The Myth Of “Mutual Submission” -- By: Wayne Grudem

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 01:4 (Oct 1996)
Article: The Myth Of “Mutual Submission”
Author: Wayne Grudem

The Myth Of “Mutual Submission”

Wayne Grudem

How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord”? Easy: they just look at verse 21, which says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then they say, “Of course wives are to be subject to their husbands, but husbands are also to be subject to their wives.”

The result is what they call “mutual submission,” and in their view that means that there is no unique authority or leadership role for the husband in a marriage. They redefine “submission” to mean something like “considerateness, thoughtfulness, an attitude of love toward one another, putting the other person’s interests above your own.”

Of course no one can object to the ideas of mutual considerateness, thoughtfulness, and love! These are clearly taught in the New Testament. But are these ideas what this verse, Ephesians 5:21, really means?

I do not think so. In fact, I think that the whole idea of “mutual submission” as an interpretation of “be subject to one another” in Ephesians 5:21 is a terribly mistaken idea. It can be advocated only by failing to appreciate the precise meanings of the Greek words for “be subject to” and “one another.” Once these terms are understood correctly, I think the idea of “mutual submission” in marriage will be seen to be a myth without foundation in Scripture at all.

1. The Meaning Of “Be Subject To”

The first reason I think “some to others” is a better understanding of Ephesians 5:21 is the meaning of the Greek word hypotassō (“be subject to, submit to”). Although some have claimed that the word can mean “be thoughtful and considerate; act in love” (toward another), there is no hard evidence to show that any first-century Greek speaker would have understood it that way, for the term always implies a relationship of submission to an authority.

Look at how this word is used elsewhere in the New Testament:

  • Jesus is subject to the authority of his parents (Luke 2:51)
  • demons are subject to the disciples (Luke 10:17: clearly the meaning “act in love, be considerate” cannot fit here!)
  • citizens are to be subject to government authorities (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1
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