Tag Archives: submission

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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Is the Wife Required to Submit to an Abusive Husband?

More than a few Christian wives endure years of terrible mistreatment at the hands of an abusive husband because they genuinely want to follow God’s calling to “submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). Many assume or have been taught to believe that submitting “in everything” includes submitting to abusive behavior.

It’s important to understand the setting in which Ephesians 5 calls for submission. Specifically, Paul urges wives to submit “as the church submits to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24). This qualification gives meaning to the kind of relationship and leadership that is in view. Just as Jesus expanded the definition of leadership to center around the heart of a servant (Luke 22:25-27), Paul actually spends most of this section emphasizing that husbands are to sacrificially look after their wives as Christ gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:23-33). Of course, no husband perfectly lives up to Christ’s example just as no wife perfectly submits to Christlike leadership, but the submission Paul speaks of in this passage presumes that a husband desires and strives to follow Christ’s example of loving, servant-heart leadership.

While Paul is clearly calling for women to submit to husbands who are committed to looking out for their well-being, we can safely say that Paul would not counsel a wife to submit to an abusive husband. A marriage that is marked by a pattern of abuse of power and control is altogether different from the kind of relationship and servant leadership Paul had in mind when he called wives to submit to their husbands.

Marital abuse is a harmful distortion of Christ’s leadership and a violation of the marital vows to “love, honor, and cherish” that calls for a radically different response than submission (See the ATQ article What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?). Perhaps that is one reason why, even in a time when women were not highly regarded, the book of Esther features Queen’s Vashti’s refusal to submit to her drunken husband’s command to parade around like a trophy in front of his intoxicated and lewd male guests (Esther 1:2-12).

To read more about physical and nonphysical abuse in marriage and some ways to deal with it in a biblical manner, please feel free to order our booklets When Violence Comes Home, When Words Hurt, and God’s Protection Of Women.

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