Jim West Misunderstands Submission

In a recent post, Dr. Jim West argues that the word usually translated “submit” in Ephesians 5:21-22 would be better translated cooperate (link). This is simply wrong.

It’s easy to see where Dr. West’s error comes from: a refusal to acknowledge Biblical standards for greater and lesser authority, especially within the family. It is a force pervasive in “Western” society. It’s the product of the “liberty, equality, fraternity” ideals not of Scripture, but of the rebellious, treacherous, and bloodthirsty French revolution.

This mistake has significant consequences not only for French aristocrats but also for an understanding of what the Bible teaches. For example, Paul does not leave the matter at verse 22. Instead, in verse 24 Paul goes on to explain:

Ephesians 5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

This “is subject unto” is the same verb as in verses 21-22. Does Dr. West think that the church’s cooperation with Christ is really the model? It is hard to believe that he would, as there doesn’t seem to be much lexical ground for Dr. West’s translation.

Furthermore, verse 22 itself does not simply stop at the wives submitting (or cooperating, if we believe Dr. West), but its provides a comparison: “as unto the Lord” (or perhaps “as unto a lord”). Whether we take the “lord” in verse 22 as referring to our Lord and Savior, or whether we take it as referring only to an earthly lord, we should immediately recognize that the submission involved is of one who is under authority to one who is in authority.

In fact, if we start to view ὑποτάσσω as though it means to cooperate, other discussions like the following, unravel:

Titus 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed

Titus 2:9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again

Titus 3:1 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,

Hebrews 2:8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

Psalm 8:6 (referencing the LXX) Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

Psalm 18:47 (referencing the LXX) It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me

In short, if we start to rewrite the meaning of this Greek word, we are left with a startling lack of authority anywhere in the Bible. But, if we accept the true Lordship of Christ, then we should accept the true headship of fathers in their own houses, even over their wives and children (and slaves, if they have any).

And woman ought also to heed Scripture and especially the praise given to Abraham’s wife Sarah:

1 Peter 3:1-6
1Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 3Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

(recall: Genesis 18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?)

I think we all recognize that it is much more difficult for anyone to voluntarily submit themselves to another as though that person were their lord, but it is the calling of women to do so to their husbands. These days, I think one would rarely find a wife whose comment “lord” to her husband would be taken as anything other than sarcastic disdain.

Husbands have their own set of duties: they are responsible for their wives. It is not a one-way street in which husbands are treated as lords by their wives, but simply scorn them in return. No, husbands are to love their wives not with a submissive love: they are not to call their wives “lord,” but with a sacrificial love: willing to set aside their divine privilege and serve their wives to their benefit, even as Christ humbled himself for our exaltation.

Let us not try to rewrite ὑποτάσσω according to modern feminist wishes, or French revolutionary ideals. Instead, let’s accept what it means: submission, order within the family. For ὑποτάσσω comes from ὑπο (under) and τάσσω (order). When we do so, we will be on the correct road to understanding the meaning of τάσσω as well, which will lead us to glorify God who “ordered” us to salvation. He is the Lord, we are his people. He is the Shepherd, we are the sheep. He is the husband, we are the wife.

Praise be to the Lord!


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