In their book True Woman 201: Interior Design – Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood Mary Kassian & Nancy Leigh DeMoss, they make a textual argument for their position that when it comes to wifely submission, wives are only required to submit to their husbands of their own volition. Husbands are forbidden from demanding submission from their wives, and in this book, Kassian/DeMoss make an argument from the Greek text (Page 189):
The Greek word translated “submissive” is the word hupotassō from hupo “under, beneath” and tassō “to place in order, arrange, or line up.” The word is an old military term. It means to arrange under in an orderly fashion—to place in the proper position under rank. In this case, it indicates that the Lord wants a wife to voluntarily line herself up under the headship of her husband.
It’s important to note that the word for submission used for the wife’s desired attitude differs from the one used for the child’s behavior toward his parents and the bondservant’s response toward his master. In the case of children and servants, the word is hupakouō, from hupo “under, beneath” and akouō “to hearken, obey.” Hupakouō means to yield to a superior command or force without necessarily being willing, whereas when Paul tells a wife to hupotassō herself, it means to willingly put herself in the proper position.3
Although this book was co-authored with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, I assume Mary Kassian is the one responsible for the content of this portion of the book. As we proceed, I’m going to refer to Kassian alone for ease of reference.
Kassian claims that, “Hupakouō means to yield to a superior command or force without necessarily being willing,” whereas hupotassō means, “…to willingly put herself in the proper position.” I wanted to know what her sources for these claims are, so I checked the #3 footnote, which you can find on page 268:
3. S. Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG), s.v. See also A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1933), “Eph 5:21.”
This is a very poor citation. There are no page numbers or selected exerpts from either of these books. It doesn’t state which of these written works support which of the claims Kassian made. There isn’t even a date given for Zodhiates book- only A. T. Robertson’s. However, these books are not expensive, and I wanted to check this out myself. I got the Kindle version of True Woman 201, and a used hard copy as well. Then I purchased the 2014 Kindle edition of A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, and a used copy of Spiros Zodhiates’s The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (This one is copyrighted 1992, but is the 1993 revised edition, and it’s by AMG International, Inc.).
I discovered that Zodhiates confirms Kassian’s statements about hupotassō, namely that, “when Paul tells a wife to hupotassō herself, it means to willingly put herself in the proper position.” You can find it on page 1428:
“(II) Mid. hupotassōmai, to subject oneself, place oneself in submission.
(A) In the relation of a wife to her husband: (1) Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1, 5; Titus 2:5. In these verses the duty of the wife to submit herself to her own husband is clearly enunciated (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:7). Although there is an ontological spiritual equality between men and women, there remain physical, positional and functional differences.”
As for Hupakouō, I believe that Kassian’s statement that “Hupakouō means to yield to a superior command or force without necessarily being willing,” stems from a quote on Page 1408 (underlining is mine).
“5219. ὑπακούω hupakoύō; fut. hupakousō, from hupó (5259),, and akoύō (191), to hear. To hearken, obey.
(I) To listen to something, hearken with stealth, stillness, or attention in order to answer (Acts 12:13).
(II) To yield to a superior command or force (without necessarily being willing).
(A) Of the wind and sea tempest (Matt. 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25).
(B) Of unclean spirits (Mark 1:27).
(C) Of a sycamine tree (Luke 17:6).
(III) To believe (Acts 6:7; Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8).
(IV) To yield to one’s passions giving them the upper hand (Rom. 6:12, 16).
(V) To obey God irresistably (Heb. 5:9).
(VI) Of children’s obedience to parents (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20).
(VII) Of slaves to their masters (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22).
(VIII) To obey an apostle (Phil. 2:12; 2 Thess. 3:14).
(IX) Obedience by Abraham (Heb. 11:8).
(X) Obedience of Sarah to Abraham (1 Pet. 3:6).”
(The book contains about 3 whole extra columns of definitions that continue past this point.)
As you can see, her statement is quoting Zodhiates’s own words. You can also see where hupakouō is listed as being used in reference to children and servants, and he cites Ephesians 6:1, 5. That means that Zodhiates is also supporting her claim that “In the case of children and servants, the word is hupakouō.” So far, so good.*
The problems arise when Kassian goes on to say,
This is a significant point. Unlike the relationship between a parent and child, where the young child is immature and in need of guidance and correction, the relationship between a husband and wife is a relationship between partners and equals. Parents have a responsibility to bring a child into submission—even if that child is unwilling.
At times governing authorities must likewise coerce unwilling citizens to obey. But this pattern does not apply in the marriage relationship. According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband has no right to demand it or to try to extract obedience from her. His only responsibility is to love her, woo her, and humbly sacrifice himself for her as Christ did for the church.
Kassian is arguing that since Hupakouō is used of children and servants while hupotassō is commanded of wives, then wives aren’t required to obey in the same manner. While the willingness of children or servants is a disposable attribute of their obedience, it’s a necessary attribute of wives when they submit to their husbands. However, if you review the various uses of hupakouō in the quote from Zodhiates’s, you’ll see that it is used of Sarah obeying Abraham in I Peter 3:6, which says (ESV):
1 Peter 3:5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
This throws a wrench into Kassian’s argument. Sarah Hupakouō’d Abraham, according to Zodhiates. He didn’t say she Hupakouō’d him in Ephesians 5:22 or 5:24, but that’s not the point. For Kassian, if you are commanded to Hupakouō someone, you must obey, your willingness to do so notwithstanding. But if that’s true, then it doesn’t only apply to children and servants. It also applies to wives- wives of all ages, in fact. Sarah Hupakouō’d Abraham, and the holy women of God followed her example by submitting to their husbands in the same manner*. This would necessarily mean that wives must also obey their husbands, whether they are doing so willingly or not.
You will also find that the verses that talk about the obedience of children and bondservants, namely Ephesians 6:1, 5 are not listed as examples of yielding “…to a superior command or force without necessarily being willing.” Kassian said that’s what the word means when used of children and bondservants, but Zodhiates doesn’t say that. When he says “without necessarily being willing”, he lists verses that talk about the obedience of the sea, the winds, a tree, and unclean spirits. That’s all. The way Kassian writes, we should expect Eph. 6:1, 5 to be grouped together under (II) since that’s what she said it meant, but they aren’t there. They’re distinctly listed in two separate locations down the list, not where they should be if Kassian’s claim was correct.**
What about A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures? I found the entry for hupotassō at location 473263, and it lists the following definitions:
1. to arrange under, to subordinate
2. to subject, put in subjection
3. to subject one’s self, obey
4. to submit to one’s control
5. to yield to one’s admonition or advice
6. to obey, be subject A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.
This does speak to the voluntary nature of the obedience in the word hupotassō. Again, so far so good. Then I found the definition hupakouō at Kindle location 472427:
υπακουω Strongs No: 5219
Transliterated: hupakouo; Pronounced: hoop-ak-oo’-o
from 5259 and 191; TDNT 1:223; v Trans. & freq. in the AV- obey 18 times, be obedient to 2 times, hearken 1 time; 21 occurrences of Greek word in AV
1. to listen, to harken a. of one who on the knock at the door comes to listen who it is, (the duty of a porter)
2. to harken to a command a. to obey, be obedient to, submit to
You can see that Robertson doesn’t say anything about this obedience being done willingly or otherwise. It doesn’t even address that subject. Zodhiates does, but not Robertson. I’m not sure why Kassian bothered referencing Robertson in the first place, but let’s set that aside. Remember the conclusion Kassian reaches:
According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband has no right to demand it or to try to extract obedience from her. His only responsibility is to love her, woo her, and humbly sacrifice himself for her as Christ did for the church.
Kassian may want to believe this, but she sure didn’t derive it from the Bible. No verse says that husbands can’t demand submission, obviously, but neither did Robertson or Zodhiates. If anything, Zodhiates only further contradicted Kassian’s case when he confirmed that hupakouō was used of slaves in Ephesians 6:5. Read the passage.
Ephesians 6:5 “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”
Paul understood that even people who must inevitably obey have the capacity to do so in a willing manner. Notice how the obedience commanded of bondservants is one of sincerity. It’s not a phony obedience done for show, but one that stems from a sincere heart. Kassian said that, “Hupakouō means to yield to a superior command or force without necessarily being willing,” but in Ephesians 6:7, it literally says to render service with a good will.
Kassian put a lot of stock in her understanding of Hupakouō and hupotassō. Not everything she said was wrong, but as we’ve seen, their meanings overlap in their usage. Wives are commanded to Hupakouō their husbands AND to hupotassōmai themselves to their husbands.*** It’s both and, not either or. Kassian & DeMoss missed this basic truth, and hence their entire argument collapses.
*Sarah even called Abraham “lord”, a title you usually use to address someone you must obey, willing or not.
**This paragraph was added today on August 27th, 2020.
***According to Zodhiates.