What Christians Get Wrong About “Women Submitting” To Their Husbands

In Advice and Encouragement, For the Guys, For the Ladies, Marriage by Debra Fileta56 Comments

About this time last year, I tuned into a show that was turning some heads. It’s title: “Submissive Wives’ Guide to Marriage” and it aired on TLC last spring.

The show follows three couples who claim to be living the life of a “submissive wife”, and vouch that this has been the saving grace to their happy marriages.

The shows main character, submissive wife Tara, says that the motto of a submissive wife is to: “Help her man, serve her man, submit to her man, and sleep with her man.

While I’m all for helping, serving, and sleeping with my husband, the show left me feeling empty, and wrestling with some serious questions I’ve struggled with in light of this really important, yet delicate topic, often only partially discussed in Christian circles. I ended up writing the following blog post, to express some of my concerns regarding the whole “submission culture” that we see in Christian communities, and posed a few important questions for all of us to chew on: *In full disclosure, after the following article was published, I was contacted by BOTH of the main characters from this TV show, asking if they could defend their perspective by writing a response post for TrueLoveDates.com. I politely declined, as I never intended for this to be turned into a debate, just an opportunity to sift through and question our personal “tradition” vs. “scripture”.*

Have we focused too much on submission and too little on love?

As a Licensed Professional Counselor and relationship specialist, the truth of the matter is that I’ve seen this concept of “submission” defined and redefined in so many ways. And sadly, I’ve seen it used to fulfill selfish agendas and aid in manipulation, and at times, even abuse. As a Christian I’ve grown up in conservative circles hearing conversation after conversation about a “submissive wife”, but why is it that we’ve focused so much on submission, yet so little on the idea of establishing a loving marriage? Don’t the two go hand-in-hand?

As I look through Scripture, and even zoom-in on the Ephesians 5 passage where all this content stems, I see so much more about love than submission. In fact, the word “love” is used in some way, shape or form more than TWICE as much as the word submission in the referenced passage. There is a significant umbrella of love that is foundational to this concept, but so many times it gets looked over. We PREACH to the women about submission, yet all-the-while neglecting to TEACH the men about love.

Training a wife to submit to an unloving husband is like training a child to swim without water – it simply misses the mark, because there’s so much more to it than the superficial strokes. It’s so much deeper than that!

Too many women have been bogged down in unhealthy and dangerous relationships yet answered with the simple concept of “submission”, rather than getting the REAL help they need to tackle and heal the root problems in their marriage. I’m just going to say it: there’s more to a healthy marriage than submission…and that more is found in the unconditional, life-giving, marriage-nourishing LOVE of Christ that has to be both given and received by husband and wife. Maybe it’s time we zoom in on that.

Have we placed our own cultural gender roles on a spiritual concept?

Another thing I found myself questioning throughout the show was the idea that “submission” meant that a wife learn to be a good homemaker. I can confidently say I don’t see that anywhere in Scripture. Now granted, with reality TV, I am aware that there are limitations to what is portrayed and displayed (a.k.a edited out) on the screen, but one theme that kept shining through this particular show is the idea of creating  “a happy husband” through cooking, cleaning, laundry, and sex.

I won’t deny that most men, my husband included, love and appreciate the things their wives do to show them love (often including cooking, cleaning, laundry and sex). And in fact, I LOVE doing those things for my husband! But isn’t there a difference between acts of service toward our spouse, and biblical submission? Could it be that we have placed our own cultural gender roles on a spiritual concept? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding and absolute: YES!!!!! THERE IS A DIFFERENCE!

I truly believe we’ve done the concept of biblical submission a terrible disservice by lumping it into the category of simply being a good homemaker. Not only so, but I believe that many women, who aren’t necessarily gifted in this way, may feel slighted and even offended by the thought that the reflection of their willingness to submit to their husbands is measured by the cleanliness of their house, the pile of their laundry, or the quality of their cooking. Which leads me to my last thought…

Have we focused too much on the superficial, without tackling the heart of the issue?

I won’t deny that biblical submission is a real and important topic, but I revolt against the mentality that it’s measured by a certain list of superficial things. I think deep down, at the heart of biblical submission is a woman’s ability and willingness to TRUST her husband in the give-and-take relationship of marriage.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

As a woman, I know the tendency I have deep in my heart to just “take control” of any and every situation. But part of learning to be a wife was learning to let my will fall into the will of my husband’s, as the two of us became one. And in order for me to unite with him, whether it be in lifestyle choices, decision making, intimacy, or parenting-issues, I had to learn to trust him in a way that, up until marriage, I had only done with God.

I had to learn to let go of my control issues, by learning to take into consideration someone else’s will, desires, and wants. This is where trust was SO huge. And it is only because of my love and submission to Jesus, paired with my husband’s love and submission to Jesus, that I was and am able to continually trust in his love and actions toward me.

Just listen to the unbelievable and challenging call to husbands in these next few verses, right after the concept of submission is presented for the first time:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

What I’m trying to say here is that there is so much more to this concept than what we sometimes present in Christian culture.

As we see in the verses above, there is so much mutual respect, mutual love, and even mutual submission that HAS TO EXIST in a relationship in order for this process to truly work. It’s not about the laundry, the dishes, the finances, the sex, or the “last word” on decisions…more than anything, it’s about learning to trust, to respect, and ultimately, to love one another, as Christ has loved us.

And the thing about real love is this: you don’t have to constantly have your own back, when you know that someone else has your back better than you ever could! In the biblical sense of the term submission, you learn to let go, knowing that your husband loves, nurtures, and cares for you just as much as he loves himself and that your desires, opinions, and preferences will be heard! True biblical submission is never one-sided, but in fact, it’s always triangular: Christ pours into us as we pour into one another, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. How beautiful is that?!

Imagine what could happen if we as a culture focused less on the term “submission”, and more on learning to become like Jesus through our actions, our habits, our communication styles, our finances, our sex-lives, and even our emotional intimacy?  Imagine what our marriages would look like if we learned to be the closest reflection to Jesus our spouse would ever see?

I don’t know about you, but I’m all for that model of biblical marriage! May the Lord teach us to love, just as we’ve been loved by Him. And may that love impact our relationships, our marriages, our families, and even our world.

Comment below: How do you react to the concept of submission in marriage? 

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life,  21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray for Your Love Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

For more on Christian relationships, as they pertain to healthy dating, pick up a copy of True Love DatesCheck out what the Amazon reviews are saying!

Comments

  1. Love this Deb. I need to read and understand this a bit better. It has always turned me off as I am not really a submissive person in general. I realize the nuances and deep importance to our marriage of submitting in the biblical sense but as others, I think I intertwined that thought with the simplistic “woman be homemaker while man rule” (in a grunty caveman voice) concept.

    1. Author

      I hear you, Hillary! The grunty caveman voice is totally hilarious too, because I really think that’s the vibe we get from our own Christian culture, when in reality that’s not God’s truth AT ALL. God’s Word empowers women….in every sense of the word. We tend to downplay that, though.

      There’s so much room to learn in the world of marriage. If you noticed, I didn’t spend too much time commenting on the practicals of “submission” because to be honest, I believe it looks different in each and every marriage based on the spouses as well as their relationship with God.

      There are no cookie-cutter answers for this one, as much as we’d like to have them sometimes. What a great and ongoing conversation to have with our spouse as we all try to get on the same page with how these concepts play out in our marriages.

  2. I may step on some toes here, but if the bible (canon) is the accurate, inerrant, authoritative very word of God, then how can you take a command (not a suggestion) and try to weasel out of it. This sounds like rebellion to me. Remember, it’s not the man that commands you, but God himself. He created all this and His order is higher than ours. This applies to all of scripture not just what we want it to apply to. I’m preaching to myself here as well. Either Jesus is Lord or He is just another spiritual teacher. We can be slaves to righteousness or slaves to sin. Why is it more blessed to give than to receive, yet we want to take from our spouses and not give. Marriage only works when both give 100%. You have to trust the Lord that he is working on the man to love better each and everyday. This doesn’t mean you should only submit when he is perfect at loving. Marriage is not based on conditions like a contract, it’s a covenant forever, at least it is designed to be. In my experience, I find that when responsibility is thrust upon a person that truly cares, no matter the task at hand, they will rise to the challenge whether or not they make mistakes along the way. They will get there because they care. God promises joy in all things, not always happenstance. Remember, Jesus came to serve rather than to be served. Be like Christ as I follow Christ.

    ***im not condoning abusive relationships whether mental, emotional, or physical***

    1. Author

      Hi Matt! Appreciate your thoughts….and yes, you are stepping on some toes – mine in particular 🙂 To say that this is rebellion, or trying to weasel out of the command is seeing only what you want to see in this article.

      If you take a deeper look into what I’m saying, I’m ALL FOR SUBMISSION in marriage. It’s part of God’s word and it’s an important part of a marriage, what I’m not about is defining it through gender roles or other things that people tend to assume upon the topic. God’s word isn’t clear about what submission actually looks like in marriage, so why do we feel the need to go ahead and place our own assumptions on it in such a stereotypical way?

      I’m also not saying that a husband has to be perfect in order for a wife to submit to him, what I am saying is that we need to challenge men just as much as we challenge women, the two challenges to both love and submit must go hand in hand. I haven’t seen that challenge given to both men and women the way it ought to be.

      I agree with you that marriage is about both parties giving 100%, and I was hoping that was the point that was coming across in this article.

      1. Something that often happens is we read this section of verses beginning with verse 22. But if we start with verse 21 it changes the tone a bit. “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians‬ ‭5:21‬ ‭As Deborah said, there is also a mutual submission happening and that’s biblical.

    2. I am wondering where you see submission as a command to the wife only? If we read Ephesians 5 as the letter it is, we see that Paul is teaching us as disciples of Christ to submit one to another and he is showing us what that looks like.
      I think Ephesians 5 is a beautiful definition of what submission is to look like for Christians. What I see here is what the whole New Testament is about: it is to love your fellow Christians and identify with them just as Jesus did while here with us, for this is how the world will know we are His disciples.
      If you look at Eph 5:22 the word submit is not even in the original text it was added by the translators. Paul is simply continuing his thought and explaining what submission for wives looks like just as he explains what submission for husbands looks like in verses 25-33.
      I know there is a big debate between Egalitarians and Complimentarians and it is an important one for each of us to seriously look into. Wayne Gruden and John Piper have written many books explaining the Complimentarian view. Gilbert Bilezikian does a nice job of explaining the Egalitarian theology and Loren Cunningham (the founder of YWAM) and David Hamilton have written “Why Not Women?”, which is a very interesting read.
      Deb, thank you for your very thoughtful article.

      1. Author

        Very important thoughts, Cathy! Thank you for your insight and the great resources.

      2. Amen! We tend to skip right past verses 1 and 2 of Ephesians 5. And we especially skip past verse 21, which is what should lead both men and women into the following verses!

    3. Actually, the way I was taught this there was a tradeoff…

      women should submit to your husbands like the church to Christ.

      if you don’t see where I’m going with this…

      men should die for their wives like Christ to the church.

      now this is a bit figurative (i.e. you die to yourself, hopefully he doesn’t actually get killed off)

      now roles can be reversed, but they still remain.

  3. Hi Debra!
    This particular set of verses (Ephesian 5:25-27) are so key and are often forgotten in the whole submissive wife debate, so thank you for including them!
    How did Christ show his love for the Church? Dying for her on a cross, stripped naked and beaten within an inch of his life. That’s huge. Giving in your marriage is a two way street – a wife called to love her husband coupled with a husband called to lay down his life for his wife. If marriage is a cross, you’re doing it right.
    Another thing that always gets me in this debate is the “Marriage is a 50/50 thing.” Nope, divorce is a 50/50 thing…marriage is a 100/100 thing…and we’re called to put our whole self into the vocation we’re called to.
    I also think this part of the verses: “Wives be subject to your husbands as to the Lord.” Which doesn’t mean a woman must submit to a man simply because he is a man and she is a woman. It doesn’t give him a free pass to be an overlord in the marriage, treating her like a slave who has to submit to him. Instead, it calls men to LOVE their wives as their own bodies.

    1. Author

      Great thoughts, Chloe! And I agree with you!!

      I ALSO think it’s SO important to clarify that this conversation is for husbands and wives – NOT JUST MEN TO WOMEN….there is a huge difference, and for good reason! We aren’t called to submit to all men, just our husbands, which makes so much sense in the midst of that covenant, loving relationships.

      Marriage is definitely a two-way street, it’s best that way 🙂

  4. Straight from Proverbs 31

    She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭15‬ ESV)

    She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭27‬ ESV)

    I pulled two verses out instead copying half the chapter. It’s clear that a woman of noble character looks after the household. Why is it that for almost two thousand years since Christ died and rose again, did the gender roles stay the same throughout most of history. It’s been rather recent in the light of history to rebel against the natural order of things, men and women being distinctly different. Why did Peter or Paul not correct the early church and set the record straight 2000 years ago? Also, love isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and perfect feelings of happiness. Love instructs, rebukes, corrects and teaches. Jesus is love, yet rebuked Peter over and over. Was he being unloving? No He was being quite the opposite. To lead is a great responsibility and God (not me) placed it on the husband. Women can do anything and everything, that doesn’t mean they ought to. Not everything that is permissible is edifying. During the Protestant reformation, Martin Luther translated the bible into common language instead of just Latin so that all could read and understand. I pray the Holy Spirit wil, shed light on this in all of our hearts, so that we may walk in the light of truth.

    1. Author

      I love Proverbs 31!! But here’s the thing about it – what does being a woman of noble character have to do with submission? Aren’t these different issues? And does it mean that a woman who isn’t waking up at 3am to make food isn’t a woman of noble character? And lets remember, there are a lot of other verses in that passage that describe the Proverbs 31 woman outside of the typical gender roles, as well (especially for that culture!)

      And what do you tell a Christian couple in which the father is a stay-at-home dad while the wife has a career or calling? What of the couple who splits the household work? Is that no longer following God’s law? No longer a biblical marriage? Is that really what this is all about?

      We have to be really careful not to take verses out of context and make them apply to just fit our preferences. It’s perfectly fine to desire a wife to be a homemaker, but is that what this all comes down to? Gender roles?

      I struggle/refuse to believe that, because I think it’s about being faithful to God’s Spirit and your spouse above all else. I’m not revolting against gender roles in any way, I’m just saying let’s not confuse them with spiritual roles.

      And let me add that I totally agree with you in that the role of leadership is a very high calling, but the mark of true leadership in a man, as expressed by the heart of Jesus, as well as the verses in Ephesians – is sacrifice….

    2. Hi Matt!

      Try reading the book that Cathy Jo recommended, “Why not Women” by Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton. I´m reading it right now, and I am learning a lot, it might also shed som new light in your heart, as it does in mine.

      Kind regards and God bless

  5. An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭10‬ ESV)

    This talks about an excellent wife, it’s the leading passage of that section on a woman of noble character. I can see your point of view, but can we really separate character and spiritual issues? As far as the different lifestyles of today’s culture, stay-at-home dads and such are fine as long as the husbands leads. Leading doesn’t mean you make every decision and that you can’t work together with your spouse to decide things. I believe it means that if you come to a disagreement about the majorly important things (finances, cars, where to live) the decision should fall the husband because ultimately he will have to answer for it.

    In my experience, I’ve never seen a biblically submissive woman that didn’t have that noble character, not perfect, but excellent. I feel like it’s splitting hairs.

    1. Author

      I agree that you can’t separate character from spiritual issues, and that’s not what I am saying. What I’m saying is that character and spiritual issues aren’t defined by simple “home-making” behavior at home. Those gender-roles can’t be placed on spiritual roles. Because spiritual roles in marriage are so much deeper than who does the dishes or cooks the meals. Hopefully we at least agree on that 🙂

    2. Trying to use verses from Pr 31 to support a rigid gender role for women is very short-sighted because many of the core characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are mutual, collective and congregational. In other words, many of the characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are for men too – not just women, so trying to depict them as distinctively feminine is very short-sighted and problematic.

      Mutual Traits/Duties Listed in Pr 31:

      A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies (v.10).
      The phrase translated as “virtuous woman” or “woman of noble character” means Eshet CHAYIL in Hebrew. CHAYIL (Strong’s 2428) means strength, the strength of a warrior. The word CHAYIL is also used to describe mighty men of valor in the Bible: Josh 1:14, 6:2; Judg 6:12; 2 Kgs 15:20. Therefore, the Hebrew word (CHAYIL) translated noble and/or virtuous in Pr 31:10 is not a distinctly feminine description. Men can and be noble and virtuous (CHAYIL) too.

      Do Good

      She will do him good … (v.12). As believers, men and women are admonished to “do good” to our enemies (Lu 6:27, 35). Christian men and women are admonished to “do good” and to share with others (He 13:16).

      Do No Harm

      She brings him good, not harm … (v.12). Husbands are instructed to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Romans 13:10 tells us that “love does no harm.” Therefore, if a husband loves his wife, he will not harm her.

      Work With Your Hands

      She … works with eager hands (v.13). Christian men and women are called to live a quiet lives, mind our business and “work with our hands” … (1 Th 4:11).

      Don’t Be Idle

      She … does not eat the bread of idleness (v.27). Paul proclaimed the value of hard work and sternly warned men and women not to be idle (2 Th 3:6-12). “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” ( 1 Th 5:14).

      Speak With Wisdom

      She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v.26). “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just” (Ps 37:30).

      Care for the Poor

      She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20). Christian men and women are admonished to care for the poor and needy (Ma 25:34-40).

      Fear the Lord

      … a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (v. 30). “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!” (Ps 112:1)

      I definitely agree that a submissive wife will have noble character. Likewise, a loving husband will also have noble character because many of the core traits and duties listed in Pr 31 are mutual, collective and congregational rather than distinctly feminine: being virtuous and noble (CHAYIL), doing their spouses good and not harm, working with their hands, not being idle, speaking wisdom, caring for the poor and fearing the Lord.

      An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels (v. ‭10). ‬Excellent, noble, virtuous wives are hard to find. Likewise, faithful, trustworthy men are also hard to find. Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?(Pr 20:6)

      1. Author

        Great word, Kim!! So eye opening for me, and I’m sure it will be eye opening for many others. By the way, I love the idea of virtue being akin to the strength of a warrior. How beautiful and empowering to apply to both men and women alike! Thank you so much for your time digging into scripture, and for laying it out in such an informative way.

  6. Looks to me like you were speaking truth the whole time, speaking equally for both roles that were talked about in Ephesians. Matt came on making accusations about your trying to weasel out of something, and quite frankly, none of it was accurate at all and you’ve continued to uphold the WHOLE issue from a biblical standpoint while he continues to try to split hairs about stuff you never said.

    1. Author

      Happy to hear that you’re hearing equality through this article! And I appreciate you taking the time to point it out. Thank you!

  7. Great article, Debra! I think so often we get caught up in the semantics of what the “biblical” husband-wife relationship should look like, that we miss the introductory statement of the Ephesians passage: “Submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ” (that means both parties). While what this exactly looks like differs between cultures and even individual relationships, the themes Paul highlights — love and respect — still apply for both husband and wife. Thanks for tackling this tough topic.

    1. Author

      Luke! It’s SO great to hear from more men in this thread. I definitely agree with you, that the details look different in every culture and individual relationship, but that love and respect still apply for all. So good! Thanks for highlighting that point again, it’s something we can’t hear enough. I appreciate your insight!

  8. I definitely agree that submission has a lot more depth to it than what some christians portray it to be. I also liked reading the comments because it gets even more insightful when you hear both sides of this topic.

  9. Hi Debra, I found this article really insightful. I was reading something on a different site recently that spoke about whether two people from very different denominations/theological traditions should get married. Many of the commenters seemed to think that if they get married, the wife should give up/change her beliefs in order to submit to her husband’s spiritual authority. This struck me as a weird application of submission, because is submission really about believing the exact same things? On the other hand, I can see the issues that would arise when determining how to raise kids, for example. Do you have any thoughts on that?

  10. Thanks Debbie, this is an excellent article. I was always brought up with the idea of submitting to one’s husband as being the right and Biblical thing to do but unfortunately in my personal experience I was also in a relationship (not even married) with a man who severely abused this verse and abused me emotionally, mentally and physically. I have come to a realization that when these verses are practised together (i.e. the husband loves the wife and the wife submits to the husband) that it becomes easy to submit because you know you are loved and ‘he has your back’ as you say but when this verse is abused and used to manipulate, control and abuse it becomes very dangerous. I don’t believe God ever meant for this verse to become so horribly twisted that it gives so-called ‘Christian’ men the right to abuse their wives, but I believe that when it is done the way God intended that it will be pure joy and, as you say, it has nothing really to do with who does the housework but rather with loving, supporting and showing respect for one another and being more Christlike in our interactions with one another.

  11. Hi Debra,

    Thanks for the article! It was definitely an encouragement to me as a single guy about what marriage and leadership look like. I also want to say that I could not agree any more with Chloe about marriage as a 100/100 thing. My Grandpa said the exact same thing to me last year. He was happily married for over 50 years before my Grandma went to be with the LORD so his thoughts on marriage carry a lot of weight with me as a single guy. It also occurs to me that love, respect, and selflessness are all qualities which breed patience and trust. Almost as if God knows what He’s doing. 😉 🙂

    1. Author

      Thank you, Adam! I really appreciate your thoughts and feedback. 100/100 is definitely what it’s all about….so good!

      50 years is an amazing accomplishment, and I believe you’re wise in letting their wisdom carry a lot of weight in your life. God knows what He’s doing, to be sure 🙂 We just have to learn to keep up with Him!! Thanks for the comment!

  12. I raelly like this post cos, in most of d churches around us here, there are always programmes every now and then to teach our women our to submit to their Husbands without questioning which is good. But they have solely refused to teach our men what the kind of love for their wives should be. It has always left a kind of question in my heart, who says it is only the wife that has to submit while men are left to do whatever pleases their selfish seves?, nd then when i speak to people about it especially thse married women, their response will always be,Mercy, its all bcos u arent married u will understand that marraige is not easy @all. But all i orbserved from my parents is that when a man creates an atmospher of love. The woman will naturally submit. But when reverse is the case i conclude that the woman is been used or abused. Which isnt Biblical @all

    1. Author

      I agree…it’s a shame so many are still having this conversation in a very one-sided way. Where are you from, Mercy?

  13. Am from Nigeria. You are really doing a great job here. More grace IJN.

  14. Thanks for sharing this! I think you’re right that we’ve tended to superimpose our own preconceptions onto these verses. Also, to impose the part about women being submissive (especially the subservient interpretation) while ignoring the part about men loving their wives sounds like a recipe for abuse. Besides that, verse 21 says to “submit to one another,” which to me suggests a mutual submission, not a completely one-sided submission.

    Also, in a recent article, you mentioned that one of the characteristics that men are looking for in a woman is confidence. I would wholeheartedly agree with that. I would never want a doormat as a wife. And if you look at the examples of Godly women throughout the Bible, they don’t really line up with the common subservient definition of submission.

  15. The word for “submit” doesn’t appear in verse 22 in the original Greek. It appears in verse 21 where Paul is addressing all Christians. Thus v.22 actually reads, “…wives, to your husbands as to the Lord…” It is part of the massive run-on sentence that starts with verse 18! Thus wives’ submission is an example of the mutual submission all Christians should practice. It is not meant to be more extraordinary than what a Christian should anyway.
    Husbands are given a higher standard. They are supposed to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…” In other words a man should love his wife enough to die for her. Why isn’t more emphasis put on the husband’s self-sacrificial love for his wife?

  16. It’s so much more (and so much simpler) than all of what has been mentioned here. To fully understand Paul’s statement, his guidance, his statement MUST be considered in the context of “the mystery” of marriage he eludes to…which is NOT between a man and a women AT ALL, but between Christ and the church. The message? We are to submit to Christ…and…live it…in our own relationships. Men should portray Christ as the head, and women should portray the church (the bride). Period. …And yet, if we make it all about our own relationships (which it is NOT), we have not only missed the point…we are not doing a very “good job”…and that, is a tragic disservice.

    1. I agree. We all are trying to be like Christ, men and women. But relations between us are based on love and submission which is a natural thing when in love, and the both examples are given by Christ, also sacrifice. And we know that in Christ no gender has its role, but only love. But being in fight with our sins and demons we must obey the discipline. That is why it is important to submit. Also there are gender differences. Men protect their family while wives give birth to new members, though today many things are not obviours. Remember Abrahm? God told him to do what Sarah says…

  17. You claim that the Bible doesn’t teach women to be homemakers? 1 Timothy 5:14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

    It is God’s ordained role for women to be homemakers. It is also the wives duty if she is to honor Christ to honor the head of the relationship, her husband. Just as the church submits to Christ’s will, or aught, so should also wives.

    Also, it’s not the woman’s job to try to change her ‘lousy’ unloving husband, just as it isn’t the church’s role to alter what God has said or choose to ignore things that don’t appeal to our desires.

    The question is not how you choose to define the word submit, but if you consider your husband the final authority in all matters? For example, if he told you not to wear something, would you submit to his will? What about if he said you are not working outside the home? Or this is the church we are going to attend?

    Don’t think I’m being one-sided in my views, men(husbands) have a bigger role to live up to, Christ himself! Should a man grow aggressive and lash out in anger at a woman who doesn’t immediately ‘snap’ to it? Does Christ reward the church according to all their sins? Husbands must learn to be patient, listen to their wives(as Christ hears our prayers), dwell with them according to knowledge(that is do things that will please the wife as well and not simply self-serving), but ultimately God wants woman to obey their husbands in all things.

    Colossians 3: 18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

    1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

  18. Jeff Goodwin,
    Whereas all that is true, the bride would rather hear:
    “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
    She said, “No one, Lord.”
    And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and[d] sin no more.”

  19. So many good conversations above! Thank you for bringing up this tough issue Debra! I was just talking to a friend about this the other day and came across this article that speaks on the comparison between the secular and biblical views of submission.

  20. Hello Debra!

    I always love your articles (and I have your book – It’s great)! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this point. I have to say that I’m very rebel against this – I grew up with an abusive father… so I have a very negative view of “submitting to husband”. It’s still hard for me to accept that this is what God wants us to do. At least it’s good to know that it’s not submission in everything but as we submit to the Lord. I’m glad to read also that the most important thing is love.
    God bless you!!
    (Btw I’m French, so excuse me for the mistakes!)

  21. It’s great to know that it’s not something that we have to do on our own but God gives us the ability to do with his power. “Submitting” to each other is only for the benefit of our marriage and for our relationship with God.

  22. So I read this article with interest, and appreciation. I read the comments and the discussion between Matt and Debra. Then I continued scroll thru articles on FB and Crosswalk.com post this as part of an article. It is a fitting addition to the discussion.

    3. “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10
    This one isn’t so much just the verse as it is the whole chapter. We know this virtuous lady as the Proverbs 31 woman, but for many wives out there trying to live up to the example, the better name might be “impossible standard woman.” After all, she rises up before it should be legal, goes to bad crazy late, and has her hands in every single aspect of the household. She does it all with a smile and nary any bags under her eyes.
    But using this chapter as the definitive job description for a wife isn’t really fair to anyone. Husbands who expect their wives to do everything listed will be sorely disappointed, and the wives who try to make it happen will be sorely exhausted. What was supposed to be encouraging and affirming becomes something that is, instead, a big pain.
    Here’s the secret, though. Proverbs 31 works like an amalgamation, a collection of snapshots of women of faith and solid character. (You could think of it like the hall of fame of great wives and some of the amazing things they do for us.) One wife like this wakes up early to get things ready for her house; one knows how to make savvy business deals; one makes clothes like nobody’s business. Some may even have done a couple of them well.
    But the point is that the noble wife is a godly woman who loves her family and blesses them. She uses the gifts and talents God has given her uniquely. How she uses her gifts depends upon the situation and what God leads her to do. That doesn’t mean she’s a failure if she doesn’t sew her own clothes; it means she’s a success if she allows God to use her to point her family and others to Christ.”

    I am so grateful for Debra’s posts, truly food for thought always and based in scripture. We will never “get it right” but it certainly helps to keep us on the right path.

  23. What if a woman absolutely hates, loathes menial housework? Let’s say she has a high IQ, well educated, maybe even more than him. Should she be relegated to doing menial servant work in the house her whole life where she will NEVER feel fulfilled? What if she is a born leader and feels hurt, degraded, demeaned, just by the simple position of being put into the subordinate role below her husband based on what’s between her legs alone? Where her merits and voice, her experience, her opinions mean nothing? Foot ball and her show are on at the same time…and one tv. Do those passages mean he always gets his football (unless HE decides to let her watch her show)? The idea of subjection to husband, means no matter what her life is as a slave… and the ONLY question of how much freedom she has, is entirely dependent upon how much slack HE ‘allows’ in her chains. Why would any woman even want to be married at all under those conditions??? Even a slave can be treated well, but the reality of their slavery still remains. It’s still a demeaning position to be put into.
    Not withstanding that it’s just gross and creepy to be involved in a sexual relationship with someone who is in an authority position over you. There is a reason why we all feel repulsed at the idea of ‘sleeping with the boss’ It means one of 2 things: the employee is using sex as a bargaining chip to get a promotion etc. or the boss is holding sex as a bargaining chip to refuse a promotion etc. Either way, whenever there is a power dynamic between two people involving authority of one over the other, sex should NEVER EVER be part of that relationship as how can there ever be mutual love equally between two people as husband and wife, when one is seen as the ‘boss’ of the other?? It’s more like sleeping with the boss. And I have seen people in these hard core Christian marriages… and sex turns into a bargaining chip – the husband says do this and I’ll let you do ___ or the wife says I’ll let you do this to me as long you allow me to ___. You get the point. The woman feels trapped because she has no power. The husband has ALL the power. An intimate thing like sex which should be a beautiful union of two souls, turns into a bargaining chip so the wife can have her needs met. Case in point (and it’s about to get a bit graphic I apologize) but one of these wives I know, her husband pressured her to allow him to ejaculate in her mouth. She quite literally threw up when he did it. Every time. But since she felt bound by this ‘submit’ command, she did it anyway. So sex for her was horrible as he would always finish in her mouth, she would run for the bathroom and throw up and spend the night crying. It didn’t matter how many times he told her he loved her. But it’s not even about abuse… it’s the very command of being put into a subordinate position. We don’t have a choice what gender we are born. How does God choose who gets to be born the privileged position as a male, or who gets born into subjection as a female? Especially since Christianity does not believe in reincarnation, so there cant be any idea of being born female as a punishment for wrong deeds in past lives. So if this is our one and only life for ALL of us… how do all of us females end up being born into the absolutely crappy position to suffer for life under male rule??? And how do boys get to be born boys?? What did they do to deserve that privilege over their sisters?? Commanding someone to ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ in everything is akin to asking them to give up their entire will and identity so that someone else can exercise theirs…. for all time. Meaning men get their way all the time, get their needs and desires met. Women – too bad, sucks to be us?? Anything we DO happen to get entirely depends on how well we perform in bed, or cook his dinner. Thanks but no thanks!

    Thank goodness I left Christianity. I’d have remained single my whole life and avoided church anyway if this was the teaching. Men simple because they have a penis deserve to have all their desires and opinion and decisions met. But for women, life is hell. Never mind a hell after death, these teachings are hell while alive. Even if they are ok submitting to certain man, the very idea of being put into the subordinate position is demeaning and belittling to the woman. I am now fully baptized Sikh. Sikhism teaches marriage is equal partnership and men are NOT above women. In fact so equal (biology aside) that husband and wife become 1 soul in two bodies. I am married to a wonderful Sikh man and we have not had a single disagreement and if we did, it doesn’t mean he gets his way automatically. We work it out together. Sometimes he would compromise and sometimes I would. Or possibly get a mediator if needed. But NEVER does one of us get to exercise authority over the other.

  24. Thanks Debra for posting this again. You’ve done a wonderful job of summing this up and echoing my personal thoughts on this matter as well. I’ve never understood how people can get this concept of submission so wrong so often, as I recall being of the same opinion that you expressed above about the biblical concept of marriage since I was a teenager. Thanks again for a great read!

    1. Author

      Such great thoughts, Garrett…thanks so much for your feedback!

  25. When I think of submission, the best imagery is of a dance-think waltz, salsa, or even tango. In salsa and tango, one is taught that the man has to lead. The purpose of the man’s leading is so that he provides the frame where his partner can dance. He becomes the canvas, she is the paint. They both adapt and trust each other. They work together to create art.

  26. A couple thoughts to add to the discussion.

    * As others mentioned, love and submission (or in Eph. 5:33, respect) are not mutually exclusive to the genders. Both male and female believers are created to live in mutual love, respect, and submission, for that is who we are in Christ. The reason the Bible specifically reminds women to submit / respect and men to love is because our flesh tendencies inherited at the fall are for women to control or usurp and for men to be harsh and domineering (see Genesis 3:16). But both men and women are called to love, respect, and submit.

    * Second, the full meaning of the word ‘submit’ could be understood to mean, ‘set yourself in full array before the other, with nothing hidden’. It’s like submitting a proposal or requisition, not an instruction of subservience. In other words, open up and share your whole heart with your spouse—all of your wants, desires, thoughts, and opinions. How can the two of you make sound decisions in life without each of you submitting everything God has placed in your hearts regarding the matter? No one person has all of the insight, counsel, or wisdom, but God has placed part of it in each of us. As we fully submit to each other, the full mind of Christ is revealed and we can walk wisely in Him.

    * There is a biblical order to the family: God -> Christ -> husband -> wife, and highest responsibility falls on the husband. But this order is more descriptive than it is prescriptive.

    1 Cor. 11:3: But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

    Eph. 5:23: For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

    These passages explain how things flow down in a family, much like the waters of a river flow downstream. So, what you see in a woman reveals what her spiritual head pours into her. If you want a kind, godly, joyful, relaxed wife, pour that into her and you will see it in her life. If you see a woman who is harsh or rebellious, her husband needs to pray for her and pour more love and truth into her (like a servant) to help shape her character. Isn’t this how Christ changes us? He takes responsibility for us, covers our weakness with His love, and orchestrates circumstances to reveal what we are missing in our knowledge of Him. That knowledge transforms us, as we are gazing at Him, from glory to glory. This is the role of a husband, which is a far cry from the religious model of dominance and subservience, which is simply abuse.

  27. I am not Christian but, I really don’t think this is about who gets to have final say as that setup ALWAYS places one person’s preferences over the other. In the end, the second person really has no say at all – because any time they (she ) would have her own preferences met is ultimately only if he agrees. So she really has no say at all in the end. This is NOT mutual submission and love! At least not in my thoughts! The language used might be slightly different, but don’t you think a wife should also love her husband as if he were part of her own body as well? Just like a husband should also submit to his wife. Look deeper than the surface words if you need proof. The husband is being told to ‘die’ for his wife. I don’t think this means the 1 in 100000000 chance that might pop up in their life where there is physical danger such that he has to die for her physically. This is metaphor. Jesus spoke in parables and even admitted so! The command is to die to himself. That means losing Ego. That means putting yourself on the same level as someone else and elevating them to your level. In those days, men were in authority. Women were essentially slaves. The command is for men to die to themselves and lose the Ego and desire to dominate and control their wives as a Master over a slave, and instead elevate their wife to equal status (as if she were part of his own body) meaning he will LAY DOWN his position of having last say, to give it to HER! He will care MORE about what SHE wants, about HER opinions etc. than his own. Automatically this means working things out together. And if they disagree even on something major, he will care so much, that he will set aside HIS need to have final say to make his wife happy. The wife in turn, has to TRUST that he won’t lord it over her, and won’t treat her as a subordinate. That means not trying to dominate him as well. BOTH husband and wife have to give up wanting to control the other, and put the other above themselves. Trust me, if you can do that there won’t ever be any situation where someone feels they should have ‘last say’! Husband and wife are absolute equals. Neither is in authority over the other. ALL souls are born equal (otherwise you have to justify why one soul is born privileged as a male, and while another soul is born punished to be a woman and have to be subordinate their whole life – and without Christianity believing in reincarnation and idea of past life karma, you can’t justify that at all!) To permanently place a soul into servitude and subjection under another soul, when both souls are supposed to be only once born, makes no sense whatsoever.

  28. I’m at a loss as to why these discussions ever start with vs 22: “wives submit..” Then the arguing begins. Just because some translations have a section heading between vs. 21 and vs. 22, they ommit the verse that comes FIRST: 5:21 “(all of you) submit yourselves to one another.” Then there would hardly be any argument spouses submitting to each other.

    First 5:21 states that all Christians must submit to each other, THEN 5:22ff goes on to explain about wives and husbands submitting to one another, with separate instructions for each. We should NEVER start this discussion with 5:22. Paraphrasing JEN who commented, 5:21 gives a whole different perspective to this passage.

    In our submitting to one another, to our spiritual and political leaders, there are boundaries.

  29. well first off lets think scruntenly for a sec knowing the bible has been through many hands before reaching it s readers and it says study the SCRIPTURES NOT BIBLE ONLY to show yourself approved as well as ALL SCRIPTURE is good for correction reproof etc If the husband represent christ and christ served and sacrificed himself for the people isnt that what the husband should be doing for the wife therefore a honorable wife would have no problem then submitting (because the husband is infact putting his wife before himself in subjection) because he being the head so being it is being the example of what a true leader does..serve those they love just as a woman sacrifices her body and life for her children and is in submission them during pregnancy. I hate when words contradict the only one we should be following..the messiah hence he died for ALL people not just male or female therefore we should submit and serve one another in love and upbringing.
    Paul was a very opinionated and boastful teacher and though he had some great views some contradicted those of christ which is suspect and the belief that possibly some scriptures were infiltrated by other doctrine they were not pauls words. in the term I suffer a woman not to teach..I represents his own personal belief and opinion. For the fact it does not say Christ suffers not a woman to teach and christ ultimately is the way truth and the life we can see that this this is strictly pauls own views. Also mary, and many other female disciples and prophets taught and guided others. it was dangerous in those times though for a woman to be alone and have authority so a man usually had to accompany her. Also a woman is not saved through childbearing but through the messiah such as a man is so that also is a contradiction and if he is implying physical death many righteous women have died gibibg childbirth so what is the implication? Eve did not force or teach adam to take the apple because he was beside her when she ate it, he chose to eat it on his own accord so which is worst to be tricked or to willingly choose to go against the most high? Also the punishment of their actions was wasn’t so much a punishment rather the consequences of sin. Their once perfect existence and co authority was now shattersed once kicked out of eden and they felt all the pain that the most high once sheltered them from. Also they became flesh when they once were spirit beings so the proper translation is not man shall rule over her but in her since now physical sex is the only way to reproduce when they at one time could simply speak forth life in the garden and because of that (the fall) she will have painful childbirth. Woman is modeled after the all powerful holy spirit (mother) as man is modeled after the all powerful father. We have to read with spirit (wisdom, holy spirit) and open eyes to see the truth because truly our people do perish from lack of knowledge..christ is the only master if anyone’s words do not line up with his question them. P.s. the messiah did not need anyone to finish the job he finished himself hence is why he came down in the first place to set things straight. The disciples went to spread the gospel they learned from the master across the land not create their own..remember be wise as a serpent but gentle as a dove

  30. Why hasn’t anyone brought up the fact that to love self sacrificially, is the same exact thing as submission? If you are submitting to someone you are deferring to them because you love and trust them, and if you are loving self sacrificially you are submitting to someone e because you love them. That means the husband who is loving SELF SACRIFICIALLY can never order around his wife, remove her autonomy and liberty as a person and in a stalemate he would do the self sacrificial thing and give his wife her wish. If he chooses his own way and ignores hers then he is not being self sacrifical is he? Tell me how that’s not submission? Someone who has to love someone to the point of self sacrifice, is submitting and subjecting themselves to the other. So love and submission are both ways. And that agrees with submit to one another. It’s just using different language because men had always thought they were in control and domination over women. Now they are being told to be self sacrifical, and put themselves beneath their wife. If both spouses are submitting to each other’s desires and loving each other then they will never have any issue. Neither spouse should usurp authority over the other. Because neither is in authority over the other, tne allegory in that passage is actually shattering the idea of hierarchy.

    Also pain in childbirth can not possibly be a punishment. For one not all women experience pain, and some even experience organs! The idea of pain has been trained into us over time. In matriarchal societies women attended women giving birth and women were seen as having great power to bring forth life. In that setting women were relaxaed. Relaxed and trusted their bodies. With no fear causing tension, there was no pain, only pressure and even pleasure. If pain in childbirth was a punishment on all women, then why can so many women even today who trust the birth process have a pain free birth without medication? Seriously look up birth and orgasm. Religion has pulled a lot of wool over our eyes. Notice I said religion and not God. How can a man ever correctly interpret anything about birth? Men don’t understand it. The medical establishment seeks to control it.

    And the supposed punishment on men? Why would one feel a sense of accomplishment when hard work was done but feel no sense of worth if there is no work to do? Hardly a punishment to see the fruits of your labor. Male and female alike. And besides, I. Today’s world farmers are not exactly digging in the dirt barehanded and getting stuck with thorns right? So why do these same men think women are being punished still?

    What would you say if I told you the entire bible is in metaphor? Not literal. Jesus eve. Said he spoke in parables. And only the deciphers were told how to decipher them. The rest of the entire human race only sees the literal interpretation. Go past that and look deeper to see the real meaning. Adam and Eve were not physical persons. In fact science tells us the oldest ‘human’ DNA is traceable to a female not a male. But the symbolism of garden of Eden is the cradle of human life. The tree of knowledge was human awakening to knowledge and progress. Prior to that we were linked more on spiritual level and telepathic but to succeed physically we needed to get further away from oneness and move into separateness. The punishment of giving birth with pain, is a descriptor of birth of the human race and the pain is greed, war, famine, etc. Even today look how we are killing each other. We have to work for progress and that progress will give us thorns. Ie Pesticides but they are killing the bees and eventually our food supply. Just one example.

    This is basis for gnostic Christianity, the true message once you see past the parables.

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