Does υποτασσομαι mean “submit”?

No, I don’t think it does.


What does “submit” mean?

Outside conservative Christian discussions about Biblical passages the only contexts that I can think of where we use the word “submit” are the following:

sending articles to journals for publication (or any kind of paper to someone else for publication, review, critique, etc.)

medical treatment.

Looking at the OED2, the latest reference to “submit” meaning, “To place oneself under the control of a person in authority or power; to become subject, surrender oneself, or yield to a person or his rule, etc.” is marked as Obsolete.

And Google makes it rather clear. Do a search for submit (or the phrase “submit to”) and count how many pages you go through before you find a hit that refers to submission to authority that isn’t a discussion of a Bible verse or Christian marriage or theology.

What other ways do we use “submit” in normal non-Biblish English?

36 thoughts on “Does υποτασσομαι mean “submit”?

Add yours

  1. In wrestling they had submission holds so presumably they submit. Someone might be forced to submit to a psychological evaluation, submit to a strip search at the airport, submit to peer review/evaluation. BTW in Merriam-Webster 11th ed the first definition of submit is “to yield to governance or authority.” I don’t think submit is dead yet.

  2. Thomas, I know its there as the first, I check both the OED and Webster, but I am convinced that Webster’s first meaning is far from primary today. Its obscure English. Here’s a helpful illustration. Search google for “submit” and count how many hits it takes before you find the meaning “yield to governance or authority” Even try using a phrase like “submit to.” I’ve found a couple, but very, very few – particularly when you rule out instances discussing or referring to scripture.

    Thanks for the contexts though. Those are helpful.

  3. An interesting point, Mike. But what other words are used? Or could it be that “submit” is rarely used in this sense because (outside the church) the whole concept of submission to authority is so completely outside most people’s thinking that they don’t even write about it any more?

  4. You know, that’s an interesting point! The problem with “orphan” words like these is when they’re alienated to a single context, their meaning can change without accountability.

    There are certainly many cases of “submission” in our culture. Everyone has a boss they follow. Kids have parents and teachers. Soldiers have commanding officers. And even if this idea wasn’t recognized by non-Christians, there are so many millions of English speaking Christians it wouldn’t matter. “Incarnation” has little concept outside the Church but is common English.

  5. Great fun, Mike. For visual proof, submit the word to or to an image search at google or yahoo.

    “not submit” yields both the Christian biblish and the Islam references.

    But are you saying that υποτασσομαι in the New Testament meant what “submit” meant in OED2 as now obsolete? In other words, is υποτασσομαι in the contexts of, say, Paul’s letter to people in Ephesus only (or even primarily) suggesting “To place oneself under the control of a person in authority or power; to become subject, surrender oneself, or yield to a person or his rule, etc.”?

  6. Ephilei, these days in the west people don’t submit, the concept as well as the word, even in the situations you name. Workers don’t submit to their bosses, they only reluctantly fulfil their side of a contract of employment. Students don’t submit to their teachers, they just do what they need to do to get qualifications. Kids don’t submit to their parents but expect them to provide everything they want and sulk or rebel if they don’t. Perhaps the concept survives in the military, but elsewhere outside the church it is obsolescent.

  7. J.K To answer you question indirectly, I think the two best glosses we could give this word today would either be “yield” or “defer.”

    As the question of “authority,” no its not inherent in the meaning of the word and only comes from context. There are two many examples where deferring to an authority isn’t in view.

  8. What constitutes “normal” English? Thomas brought up wrestling and to that I’d add mixed martial arts. I use the word “submit” all the time when I’m describing the manner in which certain fighters won their fights.

  9. Nick,
    Euripides has his Heracles (in Alcestis) saying, “Those victorious in the light events won horses as a prize, while those in the greater events, boxing and wrestling, won cattle, with a woman in addition.” Which makes it even funnier that Paul is telling the Greeks in Ephesus to have their women submit themselves to their husbands. But Paul tells them all to ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ, while Euripides only uses ὑποτασ* to have one of his characters talk about the geographic relation of the plains which run below (submissive to?) the hills. Is Paul’s Greek different from Euripides’s? Was “submit” ever the best English for his / their ὑποτασ*?

  10. That’s a good question JK.

    I think “submit” was originally chosen because of its etymology – from Latin – “put under.” But the verb can also mean “send” which is also where we get the much more common usage today – to submit a document.

  11. Sorry for the long comment, but Ann Nyland, in her Source New Testament, has some to say on “submit” in English (which she claims is the counterpart to the NT & Classical Greek “ὑπείκω, hupeiko, with dative. . . cf. Heb. 13:17. See also Soph. Aj. 231, O.T., 625; Aesch, Ag. 1362; Eur. I.A. 139.”). Nyland also has much to say on ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso, which she says is mistranslated “submit” in Ephesians.

    Here’s where Nyland has translated Paul’s letter to readers in Rome, and particularly Rom. 13:1, with 2 footnotes given (page 298) [& I’ve added the Greek]:

    “Every individual must be supportive* of the prominent authorities, for there is no authority that isn’t from God, but all those in existence have been posted** there by God.”
    [πᾶσα ψυχὴ ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις ὑποτασσέσθω* οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμέναι** εἰσίν]
    * ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso, in the passive means “to be attached to”, “to be in support of” (cf. Luc. Paras. 49) and was used of attached/appended (supporting) documents in the postal system.  See also Rom. 8:7, “For the thought processes of the natural realm are hostile to God, for they do not support (ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso) the law of God nor do they have the ability to do so.”  Horseley, NDEIC 1.3 states that a common non-N.T. use of ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso, is “append”, “attach below” discussed by MM s.v. and is attested in a letter of 114 B.C. (P.Teb, 1100).  It was commonly used in the postal system with the meaning, “stick (to)”, “attach”.  The 3rd or 4th C. magical text ed. pr. S. Kambitsis, BIAO 76 (1976) 213-223 (pl. 30 and 31), 1.s6, (region of Antinopolois,) states “ὑποτεταγμένεν εἰς τὸν ἀπαντα χρόνον ζωνης μου, hupotetagmemen eis ton apanta khronon tes zoes mou, attached to me for the rest of my life.”  Sarapammon has the text incised on a rolled up lead tablet to secure the love of Ptolemais.  He conjures demons and enlists the help of various underwold powers to ensure his success.  The first part of the text requires the powers to harass Ptolemais terribly until she does not reject him.  The last few lines of the text read: “…and I have Ptolemais herself whom Aias bore, the daughter of Horigenes, attached to me for the rest of my life, loving me, desiring me, telling me her thoughts.” 
    ** Paul again plays on words.  “Be posted with” is ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso,ὑπό hupo, + τάσσω, tasso.  The theme is military.  τάσσω, tasso.  means to post, station (in the army), to draw up in ὑπό hupo, order.  It can also mean to appoint as a ruler.  ὑπό hupo, with the genitive is “by” and is used to denote the agent of an act. 

  12. Interesting thread. Of course, I like the proposals Kurk reports best of all, except that I think they amount to wishful thinking.

    I concur with Mike in broad terms, that “submission” takes some explaining in today’s English *in the context of husband-wife, parent-child, and employer-employee relationships,* but not because the word or concept is obscure.

    The reason is another. We are to one extent or another all egalitarians now, and we all to one or extent or another struggle with the concepts of authority and hierarchy, both of which are, generally speaking, implied when the concept of submission is used.

    I don’t speak of myself as “submitting to” every human institution either (1 Peter 2:13), even though I do so; I don’t speak of the employees under my supervision as “submitting to” me, their supervisor either (1 Peter 2:18), even though they do so; and I don’t speak of my wife as submitting to me her husband (1 Peter 3:1), though she does so, routinely by mutual consent in the spheres of my responsibility, occasionally, due to the outcome of a tie-breaker, in major life-changing decisions; but also, vice-versa, I submit to her my wife, routinely by mutual consent, occasionally due to the outcome of a tie-breaker.

    The NRSV/NLT translation of upotassomai in 1 Peter 3:1, “wives accept the authority of your husbands,” is a fine dynamic equivalent.

    Some egals hate the above equivalent with a passion, that is, those egals who wish to eliminate the implication of submission to someone *in their sphere of authority* in the relevant passages.

    On another thread, Mike has already stated his opinion that upotassomai involves (let me put it this way) acceptance of someone’s lead “in their sphere of authority.”

    So, unless Mike has since changed his mind, we in agreement on this point.

  13. John, I don’t know of anyone would say otherwise – e.g. even in the Clement passage that pairs υποτασσομαι with αλληλοις there is still the strong of the authority on strength, the rich are the authority on wealth, etc. But in those cases, still we see that the author places the treatment of the weak and poor within the context of mutual submission – just as Paul does here.

    Its the same thing and I’m rather confident that passage is our earliest documented application of our Ephesians passage here – and thus an important key for interpreting it.

    1. Ephesians has its strongest literary ties to 1 Clement. What Clement does is to define strength and wealth with the head in contrast with the feet being the weak and poor. If people understood how the head is defined in Eph 5:23 within its cultural setting, then things would fall into place. The phrase “He savior of the body” stands in grammatical empathic apposition to “Christ head of the church.”

      I will try to break this down.

      Christ = He, head = savior, the church = the body.

      “Head” is defined by savior. It is in this way that husbands are head of their wives, as the savior of her body.

      In Greco-Roman culture, marriages were patron-client relationships. Husbands had higher social and economic status and were the benefactors of their wife. Notice that 1 Clement calls Christ the head of the Church, its Benefactor! What the author of Eph was saying to wives was for them to continue and submit to their husbands as was the custom because husbands were their providers and protectors. Give to Ceasor what is due to Ceasor is the implication. Connotations of authority with “head” was secondary to the husband’s prequalification of meeting a cultural standard first of providing and protecting. Without those two qualifications, the husband was not the head of his wife. “Head” has a large semantic range. It is used in a different was in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, also for a cultural reason.

      Eph 5 has patron-client relationship come into play, and the culture demanded obedience and servitude from the wife to her husband in exchange for what he gave her for her survival. A husband was in a sense, the source of life for his wife because typically she is dependent on him for her identity, social position, property/shelter, military protection, and he is her access to raw materials from which she prepares food and clothing.

      Therefore, in a one-flesh unit, the head was the most appropriate idiom for the husband in relation to his wife because the head of the body is the face and identity of the whole unit to the outside world, preeminent in social status, and superior in function in relation to the body. “Function” representing the ability to nourish and provide for the body, to protect it from danger with sight, hearing, speech, etc, and therefore leadership is unavoidable to some degree in order to accomplish its task in saving and preserving the body.

      See Philip Payne page 284 and 286 for emphatic apposition with kephale defined as savior. The head also had higher honor and leadership rights in relation to the rest of the body, see 1 Clement’s comparison of head and feet, strong and weak, rich and poor and mutual submission in proportion to one another’s gifts. See also 1 Peter 3:7 the “weaker vessel” and giving honor. There is a reason 1 Peter calls the wife a weaker vessel and demands honor. She is not just a weaker vessel in and of herself, she is the weaker vessel in contrast to her husband, in both rank, privileges, and society at large.

      Eph 5:25-33 implements an intentional literary style called a “Jewish Motif of Dual Reversal.” This is not just asking husbands to be nice rulers or benevolent leaders, it literally attempts to reverse the power gap by commanding husbands to abandon self-interest and the status that came with being a Benefactor as “head” of the wife.

      (Mark 10:45) “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’” But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.

      When Jesus said the word “Benefactors” that was the Roman system of Patron-client that undergirded the whole society. Eph 5:25-33 attempted to implement Mark 10:45. It used an intentional literary style known as “Jewish Motif of Dual Reversal” the same one used in 1 Cor 11:3-16 when man is called the “head” of the woman.

      Tragically, it never took off historically because men always looked to Eph 5:24 as their green light to control their wife in everything and screened all of the instructions to them through the lens of falsely assuming Christ’s lordship to themselves on account of verse 23.

  14. Mike,

    If upotassomai implies subordination to someone within that someone’s sphere of authority – here we agree – it is paradoxical to use it, for example, such that a father’s non-exasperation of his children is understood as a form of submission to his children.

    It’s not clear to me how you come down on this in the case of the Ephesians passage. On principle, it’s not impossible that Paul used the language of submission paradoxically precisely in that way. But do the structural, verbal, and pragmatic cues in the text, all things considered, support such a paradoxical reading?

    Clement and especially Chrysostom are very adept as using language paradoxically. Still, as I think we both recognize, that does not change the fact that for them, mutuality does not overturn hierarchy, but rather, redeems it.

    The rich and the poor go on being rich and poor, the slaveowner and slave go on being what they are, husband and wife go on relating to one another in terms of the differentiated roles cultural convention, law, and the Church fathers assigned to them.

    An important exegetical question is the following: how paradoxical is Paul in his use of the language of submission in Eph 5:21-6:8? There are two possibilities, it seems to me.

    (1) Even more paradoxical than Clement and Chrysostom were. On this hypothesis, Eph 5:22-6:8 lists six examples of submission, three straightforward, three paradoxical, in which we must take it as implied, for example, that a father is to submit to his children in his children’s sphere of authority/skill. I can’t think of an example from Clement or Chrysostom that reaches this level of paradox.

    (2) Not paradoxical. On this hypothesis, the Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter passages are on the same page, except that the Ephesians passage, as you note, develops the “love” aspect of the husband’s duty very extensively, in line with an overall theme of the letter. On this hypothesis, 5:21-6:8 would have a double-nested structure.

    I could very well be simplifying the exegetical options here. But that’s the best I can do on a napkin-sized post.

  15. John, I think we can reasonably argue that parents (pateres can be gender generic as in Hebrews 11:23) should submit to their children in the sense of putting their own needs behind those of their children, in providing for them food, clothing etc. Most parents do this automatically, but not all, so Paul’s command is needed. Paul also specifically commands that parents are not to provoke their children, which also means putting the children’s wishes before their own. I’m not sure if this is a form of submission in the English sense of the word, but I don’t see why it can’t be a sense of hupotassomai.

  16. Peter,

    What examples do you know of in which hupotassomai is used to refer to parents “putting the children’s wishes before their own”? I don’t know of any.

    In household code material and other contexts of Greco-Roman ethical counsel comparable to the relevant passages in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter (I leave to one side the Pastorals, but I really shouldn’t, if Clement and Chrysostom are also brought into the discussion), hupotassomai has a completely straightforward usage. See the discussion and references in egal John Elliot’s Anchor Bible commentary on 1 Peter.

    To be sure, Clement and Chrysostom develop the teaching of mutual submission in the direction you wish to see in Ephesians, but even they do not go as far as you are suggesting.

    As far as I can see, you have yet to establish the possibility of a single nested six-bulleted structure in Ephesians 5:21-6:8. Its probability, therefore, seems out of the question.

    Regardless, Peter, I would rather emphasis our points of agreement. My understanding is that if you thought that 5:21-6:8 has a double-nested structure, that would not stop you from being an egal. Why would it, after all?

    In that case, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter would simply be that much more in harmony with each other in terms of giving differentiated, not symmetrical advice, to the parts in household relations.

    The challenges of appropriating the differentiated advice of the passages for our day remain in any case.

  17. John, the issue is that I don’t see a shred of proper exegetical evidence for your double-nested structure, apart from the presupposition which you impose on the text that Paul held certain patriarchal views. The evidence for hupotassomai referring to parents “submitting” to children is right there in 5:21, reading allelois in its regular sense of full mutuality.

  18. Peter,

    That’s fine with me if you don’t see the evidence.

    However, perhaps you have yet to work through the primary sources. For the cultural-historical evidence, I would point you to the work of Carolyn Osiek and David Balch. For convenience, I refer to my blog posts and link to a short essay by Osiek. For Jewish and Greco-Roman parallels in particular to what we find in the NT household codes, I would point you to the discussions in Andrew Lincoln’s Ephesians commentary, James Dunn’s Colossians commentary, and John Eliott’s commentary on 1 Peter.

    BTW, all of the authors I refer you to are egalitarians. Several of them are also evangelical. Since I studied the New Testament primarily in a secular university settings and non-evangelical European settings, I wasn’t even aware until recently that there were exegetes who, to use your language, “imposed on the text that Paul held” certain egalitarian views.

    I thought we agreed that Paul was what a social historian like Troeltsch calls a love-patriarchalist. But perhaps I misread some earlier comment you made.

    There is plenty of evidence for the view that Paul was a patriarchalist from 1 Corinthians 7, not just Colossians and the Pastorals (on 1 Cor 7 I would point you to Richard Hays’ commentary, and Anthony Thiselton’s commentary – Thiselton is a British evangelical egal). If so, and if Ephesians was written by Paul (I think it was), it stands to reason that Ephesians 5:21-6:8 is to be understood as a double-nested structure.

    On grounds of intellectual honesty, I have a hard time avoiding that conclusion. That’s all I’m saying.

  19. John: Not that Peter can’t defend himself…but I think you’ve missed his point.

    Your response seems to refer to cultural questions and then you provide a whole lot of evidence about cultural issues and questions. And then ends with your assertion about the structure of the discourse. Yes, yes, I know you’d say that they’re connected closely to each other and that the cultural questions impact what Paul wrote. But nothing you’ve said is actually exegetical grounds for your double nested structure. There are also sorts of structure’s Paul could have used on the basis of his cultural-historical background. So culture is not the issue here.

    On grounds of intellectual honesty, I think you’ve given Peter a red herring – not to mention that its not particularly helpful in such discussions to make assumptions about what a person has or has not read. I see that as a rhetorical ploy more than anything else.

  20. Mike,

    On the contrary, I think Paul’s stance toward culture as attested elsewhere in his corpus is of extraordinary exegetical relevance to the questions of how far and in what sense Paul departs from, and aligns himself with, culture in 5:21-6:8.

    Beyond that, by exegetical grounds, I assumed that what upotassomai means elsewhere in household codes and in Jewish and Greco-Roman ethical advice on marriage, family, etc. more generally would fall into that category. This is a upotassomai thread after all. In and of itself, I think the evidence in that sense puts the burden of proof on anyone who wishes to argue for six examples of upotassomai in Ephesians 5:22-6:8. If you think otherwise, I would love to know why.

    My references to the secondary literature were not meant to assume anything. No red herring intended. However, I’ve debated these questions at length elsewhere. It has become clear that many people have not worked through the primary sources, and feel no need to mount a careful argument for a definition of upotassomai from which the concepts of hierarchy and authority have been exported, even after it is pointed out that the standard lexica and reference tools define upotassomai as you do, in terms of submitting to someone in their sphere of authority.

    Actually, upotassomai in Ephesians 5:21 (but not elsewhere in the household codes) is understood differently in some lexica, based, it seems to me, on a paragraph division between 5:21 and 22. But I could be wrong about that.

    Beyond the cultural-historical evidence, the majority of textual parallels in and outside the New Testament, the sense upotassomai has in household codes, I could point out other textual clues that support a double-nested reading. I have done so in the past.

    But it sounds like you have worked on this passage a lot longer than I have. If you support a single-nested reading, that’s fine with me. I would love to hear on what grounds, exegetical and otherwise, you have reached that conclusion.

  21. John, there is only one relevant primary source, the text of the Bible, in Greek, which I have looked at. Is there anything in that text to suggest your double nested structure? If not, you are imposing presuppositions from outside, not even from the same letter, on the discourse structure of the text.

    1 Corinthians 7 properly understood shows Paul as almost completely egalitarian, at least up to verse 24. I have studied this in detail.

  22. Peter,

    I was taught to do exegesis along very different lines than you suggest.

    We’ve covered this ground before, haven’t we? In other contexts you have stated your disinterest in the so-called Apocrypha on the one hand and the Church Fathers on the other. I imagine Aristotle, Josephus, and Plutarch interest you even less.

    In addition, it appears that you consider linguistic analysis as you practice it to trump cultural-historical consideration, coherency-of-corpus arguments, patterns of usage of particular words and concepts across comparable contexts in biblical and extra-biblical sources, and so on. I have grave difficulties with that.

    I did not know that you think a comparison with texts elsewhere in the Pauline corpus and beyond amounts to imposing presuppositions from outside. I was taught to do form-criticism on a comparative basis.

    But at least I understand your position better.

    With respect to 1 Corinthians 7, I meant to point you to 1 Cor 11. My bad. Now, if you think that 1 Cor 11 is egalitarian, I will truly be astounded. In that case, what I’ve come to understand about that passage and Paul’s understanding of hierarchy, based on the arguments and conclusions of the scholars I’ve mentioned, must be dead wrong.

  23. John, as I was taught to do exegesis one does the linguistic analysis of the text BEFORE considering cultural and theological issues relevant to it. The latter certainly come into the picture in exegesis but only later on, when the basic meaning of the text has been established.

    I have problems with appeals to non-canonical authors because I reject your apparent presupposition that the teaching of biblical authors is necessarily in accordance with theirs. In some cases it is, but in other cases it isn’t, sometimes in rather subtle ways. Paul’s household codes may have formal similarities to extra-biblical ones, but I would suggest that Paul uses the form quite deliberately to undermine parts of the message.

    I don’t claim that 1 Corinthians 11 is entirely egalitarian, but I don’t think it is as grossly patriarchal as understood by some, possibly including “scholars” you named, who misunderstand kephale as “ruler”.

  24. Peter,

    I am happy, believe me, to be classed with those you label as “scholars” in quotation marks who “misunderstand.”

    It’s clear that for you the hermeneutical circle from which I interpret any act of communication is likewise a misunderstanding. Well, now you hit on a hobby-horse of mine.

    It is imperative to interpret communication by bringing all of one’s knowledge to bear simultaneously in the act of interpretation. This is what we do all day long in real time. It is no different in the study of an ancient text.

    Your step-by-step approach is a facile substitute for the normal method of interpreting an act of communication.

    I’ve noticed, furthermore, how often the step-by-step approach interpreter never climbs to the top of the steps. After so-called linguistic analysis, the interpreter pauses, glances at the panorama, is satisfied, and climbs no higher.

    Climb to the top of the steps. The view, I assure you, is wonderful.

  25. Maybe someone can help me. I am wondering how one would say “i submit to you” in NT Greek. The “middle voice” seems appropriate, just not sure how to write it in first person singular.

      1. what would it be then?
        ὐποτάσσῶ σε?

        Basically to capture the terminology that speaks to the willful allegiance, support, carrying a burden, etc.

        (i’m more curious than anything, yet a layman when it comes to Greek)

        1. very cool, thanks! it’s been interesting to learn the distinctions of what it means to submit and then, hopefully, apply it in a proper manner.

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