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! 🙂