Since submission in marriage is a main topic of my ministry, I thought it might be a good idea to set down a definition. I have read plenty and would like the opportunity to pen my own. Before I do that, here are some Greek and English dictionary definitions and a short list of verses from the New Testament that help shape the meaning of submission.
There are six verses in the New Testament that mention submission in marriage. They are Ephesians 5:22&24, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, and 1 Peter 3:1&5. The concept of submission mostly appears as submit, subject, or submissive. It comes from the Greek word hupotassō.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Greek Dictionary
From G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively to obey: – be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.
Thayer’s Greek Definitions
1) to arrange under, to subordinate
2) to subject, put in subjection
3) to subject one’s self, obey
4) to submit to one’s control
5) to yield to one’s admonition or advice
6) to obey, be subject
Ok. What about English dictionaries?
Submission: The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person:¹
Submission: the state of being obedient : the act of accepting the authority or control of someone else²
Hupotassō Verses in the New Testament
These definitions are helpful for understanding submission. I have returned to them many times though the years as I worked to understand it better. Since context gives words meaning, I have also found it helpful to see where hupotassō appears in the New Testament and how it is used. I was surprised to find out that it occurs over three dozen times! It occurs in verses about marriage and other relationships. While these relationships are different from marriage, looking at them can help us better understand the meaning of submission. Below are several verses in which we find hupotassō unrelated to marriage. (If you would like to look into this in more depth please see The Meaning of Hupotasso (Submission) in Marriage & More. It lists two dozen verses that contain hupotassō including the verses relating to marriage.)
“And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51
“”Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Luke 10:19-20
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1
“When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” 1 Corinthians 15:28
“Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” Hebrews 12:9
These verses and the others that include hupotassō always involve a relationship between two entities. That relationship is marked by a distinction in roles. One entity submits to the authority of the other or is considered under the other in some way. In these verses we see the authority of Jesus’ parents, the disciples, governing authorities, Jesus, and the Father. While the submission and authority in these relationships are not exactly the same as they are in marriage, they do give us a framework to work with. Based on this biblical pattern and working from the definitions above and real life experience, I am ready to present my definition of submission.
Submission – A Position and an Action
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24
I am going to be limiting and define submission as it relates to a Christian wife in marriage. To me biblical submission is two things. First, it is a position that a Christian wife takes in her marriage because she loves the Lord and wishes to be obedient to him. She places herself under the God given authority of her husband. Being in that position predisposes her to following his leadership. Submission is also an action. In the moments when her will and her husband’s will conflict and discussion reveals an impasse, out of obedience to God she chooses to abide by her husband’s wishes because of his role as leader, providing that his wishes are not contrary to God’s word. It also appears in moments when there is no blatant conflict. She simply chooses to follow his lead.
This is my working definition. As I live and learn more, it may change. I am intentionally only writing about the definition right now and not including other things that tend to surround the topic of submission. I could branch out into how to handle disagreements or what submission isn’t, but I feel it is important to give this matter its own post. Lord willing, I will address those things and more another time.
Biblical submission is not simple. It takes time to figure out and put into practice, and that’s ok. What’s important is having the desire to be pleasing to God and seeking to become more sanctified. With those in place, I have no doubt that with God’s help one can grow in this area.
How do you define submission? Please feel free to share in the comments below.