Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

In 1998, The New York Times reported that the Southern Baptist Convention had voted to amend its statement of beliefs to include a declaration that wives should submit.

…”that a woman should ‘submit herself graciously’ to her husband’s leadership and that a husband should ‘provide for, protect, and lead his family.’ …The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, and an effort to soften the language was soundly turned back…The amendment relies on biblical passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, which compares the husband-wife relationship to that of Christ ruling the church…” The New York Times by Gustav Neibuhr, June 10, 1998

Gibraltar June 10, 1998

The same day the Southern Baptists (SBC) were making a stand on women, I was honeymooning in Spain. Little did we know the impact this pronouncement would make on our lives. Because of the specific attention on gender roles being taught in seminaries and churches, our early years of marriage were not focused on love or unity, but on making sure the other spouse was doing the proper “role.” His was to lead, mine was to submit, and never the two should cross. Sadly, the Southern Baptists and the Bonikowskys got Ephesians 5:21-33 all wrong.

A submissive, unified and loving church of men and women is the nuance of Ephesians 5:21-33  that we missed and that the SBC  obscured because commands were thrown into verses where they do not belong.

Back to the Greek

In Ephesians 5, Paul uses a few imperative verbs. Imperatives are verbal commands.  He tells them to carefully watch or to “Take heed! (NIV)” to live wisely;  and to “Understand!” God’s will. “Do not get drunk!” Instead, “Be filled” with the Spirit! Then, he lists a few things after his command to “be filled” using verbal nouns, or participles. Participles are tricky in Greek because they are nuanced and used extensively as nouns, adjectives, adverbs or verbs. When used adverbially, the participle is reliant on the main verb to explain its usage. It can explain when the verb occurred; how it happened and why; and it can even describe the result of the main verb. Its purpose is usually evident in the context, but there are ambiguous examples. Naturally, Ephesians 5, specifically verse 21-22, falls into the ambiguous category.

Commands and Results in Ephesians 5:18-24

Here are the verbs. Imperatives with a ! Participles with a  __ing.

18 Do not get drunk! Be filled with the Spirit!

19 Speaking in psalms… singingmaking melodies

20 Giving thanks…

21 Submitting yourselves to one another…

22 (no verb)

23 is

24 is submissive

25 Love!

First, you’ll note that there is no verb in verse 22. Open your Bible and you’ll see that your English translators supplied one for you. Note as well, that the added verb is most likely an imperative. Now understand that translators add verbs all the time to clarify meaning, but does this addition clarify what Paul intended? Does Paul command wives to submit to their husbands in verse 22?

Submitting is the result of being filled with the Spirit.

To get an idea of Paul’s intention, let us look at the role these participles play in regard to their main verb, which is “be filled” in verse 18. Are these actions the indicators of when a Christian is filled with the Spirit? Is Paul stressing the time a believer is filled? We are filled only when we are speaking, singing, giving and submitting? Or is he giving us a list of how to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit by means of speaking, singing, giving and submitting? My 1984 NIV’s translators thought this was Paul’s point, and they wrote all these participles as commands, stretching the manner of action into a command/imperative. But doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching elsewhere that all Christians already have the Spirit? Can we get more of the Spirit by means of doing these actions? More likely, these actions are the result of being filled with the Spirit. Daniel B. Wallace, the author of Greek Grammar, agrees on page 639.

…it would be almost inconceivable to see this text suggesting that the way in which one is to be Spirit-filled is by a five-step, partially mechanical formula! … the idea of result here would suggest that the way in which one measures his/her success in fulfilling the command of 5:18 is by the participles that follow. Wallace, p. 639 [underlining mine]

Speaking, singing, giving thanks and submitting to each other will follow being filled with the Spirit. The ESV does a good job of retaining this inflection in 5:18-21.  Paul does not command Christians to submit to each other (vs 21), he is explaining what will be the result of Christians being filled with the spirit. There is no command to submit in verse 21.

To view any of these participles as imperatival is to view the passage from the English point of view only, ignoring the Greek. Wallace, p 651

There is no command to submit in verse 22 either. Verse 22 does not have a verb, it simply says “wives to their own husbands as to the Lord.” We must look backward to supply the verb from the previous section. English Bibles put a header break between 21 and 22, but this is not consistent to the Greek sentences. Verse 22 is a continuation of 21 and a bridge to 23. It is a  result participle of submitting from being filled with the Spirit.

A more correct translation is:

From verse 18: Be filled with the Spirit…

(21) With the result of submitting yourselves to one another in fear of Christ, (22) wives (submitting) to their own husbands as to Christ, (23) because…

The context of wives submitting to husbands is from the larger result of Christians everywhere submitting to each other as they are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

As the church, so the wives

But even as the church is submissive to Christ, so also wives (are submissive) to their husbands in everything. 5:24

The church is marked with submissive men and women, because it is this submissive spirit that enabled our inclusion into Christ’s inheritance. Christ did the redeeming work and we have accepted; submitting to his washing and cleansing as the means of our unification with Him. The church (both men and women) is submissive to Christ, because an unsubmissive church would be no church at all. The refusal to join with Christ in faith, to deny his spiritual work through unbelief, and to separate from all things “christian” is the mark of an unbeliever. We all submit because we are all one body, joined by Christ who is the reason we are united.

The submission of wives is compared to the submission of the church. Some English versions take the middle/passive verb Paul uses (is submissive) and make it imperative. Like this:

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

Sadly, this rendering takes the focus off the submissive church who is joining together into Christ who is our head, and puts it on the actions of an obedient wife. Submission no longer marks the church, but women. A submissive church of men and women is the nuance of the context that is missed when we throw imperatives into verses where they do not belong. It is easy to tell people what to do with commands, but Paul doesn’t do that here. Neither should the English translators.


An unsubmissive church is no church at all, likewise the wives. The Bonikowskys survived the role-war. Because of submission. Not mine, but ours.

Be filled with the Spirit, submitting yourselves to one another.


ESV changes Genesis 3:16 – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

ESV changes Genesis 3:16  – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

One word in Genesis 3:16 has caused centuries of controversy. Why? Because this one word affects half the world’s population, the women. What is that word? teshuqa What does it mean? Well, let me introduce you to the evolution of teshuqa  from “turning” to “desire,” and now in the unchangeable ESV to “contrary to.”

A brief history of teshuqa

The following is a summary from Katharine Bushnell’s book God’s Word to Women.

Below is Genesis 3:16 in its natural beauty, in Hebrew. It is in this original form that you find the word teshuqa

 אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבֹונֵךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב

תֵּֽלְדִי בָנִים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃ ס

Below it is in the form as Jesus read it. This is from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). The seventy two Jewish scholars, whose goal was to put their ancient Scriptures into a language that the common (literate) person could read, translated teshuqa to ἀποστροφή in Greek. To a Greek reader, teshuqa is defined as “turning (BDAG 100).”

καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει

For the next few centuries, the notable translations (Syriac version from the first century, Samaritan version, Old Latin version, various Coptic versions) all translated teshuqa in Genesis 3:16 with the same meaning as the Septuagint: “turning.” There were various other Greek translations that we have bits and pieces of. Most follow the Septuagint and render teshuqa as “turning” or some cognate. Notably, one of these Greek translations pulls in the idea of alliance to teshuqaThe Arabic version even concurs.

The first notable departure for teshuqa is found in Jerome’s translation to Latin in the late fourth century. Below is Genesis 3:16 in the Latin Vulgate.

mulieri quoque dixit multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos in dolore paries filios et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui

Jerome pulls rabbinical interpretation into the mix by rendering teshuqa  as “under the power of.” This is such a departure, Katharine Bushnell speculates Jerome picked up this idea from the Jewish Talmud’s Ten curses of Eve while studying in Palestine (now-Israel).  This rabbinic Midrash blames Eve for tempting Adam and expounds upon God’s curse of all women as the result. It is Jerome’s Latin Vulgate that we get the first definition of teshuqa with hints of desire or lust. Or, as Bushnell words so bluntly:

Jerome plainly shows he does not know what teshuqa means, but since the latter part of the phrase refers to the man’s part,—”he will rule over thee,”—he concludes that the beginning of the passage must refer to woman’s position, and renders, “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” –Katharine Bushnell 

Fast forward to English translator, John Wycliffe, in the 14th century. Wycliffe did not go back to the Hebrew to make his translation, he used Jerome’s Latin. Hence, it is evident his version of Genesis 3:16 completely misses the original meaning of teshuqa, but relies heavily on Jerome’s mis-translation.

Also God said to the woman, I shall multiply thy wretchednesses and thy conceivings; in sorrow thou shalt bear thy children; and thou shalt be under (the) power of thine husband, and he shall be lord of thee.

Drawing heavily on Jewish midrash on Genesis, which draws all sorts of conclusions surrounding a woman’s urge, lust or desire for men, Pagnino (an Italian Dominican monk in mid-16th century) translates teshuqa  as “lust.”  Every English version thereafter repeats this definition of teshuqa  as lust or desire. On the cusp of the 17th century, the Geneva Bible cements teshuqa as modern translators have adopted.

In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

From “Desire” to “Contrary to”

Recently, the ESV translators have written their version of teshuqa in stone and declared they will never change it.

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

How did they get “contrary to” from “desire?” And what about its original meaning of “turning?” We’ve come a long way from the definition Jesus used!

My guess is that the translators are confusing Genesis 3:16 as God’s prescription for women for God’s description of what would occur to women after the fall. So what the ESV translators have given us is a their interpretive understanding of what God is talking about in Genesis 3:16, instead of what  teshuqa actually means. Naturally, this must happen in all translation because language doesn’t literally equate word for word and make sense. The ESV has prided itself on adherence to the original language, even at expense of a natural English reading, but it has failed miserably in Genesis 3:16.


My hope is that this brief summary of teshuqa ‘s  evolution will caution you to accept the new definition. Another article will have to be written on why ESV’s new definition is dangerous. Another day.

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

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 5:23 says,

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.


This verse is the beginning of a descriptive metaphor Paul employs to describe Jesus Christ’s relationship with his body, the church. It is foundational to understanding the relationship a husband and wife are to enjoy.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Much of the controversy in this verse spills into the following verses, so I will condense a few of those into three main points for this post.

  1. What does head (kephale) mean? The word head can be literal, as in that thing on top of your neck, or it can be a metaphor for something. Paul is using head metaphorically in this verse. Complementarians believe it means leader or authority, as in head of state. Egalitarians believe it means either source, as in the head of a river; or a symbol of the whole body, as in “counting the heads of cattle.”
  2. Is the husband the head of the marriage in today’s culture? Or was Paul using a Roman-Ephesian phenomenon to illustrate an eternal truth about Christ and the church? Complementarians believe Paul’s teaching on marriage is God’s eternal truth, and culture should not play a part in the interpretation of this verse. Egals believe understanding ancient Roman marriage unlocks the truth of what Paul is teaching about the relationship between Jesus and His body.
  3. How should we interpret the analogy of Jesus and the church to husbands and their wives? Complementarians believe Jesus leads his church and as Savior, he displays loving authority over all aspects of the church. Hence, husbands should exhibit loving leadership of their wives. Egalitarians believe Jesus originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work, he gave life to his body. Likewise, Roman husbands were the source of life for their wives. Comparatively, they should then treat their wives as Jesus treats his body.

Complementarian Interpretation

All complementarians agree that head metaphorically means leader. Their main argument for this is found in verse 22: wives [submit] to your own husbands. (See my explanation of that verse, here.) Because comps define submission as requiring some authority to submit to, they find that authority in the word head in verse 23. Ephesians 1:22 also uses the word head in conjunction with submission.

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

Using these two verses together, comps maintain that submission, or being under, requires a leader to be over. A major goal for complementarian marriages is for the husbands to behave as a leader. As a member of the church, men are asked to submit to each other, but since the husband’s role is to “play” Christ in the marriage, men – as husbands- have a different script to follow. Their job isn’t submission, but leadership. Husbands are to lead their wives like Jesus leads the church.

Leadership encompasses a right of privilege, authority to rule, and responsibility for outcome. Comps believe that the husband is not only responsible for his wife, but a good husband must keep his whole house in subjection (1 Tim 2:11-13).  It is the husband’s responsibility to ensure his family honors the Lord and is properly cared for. Comps impress the importance of the husband’s stepping up into their role of being their family’s spiritual leader. The husband, not the wife, should instigate church attendance, prayer and devotions. The husband will be held accountable for how he leads his house.

Since comps believe Christ’s authority in the home is centered on the husband, a husband should lead like Christ. As Jesus leads the church for the body’s good, honor and glory; a husband’s headship is exercised for the wife’s good, her honor, and her glory. His leadership is one of love. Comps often refer to this as “servant leadership” or “loving leadership.”

“Paul tells us how to control our wives when he says to ‘love them.’ Love them. That is how you control a woman. You must love her. She is built that way. When she is fully loved, she is fully under control. Love her.”  Jay Adams, Christian Living in the Home. Page 101.

Complementarians believe the husband’s role is harder than the wife’s role, because husbands are called to reflect Christ’s role as Savior. Their role-model was perfect!  Even though it is an impossible job, the husband must actively lead because he represents Jesus’ relationship to the church. When he fails to lead his wife and family, he damages the name of Jesus.

All complementarians agree that God gave husbands (men) and wives (women) distinct roles. Comps believe these roles are rooted in God’s creation of gender, and are an eternal “script” that men and women are called to play. Because Paul’s writing was inspired by God, it vitally important we hold to its teachings. Many complementarians will point to the history of male authority throughout the Old Testament and church history as evidence of God’s plan for men to lead. Complementarians, though they admit that studying  culture enhances our understanding of this text, do not believe it should influence our interpretation of gender roles.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Egalitarians all agree that the metaphorical meaning of  head  is not always leader. In this context, its meaning is either source (head of a river) or a singular symbol for the whole body (heads of cattle). Egalitarians take the cue from they way Paul uses head in the previous chapter.

…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph 4:15-16.

Egalitarians understand Eph 5:23 in a similar fashion. The significance of the husband being the head of his wife is that they are joined together. It would be absurd to have a head that holds itself separate from the body. They are one. The husband and wife are both made from the same stuff. There is no fundamental difference between the two genders both made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ (Gen 1:26, Gal 3:3). Just as Christ, as the source of salvation and the First of many, gives the church fully of his inheritance and righteousness; so a Roman husband, as the source of income, property, sustenance and legitimacy in Roman culture, is to join 100% of those goods with his wife. Love is the connecting agent.

Egals believe a proper understanding of this passage cannot be divorced from the original culture. That the husband is the head of the wife was a fact in Roman society. Whichever meaning is chosen for head – leader, source or singular symbol – a case could be made that meaning existed in Roman law.  Women were the property of men. No one thought about equality or the absurdity of human property. The shocker for the Ephesian husbands was not that they were the “heads,”  but that they were to love.  Christians husbands are a head AS Christ is a head. The following verses describe how Christ heads the church (love). Egalitarians find no hint of authority or leadership in this context.

Egalitarians believe Jesus, as Savior, originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work as head, he gave life to his body. Christ saves the church to share the privilege of heaven with those he loves. He transforms the church as a gift of eternal life. Everything Jesus enjoys, he makes available to his body. It is through the head, the body is equipped for true life.   The responsibility of a head is to share privilege and life with the body. Those with the elevated position bring up those in the subjected role to a place of equilibrium by virtue of joining together in unity. And ultimately that is the heart of Paul’s message and Egalitarian marriage.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Eph 5:31)

Further Reading:

An Exhaustive Study on the Meaning of “Head:” Are Women Really Free To Function Freely? by Wade Burleson quoting Lauren Fasullo

Household: Household Code in Ephesians (Part 3) by Michael W. Kruse

Christ as husband is about love not leadership by Retha

Ephesians 5:23

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
For the husband is the head of the wife Head means chief or leader. The husband is responsible for his wife. His goal is to behave as a loving leader. Head means origin or source. A Roman husband was the key to life for his wife  in that ancient culture. This was a fact, not a goal.
as Christ is the head of the church, his body, Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of authority and leadership. Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of pre-eminence. He is the first of many.
of which he is the Savior. Jesus earned the right to lead his church by His death and resurrection. Jesus’ role as savior is to transform us into His image.



Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:22

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:22

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 5:22 says,

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.


This verse introduces what is often called the “Household Code of Conduct” for Christians. Paul, who is writing to 1st century Christians in Ephesus, spends the first part of chapter 5 describing how a Christian should live a life of love. In verse 18, he begins to define how a person filled with the Spirit behaves. This description segues into commentary on wives and husbands, children and parents, masters and slaves.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Who should submit in a Christian marriage? Complemetarians believe wives should submit. Egalitarians, as well, believe wives should submit, but so should husbands.


Complementarian Interpretation

This verse is the mother of complementarianism. (The father comes a verse later.) It establishes their core belief that God wants marriage to follow a pattern based on gender. The wife’s role is to submit to her husband. The husband’s role is to lead his wife. They believe this verse proves that godly marriages must be based on a structure of authority. Unless the wife is following her husband’s leadership, they have become like the world (following the feminist influence) and are not pleasing God in their marriage.

Mark Driscoll, a vocal complementarian, recently questioned the motivation of some Christians who wanted to understand the original language of the Bible. He said that only “rebellious” Christians do word studies. I’m sure he said this tongue in cheek. The verse he wants Christians to accept the English-translation without question? This one. Wives submit to your husbands.

And this is the complementarian argument on its simplistic level. Many comps don’t need to interpret this verse, or understand its cultural significance. They are willing to take it at face value. Even though verse 21 states that all Christians are in submission to each other, wives have a gendered duty to submit to their own husbands. There is no reason to question the plain, English words of this verse.

God made women to submit to men in each marriage. (This understanding comes from the following verses in this chapter, which I’ll cover in time.)

…biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. – John Piper

Comps teach that this wifely submission comes with two caveats. “To your own husband” and “As unto the Lord.” Most comps do not believe all women are to submit to all men. They also admit that gender-based authority in marriage can lead to abuse, and so they caution husbands to lead in a servant-like manner. They also caution wives that they do not need to submit to a husband who is disobeying God’s will because of the phrase, “as unto the Lord.” (Well- sort of. Some well known Comp advocates have been known to say some outlandish things regarding women staying in an abusive relationship.) Comps teach that a wife should not follow her husband into sin. What this practically looks like varies by teacher.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Submission is the state of living by the Spirit. The Egalitarian believes it is how all Christians, regardless of gender, should behave, wives and husbands.

“How desperately we need to see  that mutual submission in marriage and the family is not subtraction of wifely  submission, but the addition of husbandly submission. Only that is the  perfect biblical equation. In decision making within marriage, the ‘one’ who  makes the decisions should be the ‘two become one.’” Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Equal to Serve, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1998), p. 200

A commonly used Egalitarian argument for non-gender based submission is based on the earliest Greek manuscripts of Ephesians. The verb submit (hupotasso) is not found in verse 22. Instead, it is implied from verse 21, like this:

(21)…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ ; (22) wives to your husbands, as to the Lord.

Egalitarians argue that inserting the word submit into verse 22 and separating the two verses (which were written as one sentence) into distinct thoughts, is inadequate and incorrect. Hupatasso, the verb in verse 21-22,  is written in the middle voice which implies passivity, not activity. Submission is a state a Christian is already in because of the Spirit inside (vs 18). 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) Many times, a wife naturally looks to please her husband, even in a sinful way, as a result of the fall. (Genesis 3:16)

Culture plays a large part in an Egalitarian’s understanding of Ephesians 5:22. Some argue Paul was enforcing the Roman law of marriage. Others argue for understanding the influence of the Ephesian cult religion of Artemis, which demands the superiority of women over men, into Paul’s instructions for Christian marriages. Regardless of which historical perspective the Egalitarians believes, they agree that historical perspective is key to understanding Paul’s teaching of gender in marriage.

Egalitarians are wary of separating Christians into authoritative categories based on gender, race or social positions.  Egalitarians believe the question of gender-based hierarchy has no place in a marriage whose goal is a unified partnership. “Who has authority?” is never the question a Christian should ask. The disciples asked that question of Jesus, and he told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” A Christian marriage should be marked by service to each other. In decision making times, gifting and talents are a better factor than gender.

Further Reading:

Submission in Marriage by Marg Mowczko

Authority vs submission – a biblical view of Ephesians 5:22 by Cheryl Schatz

Ephesians 5:22

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
Wives Wives alone must submit because she is woman. Husband and wives submit to each other.
submit Submit means to arrange yourself under an authority. Submit means yeilding to another.
to your own husbands Husbands are the authority in marriage. Paul is exemplifying a cultural phenomenon of patriarchy.
as to the Lord. God is the ultimate authority, and a wife should never submit to doing evil. Christian wives are now “in the Lord,” living by the Spirit. This position will influence their marriage.

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:21 (Repost)

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:21 (Repost)

I am re-posting this article on Ephesians 5:21 to refresh my thoughts preceding Ephesians 5:22. It introduces the basic principles the two gender camps argue over in Ephesians 5:22.

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.

  1. How to define submission?*
  2. Who is exempt?
  3. 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.

Complementarian Understanding

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.

Further Reading

The Myth of “Mutual Submission”  by Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Understanding

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.

Further Reading:

What Does Subjection Mean? Lesson 38 by Katharine Bushnell

I know who’s the boss! by Wade Burleson

Ephesians 5:21

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.

Problem Passages: Galatians 3:26-28

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Galatians 3:26-28 says,

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

Summary of Disagreements

What could be problematic about this verse you may wonder? Its scope. All Christians agree that salvation is for everyone, regardless of race, gender or social status. But how does that practically translate to the present life on earth? Will God use men and women in the same way?

Complementarians emphasize the broad context of Galatians, which is Paul’s defense of justification by faith alone and not by keeping the law (end of chapter 2). They conclude this verse has no bearing on the gender roles they believe were established at creation. Men were created to be leaders, and women should never lead men.

Egalitarians focus on the context of chapter 3, which is living by the same Spirit which birthed your salvation. They conclude that since both male and female are called “sons,” this inheritence is applicable right now on earth. There should be no distinction in gender roles in the church. The Holy Spirit will gift either men or women with leadership abilities or teaching in the church. Gifting is the qualifying factor, not gender.

Does this verse erase all differences here and now? Nobody argues that men and women are identical. Both sides of the argument agree there are inherent biological differences between men and women. The context of this verse is “in Christ.”


To an egalitarian, this verse is trump. Galatians 3:28, and the truths taught in the entire book, are the filter by which Egals sift the other gender “problem” passages. Egals question any interpretation of a passage that limits the “sonship of God” for any believer.

Egals believe Galatians 3:28 is the great equalizer. Not only do all humans have equal access to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, they continue to live in the same manner by which they were saved (Galatians 3:3,11); through faith and not by the flesh (good behavior). Egalitarians believe Galatians 3:28 applies to a Christian’s living faith – sanctification – as well as salvation.

Paul spoke these words to a culture in which one’s class, gender, and ethnicity determined one’s value, status, and sphere of influence. Some insist that Galatians 3:28 speaks only of access to Christ, or salvation. But remember, Paul sent these words to a believing church that was divided over whether Christians should observe Jewish law (Gal. 2:11&ff). This passage concerns church life and practice, to be lived by kingdom values, not cultural prejudices. –Mimi Haddad, What Counts is the New Creation.

Egals believe there is no need to look back to the Old Covenant for God’s instruction on gender roles because the New Covenant does not follow the order of the Old One. In the words of Paul, “What counts is the new creation.”(Galatians 6:15) Egals reject the Complementarian belief that God’s creation order establishes a precedent that rules His Spirit’s generosity in Christ’s Church.

Egalitarians also use Galatians 3:28 to prop Jesus’ words in the gospels that flatten hierarchy and authoritarian structures. They believe in the equality of servanthood and the plain sense understanding of Jesus’ words on worldly superiority.

“Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew18:1-3

“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” -Matthew 23:8-12

And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater,one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” -Luke 22:25-27

The Spirit of God is given without measure. His gifts have no litmus test of gender. In living the life of the Spirit, the egalitarian asks…why are we so concerned with things of the flesh?

Further Reading

Galatians 3:28 is it only about salvation?

What Galatians 3:28 can not mean.

Complementarian Understanding

It is a rare Complementarian that would not agree all Christians are equal, BUT…

…this passage does not abolish the gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ. ~John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. 71-72.

To a comp, Galatians 3:28 must be limited to a heavenly inheritance because of two core beliefs:

  1. They believe God established gender roles at creation. This means the roles of men and women are inherent as part of God’s design. This “creation order” is how a Comp understands the entire Bible, even the New Covenant.
  2. They believe God works through authoritarian structures, or hierarchy.

Elizabeth Elliot says,

Acceptance of the divinely ordered hierarchy means acceptance of authority – first of all, God’s authority and then those lesser authorities which He has ordained. A husband and wife are both under God, but their positions are not the same. A wife is to submit herself to her husband. The husband’s “rank” is given to him by God,as the angel’s and animals’ ranks are assigned, not chosen or earned. – Let Me Be Woman.

Complementarians bolster these core beliefs by arguing that Peter commands wifely submission in 1 Peter 3:1-7, as well as recognizing the spouses’ joint inheritance of grace. They argue gender distinctions and co-inheritance are not exclusive with each other.

Because God created men to lead and women to help, Galatians 3:28 will not change God’s gender design. Hence, Comps believe it must be limited to justification, or our eternal salvation. Galatians 3:28 does not negate God’s commands elsewhere that women should not take postitions of authority over men.

Further Reading

Fifty Crucial Questions: Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Male and Female equality in light of Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28

Egals Believe… Comps Believe…
There is no male nor female in Christ… …Transcends worldly roles. All believers have equal access to the gifting of God’s Spirit. The Spirit does not limit the teaching and leading gifts to men. …Does not negate God’s creation order which establishes certain behaviors of men and women. The Spirit will never gift a woman to teach or lead men.

Problem Passages: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

1 Corinthians 14:34-40
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.
39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

If there ever was a problem passage, this is it. It sparks more questions than answers:

Can women talk at church? If so, when? Where? About what? And to whom? What about those who aren’t married? How are they to get their questions answered? These are the questions that have plagued churches that wish to include women in public worship, yet can find no unified voice around what appears to be a “plain meaning” in this passage.

Only pages earlier, Paul acknowledges a woman’s authority … whether you believe it is her own or given to her through a man. He assumes they pray and prophecy. Why does Paul blatantly contradict himself here? Does Paul change his mind so easily and want all women to be quiet? Is this what the Spirit of God wants?
This passage is hard to divide into neat Complementarian and Egalitarian lines since there are Comps and Egals all over the place. Instead, here are three common interpretations.

  1. It’s a local restriction. Paul wants only the Corinthian women in this church to be quiet.
  2. Women should not speak in public worship. No teaching, no praying, no testimonying, and no singing.
  3. This passage did not originate with Paul. It is not what God wants for women.

 A Local Problem

Not all Complementarians interpret this passage literally for today’s church. Some Complementarians and Egalitarians agree that since Paul allows women to pray and prophecy three chapters earlier, this situation must be a local one that does not apply to all churches. Hence, this restriction does not apply to women today.

Historically, Jews worshipped segregated, much like the Papua New Guinea church I visited 10 years ago. Women on one side and men on the other. Or, women in the back and men in the front. Some theologians speculate this was the source of the Corinthians disorder: a segregated meeting room and uneducated women. Women, who were learning as they went, were shouting across the room asking their husbands a question about the sermon. If you’ve ever been in a developing country church service, you can understand the likelihood of that happening! There is little decorum, but much sincere excitement. Women, uneducated but now allowed this new freedom of learning alongside the men, were abusing their freedom and causing chaos. Could this be what was happening?

Many scholars think so; especially given the context: how to conduct public worship in a fit and orderly way. (verse 40) (Some note that Paul is referring to how women should learn. The issue here is not silencing of teaching, but asking questions in public.)

But, others have a problem with simply disregarding this bit as cultural. They argue ancient men were often just as uneducated as the women. They wonder if this interpretation will lead to picking and choosing what is for today’s church and what is irrelevant. Should we treat the Word of God so lightly?

Surprisingly, the next two interpretations both agree to the negative answer. No. We should follow the Word as it is written and not lightly disregard any command.

 A Literal Interpretation

The stricter, traditional Complementarians (Patriarchal) follow a literal understanding. Women should not be heard in public worship, should not ask questions or appear more knowledgeable than the men around them. Again, the central principle is that women are created to be in submission to men. They must learn in their proper place. If a woman is unmarried, she can ask her pastor or father in lieu of a husband.

Those who believe this interpretation tend to be consistent across board. The women will wear head coverings or long hair, no jewelry or expensive clothes, and they will work hard to keep the men more knowledgeable than the women, so both genders can obey this passage.
They believe the “law” Paul references is found in Genesis 3:16. Of course, they interpret this verse as a command for men to be the authority in their marriage. The husband should rule the wife. To accurately obey this “law,” women should not join in the vocal aspects of church worship.

Admirably, they do a good job of following the “plain” meaning, and for making no apologies for what they believe is God’s Word for women.

Paul did not write this paragraph.

There are two theories that source someone else besides Paul. The first is that Paul quoted either a Corinthian slogan or a Jewish oral law, and then rebuked its sentiment in verse 36. The second is that this paragraph was added at a later date as a marginal note.

 1. Paul quoted another source.
Some Egalitarians also believe we should not disregard God’s Word simply because we don’t agree with it according to our culture. Since Egals believe God does not restrict women’s roles, the answer must not lie in faulting God’s Word itself. The fault lies with our translation or interpretation of the original limitations of the Greek language.

Paul is not restricting women, he is quoting a common understanding of how a woman should behave in that culture. He rebukes this worldly thinking in verse 36-38, and points them back to his instruction in Chapter 11. Read more about this in a previous article.

2. Due to a discrepancy in the ancient manuscripts about where these verses go (either after verse 33 or verse 40?), some scholars conclude this section is not original to Paul, but was added from a very old marginal note.

Further Reading:

1 Corinthians 14:34-36

Egals Believe… Comps Believe…
Can women speak in church? Yes. Yes and no. A woman’s voice is restricted differently depending on the local church.
What limits a woman’s voice? Keeping order in public worship. The submission principle and the “law.”
What law? probably refers to either a Greek/Roman law or a Jewish oral law. Either Genesis 3:16 or Gen 1:26