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 and 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 Common 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 Common 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 (third century), and it does not have a verb or participle of hypotassō in Ephesians 5:22, nor does Codex Vaticanus. Most modern critical texts of the Greek New Testament, 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, and 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. (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.

[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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