SUBMISSION is chapter 8 in ...and He gave them... a foundational
teaching manual by Kirby and Sandra Clements. The book may be purchased by
contacting Sandra Clements firstname.lastname@example.org
For Sandra's testimony, click here.
by Sandra Clements
Submission is a term that has been greatly misused within the church world.
It is a term that has been used to elevate one person over another, particularly
in reference to men as they relate to women. In order to understand the
term and its application in scripture, we must first get a proper definition of
the word and then place the term in its proper setting and context.
According to Dr. Katherine Bushnell, the noun "subjection" is not found (in
classical Greek), outside of the New Testament.(1) This term, therefore, was
coined to describe relationships peculiar to believers. Upon careful
analysis, we can see that the true sense of the word describes the Christian
grace of voluntarily yielding one's preferences to another. Traditional
principles are not involved, nor is the assertion of one's individual rights.
Schleusner's Greek-Latin Lexicon to the Septuagint declares that the verb
form, "to submit," does not always convey the thought of servile subjection.
For example, 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). From this account, one can clearly see that to be in submission
is volitional and open to one's individual discernment.
Finally, submission does not mean "to obey." The Greek word for "obey/obedience"
is hupakoe, which means to listen to or to harken to. Submission (hupotasso)
means to get under and lift up, or to put in order. It does not mean
obedience. Gundry well defines this equalizing principle as a sort of
voluntary raising everyone else to your own personal level of importance and
worthiness.(2) It is interesting to note that other languages further reinforce
this concept. For example, Kluane Spake, writes, "The German translation
of that word, sich unterstellen, means to place oneself at a disposition
of another." It can also be a military term referring to the equal sharing
of tasks, to support, to fulfill one's part of the assignment." (3)
Let us go deeper to the root of the controversy surrounding this term. In
our society, churches, and homes, we have been exposed to several types of
submission: cultural, traditional, and contemporary. Basically, we have
been taught that each of these focuses on one message, i.e. "women are to submit
always and without qualification." However, the Bible says that women are
to submit "in the Lord," which brings about a new dynamic of relationship.
Women are now free to judge what is "in the Lord." However, if we are to
be well studied, we must also examine the fact that the Bible also teaches that
we are to "submit to one another" (Ephesians 5:21). Submission, then, is
volitional, and the sole purpose is to reflect Christ Jesus. It is without
respect to age, gender, sex, nationality, and economic status. This
submission I call Biblical Submission because it reflects the character of God:
it is totally inclusive. And this is where we are ultimately called to
live: inclusively and beyond gender.
Now, let's directly address Paul and Peter. When they were using the word
"submit," they were giving Christians a way of coping within a culture hostile
to the teachings of Jesus. Paul writes, ...subjecting yourself one to
another in the fear of Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). Peter likewise addresses
the same societal situations writing, "Yea all of you be subject to another, and
be clothed with humility" (I Peter 5:5). Being subject to or subjecting
oneself to another deals with mutual respect one for the other, and it should
not convey the loss of one's right to make choices. It should not be
taught as an attitude or action required only for women in relation to husbands
or any male figure.
Peter's theme for writing his first letter centers around Christian life and
duty. Christians at that time were a minority. Peter encourages them
to realize that they are to be a demonstration to the world, and that the power
of God within enables them to live in a hostile world. In I Peter 2:13,
Peter writes, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution
. . . , for such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the
ignorance of foolish men." Peter further tells servants to submit to their
master whether good or evil as witness proving who the greater master is.
He tells them that they are not bound by the values of the world, but they have
a higher value because they believe in and are under the Lordship of Christ
Jesus. Therefore, the people observing them should see an evident
difference. Followers of Christ show 1) obedience to and 2) respect for
authority. They should not use their spiritual freedom for an occasion to
sin; rather, they are to live as servants of God. I Peter 2:11. "Conduct
yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as
evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God..." Peter continues
to emphasize his point in verse 13 of chapter 2, "For the Lord's sake accept the
authority of every human institution."; and in verses 15 - 17, "For it is God's
will that by doing right you shall silence the ignorance of the foolish.
As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a
pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.
Fear God. Honor the Emperor."
Next, Peter elucidates proper behavior of slaves who are believers towards their
masters: Verse 18 - 20, "Slaves, accept the authority of your master with all
defense, not only those who are kind and gentle but also, those who are harsh.
For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while
suffering unjustly... but if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you
have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also
suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his
Now, following the elucidation for slaves, in the same mind, Peter speaks to the
women. The ultimate emphasis to the women in chapter three is for them to
win their husbands to Christ. Women at that time were in a precarious
position - the culture demanded subservient submission to the husband.
However, when women became believers, they were not bound by the cultural
traditions - they had a higher law - the law of God which gave them a new
freedom and independence. Peter basically says to them, "if submitting to
your husbands will win them to Christ, then do it." However, nowhere does
the Bible suggest that they were to submit to abuse. These women joined to
unbelievers, by their demonstration of love, forgiveness, character, prayer, and
integrity, were to win their husbands to Christ. Peter urges them not to
spend all of their time adorning their bodies, but the adorning of the inward
man. He considers lasting beauty a "gentle and quiet spirit, which is
precious in the sight of God." Again, this did not mean that a woman
should accept abuse in her gentleness and quietness. Nor should this
statement lead one to assume that the women were in an uproar, loud and not
gentle. Such assumptions provoke us to misinterpretation. Finally,
Peter uses Sarah as an example. Sarah is recorded as referring to Abraham
as "lord." She used the word, "lord" when she had been informed that she
would bear a son, Isaac, from her own body. She did not use the word to
convey subservience, but it is used in respect to her husband. Historians
report that the term as actually one of endearment as in "honey" or "Sir."
It did not mean rulership. Keep in mind that scriptures also says that
"Abraham obeyed Sarah," mutual respect and submission. Peter in 3:7
reinforces his point of mutual submission by informing the men that in the same
way the women are to live, "...so are you." You show consideration to your
wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the "weaker vessel,
since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life - so that nothing may
hinder your prayers." The term "weaker vessel" is a cultural term; women
of that time were considered weaker in every aspect: physically, intellectually,
and spiritually. Peter says that men were to pay honor to this person whom
they have always considered weaker. But now, she is an heir, and if they
fail to respect her, their prayers will be hindered.
History and science have shown that women are not morally or mentally weaker
than men. Women more often than not were, indeed, physically weaker in
Biblical days. However, in modern society, women have entered many areas
of what has been termed a man's domain. Today, women body build, play
professional tennis, basketball, golf, and many other physically demanding
sports. Women have entered the business world, the scientific community,
the law enforcement community, the medical community, and many other male
dominated arenas. Thus, this statement of "weaker vessel" is a culturally
specific one and not a judgment upon women's abilities to function in
Finally, as we re-read and re-study I Peter, we must understand that Peter, in
this letter, is addressing the conduct of Christians: 1) conduct of all, 2)
conduct of those who suffer for Christ, 3) conduct of Elders (I Peter 5:1-4),
and 4) conduct of Young Men (I Peter 5:5-10).
When Paul used the term "submission" in reference to women, he was addressing
specific situations. Paul was not giving blanket instructions for the
behavior of all women in the Church Universal. I would also encourage you
to study Colossians 3, but study in the context of "putting on the new man in
Christ Jesus" and also in light of the cultural challenges that every early
This scripture passage of I Corinthians 11: 2-16 has been used to subjugate
women and to imply that man is her "covering." Without knowledge of the Genesis
story and the culture that Paul was addressing, one could conclude that
misconception. However, to clear up any misconception let's review this
scripture in light of its true meaning. Paul is addressing the traditions
that he had given them in reference to the traditions and practices that they
lived by. He is giving instruction in deportment during worship services.
He begins, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise
you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions,
just as I delivered them to you." In verse 3, Paul begins to discuss their
concerns, some of which require his establishment of the Source of all things,
Christ. We must remember Paul is speaking to a Gentile congregation, which
would be ignorant of much Jewish history. Thus, the fact that God is the
source of all is primary to their understanding of their faith.
Paul wants to remind them of a Jewish tradition delivered to them wherein the
term "head" is used, "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of
every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of
This term "head" is consistently misunderstood today. First, let us
understand that the term is non-hierarchical. Paul is elucidating the
point of origin for each. His purpose is to address disorder in worship
within the Church. Were he setting up a hierarchy, God would not be listed
last. He simply says the origin or source of man is Christ, and we know
Christ was involved in the creating and forming for scripture says, "Let us make
man." And John 1:3 likewise affirms this point. Already we have
established that the woman was taken out of man, and that Jesus came in His
incarnate form from the Father. (He was, in the beginning, with the
Father; but in the form of a human for the mission of redemption.) Paul, then,
is showing this order from a relational perspective not hierarchy.
From verses 4-15, Paul discusses their own traditions and practices, not the
ones he delivered to them. We can conclude this based on verse 16: "But if
one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the
churches of God. But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you
because you come together not for the better but for the worse." Now, let
us examine the cultural context of that which Paul says is not actively
practiced: head coverings.
Paul is speaking of the literal, physical head of a man and a woman. In
some local congregations of Jews, the priests were required to have a head
covering. The Woman's Bible suggests that on Jewish traditions the priests
were required to have a head covering.(4) Those traditions are recorded in
Exodus 28:4, 37-38; 29:6,9; 39:28,31; and Leviticus 8:9. Kluane Spake
writes in You are Acceptable to Me that Jewish men, not Jewish women,
covered their heads to worship with a garment called a "tallith."(5) Some
men wore a tallith all the time. In contemporary culture, orthodox Jewish
males wear head shawls during prayer. Greek and Roman males also usually
prayed with covered heads except before the Father of the gods and before a
deity known as "Glory." Thus, head coverings are common to the culture of
the geographical area, Christian and Gentile.(6) Spake also asserts that Jewish
women wore their hair bound up in public because unbound hair was almost
considered as nudity, or immorality.(7) In the Greek Christian church, men who
covered their heads with a tallith would be indicating that Christ was not as
divine as a Greek god. He would "dishonor his own head" or his source,
Christ, by praying to God with his head covered. Thus, we can plainly see
that covered heads in worship meant different things to different groups.(8)
In order to fully understand the verses here that address women, we must outline
the cultural attitudes towards women. First, the time between the Old and
New Testaments is depicted by moral decay. During the four centuries that
elapsed, the Jews were subject to the rulership of people who did not know God.
The seventy years of Babylonian Captivity and their primary interaction with
pagan natives left its impact on Jewish laws and customs even though during that
time span there was consistent worship of God.
Within the worship of God, sexual gratification became a part of the central
focus. This demanded the devaluation of women. While in Babylon,
women were required to enter the temple and to prostrate themselves in the
presence of idols. It was considered a merit for parents to devote their
daughters to a life of sexual commerce for the enrichment of the sacred coffers.
Babylon the Great opened the market for the sale of women. This then led
to the classification of women into five categories.
The first class of women was wives. They were totally confined and had
little or no exposure to the world beyond their homes. Their purpose was
to birth Greek citizens. They had no rights or privileges. They were
the sole property of their husbands. They could not even sit at the table
of their masters.
The second class of women was the Hetarirai. They were the only free women
in Athens. They were the intellectuals who delivered public address,
taught rhetoric, elocution, and founded schools of philosophy. These women
associated with men in public and had tremendous influence in the affairs of
state. Married men would take these women to social events, not their own
The third class is called the Auletride, or flute players. They were
usually imported slaves. They were the entertainers at banquets, and they
could be sold at any time during their performance.
The fourth class consisted of the concubines. They too were purchased
slaves who became a part of the household with the knowledge of the fact that
there was a lawful wife.
The fifth class of women was the Dicterides. They were state prostitutes
who rarely came out during the day.
Now, in reference to our scripture, while women did not use a tallith, Jewish
and Gentile women did veil themselves. Some Rabbis demanded a man
divorce his wife if she was seen in public unveiled. In some pagan
ceremonies women would discard their veils as a sign of freedom from their
oftentimes oppressive husbands.
Verse six, then should be examined. Here, we must understand that if a
woman's head was shaved, it was a mark of disgrace. The shaving of a
woman's head was used as punishment and reprisal. Therefore, if a woman
had a shaven head, Paul suggests she cover it. Furthermore, women who did
not wear veils and who had bald heads or short hair could be mistaken for
prostitutes or entertainers. The Hetariai wore their hair shorter than the
men. As a final blow to the value of women, the Greeks held that woman was
created from a substance inferior to that of man. The philosophers held
that woman could never be equal with man in moral or spiritual qualities and
was, therefore, unworthy to be his true companion. Thus, as you can
surmise, it is necessary that there be an understanding of the customs, values,
and culture of the times in order to fully understand Paul. Without such
study, it is easily plausible to misappropriate the truth.
In verse 7, Paul is saying to the men that since you are in the image of God,
you should not have your head veiled. Woman is in the image of man (when
God formed woman, she was taken out of man) - she reflects both God and man.
In the beginning when God crated man and woman they both were in His image and
likeness. When God formed man from the ground, he reflected God.
When God took woman out of man, she reflects man. ("She is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out
of man.") Verse 8 reaffirms that woman was created for man because we know from
Genesis 2: God had judged that man needed help to carry out God's commands to
tend the garden and to keep or protect it. Woman was made for man as an
equal partner to accomplish the purpose of God. Man alone (in his
separation) could not comply with God's command. Verse 10 finishes by
saying woman "should have a symbol of authority on "her head" because of the
angels. The Greek New Testament reads, "A woman should have power over
here head (physical head) because of the angels." The word "power"
is exousia, which means a freedom of choice. Therefore, the verse says
that a woman should have the freedom of choice to cover or uncover her head, and
she should not be judged or categorized because of her choice. Additional
scriptures using the same language, "power over," include: Luke 9:1 "Power and
authority over demons"; Luke 10: 19 "Authority over all the power of the enemy";
Revelation 2:26 "Power over the nations"; Revelation 6:8 "Power over the fourth
part of the earth?"; Revelation 14:18 "Power over fire"; and Revelation 16:9
"Power over these plagues."
Some writers have inferred that to the Greeks, the uncovered head of the woman
made her a seduction to evil spirits. They were a very superstitious
people. However, the word "angel" also means "messenger." Possibly, one
observing a woman with an uncovered head would judge her not to be virtuous,
suitable for marriage. Such a judgment could discredit the woman.
Verse 11 depicts the mutuality of male and female in the scripture. Man
and woman are interdependent on one another. They together reflect the
image of God. Verse 12 reveals that man and woman find their origin in one
another realizing that all comes from God the creator and former of each person.
Galatians 3:28 declares that in Christ there are not natural distinctions made
based on calling and service to God.
If we were writing an epistle today to show the difference between proper
Christian deportment and culture, those who would read our work void of
understanding the times in which we live might also make laws that would not
reflect the true meaning of what we were addressing.
1. Katharine Bushnell, God's Word to Women (Crossroad Publishing Company,
1923) p. 292.
2. Patricia Gundry, Neither Slave Nor Free (New York: Haxper and Row,
1987) p. 47.
3. John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women (New York:
Harper and Row, 1988) p. 47.
4. Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary Evans, and Elaine Storkey, Study Bible For
Women (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995) p. 344.
5. Spake, lbid p. 79.
6. Fred Wright, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, Chicago:MoodyPress,
1953) p. 96.
7. Spake, lbid p. 80.
8. George M. Larnsa, New Testament Commentary (Philadelphia: A. J. Hohnan
Company, 1945) p. 272 .