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Are you “subject to your husband in EVERYTHING”?
I am!
But I do not SUBMIT to him in EVERYTHING.

Newsflash: You too are “subject to your husband in EVERYTHING”!
Being “subject to” your husband is like being “subject to” gravity. It’s not something you “choose” but a state of being.
!!

The word “submit” implies choice/volition on the part of the “submitter”.
“Subject to” better conveys the grammatical nuance of the Greek PASSIVE voice (of the hupotasso verb used in Ephesians 5:24).

“but even as the assembly is subject to Christ,
so also [are] the wives to their own husbands in everything.” Eph 5:24 (YLT)

For over two decades I twisted myself into a pretzel attempting to practice “SUBMIT to him in EVERYTHING”. Once the newlywed shine wore off (by 5 years) I felt progressively more and more disrespected and by the time we were married 22 years, I was completely miserable in the marriage, I felt trapped like a prisoner in a concentration camp.

Once I realized this passage is not teaching a wifely BEHAVIOR, but describing “the state of being a wife”, what its like in a wife’s skin, THEN I was free to move toward making life in my skin more tolerable by standing up for myself and protecting myself and the children.

Here are two pictures to illustrate the difference. Perhaps this will help.

“SUBMIT in everything” looks like this:


This is WORKS.  It’s like living on a hamster wheel in a cage, always trying to please him never getting anywhere- trapped, imprisoned.  Sometimes he lays the demands on so thick and turns up the speed so fast that you fall down.  This is how I knew that the interpretation “wife, submit in EVERYTHING” cannot possibly be what God meant!  I attempted it and it is physically impossible and emotionally deadening.

Christian wife, I encourage you to get off that hamster wheel! 

Here is what I think God (via Paul) means in Ephesians 5:24 “wives ARE SUBJECT TO their husbands” –>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THIS is “SUBJECT TO”:

Depending upon whether the Flower is nourished and cherished,
it will BLOOM
or it will WILT.

And if I am SUBJECT TO a man who is constantly WILTING me by his behavior and refuses to change his WILTING ways, then in this day and age (unlike the peasants of yesteryear), I have the power to choose not to be SUBJECT TO him anymore.

I am thankful that my husband has chosen to change his WILTING ways. Our marriage continues (since Oct 9, 1982) which means I continue to be “SUBJECT to” him.  He has learned to be more sensitive and instead of defending himself and blaming us, he is now open to receiving correction when his harshness has wilted me or one of our Quiver Full (our eight children plus 2 sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law- so far).

If anyone reading this is still on that hamster wheel
striving and straining to “be submissive”, weary and heavy laden,
my heart goes out to you.
I’ve been there.
I understand.
GOD understands! What you are doing is NOT what He meant!
This blog is a gift to you in hope that reading
about the things which God has shown me as I made this journey will give you
a helping hand off the hamster wheel.

Love, Charis

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This final post is dedicated to my blogging sisters who can be found in the comments  here.

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If you will go to these links at BLB: Luke 10:17-20 and Eph 5:24 and scroll down, you will see that the form of hupotasso is exactly the same in Luke 17, 20, and Ephesians 5:24.   ὑποτάσσεται=hupotassetai.

If you scroll down further, you will see the   parsing of the verb under “Tense” and all three cases are identified as the PASSIVE voice.  I also checked the interlinear at: www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/Greek_Index.htm
and interlinearbible.org/ephesians/5.htm  They all identify these instances of “subjection” as passive voice where the subject receives the action without volition/will on the part of the subject.  (Contrast with Romans 13:1,5  “ Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.1 … 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.” – for example-  where the hupotasso is middle imperative.  “Voluntary self-instigated yielding” would be an appropriate understanding here.)

Though on the surface it’s a shocking parallel, I think the submission of the devils to the apostles actually provides a great deal of insight as to the nature of the submission of wife to husband. Contra many egalitarians who frame the wifely subjection of Eph. 5:24 as “voluntary, self-instigated yielding”, think about this.  Do these devils have any will in their submission? Do they choose their submission? Can they decide not to submit? No, they are in subjection without any volition/will on their part. Their subjection is not a “command” that they must “obey”; their subjection their state of being, which they cannot resist even if they wanted to.

Likewise, the submission/subjection of the wife in Ephesians 5 as well as in 1 Peter 3 is stated with verbs using the passive voice. This suggests that a wife’s submission/subjection is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Its not a COMMAND, its her state of being which she cannot resist even if she wanted to.

I suggest that the passive voice of hupotasso is evidence that biblical teaching about wifely subjection is not a command to women. Commands are in the imperative. (eg. verse 25 directed to HUSBANDS is in the imperative love-agapete) . Rather this submission is a state of being and a response. Much like a garden passively receives watering, nourishing, cherishing,. The garden is SUBJECT TO the gardener. If tending, nourishing, cherishing, is neglected, the garden wilts and dies.

I suggest that the statement in Ephesians 5:24 should not make wives sweat at all. Rather, husbands should be sweating. She has no power nor control to resist. When she marries, her husband holds her heart in his hands. Will he be harsh and trample her under his feet? crushing her spirit? or will he be like Christ and minister LIFE?

And a husband has a particular power and influence upon a wife that may not go “vice versa” because she is uniquely “subject to” (being harmed by?) him moreso than he to her.  John Gottman observed this in his marriage laboratory (see “Addendum: The Scientific support for “wives are subject“).  This view also makes sense of the instruction to wives that they need to PHOBEO their husbands (Eph 5:33).

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Pearls are formed when a piece of sand irritates an oyster. Over time, one layer after another is deposited upon the sand until it is transformed into something precious and beautiful. I just finished a new paper which draws upon many posts from this blog and is a pearl to me.

Genesis 3:16 and Ephesians 5:24:
A Woman’s Desire, A Man’s Rule, and A Wife’s Submission (pdf)

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Here is a segment of a paper I am in the midst of writing.  My  thesis is that Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:24 is a repetition of “the facts of life” first reported in Genesis 3:16:

“your [the wife's] desire will be for your husband
and he will rule over you” Genesis 3:16

(God describing to the first woman what marriage will be like for her)

 “wives are subject to their own husbands
in everything” Ephesians 5:24

(Paul describing marriage to the Ephesians)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING!!!!

“wives are subject to their own husbands
in everything” Ephesians 5:24

(Paul describing marriage to the Ephesians)

Paul reiterates the Genesis 3:16 description in Ephesians 5:24.  Paul is not giving the Ephesians a prescription but a description.

We are used to hearing prescription/command in Ephesians 5:24.  Wives “must be submissive”, “let them be subject”, “must submit”, “should be entirely submissive”, “ought to submit”  IN EVERYTHING.

Both complementarians and egalitarians have come up with ways to tap dance around the harsh implications of hearing prescription in Ephesians 5:24 rather than description.  Some complementarians attempt to soften the impact of Ephesians 5:24 by isolating the exercise of wifely submission to occasions of conflict where the husband is said to have “final decision making power”.  Some egalitarians attempt to soften the impact by describing a wife’s submission as a “voluntary, self-instigated yielding”.    However, being “subject in everything” has no limit, no exceptions, nor is it voluntary.   Everything means everything!

So where have I gotten this idea that Ephesians 5:24 is not a prescription/command? It comes from the grammar of the Greek.   In my study of Ephesians 5:24, I discovered that many translations, add extra words which change the grammar.

In various English Bible versions, the words of Ephesians 5:24 are rendered (source):

  • wives should submit” (NIV, NLT, ESV, ) 
  • “wives ought to be [subject to]” (NASB
  • wives must be submissive” (ISV)
  • “wives are under their husbands’ authority in everything.” (GW)
  • “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so [let] the wives [be] to their own husbands in every thing. (KJV)
  • “so let the wives be” (AKJV, WBT)
  • “so let the wives also be” (ERV, ASV, WEB
  • married women should be entirely submissive to their husbands. (WNT)
  • And as the church is under Christ’s authority, so let wives be under the rule of their husbands in all things. (Bible in Basic English)

The latter rendition of the Bible in Basic English is noteworthy for how visibly we can see the parallel of Ephesians 5:24 with Genesis 3:16.  However, BiBE and all of the above translations add words and grammar which are not there in the Greek. The KJV at least brackets the added words so we realize they are additions.  If we take out the “let” and “be” from the 6 translations above where they have been added, then they are more accurate.  The grammar of the Greek verb hupotasso, translated “to submit” or “to be subject” is not imperative[i]: it is not a command! The grammar of the Greek verb is passive indicative.[ii]  The following two translations reflect this accurately:

Young’s Literal Translation
“but even as the assembly is subject to Christ, so also are the wives to their own husbands in everything.”

Darby Bible Translation
“But even as the assembly is subjected to the Christ, so also wives to their own husbands in everything.”

WIVES ARE SUBJECT [not “must be submissive”, not “let them be subject”, not “must submit”, not “should be entirely submissive”, not “ought to submit” ] IN EVERYTHING.

So, what does this mean?

You ARE SUBJECT to your husband IN EVERYTHING like you are subject to gravity. Though you made a choice to marry him, you have neither control nor volition regarding your state of subjection; it’s a state of being.

The context of Ephesians 5 speaks of a HEAD and a BODY which metaphor is a remarkable fit with a passive voice understanding of “is subject” in Ephesians 5:24.  The body “is subject” to the head, but there is neither volition nor even consciousness involved on the part of the body, nor is there agency involved on the part of the head.  It is a description of a state of being, not a command for a certain behavior.  Thus the head/body metaphor is a perfect illustration and object lesson of connectedness and “being subject” in the passive voice. Contextually, Ephesians 5:24 is a continuation of the thought started in Ephesians 5:21 and clarifies the nature and extent of the hupotasso Paul has in mind.  Furthermore, Paul’s two uses of hupotasso in this context (21 and 24) are a sandwich around his introduction of the head/body metaphor (23).  This head/body metaphor is key to understanding Paul’s intent.  In the immediate context of Ephesians 5, Paul maps the husband to the head and the wife to the body and refers to the couple thus organically connected as “one flesh” which harks back to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:24).

For a Christian wife, being “subject to her husband in everything” may or may not resemble her experience being “subject to Christ in everything” depending on how much her husband reflects Christlikeness in the manner in which he treats her (which is the thrust of Paul’s teaching directed to husbands in Ephesians 5).

You might argue that in this sense the husband is subject to the wife too and I would agree with you and point to Ephesians 5:21.  However, Ephesians 5:24 clarifies that a wife has a unique and greater vulnerability to her husband which extends to EVERYTHING with  no “vice versa” claim in scripture regarding the husband.

Once a wife says “I do” (any wife in any culture of any religion, past, present, and future), she becomes vulnerable to her husband in a way which she is to no other person on earth.  The anatomy is a picture of this.  The wife opens herself up to receive from her husband, and she will tend to internalize harsh things that he says!   (See “Men and Women are Different” #3) That is why Paul repeats 5 times in Ephesians 5 employing imperative grammar (“command” verbs) that a husband needs to AGAPE/LOVE his wife.

ENDNOTES


[i] Imperative is a  Greek verb “mood” which is identified by its distinctive form.  “The imperative mood is a command or instruction given to the hearer, charging the hearer to carry out or perform a certain action.”  The hupotasso (submit) verb of Ephesians 5:24 is NOT in the imperative, although many English translations (mistakenly) add imperative language. Greek verbs change form based upon the subject of the verb and the kind of action indicated.  There are five basic parts (or aspects) that are clearly defined or indicated by every Greek verb form: Person, Number, Tense, Voice, and Mood. (ntgreek.org).  The aspects relevant to my thesis are voice and mood.

[ii] You can verify the passive indicative parsing for yourself by looking above the hupotasso verb in Ephesians 5:24 at http://interlinearbible.org/ephesians/5.htm.  Guidelines for understanding the implications of voice and mood can be found at http://ntgreek.org/  and  Wallace and Mounce.  Greek Grammar. “Passive Voice”.  Web. 5 July 2011.

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Another new translation errs in imposing an imperative where there is none.  :( (This post quotes a list of translations which perpetrate this error as well as a handful with more accurate renderings.)

Wives and Husbands
22Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of his wife as the Messiah is the head of the church. It is he who is the Savior of the body. 24Indeed, just as the church is submissive to the Messiah, so wives must be submissive to their husbands in everything. ISV

Neither Ephesians 5:22 nor 5:24 are grammatical imperative in the Greek. The fact is, they are both parsed passive.  (You can verify this for yourself at http://interlinearbible.org/ephesians/5.htm and above the hupotasso verb you will find 21–>   V-PPP-NPM 24–> V-PPI-3S.)

These details of the grammar which Paul/God chose to use are providential and should not be ignored in translation!

The context of Ephesians 5 speaks of a HEAD and a BODY which metaphor is a remarkable fit with a passive voice understanding of “is subject” in Ephesians 5:24. The body “is subject” to the head, but there is no volition involved on the part of the body, nor is there agency involved on the part of the head. It is a description of a state of being, not a command for a certain behavior. Thus the head/body metaphor is a perfect illustration and object lesson of connectedness and “being subject” in the passive voice.

Paul makes a switch in the grammatical voice of the participles from the active voice for “speaking”, “singing”, “making melody”, and “giving thanks” to the passive voice for “being subject” (read more). Contextually, Ephesians 5:24 is a continuation of the thought started in Ephesians 5:21 and clarifies the nature and extent of the hupotasso Paul has in mind. Furthermore, Paul’s two uses of hupotasso in this context (21 and 24) are a sandwich around his introduction of the head/body metaphor (23). This head/body metaphor is key to understanding Paul’s intent. In the immediate context of Ephesians 5, Paul maps the husband to the head and the wife to the body and refers to the couple thus organically connected as “one flesh”.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul maps the church to a body and speaks of the interdependence of the members of that body.

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And
the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”;
nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” .
. . . And if one member suffers, all the members suffer
with it; or if one member is honored, all the members
rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and
members individually. (1 Cor 12: 20-21, 26-27 NKJV)

Though the Greek word hupotasso is not used in the above passage from 1 Cor. 12, the concept of the organic connection between members of one body IS used. So the above passage is an excellent illustration of what Paul means when he refers to members of the body of Christ “being in subjection” to one another. They are in subjection to one another like the members of a human body are in subjection to one another. If part of me is in a hurting or weakened condition, then other parts of my body are affected. Imagine the effect of a toothache or a lame leg.

(For full citations, see: “Wives are Subject” )

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Dorothy Patterson criticizes Sarah Sumner’s “Men and Women in the Church” for sloppy treatment of grammar:

For starters, one line is not always a “verse”-in fact, rarely so. Second, word order in Greek or Hebrew is quite different from that of English. Third, early manuscripts were not divided into chapters or verses. . . . Often, she ignores verb tense and other grammatical factors. . .

What complementarians can Sumner cite who suggest that the household code paragraph in Ephesians 5 begins in verse 22? (157). . . Of course, it would be “unscholarly” to suggest that the paragraph begins with verse 22 since that would be grammatically and theologically incorrect. Sumner would do well to document carefully any such accusation of incompetence lobbed against complementarians or egalitarians.

Speaking of ignoring grammatical details, perhaps some grammar housekeeping around the CBMW site is in order?

Professer Bruce Ware writes:

As one reads Paul’s and Peter’s admonition that are directed specifically to husbands and wives, one notes that there is a particular imperative given to wives in each of such cases, regardless of the larger context. In each case, wives are told one thing, the same thing, in all four of these New Testament passages: They are told to “submit to” or “be subject to” or be “submissive to” their husbands. Here they are for the reader to see:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24).

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Col 3:18).

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5).
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-when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external-the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing-but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Pet 3:1-6).

It would seem a simple and yet a highly significant observation to make, from these texts, that every single direct imperative and admonition to wives requires of them the same responsibility: Besides other things that are said to them, they are commanded in every case to submit to their husbands. The force of this point in the current debate is strong indeed, and it certainly is relevant to the question of whether the egalitarian position treats every aspect of Scripture fully and does not diminish or disregard any of it. The fact that four different New Testament letters contain this one common command to wives each time they are addressed specifically, and that both Paul and Peter share in common this same message and emphasis, and that the command is made to wives in different churches and different cultural settings, would incline one to conclude that this must be among the most important aspects of a wife’s relationship to her husband. To miss this is to miss something highly significant about being a wife, as God intends it. And certainly, as Paul develops the point in Ephesians 5, the significance of the wife’s submission can be understood more fully because God intends her submission to her husband to be a picture of the church’s submission to Christ.” (Ware)

Ware curiously refers repeatedly to the biblical references to wifely submission in terms of “command” (3X), “admonition” (2X), “imperative” (2X), “told” (2X), “directed” (1X), and “requires” (1X). However, my research (STTOH) on the Greek grammar used by the Biblical writers points in a far different direction: a direction which lines up more with Gottman’s laboratory findings than with preaching like Ware’s.

The basic Greek verb translated “submit” is transliterated hupotasso. Grammatically , imperative is the mood which is used for a “command”. However, hupotasso in Ephesians 5:24 as well as Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1 and 5 are not in the imperative! (check out the parsing for yourself at http://interlinearbible.org/ or scripture4all.org or blueletterbible.org) Adding such words as “command”, “imperative”, “required”, and “must” perpetrates error.

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Trading the Double Bind for the Double Bond:
Overlooked Grammatical Details Shed New Light on
“Wives are Subject to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24

 

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