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“Wives [are Subject] to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24

February 8, 2010

“A woman’s like a rose.
If you treat her right, she’ll bloom.
If you don’t, she’ll wilt.”
-Firefighter Michael in  “Fireproof”

Do you find this to be true?
Does your husband’s behavior have the power to “wilt” you?

That dynamic is what Paul is describing in Ephesians 5:24 when he says:

“but even as the assembly is subject to Christ,
so also [are] the wives to their own husbands in everything.” Eph 5:24

A close look at the Greek grammar of the hupotasso verb in Ephesians 5:24 as well as Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1 and 5 reveals that in each of these cases the hupotasso verb is in parsed in the passive voice (see Appendix for Technical Details).  These teachings are descriptive of how a marriage is rather than prescriptive about how a wife is supposed to “perform”.

The Passive Voice by definition means that the subject (noun) is the recipient of someone or something else’s action.  “No volition – nor even necessarily awareness of the action – is implied on the part of the subject“.  [2]

A wife IS SUBJECT to her husband like a person IS SUBJECT to gravity

Suppose when you rode in an airplane, I was to chastise you for your “rebellion” because you “defied” gravity?

Rebellious? Defiant? IMPOSSIBLE!
There is no choice and no escape from GRAVITY as long as we live on planet earth- even in an airplane, parachute, or hang glider we are SUBJECT to gravity. Scientists refer to gravity as a LAW: “the LAW of gravity”.   There is no escape on earth from our subjection to gravity. Living in denial can be downright dangerous!

In the same manner “Wives [are Subject] to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24… and those interconnected in a body relationship are subject to one another. Eph 5:21, 1 Cor 12:12-26.

The use of the  translation “submit” in the case of the hupotasso verb in the passive voice confuses the issue, as does the addition of extra-biblical words such as “ought to”, “should”. “must”, etc.  How does it sound if I say as a COMMAND: “Mary, you ought to/should/must  SUBMIT to gravity in everything you do on earth!”.  It sounds like Mary has some choice in the matter, like she can choose to defy gravity.  But the truth is she cannot defy gravity.  She IS SUBJECT to gravity in a passive indicative sense just like wives ARE SUBJECT to their own husbands in EVERYTHING.  Passive Indicative is the parsing of the Greek verb used in Ephesians 5:24.  Its a DESCRIPTION not a PRESCRIPTION!  Just like “humans are subject to gravity” is a DESCRIPTION not a PRESCRIPTION.

The context of Ephesians 5 provides compelling evidence for the  accuracy of the passive voice parsing of “is subject” in Ephesians 5:24.  The context speaks of a HEAD and a BODY.  The body “is subject” to the head, but there is no volition involved on the part of the body.  It is a description of a state of being, not a command for a certain behavior.  Thus the head/body metaphor is a perfect  illustration and object lesson of connectedness and subjection in the passive voice.

“Submit” distracts the mind from the implications of the teaching because of the  difficulty disentangling the mind from the implication that some action, some effort of the will is required on the part of the one who “is subject”.  One of the lexicon definitions under hupotasso is “yield”.  Even there, I have a mental picture of a “yield” sign which implies a command and the possibility of refusing to “yield” with dangerous results.

To “get” what I am saying will take some effort. I don’t think its complicated. It just so goes against the grain of what has been drilled into church people they can’t seem to hear it!

What I am saying FREES women from the whole “submission” teaching because the “submission” teaching emphasizes performance (and the associated self criticism, and constant feelings of failure to “measure up”), which emphasis cannot possibly be Paul/Peter/God’s intent! I looked at the grammar in Eph 5:24, 1 Peter 3, and Titus 2, I discovered that they ALL use the passive voice of the greek hupotasso verb! In every case of the verb “submit” paired with “wife”, the Bible uses verbs in the passive voice (with one exception, which I also explained: here)

Try this.
She has no power, no volition in it.
It is DEscriptive, not PREscriptive.
VULNERABLE is a state of yieldedness which fits withing the range of meaning for the hupotasso and is a good description of what I think Paul/Go meant when they declared that wives ARE SUBJECT to their husbands in EVERYTHING.
Eph 5:24 is NOT telling a wife “what to do”.
It is telling us how it IS in marriage.
It is DEscriptive, not PREscriptive.

While challenging to put aside preconceptions and read this passage with fresh vision, nevertheless I  encourage the reader to re-examine traditional assumptions in light of the context and the use of hupotasso verbs in the passive voice.

Appendix: Technical Details regarding hupotasso in the Passive Voice

The original language of the New Testament is Koine Greek which has some grammatical nuances with no English equivalent.  One such feature is the option of Passive Voice for a verb.  The Voice of a Greek Verb is included in the Parsing which can be checked in an Interlinear Bible.  Please inspect for yourself the parsing in the interlinear for the highlighted hupotasso verb in each of the following passages:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and being  subject  to (V-PPP-APF) their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.  Titus 2:3-5

1Wives, in the same way being subject (V-PPP-NPF) to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives… 5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful being  subject (V-PPP-NPF) to their own husbands, 6like Sarah,  1 Peter 3:1,5

The Passive Voice by definition means that the subject (noun) is the recipient of someone or something else’s action.  “No volition – nor even necessarily awareness of the action – is implied on the part of the subject“.  [2]

According to Professor Carl Conrad [3] there is a judgment call about assigning the Passive Voice to verbs:

Yet the formulation of the phrase in question in the Greek by itself does not offer any clue to which alternative may have been intended by the writer who formulated it, and the question must be resolved, if it is to be resolved at all, by a careful examination of the broader context of the passage in which the phrase occurred and perhaps of the entire corpus of that author. The same is true of the Greek “middle-passive” forms—and by that I mean both the -μαι/σαι/ται-μην; -σο/το forms and the -θη- forms: since Greek does not in fact distinguish morphologically the middle and passive meanings, the determination of whether the meaning is middle or passive in any particular instance is a matter of judgment. [3]

The verb translated “is subject” (upotassetai) is parsed as  Passive Voice in numerous interlinear resources [1] Many (if not most) interpret Ephesians 5:24 upotassetai with a middle voice.  The emphasis is upon the wife performing the action.  Some translations even go so far as to (erroneously in my opinion) insert an imperative force


New International Version (©1984)
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

New Living Translation (©2007)
As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

International Standard Version (©2008)
Indeed, just as the church is submissive to the Messiah, so wives must be submissive to their husbands in everything.

GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)
As the church is under Christ’s authority, so wives are under their husbands’ authority in everything.

Bible in Basic English
And as the church is under Christ’s authority, so let wives be under the rule of their husbands in all things.

Weymouth New Testament
And just as the Church submits to Christ, so also married women should be entirely submissive to their husbands.

There is no “should be”, “ought to” nor “must” in the Greek.  Those are interpretational additions by translators.   The following versions provide a more accurate rendition of the Greek:

Darby Bible Translation
But even as the assembly is subjected to the Christ, so also wives to their own husbands in everything.
Young’s Literal Translation
but even as the assembly is subject to Christ, so also are the wives to their own husbands in everything.

The verse is not a PREscription of what a wife or the church is supposed to DO.  The verse is a DEscription of the state of BEing of the wife and the church.  The church IS SUBJECT to Christ in EVERYTHING.   And the wife IS SUBJECT to the husband in EVERYTHING.

Of interest to those who will object that a wife has equal power to “wilt” her husband,  the  hupotasso verb in Ephesians 5:21-  upotassomeno- is also in the passive voice according to numerous interlinear resources.[1] Again, the head/body object lesson of the context illustrates: a body is subject to the head, AND the head to the body in a  reciprocal and mutual manner.  However,  because Ephesians 5:24 is a unique statement about the wife with no reciprocal statement about the husband,   and because the statement sounds so universal: “wives [subject] to their own husbands in EVERYTHING” I suggest that Paul (and God) are  speaking of a unique, broader, and deeper vulnerability of wives to the impact of husbands than vice versa.

The Textus Receptus (TR) has an extra hupotasso in Ephesians 5:22 (hupotassesthe) which is in the middle voice[4].   The earliest and oldest manuscript called “P46″ omits the verb in Eph 5:22. Interestingly, this manuscript was not discovered until the 1930’s.[5] I presume that the hupotassesthe in Eph 5:22 Textus Receptus  is an unfortunate  interpretational scribal addition which has served to obscure the truth about the meaning of wives  being subject “to their  husbands in everything”.. “as the church is subject to Christ”.


  1. The following interlinears have the Passive Voice parsing of the hupotasso verb in Eph. 5:24 as well as  Eph. 5:21:

    Blue Letter Bible- Eph 5:24
    Blue Letter Bible – Ephesians 5:21

  2. see “Voice” in this  online Greek Grammar: “This grammar is a compilation primarily from Wallace and Mounce”
  3. “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb” by Carl Conrad, Associate Professor Emeritus of Classics, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. See also Active, Middle, and Passive: Understanding Ancient Greek Voice
  5. There was some discussion of P46 here
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