better to seek a biblical viewpoint rather than a systematized theological viewpoint.
    – Wayne

    I don’t have any difficulty understanding that the author of this epistle thought of marriage as a hierarchical arrangement in the same class as slavery. And slavery is an especially important metaphor for Christ’s service on earth. That does not mean that we should perpetuate slavery. I would try not to promote slavery, no matter what society I lived in.
    – Suzanne

    I like what Wayne and Suzanne say here.

    Wayne Grudem won’t allow mutuality the way Bachmann, when pressed in public, will. But neither Grudem nor the Bachmanns want to give up on the unmutual and contemporary hierarchy of man on top, woman below.

    Mr. Grudem says this in the essay I linked to above: “We would then say that there is ‘mutual submission’ in some senses in marriage, but not in all senses, because the wife still has to submit to her husband’s authority and leadership in a way that the husband does not have to — indeed, should not— submit to his wife’s authority or leadership.

    Ms. Bachmann said the following in 2011 and before in 2006, as per Wayne Leman’s quotation pasted above: “What submission means to us, it means respect… We respect each other;” / “But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.’”

    I do not take offense at what either Mr. Grudem or what Ms. Bachmann have said. I do not like it, however. I do not believe it’s what Wayne Leman calls “biblical.”

    So, that’s the record.

  26. Wayne Leman says:

    Comments started out on-topic, as requested, of how to translate hupotasso. I have tried to be as lenient as possible with other comments, approving any which I thought could be related to the translation question. However more recent comments submitted have been moving away from the translation question. It’s difficult, as moderator, to know which ones are close enough to the original topic so they can be approved and which are not. Also, when one person points out how they disagree with another person’s comment, it is difficult to know whether it will be taken as a personal attack or not.

    I have now gone back and revised some of my moderation decisions to try to keep comments on topic and within BBB guidelines.

    There is so much more that is interesting on the topic of marriage models. I’m personally very interested in what others have to say about the models. But I need to keep our blog’s commitments to all of us. Please forgive any errors in judgment that I make while moderating. And please keep your comments to the translation issue for hupotasso. We’ll just have to leave other exegetical and applicational issues for another time and another place.

  27. J. K. Gayle says:

    Here is a CNN update report on Michele Bachmann’s statements in the debate. Some interesting quotations of support for the way she answered the question, “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”

    “She answered it the most appropriate way in the context it was being asked. She was being asked a deeply theological question in front of millions of Americans,” said Gary Marx, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

    “Whatever someone thinks Paul means of submission of wives to husbands … it doesn’t leave any room for exploitation,” said David Matthewson, an associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. “I would say her response was very consistent with the text [of Ephesians 5].”

    The English word ‘submit’ is as good a translation as any without using a bunch of words. The problem, though, is the word ‘submit’ in English carries connotations for most readers that may not have been there in the Greek,” Mathewson said. “In English, we think of forced submission or exploiting. … I don’t think that’s in the Ephesians passage.”

    Notice how the question of whether there’s a reciprocal arrangement is an avoided question. Will Marcus Bachmann be submissive to his wife, or need to be, in light of Paul’s Greek words or their best English translation?

  28. Wayne Leman says:

    Several interesting comments have been submitted to this blog post thread which are not translational in nature so they do not fit on this blog which is about Bible translation.

    But, the comments deserve to be read and you can now read them at BBB-extra, a new blog created for comments related to BBB posts but which are non-translation in nature.

    BBB guidelines are to be followed on BBB-extra, except that comments need not be translational.

    So, if you do not see your comment here in BBB, check the corresponding post at BBB-extra to see if it appears there. If it does not, it may be that it is considered not to meet other BBB guidelines.

    It takes a great deal of time, energy, and emotional care for me to moderate comments when there are significant differences of opinions. I know that some of you do not believe it, but it really is the case that we at BBB try to treat everyone fairly. We try only to judge the merit of each comment by BBB guidelines. Please try to be fair with us, since we do not have much time to devote to moderating comments.

    I hope you will find the solution of having a spillover blog helpful.

  29. Wayne Leman says:

    I should weigh in with my understanding of the Greek word hupotasso. Along with Iver and perhaps others who have commented on my post, I do not believe that hupotasso means ‘respect’. Instead, I believe that this Greek word referred to doing what someone else wants you to do.

    There is, as many already know, no Greek verb in Eph. 5:22. Instead, exegetes and Bible translators have historically believed that there is an implicit verb in Eph. 5:22. They have believed it to be the most recently mentioned possible verb antecedent, the verb of Eph. 5:21, which in its root form is hupotasso. Since these two verbs are inseparably linked syntactically, with the second verb implicitly “copying” the verb of the preceding verse, there should be no paragraph division between verses 21 and 22.

    I personally believe that husbands and wives are to mutually submit to each other. Many, perhaps most, complementarians disagree with this position. I disagreed with it for many years as well. But I have come to this position after years of careful study. Others come to a different conclusion about marital submission after careful study. I do not believe that differences about marital submission should form grounds for not fellowshiping with one another.

    I also believe that godly sacrificial love on the part of a complementarian (or egalitarian) husband will look much like godly submission to his wife and her needs and desires.

    I believe that some teachings in the Bible were time-based. Levirate eating codes were given to the Hebrew people who were to follow them. But the day came when God made it clear to Peter and others that a new eating code was to be used where whatever God called “clean” should not be considered “unclean” (Acts 10).

    I believe that mankind create the institution of slavery, not God. Yet in Bible times God did not usually ask people who owned slaves to free them. But times of emancipation have come for slaves and people of faith often helped lead the fight for emancipation. (Unfortunately, some people of faith also strongly resisted emancipation.)

    Similarly, I believe that Jesus set new patterns for treatment of women. He treated them with greater respect and honor than they were typically accorded in his day. We did not see abolition of slavery within Bible times nor specific calls from any biblical authors for slaves to be emancipated. Yet I believe that God has been pleased whenever emancipation has occurred, especially if it was done in a way that accorded dignity to freed slaves and helped them become financially independent.

    Similarly, I don’t believe that God has been pleased when men have owned their wives. But God has tolerated inferior social systems rather than calling for changing everything within them all at once. I personally believe that a marriage model that focuses more on a woman’s submission to her husband than a husband’s duty to sacrificially love his wife is inferior and, yes, even unbiblical. I grew up in such a household. My mother had to submit to my father or else he would beat her. He beat her anyway when she did did something that displeased him such as accidentally scorching potatoes when she was cooking them.

    If we do not teach the “whole counsel of God” (as much as is revealed in the Bible, anyway) on godly marriages, then we are harming the witness of God’s people in the world today. I do not see any way that the teaching of Eph. 5:22 can be an excuse for subjugating wives.

    I believe that God is pleased when men treat their wives as equals. This can be done today in much of the world when godly men follow all the teachings of the Bible about how people of faith are to treat each other.

    I don’t believe that slavery should exist today, so I don’t think that the teaching of Eph. 5 for slaves to submit to their masters is directly applicable today. John Hobbins may be right in seeing application of the teaching for slaves in the employee-employer relationship today. I don’t know how Paul would write his teaching about household codes today for marriages. I suspect that he would not leave the door open for women to feel that they are treated as social inferiors. I wish Eph. 5 could be re-written for today, but since it can’t be, I must offer grace to those who disagree with me on submission within marriage and hope that I can be offered grace by them.

    If Michelle Bachmann wishes now to say that she and her husband have a marriage of mutual respect, I believe her. But she is saying, I believe, something different from what she said in 2006, when she used the word “submit.” In practical terms, they may work out the same in the Bachmann marriage. But I believe that I can respect someone without submitting to them. I don’t believe that that is what Eph. 5:22 is teaching, at least for the time and culture for which it was written.

  30. Donna says:

    Does hypotassw mean respect? I don’t know, I can only trust those biblical scholars I’ve read on the issue. I don’t think we can say what is an accurate translation until we understand more about the culture in which those words were used. I’ll tell you some questions which I’d like to ask about it:

    What did a Greek speaking person in the first century immediately picture when they heard that word? Was it a wife who quietly endured beatings, or a wife who didn’t talk badly about her husband behind his back, or a wife who let him make decisions of consequence in the household or..?

    What was non-submission in the mind of that same person? Was it a public thing? or private? Did it relate to decisions they had to make, or was it an attitude, or?

    I’d also like to know some things about the culture at the time, like:
    Did husbands beat their wives in that culture? Or did they usually inhabit pretty separate spheres (women usually were around other women, and men, men)?

    What were their expectations of marriage? What was their definition of a good marriage, what level of emotional intimacy did they expect?

    I don’t think it’s possible to say whether “respect” is a good translation for hypotassw until we can compare their culture with our culture.

    Another question: outside of this biblical context, what does a modern day English speaker think of when they hear the word “submit”. (I suspect they think things like, “denial of identity” “doormat” and “abuse”). But when they hear respect they think of things like “honour”, “strength”). Interestingly, I think the word submit connotes negative things about both the submitter (doormat) and the one to be submitted to (authority/abuse of authority) but respect connotes positive things about the one being respected and is more neutral with regards the one doing the respecting.

    There were lots of questions in my post, I wonder if anyone is able to answer any of them for me?

  31. Bryant J. Williams I says:

    Dear Wayne,

    I think in context of Eph 5:21-33, HYPOTASSW, has the meaning of “placing one’s self under the authority of another. If I remember correctly (?) it is a military term to refer to the “authority of one over another.” It has everything to do with the hierarchial role one is in. The problem with the word “submit” is that in modern culture it has the implied connotation of “inferiority.” Jesus, who is God, submitted Himself to the will of the Father. How can God, if submission is equal to inferiority, be inferior to God? That is why Phil 2:6 says, “did not think ‘equality’ with God to be something to be grasped.” Christ IS equal with God. He was neither inferior nor superior.

    Now, with respect to the role of the individual, in this case the wife, it is “submission to the authority of her ‘own’ husband.” You all know, at least those of who are married know, that there are certain areas in the marriage that the wife is definitely better than the husband. When the wife speaks, the husband will listen and do. Yet the husband is still over the wife in those instances because he is excercising love toward the wife by “submitting” (Eph 5:21) to the wife. Again, each is respecting (FOBEW) the proper roles of each other.

  32. Wayne Leman says:

    Complementarian Denny Burk blogs that Bachmann gave a politically good answer at the debate, but, he adds:

    “From a biblical point of view, however, it was not a good answer. In Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, and 1 Peter 3:1, the word “submit” really does mean “submit.” Of course the term implies respect, but it goes beyond that and requires wives to subordinate themselves to the leadership of their husbands. This view of submission is positively countercultural in modern America, and Bachmann likely would not have helped her candidacy by embracing it publicly. Nevertheless, it is what the Bible means.”

    As I have commented above, I agree that hupotasso does not mean ‘respect’.

    Some other conservative responses to Bachmann’s answer are here, here, and here.

  33. Cory Howell says:

    Of course, ὑποτασσω is usually translated “submit.” Heck, even the CEB, which has been much maligned by conservatives, translates it “submit.” The “little Kittel” entry on the word is relatively brief, but he does say this: “In the NT the term has a wide range of meaning centering on the idea of enforced or voluntary submission.”

  34. Iver Larsen says:


    You ask many good questions. I won’t try to answer them all, but make some comments in line with them.

    I am not a native English speaker, but I understand that the word “submit” has acquired a negative flavour from the abuse of power and authority to such an extent that its usage in Ephesians is questionable. On the other hand, abuse of power and authority in the worldly culture does not negate a proper understanding of authority in a Christian context.

    The word hupotassw consists of two parts which directly translated into Latin-English becomes subordinate. Lattimore translated it in this way: “and subordinating yourselves to each other in awe of Christ. Wives should subordinate themselves to their husbands as to the Lord.” If subordinate is not usable, can you say “put/place yourself under”?

    The middle form of the verb means in terms of semantics that Agent and Patient are co-referential. You do something to yourself. This is often best rendered in English by reflexives: “Subordinate yourselves.” The reciprocity or mutuality is expressed by “each other” which is a separate word in the Greek text.

    How a Greek speaker would interpret the passage depends, I suggest, on whether that Greek speaker is a Christian or not. Christianity confronts and changes culture. Most cultures think of authority and leadership in terms of enforcing your own status and power on others: “I have the power to make them do what I want.” Jesus opposed that notion for Christians, when he told his disciples that a true leader is a servant, and he showed by example what it means to be a servant leader – he washed their feet. But he also at times rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith. Christian leaders will subordinate themselves to those they lead in the sense that they always seek the best for them. Christian followers will subordinate themselves to their leaders because they know that their leaders want the best for them.

    I sometimes have a problem with how people refer to “equality” in Christ, because I think we need to make a clearer distinction between equality in terms of value and relationships as separate from roles, functions and responsibilities.

  35. Mike Sangrey says:

    I’d like to make an observation: much of our efforts here to define ὑποτασσω illustrate it with and revolve around the wife’s action toward the husband. Therefore we too quickly define the word in non-reciprocal terms. We’re doing the right thing by trying to obtain a real-world, concrete definition; but, so much of it is only mono-directional. What about the husband’s activity toward the wife–how is it ὑποτασσω? I’m thinking mutuality, again and I’m thinking in very concrete, real-world terms. [And please note, my comment is an effort to get to the definition].

    The wife’s action, unstated in the text, is to result in her husband’s headship (whatever that might actually mean–I have my own nuanced opinion which I’ll not address here). On the other hand, the husband’s action is clearly stated; it is sacrificial love. It gives clear definition to ὑποτασσω as it relates to the husband. But, what is that supposed to result in? What’s the analog to headship?

    It is quite clearly stated in the text: ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ (“for the purpose of making her holy.”)

    But, here’s the issue. We (who are conditioned to think of such phrases in theological terms) think of ἁγιάζω in terms of making someone good. We think of ἅγιος as something that is purified and just sits there–clean, uncontaminated, pure. However, it is much better to think of the word in terms of making someone (or some thing) uncommonly useful. The senses of purity don’t go away, but the primary sense of ἅγιος has to do with a privileged usefulness, and even more specifically, when something is ἅγιος the privileged use is to be used directly by God.[1]

    So, for example, ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ does not refer to a cleansing brought about by the husband leading in daily devotions (please forgive me, but that is hardly self-sacrificial). It has everything to do with bringing about–that is, strongly committed support of–her obtaining an expressed usefulness to God.

    This is not as startling to us as it was to the people in the 1st century. To those in the 1st century, this would have meant a very obvious self-sacrifice on the part of the husband. And, I don’t mean that in the sense that women (then or now) were somehow inherently inferior in their abilities or in any other way. The husband, in fact, the entire household unit, was up against an entire system–culture, world-view–that placed women at a strongly marked disadvantage to being used by God in ministry to others. The only way for women to grow up out of that would have been the self-sacrifice of their husband’s. Husband’s had to change the culture.

    So, ὑποτασσω for the husband has to to with his self-sacrifice with the goal in mind of his wife being used by God. Therefore, the action of ὑποτασσω can be expressed in a completely reciprocal way.[2]

    I’ll note one other thing: Paul does not appear to constrain what this usefulness would look like, at least not in Eph. 5. So, Mrs. Bachmann is not constrained by what she can accomplish. Mr. Bachmann, however, is faced with much the same thing the men in the 1st century were faced with–how to fully support his wife with the goal of her being useful by God.

    I did just think of one such constraint in the text–the “one flesh” nature of the marital relationship. Another case where σάρξ (SARC) needs a much better translation! My take on σάρξ here is that it refers to the human, natural desires resulting from a joining of two different human beings–the couple’s unified hopes and fears, if you will.

    [1] We make this same error with saint. If someone calls us a saint (leaving Roman Catholicism to the side) we immediately think, “Hey, not me. I’m too much a failure; too much a sinner.” But, that’s not the point being made in the NT when it refers to sinners as saints. The point is that we sinners are set apart for God’s use.

    [2] This is completely contrary to Grudem’s and Piper’s teaching which redefines self-scarifice as having authority over someone else. Having done that, there’s no way to synch ὑποτασσω with the husband’s role. This is especially true using their definition of ὑποτασσω.

  36. Wayne Leman says:

    Iver, I just want to tell you that your comment to Donna is one of the healthiest descriptions of godly servanthood and submission that I have ever read. Thank you for taking the time to write that comment.

  37. Brett says:

    I am not an expert on biblical translation in any way, but I find that I often get a lot out of reading this blog and the comments. Sometimes reading this blog helps me get a deeper understanding of the bible even just with the superficial understanding of translation issues I get from it. This is not one of those times.

    In this case I think the real meaning is getting lost in the details. In this case I think you have to take the whole of Paul’s writings and even the whole of the New Testament into context when determining what Paul meant.

    Even if we could say with 100% certainty that the word Paul used was the same as our word “submit”, and that word had all the same meanings and nuances as our word, I think we would still be having the same discussion. What exactly does it look like to submit as a wife, as a slave, to each other? The word itself doesn’t tell us that.

    Is Paul telling us that wives should accept beatings and emotional abuse? Is Paul telling us that wives should be meek and voiceless in their marriages? Is that what slaves or employees should accept? Is that what we should accept in our relationships with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ?

    I think Jesus’ teachings are often challenging to those who hear them and I think that is one way that we can judge the teaching of others: is it challenging in the way that Jesus’ teaching is challenging. When I read Paul’s teaching I see that same sort of challenging nature. Therefore, when I read something from Paul that seems ambiguous in meaning I choose to accept the meaning that is challenging in a way consistent with the rest of his and Jesus’ teachings.

    What type of challenge seems consistent to you? Is Paul challenging wives to become meek, mild, and opinionless in all issues once they are married? Or is Paul calling wives to take a look inward and realize that while they are smart and capable of making good decisions there are times where they can push too far or too hard in their own desires and that they need to use their God given wisdom to know the times where they need to acquiesce to the will of their husbands, even though they don’t want to.

    I choose number two. And back in the world of Michelle Bachman, I think that running for/becoming president may make it harder for her to meet the challenge Paul lays out to her as a wife but it doesn’t make it impossible. In a world where many, if not most, don’t even understand the context for the question, I don’t think she owes any more of an answer than she gave, even if she was being a little loose with her choice of words.

  38. Rick Ritchie says:

    This is one where I’m all for committing D.A. Carson’s Word Study fallacy, at least to see if it might not get us somewhere.

    Why can’t we break ὑποτασσω apart and say it means “ordered under”? (The trouble seems to come when “in authority” is read in. Perhaps that is the unnecessary move.)

    I can see this as being mutual, in the same way that it can work in all sorts of directions for all to follow Paul’s injunction to be “thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). That is a kind of “ordering under.” But it doesn’t create an objective hierarchy that someone else can hold over anyone.

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