Vol. 1, No. 3 November 1998
THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY:
Mutual Submission or Chain
by Bruce Prescott
Some people cannot rest until they find
their place in a chain of command. This is important to them for two reasons. First, it
identifies who has power to command attention and whose demands can be safely ignored.
Second, it clearly charts their own power and significance in relation to others. Knowing
where they stand on the scale of power and authority gives them a sense of security. The
more power they acquire and exercise, the more important and secure they feel and vice
The logic of the chain of command makes
perfect sense as long as everyone believes that relations with others are based on power.
The chain, however, is broken whenever people believe that relations should be based on
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
Jesus is the one who broke the chain of
command. He set aside relations based on power and loved the powerless (Philippians 2:3-8.
See frame on the right). He commanded his disciples to "love one another,
as I have loved you." (John 15:12) Paul applied this command to relations within
Few passages have been so persistently
misinterpreted as Ephesians 5:21-6:9. Error arises when interpreters ignore verse 21. When
discussion begins at verse 22, Paul appears to be reaffirming a chain of command within
the family. Such an interpretation is questionable. In Greek the language in which Paul wrote verse 22 is
grammatically connected and logically subordinated to verse 21. Literally, Paul says "Being
subject to one another in fear of Christ. Wives, to their own husbands as to the
We've got a beef:
WHERE'S THE VERB?
THE GREEK TEXT OF EPHESIANS 5:21-22
||to one another
||to the(ir) own
In English translations the words
"submit" or "be subject" have been added to make verse 22 a complete,
grammatically correct English sentence. (Some modern translations indicate this addition
by italicizing the verb in verse 22. See frame on the right.)
When interpretation begins with verse 21,
the entire passage describes mutual submission within the family. The wife submits to her
husband in everything "as unto the Lord." If her husband makes a request
unworthy of her Lord, her primary loyalty is "unto the Lord."
Husbands are commanded to give themselves
to their wives as Christ gave himself to the church. Christ submitted to death for the
Instruction about submission is four
times longer for husbands than for wives. The greatest burden of submission is clearly
placed on the husband.
The rest of the passage describes mutual
submission between children and parents and between masters and slaves.
This is the most systematic treatment of
family relations in the Bible. Serious doubts should be raised about any understanding
that contends that Paul affirms a chain of command.
On the contrary, Paul expects every
member of the Christian family to show the same kind of humble, self-giving, sacrificial
love that Jesus embodied.
|"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in
humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your
own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in
very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made
himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And
being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even
death on a cross!"
Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV)
Use the Best Greek Texts
Look it up Yourself!
"Wives, be subject
to your own husbands,
as to the Lord."
Ephesians 5:22 (NASB)