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The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” … and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women

Still life of a beautiful old book and a rose in a wineglass

Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

Related post: The “Proverbs 31 Wife” is Not the “Virtuous Woman” but the “Daring Woman”

Now on to the post…


A few weeks ago, I suggested that the usual translations of Ephesians 5:22 are too glib and misleading in modern English. You may see translations like “Wives, submit to your husbands” (KJV) or “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (NRSV) followed by a brief statement about how “the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” And this all sounds very cut and dry in modern English. We read it and hear something rather like: Wives, do what your husband says, much as you would if God were speaking.

But: this ancient letter to a church in Ephesus wasn’t written in modern English, and much of what we assume when we translate it is quite a bit off. And this is sad – not only because we translate this verse in ways that reinforce traditional gender hierarchies in our culture, but also because what we are losing in translation is really a lovely idea about spousal relationships that came with a shock to the Greco-Roman culture and that might potentially come with a bit of a shock to our modern American culture, too.

Specifically, I suggested that rather than submit, “in context, υποτασσομαι (hupotassomai) probably means to deploy yourself in support of your spouse against the enemy.”

In fact, I would suggest that a better translation might be something like one of these:

“Wives, support your husbands.”
“Wives, deploy yourselves in support of your husbands.”
“Wives, arrange yourselves for battle for your husbands.”

Or even, less literally:

“Wives, go to battle for your husbands.”
“Wives, defend your husbands.”

This new post (for those who requested it) is to make the case for why I and some others think this. It will be a long post, but hopefully interesting!

Now, I’m interested in this partly because I nerd out about ancient languages, but also because how we translate passages like this one has an enormous impact on our often very religious culture. (To say the least.) That means that translating verses from the New Testament isn’t just a matter of academic interest or scholarly quibbling; it matters to the lives of real people.

To understand what may have gone amiss in the translation of this often-quoted passage, we need to look at three things:

1. The etymology of the word that we’re translating as “submit” or “be subject to.”

2. The larger context of the letter in which this passage appears. This is not a standalone verse that we can just pluck out of context without altering its meaning; it is embedded inside of an extended metaphor.


3. The meaning of the word that we’re translating as “head.”

Here we go. This is going to be exciting!


So let’s look first at “submit.”

The word being translated here is the Koine Greek verb υποτασσομαι (hupotassomai). This is a combination of the verb τασσο (tasso) with the prefix υπο (hupo). What we miss right away in English is that this verb was a military term for arranging soldiers in ordered formation to confront an enemy. τασσο could be translated “set,” “arrange,” “order,” or “deploy.” The grammar is important, too. The ending of the word tells us we’re in the passive/middle voice. “Deploy -yourself- under.” What we’re talking about is not an ancient Greek word for abstract obedience but a concrete metaphor of military support.

Now this is about to get more nuanced and interesting, but first, here is a quick link to the lexicons, where you’ll see the military root of τασσο (Strong’s 5021) attested; Liddell-Scott-Jones notes that the verb was principally used for appointing someone to a military or civil (by metaphorical extension) duty, and Abbott-Smith defines the verb as “primarily, in military sense, then generally, to draw up in order, arrange in place, assign, appoint, order…”

You can review the relevant excerpts from the Liddell-Scott-Jones and Abbott-Smith lexicons here:

Now, you -could- read the verb that appears in Ephesians 5:22 as “arrange yourselves in place under your husband” and you might be -technically- correct, and then you might look, as past translators have, for something like “be subject to,” in order to render the verse in better, quicker English.

But … if you do that, you lose the military context of “hupotassomai,” which is about forming up for battle and about deploying or stationing yourself to support. And you also risk losing the context this passage is embedded in and the main thrust of the argument in which this verse appears. For that reason, this translation would be a bit misleading. It would also be too glib, inviting us to read the passage lazily (especially when reading the verse by itself, without the surrounding text). We might be encouraged to read into this passage confirmation of the norms of our own culture, rather than paying close attention to the context the ancient writer is speaking to and what they may be advocating.

So, now let’s look at the context…


The phrase in which the KJV and some modern translations give “submit” for the verb “hupotassomai” is embedded within a passage that provides an extended military metaphor. It immediately follows sentences about forsaking the “bondage” of the ways in which people in their culture have lived in their past (Ephesians 5: 1-20) to live joyously instead in new ways, “singing and making melody…giving thanks for everything.” Then, following the bit about husband and wives, the passage goes on to build toward this closing argument of the letter, a few lines later: “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. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm…” etc. (Eph 6:10-13ff., NRSV).

The passage goes on from there to describe the armor of God in detail, in which each piece of armor metaphorically represents a particular skill or attribute that the early Christian must “put on.” For example, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, etc. Whether the early Christian is male, female, or child, or whether master or servant (all are addressed in the preceding lines of the text), all are invited by the author to put on the full armor of God and deploy themselves against a spiritual enemy that is imagined as “the powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This is significant. The relationships being described here (spousal and otherwise) aren’t being described in the abstract or in isolation; the passage is about how to abandon the “darkness” and “bondage” of the past and how to support each other in standing firm against the forces of evil, fully armored and fully ready. That’s why the writer is using military verbs like τάσσω (“deploy” / “arrange in formation”).

Now let’s zoom out and look at a broader context: the larger epistolary literature that the original audience of Ephesians would have been familiar with. There are other passages in the New Testament about marriage, using similar metaphors. 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, in which husbands and wives are described as radically interdependent. In 1 Corinthians 7:4, Paul argues that each spouse yields authority to the other, using a military term for delegating power (ἐξουσιάζει, “exousiazei”); he also notes that he says this “not as a command” – something we often glide past in reading it. A few lines later, in 7:12-16, Paul suggests that when married to someone who is not a believer, the spouse shouldn’t discontinue the relationship for that reason but should do all they can to support their unbelieving spouse – because God has called them to εἰρήνη (“eirene”). We translate that “peace” – but it’s really different from the Roman peace, the “pax” that we’ve inherited in phrases like “rest in peace” or “restfulness.” It comes from the verb eirō – to tie or weave together. The idea is that we are to be woven together (elsewhere, in Romans, Paul asks all people to weave themselves together in love). For more on eirene, see Strong’s #1515:

So in these passages about interdependency and support, the epistolary writers of the New Testament are addressing either the plight of Christian women with unChristian husbands and how to face the world together and speak your faith to a Greek or Roman husband who believes you’re property (this is the topic in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16) or the need for husband and wife to put on the armor of God and resist the devil (in Ephesians 5-6). Remember that at the time, these letters were being written to challenge hierarchy, not support it, and to propose a radical egalitarianism in human relationships, and that most Christians in first-century Europe were women. The teaching that we are all one body in Christ was a harder pill to swallow for men in the Roman Empire than it was for women. Their culture tells husbands to own their wives and rule them; the letter to Ephesus says instead to “love them” as they love their own selves (Ephesians 5), and the first letter of Peter says to treat wives as “fellow heirs in the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Fellow heirs! That was a radical idea, especially given inheritance laws and expectations in the Roman empire.

So husbands who become believers in that first-century world are urged to love their wives and treat them as fellow heirs. As for wives – many of whom have husbands who have not converted – they’re being encouraged to deploy themselves in support of those husbands. Unbelieving husbands are pictured as vulnerable, still in bondage to old sins and old ways of thinking, half asleep and like soldiers blundering into enemy fire. In 1 Corinthians 7:16, Paul writes, “Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband.” And he adds, “Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife” (NRSV).

The verb “save” there is σῴζω (sozo), to rescue from destruction and bring the rescued to refuge or safety; we get the Greek word for “savior” from it. See Strong’s #4982:

In the first century, there is no need for anyone to tell wives to obey their husbands; obedience is already an expectation in that culture. No, what the epistle-writers are arguing for is a radically interdependent relationship, yielding to and honoring each other. Husbands who have material power over their spouses in the Greco-Roman world are asked to love their wives (Ephesians 5), listen to them “with understanding” (1 Peter 3), and regard them as “fellow heirs.” Wives (many of whom in the early church have unconverted husbands) are encouraged to deploy themselves against “the powers of this present darkness” in support of their husbands who remain in bondage.

In review: I don’t think this passage is about “obedience.” First-century Christian women are being asked to deploy in support of their spouses because many of their spouses were not Christian, and Christian wives of non-Christian men had to figure out how to deal with that situation. 1 Corinthians 7 provides situationally specific advice about not trying to convert the spouse but instead bring love to the table. And Ephesians 5-6 emphasizes: Stand firm against the enemy. Support your spouse in the conflict. Who knows, but through your steadfast love, they might break free?


But, someone might ask, doesn’t the next phrase after “hupotasso” talk about the husband being the head of the wife?

Well, yes … and emphatically no.

The word used here in Greek is κεφαλή, “kephale.” It does mean “head.” In English, we understand that to –also– mean “authority” or “leader,” because “head” can mean both things in our language. The same is true in Latin – the word for head also means a commander. But that Latin idiom (which we inherited) doesn’t exist in ancient Greek, as far as we know.

κεφαλή in Koine Greek does have two meanings: “head” and “origin.” Origin, like the head of a spring or the head of a river. A “source.” Marg Mowczko summarizes some fairly extensive research documenting that κεφαλή did not mean “leader” or “ruler” or anything of that kind in Greek until long after these letters were written, and you can find that summary of the research here:

In the first-century letter to the Ephesians, when calling the husband “kephale,” the author may be alluding to one (or both) of the following:

1. The Hebrew lore, recorded in Genesis, that the first woman was formed from the side or rib of the first man.

2. The logistics of Greco-Roman society, by which the husband in the house is the provider and source of the house’s income and resources. The breadwinner. But the same word does not, by itself, mean “master.” That’s a different word in Greek.

So Ephesians 5:22-23 may be saying that just as Christ is the source and the provider for the church, husbands in Ephesus are the source of the provisions in the house. I don’t think either of these two statements is a new assertion; both are stated in the text like givens that the hearers or readers already understand. The writer uses these givens as points of support for the recommendations that follow: for husbands to love (not rule) their spouses; for husbands to act sacrificially on behalf of their spouses (even as Christ does for his community), and for wives to arrange themselves, like a battle-regiment, in support of their spouses.


I suggest that the thrust of these passages is not that the husband is the boss, but that the husband in a Greco-Roman world is vulnerable. And it’s not that wives are to “obey” and “be subject” to their husbands, as we have it in modern English. Rather, it’s that wives are to go out to battle for their husbands’ souls.

I mean, really think about that for a moment.

These first-century writers are using an explicitly military term to describe the actions of wives. Rather than acting as passive vessels and subjects of male rule, the ideal of the Christian wife is the woman who issues forth in spiritual battle, dressed in “the full armor of God,” an agent by which Christ might “rescue” (from the verb σῴζω) others on the battlefield.

That’s what I believe we lost in translation.

I would propose that better translations of Ephesians 5:22 than “submit” or “be subject to” might be phrases like:

“Wives, support your husbands.”
“Wives, deploy yourselves in support of your husbands.”
“Wives, arrange yourselves for battle for your husbands.”

Or, less literally:

“Wives, go to battle for your husbands.”
“Wives, defend your husbands.”

Stant Litore


P.S. For some fascinating textual evidence on the gender dynamics and the roles of women in the first 2-3 centuries of the early church, refer to God’s Self-Confident Daughters by Anne Jensen.

Or, for a shorter, less academic, and perhaps more startling introduction to the lives of women in early Christianity, this article entitled “The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers” is a good read:

P.P.S. “Submit” doesn’t mean what we think it does, either, by the way. Centuries ago, we borrowed that word from Latin. It’s “sub” (under) plus the verb “mittere” (to send forth). We get the word “mission” from the same word. It’s a Roman military word — to send someone out, to deploy them in support. “I submit” once meant “I deploy myself” or “I support,” or “I send myself in support.” We’ve seen that word evolve over the centuries to mean “obey,” but it was originally a more nuanced word than that. We still retain faint echoes of that prior meaning in specific, formal circumstances. For example, I could conclude this post by writing this sentence:

[I submit to you that the translation “Wives, arrange yourselves for battle for your husbands” may be closer to the sense of the Greek than “Wives, submit to your husbands.”]

If I were to write that sentence, I would not be offering to obey you. I would just be saying that I am sending this idea out, respectfully and earnestly, for your consideration. I am placing this idea “under” you for your review and pondering.

That’s how slippery words really are. They don’t stay put for long. And in some cases, the slippages and the differences may seem subtle at first glance, but that doesn’t mean they are merely trivial.

P.P.P.S. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. I offer it in a spirit of fascination. If there is a “message” I would like to convey, that message is twofold:

1. When diving into a sacred text – especially a very old one -take little for granted. (For the religious among us, reading humbly and assuming from the start that we and others have missed important things in the text is not a stance that questions God but a stance that can glorify God and humble man. It is a way of approaching the kingdom of heaven “like little children.” I talk more about this here: For that matter, in offering a reading of Ephesians 5:22 that is focused on what I think some have left out, I may have left things out. There may be evidence I didn’t consider. The next reading of this text may be far deeper and more useful or more beautiful or more informed than this one. Take little for granted.

2. If you are reading this particular holy text, and what you are reading sounds like it confirms the traditional customs and fears of your culture, then take a second, hard look. We have inherited a lot of very Roman ideas about the Bible thanks to many centuries of filtering it through Latin and through English translations deeply influenced by the Latin. As I wrote in an earlier post, when you translate radical or subversive texts into the language of Empire, you eventually get Imperial texts.

Take that second, hard look … because the New Testament did not originate as an Imperial text. The New Testament isn’t about celebrating the status quo or about settling on a final, comfortable interpretation. It isn’t about affirming or building up a culture. It’s about cracking culture open – every culture, from Israel to Syria to Greece to Rome to Ethiopia – and letting the healing light of God pour through. It’s about turning all expectations upside-down, whipping money-changers out of the Temple, and challenging Pharisees on traditional and literalist interpretations of sacred texts. It’s about learning to live as the hands and feet of God — hands that feed the poor, liberate captives, and touch the faces of lepers; feet that carry good news to the downtrodden and that get pierced with nails by the powerful and the comfortable and the oppressors, as His feet were. It’s about reading everything in the light of the greatest commandments (love God and love your neighbor).

Remember the Bereans of Acts 17, who “received the Word with alertness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.” Any time the Bible starts to sound really comfortable and … expected … it might be a good time to read it more uncomfortably and more awake, with “alertness of mind.” The Bible is packed with stories of God waking people up, uncomfortably, in the middle of the night, and, like a troublesome guest, rearranging all the furniture of their lives. It’s what he does.


Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure. You can order it from the author or on Amazon:

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71 thoughts on “The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” … and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women

  1. Man, every time my faith starts to gutter and die you write a post like this and something ignites again.

    1. Thank you so much for your effort at explaining this passage. I’m going to a complementarian / hierarchical church right now and the hurt has been almost unbearable. I so appreciate that there are men out there advocating for womens freedom in Christ. Thank you

      1. I enjoyed this very much, and will seek out more of your work. Always happy to meet another spiritually grounded classics nerd. I hadn’t put together the military piece and found it very helpful. I applaud your work in my own name and no one else’s, but I also have a hunch that Jesus would be, and is, very pleased. Peace, all.

    2. I greet you all in the powerful and wonderful name of Jesus Christ. I disagree with everything you said in this, not because of my own knowledge but because of God’s knowledge. Too many times people come to learn about God with their own worldly views of God and because of that they miss him. You’re too much into this world. Ask the Lord rather than assume. There’s no such thing as the early Christian. Whether you received Christ in 800 or 50,000, you’re a Christian. And Christ is not divided. The God of Jacob is the same God working in us in 2020. Having visited both hell and heaven thanks to the almighty, everyone down there knows the Bible and it’s quoted a lot. Satan knows the Bible as well how else can he build his kingdom to defeat his enemy, God our father. We go through this life with very worldly knowledge, knowledge that cannot sustain us. Earthly knowledge and we try to map that onto God in order to understand him. But God is not worldly, nothing about him is. Do not change anything in the Bible to bend towards what you want to come through or whatever makes you sleep well at night. Whether we live in the year 2000, or in the year 50,000 God is the same today and always. His word will never fail. We live in a world of conformity of ideas and rarely do we turn to God to ask him questions about our lives. If someone can make the research for us, we accept it. Rarely do we ask God because many people believe God is ancient and therefore doesn’t live in this world. He is alive and he does speak even at this hour, he asked me to write this because he was very concerned. But too many times we serve this world more than we serve God. Submission is not slavery. Because when Christ comes, we are free in him. Submission means you’re under God’s purpose and plan for your life. The husband is under God, then the wife, then the children. This flow of blessings doesn’t change whether you’re in the year 800 or the year 50,000. This whole blog is heresy and defaces the word of God by literally changing the message of God to appease to your own conclusions about living in this world. You have so much to learn about God. Whenever you’re reading the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the deep things of God. And God knows the mind of the spirit so he cannot lead you astray. The Bible is not a novel. It’s not a science experiment. It is a way of living. You cannot squeeze your opinion in it because it says what it says. I want Eve to be Sandra, or I want this to read like this. That’s a dangerous place to be. And you say this word a lot “I Think” which means you don’t know. You’re guessing. You should know for certainty. Ask for God’s counsel. This blog is a direct result of being too much into this world. People are unwilling to cut off everything to follow Christ whole heartedly. We give this world too much ourselves, and our power and our knowledge and our research and we give God a droplet. This blog is the result of that. Those that live for Christ see this blog as a heresy and blasphemy. The Bible says that if someone preaches a different gospel than the one you received, let that person be understanding God’s curse. The Bible says that those who preach will be judged more harshly! So this blog you wrote, is something Not of God and it has led many astray and for that you have a debt to pay to God. Many people use so many scholars to decipher the Bible but you cannot really get to the meat of God without Jesus Christ. Ask Jesus Christ to come and the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the deep things of God. Going so much into the world and seeking things that are earthly and expecting people that know God to accept them that’s a dangerous place. I cannot accept this blog or anything you said. If you want to serve God, you cannot serve this world also. Repent and put this blog down. The longer it stays here, the more you get attacked in the spiritual realm. Also find out what that means. I’ve seen God, Jesus and Satan. And the only thing that has saved me in the spiritual realm is the word of God. Please take this down! It’s damage to your soul and others! Be blessed!

      1. I am sorry to hear that you see this as heresy and blasphemy, Cat. And I appreciate your passion. Nonetheless, there are things that are in the text, and there are things that aren’t. And I am more interested in exploring the Word and encountering the heart of God than I am with upholding the traditions and cultural prejudices of men. Go in peace.

      2. Lord, I pray for Cat, let this person, your child, be overwhelmed by your Love.

      3. hello,
        This blog had nothing wrong with it. God is a God of Justice. I don’t know why a loving God would make one gender less than the other. This blog wasn’t sinful and leading anyone astray. If you are offended by this then just exit out. Also, hell isn’t even real so don’t talk about hell. The word of God doesn’t change, you are right but people have changed the word of God. God’s plan and intentions were also for both men and women to be equal. I will be praying that God can soften your heart to accept this message because it is very clear. bye 🙂

      4. Sorrybut I don’t buy this. The existence of a relational “hierarchy” has abundant evidence all through scripture.

        1. Husbands are not once asked to submit to their wives in scripture. It’s always the other way around.
        2. Husbands are asked to love while wives are asked to love and reverence (Eph 5).
        3. Sara “Obeyed” Abraham in. She called him “Lord.” NT wives are encouraged to follow her example in 1Peter 3.
        4. The church is always to do the will of Christ and that relationship is the analogy Paul uses for husbands and wives (Eph 5).
        5. A requirement for church leadership position is that a husband “rule” his house well (1Tim 3)

      5. Jonathan, the points you’re offering here aren’t supported by the Scripture you’re citing. Just briefly:

        1. You said, “Husbands are not once asked to submit to their wives in scripture. It’s always the other way around.” The beginning of the very sentence in the New Testament that this post is all about is: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:22, NRSV). In Greek this begins a list of people that are included in “one another,” beginning with wives and husbands. But the original “one another” includes all who reverence Christ ‘submitting’ to one another. What I am taking issue with is the fact that we translate that Greek verb as ‘submit’ or ‘be subject to,’ which I don’t find faithful to the sense of the Greek verb. It’s a very Roman interpretation. Even if you don’t ‘buy’ the issue I have with our translation, however, there is no question at all that husbands are asked to do that for their wives just as wives are asked to do it for their husbands. That is what “one another” means. Ephesians 5:21 makes it clear that regardless of our translation, the whole point of the passage is to disrupt the hierarchy that was a given in Greek-speaking first-century communities and households so that it could be replaced with Christ’s injunction to “love one another.” What you’re choosing to read as a passage about obedience was a passage written to describe a specific way all Christians, including husbands and wives, were called to love one another and give themselves for each other. The passage is intended to do away with Greco-Roman household hierarchy and replace it with that.

        2. You wrote “Husbands are asked to love while wives are asked to love and reverence (Eph 5).” It isn’t clear what verse you’re pulling that from. In Ephesians 5, husbands are asked to ‘submit’ (5:21), ‘love’ (5:25), ‘give themselves up for her’ (5:25) just as Christ gave himself up for all of us, and ‘love their wives as they do their own bodies’ (5:28). The unequivocal totality of that love is what is meant by biblical submission – or ‘hupotassomenai’ (which I read, again, not in the modern sense of obedience but as a total commitment to, defense of, and advocacy of the other). And it is offered here, of course, as an example of how to ‘submit’ to one another out of reverence for Christ’ – husbands are to do it in the same way that Christ submitted himself for the church (remember that submit, sub-mittere, a borrowing from Latin, originally meant “send onself out on a mission for” or “send oneself out to do this thing for,” which is closer to the sense of the Greek term). That is what husbands and wives, and in 5:21 all Christians, are asked to do. Husbands are to ‘submit’ and ‘give themselves for’ as totally as Christ did for the world, and wives are asked to do likewise for their husbands. That is an egalitarian idea. Nowhere in this passage are husbands told to command their wives; they and their wives both are asked to give.

        3. Peter does indeed talk more than the writer of Ephesians does about authority (Peter feels differently about authority than James, Paul, and other apostles do), but I would note that the import of Peter’s text is very different from how modern readers often take it. Unlike the writer of Ephesians, Peter isn’t questioning the hierarchies of his time as directly, but he does suggest some things that highly stratified, first-century Greek-speaking houses would be unlikely to do: practice social and economic modesty, and practice marriages where husbands “show consideration for their wives in the same way” as wives do for them, honoring them as ‘”fellow heirs (συνκληρονόμοις) of the grace of life.” That, for a first-century reader, would be the jump-out teaching in 1 Peter 3; the idea of wives following husbands’ guidance was accepted and unquestioned in the culture Peter was writing to; the reason he was writing wasn’t to reaffirm that role so much as it was to say, husbands, you need to be Christlike in a way that contradicts your cultural upbringing. You need to “reverence” your wives (1 Peter 3:7) as co-heirs in the kingdom of God – ἀπονέμοντες τιμήν (‘rendering honor’ or ‘giving reverence’). That idea that women were co-heirs was radical for that place and time. Respectfully, I would suggest that you’re reading through modern eyes and missing the point of the passage. Furthermore, again, this is a passage where men are never told to command their wives.

        4. You wrote, “The church is always to do the will of Christ and that relationship is the analogy Paul uses for husbands and wives (Eph 5).” In the passage you’re referencing, Christ is describes as one who “gave himself up for” the church (5:25), and wives and husbands are asked to do likewise “for one another” (5:21). Again, you’re reading into the passage something that isn’t there.

        5. You wrote, “A requirement for church leadership position is that a husband ‘rule’ his house well (1Tim 3).” Now you’re conflating the role of a ‘husband’ and the role of a ‘bishop,’ without any explanation why. Husbands are not bishops, though surely some bishops in the first few centuries were husbands. Some were also wives – or, at least, women. We know this from church history and from literal art depicting Roman-Empire-era bishops. So it’s curious that you assume that 1 Tim 3 only applies to male bishops. The specific injunction in Timothy 3:4 isn’t to ‘rule’ the house but to be a good model of it: the verb is προϊστάμενον, which is literally “to stand before,” to lead or direct others by example. And the next phrase clarifies that what is meant here isn’t leading one’s spouse by example but τέκνα, the children in the house, who will be listening diligently to the parent (ὑποταγῇ) and behaving with dignity (σεμνότητος). It’s a comment on parenting, not marriage – and once again, it isn’t about commanding here, either. To “stand before” is to direct others by one’s example.

      6. Sounds like you are the one following the old Greco-Roman version of slavery in marriage rather than the meaning the Lord is conveying through Peter in the Bible, not the writer of this article. The writer of the article has gone to great lengths to understand what Peter ‘meant’ in the language Peter spoke in the time period Peter spoke it. Marriage was never meant to be a ‘master-slave’ relationship. Just because a woman loves a man enough to want to marry him, doesn’t mean she needs a babysitter, to be ordered around, or to become an indentured servant. It’s humiliating to my gender that any woman ever agreed to this to begin with!

        It seems that God would prefer that marriage be a relationship of “Healthy Companionship” between a man and a woman, wherein both parties to the marriage contract protect each other.

      7. to cat—YES God is the same throughout time but people are not. cultures throughout time and place have different ways of thinking.—Paul wrote in the vernaclular of the time and place he lived in—dealing with patriarchy and slavery. notice he never spoke agaisnt slavery only that master and slave should treat each other well and as equals. He did the same with patriarchy which was the backdrop of the time and place those letters were written.

        As for evidence against patriarchy, one only has to look at what patriarchy has morphed into that christians accept—wife spanking! yes disciplining “disobedient” wives through actual spanking. Paul would never have endorsed that, yet when one entity is given authority over another, evil or twisted theologies (mens rules) arise.

        btw, i have 15 cats and one pastore hinted that i should get rid of my cats (back when i only had 2)

      8. I agree with cat… Gods word is clear and is prefectly preserved. And it’s very dangerous to say that God didn’t know what he was talking about when he had the Bible wrote. It was God ordained, inspired by God. Not the will of Man! Plus there was eye witness present when it was wrote, so man’s will (personal feelings) could not effect the purity of his holy word. Our current culture hates the true biblical meaning of marriage and what God intended it to be. So at the end of the day I’m going to believe what the Bible says. God means what he says and says what he means PERIOD.

      9. questions for cat —if the woman is under the headship and authority of her husband, what man becomes her head/authority when he dies or leaves?

        if a woman is to submit and obey her husband or other men, how far does this go? to what degree does she submit? at what point is she allowed to say no and make her own decisions? is it a sin if a woman makes a decision apart from her husband?

        p.s. I love cats. God has blessed me with many cats.

    3. A quick question: Can you provide evidence in extra-biblical material in a military context where ὑποτάσσω means ‘fight for’? It does seem that neither BDAG, nor EDNT, LSJ, Max and Mary, etc ever encountered such a meaning for the word at all.

      For example, in Josephus’s Against Apion, which is a military context, we read in 1.119: “He first built Hercules’s temple, in the month Peritus, and that of Astarte when he made his expedition against the Tityans, who would not pay him their tribute; and when he had subdued them to himself (οὓς καὶ ὑποτάξας ἑαυτῷ), he returned home.”

      Or in the Shepherd of Hermas Mandate, XII, iv, 2: “do you not understand the glory of God, how great and mighty and wonderful it is, because ‘he created the world’ for man’s sake, and subdued all his creation to man, and gave him all power, to master all things under heaven?”

      Or Josephus’s Wars of the Jews, 4.175: “Is therefore that most honorable and most natural of our passions utterly lost, I mean desire of liberty? Truly, we are in love with slavery, and in love with those that lord it over us, as if we had received that principle of subjection (τὸ ὑποτάσσεσθαι παραλαβόντες) from our ancestors!”

      Do you have such evidence, extrabiblical, where ὑποτάσσω means ‘fight for’ rather than ‘submit’ or ‘subject’?

      Thank you so much!

    4. Carmen, I totally feel you. This issue usually eats into my faith the boom, I came across this post and I feel renewed.

    5. I just found this on Google and I’m so grateful I did!!! I have been wrestling with the concept of submission after learning that assertiveness is actually the mentally healthy approach. I just couldn’t imagine God creating a system that would be so unhealthy, hurtful, and Spirit-crushing for his daughters. Your insight makes so much more sense! We were, after all, created to be helpers. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  2. Just wanted to thank you… for your scholarly mind and illuminating communication. Appreciating you, and glad to have found you via our (also brilliant) son Matt. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world! Kathy and Ric Norris

    Sent from my iPad


  3. That’s helpful, thanks.

  4. […] Daughers: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women 4 Facts that Show that “Head” Does Not Mean “Leader” in 1 Cor […]

  5. I have been passionately studying the role we play as husbands and found your article inspiring.

    My passion has lead me to publish a book called “What she really wants” How to love a woman like a Man… Based on Eph 5:25.

    Keep writing… The church needs your insight.

  6. I came accross this looking up the greek word sozo. I am a bible follower to the strictest sense. I actually am passionate about educating ministers and teachers from interrupting the bible in a erroneous and damaging way.
    The “sheeps” very souls are at risk and because of this some have fallen away. There are Christians out there who can’t tell you what they are saved from.
    I will be ordering your book.
    I hope (desperately) that it is as good as this brief article.
    My gut yearns for a true interpertation of Gods’ words.
    Glad to know there is someone out there who is passionately motivated by correctly interpreting scripture to expose, change and repair any damage by misinterpretation of scripture.

  7. […] The Misleading Translation of “Wives Submit” …And a Tale of Battle-Ready Women: […]

  8. “Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὑποτάσσεσθε ὡς τῷ Κυρίῳ,”
    Is the original Greek verse. Your statement, “The word being translated here is the Koine Greek verb υποτασσομαι (hupotassomai).” I simply cannot verify through any study tool. It is not the word used in Strong’s, Lexicons or any Greek translation found on the tool that you utilized, Biblehub.
    Since your entire thought is predicated on the use of this verb, please explain where you found this in the original Greek.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, I was able to find it.

      1. Oh good! I’m glad. Thanks for the kind inquiry. You probably found this out already, but ὑποτάσσεσθε and ὑποτασσομαι are the same word – just with different verb endings. The verb is τάσσω (so you could find it in Strong’s #5021. ὑπο is the prefix. Thanks for reading my post and for looking into it.

  9. Fascinating article! I studied Systematic Theology in College and I’m still such a novice! Thank you! What other sources do you recommend?

  10. Authority. Does God look at using authorities in any Christian’s life? Did God through Paul admonish Christian slaves to obey their masters as unto the Lord? Did Jesus (God in flesh) say to God the Father not my will but yours be done. Did Lucifer start it all by saying that he will be as high in authority as God? Maybe we all come to submit to some authority so we can commit to the calling of humility so God can work His grace through us.

    1. Christ is the only spiritual authority in any one christian’s life—

      yes men and woman are under other authorities such as govt or bosses at work but only within those realms of following laws of the land or doing a job.

      but for a fallible man to be over a fallible woman in the place of christ? is that fair to either one for a man to take the place of Christ?

      both patriarchy and slavery existed in roman society when Paul wrote those verses about slaves. Yet today we abhor slavery. but wink at patriachy? you can see the results of patriarchy in Shiny Happy People, an expose about Bill Gothard legalism.

  11. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS. I am a single man who would definitely like to be married at some point… and I have always been trying to work around this passage in conversations with others… because it made no sense. Right before these verses, Paul is talking about everyone submitting to everyone. And in this passage itself, Paul is talking about men acting with Christ-like love… which means washing feet, giving oneself up for another, service, submission, etc. How on earth could anyone read that and come away thinking that women have to bow down to their husbands? THAT’S CRAZY. And yet, I’m just not liberal enough to be willing to toss out Scripture, even though I attend a slightly more liberal church. So, I just was saying to myself that the passage was cultural (like women wearing hats in Corinthians), and that if a man does what he’s supposed to, he won’t ever be flexing any hypothetical authority over his wife. He’ll just be serving her and uplifting her. But I skipped to the part of your post about the head… and WOW. There it is. You have now saved me tons of confusion. I will be reading the rest of this post later.

    A question: I am a non-pastor, but issues like this make me REALLY want to know Greek. And know it well. Do I have to go to school for this? What’s the best way to learn it when I have a life?

    There’s just too many problems with our translations and our cultural interpretations of them. I need help. Thank you!

    1. Hi Dan, thank you for the kind comment, and I am really glad the post was useful! There’s no substitute for classes in Greek, but, here are some suggestions, because I completely hear you about the busy-ness of life!

      1. You might check if churches locally are offering small group classes in biblical Greek. These may be more relaxed/less intensive and a lesser time commitment than a college course and could get you started. Check with Lutheran churches, particularly, and perhaps United Methodist.

      The best texts if you would like to explore a little, in or out of a course, are:

      Mounce’s “Basics of Biblical Greek”
      Balme’s “Athenaze” (2 volumes)

      Athenaze is a textbook on classical Greek and the only one of its kind I know of: a class in ancient Greek designed the same way modern classes in Spanish, French, or German are designed: where you follow a story and characters as you learn the language. I’m really fond of it. The focus is classical Greek, but it is not a hard hop from there to koine. (Koine Greek is much simpler in structure.)

      2. The best thing to do if you don’t have time for a course is to read as much as you can on the topic; there are a lot of published texts about what gets lost in translation. The book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randolph and O’Brien is excellent for the kind of exploration and clarification you are interested in. For issues touching on gender and the Bible, a fantastic resource (that’s free) is Marg Mowckzo’s blog, packed with both essays on biblical translation and reviews of books on the subject ( I think you would find so much delight and learning on her blog – and in bite-sized pieces. Of course there’s my own humble addition, the book Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, linked in this blog post. If you would like a line-by-line reference on the Old Testament, I highly recommend Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew Bible, which includes extensive notes on the translation. The full Hebrew Bible by Alter is expensive, but you can also find sections of it published in individual volumes (for example, you can get a volume that’s 1 and 2 Samuel with his notes, and so on). Alter’s notes will give you a window into the biblical scholarship on the Old Testament. For a deep look at the Hebrew Bible through Jewish perspectives, I recommend Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. It’s a side-by-side Hebrew-and-English of the first five books plus many excerpts from other books in the Hebrew Bible; the notes on the bottom half of each page offer summary glimpses of centuries of rabbinical scholarship and debate, which is a rich tradition of interpretation and translation that Christian readers often don’t seek access to. It will provoke a lot of thought, sometimes adding clarity and sometimes prompting conversation. You might also enjoy books like Matthew Richard Schlimm’s “70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.”

      Also, come to think of it, if there’s a particular concept you would like to explore, I wouldn’t underestimate the usefulness of some freely available public tools:

      – Strong’s concordance – available online at Often, you can get some very quick etymological notes as well as excerpts from relevant commentaries. A good starting place.

      – Wikipedia – because an entry on a Greek concept (like “metanoia”) … Sometimes the entries are a mess (and at times hotly contested), but a Wikipedia page can give you a quick bird’s eye view of some of the discussions about how a word can be translated and, importantly, links to further reading. It can be a useful starting point.

      Good luck in your exploration! If you can, I’d recommend auditing a night class in biblical Greek. But I hope the resources above are useful, if life prevents that.

      Stant Litore

      1. Jesus Vision 2020!

    2. Being a mutual believer has nothing to do with being liberal. Please be willing to toss out how men have mistranslated scripture.

      God made men and women to be equal. To find out more about the man/woman relationship, how God used women in the Bible and how he uses women today i suggest you keep researching about those tradtional “biblical” roles.

      There are several sites by those who know bible languages/culture/history and they can shed so much light on what the bible truly says about the man/wife relationship. It is not what we have been told (woman silent/submit) and so much more. This site is a good place to start as is Marg Mowzcko’s site. There are many others who delve deep into true christian roles in marriage and life .

      Do you want a wife that is basically in the “child” mode of submit/obey or do you want a woman with an intelligence, personality and verve equal to yours. One that can think for herself and make her own decisions about matters in life or do you want one to come running to you for every little thing and asking you to make decisions 25-7. –And before you get married, think on this….THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A DISOBEDIENT WIFE !!!

      My husband recently passed. We were married 46 years. he told me when we got married that God, not him, was my LORD. . That he respected my personal relationship with God and that it was my responsibility to seek God’s wiill for my life on my own. He was not my boss nor did he want to take on the role reserved for Christ/Holy spirit.

      Also read the stories of women abused by “scriptural” patriarchy of men over women. You will see a whole different side of how “patriarchy” and how women have suffered greatly because it is “scriptural” to be submissive to men.

      I pray God brings you that perfect woman————–. Then that He brings you the wife HE WANTS YOU to have, the one that will complete you and you her, that will put up with all your faults and you appreciate her strengths and imperfections. God will give you an equal partner who will fight for and with you. That is what Eve’s name, Ezer Kengdo means———-.God bless.

  12. Thank you for the article.
    I understand the concerns around submission for women and how the translation might be misinterpreted in one way or another. My opinion is that the Husband is and has always been meant to be the Head of the Wife. In God’s perfect arrangement, He always established leadership. If you follow the stories, right from Abram, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Saul, DAVID etc. Jesus Himself said “a sheep without a shepherd is already dead”. All through the Bible, why does God seek to establish leadership in everything, because without leadership, people go astray. The Husband has always been created to lead and guide the wife. The wife and Children are under the authority of the Husband. The Bible also commands the Husband to Love his Wife and relates this to how Christ loves the Church. Submission to Husbands is not only in Ephesians, it’s in Titus as well and is inferred in other scriptures. The world as is today has the concept of womens rights and is trying to put women on equal footing with men yet this is never what God intended for the family. God established His vision for the family and it is as explained in the book of Ephesians. God also created all of us as equals and in his own image so women and men are the same according to God. But, crucially, they do not play the same roles, and that is exactly why God directed that leadership in a family comes from the Husband. The wife is to submit and support her husband in everything. That is the concepts and plan that God established for the family. And when it is done as God intended, then it will always be beautiful.

    1. A wife does not need her husband to lead or guide her; she has Christ for that. A wife needs a husband to ‘partner’ with her in ‘healthy companionship,” protecting, loving and keeping each other warm in hard times. She doesn’t need somebody to boss her around. Women were considered ‘livestock’ up until Christ came, and even Christian men have trouble giving up their ‘unpaid domestic laborer” and so they have held tight to keep women ‘under men’s authority’ every which way they can get away with it. Slavery, in ALL it’s forms needs to end now!

    2. the sheep without the shepherd was referencing Christ as the shepherd, not a fallible man.

      Eve was created co-equal with Adam, from his side, not his head or feet. Her name Ezer Kenegdo means equal partner or something similar with the connotations of a warrior. God gave them the same command or job—tend the garden– with no other rules as to one head or in charge over the other…..that came after the fall as part of the curse which jesus redeemed us from that by what He did on the cross

      Patriarchy came in with the fall. Jesus fixed it.

  13. Then how do you explain 1 Peter 3:6 when wives are instructed to behave like Sarah obeyed Abraham even as she called him LORD? You can not deny “ Lord” is pretty much stating you are the boss of me. Let’s face it we all obey our bosses. Unless of course we are rebellious. And quite frankly I’m not sure what’s wrong with obeying our husbands…I mean it seems people go to great lengths to not have to. I mean finding a loophole in the word. Lol Anyway…yeah…that’s my question.

    1. Hi Lisa, thank you for your inquiry. The observation you are making only works if you take it out of context and ignore the rest of the passage, which is about dwelling together as co-heirs of the gift of life, in which spouses have mutual responsibilities to hear and heed each other “in the same way” (1 Peter 3:7) in a radical interdependency. You might find Marg Mowczko’s article on 1 Peter 3:7-8 of great interest.

      Also, strictly speaking, hupakoe doesn’t mean obey (though that is how we often translate in English), but “hear” or “heed.”



    2. does your husband obey your wishes, needs, etc? There is no such thing as a disobedient wife only disobedient spouses.

      it is about mutual respect and submission.

      Remember-Eve was taken from Adam’s side not his head nor feet.

    3. “Lord” was used in those days like we use “sir” it is a sign of respect. –but not to elevate a man into a position of lordship over a wife, something he will certaonly fail at. not fair to him or the wife.

  14. Hi, I’ve quite literally “been woken up in the middle of the night “ here in the UK at 3.20am!

    Thank you for this post, I’ve been asked to lead home group on this passage in a couple of weeks and I’ve never really understood it (I heard it misquoted a lot growing up!) this gives great insight and fresh meaning, which I can see fit in with Jesus’ teachings.

    Thank you

  15. Thank you!! N

  16. The author really goes to great lengths to say what the scriptures do not say. Be sure: God is not pleased. This is why we end up with women pastors exercising authority over men. It’s shameful to twist scripture and even worse to teach others error.

    1. Amukena Ngonda, according to my teacher Jesus Christ, it is shameful to teach our cultural prejudices or our cultural tradition (paradosis) in place of God’s desired outcome (entole) of radical love and interdependency (Matthew 15:1-9).

      That is precisely what I would be doing if I were to parrot my received tradition about the “subservience” of women rather than look to the radical teachings of the New Testament. If some of those who have preceded us have taught us error, it is not our calling to maintain their tradition, but to seek the fulfilment of the word of God, love as he did, and delight his heart.

      1. On the contrary, the bible is clear on the matter. The modern culture is the one that has been thrust to bear on and overshadow the scriptures. It is no longer palatable for people to accept that God has put order in families and in the church. The same way the church submits to or obeys Christ is the same way the wife is to submit to or obey the husband. I do not think I would like to associate myself with a church that ‘supports’ Christ instead of submitting to him as you teach. Those that ignore scripture do so at their our own detriment. Christ does not oppress the church that obeys him and neither should the husband oppress the wife that obeys him

  17. Thank you!
    Lately wives obeying their husbands has been weighing on me. God gave me a mind to think, evaluate, etc. And why would He do that if I’m to 1 day marry and then simply obey…and that is like a dog. Come, sit, stay. That is not the loving God I know. It didn’t seem right. Jesus didn’t seem to view women as less than, and the idea of wives obeying heavily implies inferiority. Could this be right? What does Jesus say? Is it translation?
    I am so relieved after reading your thoroughly researched post. Thank you for taking a closer look at the original words and their translation.

  18. Hi. This is more testimony than teaching. And a bit disjointed. So much to say. I am one who has a husband and church that is very definite on male headship. It is also interesting to note that in America apparently a large percentage of domestic violence cases are perpetrated by men who know this headship doctrine but don’t really know Christ. So perhaps the fruit of the doctrine exposes what nature its root is. I myself, due to background and upbringing and thus a reserved nature, have struggled greatly with a husband who felt that whatever he decides in fellowship with the men of the church, is what was best for him and I, and doesn’t even need to discuss it with me much, if at all! Knowing about the ezer kenegdo was a mind-blowing revelation to me. if we want to know what an ezer is, look at God, who is Israel’s ezer! Also the verses about sanctifying and cleansing and presenting blameless are freeing. Simply put, the epiphany for me was to realise that as a wife, I NEVER have to submit to ungodliness. And once I got that clear, and put my feet on the rock of my own accountability before God (on judgement day I can’t say, I get off the hook because my husband made me do it!), things got a lot simpler – not necessarily easier, but simpler. Because the quiet wife who could be somewhat bullied into submitting to something she had no peace from God about, suddenly goes to battle against lies wielding a sword of respectfully saying “this is what the scriptures say. How does what you are saying fit with that?” Love the thought all this is about spiritual warfare, just like rest of Ephesians. God gave me two gifts, a mind and a mouth. I am meant to use both. It is also sooo good to know there are brothers out there who are unafraid to lift up their sisters. To set our hearts and minds free, even if our husbands never see the light. Thankyou. I weep and I rejoice to read those who research such things and make them simple for us who can’t do the same due to life circumstances. Thankyou. Thankyou. Praise God.

  19. This was so beautiful. I have long felt God telling me this again and again. My husband and I stand in battle together. We support each and defend each other. He expects me to lead where I am skilled at and I expect him to lead where he is skilled at. And we don’t lead according to societies idea of what’s right (women cook inside and men cook on the grill- show me where there were grills in the Bible) We each lead according to the gifts God has placed in our hearts. As a result I have become more fully the person God created me to be. Genesis confirms what you say. The consequences of sin were that women would “contend” with more pain in child birth, our desires being opposite our husbands and our husbands ruling over us. These were not Gods desire or commands but things that we would have to contend with. A true Godly marriage has none of those things.

  20. Thank you so much, you have no idea how this has helped me. May God help you reveal more to help his people.

  21. […] You can find a related post here: The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” … and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women […]

  22. Thank you for this amazing piece of research. I am one of those ‘more mature’ christian women who was threatened and verbally beaten with the words you will submit, because it is God’s will for you. Older and wiser now, I have studied for years this subject and this is the first time it is CLEAR. I am proud to stand by a husband as his confident ensign, when battles rage. While I appreciate those who still advocate the term ‘submit’ in the submissive and subservient role our culture has assigned to women, (barefoot baby on hip, making food) they need to walk in the shoes of women, who have been, physically, mentally, abused, all in the name of submission. We are not less, we are called to the role Christ died to give, free to be our husbands greatest, truest and trusted comrade in arms. Thank you.

  23. As I had pondered this issue, Our Father popped the the word “support” in my head yesterday. Thank you for the confirmation.

    People, He is still revealing things in His Scriptures, and there will never be a perfect rendering of His Bible in English (or any language). He did this on purpose so we would seeking Him and His interpretation directly from Him. If you seek after Him and His truth–no matter how much it can hurt you–and give Him praise daily, He will define the Scriptures for you. We serve a supernatural Elohim; expect the supernatural everyday. Amen.

  24. I just got this article forwarded to me, now in July, 2021. Your initial approach has been analytical to the Greek text. I am curious about a vital aspect of what you wrote.

    Ephesians 5:19 has the only main verb stated: “fill yourselves full of the Holy Spirit.” It is a present tense middle or passive voice form.of “to fill full,” so it is something done to you or that you do to yourself. This is the main action.

    Then, three attendant actions are listed in 5:19, 20, and 21: “speaking,” and “giving thanks,” and “submitting yourselves.” These actions are all universal, for all Christians in all ages and circumstances. The action of “submitting yourselves” is a present middle or passive form of an active verb, hupotasso, but in an attendant form – do this continuously while doing the main action.

    Then, quite interestingly, Paul switches to human interactions. No word exists in Greek for “wives” or “husbands.” The modern marriage concept is imposed upon 1st century instructions.

    Most importantly, Paul does not include ANY verb form at all in verse 22. It must be assumed from the previous context. Literally translating what words are there, Paul wrote”

    “The women to the of-your-own men, as to the Lord,” with no stayed verb form at all.

    Key in this discussion is, why did Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, leave to assumption or transfer an attendant action from the precious verse, or even the main verb from 3 verses back? It immensely reduces the force of the verb, certainly not a command, a requirement, or a central idea. Even in verse 24, when a corollary is stated, the verb form as applied to women and their men is unstated, left to a transfer from the precious phrase “but, as the church submits itself to Christ, thus also the women to the men in everything.”


    1. Thanks for taking a moment to respond (especially to such an old post)!

      Your observations above are correct.

      The “why” question isn’t answerable because it requires inferences about intent. But for the purpose of discussion, I would be inclined to attribute the weak force of that transfer to the author of Ephesians writing descriptively rather than prescriptively – meaning, here is how a Spirit-filled community lives, acts, and persists together. Where modern readers tend to look for an imperative, the author was sharing a vision of what people could be in Christ. But it’s not a vision that comes about by command. It’s not a product of empire, nor is it maintained by prescribed or enforced hierarchy. (Hence the use of the middle voice.)

      1. Stan, I respect you and I respect your knowledge. But my spirit says we need to be careful how we allow our human knowledge acquired by what we read or experienced shape us….

        Questions I always ask myself….
        1) Do I ever believe the bible is spiritual?
        2) is it the word of God and inspired by the spirit of God?
        3) if I accept one verse and reject or question another verse, am I not watering down or at best chosing the verse that suits me while trying to deny the one that doesn’t?

        The bible warns that Christians should not be deceived. And that we should test all spirits.

        All of us should remember that the devil comes to pervert the true word of God.

        The end is near friends.
        Jesus is Lord and He is coming back soon.

  25. I would really love it if someone would look at the other instances of Hupotasso and explain how a definition of support or append or attach to (as it is most often used in postal documents in the papyri) would make sense. I can see it in some, but it is hard to look at it without the meaning of submit that has been there for so long! Verses like Hebrews 2:8 that quote Psalms 8:4-6…… It would be cool to do a full listing of all verses that use this verb and explain it.

    1. Hi Beth,
      Great question. “Hupotasso” is the active form of a combined word: “hupo” meaning beneath or below or under, and “tasso” meaning to control or to grip or to throw. “Subject” (with the emphasis on the second syllable as a verb, sub-JECT) has the same meaning. -ject like eject, project, reject, or inject.

      But in Ephesisan 5:21, the verb form is hupotassomenoi, a nominative plural present tense, middle voice, participle – not a main verb but an ongoing attendant action to the main verb way back in verse 18 “be filled with the Spirit.” That action gas several attendant actions: speaking, singing, giving thanks always, and upotassomenoi… a reflexive! “Subjecting yourselves to one another” or “Getting a grip on yourselves…” Why? Out of reverence (or respect or fear) of Christ.

      Then, verse 22 HAS NO VERB AT ALL! It is assumed from the previous verse, an attendant action directed toward everyone… but it’s actually all inclusive of verses 18-21: “Women (there is no special word in Greek for “wife”) to your own men…” What? What to your own men? The whole package: be filled with the Spirit, speaking, singing, giving thanks, getting a grip on yourselves out of reverence to Christ.

      It does not mean be subjugated or reduced down, or submissive in a passive, dominated sense. It is middle voice – you do this to yourself.

      In English it seems fractured. In Greek, to the first readers of Ephesians, it would be easily understood.

  26. You might suggest “support,” but no serious biblical scholar (including myself) would. This is eisogesis of the worst kind.

    1. if you notice, the author does not block comments that do not agree with the article. that should tell you something especially in the light that articles written from the tradtional biblical view that support patriarchal hierarchy and women should submit, obey, be silent, etc often and almost always delete comments and block the writer from future commenting if those comments disagree or tell the other side or have differing opinions. you only find comments that agree whole heartedly with patriarchy.

  27. Hi, thanks for taking time to research and write this piece.
    I am not going to judge the correctness or incorrectness of this blog. Only that may God’s perfect and absolute will be done in our homes. This issue of submission and equality as been a great source of strife in many homes in our modern world of today. Its important to note statistically that divorce and remarriage are more rampant, infact, means nothing in this age and time than it was years ago.
    That said, I wish to categorically state that even in a military sense or battle field sense that was portrayed in this blog, there has to be a commander, a superior officer giving the instruction and the associates carrying out the instruction, obeying before complaining. The commander takes full responsibility for the outcomes in the regiment. He has information the associates don’t have. But he cares so deeply for them not to put them in harms way, he seeks their protection knowing that if they succeed, he also succeeds..think of submitting to husband in that way and husband loving wives that way. You will realize that you will arrive at the same literal meaning as simply as it is written in Eph 5… two cent….

    Every Christian should read their Bible prayerfully, asking God to reveal Himself in His words.

    1. That’s the thing, though. For a first century house church, the only master is Christ. And you’ll note that the extended military metaphor in Ephesians 5-6 pointedly leaves out any mention of centurions (commanding officers) and explicitly describes the Christian who wears the full armor of God as a regular infantry soldier in the unit. In the metaphor, the commanding officer is God, not your fellow soldier.

  28. Thank you for this scholarly work. I got into trouble when I pointed out that each time I read the word “ submit “ I render it as “ consent”. The man asks for the woman’s consent in marriage.and this continues throughout the marriage till the end. It is this spirit that leads the wife to oblige and support and align herself to assist the husband play the leadership role in the family. You don’t ask her consent to be married only to lord it over her. She is given as help mate. And the husband is to ask and she obliges.

  29. Dear Stan this Article has been very helpful so far. I have two questions
    1. Do u believe that he’ll is real.
    2. Are u saying there’s no ranking or leadership in the home.

  30. persons were warned of the Transliterations and how man would change the appointed times, calendar, weekly dates.etc….. by HIS PROPHETS SENT.
    we have been mislead by our own belief systems
    His own will hear.
    Unclean: do we realize what this is?
    We were made in “His image Male/Female”;
    one can not be over the other, if this was so God would be narcissistic…he can’be over ruled by self for HE IS ONE.
    In Marriage the statement always goes back to “they BECOME ONE”.
    You would contradict the Right Ruling to state wife humble yourself or submit to your husba
    New Testament only came into effect after the Catholic Church deemed it.
    Almighty stated directly to us do NOT trust man
    “Do not add to MY word or Take from it.” this is repeated more then three times meaning IT IS SOLID.
    The accounts of the Messiyah ARE a fulfillment of the TORWAH not a NEW matter it IS to VARIFY TRUTH of what already was SPOKEN BY THE MOUTH OF GOD. You shall know ” I sent him if what is spoke comes to light!”
    WOE to the shepherds that teach differently.!
    I AM, HIMSELF stated we do not have UNDERSTANDING. WE LACK wisdom, knowledge, understanding; we are easily deceived by the “bible ” which means confusion! Our shepherds are not SENT from GOD they are taught by MAN. …the words of man are what goats eat see revelations which means scattering in Hebrew.

    I dont feel sorry for people lacking for you get what YOU put into it. If you expect the truth then YOU search IT OUT. It is stated no man should teach you for I have sent MY teacher to you.

  31. Hi! I am in Bible school writing about this passage and your post really interested me- none of my sources have talked about submission in a military context, but I think it’s a fascinating concept. Could you point me to any academic sources that support this idea that would be acceptable as a source for master’s level writing?

    1. Hi Tiffany, I’m not aware of whether anyone else has written on ‘hupotasso” in a military context, but “tasso” (the root verb) has been written on in the major Greek lexicons, and you can cite those. Liddell-Scott-Jones, for example, notes that “tasso” is to “appoint to any service, military or civil, the latter being metaph. from the former”; Abbott-Smith says that in the LXX “tasso” is “primarily, in military sense, then generally, to draw up in order, arrange in place, assign, appoint, order…” So the military origins and usage of “tasso” are attested in LSJ and AS.

      Typically, you can typically quickly check the full text of the lexicons via the Studylight site by knowing the Strong’s concordance number (5021 in this case):

      So, if I were in a seminar writing on this, I would reference the lexicons. You could also easily write that “In Lives of Unforgetting; What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, Litore speculates that…” (That’s a reference to my book, if you have it); but you would want to refer to me as speculating. Your actual sources are of course the lexicons. You can also hunt in your database for scholarly articles on “-tasso.”

      The other pertinent thing is that the passage on “hupotasso” in Ephesians immediately precedes an extended military metaphor (“the full armor of God”).

      Other commentators besides myself have written on the military dimensions of “tasso” (for example, Ritenbaugh in Forerunner Commentary, here: but these frequently speak of modern Western militaries and tend toward using the military origin of the word to emphasize hierarchy. As I note in my post, you can do that – you can read it as hierarchical – but only if you ignore the context in which the verse appears, which is a passage about breaking down hierarchy in a radical interdependency, and which precedes a passage in which the Christian is urged to put on the full armor of God.

      The mistake we make in the West is to think of the “warfaring Christian” as this solitary, armored warrior in that passage. Of course, the passage is addressing a community, not an individual, and the reference for the metaphor is the Roman military, in which soldiers battle not as individual units but as interdependent units within an interlocking square. “-Tasso” needs to be understood in that context, in cases where the writer is building toward an extended military metaphor (as in the case of the letter to the Ephesians, on the full armor of God).

      The verb is “hupotassomai” – place yourself under, or place yourself in support of. The writer is urging members of the Christian community (including both wives and husbands) to support themselves in this way and to voluntarily arrange themselves with the kind of interdependency and mutual support seen in the military square. And to go in armored and prepared, a community living in support and mutual submission (if we didn’t mangle that word so much in English).

      For additional fun research, you could also look at the origins of our own English word ‘submission,’ which is also, several steps removed, a military borrowing. “sub + mittere” in Latin…

      But for “-tasso,” your immediate sources are going to be the LSJ and AS Greek lexicons. Thayer will be less directly useful (as I don’t think Thayer references the original military context of the word), but you should absolutely look up the word in Thayer would be the other lexicon you’d want to look in.


      1. It strikes me that your interpretation fits much better with the original creation of woman as an “ezer” or powerful helper to Adam.

  32. First, the Bible is the Word of God and it never changes nor is it ever out of date. It applies today as it did then. That’s the problem with a lot of people today is that they either want to dismiss the Bible as ancient literature that does not apply today, claim the stories are folklore, claim they couldn’t be true because it was written by man and passed down so many times or they want to bend the translation of the Bible to fit their needs and behavior. I can appreciate you did so much research, but I don’t think you arrived at the right conclusions. When God told Eve her desire will be for her husband, but he would rule over her, remember this was part of a punishment God gave her. So, this goes on until today that wives will try to rule over the husband or negate him, but God’s design from the beginning was the man, who He created first, then the woman, created second. I don’t have enough space to go any further into that part, but you can reply if you want to know more. Ephesians is just more confirmation of this relationship in that it shows the hierarchy of the relationship. Husband submits to God, wife submits to husband. Paul is just encouraging them to love one another. Paul’s words about staying with a non-believer is an exception to the rule and not the norm and in no way negates the hierarchy. He’s only saying this to discourage divorce and to encourage the believing spouse to act in a manner that may lead their non-believing spouse to salvation. It is in no way giving the wife top authority. I cannot believe that you said husbands are vulnerable. Our society and media have dumbed down husbands and that is really a problem.

    1. if the bible never changes or goes out of date why are there so many different versions or translations, KJ, NAS, etc etc. ?

      If the husband is head over wife, what man becomes her head if he dies or leaves?

      If a woman is supposed to submit, then to what degree? when can she say no?

      when does christ get to be the one and only authority over the woman?

  33. […] that time. You can read some in-depth articles about the etymology of Paul’s use of “submit” here and here. For now, I’ll just give you the SparkNotes […]

  34. I did not see what date this post was written. I just know that academic arguments have done little for me in the study of Paul’s epistles. Your words have truly helped me understand this in such clear language. I just read some academic articles and felt strangely more confused then when I came to them. I certainly now understand this verse better. I just strongly wish that there was such movement in the Christian world to fix our bibles. It is one thing saying this is probably the meaning, it is another thing entirely as a church to say “this is the meaning and our bibles should reflect this.”

    1. It is something I wonder about, too.

      We still continue (in Christian Bibles; translations of the Jewish Tanakh don’t usually run into the same trouble to the same degree) to translate Proverbs 31 as extolling the “virtuous wife” or “a wife of good character.” The Hebrew is “woman of valor” — the daring woman, the brave and battle-ready woman.

      The King James Version actually did this (in quite a few cases) better, but English has shifted so much in the past four hundred years. “Virtuous” four hundred years ago literally meant “of manly fortitude and character” (from the Italian virtu) which was at least closer to the martial metaphor in the original text (which has the valorous woman embarking from her household like an armed ship and bringing back “loot” to her family), but the original term isn’t as suggestive of masculinity as virtu.

      The recent NET Full Notes Edition of the Bible opts to use “wife of noble character,” which at least, connotes something different to modern readers than “virtuous.” But you can look down the page and see the footnote acknowledge and clarify: “In Hebrew, ‘woman of valor.'”

      So, why not translate it “woman of valor” or “valorous woman,” in the first place? Why not just let the chapter be about the worthiness of “a valorous woman”? Why reduce the phrase to variations on “wife of good character”? It’s an example of how much our culture drives our translation choices and colors even what we think we have just read. Why are we always trying to put fig leaves on the Sistine Chapel, annotate Gilgamesh and Enkidu as “very good friends,” and tame the daring woman of Proverbs into “the virtuous wife”?

      So I think about this too.

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