Here we will perform Analysis Item #1
- How are other Greek words that are translated into the same English word/clause.
- How does the contextual use of these other words in other verses inform our understanding of the use of the same English word in this verse.
In summary, we are identifying whether the word in this verse should be thought of in the same sense that we typically think of the word in English OR are there some refinements and/or boundaries on how we should understand this word in this context.
Most translations use the word “submit”, but there are some that use “subject”. For some, the differences between submit/submission and subject/subjection are not very clear. That includes me. The distinctions between these words were not extremely clear to me at the start of this study. We will set our scope of study to include all of the following words:
English Definition of Subject
There are multiple senses of subject. We will only look at the relevant senses.
- As an Adjective
- owing obedience or allegiance to the power or dominion of another
- As a Transitive Verb
- to bring under control or dominion
English Definition of Subjection
There are multiple senses of subjection. We will only look at the relevant senses.
- the act of subjecting
- the state or fact of being subjected
English Definition of Submit
There are multiple senses of submit. We only look at the relevant senses.
- to yield to governance or authority
- to subject to a condition, treatment, or operation
- to yield oneself to authority or will of another
- to permit oneself to be subjected to something
English Definition of Submission
There are multiple senses of submission. We will only look at the relevant senses.
- the condition of being submissive, humble, or compliant
- an act of submitting to the authority or control of another
- #1 – (82%) 35 0f 43 – hupotasso as subject [verb] (Strong’s 5293) – to submit to one’s control, to obey/be subject
- Luke 10:17, 10:20; Romans 8:7, 8:20, 10:3, 13:1; 1 Corinthians 14:32, 15:27-28, 16:16; Ephesians 1:22, 5:21, 5:24; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5, 2:9, 3:1; Hebrews 2:5, 2:8; 12:9; James 4:7, 1 Peter 2:13, 2:18, 3:1, 3:5, 3:22, 5:5
- #2 – (12%) 5 of 43 – enochos as subject [adjective] (Strong’s 1777) – bound, under obligation, subject to, liable
- Matthew 5:21-22; Hebrews 2:15
- #3 – (2%) 1 of 43 – hupotasso as subjection [verb] (Strong’s 5293) – to submit to one’s control, to obey/be subject
- Romans 13:5
- #4 – (2%) 1 of 43 – hupotage as subjection [noun] (Strong’s 5292) – the act of subjecting
- Galatians 2:5
- #5 – (2%) 1 of 43 – enocho as subject [verb] (Strong’s 1758) – to be held, entangled, be held ensnared
- Galatians 5:1
Greek Words Translated to Submit (3 Occurrences), Submission (4 Occurrences)
- #1 – (43%) 3 of 7 – hupotage as submission [noun] (Strong’s 5292) – the act of subjecting
- 2 Corinthians 9:13; 1 Timothy 2:11, 3:4
- #2 – (14%) 1 0f 7 – hupotasso as submit [verb] (Strong’s 5293) – to submit to one’s control, to obey/be subject
- Luke 2:51
- #3 – (14%) 1 0f 7 – hupotasso as submission [verb] (Strong’s 5293) – to submit to one’s control, to obey/be subject
- 1 Corinthians 14:34
- #4 – (14%) 1 of 7 – dogmatizo as submit [verb] (Strong’s 1379) – be subject to ordinances
- Colossians 2:20
- (14%) 1 of 7 hupeiko as submit [verb] (Strong’s 5226) – to resist no longer, but to give way, yield (of combatants); metaphorically, to yield to authority and admonition
- Hebrews 13:17
Roadmap for Comparing and Contrasting
There are a pretty small number of words to consider. There are two pairs of words that have very close relationships. After looking at these two pairings, we only have two (2) other words to consider. We will look at all of them and then summarize our findings.
The main difficulty in looking at submit and subject is that these two words are very close in meaning in any language. Both words have several senses, but we when we isolate ourselves to the sense of (being subject to a person, submitting to a person) they are very similar. After reviewing a number of dictionaries and lexicons the assumption used is that these two words are two sides of the same coin. There are times that trying to use these words interchangeably doesn’t make sense, but in various other instances it is fine to use either one without significantly affecting the meaning. The key point is that the underlying substance of both of these words is very similar. Both words have to do with one person being under the control of another person.
Another difficulty comes in when we start to try to compare and contrast other Greek words with the one used in Hebrews 13:17. Hebrews 13:17 uses a verb (hupeiko) for submit that isn’t found anywhere else in the Bible. This means that it is hard for us to get s sense for this word based solely on its is in the Word of God. This also helps us in our study, but it makes our findings a little less sure.
Relevant in Opposition
We do not have any words that are translated to submit or subject which are significantly opposed to our word for submit in Hebrews 13:17. There are distinctions between our word, hupeiko, and other Greek words that are translated to submit/subject but it is believed that the differences are not strong enough to represent enough of an opposition to present them in this section.
All of the words we will consider are believed to be relevant for refining our understanding of the word used in Hebrews 13:17.
Relevant for Refining
These two words are the most important words for us to review and understand to give us a context for looking at the word for “submit” in Hebrews 13:17 (hupeiko).
Hupotage (subjection) is the noun form of the verb hupotasso. Hupotasso (subject) has the clear sense of submitting (or being subject) to another person.
The translation of the Bible used for this word study decided to use the word “subject” as much as possible and only use “submit” where absolutely necessary. This is good for word studies, but you may find that other translations move between subject, subjection, submit, submission more freely. This does not seem problematic in the case of these two words.
It is useful to review all the verses with these words to get a good sense for how these two words are used. You will find examples of subjecting to persons and things (including metaphysical ones). Here, we want to review several key verses that use these Greek words to help us understand what may not be included in our word (hupeiko). These verses are grouped in two ways:
- The extent to which one party is under another party. Is it full or partial?
- One Party Being Fully Under Another Party
- One Party Being Under Another Party, But Not Fully
- Into conceptual arenas where the submission or subjection is being applied
- Citizens and Government/Governing Authorities
- Husbands and Wives
- Masters and Slaves
- Believers to God, Believers to Jesus
- Older Believers and Younger Believers
- Sibling Believers
- Believers and Those Laboring/Leading Well
Group #1 – One Party Being Fully Under Another Party
Citizens to Government/Governing Authorities
There isn’t any room on this one. The Bible is clear about submission to government, governing authorities and it is fully expected. There aren’t any exceptions that can be seen here with one very small exception which requires a much more thorough understanding of the distinctions between submission and obedience.
Romans 13:1-3 – Let every person be subject (hupotasso) to the governing authorities, for their is no authority except by God, and those that exist are put in place by God. So then, the one who resists authority resists the ordinance which is from God, and those who resits will receive condemnation on themselves. For rulers (archon) are not a cause of terror for a good deed, but for bad conduct. So do you want not to be afraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from it.
Titus 3:1 – Remind them (believers) to be subject (hupotasso) to the rulers (arche) and to the authorities, to obey, to be prepared for every good work
1 Peter 2:13-14 – Subject (hupotasso) yourselves to every human authority for the sake of the Lord, whether to a king as having supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him for the punishment of those who do evil and the praise of those who do good.
Masters and Slaves
There isn’t any room on this one. The Bible is also clear about submission to masters.
Titus 2:9 – Slaves must be subject (hupotasso) to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not to talk back, not stealing, but demonstrating all good faith, in order that they may credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything.
1 Peter 2:18 – Domestic slaves, be subject (hupotasso) to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unjust.
Believers to God, Believers to Jesus
The Bible is clear on submission to God and that it needs to be full and complete, but it should be noted that God is the kindest and most generous of all and His approach to bringing us into submission is the most graceful, most merciful. Our submission to God is desired, expected, but God does not force us into it in the same way that other authorities in our lives do.
Ephesians 5:24 – But as the church is subject (hupotasso) to Christ, thus also wives should be subject to their husbands in everything.
Hebrews 12:9 – Furthermore, we have had our earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them. Will we not much rather subject (hupotasso) ourselves to the Father of our spirits and live?
James 4:7 – Therefore subject (hupotasso) yourselves to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Group #2 – One Party Being Under Another Party, But Not Fully
Husbands and Wives
This was the most difficult one to decide between Group #1 (fully under) and Group #2 (not fully under). I put this in Group #2 (not fully under) because of 1 Corinthians 7:4 and Ephesians 5:24. I believe that the Bible is clear that a wife is to be in submission to her husband, but there are some caveats. A deeper understand of the caveats requires a much more thorough understanding of the distinctions between submission and obedience.
Ephesians 5:24 – But as the church is subject (hupotasso) to Christ, thus also wives should be subject (not in Greek text, but presumed to be the saming meaning as hupotasso due to parallel construction) to their husbands in everything.
Colossians 3:18 – Wives, be subject (hupotasso) to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Titus 2:4-5 – in order that they (older women) may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, busy at home, good, being subject (hupotasso) to their own husbands, in order that the word of God may not be slandered.
1 Peter 3:1 – In the same way, wives, be subject (hupotasso) to your own husbands, so that even if some (husbands) are disobedient to the word, they may be won over without a word by the conduct of their wives
1 Peter 3:5 – For in the same way formerly the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves by being subject (hupotasso) to their own husbands
Older Believers and Younger Believers
There are multiple verses that help establish that the level of submission/subjection expected between older believers and younger believers is not as strong as other areas of life (Matthew 25:3-11; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 5:1). At the same time, there is an expectation of some amount of submission on younger brothers towards older brothers.
1 Peter 5:5 – In the same way, younger men, be subject (hupotasso) to the elders [older ones] (presbuteros), and all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
- “elders” here could simply be older men. In various christian movements, “elder” has become a title not just a pointer to age. The context of 1 Peter 5 is arguable in trying to determine whether this verse is pointing to the idea of an “elder” (as a title) or just an older man. For comparison, see 1 Timothy 5:1 (Do not rebuke an older man (presbuteros), but appeal to him as a father, younger men as brothers). 1 Timothy 5:1 brings out two points. As a younger man, deal respectfully with an older man, but as an older man to others deal with them as brothers (aka more like a peer). Both 1 Peter 5:1-5 and 1 Timothy 5:1 demonstrate the need to deal with others with humility and respect. If you are younger, set yourself as lower than those who are older. If you are older, don’t think of yourself as above anyone.
This verse reinforces the idea of submission among brothers and sisters in Christ, but this presents a mutual submission out of respect for Christ in each other.
Ephesians 5:21 – being subject (hupotasso) to one another out of reverence for Christ
Believers and Those Laboring, Leading Well
This is the ONLY verse that uses submission between to believers who appear to be acting in the the capacity of leadership. However, it is clear that their form of leadership is a servant type of leadership which matches the instruction of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 16:16 – Now I urge you, brothers–you know about the household of Stephanas, that they are the first fruits of Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the ministry for the saints–that you also be subject (hupotasso) to such people, and to all those who work together and labor.
Not Very Relevant
The following words are not very relevant to our current study. Since there are a limited number of verses that use these words, they are all provided here for review. These words do not seem to add to or take away much from our study of hupeiko. The only minor point we can make is about enochos is that the author of Hebrews was familiar with this word and used it in Hebrews 2:15, but the author chose not to use it in Hebrews 13:17.
Enochos (under obligation or subject to) is an adjective derived from enocho (to be held, entangled or held ensnared). The meanings of these words are a little different, but you can see a connection between their meanings. In both of these cases there is a sense for being tied (obligated, entangled, etc) to something.
We can distinguish this from the ideas of submitting and subjecting because we are most interested in the aspects of submitting to someone (or their authority) or being subject to someone (or their authority).
Matthew 5:21-22 – You have heard that it was said to the people of old, ‘Do not commit murder’, and ‘whoever commits murder will be subject (enochos) to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject (enochos) to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Stupid fool!’ will be subject (enochos) to the council, and whoever says, ‘Obstinate fool!’ will be subject (enochos) to fiery hell.
Hebrews 2:15 – and could set free these who through fear of death were subject (enochos) to slavery throughout all of their lives.
Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not be subject (enochos) again to a yoke of slavery.
This word does included the idea of being subject to something, but it is specific to doctrines, decrees or ordinances. It does not include being subject to a person. In the case of a decree, it may come from a person but the obligation on someone is to the thing and not to the person issuing the decree.
Colossians 2:20 – If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit (dogmatizo) to them as if living in the world?
- There doesn’t appear to a lot of meaningful distinction between the sense of submit and subject we are reviewing. The sense of these words is very closing in meaning.
- It is clear there is a gradient of usage for the words submit/subject.
- Usages of submit/subject related to government authorities and citizens, masters and slaves are clear and obvious and there isn’t much counterbalancing that might shift our understanding away from the very strong expectation of submission/subjection.
- It is slightly less clear when we come to husbands and wives, but still pretty clear.
- When we move to relationships in the church, siblings in Christ it becomes much less clear. The need for submission/subjection becomes more mutual and the idea of one party over another party based on any kind of title is not supported. There is some limited support for submission/subjection to those actually leading through there service, but this is predicated on their labor not their title.
- For every verse regarding the need for submission/subjection from one believer to another believer (including between laypersons and leaders) there are other verses that level the playing field, putting all believers back on the same level from a positional perspective. There are also direct statements from Jesus which emphasize that we are all on the same level as siblings (aka brothers) in Christ. This was a core item that Jesus set up the church. See Supporting Verses below.
- In the Greek it is very clear that hupotasso/hupotage is the closest thing to our group of English words (submit/subject) and that there are strong parallels between hupotasso/hupotage <– and –> submit/subject.
- hupotasso/hupotage are the overwhelmingly most common words used to express the idea of submission/subjection so they can be used as the standard for understanding submission/subjection in the Bible.
- Now consider the choice of the translators to use “submit” in Hebrews 13:17
- Translators have chosen from clauses like “submit to them”, “submit yourselves”, “submit to their authority”, “be submissive” and “be subject” for Hebrews 13:17 which connects it in the minds of most readers to other verses that use hupotasso/hupotage, These translations influence the reader to consider the idea that the submission to church leadership might be the same as submission to government, to masters, etc.
- The author of Hebrews did not use hupotasso/hupotage. We know the author of Hebrews understood both hupotasso (and enochos) because the author of Hebrews used them in other places in the text of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:15 – enochos, Hebrews 12:9 – hupotasso). This means that the choice of hupeiko was an intentional departure from the meaning of these other two words. The author of Hebrews wanted to convey a distinction from both of these words. It seems the distinction is a finer one, but still a distinction.
- Hupeiko is only seen once in the entire Greek New Testament and it is in Hebrews 13:17. This may make it challenging to be sure about what it really means. We will save the in depth study hupeiko for the second part of our analysis.
- Translators have inserted the words “to them” in several translations which conveys the translators understanding that the idea of “submit” is to connected to persons (i.e. leading ones). There are other translations that simply omit “to them“. This could be important. What if the Greek word here, hupeiko, really pointed to “submitting to what you were persuaded about by ones leading“.
- I am clear that my Greek skills do not allow me to penetrate this construction and to draw a clear conclusion. Additionally, I am fine with the idea that you should submit to someone who has persuaded you of something of the truth. However, this submission may not be permanent in regards to the person in question, but one limited by the item in which they persuaded you. This doesn’t mean that you should be belligerent until you are convinced and then change your attitude, but rather that you should have a humble attitude taking in what the one who is leading among you is presenting and consider what they are telling you carefully (using the Word) and prayerfully. If you are convinced, then adopt it, do it, believe it, etc.
- Given our review, we should go into the second part of our analysis with some questions. Is “submit” / “submit to them” really the way we should understand this portion of Hebrews 13:17? If so, how should we distinguish it in our minds for the most common sense of submit/subject as conveyed by hupotasso/hupotage? These seem to be very relevant questions and the need for having a refined understanding of hupeiko seems very important given this portion of analysis. This is still an “open” question for the author.
Matthew 23:1-12 – Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses. Therefore do and observe everything that they tell you, but do not do as they do, for they tell others to do something and do not do it themselves. And they tie up heavy burdens and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing with their finger to move them. And they do all their deeds in order to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries broad and make their tassels long. And they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, because one is your teacher, and you are all brothers, and do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your heavenly Father. And do not be called teachers, because one is your teacher, the Christ. And the greatest among you will be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Next, let’s review how Jesus interpreted being a servant into his actions. We know from history that the job of foot washing was for some of the lowliest of servants. It was not a prized job of servants. It was truly humbling to be this kind of servant.
John 13:1-2,4-6 – Now before the feast of Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, and having loved his own in the world, loved them to the end. … he got up from the dinner and took off his outer clothing, and taking a towel, tied it around himself. Then he poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them dry with the towel which he had tied around himself.
And lastly, let’s look at when Jesus makes a profound statement just after his resurrection. He not only has set the disciples as brothers to each other, but as brothers in His family with one God and Father. Jesus being the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29). Jesus, who we know is the very best leader, lowered himself to be classified as a brother.
John 20:15-17 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” She thought that it was the gardener, and said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.'”