Submission, Calvinism and Chauvinism in the Dictionary

Screen shot taken from Thesaurus.comRoget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, 3rd Ed.
(Philip Lief Group 2009) 

The Meaning of “Submit” in Greek and in English 

The word “submit” is an important one for Christian men and women who are married because in a few New Testament verses it states that wives should be submissive to their own husbands. Submission, however, is an important concept for all believers, whether married or not, as all of us are meant to be mutually submissive towards one another (Eph. 5:21). Mutual submission is the ideal in marriage and in the church. [More on this here.]

Despite “submit” being a common word in the New Testament, I am still asked from time to time what the word actually means.

The Greek verb hupotassō (submit) is used in many contexts in Greek literature (including the Greek New Testament), and it has a range of meanings and applications in much the same way as the English word “submit”. While it is usually an unsound practice to work out the semantic range of any Greek word by looking at the semantic range of the English equivalent, the English synonyms in Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus correspond somewhat to the range of meanings of hupotassō that I have come across in Koine Greek.  Take a look.

From the lists in the Thesaurus (which do not cover all the meanings and senses that hupotassō can convey) we can see that “submit” has a range of meanings from “agree” and “defer” to “surrender” and “relinquish”. I suggest that the stronger uses of the word are not unlike what Paul tells husbands in Ephesians 5:25: that they are to give themselves up for their wives as Christ gave himself up for the Church.

But now for something completely different . . .

 The Etymology of “Calvinism” and “Chauvinism”

Submission, Calvinism and Chauvinism in the DictionarySomeone recently pointed out to me the interesting fact that the words “Calvinism” and “chauvinism” have the same etymology: both words are derived from the same word calvus. Calvus is a Latin word that means “bald”; chauve is the French word for “bald”.  The name “Calvin” comes from calvus, while Chauvin, also a name, is the French form.

John Calvin (1509-1564), also known as Jean Chauvin, was a well known Protestant theologian and reformer in France and Switzerland. Calvinism is a belief system based on John Calvin’s theology.

Portrait of John Calvin (Jean Chauvin) by Hans Holbein the Younger (Wikimedia Commons)

Another man with the name “Chauvin” was Nicholas Chauvin, a character from the play La Cocarde Tricolore written by Théodore and Hippolyte Cogniard in 1831. Nicholas Chauvin was a soldier of Napoleon’s Great Army who was blindly and passionately patriotic to Napoleon’s empire long after France became a republic. The French word chauvinisme was first coined around 1843 to describe the misguided, excessive, and fervent patriotism of Nicholas Chauvin.[1]

The first documented use of the phrase “male chauvinism is in the play Till the Day I Die written by Clifford Odet in 1935.[2] However it was in the late 1960s and in the 1970s that “male chauvinist” began to be used widely as a term to refer to  a person (usually a man) who regarded women as inferior to men. Male chauvinism is the belief that men are superior to women, and that the main function of women is to cater to the needs and wishes of men.

It is important to note that the etymology of a word does not always reflect its actual meaning or usage. So, while chauvinism and Calvinism apparently share the same etymology, many Calvinists are not chauvinists, most chauvinists are not Calvinists, and baldness is not a feature of either group.

Sadly, however, more than a few Calvinist men and women are staunch believers in separate and clearly defined roles based on gender, with women being excluded from some roles and positions. This discrimination on the basis of gender alone, where women are restricted to lower social positions,  does seem to be a case of male chauvinism.


[1] “Chauvinism” in Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper (2010) here.

[2] Jane Mansbridge and Katherine Flaster (2005). “Male Chauvinist, Feminist, Sexist, and Sexual Harassment: Different Trajectories in Feminist Linguistic Innovation” in  American Speech (Harvard University) 80 (3), p. 261.

Related Articles

Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel
Unity and Equality in Ministry (1 Corinthians 12)
Gender Division Divides the Church
Role or Rank?
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
Various articles on Submission here.