The Submissive Wife?

news-graphics-2008-_658097a “The Submissive Wife”  I would imagine most of the women that read that title experienced increased blood pressure, tension in their necks and the urge to scream at me face to face.  But before you go all hostile, did you notice the ? mark at the end?  It’s really important, not only to this post but also to the continuation of my life on this planet.  There are a lot of misconceptions about Christianity and a whole lot of misconceptions about this word in particular.  “Submissive” has become a four letter word on par with the “f” bomb.  Who wants to submit?  What self-respecting woman would “submit” to the rule of a man?  Weren’t there a bunch of bra’s burned in the 70’s to stop this?  Hasn’t the church began to shy away from this phrase?  Isn’t this a taboo subject?  Yep!  And that’s why I’m writing about it.  I like taboo subjects.  I also like the truth.  In this instance I believe the “truth will set me free” from the prison I seem to be building.

Let’s look at the verse that this whole submissive attitude comes from.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  Ephesians 5:22 (New King James Version)

There you have it, wives- do whatever your husband says.  Guys, wouldn’t that be awesome?  To have slaves that have to do what we tell them to do?  I mean, how incredibly boring would that be?  Never fight, never argue, never have a complicated discussion.  Never be interrupted while the NFL is on.  Never have to worry about her feelings or her opinions.  Never wonder if she will make you breakfast, lunch and dinner, because, well, she has too right?  It’s in the Bible.

The problem is, we seem to focus on that one little verse and forget the rest of the passage.  You see, the verses before and after that one shed a little light on the situation.  Let’s look at it,

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[a] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[b] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33  (New Living Translation)  Emphasis mine.

There’s a lot more in that passage than a submissive wife.  First, we are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.  Out of a Holy respect for Jesus, we should not rule each other, no one should seek to dominate the other.  We should both give ourselves to each other.  Later in the passage it says the two become one, which is a great mystery.  I can’t fathom the depth of this but I believe this ties in with the first verse telling us to submit to each other.  We are both on equal footing with God.  Neither is higher and neither is lower.  Equality before God.  However, equality doesn’t mean we have the same role in marriage.  We both have responsibilities and they are different.

Now that we have established that neither one should dominate the other lets dissect the submissive wife part.  This act of submission is voluntary.  The wife does not have to submit, she can refuse.  Also, submitting does not imply becoming a slave.  You do not give up your rights when you submit although you do allow someone else to lead you.  We do this all the time.  We submit to God, we submit to bosses at work.  We submit to teachers in school.  We submit daily to others.  But, when that person abuses that submission, we have the right to stop submitting.

I also want to look further in this passage to gain some perspective on submission, in the last verse after the last comma is a phrase that I think puts a new light on this issue, “and the wife must respect her husband.”  All of this submitting stuff is done out of respect.  But respect is earned.  Respect is only kept when the husband is worthy of respect.  Why is that so hard to understand?  Men, if we earn and keep our wives respect she will not have nearly as hard a time allowing us to lead in our relationship.

Oath Ladies, are you still having a hard time understanding this?  It is not giving up your rights to allow your husband to rule over you like some kind of godlike king.  It is respecting him enough to let him lead and allowing him to set the direction of your marriage.

Scenario time.  You, your husband and your 9 month old child are in a gas station and a guy with a gun comes in to the store and starts making threats.  He aims the gun at you and the baby.  Do you a) want your husband to let you take the leadership role and take a bullet or do you b) want him to lead and protect his wife and child by throwing himself in front of the guy with the gun?  I think in your heart of hearts at that moment you would want the man in your life to stand up and be a man and protect his family at any cost.  And men, if you aren’t willing to do that, how can you honestly expect her to respect you and allow you to lead.

Ladies, if your man is worthy, let him lead.  Don’t follow blindly, but don’t destroy him when he makes a mistake.

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What the Bible really tells the husband to do.

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4 Responses

  1. […] The Submissive Wife? […]

  2. Wonderful post, Shawn. I’ve listened to Christianity be attacked and belittled due to the word “submit” too many times. Personally…I believe people try to put a contemporary definition to the word “submit” that isn’t really there. They call that “connotative meaning” in my english classes. Basically, trying to re-define a word by cultural standards instead of what it really means. And picking apart a verse w/o looking at it in context is also very fallacious. Sadly, the result is many Christians denying the existence of “submit” and re-wording marriage vows instead of sitting down and studying what is actually being said.

  3. I am a Christian and a wife. I served in the military for nine years, made two combat deployments, and would have absolutely no problem taking a bullet if it meant protecting my family (including my husband). “Being a man” has nothing to do with courage, physical or otherwise. Being a brave person does.

    Marriage should be a equal partnership and friendship. It shouldn’t be a heirarchy of “leader” and “follower.” What on earth makes a man better-suited for a leadership role than a woman? (My nine years leading search-and-rescue helicopter crews (during which I brought everyone home safe and sound every time) tells me the answer to this question is: absolutely nothing.) If my husband were to always “set the direction” in our marriage, we would each be deprived of significant opportunities to learn and grow in our abilities to compromise, trust, and respect each other.

    And it’s all very well to emphasize the “husbands must love and care for their wives” part of the scripture, but in a society in which 5.3 million women are abused each year (including as much as a quarter of pregnant women in this country), where domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and where almost half of female murder victims were killed by their intimate partner, it might make more sense to just forget about the “Wives: be submissive!” part of the equation until it’s actually safe for them to follow such advice.

    And by the way, the briefest etymological examination in the Oxford English Dictionary of the word “submission,” shows that throughout its history, it has ALWAYS meant, “Disposed or inclined to submit; yielding to power or authority; marked by submission or humble and ready obedience.” So say what you will about context, but let’s not pretend the word means (or has meant) anything other than it does (or has).

  4. KD,
    You bring up several great points. First, thank you for your service and your sacrifice for your country, I myself am in the Military.

    I did not mean to imply that women can’t or aren’t brave. But I disagree with your statement that being a man doesn’t include bravery. I believe it should. Being a “real” man or “woman” does include protection of those you love, at least in my opinion. I know my Mom would throw herself into a pit of fire to protect me to this day. But I also know I would do the same for my wife and children.

    I agree and stated in the post that both man and woman are equal in the relationship but that does not negate the role we each are supposed to play. I did not set these roles, God did. I am only trying to help others to understand this role in the boundaries that God set in His word. The man should never abuse this role and neither should the wife, even though both do at times.
    By direction I meant (and should have been clearer) the spiritual aspect of marriage. Again, God’s deal, not mine. Even though in most marriages the wife is the stronger of the two spiritually, at least in my experience.

    As for abused wives I can not speak to that as I have never abused mine. I have known several and counselled several to leave and to prosecute those that abuse them. However dropping parts of the Bible that we don’t like or that are manipulated for someone’s personal benefit would be akin to removing all auto-mobiles because some people choose to drink and drive and hurt others.

    As for your definition of submission you are spot on, but we are all called to submit to each other. We are also called to love others more than ourselves. If we practised these disciplines what a different world we would live in.

    Hopefully that sheds some light on the issues and helps you to understand where I am coming from. If you still totally disagree, that’s awesome as well, as it is only through open and honest dialogue that we grow in Christ! I am not egotistical enough to believe I have it all figured out or that I am right. These are just posts about things I am trying to wrap my head around.
    Thanks For Stopping By,

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