WHAT DOES "SUBJECTION" MEAN?
292. This and our next chapter should be studied with both an Authorized and Revised Version at hand. Two words are constantly confused in reference to woman's duties, "subjection" and "obedience.” But these words do not in the original Greek cover the same scope of meaning, although sometimes subjection may go all the lengths of blind obedience. The verb "to be in subjection" is from hupo, meaning "next after" or "under, " and tasso, "I arrange," and means "to arrange after" or to "arrange under, "--as soldiers are arranged, file after file, or under a captain. The noun "subjection" is not found (in Classical Greek) outside the N. T. and we are left to infer that it was coined to describe a relation peculiar to believers. Had the word merely meant "obedience," such an invention would have been needless. The verb itself is comparatively rare outside the Bible. The A.V. often translates it as "obey" and "submit," but the R.V.carefully translates these words as "subjection" and "be in subjection" wherever they occur, distinguishing them in sense from "obedience.” See the difference between the A.V. and R.V.at 1 Corinthians 14:34; Titus 2:5, etc.
293. The true sense of the word describes the Christian grace of yielding one's preferences to another, where principle is not involved, rather than asserting one's rights. Schleusner's Greek-Latin Lexicon to the Septuagint declares that this verb does not always "convey the thought of servile subjection.” Jesus, as a boy, was "subject to His parents,” yet we know that He did not even consult them when He was "about His Father's business," (Luke 2:49, 51).
294. Two men cannot be long in partnership in business unless willing to be "in subjection" to each other. They must yield preferences; they must "in honor prefer one another;" they must harmonize their views, one to the other, or else they will soon be obliged to separate. They cannot better the situation if a question arises and one assumes the right to command the other. To obey orders like this is not "subjection" but servility, and man refuses to be servile, for that would be degrading to character. This indicates the difference in sense between the two words, as applied to the relation of believers. In 1 Corinthians 15:28 we are told of a time when Christ will become "subject" to His Father. But we certainly know that Christ will never be less than equal with the father in the Godhead. There was a time when, as Son of man, for our sakes, "He took on Him the form of a servant,” but since then, "God hath highly exalted Him," and He will never again become reduced in rank, nor will He ever pass under the Father's coercion. This word speaks of loving harmony, not of impassable ranks, superior and inferior.
295. That "to be in subjection" does not mean "to obey" necessarily, is shown because the Apostles, who so plainly taught "subjection" to the "higher powers," Romans 13:1,5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13, were constantly getting into difficulty with these same powers through disobeying them. The Apostles were not guilty of the inconsistency of teaching one thing and practicing another. When they could harmonize their conduct with human laws and not injure their work, they did so. But this very Peter who commanded, "Be subject to every ordinance of man,” when brought to account for a manifest disobedience to the commands of the rulers of Israel, answered merely: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (See Acts 5:29). If "subjection" meant always all that "obedience" means, no monstrous tyrant could ever be dethroned by righteous revolution on the part of Christian citizens. Disobedience to human rule may become one's highest duty to God and our fellow-beings. "Subjection" would teach a humble, a conciliatory spirit, not a servile one.
296. In Ephesians 5:21, the Apostle says, in exhortation to all believers, without regard to sex, "Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ" (R. V.). Peter says to all believers, without regard to sex, "Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility,” 1 Peter 5:5. These passages clearly enjoin "subjection upon men, yet all feel instinctively that they cannot mean that men must pass under the arbitrary control of each other when they become Christians.
297. In Philippians 4:3 the Apostle Paul says: "I entreat thee . . . help those women who laboured with me in the Gospel.” We know, from Romans 16:1-2, that Phoebe had labored with the Apostle, in certain ways of helping. In Romans 16:3 Priscilla is called by Paul "my helper," ("fellow-helper," R. V.); at verse 12, Tryphena and Tryphosa are mentioned as women "who labored in the Lord," also Persis, who "labored much in the Lord.” These were all women; yet the Apostle, at 1 Corinthians 16:16 says: "I beseech you, brethren . . . that you submit yourselves" ("be in subjection," R.V ) . . . "to everyone that helpeth with us and laboreth.” He had just come from Corinth, where he had been laboring with Priscilla and Aquila, and there, as well as at Ephesus, whence he sent this letter to Corinth, his chief helper was Priscilla. Here then is a very clear command which at least included men, to "be in subjection," to women, who were certainly included in the body of "every one that helpeth with us and laboreth.” It seems clear that "subjection" in this case cannot mean exactly the same as "obedience.”
298. Yet after all this, when we come to the three instances where the Apostle exhorts wives to be in subjection to their own husbands, one is considered almost heretical who questions whether this exhortation to "wives" means absolute obedience, The word "subjection," as we have shown, has not been interpreted as obedience where the relation is that of man to man, not where the "subjection" may mean of man to woman, as in 1 Corinthians 16:16. Furthermore, each time where the relation of wives to their husbands, of children to their parents, and of servants to their masters is prescribed, a careful distinction in the use of words is made. The word "obey" is generally used for servants and always for children, but the word "subjection" always for wives. If the sense is the same, why such care in the choice of a different word? As to the duty of wives, see Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5 (R.V). As to children, Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20. As to servants, Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22,--in the R.V.in each case.
299. The Old Testament sense in which "to be in subjection" is sometimes used, is highly suggestive and instructive. Psalm 62:1 reads in the English, "truly my soul waiteth upon God; from Him cometh my salvation.” At verse 5 of the same Psalm, we read: "My soul, wait thou only upon God.” In Psalm 37:7 we find the words: "Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” The words "wait" in the first passages, and the word "rest" in the last are all three represented in the Greek version by the single word hupotasso, "be in subjection," while the literal sense of the Hebrew original word is "be silent unto.” Compare this with 1 Peter 3:1,2, where wives are exhorted to win unbelieving husbands by "subjection.” Surely Peter is not here exhorting wives to blindly obey unbelievers, for if heathen, they would at once remand them back to the worship of the gods; if Jews, back to Judaism. Rather, they are to win them away from these by their "manner of life,” “without the word,"--actions speaking louder than words. "Coupled with fear,"--such fear of God as would cause these women, so gentle, quite and patient in daily life, to be as adamant in their truth to God; and the husbands so overawed by their quite maintenance of principle, whereas they are so ready to yield to their husbands when principle is not involved, that the husbands dare not try to compel their wives to violate conscience, and thus are themselves gradually led into the Christian faith.
Where “subjection” is spoken of as a woman’s duty, without further immediate specification, it has been too readily assumed that this means subjection to a husband. But many women even from Apostolic days, and certainly an increasing large proportion of women in latter days, have no husbands. In both 1 Corinthians 14:34, “let them be in subjection”; and in 1 Timothy 2:11, “learn in all subjection,” this O. T. idea of waiting on God, or the thought of a spirit of humility towards God, may be all that is intended.