Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Search
Close this search box.

Introduction

A comparison is sometimes made between Jesus’s future submission to God (1 Cor. 15:28) and the submission of wives to their husbands. This comparison was made again in a recent article entitled “The Dreaded Word” posted on the Above Rubies website (September 8th, 2023). (I’ve written a fuller critique of the Above Rubies blog post for my Patreons.)

In my post here, I’ve made a few quick comments about the submission spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:28 compared with submission in marriage which is mentioned in a few verses in the New Testament (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1). In particular, I compare 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 with Paul’s instructions to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5.

The Language of 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 and Ephesians 5:22-33

Here is 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 in the CSB showing, in italics, how it translates the “submit” verb hypotassō.

For God has put (hypotassō) everything under his feet. Now when it says “everything” is put under (hypotassō) him, it is obvious that he who puts everything under (hypotassō) him is the exception.
When everything is subject (hypotassō) to Christ, then the Son himself will also be subject (hypotassō) to the one who subjected (hypotassō) everything to him, so that God may be all in all.

In 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, hypotassō is used 6 times, plus there is the phrase “under his feet,” a metaphor that conveys a sense of subordination.

In Ephesians 5:22-24, hypotassō is used once (in the oldest manuscripts), and the word for “love” is used 6 times in instructions to husbands (Eph. 5:25ff). Also, instead of “under his feet,” Paul uses the words “head” (once) and “body” (three times) in a head-body metaphor signifying closeness and unity.

Furthermore, I take hypotassō in Ephesians 5:24 (and 5:21) to be in the middle voice. The church submitting itself to Christ is the example for wives, and all believers submitting to each other is the ideal (Eph. 5:21).

In 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, hypotassō is in active and passive voices. The entities in these verses are subjecting and being subjected. The difference in grammatical voices is another reason why “submission-subjection” in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 is not a reasonable comparison with “submission-subjection” in marriage.

The emphasis and force of the language in these two passages, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 and Ephesians 5:22-33, do not match.

The Contexts of 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 and Ephesians 5:22-33

The context of 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 is Jesus Christ abolishing “all rule and all authority and power” and reigning until he puts all his enemies, including death, under his feet. Jesus then hands over the kingdom to God the Father and is subjected to him (1 Cor. 15:24-28). This is submission, or subjection, on a grand scale with God being sovereign, all in all.

None of these ideas about God’s sovereignty or Christ’s reign and future submission are transferal to husbands or wives in the human relationship of marriage.

I propose that submission in Christian relationships, including marriage, means “humble, loyal, and loving deference and cooperation.” I include the word “loving” in my definition because all Christian behaviours should include, and be motivated by, love.

Moreover, I argue that, rather than the subordination or subjection of wives, Paul wanted the Ephesian husbands to love their wives in a way that elevated women (cf. Eph. 5:28-29). (First-century husbands typically had a higher status than their wives.) I discuss this idea here.

Paul’s use of hypotassō in 1 Corinthians 15:28 should not inform our understanding of submission in marriage. Conversely, if we try to understand 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 with Christian marriage in mind, we won’t begin to fathom Paul’s astounding message of the future when death and other enemies are abolished and God is all in all.

The scope and Paul’s aims in these two passages, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 and Ephesians 5:22-33, do not match.

Final Thoughts

The word hypotassō is used with a range of forces and applications in the New Testament and other ancient Greek texts. There are degrees of being submissive. And let’s not forget that the Bible never states that the relationship between God and Jesus is a model for marriage. Rather, Paul gives the relationship between the church and Jesus as a model.

Paul worded his instructions in Ephesians 5 with an ideal marriage between ordinary human couples in mind. His message in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 is something else altogether.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!

Explore more

All my articles on submission are here.
The Trinity and Marriage
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
All my articles on Ephesians 5 are here.
Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community
Wifely Submission and Holy Kisses

14 thoughts on “Submission in 1 Corinthians 15:28 and in Marriage

  1. There is something beautiful to be learned by Christ’s submission, but if my first and and most forceful move is to apply it to wives, I’ve missed the point.

    1. Hi Hashim, Are you referring to this?:
      “.. the Son Himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”

      What do you see as the beautiful lesson here?

  2. If Jesus is to become subject to the Father some time in the future and from then on for ever, then you have a variant of the ESS doctrine, which the Nicene creed is so adamantly against.

    1. Yes, that’s true. I wonder what the authors of the Nicene Creed thought of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:28.

  3. The word «submission» is, I think, understood by most people to mean subordination. That is how they will immediately understand it. You can always have your own special definition of «humble, loyal, and loving deference and cooperation». But before you get the chance to even start to explain this special definition, people will have run far away, and they won’t come back.

    As long as christians continue to say «submission», people will be scared away from christianity because of that word. They won’t come back to be subordinated.

    1. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how hypotassō is used in ancient texts. In more than a few texts, there is no sense of subordination at all, let alone subjection. It’s about acquiescence or cooperation. And this kind of usage is not rare. I provide some examples here: https://margmowczko.com/mutual-submission-early-christianity/

      I have no problem with the word “submission” itself, apart from the fact that the church has used it poorly. Very poorly. I think submission is akin to the qualities of meekness and humility which are also Christian virtues. The aim of submission in Christian relationships is unity and harmony, not subordination or subjection. And mutual submission is the ideal.

      The way we submit to each other is not that different from the way we abide by Paul’s instructions in Philippians 2:3ff.

      Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus …

  4. May I suggest that ‘submission’ in the Bible’s use of “hupotasso” is a matter of priority?
    Abigail acted submissively to Nabal when she unselfishly prevented David from killing all the men on Rancho Nabal (1 Samuel 25). She protected Nabal’s interests even though she probably expected to be soundly beaten for her brave act.

    1. Since Abigail went behind her husband’s back and did something she knew he would not approve of, I don’t think her actions are an example of wifely submission. And Nabal did not get to experience the benefits of her wise actions.

      I think too many people treat the instructions for wifely submission as absolute, hard and fast, rules, rather than as a general principle. All instructions in the Bible should be implemented with kindness and wisdom. Abigail was right to against her husband’s wishes and she is praised for it.

      Abigail displayed wisdom and courage. She did not display submission to her husband as far as I can tell. If anything, she displayed submission (diplomatic aquiescence) to David (1 Samuel 25:23ff). I’ve written about Abigail here: https://margmowczko.com/abigail-1-samuel-25/

      Oddly enough, the author of the Above Rubies blog post, while devoting her life to promoting wifely submission, openly advocates for civil disobedience (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).

  5. Hi Marg, I agree with so much of what you say here. Really all of it. But I would also add that submission in Eph 5 and 1 Pet 3 is including deferring to and following the husband in final decisions. Christian marriage is a grand compromise of two wills and it’s a daily challenge even between two holy, loving disciples of Christ. All decisions should be made in unselfishly, always trying to please one’s spouse. But there are times that wills differ and critical decisions must be made. In such instances of “stalemate” the wife should defer to her husband and the couple needs to move forward in peace together. The words used in Eph 5 and 1Pet 3 like head, submit, submission, obey, respect, “calling him lord”, have to be granted there most plausible meaning. Marriage does have an authority structure. It must also be full of mutual love, unselfishness and sacrifice. It’s nothing like, “the husband is the boss.” But he is the head of the wife and the wife is obliged by God to submit to and respect her husband. Is this not also what you think?

    1. [Excuse the typos and misspellings. I really must proofread better. I always proofread best after I hit send!]

    2. Hi Mark, It seems strange to me that the idea of making a final decision is often brought up in contemporary discussions about wifely submission. Apart from 1 Corinthians 7:5, the New Testament says nothing about making decisions in marriage.

      I’ve been married around 40 years and we’ve never come to a stalemate. I’ve heard many Christian couples say the same thing; they’ve managed to work through things together as equal partners.

      When there is a difficult decision to be made, there is usually one spouse who knows more about that particular issue, or is more personally involved or affected by that issue, or is more passionate about that issue. In healthy relationships, the other person would usually defer to that spouse.

      The reality is that, during the course of our lives, most of us make very few difficult decisions, and I strongly doubt Paul had final decisions in mind when he asked wives to submit to their husbands in everything. Submission is an ongoing disposition. I’ve written about submission in everything here: https://margmowczko.com/wives-submit-in-everything-eph-5/

      Paul uses the word “head” in a head-body metaphor a few times in Ephesians, including Ephesians 5:22ff which is about Christian marriage. Nowhere in this passage does Paul tell husbands to lead or to have authority over their wives. Rather, when addressing husbands, he uses the word “love” six times. I’ve written about this here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-main-point-in-eph-5_22-33/ No one in the New Testament tells husbands to lead or to have authority over their wives.

      First-century households that consisted of more than a few people (like the kind alluded to in Ephesians 5-6 and Colossians 3-4) did have an authority structure, and the senior male was usually the boss. But I see no reason why we need to follow a first-century model and have an authority structure that distinguishes between capable adults in households today, especially in small households.

      Also, the underlying context and aim of Ephesians 5:22-33 are not the same as in 1 Peter 3:1-8. In 1 Peter 3:1ff, Peter is addressing wives who had a reason to be afraid of their husbands. I briefly mention the context of 1 Peter 3 in footnote 10 here: https://margmowczko.com/submission-respect-1-peter-3_1-6/

      As mature Christians, we can do better.

      Having said that, I’m sad that this is your experience of marriage: “Christian marriage is a grand compromise of two wills and it’s a daily challenge …” A grand compromise? A daily challenge?! This sounds hard, and it may be your experience, but it in no way reflects my marriage or the marriages of my friends. Not in anyway at all. Your statement does not describe a harmonious marriage of two people who get along, who love and care for each other, and want the best for their partner. And a husband making a final decision is not going to make it better.

      Life is hard enough as it is without our marriages making it more challenging. Marriages should be about supporting each other and making life easier together.

    3. Except that what happens in practice is that the husband gets to make EVERY decision.

      So, if the husband wants A and the wife wants A, the “couple” (really, the husband) chooses A.

      If the husband wants A and the wife wants B, and if the husband has a strong preference, then the “couple” (really, the husband) chooses A.

      If the husband wants A and the wife wants B, but the husband doesn’t really care one way or the other, then the “couple” (really, the husband) chooses B.

      What would a husband do if the wife, to make a point, always wanted to choose something different than the husband? Would he override her at every turn?

      And what would a husband do if a wife simply stopped making decisions altogether, forcing the husband to literally make ALL the decisions? She couldn’t decide what to make for supper, so she didn’t decide at all. If he decides, then she can’t decide when to start. Will he decide when she should start? What temperature should she set the oven to? She couldn’t decide, so will he?

      What if she can’t decide when to take the kids to school? Will he decide, and then tell her? What if she couldn’t decide what route to take? Will he decide for her?

      What about the hundred of decisions that the wife subconsciously makes as she does laundry each week? Will the husband be able to make all those decisions if she tells him she just can’t decide what to do about sorting, how full to make the washer, how much detergent to use, which cycle to select, when to move the load to the dryer, when to remove the load from the dryer, how to fold and hang and distribute the clothes when they’re clean?

      Exactly how many decisions is a husband willing to make if the wife just stops making any decisions at all?

      And if she has a job outside the home, is she allowed to make decisions there, or should she rely on her husband’s apparent expertise in every area of existence to override her decisions there as well?

      If you say that scenario is ridiculous, then how is a mere wife supposed to know where to draw the decision-making line? Her decision could be overriden at any time, so where’s the line that shows the boundary of autonomous decision-making? And who draws that boundary? I’ll just make a SWAG and say that in your view, the husband decides that boundary.

      Jesus prayed for unity among his disciples, not for one of them to ride roughshod over another. Does that unity not apply if the two disciples in question happen to be husband and wife?

      1. Another scenario that not infrequently happens is that the husband wants A and the wife isn’t sure what she wants. But she knows, from past experience reinforced by church teaching that “the husband gets to break the tie,” that she won’t really get a say, so she doesn’t even bother thinking through to figure out what she wants. Because her ideas, her opinions, her concerns, her gut feelings will all get overridden if they’re different from the husband’s, so what’s the point of putting in any mental effort or heart searching at all?

        Some wives get to the point where they won’t even offer a restaurant suggestion for lunch out after church, because there’s a good chance it will be overridden.

        (We’ll completely ignore what could happen to a wife so conditioned to not thinking things through should she find herself suddenly widowed. She’s spent potentially decades relying on “dear Bill” to make all those decisions, so she’s utterly paralyzed if he’s removed from the scene. Let’s hope she’s the one who actually dies first.)

        1. I often defer to my wife, I love her. That’s what I see in most of the Christian marriages in my circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Loading

Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?

Archives