Ephesians 5:22 or the verse prior? 1 Timothy 2:9 or the verse prior?
This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.
Ephesians 5:21 says,
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Summary of Disagreements
Ephesians 5:21 is a general call for all Christians to live a submissive life as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit (5:18). This verse introduces a section instructing the Ephesians how to behave in their homes. Complementarians and Egalitarians differ in their interpretation of this verse in three ways.
- How to define submission?*
- Who is exempt?
- What ramifications does this verse create for the following passage?
Please understand this article is a brief summary of the arguments. This verse has birthed volumes of commentary.
*The definition of submission is from the Greek word hupatasso: hypo (under or after) tasso (arrange or align). In noun form, it is not found outside the New Testament. The verb is used rarely in classical Greek literature. The scarcity of the word leaves a void that Comps and Egals bury with translation debate.
Most Comps define submission by its military sense, to arrange yourself under the command of a leader. They soften the word from its strict cousin, Obedience, by including submission’s voluntary aspect. (This voluntary aspect is derived from the Greek word’s middle, passive voice as opposed to active.) Submission is a one-way, willing ordering of yourself under another.
Mutual, or reciprocal, submission is an oxymoron to most Comps. It is a contradiction of terms. Comps emphasize there cannot be a person submitting unless there is another person to submit to. This argument is bolstered by the Greek pronoun used for “one another” which is not always fully reciprocal. Most Comps would rather interpret this word as “some to others.” Submission separates people into leaders and followers. Those under do not tell those over what to do. Back to their favorite military analogy: it would be unheard of for a general to submit to privates! There would be chaos. Submission requires someone in command.
So, people in authority are exempt from submitting to those who are under them.
Comps believe this verse (21) must be interpreted in light of verse 22. Because wives are specifically asked to submit to their husband, Comps believe husbands have the burden of command. Husbands are never asked to submit to wives. Comps believe a husband’s role is to lead. Verse 21 takes a back seat to the implied implications of verse 22.
Comps believe verse 21 is clarified by verse 22. Whereas Egals believe verse 22 can only be properly understood in light of verse 21.
The Myth of “Mutual Submission” by Wayne Grudem
Ephesians 5:21 is the bedrock of an Egalitarian marriage. Each submits to the other. Submission is not the wife’s job alone. Egals define submission like this:
“The true sense of the word describes the Christian grace of yielding one’s preferences to another, where principle is not involved, rather than asserting one’s rights.” Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, para 293.
Egals expand the definition of submission away from its military sense, arguing it confuses the meaning. An Egal might argue, “Can a soldier ever say “no” to his commander? Not without strict punishment! Does that make the soldier’s requirement submission or obedience?” An Egal would say, obedience. A militant definition of submission shackles the volunteerism of submission, and makes a one-way duty or requirement out of it.
Hupatasso means “I arrange myself under” or “being under.” Instead of flipping the action of submission to emphasize who is over, Egals stress the importance of “being under.” Hupatasso is written in the middle voice which implies passivity, not activity. Submission is a state a Christian is already in becuase of the Spirit inside. Even more so – especially in a Roman patriarchy setting- submission is a state a wife is already in. (On the passive voice of Hupatasso by Charis R. Hart) Some Egals point to alternative meanings: such as, the Hebrew equivalent of hupatasso is translated as a quiet waiting or rest. (Ps 62:1, 5; Ps 37:7)
Egalitarians argue against a strict hierarchical meaning of “each other” and for its reciprocity. Egals believe submission does not require staid leadership. It can be fluid. It is flexible. It goes many directions. 1 Peter 5:5 repeats the exhortation to submit to each other and links this act with humility. Egals ask us to remember the context of Ephesian culture which emphasized male authority, to understand how radical this verse sounded to the original readers. Paul asks women to come after men, and men to come after women!
Ephesians 5:21 clarifies the life in the Spirit, and introduces the spirit of Christian marriage found in the following verses. Christians should not argue over who is in charge (Jesus said, “Not so among you!”), but exhibit a yielding of wills to one another.
I know who’s the boss! by Wade Burleson
|Comps Believe…||Egals Believe…|
|Submit||Submit means to arrange yourself under an authority.||Submit means yeilding to another.|
|yourself||Submission is voluntary.||Submission is voluntary.|
|to one another.||“One another” should be translated as “some to others.”||Submission is mutual.|
What’s new? Well its been a beautiful spring in Snoqualmie! My hands have been too dirty to type!
Puppies! and death. Our 3 year old chocolate Lab, Coco, had 10 puppies. One did not make it out of the placenta and my son found it on the back lawn. The others were perfect.
Then, Coco, went septic and after 2 nights in the animal hospital and surgery, the infection still raged. We had to put her down. That left 9 hungry puppies to care for around the clock for 5 days. I don’t do babies. My husband (who so graciously accepts me faults and all and does not force me to change!) bottle fed the pups every 4 hours and kept them healthy until the Humane Society found a mother dog who could adopt the litter. The kids enjoyed them! Honestly, I was glad to see them go.
I am notoriously a bad tiler. Don’t know what a tiler is? One who lays tile. In high school, my up-for-anything father let me tile my bedroom floor. Its atrocious. My husband, who is a bit more precise than my father, shuddered when I mentioned tiling the kitchen backsplash. But, I couldn’t wait for him to do it. Its not perfect. He wasn’t allowed to look at it too closely. And, every time he walks in the kitchen, I see his eyes divert to the other wall! haha. But, its done. whew!
Somewhere at the end of that rainbow is a pot of gold. My pot will hold a seminary degree. Pure gold. I’ve been thoughtfully exploring seminaries in the area, and started filling out the applications to a few. This goal of mine is constantly at the back of my mind. It will happen. It may take 10 years.
I am a failure at hatching these eggs. I’ve been trying since March. (Not the same eggs, mind you.) One thing or another goes wrong with my incubator, and I can’t seem to get it to work right. I won’t give up, but I’m putting it away for awhile because its causing too much stress for now.
So, there you go! I hope to pick up on my Problem Passages series. I go on record saying I want to crank out one per week until I finish the problem gender passages in the New Testament. I got bogged down in the quagmire of Ephesians 5:22. There is WAY TOO MUCH written about that little old verse. Condensing down the essential arguments stumped me. But, that post will be ready soon.
- Have you ever had a shift of purpose? A time when your actions didn’t change, but YOU did? And then it seems EVERYTHING changes? When I was in college, I had one of these shifts. I was raised a Christian. I know I had that child-like faith that saves. But, I didn’t KNOW Jesus. Jesus, to me, was something I did. I chose Him. I learned about Him. I did good things for Him. I didn’t do bad things for Him.
In college, I read the Bible myself and BELIEVED it. In the middle of that avid reading, I fell in love with doctrine. Not because it was something more I could know, but because I wanted to know more about WHO God is because of Him. One doctrine in particular smacked me hard. God chose me. I wasn’t taught election (If I was, I don’t remember it.) by people or books. I found it myself in the words of Jesus. I knew Jesus loved me. I believed He is the Son of God. But the understanding that He knew me and wanted ME transformed my life. Grace. Outwardly, I still acted Christian. But because my understanding had shifted, I REALLY acted Christian. Does that make sense?
It was no longer duty, it was love. My actions pointed at God because they were birthed in thoughts of God, not thoughts of self. That’s love. Other-orientation. Self forgetfulness. Funny how grace does that. Humans would reason why God deserves our choice. God gives freely regardless of our choice. Reason won’t transform a soul. Free grace does.
Submission is another shift of motive. For years, I submitted to my husband because my mom submitted to dad. Crazy as this sounds, I was kinda competing with her. My husband didn’t help. He’d ask, “Why can’t you treat me like your mom does your dad?” And no, I wasn’t wise enough to NOT answer that. lol. Submission was about how I behaved. It was self focused. I wanted to be the best submissive wife for my husband that I could be! There was love involved. I love him. But for many years, we were both a mess because we were pointing our actions, that were supposed to be wrapped up in the other, back at ourselves. A manipulation dance. I’ll “love” her so I can get my way. I’ll “submit” so he’ll love me and let me get my way. You know what I mean.
BUT. I changed. My husband did too, but he’s not writing. So I’ll tell you how I changed. I didn’t become more or less submissive. Submission just wasn’t my purpose. This was: loving him, hanging out with him, learning to like what he liked, seeing him as a legitimate other that I could intimately know as well as I knew myself. (If this sounds like I have it all together, don’t be fooled. I SO don’t.) I was no longer focused on MY submission, I was focused on HIM.
How did this happen?
In the same way the grace-filled doctrine of election made me choose Jesus all over again in love, equality (not fighting for it, but a genuine belief I am on the same spiritual level as men) taught me submission. I no longer HAD to submit. I wanted to.
A recent email to me put it like this:
“As I think about how I’ve been steeped in “godly womanhood,” I realize that I have told myself over and over to accept that my husband is somehow automatically more… ummmm something, what’s the word? Responsible to God? than I am. That God would choose to talk to and direct our family through him. I am so used to that idea. The very idea of God seeing my husband and me as standing side by side accountable as a team in mutual submission and Him seeing me as equally accountable/valuable/usable is at once, exciting and terrifying.
My actions look the same but I serve my husband first simply because I LOVE HIM and I am choosing to be second to him NOT out of duty or rank. I am honoring HIM not his position. Holy Crap. That is so radical when you think about it.
It’s blowing my mind to think of the implications of taking the duty and rank out of the equation. It’s causing me to wonder, did Christ come out of duty or simply love?”
I love how she says “I am honoring him, not his position.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told as a wife that I am submitting to the position, my head. Gah, I don’t care about that! I want to submit to the man I love! Because I love him, not because he has authority over me.
Unity, Equality and Luv
Jesus enjoys equality with the Father. If he doesn’t, becoming submissive while on earth was no big deal. Rather like a lead angel. It was BECAUSE of His equality, that He proved his love by refusing to claim his equal rights. And that’s not paying lip-service to equality. Jesus is God, not some lesser form of God, not now or ever. There is no hierarchy in the trinity; no inherent superiority or responsibility or authority of the Father over the Son, or the Son over the Spirit. They are one. And they love each other.
This equal love; this setting aside of personal rights; this other-focus; this self-forgetfulness; this unity; this is the marriage God calls us to enjoy. There is no danger to the gospel in this. This is gospel.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ~John 17
In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel told King Saul to destroy the worthless Amalekites. Although genocide is generally not a good idea today, the principle revealed in the story is a great test of Christian leadership. Who do your Christian leaders honor? The popular and powerful or the weak, undeserved nobodies?
Who were these condemned people?
When Moses delivered the enslaved Jews from Egypt, the Amalekites picked off the weak and defenseless separated from the group. This action revealed that they did not fear God. This is the reason God gave for his deadly mission.
I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. (Deut 25)
God swore to blot them off the face of the earth. God would be at war with not only those who attacked Israel, but with their children and grandchildren.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” Ex 18
God, as He is apt to do, gave the task to the Israelites to complete as they began to settle in Canaan.
When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
Now it is time for Saul to deliver.
Saul reveals his own Amalekite heart
Saul goes to war with Israel’s bitter enemies, and he begins the slaughter.
But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.
Oh the irony. By sparing the rich and powerful and abusing the poor and weak, Saul was inviting the enmity of God. Did he not see that? I wonder if he had emancipated the weak and despised people under the dictator king Agag, if God would have judged him with grace? But it didn’t happen that way.
Destroying the weak and honoring the powerful revealed his heart had no reverence for the just God. He was guilty of the very sin he was sent to judge.
A test of the heart
Although we cannot know the heart of a person, we can discern much by a study of how they treat the weak, the defenseless, the victims in our society. Does a leader honor the powerful by sparing him/her from scrutiny? Do they name drop? Do they point to the “little guy” with fault? Do they spare the despised?
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Here I raise my ebenezer,
Hither by thy help I’ve come.
Before Ebenezer was Scrooge, it was a place. Eben, in Hebrew, means Rock or Stone. Ezer means help. The history behind the location of this helpful rock is found in 1 Samuel 7.
When the Phillistines gathered to attack Israel at Mizpah, Samuel asked the Lord for help in defeating them. This wasn’t a case of needing an extra hand to finish the job. The Israelites were facing death without help. They didn’t just need assitance in winning the battle. They needed rescuing.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
To bear witness to God’s help, Samuel erected a standing stone. Standing stones were common in the ancient world. They marked a place to be remembered. They said to the locals, “Something happened here.” The what would either be remembered through oral tradition, or in the case of Samuel, eventually written down and preserved long after the stone’s spot eroded away.
Stone of help. Here is the place where God rescued us.
Ezer me, please!
It seems when we are in need, we are receptive to God’s presence. The Israelites were terrified of dying at the hand of the Phillistines, and they cried out for Ezer! They recognized they could not go it alone against the foe. They needed rescue.
So did Adam. Although created good, he was not. He was alone. He needed help. Not an assistant. Not a personal aide to prop him up. He needed something more than that. He was in severe danger. Without help, he would fail. He needed ezer: rescuing help.
Genesis 2:20 says, “adam matsa ezer.” The man found not help. Maybe he could find that missing something somewhere in God’s creation? But, among all the animals the man called, the man found not help. Because God had not formed her yet.
For Samuel, God brought ezer in the form of a storm. For man, ezer was his own form, but stood face-to-face to him (the Hebrew word kenegdo found in verse 18). It was wo-man, God’s rescuing help for man.