“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” [1 PE 3:1 ESV]
If we accept that the Bible tells us submitting is a part of the Christian life, we still have to understand what it means to submit. Here again there are all manner of battles about words and meanings.
The Greek word translated “submit” in Eph 5 and 1 Peter 3 is hupotasso. It is a Greek military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under a leader”. In this sense, it seems pretty clear we are looking at leading and following. However, there is also a non-military meaning for hupotasso which indicates a voluntarily rather compulsory submission. I’ve seen some say the non-military meaning is something like “be available” or “care about”, but I’ve not found any good support for that.
So should we use the military or non-military meaning? There are places in the New Testament, including passages by both Paul and Peter, where context requires the military meaning be understood. This does not prove we should use the military meaning in the passages about marriage, but it does effectively kill the argument that the original readers would only have understood the word in its non-military sense.
Since Paul and Peter are commanding submission, it would be accurate to say it is a choice. However, if we are repeatedly commanded to do something, it’s only a choice if we have chosen to pick and choose what part of God’s commands to follow. We either obey God, or we do not; partial obedience is not really obedience at all. So submission may be a choice, but it seems we are commanded to choose that choice.
But wait, what about slaves? Paul and Peter both tell them to submit. Aren’t slaves forced to submit? Isn’t telling them to submit redundant or insulting? I think this shows the submission we are called to is something more than just blind obedience. More on that Thursday.
This is a seven part series:
Headship? Me? Maybe not … Why men shy away from being the head.
Submit to each other? Wait, how does that work? Does it work?
Submit! But only if you want to? It’s a choice?
Who submits to whom, and why? God has a plan here, really.
Being the head What it means, and how it’s to be done.
Sexual submission New we’re talking … or not.
How we do headship and submission How it works in our message.