Word Study #136 — Submit, Subject

Like a great many of the words for which folks have requested a study, this one probably will not make any of the opposing “camps” (either the “keep women DOWN” or the “do your own thing” folks) very happy. But by now, you should know that this blog does not exist to provide you with weapons with which to clobber each other!

Please bear in mind ( and read the introduction to the King James Version if you don’t believe it), that the beloved “traditional version” was prepared at the behest of, and to reinforce the authority of, an absolute monarch, who was emphatically declaring his supremacy over the English church, and its departure from the domination of Rome! This just might have had some bearing upon the choices of “subject” and “submit” to translate hupotasso, although they are not at all the only – or even the primary – meanings of the word.

The classical uses of hupotasso are quite varied, including (L/S) “to place or arrange, to post in the shelter of (for protection), to draw up behind (as military reinforcement), to subdue or make subject, to be obedient or timid, to underlie or imply, to be associated with, to follow an idea, a person, or a series of numbers, and to be a minor premise in an argument”!
Take your pick! You can make a case for any of these.
Bauer adds, “to be attached or appended to a literary document”, and notes that any of these may be voluntary or involuntary when applied to people.
Thayer adds “to yield to admonition or advice.”

Before examining the varied occurrences of hupotasso, we will do well to consider the other words which were also translated “subject, subdue, submit”, and whose definitions are sufficiently specific, that we may safely assume that one of them would have been chosen, had that been the intention.

Doulagogeo, L/S “to enslave, (passive, to be enslaved), or to treat as a slave”, is used only once in the New Testament, in I Cor.9:27, where Paul speaks of forcibly subjecting his physical nature to his own will.

Enochos, L/S “legally liable, culpable, or held in bondage”, is treated in #128, since one of its more common translations is “guilty”. It is only once rendered “subject to bondage”, in Heb.2:15 – the result of the fear of death, on the part of those who have not yet realized that Jesus has eviscerated that threat.

Katagonizomai, L/S “to prevail against, to conquer, to contend against, to win by struggle” (and of course a passive form would convey being the victim of such struggle), also appears only once, in Heb.11:33, where some of the historical heroes of faithfulness are described as having “subdued kingdoms”.

Hupeiko, L/S “to withdraw, to depart, to retire from office in favor of another, to yield, give way, or concede”, likewise makes only a single appearance, in Heb.13:17, where the readers are admonished to “submit” to their civil rulers. Commentators have interpreted hegoumenois as if it referenced “church officials” (of which there were none at that time – but many at the time of translation!), but the word is universally used of governmental authorities. The error is probably attributable to a common misunderstanding of psuchon in the next phrase as “souls” instead of the more accurate “lives” (see W.S.#28).
All of these meanings may be ruled out for the uses of hupotasso, because those words were equally available to the writers, if that had been their intent.
Likewise, “obey/obedience” is better used for hupakouo or peitho (see #27, 39, 55, and 88) than for hupotasso.

The primary words suggested by L/S above, such ideas as orderly arrangement, protection, reinforcements, and association, are probably also primary among New Testament references concerning relationships among people. This is especially the case in the much (mis-)quoted passage in Eph.5, which begins with v.21, not 22. “Be subject [submissive, subjected] to each other, in the respect that has its source in Christ.” (The verb does not even occur in v.22.) Paul then proceeds to use the care and protection offered by the Lord to his church as the example for family relationships. That certainly does not suggest a demeaning role for anybody!

Such an overt, detailed context is not repeated in the other, similar passages, (Col.3:18, I Pet.3:1,5), although both are mitigated with instructions (in Col.) for loving care, or reasoning (in Pet.) advocating a contribution to the conversion of husbands!, that communicate anything but abject servitude!

Considerably more attention is devoted to the “subjection” of all creation, whether to futility (Rom.8:20) or to the Lord Jesus (I Cor.15:27-28, Eph.1:22, Heb.2:5,8; I Pet.3:22).
Admonitions to “submit” to civil authorities (Rom.13:1-5, Tit.3:1, I Pet.2:13) are of course themselves “subject” to the example of the apostles, and indeed of Jesus himself, who drew a firm line where official “submission”conflicted with their prior submission to God.
Submission to God is also advocated, in Heb.12:9, I Cor.15:28, Jas.4:7, Rom.10:3.

Although readers are urged to pay attention (and deference) to their elders, both in the church (I Cor.16:16, II Cor.9:13, I Pet.5:5) – notice, please, that Peter repeats Paul’s Eph.5 instructions that “All of you, be subject to one another” – and in the family (I Tim.3:4, Tit.2:5-9), as well as the Eph. and Col. passages already referenced, this is not absolute, as illustrated in the encounter between Paul and Peter reported in Gal.2:5.

Simple respect and responsibility are also included, as in the instructions for orderly participation in meetings of the brotherhood (I Cor.14:32, 34), and in Jesus’ childhood “submission” to his parents (Lk.2:54).

Even when the Lord gave his disciples unusual powers for a particular assignment, he warned (Lk.10:17,20) that this not be a cause for boasting or celebration, but reminded them instead to keep their focus on the Kingdom.

And this, in sum, is the optimum solution to all the disputes that arise concerning “submission” among the Lord’s people. Please notice that in none of these passages is anyone thundering at anyone else, “YOU MUST SUBMIT [BE SUBJECT] TO ME!!!”

When Kingdom people, as a cooperative venture, primarily seek the welfare of the Kingdom, each of us will subordinate our own interests (or “status”) to those of the brotherhood. In that atmosphere, the specifics can readily and amicably be worked out.

All honor and authority belongs to our King, and it is he to whom, ultimately, we all owe submission, in love.

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