Yesterday I preached on submission.
I’m sure there are churches where that’s not a controversial subject, where the pastor simply tells women they have to submit and they all nod their heads dutifully. But Richmond’s First Baptist Church is not like that. If you put us all on one pew you would find the full spectrum of theological views represented, from very conservative to not very conservative at all. To preach on something like submission is to risk half the church getting up and walking out.
But it’s in the Bible, and I’m a biblical preacher. I wouldn’t want to ignore something like submission just because it’s controversial. In fact I find that those kinds of subjects force me to study harder, to dig deeper, and when I did that with this subject I turned up some interesting results.
In the New International Version (the one in the pew racks at First Baptist Church), Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? And a lot of preachers preach it just that way. But when I’m dealing with a controversial subject I want to get as close to the source as possible, and so I looked this one up in the Greek New Testament. There Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives to their husbands as to the Lord.” The word submit isn’t even in that verse, it’s in the verse above—Ephesians 5:21—which says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
And here’s where it gets interesting:
In my Greek New Testament there is an English subtitle just before verse 21 that says, “Wives and Husbands.” If the Greek were translated into English it would look like this:
Wives and Husbands
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
In the New International Version that same subtitle comes just before verse 22, like this:
Wives and Husbands
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
In the NIV that verse about submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ comes above the subtitle, as if it were unrelated to a discussion of husbands and wives. So, if I were only reading the NIV I might assume that the teaching on mutual submission belonged to the previous passage, that Christians in general should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ but when it comes to husbands and wives, wives should submit to their husbands. I think a lot of people have made that assumption, and I can’t blame them for it.
But I can blame whoever decided that the subtitle—“Wives and Husbands”—should go below verse 21 instead of above it. Look it up for yourself. It’s not in the original manuscript. It’s supposed to be a helpful way of identifying the subject matter that follows. But whoever put that subtitle in the Greek New Testament thought it should go before verse 21 and whoever put it in the NIV thought it should go after it, and it makes a difference—an enormous difference—in how you understand the passage. In one version you end up thinking that husbands and wives should submit to one another while in another version you end up thinking that only wives have to submit.
So I wonder: was it a group of men who made that decision? Was the placement of that subtitle related in any way to the idea of “keeping women in their place”? Where would the subtitle have gone if it had been a group of women making the decision? And how much difference does it make who gets to decide?