The Myths of Submission

Subordination, obedience, patriarchy, slavery, authority.

These are all words that come to mind when you hear the word “submission.” I used to picture an overbearing husband, barking orders at his wife, while  she “submissively” obeyed his every command. Most think a submissive wife either gets beaten, ordered around, or loses her own independence and surrenders the right to have an opinion. In our culture, the word “submission” has so many negative connotations that when we read Scripture that uses those passages we can’t possibly conceive that God would want us to put ourselves in such a negative role.

But God never implies inferiority in Scripture in calling you to be submissive to your husband. You are his equal in image of Christ, as a human being, as a fellow child of God. (Gen. 1:26-27, Gal. 3:28) Now that I’m married, I finally see that I’m not my husband’s servant and I’m not beneath him in any way because I choose to submit to him.  I finally  see the reason behind this role God has called me to fulfill.

Christ lays out submission as one role in the marriage duo for a reason: to display His relationship with the Church. But just as the Gospel has been distorted and thrown out, submission has been distorted and thrown out completely by some. Through my experience as a wife, my studies at Seminary and through Scripture, here are some things I’ve learned that it’s NOT:

Submission is NOT:

Modern Definition: The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will of another person

                1. Female Inferiority

From the beginning, God has made it clear that women are equal to men and we are all one in Christ (Gen. 1:26-27, Gal. 3:28). As He established equality from the very beginning, He also established differing functions and roles for men and women.  Scripture makes no allowance for male dominance or female inferiority. Both wives and husbands are given roles to play, as a way of mirroring the Gospel. Both roles are equally difficult and equally respectable. 1 Peter 3:7 even shows that amidst the differing marriage roles, men and women are coheirs with Christ and should be treated as such!

I’m sure you can tell just through my writing, but I’m a very strong, independent, opinionated, and well-educated woman. My mom raised me that way and my personality follows suit. That being said, I do have a “spiritual leader” – that’s my husband. He doesn’t always know more than me, he’s not my “boss and he does consult me when making decisions. I am his equal, not his inferior, and he treats me equally but he is still the “head” of our family, as Christ is head of the Church. (Eph. 5:22-23)

                  2. Husband Tyranny

Directly following the verses commanding wives to submit is a verse that ALL husbands need to pay close attention to. “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her.” It goes on to say that they’re supposed to love their wives as their own bodies. This is the anti-thesis of husband tyranny and God NEVER advocates or blesses abuse, tyranny, or anything of the like. He actually commands the opposite from men but unfortunately, not all men have read this verse or decided to submit to God’s authority in this part of their lives.  Husbands cannot force submission, rule with an “iron fist,” nor did they come up with the concept of submission, God did. His role for husbands includes love, understanding, and honoring their wives. (Col 3:19; 1 Pet.3:7)

I’m blessed with a husband who understands God’s calling for him as a husband. He knows that he’s called to love me, give himself up for me, and the responsibility for our family is on his shoulders. In a couple of weeks, he’ll even write on Unlocking Femininity about his own journey through the Scriptures and what it means to love your wives, as Christ loves the Church.  So until then, know God does not desire or command men to rule over their wives as if they’re superior masters. God desires men to love their wives like Christ loves us.

                 3. Mutual Submission

Many who take the “mutual submission” belief use Eph. 5:21 and Gal. 3:28 as their proof texts.  In Eph. 5:21, Paul has been addressing the Church on how to act in a Christ-like manner which includes submitting to each other, within the body of Christ. He then moves on to specific groups, like wives/husbands, children/parents, and slaves/masters (This part is compared to modern day worker/boss relationships. Slavery was not the same then as it was in our Civil War era). Yes, as children of God, we are to love and honor one another but if Paul meant for this verse to apply to husband/wife roles, why did he continue and say to wives for them to submit to their own husbands? Why didn’t he also say husbands submit to your wives? Nowhere in Scripture does it ever directly address men and tell them to submit to their wives. Wives are the only ones in marriage told to submit to their husbands. When wives are the only ones in a marriage that are commanded to submit, it cannot be said that both are supposed to submit to each other.

Mutual submission only brings confusion into structure. If you’re a parent, will you sometimes submit to your children because you’re both human beings?  If you’re the CEO of a company would you submit to the guy in the cubicle entering data because you’re both human beings? While all those different people are equal, they perform different functions and they don’t step into each other’s roles from time to time. Have you ever seen a child become the authority for their family and the parents submit to that authority? It does happen and it’s disastrous! The same can happen when you don’t have a defined authority within marriage that sticks to the structure God designed. Husbands should confer with their wives, pray with them over decisions, and make the best decision for their family but wives are called to submit to that decision, help in the decision making process but never be the spiritual head. (Gen. 2, Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:5 )

In both Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 5:21, Paul is affirming the equality of all God’s people within the Church, no matter their role or function in this world. But if you say that those verses advocate the mutual submission of all God’s people in all roles of life then parents will need to submit to their children occasionally, bosses will have to sometimes submit to their workers (1 Pet. 2; Heb. 13:17), and God will sometimes have to submit to us (1 Cor. 15). When the passages are taken within their context, it’s evident that submission is not mutual.

Now that some of the myths of submission have been debunked, what is submission then? Well, come back tomorrow for part 2 and you’ll find out! 🙂

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12 thoughts on “The Myths of Submission

  1. This is excellent! Very much in line with my thoughts. I look forward to part two!

    Question: Was your “modern defiition” something you endorse, or was it part of the “myths?” I wasn’t clear about that.

    One comment about Myth #1: I totally agree with your heading and your discussion–women are not inferior. Nothing could be further from the truth, and inferiority, value, or importance, has nothing to do with submission.

    I’m convinced that God loves men and women equally, that both are equally valued in the sight of God, If anything, perhaps women actually have the more important, even Christ-like, calling in nurturing and raising children.

    However, I’m just a bit disappointed that in your discussion of this your emphasis seemed to be on measuring inferiority based on who makes decisions and how they are made.

    Importance or inferiority has nothing to do with authority, who is in charge, or how decisions are made. Jesus repeatedly rebuked those who had authority and decision-making power, and instead invited us all to become like a little child–a symbol of a person who had no authority at all. Jesus himself had basically no worldly authority in any established institutions of His day.

    As an extreme example, the Pope is not any more righteous or valuable in the sight of God, for example, than Mother Theresa–and that example has nothing to do with the genders of the two, just contrasts in their level of power and authority and lifestyle.

    Perhaps that’s what you were getting at, but I thought we could underscore the value and importance of women in ways other than how many decisions they make.

  2. “Mutual submission only brings confusion into structure.”
    Really? Really???
    Do you really not know about any stable Christian marriages where husband and wife function in a mutually submissive way?
    You need to get out more.

  3. you girls are doing an awesome job! i really appreciate youyr ministry!! looking forward to your husband’s post, thank you!

    • Thomas,

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words! We’re always so blessed to hear from readers like you!

  4. shd: Diane and her friends are right on here.

    Sure, many relationships function in a way that they may think is “mutual submission,” but it really can be confusing, and generally I’ve found in real life someone ends up taking the basic leadership role–even though they’re both claiming mutual submission.

    In other real-world relationships it’s pretty easy to see ways in which we find clarity in who’s in charge: President and VP of the U.S. (not two co-presidents, CEOs of corporations, a captain of a ship, Pastor or Bishop of a congregation at church, etc. When there’s clarity in where the “buck” stops, it reduces a lot of confusion and contention.

    What if we had two co-commanders in chief in the U.S. and Obama wanted to support the rebels with air support in Libya, but Biden didn’t, and both felt so strongly about it they were willing to fight about it, and there are solid reasons for both perspectives. It’s a big deal. Many lives are at stake, and delay makes the situation drastically worse. Who wins? Whoever yells the loudest? Whoever is the strongest? Whoever cries first? Winner of “rock, paper scizzors?”

    I’ve written more about this concept in my post: Decision Time

  5. You said: “Eph. 5:21, Paul has been addressing the Church on how to act in a Christ-like manner which includes submitting to each other.”

    Yes, Diane! That is mutual submission! Somewhere deep inside, you know mutual submission is right in Christian relationships. Submitting to each other is mutual submission. Anyone who want to disagree, needs to give very good reasons for not taking the verse on face value.

    You ask: ” if Paul meant for this verse to apply to husband/wife roles, why did he continue and say to wives for them to submit to their own husbands? Why didn’t he also say husbands submit to your wives?”

    I know of a Greek scholar who translate Eph 5:21-22 as “mutually submitting to one another, wives (mutually submitting) to husbands.” (Eph 5:22 does not have it’s own verb in the Greek, and need to refer back to :21 for a verb, generally translated as “submit”, but this scholar take it as mutually submit.) Similarly, in 1 Peter 3:7, a husband is asked to do “likewise.”

    • Hello Retha!

      Thank you for taking to the time to read one of my articles and comment. In regards to the Greek scholar’s translation, in Ephesians 5:21 the verb ὑποτασσόμενοι has no connotations or references to “mutuality” in all the Greek lexicons. Though I be very interested to see any publications from Greek scholars who translate it as “mutual submission” and see their evidence for this translation. If you have any information or references regarding this, I would appreciate greatly if you would send me the links or titles. 🙂

      Regarding 1 Pet. 3, if Peter had wanted husbands and wives to mutually submit to each other then he would have said it, instead of giving them two different commands. If he had wanted mutual submission in marriage then he would have said it just as he told the rest of the Church body to submit to each other. But he continued on and gave the wife the command “to submit to your own husband, as the Church submits to Christ” and the husbands “love your wives as Christ loves the Church.” If Paul wanted husbands to submit to wives, why did he never say “husbands submit to your wives too”? The important thing to see that in each of these passage, Eph. 5 and 1 Pet. 3, husbands and wives are given different commands. If the “likewise” is referring back to the wives then the command would then be the same but husbands are given a different command to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” The “likewise” in each is referring back to the example of Jesus in Chapter 2:20-23:

      “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

      So when the verses continue on and say “likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands” it is saying, “just as Christ was reviled and suffered but continued to love those who hurt him and entrusted himself to God, so should wives, no matter how wrongly their husbands may treat them, submit to their husbands and entrust themselves to the Lord.”

      When husbands are told “Likewise … live with your wives in an understanding way,” this is also referring back to Jesus and the rest of chapter 2. Christians are commanded to patiently endure suffering just like Christ did. In the same way, husbands are to be patient and understanding with their wives as Christ was patient and understanding with all of us. Just like in Ephesians 5, the husband’s relationship to his wife mirrors Christ’s relationship to the church. Paul is consistent in his teaching in both Ephesians and Colossians which aligns with other New Testament writers like Peter. They are all in agreement and do not contradict each other regarding marriage roles. Both say wives should submit, both say husbands should love and understand their wives, and both point to this as a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church.

      Blessings, Diane M.

  6. Thank you, Retha!

    Hierarchalists frequently claim that a healthy marital relationship based on mutual submission is not possible. However, as long as even one healthy marial relationship exists which is based on that framework, then statements like “mutual submission only brings confusion into structure” is then not necessarily true. In reallty, there are many healthy marriages which exist according to the framework of mutual submission.

    Hierarchalists frequently compare marriage to corporations with CEO’s, the military, pastors of churches, etc. They rarely compare marriage to a business partnership in which two people have equal and mutual investments in an enterprise. Many times in a business partnership there is no one person who is selected to have unilateral authority while the other is designated to be unilaterally subordinate, and yet they function very well. Often they will have structured their partnership according to their own areas of expertise in which one defers to the other in those areas. But there is often no one single designated person with unilateral authority over their subordinated partner.

    Many strong, healthy, Christian couples state that their relationship is based on mutual submission, and that they are pleased with the relationship which works very well. To denty that these types of relationships exist with statements like “mutual submission only brings confusion into structure” or that relationships that are based on mutual submission are really only a “claim” that isn’t true is not based on reality. Yes, it is possible to have a very satisfying marriage without a unilateral claim of authority/subordination.

  7. This teaching of wife only submission has gotten so far out of hand, I really believe that it will continue to get worse. I have found that it is easy to make women feel guilty for just about everything. “We’re broke”, well, it’s because you went to Walmart, guilt….”I’m not happy, but if you would try to please me more”…….guilt. “The children are so disrepectful”…….if you were a better mother…….guilt. “So, you need me to watch the kids for a while so you can take a break……a break from what, staying home……..guilt. The teaching of unilateral submission is just one more thing to throw on the pile. And I agree with you shd. Egalitarianism does not breed confusion. To the contrary, it gives dignity to both of the spouses. We don’t have to do marriage with a ‘winner’ (husband) ‘loser’ (wife) philosophy. I remember this one preacher making the comment that as a teenager he liked to talk about himself, his needs, how smart he was. So, what he was looking for in a wife was someone that would listen…….that’s totally dysfunctional.

  8. Pingback: The Truths of Submission | dgabnsarah.com

  9. shd, Terri–this has nothing to do with who is a winner and who is a loser. And, Terry, the situations you describe definitely do not involve Christlike leadership. The God-given structure really only works if the husband is Christ-like, as so many good men are–sacrificing himself for the good of the family and for his wife, putting others first by serving them, listening closely to their goals and desires and helping them achieve those goals, setting an example of loving behavior. Many women find that kind of man a joy to “submit” to, and find that he improves his behavior and loving example as they increase their respect for him.

    This is where the bridal analogy of Christ as bridegroom, and church as bride, helps supplement Ephesians 5. There are many other scriptures that teach the basic model of husbands presiding that don’t use the word “submission” at all.

  10. Hello strong man. Could you tell me exactly in the Bible where it instructs a husband to ‘lead’ his wife? It seems that it is just a ‘given’ that the christian husband is behaving just like Christ. That is why when there are marital problems, fingers point to the woman who must not be submitting properly. Unless a husband is physically or verbally abusive (and it has been observed by others) then the guilt trip is layed at the wife’s feet. Like I said, it is just a ‘given’ that the woman is causing the problem by not properly submitting. And yes, I know, there are women who have bought into unilateral submission. They have been taught that to ‘not’ do this is an indication of a rebellious or sinful heart…….do they really have a choice? If you want to ‘stay right’ with God you better joyfully submit whether your husband does or not……..scare tactics.

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