Does Submission Mean Obedience?



Ephesians 5:21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.

 Does submission mean obedience?  If it does, then every believer must obey every other believer.  Talk about an invitation for battle and chaos.  Every control freak would find every timid soul to order around.  It would not be the fear of the Lord guiding our behavior; it would be the fear of the most dominant.  Sounds like what we have now, doesn’t it?

Peter told us to submit to the civil rulers, for the Lord’s sake.

1 Peter 2:13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,

1 Peter 2:18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.

1 Peter 3:1Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,

 Submission to one another and to authorities may have led to obedient behavior, as it had to in some cases.  Slavery was still a cultural norm, as was patriarchal thinking.  But is it properly defined as obedience?  Peter and John submitted to the rulers of their day, and treated them with respect.  But how did they behave after being commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus?

Acts 4:18-20

18 And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

Acts 5:28, 29

28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

 If submission to earthly authorities means obedience, Peter should never have preached again in the name of Jesus.  Could he submit to them and yet disobey?

What does submission mean?  You can play around with the Greek language to your delight if you want to, but what it boils down to is written by Paul to the Philippians.

Philippians 2:3-8

3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

 We are to submit ourselves to each other.  That is, come underneath and lift up our brother or sister – whether weak or strong – so each one has what they need to step into their calling and function in full capacity in the body of Christ, that no one come behind in anything.

Looking to Jesus and the Apostles for examples; submission always means honor (to all) and respect.  Submission always means putting the interests of others above your own.  Yet, in many cases submission did not include obedience.  When it was included, it was a side effect.  Including obedience in the definition of submission did not originate with Paul or Peter.  It originated with our church fathers; influenced heavily by the culture of their day.  The same is true with all definitions.  One culture defines a word one way; another culture defines it another.

Submission to each other, as Paul used the word, is critical to the members of the body of Christ as we relate to one another in honor.  Yet it applies particularly to the marriage relationship.

 One Flesh

Paul wrote to Timothy to address a distressing problem stemming from a cult which taught that women were created first and the first man came forth out of a woman.  Thus men should be under women.  This cult was popular among women because in the Greek culture women were considered merely as property and were not allowed in religious meetings, whereas a male slave who gained his freedom was.

On the other side of this dilemma, in the minds of most men, a daughter was always the property of her father.  A father could take back his daughter from her husband and give her to another man as it pleased him.  Paul was telling women to be submitted to unity with their husbands in every way; even as God instructed men to leave their mother and father and to cleave as one flesh to their wives.

Jesus Christ sacrificed His life so He could rise from the dead and draw His bride unto Himself, making her one flesh with Himself.  In similar fashion the husband as a follower of Christ was to sacrifice his standing among men to hold his wife to himself and resist all attempts to remove her.  She would become secure in this one flesh relationship with him as her protector.

Paul was giving God’s all time answer to a real problem in Ephesus.  The husband was urged to love his wife to the death.  He was to go first as “head” was defined in military terms – the first soldier into battle sacrificing himself to punch a hole through the enemy lines.  The husband was to hold his wife to himself in opposing cultural traditions which devalued women as property and he was to resist the unbiblical assertion that husbands were in authority over their wives.  The headship dynamic having been then, as today, completely misconstrued by male translators since Adam made the mistake of putting Eve’s word above God’s instruction.  Reactionary maneuvering prevailed simply because the stronger more powerful gender could.

Now it’s time to properly translate God’s word and understand His heart when He created woman to stand on equal footing beside man.  The word “helper” (Genesis 2:18) meant a powerful one coming along side with equal or greater strength and complementing gifts.  The same Hebrew word was used to describe God Himself coming to man’s aid and support; just as the Holy Spirit is called our “Helper” in the New Testament.

How men have twisted and perverted God’s word to keep women under their thumbs for fear they might prove their equal, even as Paul declared them to be (Galatians 3:28).  All they would need is to be given the same opportunities in education and the market place.

And so Paul instructed Timothy not to allow Ephesian women to teach the heresy that women were created first and thereafter usurp authority over men.  By the way, Paul was not, by implication, agreeing with the Greek, Roman or even Jewish cultural norms that men were created to rule over women.  He was re-asserting God’s original plan of creation.  You’ll never find one place in scripture were men are instructed to rule their wives.

Genesis 3:16 contains a prophecy that women would turn from desiring God to desiring their husbands and the result would be that their husbands would rule over them.  This was not the case prior to this prophecy because it was not God’s intention.  Whatever you strongly desire controls your choices and your behavior.  That’s why God instructed the Hebrews to love Him above all other beings or things.  However, men fear the opinion of other men in a male dominated world, so they dare not allow their wives equal voice in their homes.

Christ as Head

Christ as head of the church does not put the church under His feet.  That’s where the enemy belongs.  We are His body sitting with Him at the right hand of the Father to rule and reign over the earth and all creation (Genesis 1:26-28).  Thus He gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth to rule together.  Jesus, as head, brings His body into unity with Himself – calling us His bride because we are to join to Him as one with Him according to His prayer in John 17.  The headship of Christ is never seen as demanding obedience of the church – but going ahead against all opposition to create an environment of safety and security so He could purify His bride of all fear.  Then she could trust His heart and draw close; becoming one with Him, even as the Father ordained.

Where is the place of security?  In Christ (Ephesians 2:6) at the right hand of the Father, (Ephesians 1:20) far above all principality, power, might, dominion and every name that is named.  There we sit with authority in Christ over every voice of fear, to learn to reign with Christ, until every enemy is under His feet.

Thus the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the earth (Revelation 13:6), before men and women (His collective bride) were ever created to walk by His side.  God knew in advance that men would rebel in fear and then use fear to rule their wives.  So He planned for perfect redemption from this corrupted rule of fear to a return to mutual love and partnership – men and women ruling the earth together with God.


Should we consider moving on to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians?  The full story there will really embarrass some male readers.

Because women were not allowed to learn in a formal setting or to attend public meetings they had no clue how to behave in a meeting.  They were talking to each other and asking their husbands questions while a teacher was trying to teach.  The Greek word “laleo” is the word Paul used when he said women are not permitted to speak in church.  “Laleo” is the Greek word commonly used to instruct young men not to talk among themselves while someone was teaching or in religious meetings.  Now that women were part of Christian meetings they had to learn to catch up on the news or ask their husband questions at other times or places.  It seems Paul was urging the women to be quiet.

But was he really?

 Take Knowledge of Six Points

1.  1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: . . .

 Paul was answering questions and concerns the Corinthians had written to him.  Women speaking during meetings was one of those concerns, along with other things that happened during the meetings which troubled them.

2.  1 Corinthians 15:35 (KJV)But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

Notice the lack of quotation marks in the authorized King James Version when Paul quotes another source.  In the New King James Version below they are added.

1 Corinthians 15:35 (NKJV) But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”

 Quotation marks did not show up in the KJV because the Greek language did not provide the English equivalent.  Therefore, translators often mistook some passages as being Paul’s instruction, when in fact, Paul was actually quoting the suggestions the Corinthians had included as possible answers to their concerns.  Some referred to the law of their land – that women be silent in public meetings.

3.  Paul was constantly challenging believers who went back to law to validate their religious practices.  Why would he appeal to Greek religious law in this case?

Galatians 5:4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

4. 1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

 It was common for female prostitutes to shave their heads.  It appears Paul advocated for the practice of covering their heads so the Christian women would not be mistaken for prostitutes, especially if they had recently been converted from a life of temple prostitution.  Yet while this issue is apparent in this verse, the more important principle is that Paul thought it was normal for women to pray or prophecy in the meetings.  Both of these functions required the women to speak in the meetings.  Throughout his writings Paul was declaring men and women equal in Christ.  Paul was not contradicting himself.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

5.  There was no law in Scripture or from Christ forbidding women to speak in meetings.  But there were Jewish oral traditions and Greek and Roman cultural laws forbidding women from speaking in public meetings.  They were most often not even allowed to attend.  In Christ, they were not only allowed to attend but encouraged to prophecy and pray so as to be heard by men.

6.  1 Corinthians 14:34-36 (KJV)

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

 Verse 36 is an obvious rebuttal statement.  “What?” is a word equivalent to our slang word “Bunk!” (or “Nonsense!”)  (Appears as in the Greek dictionary.)

David Joel Hamilton takes a little space in the book he co-authored with Loren Cunnimgham and Janice Rogers, “Why Not Women?”  Quoting David:

“A tiny Greek word makes all the difference.  Christian scholars have struggled to determine exactly where Paul was quoting others’ words. An important indication that he was quoting another’s opinion was his use of a tiny word:

Though it’s used in various ways, at times Paul used  as an emotional rebuttal “to express disapproval of existing situations.” It’s called an “expletive of disassociation” by Greek scholars. The closest equivalent to  in English would be “What?” or “Nonsense!” or “No way!” This was what Paul probably meant when he put  at the beginning of a question. He introduced fourteen questions in 1 Corinthians with 

 • 1 Corinthians 1:13  (No way!) Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

• 1 Corinthians 6:19  (What?) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

• 1 Corinthians 11:22 Or  (What?) do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?

• 1 Corinthians 14:36a  (Nonsense!) Did the word of God originate with you?

• 1 Corinthians 14:36b Or  (What?) are you the only people it has reached? ”

(Nine other instances: 1 Corinthians 6:2; 6:9; 6:16; 7:16; 9:6 ; 9:7; 9:8; 9:10; 10:22.)

Cunningham, Loren; Hamilton, David Joel; Rogers, Janice (2011-02-23). Why Not Women? (Kindle Locations 2927-2941). Kindle Edition.

1 Corinthians 14:34 and 35 are obviously the quotes from the Corinthian letter to Paul.  He quotes it back to them and rebuts in verse 36, “What?

Gilbert Bilezikian paraphrases the two clauses in verse 36.  Since when have you become the source of divine revelation so that you make your own rules?  Or are you the exclusive recipients of a divine revelation that the rest of us should know about?

Notice in the Greek the pronouns switch from “they” (the women) in verses 34 and 35 to the 2nd person masculine in verse 36.  What? came the word of God out from you (masculine)? or came it unto you (masculine) only?

In conclusion: the church in Corinth was having problems keeping order in their meetings.  Some were suggesting to Paul that they could use oral cultural traditions and law to tell the women to be silent in the meetings.  Paul rebukes them sharply because silencing women is contrary to the will and heart of God.  Paul concludes with verses 39 and 40.

1 Corinthians 14:39, 40 (NIV)

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

 Let not your heart be troubled.  The Spirit of God leads us into all truth, if we will follow.  Don’t just accept this from me.  Don’t just accept what you have always been taught either.  I have an agenda, submission to Christ in all things.  Fear has an agenda also; religious doctrine.  Don’t be duped.  Dig deeper!

 For more study:

There is a lot of thorough and thoughtful study concerning the equal standing of men and women before God.  Below is a short list of well written studies on the subject which contain numerous additional references.

You can find support for whatever position you favor.  However, we will not grow while clinging to the familiar.  Only reading opinions that bolster yours provides no guarantee that you hold the truth.  I prefer to pray that the Spirit of God lead me into all truth.  I often pray, “Lord, if what I believe is true, then confirm it in Your peace.  If what I believe is not true, trouble my heart about it and lead me into Your truth with Your peace.”  God delights in such prayers and is faithful to lead us into kingdom reality.

A short list of references:

Carrie A. Miles and Laurence R. Iannaccone, Male and Female in Christ

Cheryl McGrath, Uncovering the “Covering Doctrine”

Danny Silk, Powerful & Free, Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church

Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles

J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women

Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton, Why Not Women?

Susan. C. Hyatt; In the Spirit We Are Equal



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