Biblical Submission Is Bottom-Up, Not Top-Down

By E. Randolph Richards

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you!” – Matt. 20:25-26 (NET)

Jesus contrasts the way the world works with how it should be in his kingdom. In the world, rulers lord it over their subjects, literally “lord down.” He notes their leaders use authority. Most definitions of leadership involve “using authority,” which brings up a word commonly unpopular today: submission. Generally, we like to avoid the word, but that doesn’t change anything. Submission is part and parcel with using authority. On good days, the world likes to find ways to use authority “down” in kinder and gentler ways, but it is still top-down.

When the New Testament talks about submission, it is bottom-up. The question should be, “To whom should I submit?” not “Who should submit to me?” Christians are to submit to leaders (Rom 13:1; 1 Cor 16:16; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 2:13); the younger to submit to elders (1 Pet 5:5); children to parents (Eph 6:1). Note that Paul doesn’t say, “Elders, make the young folks submit” or “Husbands, make your wives submit.” We turn into the world when we start addressing submission top down. 

E. Randolph Richards, Provost, and Professor of Biblical Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University



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