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7 Misconceptions about Submission

| November 15, 2011

Doll
Submission.  OOoo . . . that dread “S” word!

This morning I had an interesting conversation with Rachel Held Evans, who is writing a book on “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” Though Rachel and I would likely disagree on several points regarding the Bible’s teaching on womanhood, I deeply appreciate the opportunity for us to dialogue and engage on the topic. Rachel asked me to answer three questions about submission:

  • What are some common misconceptions about what it means to be a “submissive wife.”
  • Why might some (think secular audience) be surprised to learn that you submit to your husband. In other words, how do you yourself defy the stereotype?
  • How long have you been married, and how has submission worked out practically in your marriage? (In other words, what does it look like when you submit to your husband?)

Those are excellent questions!  Here’s how I answered her first question, “What are some common misconceptions about what it means to be a “submissive wife?”

Seven Misconceptions about Submission:

Misconception #1: Submission is universal—the directive can be applied correctly by all, even those outside of the faith community.

Christian submission is defined by the relationship between God the Father and Son. It cannot be properly understood apart from that mooring. Hence, I believe it is unwise for us to uphold the instruction for wives to submit themselves to their husbands as an achievable standard for those outside the faith community. People without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit have neither the discernment nor the power to live out submission and authority in a godly manner.

Misconception #2: Submission is gender-exclusive—it’s just for women.

Men have a responsibility to submit too—it’s not just something that’s required of women. EVERY Christian, female or male, has the responsibility to submit to the Lord, and also to the authorities the Lord has placed in his or her life. What’s more, the biblical concepts of submission and authority cannot be disassociated. The two are indivisibly connected. A biblical definition of submission cannot be understood apart from a biblical definition of authority.

Misconception #3: Submission is generic—every woman submits to every man.

The Bible instructs a wife to submit herself to her own husband; not to men in general.

Misconception #4: Submission is a right—a husband has the right to demand his wife’s submission.

A husband does not have the right to demand or extract submission from his wife. Submission is HER choice—her responsibility… it is NOT his right!! Not ever. She is to “submit herself”— deciding when and how to submit is her call. In a Christian marriage, the focus is never on rights, but on personal responsibility. It’s his responsibility to be affectionate. It’s her responsibility to be agreeable. The husband’s responsibility is to sacrificially love as Christ loved the Church—not to make his wife submit.

Misconception #5: Submission is indiscriminate—it means mindless acquiescence.

A Christian’s first responsibility is to submit to the Lord and His standard of righteousness. A wife is not called to submit to sin, mistreatment, or abuse. The Lord does not want “weak-willed” women—women who lack the discernment and strength to respond to the right things and in the right way. Godly women do not submit to sin. They carefully and intentionally weigh and discern how to submit to sinful human authority in light of their primary responsibility to submit to the ways of the Lord. No brain-dead doormats or spineless bowls of Jello here! Submission is neither mindless nor formulaic nor simplistic. Submitting to the Lord sometimes involves drawing clear boundaries and enacting consequences when a husband sins. Submission is an attitude of the heart. A woman can have a submissive spirit even when saying “no” and refusing to go along with sin.

Misconception #6: Submission precludes mutuality—it creates lopsided, one-way relationships.

Submission and authority function hand-in-hand with all the other biblical directives about how Christians ought to interact with one another. Along with submitting to her husband, a Christian wife also has the responsibility to be transparent, speak truth, confront sin, and challenge her husband to ever increasing levels of holiness. As heirs together of the grace of life, both husband and wife have the responsibility to love, encourage, and build one another up; and to interact with forbearance, kindness and humility. Biblical authority and submission contribute to mutuality, and do not diminish or detract from it. (It’s “both-and” not “either-or.”)

Misconception #7: Submission promotes abuse—it encourages husbands to be domineering, self-centered boors.

When properly understood and enacted, the framework of hierarchical relationships within the Christian community serves a protective function, because every authority is accountable to a higher authority. This community structure encourages husbands to fulfill their responsibility to love as Christ loves, and holds them to account when they don’t. It fosters Christlikeness and prevents abuse. A wife whose husband is abusive can appeal to higher authorities for intervention and protection. It is the responsibility of the authorities to protect and seek the good of all those under their care.

Defying the Stereotype

Rachel’s second question was “Why might some (think secular audience) be surprised to learn that you submit to your husband. In other words, how do you yourself defy the stereotype?

My answer:

My husband takes his responsibility to love me as Christ loves the Church seriously. I take my responsibility to submit to him seriously. That means that I am cherished and have a voice. That means that he is respected and supported. I work with him, and pull in the same direction. Some might be surprised that I believe in submission because my marriage displays a unity, intimacy, and mutuality that is deep, profound and enviable. I am flourishing. I have what most women want. And it is a great paradox how it is has been achieved. The way of faith is the way of paradox: lose your life to live it, give to receive. It is also a great paradox that honoring God’s pattern for authority and submission in marriage fosters unity and mutuality.

What Does Submission Look Like?

Rachel’s third question was “How long have you been married, and how has submission worked out practically in your marriage? (In other words, what does it look like when you submit to your husband?)

My answer:

I’ve been married for 29 years—“just getting going” says my mom, who’s been married for 62.

“What it looks like” is a difficult question, since submission is not something foreign—not something “other”—to the character of a redeemed woman. Submission is not as much an “action” as it is an “attitude.” So it can’t be dictated by behavioral prescriptives. Submission boils down to a having spirit of amenability. It means being soft, receptive, responsive, and agreeable. Because of the misconceptions surrounding the definition of submission, I actually prefer to use the term “amenability.” Amenability comes from the French amener (to lead). An amenable woman is “leadable” as opposed to “ungovernable” She’s responsive to input and likely to cooperate. Amenability is part of the three-fold womanly disposition of 1 Peter 3:4-5, which includes gentleness, calmness, and amenability—which works itself out in a married woman’s life in submission to her husband.

So “what it looks like” on an on-going basis, is that I am soft, receptive, and agreeable toward my husband. I love responding to his lead. I respect who God created him to be as a man—and support his efforts to provide godly oversight for our family. I respect the position of responsibility that goes along with being a husband and father. “Respect” is probably the best word to describe what submission looks like in my marriage.

For me, submission is one of those things that is far more easily identified by its absence rather than its presence. I know that I am struggling with it when I am critical, impatient, defiant, and “snarky” toward my husband—when I refuse to cooperate and am unresponsive to input, when I rush in and take control, when I fail to “provide space” to allow my husband the opportunity to be a man and provide godly oversight for our family. In other words, it’s not readily apparent to me when I’m submitting, but it’s painfully obvious to me when I am not. I sense that I am disrespecting/ disregarding my husband, taking control, and pulling against him rather than for and with him.

So what do you think?  Is there anything I missed?  Which misconception do you encounter the most? How would you answer Rachel’s three questions? Or do you have any other questions or comments about submission?

 

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Comments (62)

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  1. Christina Dowers says:

    Off topic question, but is there a blog/website like this for men? There seems to be a lot more teachings on how women should be Godly and not much teaching for men on how to treat women. I have seen the effects of this at church and in the Christian dating scene. Submission is not a problem if the man is actually submitting himself to the Lord.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t know of any blogs solely committed to the issue of male headship and a man’s role in the family, but here are some blog posts I’ve recently found that I think are particularly amazing.

      http://missionalthoughts.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/the-role-of-men-in-the-family/

      http://thewayitcouldbe.com/?p=3714

      As well there are many books that deal with this topic for both men and women. One recommendation is Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (actually many authors contributed). There is also Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God by C.J. Mahaney, and Love and Respect by Dr. and Mrs. Eggerichs. I have personally read all of those and love them, and believe they are very biblically sound.

    • Bethany says:

      I would highly recommend Paul Washer. He has many sermons to men about being a godly man and leading a family in a godly manner. He is straightforward and convicting. He has a free podcast of his sermons on iTunes. illbehonest.com is a good site with Paul Washer and others like him that my husband enjoys.

    • Chrystie says:

      Our church has great resources on this for men. We also have great resources for women. Here are the links: http://www.mensroundtable.org/ and gracechurchwomensministry.org/gwmblog

      Mary, I love your discussion of the paradox – losing your life to gaining it. I have found that through biblical submission, I do not feel less a woman, but more. I do not feel less freedom, but greater freedom. I do not feel weak or passive, but strong and like an active contributor.

    • donette says:

      I first came across the Every Man’s series over 10 years ago. There are books for everyone one and of all ages. They focus on being sexually pure in a sex-saturated world. My favorite one on marriage is Every Man’s Marriage by Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn. Just google ‘every mans series’ or go to fredstoeker.com.
      This book really opened my eyes to what it ‘looks’ like for a man to ‘love his wife as Christ loves the church’ and that a submissive wife does not have to accept verbal, physical and sexual abuse from her husband.

  2. Lindsey says:

    One of the misconceptions I receive a lot, and I’m sure you’re well aware of it too, Mary, is the idea that a submissive woman is not intelligent. In fact, there is an assertion that she is ignorant and therefore submits herself out of an incapability to act on her own. I get a lot of raised eyebrows by people who observe my submission to my husband because I am well-educated. Many people assume that I should be more in the lead because I hold a higher level of academic achievement. Oddly, this even comes from other Christians, including my father-in-law! As we have only been married 6 years, I am still learning to be a submissive wife. I really appreciate your words, especially thinking of the the more nuanced term “amenable” to describe wifely submission. Thank you!

  3. Wendi says:

    I love that you had this conversation with Rachel Held Evans! Although I agree with YOU more in regards to biblical womanhood, I do subscribe to Rachel’s website also, because I like to read the insights of someone who has a different perspective than I do. Excellent!

  4. Juanita says:

    I agree with Wendi – I’m thankful you are having this conversation with Rachel. I follow her blog for the same reason – to see what people are thinking and to get perspective from “the other side”. I appreciate her gentle spirit and I appreciated your article tonight. I think you’ve done very well to identify the misconceptions and show the truth of the matter. One thing I think submission does is to give women freedom whereas the common thought is that she is enslaved by it.

  5. Akash says:

    I have been reading some comments on the posts and many people seem to be critical of the Idea that the man has to be the provider and it is acceptable for the women to be the primary breadwinner. Is this not inaccurate as the bible clearly says that god cursed adam with difficulties in providing food for his family,that curse was not given to Eve , so really men should be taking this burden,something our culture is clearly moving against.

  6. Lauren says:

    What should women whose husbands are mentally ill do? Or those who take their wives for granted, don’t fix the dishwasher for 9 months, and treat wives as if they are their nursemaids?

    I am not criticizing submission in its proper place, but watching my mother being mistreated in the above manner has been hard, and I wonder what should be done in those (hopefully rare) cases?

    • donette says:

      The only thing we, as sisters in Christ, can do is pray, support and help educate any woman we see in this situation. My experience is that only Jesus can change our situation. For me, it began with a desire to be educated. I chose the every mans series (google it). However, I have learned (sadly) that not every woman wants to be educated in these manners. Especially the longer the woman has invested in her marriage the more she may ‘bury her head’.

      I also know that when it comes to domestic abuse (hopefully this is not your loved ones case) the most dangerous time is when the abused leaves. A book that helped me in my journey is The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker.

    • Taylre says:

      she goes to church and gets marriage counseling.

  7. Lillibet says:

    I think you nailed it! Submission does not always come easy, but if our hearts are for God, then He will work it in us. I still have a long way to go, but at least I’m not resisting it. I’m embracing God’s way of living, because I know Him as my loving Father who only wants the best for me. I trust He knows how to bring that about in my life. When submitting unto God, submitting unto my husband just flows out of that. It’s something we all need to grow in, but I encourage everyone who experience any amount of resentmens or bad emotions when hearing the word “submit”, to search your heart and talk about it to God. My view of this changed, not when my husband’s love for me was enough or when I became secure in his love, but when I became secure in God’s love for me.

  8. Dan H. says:

    Mary, Is there room for a (gulp!) male perspective here?

    From your Misconception #2: “Men have a responsibility to submit too… … What’s more, the biblical concepts of submission and authority cannot be disassociated. The two are indivisibly connected. A biblical definition of submission cannot be understood apart from a biblical definition of authority.”

    Your words bring to mind my understanding of how God “the Son” is submissive to God “the Father”. Christ lived his entire earthly life doing and speaking only as the Father commanded (John 12:49). His submission was utterly complete and voluntary. His submission, greatly glorified the Father and in response the Father glorified the Son. I can’t think of a more powerful example of “mutuality” as you have defined it in your article than this. In the Holy Father-Son relationship I see a clear template or at least a shadow of how the Husband-Wife relationship should be. The synergy of mutual glorification (mutuality) that occurs between the authority (headship) of the Father and the submission of the Son is to be reflected in the Christian Husband’s headship and Wife’s submission in their marital relationship.

    And we can take the authority/submission parallel to another level as the Apostle Paul did when he commanded husbands to “…love your wives, just as Christ loved the church”. (Ephesians 5:25) This is simply another sublime example of extreme mutuality, So much more could be said about this…

    BTW, if anyone thinks that “headship” is something “to be grasped” or envied think again. Take notice of how Eve is the first to sin and yet it’s Adam that gets the blame because he failed in his role of familial headship! ;–)

    Thanks for letting me express myself here!

    In Christ,

    Dan H.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      Thanks Dan. We love it when the guys drop in and offer a male perspective.

    • donette says:

      I agree. For me, I love to submit to my husband because I know he has my kids and my best interest at heart. It lifts a huge burden from my shoulders. I liken my marriage to an umbrella. My husband is the ‘covering shield’ and I am the ‘staff’ for support. Together we shield the children from Satan’s attacks. However, since my husband is the ‘shield’, Satan will come for him first. I feel so protected just being his ‘support staff’.

      I also know what it’s like to be a ‘staff’ without an ‘operable shield’. During that period in my life I had a very hard time growing spiritually. Husbands, you can help or hinder your wives spiritual growth by how well you ‘shield’ her and the children from the ‘world’.

  9. I’ve encountered quite a bit of Misconception #6 from within the circles of evangelical Christianity.

    With aspirations to be submissive followers, I’ve seen wives refuse to confront their husbands when they are in sin out of fear that they would then be leading him.

  10. Linda Stoll says:

    Otober’s Domestic Violence Awareness month spurred on
    STRAIGHT TALK ON DOMESTIC ABUSE & BIBLICAL SUBMISSION
    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/2011/10/straight-talk-on-domestic-abuse-and.html

    Sadly, there are still men and women out there who love Jesus, but believe biblical submission allows one spouse to bully/berate/emotionally abuse/desrespect the other.

    Thanks for presenting the myths. For sure there are many who still believe the lies.

  11. Caleb G says:

    Concerning Misconception #1.
    Does it not contradict 1 Tim 2:8-15 to say that submission only applies to those within the faith community? This passage also says women should dress modestly. Does this mean only Christian women should dress modestly? 1 Tim 2:12 does not say women should submit only to their husbands. It says no woman should teach or have authority over a man. Complementarians appeal to the order of creation to support this command still being valid today. Yet if women should submit to their husbands on the basis of the creation order, then all women should submit to their husbands, including those in political leadership. Then again, they should not be in political leadership because this would be exercising authority over men. This exercise of authority over men would contradict the command given in 1 Tim 2:12. Furthermore, why are women allowed to speak in church if this is a universal command?

    • Kitty S says:

      Alas, another inconsistency produced by the headship creation position. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • The context of the 1 Timothy 2 passage is of the assembled church. The entire book of 1 Timothy is devoted to “how one ought to behave in the household of God,” (1 Timothy 3:15). The apostolic commands for a woman to not teach or exercise authority reside in that context. Even the intended meaning of verses 9-10 resides there. Paul’s main point was how women dress when they congregate as the church. To try to use these verses to speak circumstances and positions that are not the assembled church is taking them out of context.

      • Caleb G says:

        Based on that logic, women can dress immodestly, as long as it is not in church. If 1 Tim 2 appeals to the creation order, on what basis do you limit this to the local assembly? Does the creation order suddenly not apply once the local assembly disperses? In addition, Paul allowed women to prophesy at Corinth, so long as they prophesied with their heads covered. What is the difference between prophesying and preaching? Both are speaking the word of God and thus exercising spiritual authority. I see four possible conclusions in light of 1 Cor 11.
        1. Diversity existed among early church liturgical practices, or
        2. The commands in 1 Tim 2 are temporal/non-universal, or
        3. Paul did not write 1 Tim, or
        4. Paul later changed his mind.

        • Sorry I am slow getting back with your comment. I got busy with things in life and forgot about responding to your remarks. But thanks for the response and questions. I will try to answer them to the best of my abilities.

          For your first point,

          “women can dress immodestly, as long as it is not in church.”

          First, the passage is not focusing on the modesty issue as we understand it today such as speaking to sexually provocative clothing. The focus is on using clothing to attract attention to oneself. But I see your question, “should we limit this verse to the church if we limit the other one?”

          Here is what I believe is going on, the commands of verse 9-10 do find application outside of the local church because the principle which the verses stream from a larger river which finds application in other areas than just the one listed in the verses. We find the same teaching in 1 Peter 3:3-4 and can see the main principle being one of great prominence throughout the bible. Namely, not attracting attention to yourself but to the Lord. So, we have a broader principle finding its specific application here. However, that is not what we see in the next verses.

          What about verse 11-12? I would, again, point to the context of the book which the verses are found. Where would we get the idea from 1 Timothy that Paul had any other teaching in mind other than biblical teaching? Throughout the book the teaching is one of a biblical nature, not one of chemistry, engineering, etc. Just in verse 7 of the same chapter Paul calls himself a “a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” So we cannot see Paul’s word of “teach” apply to such things as teaching CPR.

          Then the addition of “have authority” also points us right to the local church and the role Timothy was accomplishing. Right out the gun Timothy was suppose to silent people for teaching wrong things. This is the part of the authority Paul has in mind. And authority would go as far outside the church as Timothy could take his pastorate outside the church. What I mean by that is Timothy did not have authority outside the church. He could not go the governing officials of the city and command them to make laws, etc. So, when Paul uses the words “teach” and “authority” he is speaking about the local church only.

          And verse 11 adds to the picture as well. Where would women learn quietly? If you see the sole arena for all this being the church where truth is taught verse 11 makes sense. So right in the fabric of the verses, in the light of the entire book of 1 Timothy, we see Paul is speaking about what happens in the life of the local church.

          “Does the creation order suddenly not apply once the local assembly disperses?”

          The problem with this question is that it is reading more into the verse than is there. What Paul is doing is grounding his command for the churches in the way God set up creation and the man and woman’s actions in the Fall. That is all Paul is doing. The question presupposes that verses 11-12 speak to more than the local church. Thus, to you it seems as if verse 13 gets messed up.

          In regards to 1 Cor 11 and 14 you say, “What is the difference between prophesying and preaching? Both are speaking the word of God and thus exercising spiritual authority.”

          Authority is different than proclaiming God’s Word. Authority is telling guys who are teaching wrong things to stop it or leave the church. Proclaiming God’s word is just being a messenger and transmitter of someone else’s words.

          But what I want to do is use the texts we find in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians and get the full picture of what the bible claims, not to use one verse to try and do away with the other.

          Thanks for the dialogue and causing me to think things over biblically. It is really helpful!

        • Taylre says:

          Its hard to monitor marriages. Certainly the world would be a happier place if all wives were amenable and all husbands were leaders, but its hard enough to get Christians to do it well, none the less non-Christians. Some commandments- like not murdering-are widely accepted by other religions and are obvious to even those who haven’t been touched by God. But others-like in this and less evidently in other commandments like not having sex before marriage or the issue of homosexuality-seem increasingly ridiculous to those outside the Christian bubble because they cannot understand. The issue of a wive’s submissiveness may not apply to non-Christians because it is completely impractical to try to apply it to them. No wonder there are discrepencies in Paul’s writings.

    • Robyn says:

      Hmm… I think that we must be careful about what we say prophesy is and isn’t. The truth is that the bible doesn’t define it. Based on a sermon I once heard (forgive me for not being more helpful but I can remember all of the sermon and if I did I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice. I’ll see if I can get it and attach it to this blog) prophesy is no less than spontaneos comments about scripture, and particularly application, that may or may not be correct. It could be more than that but that is what it is not less than.

      Anyway, I was also wondering about Misconception 1. And I’m not sure that scripture supports the idea that submission is limited to the faith community

      (just as an aside if that were the case why should anyone submit to our non-Christian authorities? because Romans 13 we are told that those authorities are instituted by God so by submitting to them we are submitting to God. THe same applies to the wife and husband relationship).

      More emphatically 1 Peter 3:1-2 says ‘Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.’ The context is that in 1 Peter 2:13 Peter speaks about submitting (for the Lord’s sake) to every authority instituted amongst men and later on how we are to suffer for doing good. Whilst I understand that no one let alone a wife is required to submit to someone who is asking them to dishonour God or bring shame to his name, we cannot escape the fact that wives, regardless of their faith, are to submit to husbands, slaves to masters (in our case maybe employees to their bosses, again regardless of their faith) and christians to their leaders both in the church and in government (again regardless of their faith).

      What do you think Mary?

      • Robyn says:

        Just read what Mary wrote again and I just want to say that I agree that the fact that without the Holy Spirit it is impossible for non-Christian wives to submit to non-Christian husband – that is just unattainable without God’s help and inevitable will lead to legalism. But having said that what I have said above still stands.

      • Actually, if you research who was and was not called a prophet, and what they did that was called prophecy, it becomes pretty clear what prophecy is. Prophecy is the words of God spoken by a chosen individual (prophet/prophetess) in the Old Testament. I will not address New Testament prophecy here.

  12. Chris Julien says:

    Thanks for this post! Another good source for this topic is found in Tim and Kathy Keller’s newest book, The Meaning of Marriage. Chapter 6 is written by Kathy (1st person perspective) and concerns this very topic. It’s excellent.

    God bless.

  13. Phil says:

    Regarding the answer to so-called myth #4: (“Submission is HER choice—her responsibility… it is NOT his right!!”):

    Immature screaming caps and exclamations aside, this is patently unbiblical. The Bible does not say that “For a husband is the head of his wife if he asks and she gives her consent to lead.” Biblically, she consents to submit, and he consents to lead, when they consent to marriage. So yes, submission is “granted” but at the alter, but it is not revokable (except by death or divorce) and is not situational.

    Spouses do have the “right” to expect each party to fulfill the covenant terms and experience covenant blessings — so yes, it’s a right, just like the other obligations we must fulfill to one another in marriage. The husband “is” (i.e., factual statement of position in Eph 5:23) the head of the wife just as surely as Christ “is” the head of His church, His bride.

    God’s design for the marriage covenant is what defines and commands submission and headship, not wifely consent after the fact.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      The fact that you are even questioning this misconception indicates to me how emphatically it must be stated. The Bible says that a wife is to “submit herself.” Furthermore, the relationship between husband and wife is correlated to the relationship between God the Father and Son. The fact that the Son willingly submitted himself to the Father is paradigmatic and highly important. It was Christ’s perogative to refuse; the Father did not force Him to obey. Christ willingly submitted Himself. I have counselled with far too many women whose husbands demanded submission as their right, and forced their wives to watch porn, or participate in other ungodliness. Women need to know that according to the Bible, submission is their choice and responsibility, and NOT their husband’s right.

      • MzEllen says:

        I have a couple of comments.

        It seems that “even” questioning your teaching means that it must be done even more emphatically?

        next: Phil was commenting directly to ““Submission is HER choice—her responsibility… it is NOT his right!!”)”

        it is true that it is her choice-her responsibility. It is also the right of a Christian man to have a wife who obeys Scripture.

        If it is a Christian’s “call” as to “when and how” to obey Scripture – where does that logic go?

        A man who has no right to demand that his wife obeys God’s command to submit to her husband, has a wife who has no right to demand that he obeys God’s command to remain faithful when she becomes the rot in his bones, instead of the crown on his head (Proverbs 12:4)

        RE: demanded submission as their right, and forced their wives to watch porn, or participate in other ungodliness”

        Red herring alert. Phil’s comment was to the object of Scripture’s command, not the scope.

        God’s command to wives, to submit to their husbands is relational, not situational.

        We submit to our husbands as the church submits to Christ – who does not ask her to sin. In such a case, we submit to God, rather than to man…in either case, we are submitting.

        It is NOT our call.

        • laura grace says:

          “It is also the right of a Christian man to have a wife who obeys Scripture.”

          Hi MzEllen, can you please explain how you concluded this? I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that says any Christian has the “right” to any blessing of God. A godly wife is a “good thing,” according to Proverbs 18:22, blesses and provides safety and rest to her husband according to Proverbs 31, but I don’t see any indication that she is a “right.” If that were the case, why wouldn’t the reverse be true too — that a wife has the “right” to a godly husband?

          However, I agree that the language here could be clearer — I think the point is that a husband must not attempt to force his wife to submit, but that it’s her responsibility to submit willingly and freely — but I don’t think that came across in the wording of “their choice.”

          • MzEllen says:

            > Hi MzEllen, can you please explain how you concluded this?

            Sure.

            “rights” (per Merriam-Webster – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rights)

            ” the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled ”

            God commanded that a wife submit to her husband. In my view, that would seem that would make him entitled to her submission (per God’s command that she give it to him.)

            ” something that one may properly claim as due”

            see above. If God commanded that a wife submit to her husband (give her husband her submission) then it’s his due.

            God doesn’t give us that much room here. A wife should submit to her husband, as long as she agrees him? No.

            As long as she feels like it, because it’s her call? No.

            this is God’s Word that we’re playing with.

          • laura grace says:

            Hi again, MzEllen. I’m not playing with God’s word, and I do hope you weren’t insinuating that. I’ll cheerfully disagree with your use of the word “right” for a few reasons (and let me first say that “wives submit to your husbands” is not optional, or contingent on agreement. NO ONE is saying that here. It is a command to be obeyed):

            1. The source of the command and the authority behind it? GOD, not the husband.

            2. The command to submit is given to wives, not to husbands, therefore it is incumbent upon them to obey, not upon their husbands to force them to obey.

            3. In the Kingdom of God, our “rights” go out the window. A husband has the responsibility to lead, serve, protect, and love his wife. He has neither the “right” nor the guarantee that his leadership, service, protection, and love will result in a more submissive helper. He has the “right,” according to his deeds (like all of us), to misery in this life, death, and hell in the next. But God blesses many men with both salvation and earthly delights, including a wife who understands her role as helper. Blessings are never a right, because we can never earn them. Which leads to my final point…

            4. The only husband who has the “right” to a submissive wife is Christ, because he, through his perfect obedience, earned God’s blessing as the only Son who fulfilled the Law! He bought the Church his bride, and washed her with his own blood. He has the right to demand (and provide for!) our perfect obedience and submission.

    • Keyaria says:

      So you believe that say, a man controls every step the woman makes, emotionally abuses her, etc(just think worst situations and you see where I’m going) its still his right to have her submit. Bow, say my Lord how will I serve you today.

  14. Mary Kassian says:

    Wayne Grudem and John Piper identify these seven points about submission:

    1.Submission does not mean putting a husband in the place of Christ.

    2.Submission does not mean giving up independent thought.

    3.Submission does not mean a wife should give up efforts to influence and guide her husband.

    4.Submission does not mean a wife should give in to every demand of her husband.

    5.Submission is not based on lesser intelligence or competence.

    6.Submission does not mean being fearful or timid.

    7.Submission is not inconsistent with equality in Christ

  15. BV says:

    I find the arguments set forth lacking. The main problem was not addressed: namely, we in the modern West are conditioned to accept a two-storey cosmology with, e.g., God in the upper-storey and Man (humans) in the lower. When a dualist such as a contemporary Westerner reads Paul’s statement about wives submitting to their respective husbands, they interpret this passage through the lens of a two-storey cosmology so that the Husband is placed in the upper storey and the wife is placed in the lower storey.

    The only problem is that the Bible, interpreted through the Resurrection, has a one-storey cosmology. Thus, Paul is not arguing that the wife is placed in the lower storey such that the husband has the right to shape her the way he wants to.

    Another problem is that I’m going to guess that many reading this post have no clue about two-storey cosmology versus one-storey cosmology. For an explanation, see most everything written by Francis Schaeffer. (Another option would be to read the article on a one-storey cosmology on the Orthodox blog Glory To God For All Things, but I would imagine that would raise some challenges because, you know, it’s written from an Orthodox perspective rather than an Evangelical perspective-whatever that term means).

    • “they interpret this passage through the lens of a two-storey cosmology so that the Husband is placed in the upper storey and the wife is placed in the lower storey.”

      As a complementarian I do not see it that way. Plain and simple. I never view the wife on the bottom and the man on top. They are both totally equal in the sight of God and their roles have equal worth and value. Being a mom is as equal in dignity and worth as being a pastor.

    • laura grace says:

      I don’t know *any* complementarian who believes a wife is on a lower story to be shaped according to a husband’s wishes, BV. Not a single one.

      Now, there is a certain unfortunate (and unfortunately common) strain of Traditionalism that does just that, preaching the delicacy and/or inferiority of women. This is not what Complementarianism believes. Please refrain from conflating the two.

      I am not a dualist because I believe a knife and a fork have different roles.

  16. Adrienne H. says:

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you!

  17. Lisa says:

    None of the things listed are actually what makes people against submission. We do not misunderstand the idea, and we know exactly what you mean. I daresay we know too much. None of the stereotypes you listed have to take place for it to be a absurd belief to hold. The problems are all inherent. The people you say hold these misconceptions would actually go “WE KNOW!” as I am now. Don’t belittle our disagreement and say that we simply misunderstand.

  18. Phindile Khumalo says:

    Wow, what a great revelation! Golden read indeed, thanks!

  19. Johanna says:

    I found this article so great. I think the world sees submissions as something similar to being powerless, voiceless and clueless. I am blessed to be a career woman who left everything when I got married. However, I’ve been able to combine developing my career working from home and honoring my husband as the leader of our home. Harmony and understanding has been the result of submission, and I praise God for this wise advice he left for us ladies.

  20. zeek says:

    Great article and great comments . . . It is folly when people accuse complimentarians of having a relational hierarchy that is illegitimate and degrading towards women. We all know that the Son submits to the Father and we would dare not say that since Jesus submits to the father He (Jesus) is somehow less, or subordinate to the Father. Stop making excuses as to why submission does not and cannot work, women let your man lead, men stop being a pathetic joke and start leading your wives.

  21. Kirra says:

    This was really great. I’m not exactly good at submitting, but I’m trying. It makes me sad when people assume that I’m the boss of the house because that’s the way our culture has gone.

  22. Marg says:

    I’m coming to this article via today’s Gender Blog.

    I disagree with misconception #6. I do not think that submission and authority necessarily go hand in hand. Where is the authority in Ephesians 5:21 where Paul states that believers are to submit to one another?

    Submission (hypotassō) has a broad range of implications and applications in Ancient Greek literature, including the New Testament. It is dangerous to ascribe its military meaning (where authority is an issue) in the context of the precious and intimate relationship of marriage. (A group needs a leader to function well, but I have never understood why some Christians think that in the marriage relationship of two equals one always has to be the leader and the other always the follower.)

    I believe that Peter and Paul simply wanted wives to give their primary allegiance and support to their husbands (and not to their fathers, as was often the case in 1st century Greco-Roman households and society.) Also the practise of a one-flesh, sexually exclusive marriage relationship was rare in the 1st century. So sexual fidelity needed to be emphasized to early Christians.

    Furthermore I believe that Peter and Paul also tell husbands to be submissive to their wives. They just use different words. A blunt instruction for husbands to submit to their wives may not have been well-received or understood. Indeed, Peter and Paul’s instructions to husbands are still not being understood by some Christians.

    The instruction for a husband to give himself up on behalf of his wife sounds a lot like submission to me . . . and more! (Eph 5:25.) And 1 Peter 3:7, placed within the context of 1 Peter 2:13-3:8 is about husbands treating their wives with honor and consideration, or, more precisely, submission (1 Pet 2:13; 3:1, 7; 5:5).

    The New Testament uses the word authority (exousia) in the context of marriage only in 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 where Paul says that the wife has authority over her husband’s body and the husband has authority over his wife’s body. And that the decision to abstain from sex for the purpose of fasting and prayer should be a mutual decision.

    I believe mutual decisions between husband and wife should be the norm. Nowhere does it say in the Bible that the husband has the final say on decisions.

    I believe the New Covenant ideal is of mutual submission between believers.

  23. Nichola says:

    Thank you, Mary, for the thoughtful responses you gave to the questions asked. And thanks for sharing them. I esp liked the ending paragraph.

    “For me, submission is one of those things that is far more easily identified by its absence rather than its presence. I know that I am struggling with it when I am critical, impatient, defiant, and “snarky” toward my husband—when I refuse to cooperate and am unresponsive to input, when I rush in and take control, when I fail to “provide space” to allow my husband the opportunity to be a man and provide godly oversight for our family. In other words, it’s not readily apparent to me when I’m submitting, but it’s painfully obvious to me when I am not. I sense that I am disrespecting/ disregarding my husband, taking control, and pulling against him rather than for and with him.”

    Amen!