A Lengthy Comment on Submission…

This post is actually a comment in reply to another comment in the post below, but I thought it was worth posting because its long and detailed, and applicable to the focus of this blog…

While I do respect the hierarchical interpretation of verse 22 with αλλήλων not being used in a mutual manner. I still disagree and explanations are easily anticipated. For one, Chrysostom’s separation of verse 21 from verse 22 has less to do with his understanding of the flow of Paul’s argument and more to do with his texts which for one is thoroughly of the majority tradition and secondly, it is well documented that lectionaries consistently split the text at verse 22, which skews the entire passage toward an inadequate reading that is challenged by p46 and others. So to appeal to Chrysostom’s dividing of the text is quite inconclusive. We do definitely for sure that his text had a verb in verse 22 and it is entirely possible (if not likely) that his writing is based on a lectionary that had already separated these verses.

It also must be noted that Chrysostom likely did not write his homilies straight through so that he wrote on marriage and then slaves and children directly after his looked at verses 18-21.

But regardless of all of that, the question regarding the reliability of Chrysostom for this verse has nothing to do with his exegetical/literal reliability. Silva’s point is what Chrysostom does not say in his exegesis, so how he divided the text or what he said later doesn’t matter. What is important is that there isn’t any debate in his mind regarding this particular exegetical challenge. The point I’m trying to make has nothing to do with what Chrysostom thinks about this particular problem because in his mind no exegetical problem exists. He’s just writing what he naturally reads. The full quote from Silva is this:

Strange as it may sound, Chrysostom, along with other Greek fathers, can be particularly helpful when he does not offer an opinion on an exegetical problem. As a native Greek speaker, his innate sense of the language—but not necessarily his conscious reflection on it—provides an important bridge between the modern commentator and the Pauline writings (with the qualification that Paul’s Greek was of course not identical to Chrysostom’s). Educated speakers are notoriously unreliable in analyzing their own language. If Chrysostom weighs two competing interpretations, his conclusion should be valued as an important opinion and no more. If, on the other hand, he fails to address a linguistic problem because he does not appear to perceive a possible ambiguity, his silence is of the greatest value in helping us determine how Paul’s first readers were likely to have interpreted the text.

Moisés Silva, Philippians (2nd ed.; BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 27.

So regardless of his exposition, thoughts about slavery later in other homilies has nothing to do with the fact that he doesn’t see any question about the mutuality of αλληλων.

I also do not see αλληλων as fully reciprocal. It does not need to be in order to maintain a mutual relationship. And since I’ve already given my own exposition and exegesis above, I’ll just drop one more quote this time from I. Howard Marshall:

Admittedly, the pronoun is regularly used of people’s doing things to others who are also doing the same things to them, but without specifying that literally everybody does it to literally everybody else. “We talked to each other” clearly means “I said something to you and you said something to me”. “They said to one another” suggests more loosely that an unspecified number of people in the group said something to others in the group, with the result that at least some people were both speakers and hearers. But there is nothing in the usage to suggest that the people can be divided into distinct groups of those who spoke and heard. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that on hearing “Be subject to one another”, some members of the congregation said, “But of course that doesn’t apply to me, since I am a husband/father/master/church leader”.

Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 196 n34.

It also seems unhelpful to appeal to the later section of the passage as well. When the audience would have heard verse 21, they would not being thinking to themselves, “oh well, Paul will being talking about slaves later, just wait for that.”

For the record, I’m incredibly impressed with Peter O’Brien’s commentary on Ephesians (I’ll be reviewing it in the next month or two). I prefer it to Hoehner’s, for readability though not for detail (by the way Hoehner views verse 21 as describing mutual submission, but then goes on and prefers a variant reading for verse 22 in order to maintain his hierarchical perspective on marriage [which was very surprising, very few scholars have done that in the past 150 years]). Not even Alford accepted such a reading and his commentary was written before most of the manuscripts with an ellipsis were found.

But again, I respect the complimentarian (or whatever you prefer to call it) interpretation of this passage. When I read Peter O’Brien’s discussion of this verse back in late August, his argument had thoroughly convinced me and I spent a good month considering the implications for my very recent marriage. That I read Silva was only by “chance” (Calvinist) since my wife and I were working through Philippians that summer together (she has a year of formal Greek study [and more on her own] and four years of Latin under her belt – yes I do find that incredibly attractive). All this to say that I understand this view and respect it. The argument is strong, just in my opinion, not strong enough.

7 thoughts on “A Lengthy Comment on Submission…

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  1. Mike, I wasn’t trying to say that Chrysostom divided the text on his own. I was saying that he was working with a text that already divided v. 22 from v. 21, and that his text already included that imperative in v. 22. That division of the text allowed him to address v. 21 without the qualifications that Paul himself placed on it. When a person does that, then it very naturally reads as a command for mutual submission. But sans that extra imperative, it becomes necessary to read vv. 22ff. as an explanation of how the αλληλων in v. 21 was intended. Since Chrysostom was not working from a text that allowed this syntactical observation, his silence on the meaning of αλληλων is completely moot.

    Moreover, I’m sorry, but I still don’t buy the general principle. And I have to call you on it. You haven’t provided any evidence as to why this methodology of appealing to Chrysostom’s silence on a matter is valid evidence for establishing the semantic range of a word. You have only provided a quote from Silva. A quote from someone who believes something is not evidence. Just try this, without looking at Chrysostom, pick out a number of words in Ephesians that you know can function in different ways or mean different things. Then check Chrysostom’s Ephesians homilies and count how many times he brings up the differing options. I dare to say it will be pretty close to never. This is not because we moderns are completely lost in the Greek of Ephesians. It is because Chrysostom just doesn’t usually do that. He takes his view and runs with it.

    Even if Chrysostom were working from a text where v. 22 were epexegetical to v. 21, his silence about αλληλων would not be admissible evidence about its range of meaning. The NT itself provides enough examples of it not being strictly reciprocal that it is impossible to say it always was. But, the fact that he was working from a text were v. 22 is NOT set epexegetically to v. 21 means that the main reason for seeing αλληλων the way I do has been removed, and appealing to his silence here is even more tenuous than it would be in other occasions (which would still be tenuous).

  2. Also, just for the record, I have never read O’Brien’s commentary. Or if I ever have, it was a long time ago. I don’t know where I may have first come across the observation that the αλληλων in v. 21 is explained by the various relationships in the following verses, but as I read the passage now I can see no other possible way, especially when adhering to the shorter text of v. 22. My arguments here, good and bad, are my own.

  3. Eric, thank you for the follow up. You words are quite fair and I will continue to study the passage and Chrysostom. In actuality, my plan for the summer was to translation his homilies on Ephesians into English.

    The reason I focused on O’Brien in this post was because I was trying to make it less personal, this same post is in the comments section of the previous post still, if you want to see.

    But I will continue to disagree for other reasons. For one, I do not see the words ὑποτάσσω and ὑπακούω as being synonyms. I think they are closely related and are used interchangeably in some places, but that does not necessitate that they are here. And appealing to 1 Peter 3 to prove they are doesn’t do anything (I know you didn’t, but that’s a common appeal). Peter’s internal lexicon is not Paul’s.

    If anything, I think its more likely that Paul used a different word for wives than for children and slaves in order to make a distinction in his discussion.

    And again, I don’t find your views about αλληλων as being conclusive because perfect reciprocity is not necessary for the word to be understood as mutual. Mutuality do not require full reciprocity.

    But I will study Chrysostom more. I’ve been planning on translating his homilies on Ephesians and this discussion with you has given me greater interest in doing so.

  4. That sounds like a great project. Keep us posted on your progress. Your Greek may well be better than mine. But, in case you haven’t started dabbling in Chrysostom yet, you’ll find that his Greek is overall pretty different from the NT. For somebody trained exclusively in the Greek of the NT, like myself, working through Chrysostom is a slow ordeal. OTOH, if you stick to it, this project will really put you light years ahead of your peers at Regent or TWU in Greek.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to see υποτασσω and υπακουω as perfect synonyms here. It’s very possible that you are correct that Paul switched from one to the other for a reason. However, because of their basic equivalence and because of the basic parallelism of the 4 relationships Paul addresses in order here, it’s impossible for me not to see 6:1ff. and 6:5ff. as a continuation of the explanation of “submitting to one another” that began in 5:22. One way to consider might be to say that υποτασσω has a broader meaning than υπακουω, so that Paul’s command for wives could be obeyed in a variety of ways of submitting, whereas for children and slaves, their submission is to take the particular form of obedience. I can conceive of this rather easily, actually, because obedience presupposes the giving of direct instructions to be followed, which is inherent in the relationships of parents to children and masters to slaves. Submission, more generally, does not require that notion, so that there are ways Paul could want a wife to submit to her husband without trucking in the idea of him giving her orders.

  5. Mike said, “And again, I don’t find your views about αλληλων as being conclusive because perfect reciprocity is not necessary for the word to be understood as mutual. Mutuality do not require full reciprocity.”

    This is true, but even mutuality (in the sense of Chrysostom’s interpretation) is not inherent in the meaning of αλληλων. My reading of αλληλων in Eph 5:21 is in accord with many of its occurrences throughout the NT. The idea of there being a variety of relationships (such as those explained in 5:22ff., 6:1ff., and 6:5ff.) in which some Christians would be expected to submit to others, is a completely appropriate occasion to use αλληλων as a blanket term. If that list were extended to include all such relationships (parishioner to pastor, student to teacher, employee to employer, citizen to governing authorities), then all Christians will find themselves in a place of obligation to submit to another Christian at some point. From the usage of αλληλων throughout the NT there is absolutely no problem reading it this way here. In fact, if we accept the shorter reading of v. 22, it becomes practically unavoidable.

  6. Thanks Eric, this discussion has been a pleasure. You’ve given me a lot to think about.
    I might even have to go back and re-study αλλήλων one more time.
    When I do, I’ll definite put of a post.

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