the weblog of Alan Knox

Origen and Jerome on submitting to one another

Posted by on Mar 28, 2008 in church history, scripture, service | 3 comments

Yesterday, I published a blog post called “Origen and Jerome on Ephesians 4:11” about Origen’s and Jerome’s views of that interesting verse. I’m getting their views from a book by Ronald E. Heine called The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). In this post, I’m going to examine their views on another interesting passage in Ephesians, a passage which is still debated today. The passage is Ephesians 5:21 -

… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 ESV)

This is what Origen says about this passage:

This completely destroys all desire to rule and be first. The following command has been given to all, ‘For although I am free from all I enslaved myself to all that I might gain all’ (1 Cor. 9:19). The command which says, ‘Be slaves to one another’ (Gal. 5:13, also prescribes this. Wherefore, the apostles ‘were slaves’ to the churches ‘because of love’ (Gal. 5:13), ministering and being servants for the salvation of humanity. Even the Saviour assumed ‘the form of a slave’ (Phil. 2:7) for no other reason than to be a slave to the disciples. Consequently, he one ‘put water in a basin’ to wash ‘the feet of the disciples’ (John 13:5). Furthermore, one who has understood this statement, ‘He who wishes to be great among you shall be the slave of all’ (Matt. 20:26-27), ‘will be subject’ to serve those whom it is necessary to serve. (pg 231-232)

Similarly, Jerome jumps into this passage with both feet – even calling names:

Let the bishops hear these words, let the presbyters hear them, let every order of teachers hear them, that they be subjected to those who are subjected to themselves and imitate the apostle who says, ‘For although I was free from all I made myself a servant to all that I might gain all’ (1 Cor. 9:19)… [Here Jerome quotes the same passages as Origen above.] This is the differences between the rulers of the Gentiles and of Christians. The former dominate their subjects, but we serve. (pg 231)

Yes, I know that these quotations do not address the questions which are asked today: “Should men submit to women?” “Should parents submit to children?” etc. However, perhaps by concentrating on these questions, we are missing the main point of this passage. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18), we will submit ourselves to one another by serving one another.

In the seminar on the Gospel of John that I’m taking, we’ve reached John chapter 13, which opens with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. While there continues to be much discussion today concerning whether or not believers should literally wash one another’s feet, again I’m afraid that discussion is missing the main point. Whether or not we are to wash one another’s feet literally, we should all be able to agree on the fact that we are to all serve one another – with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples being at least one example of this.

But, do we serve one another? Especially those of us who are “leaders”… do we serve others? It has become popular to call leadership a new form of service, but that is not what Jesus said. Jesus did not say, “Follow your leaders because their leadership is their service to you.” No, he said that the one who serves is greater. He said for us to follow those who serve. Thus, the servants among us should be our leaders – the ones whom we follow.

We should follow someone who is not afraid to get his or her hands dirty. We should follow someone who is willing to give up his or her time for the sake of other, spending time with them and helping them in ways that benefit the other people. We should follow servants.

Look around… do you see people who are submitting themselves to one another? Follow them.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-28-2008

    Its interesting that you reference Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. That’s exactly the passage that John Chrysostom goes to in his homilies on the passage.

    Chrysostom on Ephesians 5.21


  2. 3-29-2008

    This is a huge reason for why we returned to The King’s Lodge. The leadership here exhibited the upside down Kingdom principle of servant leadership better than any I’d ever seen.

  3. 3-29-2008


    I talked about foot washing because both Origen and Jerome referred to that passage, and because we had recently discussed that passage in class. Thanks for the link to Chrysostom’s sermon.


    I wonder why it seems that the more one gets involved in “leadership”, the less actual service one usually does. Doesn’t that seem backward to what we see in Scripture?