In the second century there is a satirical philosopher named Lucian who travels throughout Greece, amusing and enlightening his audiences. In one story he describes a scene where a soldier’s fat assistant picks up a shield and finds a place on the front row of battle, while the soldier himself is “posted behind” him in the second row. The lucky man thus is protected “in the shelter of” his fat friend.
In this story the Greek word for “posted behind” or “protected in the shelter of” is hypotasso (hoo po TAH so). It is a combination of hypo, meaning “under,” and tasso, meaning “I set in position.” It was often used to describe how soldiers were “set under” the authority of their commanding officers. As seen in the opening paragraph, however, hypotasso can also include the idea of being set “under the protection of.”
In the very next sentence of his story, Lucian says this is how Ajax shielded his half-brother Teucer in the famous battle for the city of Troy. As Lucian puts it, when the arrows are flying a man like Ajax “exposes himself to protect his friend; for he prefers to save his friend rather than himself.”
In the New Testament hypotasso appears in two well-known passages. In Romans 13:1 the citizen is to be “hypotasso-ed” to the government; in Ephesians 5:22/Colossians 3:18 the wife is to be “hypotasso-ed” to her husband. In both situations the person is to “submit” to the higher authority; in both cases the person also comes “under the protection of” that authority.
That is why in the case of the wife and husband, for instance, the husband is not told to get his wife under control, but to love her and take care of her. The wife is to put herself under his leadership and protection; the husband is to sacrifice himself for her well being. Like Christ, he would rather save his bride, the one who has put herself “under his protection,” than to save himself.