The Religious A priori

Women And Christianity

Neither Male Nor Female:

Headship and Submission:

(Ephesians 5:21-33)

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

This is one of only two verses where the man is said to be the "head" of woman. The first one, 1 Cor.11:3-16 is using the term "head" as 'source' in an allusion to Eve's source in Adam, not to mean supirior rank. In this passage the term is used as a necessary device to construct a analogy between husband/wife and Christ/Chruch. But the purpsoe of that analogy is not to say that the wife must obey as the chruch obey's Christ; rather it is an injunction to the husband to love and care for the wife. "Head" in this passage is a necessary device to make the analogy, it is is not used to mean "supirior rank. in a universal sense. To understand this, we have to look at the full context and see what came before:

Ephesians 5:15
Therefore be F89 careful how you walk, R300 not as R301 unwise men but as wise,
making R302 F90 the most of your time, because the R303 days are evil.
So then do not be foolish, but understand R304 what the will of the Lord is.
And do R305 not get drunk with wine, for F91 that is dissipation, R306 but be filled R307 with the Spirit,
speaking R308 to one F92 another in psalms R309 and hymns R310 and spiritual songs, R311 singing R312 and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
always R313 giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, R314 F93 even the Father;
and R315 F94 be subject to one another in the fear R316 F95 of Christ.

Paul's immediate objective here is to bolster Christian unity by turning the Roamn ideal of a male dominated family on its head; turning it into a love driven Christianized family. That immediate objective is part of a larger strategy to build unity and cohesion in the chruch. The reason for that is because he is contending with gnstoicicism. Ephasus was one of the cities in which Paul faced ealry gnosticisizing tendencies (see My article on 1 Cor 11.) Because the Gnostics disvalued marraige and the family, Paul wants to re-affirm those values and institutions, but in such a way as to re-build marriage in the Christian model.

In Ephesians Paul is concerned with the unity of the Church and with an exhaulted ecclesiology. He presents an exhaulted chruch, "seated in heavnly places with Christ Jesus." He is concerned that the earlthy chruch live out and mirror this glorified position. We can see that in this passage he is urging the Ephesians to mark their time well, for the days are evil. It is important that they unfy and work together and most important, that they build each other up. Note the metaphor of harmony in the phrase "speaking to one another in pslams,hyms and spiritual songs." In that context of mutuality, harmony and working together he says "be subject one to another." The next verse (22) which is translated "wives be subject to husbands" does not use the word "subject." It is merely "wives to husbands." The case of possession implies "to their own." But the point is this is no different than the kind of submission they were all to exhibit to one another.

The three paris of dominance/submission relationships are merely examles of this "submit to one another." These are just trhee aspects which illustrate this submission that all in the Chruch are to show to one another. Those paris being: husbands/wives, parents/ children, masters/servants. Obviously, Paul would not have to tell servants that their masters were of supirior rank. That is implied in the defition of being a servant, thus it is the attitude of cooperation with which Paul concerns himself, not the laying down of a univesrsal hierarchy.


I contend that the term "submission" (translated "subjection" or "be subject") in this version, in the context of this passage, really means something closer to "cooperate." Context is the true determination of the meaning of a word. The dictionary is only a general guideline. It is not a little forzen defition that must always be slavishly applied. The context of this passage demonstrates that the use of "be subject to" is closer to that of "cooperate with." But this can also be seen in the Lexicon. Crosswalk public domain online use of Strong's and Thayers:

Strong's Number:5293
Original Word Word Origin
upotasso from (5259) and (5021)
Transliterated Word TDNT Entry
Hupotasso 8:39,1156
Phonetic Spelling Parts of Speech
hoop-ot-as'-so Verb


to arrange under, to subordinate
to subject, put in subjection
to subject one's self, obey
to submit to one's control
to yield to one's admonition or advice
The online source Corsswalk uses Strong's and they list as part of the definintion:

"In non-military use,it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assumingresponsibility, and carrying a burden".

We see here that it can be to subject youself, a voluntary act, an attitude,something you do to yourself. It also means to head advice or admonition, which means it doesn't just mean to slavishly do exactly what one is told, but to work with, to consider advice, to subject oneself. Much is made of the fact that it was a military term, but that is not a defition, that is etimology. That fact in no way means that the word always carries the connotation of obeying a supirior as though one is in the army.

Blow I present several verses which I think illustrate this more cooperative connotation. I will not present verses that deal with strict obedience, but there are plenty of such verses. Demons were subjec to Christ, the elements were subject to God, but the traditionalists will offer those verses in plentiful fashion. Here I will just deal with cooperational connotations:


Ro 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.
Ro 10:3 For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Ro 13:1 Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Ro 13:5 Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
1Co 16:16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
Tit 2:9 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative.
Tit 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.

Obviously some of these verses imply a stronger use than that of mere cooperation, but in al of them there is a cooperative element. We are to be in subjection to government because it is in authority, and government officials are of supirior rank, but in Ro. 13:5 he adds "for conscience." We don't just do it becuase we have to, we do it becasue we know it's right; moreover,it's something we choose to do. It's an attitude. The same can be said of Titus 3:1. As with Romans 13:1,he's reminding them to do what they already know to do, so he's speaking their attitudes. Moreover, few Christians in the modern western world would say that we must always obey government slavishly in every case. The Aermican revolution,for example, was prediated upon the idea that there are valid limits even to governmental authority. When those limits are breached, we as citizens have the natural right to act. It may seem strange to include Titus 2:9 since he is speaking to bonslaves, who presumably were required to obey. But bondslaves were those who voluntarily entered into that relationships. Bondslaves were not captured slaved forces to work against their will.

In Ro.8:7 he tells us that the mind set on the flesh does not subject itself. The obvious implication is that the mind set on the Spirit does. That is a form of cooperation; subject our minds to the Spirit. The mind must subject itself. In 1 Cor. 16:16 he says to submit to anyone who is doing the work of the Chruch. Does that mean that all christians are to obey their elders as traditionalists imagine that wives must obey husbands? That passage, because it is not limited to one holding a chruch office, but speaks of anyone doing th work, implies a form of cooperation; join in and submit to them. Those entretred have to do it themselves. In all of these enstances the attitude is one of cooperation, even if there are supirior ranks invovled.

More importantly, Jesus subjected himself to his family: Lu 2:51

"And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subject ion to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart."

Surely Jesus' family was not of some higher metaphysical rank than Christ himself! He choose to submit to the social role of son and to have the attitude of submission. That is a from of cooperation. It is not universal and timeless, for when he saw that it was his time to break away, he did so, evne though his family urged him to return to them.

When we combine this with the sense of coopertion solicitied of the Ephesians, "submit yourselves one to another," "speak to each other in...[harmony]...making the melody in your heart..." it is clear that he is talking cooperation, or something slimilar. It's stronger than mere cooperation, it doesn't have to invovle a supirior in rank, but might, but it is not an compulsion or something that one is compelled to do; it is a choice, and therefore, stems from an attitude. It is the attitude that Paul really seeks to foster.

Next: Part II

The Religious A priori