Wives “Submit” or “Respect”? Ephesians 5:22, 33 – Mondays with Mounce 318

Bill Mounce on April 29th, 2018. Tagged under ,,,,.

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

I hesitate to open this particular Pandora’s box, and my intent is not so much to deal with the issue of submission as much as it is to give a potential example of semantic range.

It always confused me when Paul switches from “wives submit (ὑποτασσόμενοι, from v 21)” to “wives respect (φοβῆται).” Are they meant to be the same thing, or is one an explanation of the other?

Yesterday in church I saw in the CSB a potential answer, or at least part of the answer. I am used to the translation “however” for πλήν. “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (ESV, also NIV, NRSV) [see the verses in parallel]. The NET uses “Nevertheless.”

However, the CSB has, “To sum up,” and the NLT has “So again I say.” Hoehner cites BDF #449, saying πλήν “is used to conclude a discussion and emphasize what is essential.” This would parallel BDAG 1c, “only, in any case, on the other hand, but, breaking off a discussion and emphasizing what is important.” In this case, it means v 33 is meant to break off from the details of the current discussion and summarize the entire passage.

So how does φοβέομαι sum up ὑποτάσσω?

ὑποτάσσω here is in the middle with a clear sense of subject affectedness. It is not the active sense of “subject” someone else, but a more reflexive sense, often described as voluntary submission.

φοβέομαι almost always means “to fear,” often of our attitude of reverential awe toward God. But the word also means “to have a profound measure of respect for, (have) reverence, respect” (BDAG). Hoehner says there is no philological evidence for the latter, but I suspect there is. Of course, it is not a mild form of respect; it would have to be a strong sense of respect such that fear would ensue if someone did not behave properly.

The other thought that crossed my mind was that if [my wife] Robin respects me, then it would naturally follow that she would be willing to voluntarily follow my lead. When I was pastoring, I saw the effects of women thinking that the essence of their relationship with their husband was submission. No matter what the husband did, no matter how evil their behavior, no matter how damning the consequences, they just acquiesced and “submitted.” I don’t believe that is what Paul intends (and I am a complementarian).

So if you have two overlapping circles, one for φοβέομαι and the other for ὑποτάσσω, I wonder if that middle area is what Paul intends. It is almost as if Paul uses ὑποτάσσω and then thinks it isn’t exactly what he means, so he uses φοβέομαι to more precisely define his meaning.

A respectful, voluntary following the husband’s lead. Regardless of what you believe, it does illustrate a semantic range and overlap.

mounce-revised-venn-diagrams

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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

  • Paul Adams 5 months ago

    Pandora indeed. Nevertheless, I like Payne here that submit is “voluntary yielding for the sake of love.” See the fuller discussion at http://inchristus.com/2010/02/01/insights-from-man-and-woman-one-in-christ-part-6/

  • Dale Huckabay 5 months ago

    It is only voluntary in the sense that we are to “voluntarily”obey the commands of God.

  • Read This! 05.08.18 – Borrowed Light 5 months ago

    […] Wives “Submit” or “Respect”? […]

  • Kenneth Litwak 5 months ago

    That’s interesting, Dr. Mounce. I have not worked through this passage in Greek in detail. However, I think some other questions are relevant.
    In Paul’s culture, submission by a wife to a husband, a child to a parent, or a slave to a master was assumed. There wouldn’t be any cases in which that wasn’t true. Therefore, if this is true, then an important question begs to be asked: why would Paul tell the powerless to continue to act powerless when they should already be doing that because it was the only way the culture expected the powerless to live? It suggests to me that these powerless groups had heard and understood the implications of the gospel and had begun to live out the freedom that they ought to have in Christ. Therefore, to avoid offense, as paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 9, he tells the powerless to continue to act as the culture expects them to act. This would not be because there was a theological rationale for this. It is because Paul, like Peter in 1Pet 3:1-6, tells the powerless to continue to do what the culture expects them to do in order to win some to faith in Jesus.

    I would never ever dismiss a text of Scripture lightly because I did not consider it “relevant.” However, the fact that Paul is telling wives what they were already expected by the culture to do suggests to me that this is not a command because it is the way it should be but an instruction in order to avoid bringing offense against the gospel. In our culture, we hae the opposite problem. When allegedly Christian husbands demand submission and rule over their wives with an iron fist, including abusing them in various ways, its no wonder that this implementation of submission brings offense, as well it ought to. In fact, I would contend that any pastor aware of this sort of “submission” required by a husband, if that husband is part of the pastor’s church, should be ejected from the congregation at the very least. The person may of course be permitted to attend church services but should be counted, as Paul counsels for a different reason in 1 Corinthians 5, as an unbeliever. So that there’s no question, I’m an egalitarian, which I consider a necessary implication of he gospel.