Mutual Submission: Biblical or a Myth?

Tim Challies brings us another gem in his article on a consistently controversial yet vitally important subject. This post reminds us to shape our theology on a proper interpretation of the Word of God, not because of social pressure or political correctness.

“There is a lot of debate over how to take the command in Ephesians 5:18-21 to “Be filled with the Spirit … submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How you interpret this text is, for many, the dividing line between being egalitarian or complementarian in their view of the roles of men and women in general and husbands and wives in particular.

The two main lines of interpretation are

1. “Submitting to one another” indicates mutual submission, which means that Spirit-filled Christians are to submit equally to one another without making hierarchical distinctions. This is the traditionally egalitarian interpretation.

2. “Submitting to one another” is a call to recognize the differing roles of authority that God has established in society and to submit appropriately to each one. This is the traditionally complementarian interpretation.

Peter O’Brien, in his excellent commentary on Ephesians, offers a helpful outline of the arguments behind each of these interpretations. Below is a summary of what he has written.

The first interpretation is often supported by the arguments that

1. Grammatically, Paul uses the verb “submit” in a form (the “middle/passive voice” for you Greek-ers) that softens its meaning so that it indicates a more voluntary, self-sacrificing kind of submission.

2. Paul adds the expression “to one another” after the verb to indicate the elimination of any idea of hierarchy in how we understand who is supposed to submit to whom. Submission is to be across horizontal lines, among equals.

The second interpretation is often supported by the arguments that

1. Wherever else the verb “submit” occurs in the New Testament, regardless of its form, it implies an ordered relationship in which one party is “over” and another “under.” And since the same understanding of “submit” fits well in Ephesians 5:21 and it’s context, there is no warrant to go beyond its usual semantic range and interpret it otherwise.

2. The expression “to one another” does not always indicate a fully reciprocal relationship in the New Testament (see Revelation 6:4 and Galatians 6:2, where the actions in view are not always two-way streets).

3. The flow of the argument—seen in how Paul moves immediately in 5:22-6:9 to spell out what submission looks between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters—illustrates that he sees a God-designed order in society for who ought to submit to whom.

O’Brien concludes that, “on grounds of semantics, syntax, and the flow of Paul’s argument we prefer the latter interpretation. The apostle is not speaking of mutualsubmission in the sense of a reciprocal subordination, but submission to those who are in authority over them.” You will not be surprised to learn that I find his argument compelling.”

Tim Challies, 01/23/2012, Posted at:

Mythology of the Mean Innkeeper

“The Christmas portions of the gospels are at once the most beloved and the most mythologized texts in the New Testament. Like works of art that have been lacquered with coat after coat of varnish, the details of the original stories are sometimes hard to see clearly. In the last few posts I suggested that a close reading of Matthew’s account (chapter two) reveals that the star may be something entirely different than a comet or supernova or planetary conjunction, as is so often taught.

Today we turn to Luke’s account, famous for spawning a zillion nativity scenes with kids clothed in bathrobes and towels around their heads. The most obvious misreading of this text lies in the portrayal of an unmentioned innkeeper who heartlessly turns away the poor couple and forces them to find a stable.

Where did they stay in Bethlehem? Luke tells us that after the birth, Mary put the baby in a “manger,” or feeding trough, because there was “no room for them in the καταλυμα – kataluma” (Luke 2:7). While this term was translated as “inn” by the KJV, Luke elsewhere uses it to mean a “guest room” (Luke 22:11, the site of the Last Supper). When Luke does wants to speak about an inn, he the Greek word πανδοχειον – pandocheion (Luke 10:34, in the parable of the Good Samaritan).

Thus, Luke says nothing about Joseph and Mary being denied access to an inn and Mary having to bear the child in a barn. Historically, it is far more likely that Mary and Joseph had their child in the humble back portion of the ancestral home where the most valued animals were fed and housed, because the guest room in the family home was already occupied. In any case, Bethlehem was such a small village that it is not even clear it would have had a wayside inn. Admittedly, Jesus’ beginnings were humble, but we don’t need to mythologize them into a story about a pregnant Mom being cast out by a heartless innkeeper.

You probably know that by conflating the two separate accounts of Matthew and Luke, Nativity sets for years have included the Magi with the shepherds in that stable scene. It is obvious that Matthew states that they came to a house, not to a stable (Matt. 2:11).

I am not trying to be α cynical ‘‘Grinch,” and yes, our own Nativity set does contain the Magi! I am just asking us all to base our beliefs on the actual text of Scripture and not on centuries of religious paintings and a translation that could be improved!”

-Dr. William Varner, Complements of: