Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5:21 and in 1 Peter 5:5

Mutual submission Eph 5:21 1 Peter 5:5 hypotasso

Mutual submission among believers, and between husbands and wives, is a concept that sits uneasily with some Christians. Wayne Grudem, a Bible teacher who is popular in some Christian circles, has even stated that mutual submission is a myth. Yet it is a concept plainly stated in the New Testament and in a few other early Christian writings.

Most Christians are aware that in Ephesians 5:21 Paul says submitting to one another is an outworking of being filled by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18ff) and is an expression of reverence for Jesus Christ:

“submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

But Ephesians 5:21 isn’t the only New Testament verse that encourages mutual submission among Jesus’ followers. 1 Peter 5:5 is another.[1]

Mutual Submission in 1 Peter 5:5

In First Peter, several groups of people are instructed to be submissive (1 Pet. 2:13, 18; 3:1, 7). (More on this here.) Towards the end of his letter, the younger people are instructed to submit themselves to the older people, and this is immediately followed by a phrase where everyone is instructed to submit themselves to one another.

This mutual submission is explicit in a few Greek texts[2] and is reflected in the New King James translation:

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility …”

In a few, fairly late Greek texts of 1 Peter 5:5, the word for “submit yourselves” occurs twice, once in the first sentence and once in the second sentence. In many other Greek texts, including the most ancient manuscripts that contain 1 Peter, the word occurs only once, that is, “submit yourselves” occurs only in the sentence about younger and older people, but not in the second sentence about all people.

Regardless of whether the word was originally restated, I believe the sense of “submitting” continues into the second sentence of 1 Peter 5:5. In the rest of this article, I discuss this verse and explain why I believe this.

Similar Grammar and Vocabulary in Ephesians 5:21-22 & 1 Peter 5:5

It is not uncommon in ancient Greek for the sense of a stated verb (or participle) to continue in following phrases, sentences, and even passages without the verb (or participle) being restated. This elision (leaving out) of verbs also happens in the Greek New Testament. (I’ve written about eliding verbs, with several NT examples, in a postscript here.)

In Ephesians 5:21-22, for instance, the Greek word for “submitting yourselves” occurs in verse 21 but is not stated in some of the oldest manuscripts of verse 22. (There is no verb or participle in verse 22 in these manuscripts.) Yet there is a broad consensus that the sense of submission continues in verse 22. In fact, verse 22, about the submission of wives to their husbands, is dependent on the meaning of the “submitting” participle in the previous verse which is about submission to one another.

Even though some of the oldest Greek manuscripts only have a word for “submit” in verse 21, almost all English translations of Ephesians 5:21-22 have a “submit” word in both verse 21 and verse 22. English grammar is not the same as Greek grammar, so while it is sometimes acceptable to leave out verbs and participles in Greek, it is not acceptable in English. We need to add “submit” in verse 22.

Here’s how the Christian Standard Bible translates the meaning of Ephesians 5:21-22 into English:

submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Italics added)

Adding “Submit” to Greek Manuscripts

Some of the oldest Greek manuscripts of Ephesians 5:21-22 and the oldest manuscripts of 1 Peter 5:5 have the word for “submit” only once. But in some other Greek manuscripts a word for “submit” is included in both Ephesians 5:22 and in the second sentence of 1 Peter 5:5 to make the meaning of submission explicit.

Perhaps a scribe added a verb that means “submit yourselves” when copying Ephesians 5:22 to make the sense of submission plain, and this amendment was copied by other scribes.[3] It seems a scribe thought the sense of submission was implicit in the second sentence of 1 Peter 5:5b, so a participle meaning submitting yourselves” was added to make the meaning plain.[4]

Compare the New King James Bible translation (which is representative of English translations that rely on the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text) with the Christian Standard Bible (which is representative of most modern English translations that rely on a broader collection of ancient Greek manuscripts and critical texts):

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility …” NKJV

“In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another …” CSB

I have italicized the phrases about submission to highlight them.

Mutual Submission and Humility in 1 Peter 5:5

Like Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5 contains the reciprocal pronoun allēlois (“to one another”). While I believe that “to one another” is referring to submission (“all of you be submissive to one another”), most modern English translations connect allēlois to the verb egkombōsasthe which has the meaning of “clothe yourselves” with, possibly, an implied sense of servitude.[5]

The author of First Peter wanted the Christians in Asia Minor to clothe themselves with humility. But did he mean for them to understand that “to one another” was connected with “clothe yourselves” or with the sense of “submit yourselves” that continues from the previous sentence?

Does it make sense to “clothe yourselves … to one another”? Perhaps, but I think it makes better sense that “to one another” goes with “submitting yourselves” in 1 Peter 5:5 as it does in Ephesians 5:21.

A few decades later, in the early second century, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, encouraged the church at Magnesia to “Submit to the bishop and to one another” (Ign. Mag. 13:2). “To one another” (allēlois) here is identical to the word in Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 5:5.

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, also writing in the early second century, told the Philippians, “All of you be subject to one another” (Pol. Phil.10:2). Polycarp’s instruction sounds very much like 1 Peter 5:5.[6]

Conclusion

I believe Peter was telling the recipients of his letter, “All of you be submissive to one another.” Either way, though, whether he meant for the sense of submission to continue into the second sentence, or not, mutual submission (Eph. 5:21), mutual service, and humility should be character traits for all Christians to embody. These traits are not just for servants (1 Pet. 2:18), wives (1 Pet. 3:1), and younger people (1 Pet. 5:5a).

In 1 Peter 5:5, being submissive (hypotassō) is associated with humility, and both submission and humility are contrasted with pride which is warned against many times in the Bible: “God resists (antitassō) the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

How we practise this humility and submission (deference, cooperation, loyalty) will vary depending on the situation and the relationship. In real life, it will be expressed in differing ways and there will be give and take. Nevertheless, all of us are to be humble and mutually submissive to one another.[7]


Footnotes

[1] The Greek behind the phrase “be submissive to one another out of reverence for Christ” in Ephesians 5:21 and behind the phrase “all of you be submissive to one another” in 1 Peter 5:5b NKJV contains the same Greek participle hypotassomenoi (“submitting yourselves/be submissive”) and the same reciprocal pronoun allēlois (“to one another”).

[2] The Greek texts of 1 Peter 5:5 that contain the verb for “submit” in the first sentence plus the participle for “submit” in the following sentence include Stephanus’ Greek New Testament (1550), Beza’s Greek New Testament (1558), Scrivener’s Textus Receptus (1894), Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont’s Byzantine Majority Text (2005), and the text used by the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Greek texts of 1 Peter 5:5 that have the word for “submit” once only, in the first sentence, include some of the earliest manuscripts that contain 1 Peter: Bodmer Papyrus P72 (3rd–4th century),  Codex Vaticanus (circa 300–325), Codex Sinaiticus (circa 330–360). Most modern critical texts of the Greek New Testament (GNT) also only have the word for “submit” once: Tregelle’s GNT (1857-1879), Westcott and Hort’s GNT (1881), the Nestle-Aland GNT (which has been through 28 editions since 1889), Tischendorf’s GNT (1894), the Society for Biblical Literature’s GNT (2010), and Tyndale House’s GNT (2017). Furthermore, the Vulgate only has a Latin word meaning “submit” once.

[3] The oldest papyrus that we have that contains Ephesians 5:21-22 is Papyrus 46 (second-third century), and it does not have a verb or participle of hypotassō in Ephesians 5:22, nor does Codex Vaticanus (third century). Modern critical texts of the Greek New Testament, such as the Nestle-Aland and the Society of Biblical Literature’s Greek New Testaments, likewise do not have a “submit” word in verse 22.
Note however that Codex Sinaiticus includes the verb hypotassesthōsan (a form of hypotassō) in Ephesians 5:22, as does Codex Alexandrinus (fourth century). Codex Claromantanus (sixth century) includes the verb hypotassesthe. Stephanus’s 1550 text, a forerunner of the Textus Receptus also contains hypotassesthe, as does the Majority Text. The new Tyndale House Greek New Testament includes hypotassesthōsan. The NET Bible has this apt note: “The witnesses for the shorter reading (in which the verb “submit” is only implied) are minimal (P46, B [i.e. Codex Vaticanus], Cl, Hiermss), but significant and early.” (See here for information about textual variants in Eph. 5:22.)

[4] Almost all English translations of Ephesians 5:22 add a word that means “submit/be subject” regardless of what Greek texts they rely on. But only a few English translations repeat the word submit in 1 Peter 5:5. These few English translations rely on Greek texts that contain the participle for “submitting.” Some translations that include a word for submit/submitting twice in 1 Peter 5:5 are the Geneva Bible (1599) and Revised Geneva Bible (2019), the King James Bible (1611) and New King James Bible (1982), Webster’s Bible Translation (1833), Young’s Literal Translation (1862), J.B. Phillip’s New Testament (1960, 1972), World English Bible (2000), Modern English Version (2014), New Matthew Bible (2018).

[5] There are several clothing metaphors used in the New Testament. Peter uses egkombōsasthe, a form of the rare verb egkomboomai (ἐγκομβόομαι), for his clothing metaphor in 1 Peter 5:5. An egkombōma was a garment, like an apron, worn by slaves to keep their tunics clean. The verb has the senses of “binding a thing on oneself” and “wearing it constantly.” (LSJ)

[6] Chapters 10–12 of Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians survives only in Latin, not in Greek, so we can’t compare the Greek of Polycarp’s statement about mutual submission in 10:2 with Peter’s. 1 Clement, which was written in around 90 AD contains the statements, “Even the smallest parts of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body, yet all the members coalesce harmoniously and unite in mutual subjection, so that the whole body may be saved. So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each one be mutually subject to his neighbour (καὶ ὑποτασσέσθω ἕκαστος τῷ πλησίον αὐτοῦ), to the degree determined by his spiritual gift” (1 Clement 38:1). More on 1 Clement 38 here.

[7] We must use kindness and common sense when applying all biblical principles.

Image Credit

Excerpt of “Jesus washing Peter’s Feet” by Ford Madox Brown (1852-6) (Wikimedia)

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artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

8 thoughts on “Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5:21 and in 1 Peter 5:5

  1. Hi Marg. Thank you. An additional thought: 1 Peter 5:5 starts with ‘likewise’/’in the same way’ (Greek homoiōs). In the same way as what? In the way exemplified by the elders’ own behaviour as described in 5:3 ‘not lording it over…’. In other words, the younger ones are to be submissive by copying the humble, submissive behaviour of the elders. (I say more about this on p99 of Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts). This is further support for your conclusion.

    1. Hi Andrew, It’s good to hear from you.

      I have a different understanding of the use of homoiōs (“likewise, in the same way”) in 1 Peter.

      Peter uses homoiōs three times (1 Pet. 3:1; 3:7; 5:5). Each occurrence of this word appears to be used in the context of submission.

      ~ Peter first tells his whole audience to submit to every secular authority (1 Pet. 2:13).
      ~ Then he addresses slaves and tells them to be submissive to their masters (1 Pet. 2:18).
      ~ Then he says, “Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1; cf. 3:5).
      ~ Then he says, “Husbands, in the same way, live together with your wives . . .” (1 Pet. 3:7).
      ~ In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter reintroduces the subject of submission and says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” This is followed by, “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV).

      In Greek, “likewise/in the same way” (homoiōs) is typically used to link together two or more similar ideas or consecutive entities (e.g., Matt. 22:25-26).

      I discuss this further here: https://margmowczko.com/submission-respect-1-peter-3_7-8/

      I love your book and often recommend it!

      [Andrew Bartlett’s book Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light From The Biblical Texts is available through Inter-Varsity Press in the UK (here) and in the USA (here), and all the usual online booksellers.]

  2. Marg,

    This was wonderful to read this morning. (And I loved the reference to Polycarp near the end.)

    I agree with your reading here and find it really insightful, and would like to add two additional thoughts or footnotes for your consideration, if they’re useful:

    Just on the level of vocabulary, I think what is meant by “hupotassemenoi” is subtly but crucially different from how readers usually take it. It’s a military term, originally (“tasso” meaning to deploy or set in ordered formation), and the Latin sub + mittere (that we get “submit” from) maintains that meaning. The word “submit” in English has morphed over the centuries to mean something more like “obey,” losing its Latin meaning. I think it likely that the original extended metaphor that was being offered in Ephesians, echoing the Pauline epistles, was that a community was intended to confront the troubles of the world like an interdependent, interlocking Roman square in which each member supports each other. (The Roman soldier guards another with his shield and is in turn guarded by the next soldier’s shield, etc.) In this sense, a community could be deployed in support of each other (hupotasso) on a shared mission. It’s possible that “support” or “defend each other” or “stand in support of each other” may be truer to the sense than our common translations of “submit [to each other]” or “be subject to each other.”

    You argue compellingly that the grammar of the Ephesians passage emphasizes mutuality and interdependency rather than hierarchy. I think this is also reinforced by the context in which that specific passage appears in the letter to the Ephesians. I wrote this in Lives of Unforgetting:

    [EXCERPT:
    This reference to hupotassamenoi is embedded within a passage that provides an extended military metaphor for how each member of a first-century Ephesian community can be continually, spiritually battle-ready. The advice for husbands, wives, and others builds toward the closing argument of the letter:

    “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm…” – EPHESIANS 6:10-13

    The passage goes on from there to describe the armor of God in detail, in which each piece of armor metaphorically represents a particular skill or attribute that the early Christian must “put on.” For example, the belt of truth (because it is unforgetting who we are that holds all the armor to our body), the breastplate of righteousness (because a loving and godly justice and not our own self-rightness is what must protect us), the sandals of preparedness of the gospel (because it is to live and share the good story that we stride forward) etc. Whether the early Christian is male, female, or child, or whether master or servant (all are addressed in the preceding lines, in Ephesians 5:21-6:9), all are invited by the author to put on the full armor of God and deploy themselves together, fully armored and fully ready, as one community, against a spiritual enemy that is imagined as “the powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It is specifically in this context that the writer of Ephesians is using military verbs like tasso (“deploy”/“set in formation”)…

    And if you read the lines that precede the “deploy yourselves in support” passage (Ephesians 5:1-20), you will discover that the larger context is a letter providing advice to an ekklesia seeking to liberate itself from the “bondage” of the “unwise” hierarchies, traditions, and ways of living that have confined their people in the past. Ekklesia literally means “those called out” or called away from their tradition and their culture. Those called to live in a radically new way, “not as unwise people but as wise,” joyous in their newfound freedom and fellowship (“singing and making melody…and giving thanks”), even though “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-20).

    Focused on support and interdependency, Ephesians was written to challenge hierarchy, not support it, and to propose a radical egalitarianism in human relationships. Missing that context, we have taken one piece out of a Greek sentence and have adopted it as a standalone aphorism to hang a doctrine on—specifically a doctrine regarding women’s roles in [the household / the church / society – take your pick]. And we have missed entirely the point the original writer appears to have been making, which has to do with the need to live as a community in which all members are actively supporting each other, each member ready to step in wherever the other is vulnerable.

    …The first-century ekklesia is invited to operate in concert (homothumadon, “of one mind”) like a Greek phalanx or a Roman battle square. Soldiers in the Roman army fought as a cohesive unit, not as individual warriors. Each soldier wields a blade in one hand and, with the other, shields the soldier to their left. It is a military ethos reliant on interdependency. That is what Ephesians is about—not hierarchy and obedience, but the disciplined and alert support that Christians are called to provide each other. Hupotassemenoi is actually a remarkable word to use in this first-century Greek text because military metaphors were usually reserved for men. In Ephesians, however, people of all genders are invited to equip themselves with the “full armor of God” and deploy themselves within a battle-ready unit in support of each other. The early Christians described themselves as under threat from both spiritual adversaries and from oppressive earthly governments. To live—and to live “in a manner worthy of their calling,” carrying out their mission—they need to behave as a community with the same solidarity, unity of purpose, and mutual support that they could witness in the Empire’s legions. All members of a community under threat are expected by the epistolary writers to operate as a unit and to be well prepared to support each other in battle—to support unbelieving spouses, to represent Christ and the community before an oppressive state, and to testify to the hope that they have—regardless of their gender, class, or position. Such military metaphors are woven throughout the language of the early church; in fact, the Greek word that we translate “sin” in the New Testament is also a military term: hamartia, which is what happens when the spearman misses the mark or when one of the soldiers in the line lunges forward but fails to strike their target, leaving that soldier and the soldier next to him momentarily vulnerable and open to attack.]

    Shared in case this is useful. Forgive me for dropping so much text in a comment if it isn’t! I feel that in the way our culture has fixated on “submit” we’ve taken it in almost the opposite meaning to what was likely intended, and our culture has frequently missed the larger argument about mutual support and interdependency in which it is embedded.

    Thank you so much for this post, and always for your research and clarity of thought.

    1. Thanks for this, Stant.

      The structure of Ephesians feels a bit choppy at times. I’m not sure how Ephesians 6:10ff fits with the preceding focus on relationships in households.

      The Greek word hupotassō is used in various contexts in the New Testament and in other ancient Greek texts. I believe that in the New Testament, hupotassō occasionally has the nuances of cooperation and loyalty (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:15-16) and compliant behaviour (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:11); it’s the opposite of being rebellious/insubordinate (anupotaktos) and the opposite of being resistant (antihupotassō).

      Since mutual submission is the ideal in the body of Christ, I can’t see that the literal sense of “subordinate” makes sense when speaking about relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ.

  3. Marg, great stuff…!!! Perhaps you recall my story of the woman in our home bible study who asked why she had to wait until she got home to ask her husband what went on at the study… Well that was back in the very late 1960s… That couple is still around and are very close friends. He is really great at digging into the Word of God… Back some years he and I were kicking Ephesians 5:21-22ff around. I brought up mutual submission. He had the perfect comment, “I always thought that love and submission are the flip sides of the same coin.” Yup, this is (still) a solid marriage…!!! They are now well retired with grandchildren all over the place.

    1. Hi Russell,

      Love, expressed through mutual service and mutual submission, is a great way to do marriage.

  4. Marg, I hadn’t noticed the variant in 1 Pet 5.5 before but that’s an interesting case indeed.

    Regarding Eph 5.22, however, a few things are off in what you’ve written here. The THGNT (like Tregelles) has υποτασσεσθωσαν not υποτασσεσθε; to say that “most ancient Greek manuscripts only have a word for ‘submit’ in verse 21” and that the verb was added “in a few later Greek manuscripts” of Eph 5 is actually opposite of what we find. Well over 500 manuscripts have a verb in 5.21 and only P46 and B don’t have it (and there is good reason not to follow them in this; cf. their text in Eph 5.19 to see why); the earliest manuscript with a verb in 5.22 is 01 which is fourth century (so not added in the “middle ages”). Even the second person plural is found in Codex Claromantanus (6th c.). Likewise, the third person imperative is found in Clement, Tertullian, and possibly Origen (all 2nd century). So it’s quite early; earlier than P46. I hope to have an article forthcoming that will show why the shorter reading is not the original reading in 5.22.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Peter.

      I appreciate your expertise and I’ve made some edits. Please let me know if there is anything else that could be tweaked. I don’t want to give dodgy information.

      I’d love to see how Tertullian and Clement word their quotations of 5:21-22. And I’d love to read your paper when it comes out. Any chance of a sneak peak, via email perhaps?

      With your permission, I’d like to edit your comment. You said, “Well over 500 manuscripts have a verb in 5.21 and only P46 and B don’t have it …” I think you meant to say 5.22.

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