There are few topics in the Bible debated as much as the topic of submission.
The idea that wives should submit to their husband is incredibly controversial and is eagerly fought against in this feminist culture.
While I understand the basis for some of the argument, I believe that much of it is based in a misunderstanding of what Paul is actually saying in Ephesians 5:22-24.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
The first word that stands out to me in this passage is “own”.
Paul actually uses that word twice in this passage, and I believe it is a significant word, or else it wouldn’t appear here in this passage.
I have often wondered why we find it easier to submit to our pastor, our Sunday school teacher, our boss, and even our fathers, but have such trouble submitting to our husbands.
Yet, Paul clearly says that women are to submit to their “own” husbands.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t to listen and take the advice of our pastors and bosses, but our head is our husband and we are ultimately submitted to him.
God instituted an order to marriage
The first marriage was between Adam and Eve.
We don’t read very far in the Bible at all before we see this order in marriage disrupted, and the result of that disruption.
What was Eve tempted with?
Power, domination, and control.
For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:5
Not much has changed in the past several thousand years.
Sadly, Adam refused to seize his role as her protector and acquiesced to her failure to submit to him as her head, and fell into her deception.
The husband is the wife’s head
For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
Nowhere in scripture do we see any other “head”, except for Christ being the head of the church.
The head of the wife is her husband. Period.
What does the word “head” mean? Because we see this picture a lot in Paul’s writings, referring to Christ being the head of the church and even referring to women having their heads covered.
The word in this passage refers to authority. The husband is in authority over his wife. It is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 11, when Paul was referring to a woman having her head covered while praying and prophesying.
Paul gives the chain of command: the head of man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
There is a clear distribution of authority here.
What submission isn’t
Before we go on any further in this passage, let’s talk about what submission doesn’t mean.
Submission isn’t being subservient or dominated.
Sadly, many women have ended up married to a man who abused the idea of submission and subjugated his wife to a level of domination that not only did God never intend, but that has nothing to do with God at all.
The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Christ doesn’t dominate the church.
Submission isn’t passively agreeing on everything.
As John Piper put so well, “A wife doesn’t leave her brain at the altar”.
Submission doesn’t mean surrendering your opinions and your ability to think and reason. Quite the opposite, God will often use a women’s natural intuition to speak wisdom to her husband in situations where an unwise decision may have otherwise been made.
We’ll see later on that submission actually isn’t a one-way street.
Scripture supports the idea that God often uses women to influence her husband in spiritual matters, and I also believe He uses her to influence him in many other ways, too.
If a wife is led by the Spirit, she will discern when she is influencing him wisely and when she is being tempted to manipulate.
Marriage is a picture of the church
For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Here we see why Paul chose to take Ephesians 5 in this direction.
He wasn’t changing the topic, he was further revealing the mystery given to him, and that is:
Just as God raise Christ from the dead and made Him head over all of the church – the global church…
and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to behead over all things to the church, Ephesians 1:19-22
God created marriage to reflect that in a very personal and physical sense.
When we, as wives, read the first 4 chapters of Ephesians and see this beautiful body emerging as the physical representation of Christ – the global body of Christ, working together healthily and in harmony, each one gifted with unique gifts, loving one another, and edifying the body, with Christ Jesus being the authority over the church, loving, protecting, and guiding her according to His will….
we should then look to our own homes as a mirror image of that picture.
Our husbands are our authorities; loving, protecting and guiding us according to the will of God that He has chosen to sovereignly reveal to him. We are to submit to him in honor and respect, bringing to the home our unique gifts that God will use to edify the home in love and grace so that our homes work together healthily and in harmony.
Just as the church is in submission to Christ in everything, so should we be to our husbands.
Are there times when “everything” doesn’t mean everything?
I believe that there are times when a woman would be compelled to not obey her husband.
When her husband demands that she violates scripture.
Paul clearly gives believers instructions that if they are commanded by their authority to violate scripture that they humbly, yet firmly, reply that they must obey God and not man.
In this situation the wife should maintain an attitude of continued honor and submission, and communicate her desire to be submissive, though unable to fulfill his desire in this one area.
When her husband is being abusive.
Sadly, there are husbands who abuse their role and thus choose to abuse their wife sexually, physically, and/or psychologically.
Nowhere in Scripture do we see God advocating that a woman must remain in such a situation. The wife in this situation should, with haste, remove herself and her children (if present) from that home and seek shelter.
Subjugating oneself to abuse is not submission, it is foolishness and enabling an out-of-control man to continue to dominate.
A final word:
Paul prefaces these three verses with a very important and often overlooked verse: “submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
As we look at this verse in the context of the entire sentence it is written in and verses 25-33, we get a full picture of the beauty of submission.
Not bondage, not domination, not subservience, but a breathtaking reflection of the unity that brings the blessing!
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—
- Rosilind, a Pacific Northwest native, is a missionary living in Croatia and married to her hero. Together they live in the country with their 2 active boys where she enjoys fruity candles and a hot cup of herbal tea on a blustery fall evening. She holds an Associates of Practical Theology and is passionate about discipling and encouraging women. Her passion for writing led her to author a number of books. She is the author of A Little R & R where she encourages women to find contentment in what God created them to be. She can also be found at these other places on a regular basis. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google +.