What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband?

The answer you receive will depend on who you ask. Evangelical Christians living in the United States generally fall into two camps when it comes to biblical gender roles: Egalitarians and complementarians.

Both egalitarians and complementarians believe in submission; however, each group defines submission differently. Egalitarians believe that biblical submission means mutual submission. Husband and wife are to lovingly and respectfully defer to one another. They cite Ephesians 5:21 (nlt) as the key verse: “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is an organization that represents the main tenets of Christian egalitarianism.

Complementarians believe that biblical submission means that a woman should have the disposition and inclination to yield to her husband’s leadership and guidance.  They disagree with the egalitarians’ reading of Ephesians 5:21–33. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) represents the basic beliefs of complementarians.

Within these two camps, there is no consensus on the specifics of gender and gender roles. Subtleties, differences, and even sharp disagreements exist even among those within the same camp. Again, the answer to your question depends on who you ask within these groups.

If you’re married, a good first step is to have a conversation with your spouse. What do each of you think about submission within a marriage relationship? Have you both studied Scripture and the primary resources written by both egalitarians and complementarians? We cannot make a well-informed decision if we haven’t studied the grounds for each view ourselves.

My personal belief is that husbands and wives ought to submit to one another with the utmost love and respect. Each of us is to ask God for the ability to selflessly love the other with a 1 Corinthians 13 type of love. If a wife has gifts in an area that a husband does not have, he should intelligently submit to her gifting and expertise, and vice versa. For example, some husbands who have gifts of hospitality are married to women who have gifts of teaching Scripture. Each should freely practice his or her gift as unto the Lord.

When there is a disagreement, I do not think a wife must automatically acquiesce to her husband just because he is a man. They need to work through it, and if they cannot, they should seek outside counseling that takes both of their views into consideration.

There are equally lovely, intelligent, orthodox, and committed Christ-followers who have the highest view of Scripture who disagree on this issue. Both complementarians and egalitarians make ample use of Scripture to support their positions. Consequently, we cannot demonize our brothers and sisters who hold different views.

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