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Eph 5 Marriage – Part 1 – Submit Yourself

Ephesians 5,

Submission and Love in Marriage

Wives are told to submit to their husbands, what does the word “hupotasso” mean?
Husbands are told to love their wives, what does the word “agapao” mean?
How should Ephesians 5 look when being played out in a marriage?

Eph 5:21-33
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife in order that she respects her husband.

To answer these questions, we are going to look at the word for “submit yourself” which is “hupotasso” and the word for “love” which is “agapao”, in Greek.

submit yourself to your husband

Now, there is the word “hupotasso” in Greek. This is translated as “subject yourself”, or “submit yourself”. I find looking at all the verses in which a word is used is a good way to better understand it’s meaning. When I looked up hupotasso (5293) in the Strong’s, it says the word is used 40x in the New Testament. There is another word which is translated the same as hupotasso, that word is hupotage. The Strong’s says Hupotage (5292) is used 4x in the New Testament.

Is the Strong’s correct? Not really. Actually the word hupotasso is used 19x in the New Testament, not 40x. The word hupotage, as far as I can tell, is used 13 times, plus one time with the spelling as hupotetage, bringing it to 14 times, generally, not 4x. There are also a couple new words introduced that are not mentioned in the Strong’s, but are categorically lumped together under hupotasso in the Strong’s.

The first word is hupotaxis. It is a combination of the word hupo (5259) and the word taxis (5010). It is used 8 times in the New Testament. The Strong’s lumps all this under hupotasso.

The second word is hupotaktos, which is a combination of hupo (5259) and taktos (5002). It is used twice, once in Hebrews 2:8. There is another spelling of this, which is hupotetaktos, which is a combination of hupo (5259), te (5037) and taktos (5002). It is used once in 1 Cor 15:27.

Tasso (5021), tagma (5001), taxis (5010) and taktos (5002) are individual words that each earn their own number in the Strong’s Concordance. That is because they are 4 different words. In the same way, Hupotasso (5293), hupotage (5292), hupotaxis, and hupotaktos seem like they should each have their own separate number, but do not. Almost every instance of usage is lumped under hupotasso, even when hupotasso is not the word used. Not only that, but many instances in which hupotage is used, hupotasso receives the entry, even though hupotage actually has its own separate Strong’s number and entry!

Why does this matter? Well, besides simply the inaccuracy involved being a bad thing on principle, the meaning of the words are confused as a result. The words have slightly different meanings in the tone and context in which they are used.

Hupotasso is used as follows: Luke 2:51, 10:17, 10:20, 1 Cor 14:32, 14:34, 16:16, Rom 8:7, Rom 13:1, 13:5, Eph 5:21, 5:24, Tit 2:5, 3:1, 2:9, 1 Pet 2:18, 3:1, 3:5, Col 3:18.
Hupotasso means “under”+ “to set, to appoint”, in a way that implies something being chosen from above, ordained, or appointed.

Hupotage is used as follows: Rom 8:20, 10:3, 1 Pet 2:13, 3:22, 5:5, 2 Cor 9:13, Gal 2:5, 1 Tim 2:11, 3:4, 1 Cor 15:28 (2x), Heb 2:8, 12:9, James 4:7. (Heb 2:8 is hupotetage).
Hupotage means “under” + “arranged in order, series” in a way that implies a time series, or ordered by highest rank first, in an order of group such as a class or troop.

Hupotaxis is used as follows: Phil 3:21, Rom 8:20, Heb 2:5, 2:8 (2x), 1 Cor 15:26, 15:27, 15:28. Hupotaxis means “under” + ordered” as in a time order, one after another. Examples would be lunch, then dinner, or prophecy then tongues at church meetings. Generally the word usage shows or demonstrates the existence of such order. Also it can show a group of a certain type or order.

Hupotaktos is only used twice, in Heb 2:8, and 1 Cor 15:27. Hupotaktos means “under” + “decided or fixed (time)”. Some examples might be a set holiday, or a set time in general.

As you can see there is some difference here in the meanings of these words. This difference is significant in the quest to find out just what “submit” means in the context of wives and marriage, as well as in other areas. Sometimes the meaning of words is best understood from contextual clues. We can better understand the meaning of hupotasso by looking at all the places in the Bible where the word hupotasso is actually used.

An essential question is: Do those instances of hupotasso include all the verses applying to wives in particular? The answer is: Yes! Hupotasso is the word always used in relation to wives in marriage. Actually these instances cover all the verses aimed especially at women, with one exception. That is 1 Tim 2:11, which is hupotage, and refers to a class or learning setting, which is why the different word makes more sense, as the women are submitting to an ideal orderly situation for learning, the students ranked under the teacher.

So we should be able to understand better what hupotasso means by looking at the other places in which it is actually used in the New Testament. These all happen to be in the passive middle voice and therefore reflexive form. They are as follows:

Luke 2:51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued submitting himself to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luke 10:17
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in Your name.”
Luke 10:20
“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits submit themselves to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
1 Cor 14:32
and the spirits of prophets submit themselves to prophets;
1 Cor 14:34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.
1 Cor 16:16
that you also submit yourself to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
Rom 8:7
because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
Rom 13:1
Every person is to subject themself to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Rom 13:5
Therefore it is necessary to submit yourself, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
Eph 5:21-22
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God, wives unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (The Strong’s counts this verse as 2x, but in the Greek it is 1x)
Eph 5:24
But as the church submits itself to Christ, so also the wives ought to their husbands in everything.
Tit 2:5
to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, submitting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
Tit 2:9
Urge bondslaves to subject themselves to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative,
Tit 3:1
Remind them to submit themselves to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,
1 Pet 2:18
Servants, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
1 Pet 3:1
In the same way, you wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
1 Pet 3:5
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, submitting themselves to their own husbands;
Col 3:18
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord

Looking over these verses, something sticks out at me. In every instance, the word hupotasso has no odd implied meaning in usage, except in 1 Cor 14:34. What a strange coincidence, as we have already established that 1 Cor 14:34 is a gloss. 1 Cor 14:34 implies that the practice of hupotasso means to “not speak”, but this meaning is not to be implied from any of the other verses. 1 Cor 14:34 is a gloss, and I think for years has skewed and twisted the understanding of what hupotasso means. But now the meaning of hupotasso can be re-examined afresh.

There is also one, and only one place, in which hupotasso is used in the Septuagint, which is the Greek Old Testament. Psalm 144:2,
My lovingkindness and my fortress, My stronghold and my deliverer, My shield and He in whom I take refuge, Who subdues my people under me.

The word here that is hupotasso is “subdues”. Here, unlike all the other verses, the word hupotasso is used in the active form, making it not reflexive. The speaker is David, speaking of God. David is saying that God subdues his people under him. It is interesting to note that David’s people are under him already, as he is king, but it is God who subdues them under him. This implies the people could be under him, but not be subdued.

Most clearly in Eph 5, and other verses, we see the woman is to submit herself to her husband. This is meant to replace the “he will rule over you” of Gen 3:16, which lists the negative consequences of the fall.

We also see the same concept reflected in the use of hupotasso in Rom 13:1. Obviously the Christians of the time were under the governors at that time, but being under them was different from submitting to them. This is also seen in slaves and masters as in 1 Pet 2. The slave is owned by the master, there is no doubt the slave is “under” the master, but to be “under” the master is a Different thing than for the slave to “submit himself” to his master.

And this brings me to my next point: all of the time it pertains to wives, hupotasso is used reflexively. What is reflexively? Well, I can wash the car, or I can wash myself. Washing myself is reflexive. If I say “Go wash the car.” I am using the word “wash” in an active sense. If I say “Go wash yourself” to a child, I am using the word “wash” reflexively. Other examples might include the word “shave”, “groom”, “clean”, and generally words that can be used to describe an action one does to themself, but could also possibly be done to something else as well.

An important point in the reflexive nature of hupotasso is that the wives are told to submit themselves. It is something they do to themselves. Nowhere in the Bible are the husbands told to submit their wives. The husband is not told to hupotasso his wife, or to try to force her to submit. In other words the husband is not told to dominate her. No where is he told to try to make her hupotasso, or submit, to him. The wife is to submit herself.

The word hupotasso does not mean obey. In the very next chapter, Eph 6, the word in Greek for “obey” is used twice. This is the word “hypakouo” which means obey. And so it becomes clear that if that if the word for “obey” had been intended of wives in Eph 5, it would have been used. It is used of children obeying their parents, and slaves obeying their masters in Eph 6.

Of hupotasso, the Strong’s says, “In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. This means is in keeping with a simple English definition of the words “submit” and “subject”. What do those words mean?

Submit means: To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another. To subject to a condition or process. To commit (something) to the consideration or judgment of another. To offer as a proposition or contention.
Subject means: To submit for consideration. To submit to the authority of. To expose to something.


Well, it certainly seems self-explanatory. It means to choose to do what someone else wants to do, to go with another’s judgment, and in this case for the wife to decide to do, to go with, what the husband wants to do. Hupotasso never means a man forces his wife to submit, rather the wife must submit herself, as the word is reflexive. Truly, these verses nowhere give a husband any right or authority to try to force his wife to submit to him. The husband is given no authority by God to force her to submit. God instructs the wife to submit herself to the husband. The wife is submitting because of the authority of God. In every case of a wife submitting herself, she is actually submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ when she does so.

Submitting herself is a simple instruction, but it entails much from the wife. The Bible does not say, “submit yourself to your husband if you think he is correct about this” or “if you feel like it”. The Bible does not say “except for if you think this is a terrible idea” or “except if you think he is being totally selfish”. 
The Bible says, “submit yourself to your husband”. The emphasis here is for a wife to bring herself under control, to control herself, to get herself in line with her husband and what he wants.

The verses above also clarify this further in some detail. Wives are instructed to submit themselves to their own husbands, “in everything” (Eph 5:24). The Greek here is “en panti”. This means in “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything” according to the Strong’s. In the Thayer’s, it says in this usage it means, “in every particular”. So there is no way to say, “well, that doesn’t apply to where we eat dinner because this is just about spiritual things”, etc. etc.

Wives are also instructed to submit themselves to their own husbands “as unto the Lord” (Eph 5:22).
The Greek here is “hos o Kyrios”, and the word “hos” here means “as, like, even as” (Strong’s) and “according as, in the same manner as” (Thayer’s). In this context I think the clearest meaning is wives submit yourselves to your own husbands “in the same manner as the Lord”. Which means, as I have covered elsewhere, that it is like the wife has 2 people as heads over her, like a president and a manager. The president-head is Jesus Christ, and the manager-head is her husband. She submits herself to Christ, and in like manner she should submit herself to her husband because Christ has said she should.

Of course, there are some limits to submission, as Col 3:18 says, as is fitting in the Lord”.
In the Greek this is “hos aneko en kyrios”. The phrase “en kyrios” is used many times in the New Testament, the same as we use the term today, “in Christ” or “in the Lord”. Such as in Rom 16:8 “Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.” or Eph 6:10 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”
The term “hos aneko” is the same hos as meanings are above, with “aneko”, which means, “as was fitting”. The same word “aneko” is used in Eph 5:4 and Phil 1:8,
“And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”“Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper.
The word in contextual use means what is proper or appropriate, in a moral sense. 
So the instruction to wives here in Col 3:8 is, Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as is proper or appropriate in a moral sense in the Lord.

This does put some limitation on what a wife should submit to, as to whether it is morally proper behavior or not. Many instances come to mind, like Abigail and Nabal, but foremost is the example in Acts 5:1-11,
“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.  Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”  When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”  Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”  At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

Here, a wife went along with her husband wanting to lie and keep some money for himself. She went along with a plan to lie to the Apostles. And she received the same sentence as he did for her shared crime. And the point of the story is that a woman does not have to, and never should do what her husband wants when she knows it is morally wrong or a sin.

This is because we are each individually accountable to God as Rom 14:10-12 says,
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, [As] I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

God’s commandments and laws take priority and precedence over what the husband might want. The husband is only caused to have the wife submit herself to him because God has declared it so to her, and so nothing from the husband can supersede God’s authority, and His moral laws.

There are commandments and instructions which are given to all believers, male or female, of things to do, and things to not do. If the husband wants only things that are fitting in the Lord, as a Christian, then it is good for the wife to submit herself Christ and to him. But if the husband’s will is for her to not do the things she should, or to do the things she shouldn’t, before God, then she is not to submit to her husband, but to Christ. She should not do anything that would not be proper or appropriate in the Lord, as a Christian.

Included in the instructions given to all believers are things such as,
“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” James 4:17
“Holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” 1 Tim 1:19 
“Hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” 1 Tim 3:9
A wife submitting herself to her husband should not ever involve her doing something she believes is wrong or violating her conscience, nor did God ever intend for it to.

“Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” 1 Cor 14:1
“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” 1 Tim 4:14
“for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29
A wife submitting herself to her husband should not ever involve her having to neglect her spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, nor her calling from God.

And concerning the bedroom, this is an area in which equal authority is specifically given to both the husband and the wife, as 1 Cor 7:2-4 spells out, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.”
If there is not mutual agreement in the bedroom, then logically spouse A can tell the other with authority “Don’t do that with your body” while spouse B says “Yes do this with your body” and in effect, if the two spouses are not in agreement, then they cancel each other out. So unless there is mutual agreement in the bedroom, nothing should happen. This is an area that the Bible specifies as not falling under the general instruction of a wife to submit herself to her husband. If it were not so, then the verses above would read differently, here where this topic is specifically addressed by God.

And there are many other applicable verses that place limitation on what God expects a wife to submit herself to her husband about. Hopefully it is at least clear that a wife submitting herself does not mean obedience to her husband, and especially not her doing anything that is outside of God’s will. If the husband’s will is in line with God’s will, then there should be no conflict in this.
If there is conflict, to quote Acts 5:29,
“But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”