Greek Word Study

If it is "all Greek to you", read on...

hupakouo vs. hupotasso

I thought it appropriate to begin by listing the actual definitions of Greek words used in the following article. Definitions taken from Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary. Quoted exactly from source, including parenthensis and italics. Color added to improve clarity and understanding for the reader.


hupakouo - to hear under (as a subordinate), this is, to listen attentively; by implication to heed or conform to a command or authority: - hearken, be obedient to, obey.

hupotasso - to subordinate; reflexively to obey: - be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto) be (put) into subjection (to, under), submit self unto.

phobos - From a primary phebomai (to be put in fear); alarm or fright: - be afraid, + exceedingly, fear, terror.

All scripture used in this article is from the King James Version, and is quoted exactly.

You are encouraged to get the Bible and a concordance, and study this article, and interpretation, for yourself. Pray and ask God to open your eyes and your understanding to His will, specifically for YOUR life. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraidteh not; and it shall be given him. James 1:5


I am of the opinion that in a Christian marriage, a husband has the right to discipline his wayward wife within the bounds of love. On occasion, I receive very passionate emails from those who would like to object to my beliefs. I've heard all kinds of different arguments, most of them backed up only by the author's impassioned opinion rather than scripture, but recently I received one that did seem to have scriptural merit at first glance.

Until, that is, one actually looked into the Scriptures.

This person's interpretation was rooted in the book of Ephesians:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Ephesians 5:22 - 24:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6 : 1 - 4:

This person argued that there is a difference in the Greek word used to tell wives to submit to their husband and the Greek word used to tell children to obey their parents. In the former case, the word is hupotasso and in the latter, hupakouo. Because everyone knows the Bible admonishes parents to physically discipline their children, it was imperative to this person that this difference in the Greek words be pointed out, thereby setting a wife apart from her husband's physical chastening.

This person was right; the Greek words are different.

However, two words do not write the entire story!

For example, in 1 Peter 3:6, Peter uses Sarah as an example of the kind of wives we should be, and he uses the word hupakouo to describe how she obeyed Abraham. Notice that was the same word used when speaking to the children in Ephesians. As mentioned earlier, many Christians agree that physical discipline is acceptable for children.

"But, we're not talking about children. I'm not a child! I am a grown woman!" True, but I wanted to point out the same word for obedience was used in reference to both wives and children.

Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well... 1 Peter 3:6

In 1 Peter 3:2, he uses the stronger word for fear, phobos, to describe the kind of respect we're supposed to have for our husbands in our conversations. This is the same Greek word used in Philippians 2:12, where we are instructed to work out our salvation with "fear and trembling".

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 1 Peter 3:2

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12

I certainly do not claim to be a Greek scholar, but have found I can learn a lot through E-Sword, which couples the Strong's Concordance with the King James Version of the Bible, right there on the same computer screen. (If you don't have E-sword, it's incredible! It is free for downloading. Just do a Google search.)

I did a search for these two words, hupotasso and hupakouo, in order to compare them. Here's what I learned.

Hupakouo means hearken or listen to authority. It is strongly associated with listening attentively and then conforming to what you heard.

For example, hupakouo is used to describe how the winds and waves listened to the voice of Jesus and obeyed Him (Matthew 8:27). Hupakouo was used in Ephesians 6:1-3, as noted previously, to refer to the command for children to obey their parents. It is used to describe priests who heard the Gospel and obeyed it (Acts 6:7), and it is even used to describe a damsel who heard Peter's knock at the door and answered it (Acts 12:13).

Hupotasso, on the other hand, appears to be a more extreme version of obedience. It is used to describe the relationship between citizens and government (Titus 3:1), servants to masters (Titus 2:9) and even devils to the Apostles (Luke 10:17). Hupotasso seems to suggest that the ones under subjection are not always under subjection by choice or preference, though it is better for them if they willingly submit.

This would fit with Genesis 3:16, where God told Eve... "and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." The Hebrew word interpreted as "rule" is mâshal. Strong's definitions include "have dominion, governor, reign, and have power". After considering those definitions, contemplate the following verses where the words highlighted in red were interpreted from the Greek word hupotasso:

For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 1 Corinthians 15:27

Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. Philippians 3:21

For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. Hebrews 2:5

Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. 1 Peter 3:22

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Colossians 3: 18-19

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. Ephesians 5:22 - 33

The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3 - 5

The following verse in reference to women in the churches also seems to suggest they may be made to keep silent if they refuse to do it of their own free will:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 1 Corinthians 14:34

It is interesting for me to note that most of the verses where women are commanded to obey or submit to their husbands, the Greek word used is the stronger hupotasso. To me, this reinforces my belief that a husband has not only the right, but even a responsibility to the marriage to see that his wife is under subjection in their home. If she will not obey willingly, he may find it necessary to use spanking as an incentive for obedience.