Authority, submission, obedience, and servanthood

I want to explore some concepts from the previous two posts which are What I believe regarding marriage, and A Christian understanding of attraction in regard to comments made by Gabriella.

All of these terms are interconnected but denote separate relationships. I want to clarify because there are some slight differences between “authority” and “headship” given further study into the Greek.

First, let me define each of the terms.

  • Authority (exousia G1849, G1850) is the power to independently lead. However, as exemplified by God and Christ perfect authority is the responsibility to love others.

G1849 — ἐξουσία — exousia — ex-oo-see’-ah
From G1832 (in the sense of ability); privilege, that is, (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence: – authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.

  • Head (kephale G2776) used in the context of the Scriptures is synonymous with headship — or determining/directing action — but, like the body, there is interdependence between the head and the body: or Christ:Church and husband:wife.

Probably from the primary wordκάπτω kaptō (in the sense of seizing); the head (as the part most readily taken hold of), literally or figuratively: – head.

  • Submission (hupotasso G5293) — a voluntary act either (1) under authority/headship or (2) not under authority/headship.

G5293 — ὑποτάσσω — hupotassō — hoop-ot-as’-so
From G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively to obey: – be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.

  • Obedience (hupakouo G5219 & peitharcheo G3980) — an involuntary act under authority.

G5219 — ὑπακούω — hupakouō — hoop-ak-oo’-o
From G5259 and G191; to hear under (as a subordinate), that is, to listen attentively; by implication to heed or conform to a command or authority: – hearken, be obedient to, obey.

G3980 — πειθαρχέω — peitharcheō — pi-tharkh-eh’-o
From a compound of G3982 and G757; to be persuaded by a ruler, that is, (generally) to submit to authority; by analogy to conform to advice: – hearken, obey (magistrates).

  • Slave/servant (doulos G1401) — is under the authority of his master.

G1401 — δοῦλος — doulos — doo’-los
From G1210; a slave (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency): – bond (-man), servant.

  • Minster/servant (diakonos G1247, G1249) — synonymous with the English word deacon. Jesus uses this word in terms of serving/ministering (washing His disciples feet).

G1249 — διάκονος — diakonos — dee-ak’-on-os
Probably from διάκω diakō (obsolete, to run on errands; compare G1377); an attendant, that is, (generally) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess): – deacon, minister, servant.

  • Pastor/shepherd (Poimen G4166)

G4166 — ποιμήν — poimēn — poy-mane’
Of uncertain affinity; a shepherd (literally or figuratively): – shepherd, pastor.

  • Overseer/bishop (episcopos G1985)

G1985 — ἐπίσκοπος — episkopos — ep-is’-kop-os
From G1909 and G4649 (in the sense of G1983); a superintendent, that is, Christian officer in general charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively): – bishop, overseer.

Now, there are relationships between all of these, so let’s look at them in order. The different meanings of words will denote different aspects of relationships.

Authority (exousia) — obedience (hupokouo/peitharcheo) — Jesus has this authority over heaven and earth given His statement at the Great Commission. This is the authority over another which is involuntary and must be obeyed. For example, Jesus calming the storm. This is also the relationship between parents and children. If there are instances in which authority is disobeyed, then the authority has the right to punish those under it in the physical world aside from the consequences of spiritual disobedience if any. Disobedience is sin.

Authority (exousia) — submission (hupotasso) — This is the relationship between Father-Christians, government-Christians, masters-slaves. In this relationship it is exactly the same as authority-obedience, but those under authority have the voluntary choice whether or not to obey. Thus, this is authority over another which is voluntary and must be obeyed. If there are instances in which authority is disobeyed, then the authority has the right to punish those under it in the physical world aside from the consequences of spiritual disobedience if any. Disobedience is sin.

This is also where doulos falls under in terms of we are slaves to Christ. Like the NT authors state, they are slaves (or bond servants) to Christ voluntarily submitted in order that they do His will which is to make disciples, baptize, and teach them what Jesus had commanded.

Headship — submission — this the relationship between the Church and Christ, and husbands and wives. In this relationship, unlike authority-submission Christ and husband has no ability to compel obedience from Church and the wife. The husband heads/leads of the marriage ideally as commanded through love, but the wife must choose to submit to this headship. In general, the Scriptures tell the wife to submit to the husband so the relationship operates in unity. But is the wife does not submit to the husband’s headship she disrupts unity which is rebellion which is sin, but the husbands as the head has no right to punish in the physical world aside from the consequences of spiritual disobedience if any. Disobedience is sin. Though God/Jesus can override the physical world punishment with their authority over all but they don’t because of free will.

Headship — minister — essentially, Jesus is to the Church, as husbands are to wives, as deacons, pastors, and overseers are to the Church.

Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (diakonos), 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave (doulos); 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served (diakoneō), but to serve (diakoneō), and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Luke 22:25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant (diakoneō). 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves (diakoneō)? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves (diakoneō).

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd (poimēn); the good shepherd (poimēn) lays down His life for the sheep.

Acts 20:28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock (poimnion), among which the Holy Spirit has made you [a]overseers (episkopos), to shepherd (poimainō) the church of God which He [b]purchased [c]with His own blood.

In marriage, neither the husband is more important than the wife, or the wife more important than the husband, though both more than the children. But the meaning of to serve is to take into account the two as one. Put the needs of unity above that of the self. A husband that runs himself down caring for the wife is in error just as a husband who takes care of only himself: the husband treats his wife as himself (Eph 5).

However, in the context of deacons, pastors, and overseers to the Church, there is no submission of the Church to these positions. This is where the “mutual submission” verse also comes into context:

Ephesians 5:15 Therefore [j]be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 [k]making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, [l]for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to [m]one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to [n]God, even the Father; 21 [o]and be subject (hupotasso) to one another (allēlōn) in the [p]fear of Christ.

Note that allēlōn is primarily used in reference to “one another” in context of the Church. As both husbands and wives are part of the body of Christ as well as being married, both roles and responsibilities apply as I explored in Is there mutual submission or not:

If a believer is caught is in sin and a brother or sister points it out then we should “be subject” to their correction or rebuke in fear of Christ/God [in order to root out sin] so as to be imitators of God.

This aligns clearly with Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 on how to treat believers in sin.


If a Christian husband is in sin a wife should point it out **respectfully** so as to honor the roles and responsibilities in marriage. If he is indeed sin then he should “submit” to that correction in fear of Christ. In this a wife is her husband’s helpmeet as to the Lord, and she is acting as a fellow believer in Christ to her husband.

If an unbelieving husband is in sin, then the passage from 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 7 applies. I discussed this thoroughly in Wives will never win their husbands with words.

Thus, the only exceptions to headship are defined clearly through the Scriptures. A husband is to submit to the wife is in the context of if he is in clear sin (via Eph 5:21, Matt 18, 1 Cor 5) or if he refuses to have sex with her (1 Corinthians 7).

edit: I forgot to look up elders (Presbuteros) and there is submission involved with that:

1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders (Presbuteros); and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

Submission of the younger to the older, because they are typically more wise and knowledgable.


In conclusion, there are different levels of hierarchies which I was mistakenly grouping together in some of my previous articles. In particular, the main 4 are as follows:

  • Authority-Obedience 

Who: Jesus-heavens and earth, Parents-Children
What: Authority may involuntarily (no free will) compel those underneath to do something, The authority may punish disobedience. Disobedience is sin.

  • Authority-Submission — This is Father-Christians, Government-Christians, Masters-Slaves, and even things such as Boss-Employee.

Who: Father/God-Christians, Government-Christians, Masters-Slaves, and even things such as Boss-Employee. Christ-Church too (although Jesus chooses to exercise headship “If you love me you you will follow my commands” over compelling obedience).
What: Authority may compel those underneath to do something, and those under have a voluntary (free will) choice to submit to it. The authority may punish disobedience. Disobedience is sin.

  • Headship-Submission — This is God-Jesus, Christ-Church and husband-wives

Who: God-Jesus, Christ-man, men-women, Christ-Church, husband-wives
What: The head leads through love and has no authority to compel obedience, and those underneath have a voluntary (free will) choice to submit. The head has no right to punish non-submission in the physical world, but non-submission breaks unity which is sin. (Though God/Jesus can override the non-physical punishment with their authority over all but they don’t because of free will).
Exceptions: A husband is to submit to the wife is in the context of if he is in clear sin (via Eph 5:21, Matt 18, 1 Cor 5) or if he refuses to have sex with her (1 Corinthians 7).

  • Headship/Mutual Submission — This is pastors/deacons/overseers/bishops and the flock/congregation.

Who: Pastors/deacons/overseers/bishops and the flock/congregation
What: The head leads through love and has no authority to compel, and those all of those involved have a voluntary (free will) choice to submit to each other.

edit: submission of younger to the older (presbuteros) is present in the Scriptures 1 Peter 5:5.

I found this study pretty informative to say the least. I realized how many structures were present, but I didn’t consider the different roles, responsibilities, and consequences until I looked closer at the Scriptures. This slightly changes the way I’m looking at marriage currently.

However, I still don’t agree with the Gabriella that a husband is to ever submit to the wife except if he is in sin or if he is denying her conjugal rights. Also, if the wife goes against the headship of the husband she is in rebellion and thus sin just as if the husband’s headship is not born out of love he is in sin.

There is no “equality” present in any of these structures. Just different roles, responsibilities, and consequences. Even in mutual submission there is nothing about equality but rather maintaining unity through building each other up (one another) or helping others (one another) away from sin.

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21 Responses to Authority, submission, obedience, and servanthood

  1. Robin Munn says:

    Hmmm. It’s an interesting distinction you draw between the Father’s authority over individual Christians (we must obey) and Jesus’ headship over the church (voluntary submission, but no right to compel obedience). The latter makes sense in the case of the Father and the Son, but does it really make sense in the case of Christ and the Church? Doesn’t Christ have every right to demand obedience from the Church? (Capital C as we’re talking about the global Church here, not any one congregation or even denomination.) And if the answer is no, as you seem to be concluding, how does that differ from the way God relates to individual Christians?

    I’ll have to think about this. I’ll go off and study Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 for a while, and pray that God will show me how to understand them correctly. I may end up concluding that you’re right, but putting the Christ-Church relationship into the “has no authority to compel obedience” category doesn’t feel right to me at the moment. I’ll have to see how I feel about it after taking some time to pray about and ponder those verses.

  2. @ Robin Munn

    I don’t think there is a contradiction there. This should explain it more thoroughly.

    God gives Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth which means Jesus has the authority to compel us to obey Him; however, Jesus doesn’t exercise this authority.

    Instead of compelling us to do what He wants He instead uses the headship model in 1 Corinthians 11: If you love Me you will keep My commands. Jesus does not want to compel His Church to do anything as He wants us to do it of our own volition in order that we can use our free will — our freedom in Christ — to serve Him.

    Jesus of course has the Authority/Right to compel us to obey Him. but He will never use His authority to make us at least until His second coming when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

    I will add it to both categories as it fits in both though.

  3. Robyn says:

    “There is no “equality” present in any of these structures.” Very well stated!

    The fight for “equality” is a fleshly fight that happens in the world; not for disciples of Christ. I think, (DS if you’ve discovered a place in which Jesus talks about His equality, pls let me know) the only place that Jesus is mentioned in conjunction with the word equality is when Paul said that Jesus wouldn’t even consider Himself equal with God the Father … even though He was.

    Phil 2:6-7 – “Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.”

    If a brother is in sin and his sister has the freedom in privilege (in that he will listen to her) to bring it to his attention then she definitely should. The problem with the whole submission issue is when a husband won’t hear or listen to his wife. This is when she must step under the safety, which God has given her, of 1 Peter 3:1. If a husband is not going to listen to a loving and respectful wife then his heart is somewhat hardened and it’s going to take a bigger power than the wife possess in order to break through it. Part of the savvy of the subtlety of 1 Peter 3 is a wife knowing that God is at the helm and has all the power and is aware of everything.

  4. @ Minimus Minimus

    Deleted your comments. Although it appears to be a different one.

  5. infowarrior1 says:

    @Deep Strength
    The “voluntary” aspect rubs me the wrong way unless it refers to the choice of the wife to submit to her husband upon marriage. I am troubled by the potential wriggle room though to pick and choose which submission is convenient or inconvenient. How can it be sin if submission is voluntary?
    What would be your suggestion to the husband if his wife is consistently rebellious?

  6. infowarrior1 says:

    I do not know how it happened but when one Christian woman I think she runs the blog:
    applied 1 peter 3. Even if her husband initially decided on a bad venture God ended up changing his mind.

  7. Robyn says:

    @infowarrior1: “I do not know how it happened…” How what happened?

  8. infowarrior1 says:


    I remember reading a post about a Christian woman a while back who discussed the purchase of a house which both spouses in disagreement. The man according her made a bad choice but her application of 1 peter 3 changed his mind.

  9. Robyn says:

    @inforwarrior1: I understand what you said, I just don’t understand why you are telling me. In my comment I said that if the wife has been invited to share, she should. But if her husband doesn’t want to hear then she should gird herself under God’s protection given to her in 1 Peter 3.

  10. infowarrior1 says:

    Oh. Lets say it is one of the examples of the workability and success of the application of gods word.

  11. Pingback: God and marriage | Reflections on Christianity and the manosphere

  12. @ Info

    Post is up.

  13. Pingback: Headship is not authority in marriage | Reflections on Christianity and the manosphere

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  18. jonadabtherechabite says:

    Christ does exercise His authority over His church. Take for example Westminster Catechism question 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
    A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us,and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies. He is actively a king, not some figure head, but the ruling head, yet not all have submitted to His rule and have attempted to pilfer His glory.

    He sovereignly elected us before the foundations of the world, He is working in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. He threatens to remove the lampstand in Rev 2:5, He disciplines His elect Hebrews 12:6 and He sends His Spirit to sanctify us by the Word. He is not only the possessor of all authority, He is exercising it for his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. WSC Q7. Christ is ruling on the throne and He is in control.

  19. @ jonadabtherechabite

    Rev 2:5 to my knowledge is closest moreso to the parable of the 10 virgins and the wedding feast.

    Hebrews 12 follows along the lines of the Father disciplining His children. In terms of the Father disciplining His children we have ample examples from the OT of the Israelites rebelling and God allows other nations to subdue them and/or sending pestilence, drought, and other maladies.

    Technically, we — the Church — are not yet married to Jesus Christ but we are “engaged.” Insomuch the promise of marriage, the Holy Spirit (e.g. pledge of our inheritance):

    Ephesians 1: In Him 11 [n]also we [o]have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in [p]Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In [q]Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also [r]believed, you were sealed in [s]Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is [t]given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

    Christ does rule and reign — He has been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28); however, instead of using such authority to exercise over His people He instead chooses to make us His friends (John 15) to partner with Him in His commands make disciples of all nations and uses/empowers us to do it through the freedom He won with His death, burial, and resurrection.

    The main point I’m getting at headship as used by the Father or Christ is not used to punish but to generally empower. Not of fear but of love. Discipline (in authority/exousia) is a matter of the Father to His children.

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