Should Wives Really Submit?

Written by Lynette Hoy NCC, LCPC

I have a difficult time with the word submission. Can you explain just how submissive a wife should be towards a husband without losing her identity and respect? I am not sure where the boundaries are even. It seems like every time I open my mouth I get into trouble because he feels am dividing the family in some way and making him have no authority.

Today the kids were eating a hamburger in the car, and they were looking for a drink. My husband says to the kids, “Grab your bottle of water” (they keep a bottle in the car at all times). Well, I remembered I had a can of soda in my purse, so I gave it to them, and he says I undermined his authority! I didnt think it was a big deal, but he did.

Our lines of communication keep getting crossed and its a problem and is causing major conflict. How do you communicate with your spouse? Plus this submission thing. Can you explain just briefly (yeah, right) a little on these matters? I need help!

Advice: It sounds like you and your husband need to go back to the basics of improving your communication and coming to terms with how you discipline and work together as a team with the children.
The passages on submission and headship in the Bible (Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3) emphasize the importance of love, consideration and respect between spouses. In this context, it is always important to note that power and control should not characterize the marriage relationship. Colossians 3:18-19 reads, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Ephesians 5:22-29 (excerpts) says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…(25), Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her… husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies…” (I encourage you to read the whole passage).

Pastor Ray Pritchard’s sermon, “Men and Women in Biblical Perspective” deals with this issue quite well. This sermon would be good for both of you to read, think about and discuss.

Pastor Ray writes: “Headship” means that God has called the man to lead his home—and will therefore hold him personally responsible for what goes on in his home. The emphasis is on responsibility and accountability, not on authority and power.”

There are times when a wife cannot submit when it means relinquishing God’s standards or means giving up her safety in the case of domestic violence. Sarah told Abraham to get rid of Hagar (his other wife/concubine) and God backed her up saying to Abraham “do what she told you.” Yes, there are instances where wives stood up for what is right and did not submit. Yet, in 1 Peter 3 it says that Sarah obeyed Abraham in everything.

In your situation, you and your husband need to come to mutually agreeable terms about how to raise and discipline your children together.

Submission is a word which can be described/defined as “willing conciliation.” That means that the wife should be “willing,” not coerced. Wives are to respect their husbands. Husbands are to be considerate of their wives. Both partners should be willing to “put the other’s interests above his/her own” as Philippians 2 describes. The woman should be willing to submit to her husband not be unwilling or forced. The man should be a loving, servant leader – accountable and responsible to God and his family. A loving leader leads –doesn’t manipulate or pressure. A submitter doesn’t “take over.”

Aquila and Priscilla are wonderful role-model of how a couple can work together harmoniously as a team. In Acts they taught Apollos and led him to Christ – offering hospitality to believers and were co-workers with Paul.

Marriage should be mutual servanthood and treated as a ministry. Larry Crabb talks about this principle in his book on marriage.

I encourage you to ask your husband to go to counseling with you or to talk with your Pastor. It sounds like there are power and control issues between you. These issues are very destructive.

Read a good marriage book together or attend a marriage conference such as: Christian Prep or a Family Life seminar/conference.

These books will help you understand each other and learn some better communication skills:

I hope you find this helpful. It’s important that your husband and you work together about parenting issues. Talk over some of these issues and come to a mutually agreeable decision. If your husband is always making the decisions without your input and considering your opinion –then, you are headed for trouble. In Colossians 3 Paul tells the husband to be considerate of and respect his wife.

May you work this out in a loving way. God bless you!

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124 Responses to “Should Wives Really Submit?”

  • Barbara Alpert Barbara Alpert says:

    Hi Danny, by your comment it sounds like you have been hurt in the past by a former relationship. When looking for a partner/spouse what things do you look out for?

  • Danny says:

    It’s easy for women to resist The Word about the relationship between wives and husbands. Men are 80% of all the problems in the world. I hate to say it, but there are very few Godly men who really understand what “submission” really means. Men are idiots. Godly men are being trained by God to not be idiots. Women, if you find a Godly man submit. It’s worth it.. It’s hard to find one, but you will live a dream life if you do.

  • shelley anderson shelley anderson says:

    I agree with you, as we love our spouses just like we love Jesus and we need to be submissive to him that created us inot His likeness, so that when we go to Him we will be like Him.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Dario, I know that your point of view is popular but I what has changed in our time that makes these verses about roles in marriage no longer relevant? Paul compares the submission of a wife to her husband to be similar to the way that the Church submits to Christ. Would you say that followers of Jesus no longer have to submit to the authority of Christ? Paul also tells husbands to love their wives in the same self-sacrificing way that Jesus loved the Church and gave His life up for them. Is that part still applicable?

  • We don’t live in the OT times or Paul’s era anymore. Why should women have to be anything? Let them be whatever they want to be, married or not!

    These verses are sexist in the extreme.

  • Andrew Andrew says:

    I think many men have a perverted sense as to what submissive is as the first thought that comes to mind as it being demeaning. You will have the “Macho” man who believes that submissiveness means that the wife needs to be his slave in all things in life.

    What often gets overlooked in the passage in the Bible is that men are suppose to love there wives as Christ loved the Church. If you dig deeper into the meaning you need to ask yourself how did Christ love the church? He fed 5000 people when there was no food, his first miracle he created water into wine, he prayed for his disciples, he was the spiritual leader and taught them what love was by serving. When their was no one to wash the disciples feet and he protected Peter from being killed when Peter cut off a mans ear. MANY men mistakenly believe that because the Bible says the woman needs to be submissive that it is her that needs to wash his feet. It is him that needs to serve his wife and show that he loves her as in my life I have found it is much easier to lead someone who you show genuine love to. If you wish your wife to be submissive very simple server her and show her love and it will not be an issue. God bless.

  • Link says:

    There is no reason to think that Sarai was unsubmissive when she went to Abraham, who was in authority in their marriage, wanting him to send Hagar away. Hagar had said previously that she was her servant and she should do to her as she pleased. Yet, Sarai still recognized Abraham’s headship when she went to him and asked permission about Hagar. Abraham heard God on the matter, and God wanted him to do what Sarai said. This is not an example of Sarai not submitting.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Cindy the reason that I responded to your list of verses like that is because there are people who would take your list and get the impression that God hates women. In fact, if you will look back on the posts on this site you will see exactly that. I really don’t want people to see God like that because it is not at all the truth. In fact, there is far more that the Bible says about the weaknesses of men than it does about women. That does not mean that God hates men but instead, as you point out, helps us to understand our need for a Saviour who can save us from ourselves. That is true for both men and women alike. So yes, women can be contentious but they can also be very helpful in identifying issues that men do not see. As a woman is transformed by the Spirit of God, she no longer is trapped by the desires of her sinful nature to be contentious and she is able to follow the leading of the Spirit to help her husband.

  • Cindy says:

    Jamie,

    Slight correction: It is my desire to use the Bible as the place where I find my understanding of the role of women in marriage, period. Not “and men.”

    Here is my point in the list. When I began to study the effects of feminism on the church, the very first thing I did was open my concordance and record every verse that refers to “woman, women, wife, and wives.” I went through and typed out every verse in order to get a full picture of what God Himself said regarding these. Woman and women alone took me over 55 pages.
    In order to not send all 55+ pages, I removed all passages that used the terms only as a reference to a man (for example, wife of…, or “like a woman in childbirth”). I included all others. I did this specifically so that no one could claim issues of “context.” There is no context. It is simply a list of all verses that speak to or about women and wives.

    You immediately followed your comment by pointing to men. This is so prevalent in society today. As I said in previous posts, my concentration has nothing to do with men. I want to know what God says to and about women. Let the men worry about the men. Men are not the focus when asking the question how women are to obey God; God’s Word to women is the focus.

    You said it should be balanced. Why should it? Further, you said such balance should point out the “myriad of stories and comments made about the weaknesses of men.” Such a statement sounds for all the world like Adam and Eve shifting responsibility for their actions.

    Why would God paint such a low picture of women?

    First, because His Word is our manual for healing. We need to know where our potential follies lie in order to avoid them. Women DO have a tendency to be contentious. Case in point… you and I are contending over a point on which we both agree, namely women are commanded to submit to their husbands.

    Second, The Word of God is and should be glorifying to God alone. It was never meant to build us up. It was meant to give us hope. That hope only comes in recognizing our own weakness and acknowledging that our only hope comes by accepting the free gift of forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross.

    Part of the definition of the word glorify is “to give an accurate estimation of.” When we give an accurate estimation of ourselves, we see how accurate these verses are and how low we really are, which in turn gives an accurate estimation to our relationship to a perfectly holy God. And so, we get an accurate estimation of how awesome He truly is and how grateful we really should be that He deigned to offer us a way of salvation. We are loathsome. To deny it is to attempt to exalt ourselves closer to God.

    You call this a “negative” view of women. I read the same verses in the same “context” and have no problem still believing that my God has value in me as a woman. He created women and He did it for reason and purpose. He said that He loved me enough to send His Son to die for me. I see no contradiction.

    As a mother, I don’t feel that I do my children any favors by giving them a false sense of ability (notice I did not say VALUE – we seem to be ignoring that there is a difference). For example, I do not tell my daughter that she is the best artist ever in the entire world when it simply isn’t true. I encourage her to continue working at her skills through practice and perseverance. I also help her by telling her exactly what I expect from her and not leaving it to her interpretation of what she thinks I said. So did God.

    You stated: “The passages in Ephesians tell us that the roles within marriage are a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Marriage becomes a visual aid for us to know how we relate to Jesus and how He relates to us. The verses you quoted from 1Corinthians 11 point out that the relationship between husband and wife was established at Creation, not as a consequence of the Fall, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man” (vs. 8). So pointing to the weaknesses of women as the reason for their submission misses the original purpose of that submission. “

    Again, I included all verses in order to avoid context. I also made no comments regarding how to interpret the verses. Therefore, your statement at the end is not correct. I did not point out weaknesses, nor did I make any allegation of reason or purpose for the submission of wives.

    “So we need to be careful that we do not feed that purpose of Satan by misusing the Bible to paint the wrong picture of why wives are to submit, and God’s view of women.” I did no such thing. I simply quoted the Word of God, you drew your own conclusion.

    Yes, “God values women as much as He values men and He did not call women to be submissive to their husband’s because of their weaknesses but because of their nature as a helper which was the purpose for which He created them.” Again, we are contending over an issue upon which we agree.

    The only point you have made on which we disagree is the “balance” required of pointing out what God says to and about men. To which I respond by pointing to the passage in John 21 where Paul asks Jesus, “But what about John…” Jesus tells him, “what is that to you? [What concern is it of yours?] You follow Me!” (verse 22 AMP).

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Cindy, I do appreciate your desire to use the Bible as the place where we find our understanding of the role of women and men in marriage. I agree that this is the best place for us to have certainty of how God is instructing us. However, as I look at the list that you have posted here I am not sure what point you are trying to make. Some of the verses that you have included can give a very negative picture of women when taken out of context as they are here in your list. There are some that might read this list and mistakenly get the impression that God has a very low opinion of women. That just is not the case at all. If your intention of including the verses that talk about the weaknesses of women is to show why women should be submissive to men it should also be balanced by the myriad of stories and comments made about the weaknesses of men which you could then conclude disqualifies them for being the head of the family. You have a number of verses from Proverbs that talk about contentious and nagging women. What about the proverbs that talk about foolish, wicked and slothful men? They far outweigh the negative things said about women, but that does not mean that their headship is removed. Neither are women called to submission because of their weaknesses. The passages in Ephesians tell us that the roles within marriage are a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Marriage becomes a visual aid for us to know how we relate to Jesus and how He relates to us. The verses you quoted from 1Corinthians 11 point out that the relationship between husband and wife was established at Creation, not as a consequence of the Fall, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man” (vs. 8). So pointing to the weaknesses of women as the reason for their submission misses the original purpose of that submission.

    Not only do we have the relationship between Christ and the Church as a model but we have the relationship amongst the Trinity also as a model. The three persons of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son – Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit) are all equal but they have different roles and functions of those roles. God the Father is the head because His role is to initiate and delegate authority. God the Son – Jesus carries out the will of the Father. God the Holy Spirit empowers the work of the Son. So in Creation God the Father spoke, Jesus created through the empowerment of the Spirit. In Salvation God the Father sent the Son who accomplished the work by His death on the cross which is then completed in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in 1Corinthians 11:3, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” The connection between the relationship between God the Father and the Son is reflected in the relationship between a husband and wife. I believe that one of the reasons that the family is under such severe attack today is because Satan wants to destroy that visual aid of the nature of God and the relationship between Christ and the Church.

    So we need to be careful that we do not feed that purpose of Satan by misusing the Bible to paint the wrong picture of why wives are to submit, and God’s view of women. God values women as much as He values men and He did not call women to be submissive to their husband’s because of their weaknesses but because of their nature as a helper which was the purpose for which He created them.

  • Cindy says:

    Let God say it for Himself (all quoted from the Amplified version):

    Gen 3:15, 16 – …And he will RULE over you.

    Gen 24:8 – And if the woman should not be willing to go along after you, then you will be clear from this oath; only you must not take my son back there. (note: she was given a choice – speaks to volitional submission)

    De 28:56 – The most tender and daintily bred woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot upon the ground because she is so dainty and kind, will grudge the husband of her bosom to her son and to her daughter

    Prov 9:13 – The foolish woman is noisy; she is simple and open to all forms of evil she [willfully and recklessly] knows nothing whatever [of eternal value].

    Prov 11:16 – A gracious and good woman wins honor [for her husband], and violent men win riches but a woman who hates righteousness is a throne of dishonor for him.

    Prov 11:22 – As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman who is without discretion.

    Prov 12:4 – A virtuous and worthy wife [earnest and strong in character] is a crowning joy to her husband, but she who makes him ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.

    Prov 14:1 – Every wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.

    Prov 21:9 – It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop [on the flat oriental roof, exposed to all kinds of weather] than in a house shared with a nagging, quarrelsome, and faultfinding woman.

    Prov 21:19 – It is better to dwell in a desert land than with a contentious woman and with vexation.

    Prov 22:14 – The mouth of a loose woman is a deep pit [for ensnaring wild animals]; he with whom the Lord is indignant and who is abhorrent to Him will fall into it.

    Prov 25:24 – It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop than to share a house with a disagreeing, quarrelsome, and scolding woman.

    Prov 27:15-16 – A continual dripping on a day of violent showers and a contentious woman are alike. Whoever attempts to restrain [a contentious woman] might as well try to stop the wind – his right hand encounters oil and she slips through his fingers.

    Prov 31:30 – Charm and grace are deceptive, and beauty is vain [because it is not lasting], but a woman who reverently and worshipfully fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

    Ecc 7:26 – And I found that [of all sinful follies none has been so ruinous in seducing one away from God as idolatrous women] more bitter than death is the woman whose heart is snares and nets and whose hands are bands. Who ever pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be taken by her.

    Ecc 7:28 – Which I am still seeking but have not found – one upright man among a thousand I have found, but an upright woman among all those [one thousand in my harem] have I not found.

    Isa 3:12 – As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people, your leaders cause you to err, and they confuse (destroy and swallow up) the course of your paths. (note: a woman ruling over them was a punishment from God)

    1 Corinthians 7:2-4 – But because of the temptation to impurity and to avoid immorality, let each [man] have his own wife and let each [woman] have her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights (goodwill, kindness, and what is due her as his wife), and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have [exclusive] authority and control over her own body, but the husband [has his rights]; likewise also the husband does not have [exclusive] authority and control over his body, but the wife [has her rights].
    1 Cor 11:3 – But I want you to know and realize that Christ is the Head of every man, the head of a woman is her husband and the Head of Christ is God.

    1 Cor 11:5-16 – And any woman who [publicly] prays or prophesies (teaches, refutes, reproves, admonishes, or comforts) when she is bareheaded dishonors her head (her husband); it is the same as [if her head were shaved]. For if a woman will not wear [a head] covering, then she should cut off her hair too; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her head shorn or shaven let her cover [her head]. For a man ought not to wear anything on his head [in church], for he is the image and [reflected] glory of God [his function of government reflects the majesty of divine Rule]; but woman is [the expression of] man’s glory (majesty, preeminence). [Gen 1:26] For man was not [created] from woman, but woman from man; [Gen 2:21-23] Neither was man created on account of or for the benefit of woman, but woman on account of and for the benefit of man. [Gen 2:18] Therefore she should [be subject to his authority and should] have a covering on her head [as a token, a symbol, of her submission to authority, that she may show reverence as do] the angels [and not displease them]. Nevertheless, in [the plan of] the Lord and from His point of view woman is not apart from and independent of man, nor is man aloof from and independent of woman; For as woman was made from man, even so man is also born of woman; and all [whether male of female go forth] from God [as their author]. Consider for yourselves; is it proper and decent [according to your customs] for a woman to offer prayer to God [publicly] with her head uncovered? Does not the native sense of propriety (experience, common sense, reason) itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is a dishonor [humiliating and degrading] to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her ornament and glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. Now if anyone is disposed to be argumentative and contentious about this, we hold to and recognize no other custom [in worship] than this, nor do the churches of God generally.

    1 Cor 14:34,35 – The women should keep quiet in the churches, for they are not authorized to speak, but should take a secondary and subordinate place, just as the Law also says. [Gen 3:16] But if there is anything they want to learn, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to talk in church [for her to usurp and exercise authority over men in the church].

    Eph 5:33 – However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly]. [I Pet. 3:2.]

    1 Tim 2:9,10 – Also [I desire] that women should adorn themselves modestly and appropriately and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with [elaborate] hair arrangement or gold or pearls or expensive clothing, But by doing good deeds (deeds in themselves good and for the good and advantage of those contacted by them), as befits women who profess reverential fear for and devotion to God.

    1 Tim 2:11,12 – Let a woman learn in quietness, in entire submissiveness. I allow no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to remain in quietness and keep silence [in religious assemblies].

    1 Tim 2:14 – And it was not Adam who was deceived, but [the] woman who was deluded and fell into transgression. [Gen 3:1-6]

    1 Tim 5:2 – [Treat] older women like mothers [and] younger women like sisters, in all purity.

    1 Tim 5:14 – So I would have younger [widows] marry, bear children, guide the household, [and] not give opponents of the faith occasion for slander or reproach.

    2 Tim 3:6 – For among them are those who worm their way into homes and captivate silly and weak-natured and spiritually dwarfed women, loaded down with [the burden of their] sins [and easily] swayed and led away by various evil desires and seductive impulses.

    Titus 2:3,4 – Bid the older women similarly to be reverent and devout in their deportment as becomes those engaged in sacred service, not slanderers or slaves to drink. They are to give good counsel and be teachers of what is right and noble, So that they will wisely train the young women to be sane and sober of mind (temperate, disciplined) and to love their husbands and their children, To be self-controlled, chaste, homemakers, good-natured (kind-hearted), adapting and subordinating themselves to their husbands, that the word of God may not be exposed to reproach (blasphemed or discredited).

    1 Pet 3:5 – For it was thus that the pious women of old who hoped in God were [accustomed] to beautify themselves and were submissive to their husbands [adapting themselves to them as themselves secondary and dependent upon them].

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Michele I do not deny that the language of ‘submission’ and ‘headship’ in the Bible has been used by some to perpetuate the sin of abuse. People have improperly used the Bible to justify all kinds of evil things. However, that does not mean that we ignore what the Bible really does say or ignore the direction it gives about relationships between husbands and wives. We need to emphasize the whole instruction so that not only are wives taught to respect their husbands but husbands are also instructed to a self-sacrificing love that Jesus modeled when He gave His life for the Church.

    I have a hard time accepting the definitions that you suggest for the word we translate ‘submit’. Even if we ignore the fact that the verb ‘hupotasso’ is used in classical Greek to talk about soldiers under a commander, the context of this word is pretty clear. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:22-23) Just as Jesus is the head of the Church, so the husband is head of the wife. That is clearly referring to authority. But just as Jesus demonstrated His authority being a servant-leadership, so a husband is to serve the needs of his wife. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) But just because Jesus gave His life for the Church and served His disciples by taking on the humiliating task of washing their feet, never once should we assume that He is not the final authority in all things pertaining to the Church. Husbands should give up their lives for their wives and sacrifice their own needs for that of their family, serving them in everything, but that does not take away from their role as the final authority for everything pertaining to the family (actually God is the final authority but you know what I mean.)

    I also object to the characterization that Jesus as a child chose when he would or would not submit to His parents. His decision to be in the Temple listening and asking questions of the religious leaders was not an act of rebellion against His parents. It was an act of obedience to His heavenly Father. Submission is not volitional, as you suggest, but it is directed by God. As you can see from the conversation below that I have been having with Cindy, I understand submission to include a wife helping her husband when he is drifting away from what is right. That is not non-submission (sorry for the double negative) because it is done in love and respect under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But that does not weaken the position of the husband as the head nor does it relegate submission to something wives can take or leave as it suits them.

    And while I am at it, can I clarify that when God told Abraham to listen to what Sarah was telling him He was addressing a specific issue: that Abraham’s son Ishmael (the one born to Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, whom Sarah had given to Abraham so that they might have an heir) would not take Isaac’s (the son born to Abraham and Sarah as a result of the promise of God) inheritance. God was not reversing the authority structure of the family but affirming that Sarah was right; God intended that Isaac would be the recipient of the promise He had given to Abraham. I think it is wise for a husband to listen to his wife. God has created her to see life differently and she has insights that a man needs to take into consideration when he makes decisions about his family.

    So Michele, how do you understand the language of ‘headship’ in the Ephesians passage?

  • Michele says:

    The connection between abuse and the Bible appears to have at least two dimensions, especially within the various strands of the Christian tradition.  First, many men who abuse their wives appear to feel that the alleged biblical teaching of “male headship” is warrant, at least in some degree, for their behavior.  Second, many abused women, especially those who have been taught the biblical principles of male headship and female submission, have understood the abuse they have received as either God’s rightful punishment for their sins or God’s will for their lives, even if it involves suffering unjustly. 

    Not only are these connections between the abuse of women and the Bible important issues, the other painful reality is that the church, and perhaps in particular the evangelical movement within the church, has been embarrassingly and wrongfully silent on these issues.  One fears that most of the silence is the consequence of patriarchy and androcentrism, if not misogyny, in human history and within the church.  It would appear that the silence has been significantly broken only in our modem period with the empowerment of women to speak for themselves. 

    As far as Sarah referring to Abraham as lord, I believe that was already explained. Historically speaking it was a term of respect, affection, or lordship depending upon the use of the word. Let’s not forget that God also told Abraham to obey Sarah. God is not on the side of gender, neither sees gender, but on the side of right.

  • Michele says:

    Submission is a term that has been greatly misused within the church world.  It is a term that has been used to elevate one person over another, particularly in reference to men as they relate to women.  In order to understand the term and its application in scripture, we must first get a proper definition of the word and then place the term in its proper setting and context.

    According to Dr. Katherine Bushnell, the noun “subjection” is not found (in classical Greek), outside of the New Testament.(1) This term, therefore, was coined to describe relationships peculiar to believers.  Upon careful analysis, we can see that the true sense of the word describes the Christian grace of voluntarily yielding one’s preferences to another.  Traditional principles are not involved, nor is the assertion of one’s individual rights.

    Schleusner’s Greek-Latin Lexicon to the Septuagint declares that the verb form, “to submit,” does not always convey the thought of servile subjection.  For example, Jesus, as a boy, was subject to His parents, yet we know that He did not even consult them when He was “about His Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49,51).  From this account, one can clearly see that to be in submission is volitional and open to one’s individual discernment.

    Finally, submission does not mean “to obey.” The Greek word for “obey/obedience” is hupakoe, which means to listen to or to harken to.  Submission (hupotasso) means to get under and lift up, or to put in order.  It does not mean obedience.  Gundry well defines this equalizing principle as a sort of voluntary raising everyone else to your own personal level of importance and worthiness.(2) It is interesting to note that other languages further reinforce this concept.  For example, Kluane Spake, writes, “The German translation of that word, sich unterstellen, means to place oneself at a disposition of another.”  It can also be a military term referring to the equal sharing of tasks, to support, to fulfill one’s part of the assignment.” (3)

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I agree that we can never know the “what if’s” of the Bible but we can allow scripture to inform our interpretations. James writes, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20) From that I can only conclude that if a wife help turn her husband from sin it is a good thing.

    I agree that Abigail did act in a humble submissive way, but that did not stop her from communicating her concern with the wrong action of her husband Nabal and David. I think her example is a good one for women to follow of what submission looks like. It is not ‘nagging’ which has a completely different attitude and motivation. Submissive correction comes out of a motivation to help the offender and in love draw him back towards God’s path. I think that is why the language of submission and subjection and humility is so prevalent in the biblical passages that deal with the relationships. Christians are to be subject to the ruling authorities, young men are called to submit to the wisdom of elders, pastors are called to exercise authority with all humility. Wives can be submissive to their husbands and still obey God’s instruction to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1Thessalonians 4:14) and “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16) and “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). We are not called to be the Holy Spirit but we are called to help guard one another from sin. In order to accomplish that we need to be completely dependent on the leading of the Holy Spirit and as He leads us, we need to be obedient and act.

    No we know in this life none of us is free from the influences of our sinful nature and are prone to acting in rebellion against God. So we need to be sure that when we are correcting someone that we are indeed being led by the Spirit. That is why Paul follows up Galatians 6:1 with “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” It is so easy to lose our focus on loving the offender and getting proud and selfish.

    But that also is important because we realize that even if we have chosen the one we marry well, they are not immune to poor choices and developing patterns of sin. If a husband has his judgement clouded by sin in his life, his believing wife has to seriously ask how the Holy Spirit would use her to help him return to a right relationship with God. That does not mean she becomes the head of the home even for a short time, but she can be led by the Spirit to help correct her husband in a loving and humble way. She has not become any less submissive just as Peter was not unsubmissive to the ruling authorities but followed the leading of the Holy Spirit to play a part in helping them see the sinfulness of their actions and attitudes.

    In reference to Jesus’ direction for dealing with conflict I don’t think “brother” is a qualifier that Jesus is using to determine who you do and do not follow these steps through with. “Brother” is usually used as a generic term implying a person that you have relationship with. Often it is used to talk about fellow believers but is not just referring to a peer group. This is a pattern that is to be followed no matter who the person is. Even the use of the ekklesia which is often translated ‘church’ is a Greek term that means ‘gathered ones’ and was used to describe a civic gathering as much as a religious gathering. Remember, at this point there was no ‘church’ yet; that happened after Pentecost. Those who heard Jesus say this likely thought of the synagogue or community gathering not a Christian church. I think that this pattern described by Jesus is the best way of dealing with any conflict, even that between a husband and wife.

    I would disagree with you that the context of Ephesians 4:15 starts in verse 13. I think a better place to go for the overall context of this passage is verse 1-3 “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That theme is carried on right through to the end of the chapter with “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (vs 31-32) It is then carried on into the discussion of chapter 5 as it talks about walking in love, being subject to one another in the fear of Christ, which leads to the relationships within the Christian home. This whole section is about life together and how we preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. We do not preserve the bond of peace and the unity of the Spirit by ignoring sin in one another but by humbly, in love, working through the differences that are there. We allow the Word of God to enrich our discussions and depend on the Holy Spirit to direct our decisions. Yes it is directed to the Christian community but that also includes husbands and wives. There is a richness to our marriages when we function as the Body of Christ, each one using the gifts that He has given in order to build up the whole Body. Wives can do that without losing their submission to their husbands.

    As in all things, the Holy Spirit needs to be the guide for wives and husbands. There are different ways to lead in different situations and with different people. Some leaders are very autocratic and there are situations where that works well. Other leaders are more consensus driven and that also works well in certain situations. A wife can help her husband find a leadership style that works well for his personality and for the situation that their home is in. I believe that the Holy Spirit does a great job of helping us through those family dynamics and helps each of us understand what our role is. He uses the Bible to help guide our understanding of His leading because He will not lead us in a way that is contrary to what He has said there.

  • Cindy says:

    Jamie, Thank you for your indulgence. I respectfully submit the following:

    To begin, you state regarding Abraham asking Sarah to lie about being married, “Perhaps a loving word of warning from Sarah could have prevented some harmful situations…” Perhaps so, but we will never know for sure. What we do know instead is that Sarah obeyed her husband without arguing, and God intervened for them thereby giving the glory to God rather than Sarah. We also know Sarah is commended in the New Testament for being submissive to and calling Abraham “Master.” The same verses (1 Peter 3:5-6), state that we are her daughters if we do not succumb to fear and anxiety, possibly suggesting by context there were times in her life when Sarah could have succumbed but did not. Rather, she stayed submissive even in the face of fear. I will concede, however, this interpretation requires reading into the passage.

    Much like the examples of Abraham lying about his relation to Sarah, we do not know what “might have been” in the story of Abigail had she chosen to submit to Nabal. It is entirely possible God may have intervened for her and her household as well, but we will never know because she took action instead of standing in faith that He would. However, we are told in the Word that Abigail is intelligent and she is praised for her action.

    What is interesting to me in this passage is not only THAT she acted, but HOW she acted.

    First, the biblical account (Amplified) specifies “she came down hidden by the mountain.” She did not meet him out in the open in front of everyone. Her purpose may have been two-fold; first, to protect David’s reputation as meeting him this way would have given him a way out of the situation while allowing him to “save face” in front of his men, and second, to show reverence to her husband as she was going to disobey him but she opted not to do it publicly. David commends her for her discretion.

    Second, Abigail immediately bows to David and requests that he count the guilt of the indiscretion of her husband as her own. Hers is a posture of submission to his authority. As well, when David asks to marry her after Nabal’s death, she responds again in submission, declaring she would be content to be a servant to him and to his servants. She is clearly a woman who has established a pattern of godly submission throughout her life. I submit that what David recognized and valued in her was her willing submission and her willingness to guard the reputation of her husband even when he did not deserve it.

    You cited Acts 4:19-20, which questions whether to obey God or men. This example speaks to the very heart of the importance of choosing one’s mate carefully. If one is careful in the selection of their husband, one should not have to choose between obeying husband versus obeying God. If you marry a man who has yielded his life to the Lord, you theoretically should never be in a position of receiving instruction opposed to God. Once again however, the command to women in 1 Peter 3:1 specifically refers to a wife who is married to a man who is not obeying God. Her instruction is to submit to her husband, and so if she submits to him she is being obedient to the Lord.

    Your example of Matthew 18:15-17 assumes three things. First, it assumes equal status (“If your brother…”). Second, it assumes he has sinned. And third, it assumes the sin is against you. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit there are only rare examples of the occurrence of all three together within our relationships. As women we are far more likely to “show him his fault” about far more things than actually fit these criteria.

    Regarding Ephesians 4:15, this appears to be a contextual interpretation issue. Having read verses 13-17 in various versions, it seems to me Paul is talking about expressing the truth of THE GOSPEL in love so that we and fellow believers are not continually misled by contradictory teachings. Paul is giving us another command to exhort one another. I believe it was Beth Moore who pointed out that almost all uses of “exhort” in the Bible are used in a fellowship context, and indeed it seems this passage is as well. It was directed to the church corporate, not to individual couples.

    You said that part of Eve’s role is to “help point out things that a man will miss.” It is interesting to me that the Lord took the time to spell out for us in such detail what he requires from a wife that He devoted an entire chapter (Proverbs 31) to it along with various other scriptures throughout the Bible, and yet He never once commands us to “point out” anything to our husbands. Rather, again, He commands us far more often to be in quiet submission. Even in your example from Ecclesiastes, the context if applied to the marriage relationship is “when one falls” the other can help him up, not “follow him around and keep warning him when it looks as though he might fall.”

    Finally, you state, “It is a wise husband who not only listens to his wife’s perspective, but invites her opinions…” A wife who learns to keep quiet is far more likely to earn the respect of her husband than one who makes a habit of offering her opinion, which men view as “nagging.” Once his respect has been earned, a man will certainly seek out his wife’s advice, especially if he is certain she will not castigate him if he does not take her advice. As well, we once again have reverted to pointing to the man and what he should or should not be doing rather than keeping our focus on what we ourselves should or should not do. The function of the Holy Spirit is to give counsel and point out truth and convict of sin. We are never called to be his Holy Spirit.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    So for a woman who is not in an abusive marriage what is her attitude to her husband? When Paul writes, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:23-24) how does that instruct how a woman interacts with her husband?

    I am also interested in knowing which historians translate Sarah using “lord” (Hebrew – adonai) “honey” or “Sir”? Do they translate that the same when the same term adonai is used to refer to a king or to God? As I look through the 13 times that term is used in the Bible (Genesis 18:12; Numbers 36:2; Deuteronomy 10:17; 2Samuel 11:11; 14:20; 19:27; 24:3; 2Kings 7:6; Psalm 35:23; Isaiah 49:14; 50:7; Amos 9:5; Zechariah 9:14) I have a hard time seeing a situation where that translation fits.

  • Michele says:

    Now, let’s directly address Paul and Peter.  When they were using the word “submit,” they were giving Christians a way of coping within a culture hostile to the teachings of Jesus.  Paul writes, …subjecting yourself one to another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  Peter likewise addresses the same societal situations writing, “Yea all of you be subject to another, and be clothed with humility” (I Peter 5:5).  Being subject to or subjecting oneself to another deals with mutual respect one for the other, and it should not convey the loss of one’s right to make choices.  It should not be taught as an attitude or action required only for women in relation to husbands or any male figure.
    Now, following the elucidation for slaves, in the same mind, Peter speaks to the women.  The ultimate emphasis to the women in chapter three is for them to win their husbands to Christ.  Women at that time were in a precarious position – the culture demanded subservient submission to the husband.  However, when women became believers, they were not bound by the cultural traditions – they had a higher law – the law of God which gave them a new freedom and independence.  Peter basically says to them, “if submitting to your husbands will win them to Christ, then do it.”  However, nowhere does the Bible suggest that they were to submit to abuse.  These women joined to unbelievers, by their demonstration of love, forgiveness, character, prayer, and integrity, were to win their husbands to Christ.  Peter urges them not to spend all of their time adorning their bodies, but the adorning of the inward man.  He considers lasting beauty a “gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”  Again, this did not mean that a woman should accept abuse in her gentleness and quietness.  Nor should this statement lead one to assume that the women were in an uproar, loud and not gentle.  Such assumptions provoke us to misinterpretation.  Finally, Peter uses Sarah as an example.  Sarah is recorded as referring to Abraham as “lord.”  She used the word, “lord” when she had been informed that she would bear a son, Isaac, from her own body.  She did not use the word to convey subservience, but it is used in respect to her husband.  Historians report that the term as actually one of endearment as in “honey” or “Sir.”  It did not mean rulership.  Keep in mind that scriptures also says that “Abraham obeyed Sarah,” mutual respect and submission.  Peter in 3:7 reinforces his point of mutual submission by informing the men that in the same way the women are to live, “…so are you.”  You show consideration to your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the “weaker vessel, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life – so that nothing may hinder your prayers.”  The term “weaker vessel” is a cultural term; women of that time were considered weaker in every aspect: physically, intellectually, and spiritually.  Peter says that men were to pay honor to this person whom they have always considered weaker.  But now, she is an heir, and if they fail to respect her, their prayers will be hindered.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Let ‘er rip Cindy! It is through discussions like this that we better understand God’s instruction on our lives.

  • Cindy says:

    May I please clarify one point?

    I am enjoying this conversation not simply for the “debate” unto itself. But rather, the subject of wifely submission is subject of great importance to me.

    I have spent the last 5 years researching the effects of feminism on church and secular society. Therefore, when I say I consider this a learning challenge, I mean that I am using it to solidify in my own mind the information I have discovered during that time…

  • Cindy says:

    Jamie, Thank you for your insight. I have spent considerable time not only reflecting on your examples, but also debating whether or not to respond. I have viewed our conversation as an “intellectual exercise,” which I am enjoying. I find it a learning challenge. However, I do NOT wish to come across as argumentative.

    Therein lies my hesitation to respond. If you are in any way displeased with the “debate,” please inform me and I will stop.

    We clearly both agree the answer to the question is “Yes, submit.” However, we seem to come to differing interpretations on what said submission looks like from a biblical perspective.

    I like the examples you provided. You certainly present compelling argument.

    If you wish to continue the conversation, may I offer my opinion regarding them? If not, simply ignore this message and I will “take the hint.”

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Cindy, I love the importance you put on the instruction we receive from the Bible. That way our emotions can’t get the better of us and we have a solid place to anchor our choices and decisions. I agree that wives are instructed to submit to their husband. That is clearly stated in scripture.

    You asked for a biblical justification for a wife’s responsibility to address concerns that she might have with her husband. Now as you point out, there are examples of women that thought that they had a good idea of a decision that their husband should make which were not at all good ideas. It is true that husband’s should not always take the advice their wives give them. Unfortunately, there are also many examples of men that were able to make really bad decisions on their own without any help at all from their wives. Abraham asking Sarah to lie about being married to him twice was a bad idea. Perhaps a loving word of warning from Sarah could have prevented some harmful situations that they got into with Pharaoh and Abimelech.

    In 1Samuel 1 there is the story of Hannah and her husband Elkanah, the parents of Samuel. Even though Elkanah tried to console his barren wife and instruct her to be content with their family as it was, Hannah continued to plead before God for a child. She was then the one who made the decision about giving Samuel to the Lord when he was weaned to serve with Eli in the Tabernacle. Elkanah allowed her to make that decision about their family.

    There is also the story of Abigail, the wife of Nabal (1Samuel 25) Nabal made a bad decision to take advantage of David’s good graces. David’s response was to mount up his men to go and destroy Nabal. Abigail not only went against her husband but also confronted David on his poor response to Nabal folly. David’s response to her was, “May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.” (vs 33) David ended up marrying her because her husband Nabal dropped dead when he heard what his wife had done. David recognized the value of a wise woman who is able to gently confront a man and help him to see the error of his ways.

    I would also go to the example of Peter who wrote in his first letter that we are to, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (1Peter 2:13). Yet this is the same Peter who when instructed by the religious leaders in Jerusalem to not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) Yes, submission to authority is important but when that authority is giving instruction that is opposed to God then it is right to confront them with their error.

    How you do that is addressed by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” It is a process of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) so that we can help encourage one another to do our best for God.

    God gave Eve as a helper. Part of that role is to help point out things that a man will miss. As Ecclesiastes 3:9-12 points out, “Two is better than one” because when one falls the other can help him up. Of course that help is best given in love, not by angrily condemning him for falling. How we correct one another is crucial but it is no help to let someone go down a destructive path without giving a warning. It is a wise husband who not only listens to his wife’s perspective but invites her opinions so that he is able to make the best decisions possible. That does not mean that he will always follow his wife’s ideas but he will take it into consideration when making decisions.

  • Cindy says:

    Jamie,

    As the supervisor, in the previous example I have carefully chosen very specific roles for each of my employees. I have chosen them based on strengths and weaknesses of each and assigned them accordingly. My instructions to Jamie were to obey John. It was not for her to give her opinion regarding whether or not she thought my employee, John was obeying me. As the boss, I am fully aware of John’s compliance or lack thereof and I will take appropriate action.

    Let’s shift the same analogy to a military comparison. If I were a general and I gave an order to an officer of lower rank, who gave an order to a cadet, would it be appropriate for the cadet to question the officer? If the officer did not comply with the cadet’s suggestion, should the cadet go to the general? Certainly not.

    However, I grant that marriage is not the military, so I propose we take it to the Bible and find precedent there to determine our action.

    To begin, John has provided us with three very sound examples wherein the husband was ill-advised to comply with his wife’s suggestion (thank you, John). In the cases of Eve and Sarah we see devastating and lasting consequences.
    Next let’s examine whether there is biblical command on the issue. Let’s look to the New Testament, in order to silence any “well that no longer applies in the New Testament church” arguments.

    The most appropriate example would be 1 Peter 3:1, “ 1IN LIKE manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them], so that even if any do not obey the Word [of God], they may be won over not by discussion but by the [godly] lives of their wives…”

    First, I would point out that the introduction “In like manner” directs us to the preceding verses, which apply to situations in which submission would be challenging.

    Also, in those verses as well as this one, the instruction to the wife is to bear with the husband SILENTLY. 1 Timothy 2:9-15 similarly tells us that a woman is not to teach a man (which sharing her opinion of where he is running amiss would be), but should endeavor to learn QUIETLY.

    Jamie, you stated in your response, “Jamie would be responsible to talk to John about her concerns to help him do his best…” Could you please tell me your biblical justification for this statement?

    As well, specifically where it applies to the marriage relationship, this approach belies a lack of understanding of the psyche of most men. Rather than pointing out what she perceives to be his failure (which is inevitably how it would be received), the wife would far more likely win the affections of her husband if she silently supported him to the best of her ability, and was there in his corner to be “a soft place to land” when he eventually fell. He may even surprise her and not fail.

    The ONLY time it would be appropriate for her to express her opinion would be if he asked her. In this manner, the wife has been obedient to God by submitting to her husband, and she has supported him in a way that would best encourage his growth.

    Nowhere are we commanded to function as his Holy Spirit.

    We are expected to approach submission in the manner that is perhaps the most difficult for us as women – silently. For this reason, I reject the notion that submission is the “easy” way out, assuming that one is submitting in order to remove from oneself the need to make decisions.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I like your analogy Cindy. I think it really does carry the heart of the issue well. You as the supervisor delegate the roles you did not because you like John better than Jamie but because you know they are uniquely suited to their assigned roles. You are trying to create the scenario where the best report can be produced. If we also continue to expand the analogy, if Jamie did suspect that John was doing the report incorrectly, part of her role would be to approach him and discuss her concerns to see if they were valid. John would be well-advised to hear out the concerns that Jamie had to assess if they were valid but he then ultimately has the role to make the decision about moving forward. Now if John was being lazy and not doing any work toward the report, again Jamie would be responsible to talk to John about her concerns to help him do his best but if he refused to move forward it would be Jamie’s responsibility to come to you Cindy and inform you about John’s progress in hopes that your intercession will get John back on track with the report. Perhaps at that point you Cindy may put the project into Jamie’s hands, but that would be your decision and not Jamie’s.

    Yep, there are a lot of things I like about this analogy.

    If I can just clarify my earlier point, I was not saying that I disagreed with John’s point that wives are called to submit to their husbands. I think my previous posts on this site confirm that. What I did not think was helpful was to point to wives as the ones who caused them to sin. To me that just sounds too much like Adam’s accusation, “The woman you put here with me– she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12) Saying that Abram slept with Hagar because Sarai told him to neglects the role that Abram had as the leader of the family and his own responsibility for his actions. I don’t think John’s point helps men become the spiritual leaders that God has called them to be.

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