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What Does Submission Really Mean?

A sharp divide has been evident for many years in pop culture about women submitting to men. Much of the commentary is from a secularist lens as seen from masculine images of deference, respect, and obedience to males. The feminist movement changed the conversation in ways that intertwined our own experiences; how our parents practiced or did not practice submission and the role of religious values in creating marital bliss.

The question now is do we pursue an understanding of submission from secularism or God’s word on one end and singleness versus married on the other?

These bookends illuminate an important point: a woman can be soft-voiced, empathic, maternal, and willing to subordinate her own needs to please others and still not be the focus of subjugation.

Marriage is based on love and marital love is of the kind demonstrated by Jesus Christ in relation to His bride, the church. Scripture teaches that love is not a domineering principle; love is not peonage; indeed, it does not mean you do as I say.

Unfortunately, “submit” has historically come to be attached to patriarchy and male superiority. Even worse, this same meaning was adapted by the church through the ages and became synonymous with deference to men.

What exactly is submission outside of Webster’s “yielding to the authority of another”?

What does the Bible say about Submission?

We tend to quote Scripture absent of its exegetical importance, mostly out of selfish reasons. Add to this the fact that the original tongue of Holy Scripture has been lost in translation. As a result, we often inherit and interpret less than exact meanings from which the original writers intended.

Ephesians 5:22, for example, is ground zero for varying approaches or attitudes about submission:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

‘Hupotasso’ is the original Greek term for “submit” and it means to “get up under and lift” or to “set in order”. The word infers a common task or goal. It has very little to do with obedience.

Even more, back up one verse. According to Ephesians 5:21, submission is a two-way affair:

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Both instances of the word infer a willingness to work together and “lift”, like what we do in building God’s kingdom. According to this, submission involves a lift-as-we-climb approach and has nothing to do with the servitude of a person’s humanity.

Where does this leave the I-will-submit-to-the-right-man argument that is now the rage of social media conversation? Again, much of the chatter involve the desire to truncate Scripture as a rationale for our selfish ambitions. “Conditional submission”, or the tendency to qualify the circumstances under which a woman will “submit” to a male is a moot point when seen from a biblical angle. Much of the conversation along these lines are not biblically oriented. Instead, the ideology is more secular focused than not. When we follow a Christian prescription for love, we’d see the only ideal candidate for which talk of submitting applies is a godly man (characterized most persuasively in Psalm 1). If he does not follow God, he is not worthy of submitting to or lifting with.

Non-believers feel differently about submission than believers, a perfect segue into these three succinct points.

First, submission is a biblical principle. Saved married people should practice biblical submission from a diligent and well-interpreted understanding of what the Bible says about marriage and the role of the marriage partners. Believers who are committed to finding their mate according to God’s word should reassert biblical truths in the face of the rampant secularist language of the twenty-first century.

Second, submission is a marriage principle, as opposed to mere boyfriend and girlfriend. Married people practice submission. If a woman is not married, she shouldn’t be thinking about submitting to a man or vice versa. Submission simply does not apply with any degree of merit when practiced by a non-married couple. It lacks biblical resonance.

Third, and most important, marriage between believers is kingdom work. We are both getting up under the marriage and lifting. Submission practiced both ways, therefore, is not selfishness. The two verses mentioned in this article are just a drop in what the Holy Bible says about the institution of marriage – from Genesis to Revelations. The meta-narrative of Scripture is consistent: we give and serve one another as Christ gave and served us.

This principle is most potently demonstrated in the marriage bond.

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