Serving the High Plains

Submit first and foremost to the Lord

Much mischief has been done through uninformed preaching about the topic of submission to authorities. Wives have been turned into bond-servants of tyrannical husbands, and citizens made slaves of the government.

It would help if we understood more about the Greek language that gave us the New Testament. For instance, when we read in English passages like Romans 13:1-7, or Ephesians 5:22-24, we see the Bible telling people to “be subject” to authorities, or to “submit” themselves to them. In our ears, language like that seems pretty synonymous with “obey,” or even, “just do what you’re told.”

In the history of American preaching, that understanding has been reinforced and even stressed. But it is not correct. The Greek-speakers who first received these texts would not have heard that.

The Greek word in those passages is hupotasso. The Greek dictionary from Spiros Zodhiates defines hupotasso as a verb meaning, “to place in order. To place under in an orderly fashion.”

That is a concept you will keep running into as you research this word. When people are told to hupotasso themselves in relation to an authority, the dominant idea is that of mentally agreeing that the authority in question has a right to direct them in some way. It is being willing to put yourself under.

Picture an organizational chart, vaguely pyramid-shaped, of a large company or enterprise. At the top is one name, the big boss, maybe the president or CEO. Descending from there you will have the boss’ chief lieutenants or department heads, and so on, down the list. If you are part of this organization, your name goes somewhere on this chart. Hupotasso means rightly understanding where your name goes, and who, according to this chart, has some right to issue orders that you should follow.

Hupotasso means to think rightly about your position, and who has authority over you. Be willing to do what is asked of you as a result. It does not mean, “Just do what you’re told, without asking questions.”

It is interesting as well, when people are told to submit themselves in this way, the authorities they are putting themselves under are never given any right to force or coerce that submission. Hupotasso is a completely voluntary act. It becomes something else altogether if it is forced. Telling wives to submit is a very different thing than making husbands the dominators of their households.

In addition, in every place where people are told to submit themselves, even when servants are told to submit to their masters, it must be understood that their first submission is to Christ. And when they are commanded to disobey Jesus Christ, real submission will mean disregarding or defying that order, for the sake of obeying that name that is above every name, on every single chart.

Be willing to obey, but submit first and foremost to the Lord.

We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]

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