Posted by: Ety W. | June 12, 2008

Submission For Husbands? You’ve Got to be Kidding

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This is part 2 in a series on Biblical Submission. To start at the beginning, click here.

When it comes to discussing biblical submission in marriage, the idea of mutual submission often comes up. This is based upon this verse:

…. and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Eph 5:21

Unfortunately, applying it to husbands and wives is taking it out of context. It is actually part of a set of instructions for Church members. Instructions for husbands and wives begin with a new paragraph in the next verse.

The problem with trying to apply mutual submission to marriage is that it doesn’t resolve certain practical problems such as a stalemate. Even in the secular world, some appointed person (committee chair or judge) serves as a tie-breaker. Scripture makes no allowances for such a tie-breaker in marriage.

I think a stronger argument for submission of husbands can be made here:

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 1 Cor.11:3

Notice the chain of command. A husband is expected to be submissive to his own head, Jesus Christ, who has given him very specific instructions for his role as husband.

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. Eph. 5:25-27

Note the “as,” which indicates a comparison. Christ’s goals for the church are to be the husband’s goals for his wife. He is to love her to the point of sacrificing himself for her spiritual growth and purity, keeping in mind that when she is presented to the Lord, she will be a reflection of him. As the wife is to guard the spiritual purity of her household, so the husband is to guard the spiritual purity of his wife.

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Eph. 5:28-31

Let’s face it, human nature wants to be comfortable. We all want to be warm and well fed. No one likes pain or inconvenience. The Bible says that as spiritual head, the husband is responsible for his wife’s comfort and wellbeing. He is to treat her as he would himself, because they are in fact one flesh. Not only that, according to verse 25,he is to deny himself if necessary to achieve this.

You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman, and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers my not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7

To be understanding, a husband must have knowledge of his wife’s feelings, concerns, needs, etc. and order their lives accordingly.

“As with a weaker vessel.” Rather than focus on “weaker,” I’d like to point out “vessel.” This word does in fact refer to a cup or dish, so think of fine china. Fine china is not made for rough handling, it is treated with care. Husbands are to treat their wives with gentleness and care.

Also, he is to grant her honor. “Honor” is τιμη – time (Strong’s 5092) = value, esteem, reverence.1 Husbands are to value and respect their wife. Why? Because they are a fellow heirs with an equal share in the inheritance of the Kingdom (Gal. 3:28).

In addition, note that there are spiritual consequences for his disobedience in this.

What Christian wife wouldn’t willing submit to a husband who respected and treated her as the Lord has commanded him to? However, that’s not always the case. So what are we to do then?

Next …..Submission: Biblical Inequality?

1Wigram-Green, The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance and Lexicon, (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1982) p. 838


  1. As a guy who is just crossing over from adolescence into adulthood (about to turn 20 soon), this topic is something that I should really look into before looking for a girl. What did command of husbands, what does submission mean, etc.

    Even in one post, you covered a lot of it. I particularly respect your care and awareness for context, which is something that I try to emphasize when reading any verse or passage. Thank you for this!

    I’ve subscribed to your feed. 🙂

  2. Joel, thank you for visiting my blog and taking time to leave a comment.

    All women, I think, struggle with submission. I can tell you what it’s like from the woman’s perspective, but the Lord can teach you so much more through His Word, so definitely begin your own study on this topic! You show a lot of wisdom in seeing the need to do this before you begin a serious relationship; many men never think to do so. If you can someday be an understanding husband who has a biblical grasp on what submission means for both husbands and wives, you will delight your wife’s heart.

  3. I don’t really get it. I mean, I do, but something in me still rebels. I don’t like the idea of sub,itting to a man, why should I? Men are no better than women.

    But I am interested in what you said about the chain of command. Woman submits to man, man submits to Christ, Christ submits to God.

    There is a chain of command even within the Trinity. It makes me wonder why. The idea of a woman submitting to a man makes me think that men are therefore better than women in God’s sight. But Jesus submits to the Father. Is the Father therefore better than Jesus? I don’t think so… I am therefore now back to wondering the age old question of ‘why’.

  4. PS, I came here from Joel’s blog.

  5. Welcome to The Razzler! Thank you so much for visiting and especially for expressing all your thoughts so well.

    I think all women rebel (inwardly at least) to the idea of submission. It is just part of human nature.

    You are absolutely correct about the equality issue. Men and women are definitely equal in the eyes of God (Gal. 3:28). The concept of superiority/inferiority is not a biblical concept, it is a worldly concept. Sadly, not only do many women buy into it, but men do too.

    Did you read the first part in this series, “Feminism’s 4-Letter Word“? In it I give the biblical definition of “submit.” If you haven’t read it, please do and tell me what you think. I would be interested in your opinion and curious if it helps with the “why”.

    Both men and women have their areas of authority, these are just different. To see what the Bible says about the authority God gave to women, please take a look at another of my posts, “Guardians of the Household.” Again, I’d be very interested in your opinion.

  6. @Ety: I was never really concerned with the teachings of husbandhood that are in the New Testament. That is, until I was saved (Praise God!).

    The preacher, whose sermon was the means that God used to save me, did not care about anything (preaching, ministry, evangelism, etc) as much as he cared about loving Christ first and loving his wife second. If you want to know his name, it’s Paul Washer.

    He really made an impact on me and God used that to start a fire for knowing what it means to truly love my (future) wife. This post just helped me to learn a little bit about what God expects from me!

    @Razzler: “I don’t like the idea of submitting to a man, why should I?”

    Because God commanded you to. That should be the only reason necessary to do it. Keep in mind that men are commanded to treat their wives in a certain manner. As Ety said, what wife wouldn’t want to submit to a man who obeyed the commandments of Christ? 🙂

  7. Ety,
    Thanks for another well thought out post!

    I do wish to pick up on two points.
    – mutual submission doesn’t apply to marriage because it’s taking it out of context.

    If you go back to the original Greek text, you’ll find that verses 21 and 22 are one sentence, so there’s no new paragraph marking instructions for husbands and wives.
    In fact, that non-separation, could be denote even more the fact that submission is to be lived out differently depending on the position in marriage. A husband submits by loving sacrificially, a wife submits herself in everything, as the church to Christ.

    But mutual submission, however we interpret it, shouldn’t stop at the doorstep of our homes; in fact, husbands and wives alike should be willing to submit to each other at least to the same degree they are submitting to other believers.

    – The concept of “chain of command”.
    When I read about “headship” in 1 Cor. 11, it doesn’t seem to emphasize “command”, but more “who originates from whom”, because then Paul turns it around and says that men are born from woman, and all originate from God.
    I don’t deny some degree of responsibility and authority in this headship, but not necessarily to “command” about. Command is a very negative term.

    Another problem I have with the chain of command teaching is that it usually places the man between the woman and God. I read a very good article that studied the concept and why it’s not Biblical, I’ll see if I can find it.
    I believe it’s worth studying the concept of headship in light not only of marriage, but Christ’s headship of the Church, and God as head of Christ. What does it mean?

    Anyway, thanks for your study.

  8. Another point is the little emphasis placed on unity in marriage. It seems like the command to leave parents and cleave to wife is always left out, as something that everyone simply understands, but I keep wondering whether this command, given only to the man, is not significant in understanding headship and why a wife is to submit to her husband.

    Thanks for bearing with my questions 🙂

  9. Madame, no problem! You bring up some good points.

    Regarding the placement of Eph. 5:21 and 22, I looked this up in both of our original Greek editions. One placed 21 and 22 together. The other placed verse 21 as the conclusion of the previous verses and started a new paragraph with verse 22. An online Koine Greek version ran all the verses together with no paragraph divisions. I asked my resident NT Greek student and learned that punctuation and paragraphs in the Greek NT (like chapters and verses) were added later and have been changed over the years.

    But perhaps I need some clarification on your definition of mutual submission. By it, do you mean husband and wife equally submitting to one another, or are you saying that both submit mutually to the Lord instead of one another? As you say, “A husband submits by loving sacrificially, a wife submits herself in everything, as the church to Christ.” I agree with this according to the passages in Ephesians and I Peter. The husband is submitting to the Lord when he is obedient to this. But that still leaves Eph 5:22 which says wives are to submit themselves to their husbands as to the Lord. If the husband is obedient to the Lord’s commands of how to treat his wife, then there should be no problem in her submitting to him, unless she has a rebellious spirit.

    I think that the problem women have with submission, is an assumption that it somehow means inequality. However the Bible doesn’t teach inequality of men and women.

    You’re right that the headship mentioned I Cor 11:3 is not about command. But neither can it refer to origination, because then we have to say that Christ originated from God rather than being eternal with the Father. True, man was created first, but he was created incomplete. Only with woman is he a complete spiritual being because they are one flesh.

    I think the Bible doesn’t teach a chain of command, it teaches order. Without order, disorder results. There is order in the Trinity, there is order within the Church, there is order within marriage. Biblical leadership is not telling others what to do; it is leading by example (1 Peter 5:1-3). But again, that should make submission easier.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean about little emphasis on unity in marriage. Does it refer to someone’s teachings on marriage and submission(?) I’m asking because it is impossible to accurately interpret the Bible without taking all verses on a particular subject into account. The Bible does teach unity in marriage whether others emphasize it or not!

    One of the premises of the inductive Bible study method is that the Bible never contradicts itself, even though sometimes it may appear to. Any teaching on marriage and submission has to examine all the verses and only then start to draw conclusions. For example, even though some verses may appear to be teaching inequality, they cannot contradict the basic biblical truth that male and female are one in the eyes of God. So, if we assume that submission is based on inequality, then our interpretation is off, which means that our application will be really off!

    I think that the bottom line with submission is that it requires trust. Do we trust the Lord enough to obey His word. As wives do we trust that our husbands are capable of making the right decisions. Sometimes we don’t. Then the question is, do we trust the Lord enough to bring about His will despite a husband’s decisions. I figure that if God could use a donkey to correct Balaam when he was disobedient, then He can certainly accomplish His will with even the stubbornest of husbands.

  10. Hello again. I did read the first part of this series. I found it very interesting. I have since talked about this a bit, and I get it, I think! Maybe.

    I understand that it is the duty of wives to submit, of men to love the wife sacrificially. There should not be any conflict of both husband and wife are looking to Christ.

    But I still don’t really understand – as much as I try to – why does the woman have to submit. Why did God decide that women submit to men, and not the other way around.

    I can’t look to society for a parallel, to help me understand, because our understanding is submission is very different from a biblical understanding of the word.

    I will look at the othe rpost you mentioned now. 🙂

    Joel: Because God commanded you to. That should be the only reason necessary to do it.

    I don’t just blindly follow. I question what I am tought, in order to better understand. There are some things I will never fully understand, and maybe this will be one of them.

    1 Corinthians 11:4-7 (NIV)
    4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7A man ought not to cover his head,[a] since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

    This says that women should have their heads covered when she prays or prophesies. I do not know many women that follow this nowadays. Therefore, surely it is up to us to study biblical teachings – not just blindly accept and say “because God commanded me to”.

  11. It’s funny, but after reading your first comment, I talked with my husband about the “why women and not men,” and like Joel, he found the “just because God says so” a perfectly acceptable answer. I had a hard time trying to convince him that there has to be an actual, reasonable answer to this question. I think this has something to do with the basic differences between men and women. Razzler, I think your question is a perfectly valid one. God isn’t afraid of our questions because He is a God of reason as well as a God of order and love.

    I have wondered about the head covering passage in 1 Cor 11 as well. You are absolutely correct, it’s up to us to study biblical teachings and not blindly accept; especially others’ interpretations. We need to prayerfully study and see for ourselves.

    You’ve motivated me to do a study on “why women…..” I’m not sure if I’ll find an answer that satisfies the question, but I aim to give it a try. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. I’m glad I could motivate you!

    I’m ploughing through your other posts now…

  13. Thanks for your reply, Ety,

    My issue with headship being interpreted as “command” is that a woman becomes the servant, below the man, while the man can command her around.
    This teaching places women in a position of inferiority. Her thoughts are less worthy to be considered, God doesn’t speak to her directly, or if He does, it is only considered if it fits in with what her husband believes to have heard from God…. It contradicts 1 Peter 3,1-7, in which women can be believers (thus receiving from God) and men non-believers, and in which men are commanded to treat their wives as equals spiritually.

    You’ve made me think about “origin” as a definition for head in this case, although it is one definition for the word.
    Jesus also said “I do the will of the Father who sent me”.

    My issue with unity: it is glossed over very often, not by the Bible but by teachers and preachers. I’ve read book after book about marriage, and the only thing they do is mention the verse. There is a lot of expounding on the rest, but that specific command, given to the man in all three cases, is ignored or taken to be a command to both spouses.

    Probably the main reason I have an issue is because my marriage is suffering partly for lack of unity and lack of a proper leaving and cleaving.

    If a man hasn’t left father and mother, how can a wife submit to his leadership? If he is leading jointly with his father, and the father leads into things which aren’t from God, but are his own desires, should a wife go along with this?

    We have cases in the Bible that illustrate that submission doesn’t necessarily mean obedience, and that a married woman will have to respond for her choices too. Sorry, I’m in a bit of a hurry here, so I’ll just mention the cases.
    Esther: she disobeyed Persian law and appeared before the king without being summoned. Her attitude was one of submission, but she disobeyed.

    Abigail: disobeyed her husband, even calling him fool, to protect him and do the right thing.

    Saphira: lied to the apostles. We don’t know if she willingly went along or just submitted. We can only guess. But she was judged for her decision, whatever motivated it.

    We could conclude that Esther should have obeyed Persian law and not gone before the king, trusting that God would get her and her people out of the situation.
    That Abigail should have obeyed Nabal, dishonored the king and trusted God to see her heart.

    I believe submission is a disposition to support our husbands, as the helpers we were created to be. We can’t make blanket statements that apply for every case.

  14. Razzler,
    I believe one reason for wives to submit is because we were created to be helpers. That doesn’t mean we are below our husbands or that we are less valuable, but our “role” is that of a person who assists.
    A person who assists is submitting himself (or herself in this case) to the person who needs assistance in order for this person to achieve a goal. The assisted usually honors the assistant and recognizes his need for her.

    So, the way I understand it, a wife submits to her husband by putting aside her will, her ambitions, etc.. to serve God by assisting her husband in their calling together.
    To me, that makes sense. It’s not supporting a man’s ego, or his selfish ambitions. I don’t think that is good (remember Jezebel, she and Ahab are a perfect example of wickedness supporting wickedness).

    Does this make sense???? I’m a young wife myself…

  15. It does make sense. But I still wonder – why is the woman the helper, the assistant. I am an assistant at work, and the reason for that is that I am young and inexperienced. Once I am more experienced and have more skills I will cease to be an assistant.

    So thinking of women purely in terms of assistants to men doesn’t sit well with me. But that is possibly because I can’t seem to understand this concept except through the lens of the society I currently live in.

    I will need to come to a more through understanding of the biblical concept before I can get to grips with this teaching.

  16. Thinking out loud a bit…

    Our society – America, England, etc – is a meritocracy. God’s society is not. (Correct me if I’m wrong) God chose Israel to be his people – because they were better than any other nation? No. Because that is God’s will.

    So, maybe this issue is similar? God did not choose women to be helpers because we are not good enough for anything else, right?

    So, why? Man, I sound like a 3-year-old! You know when they go through that irritating ‘why’ phase?

  17. Razzler,
    God is our helper, our assistant, our deliverer. The same word ( Ezer) is used for God and for Eve.

    An assistant can be someone who has what you don’t have a desperately need. I think that’s what Eve was made to be: the one who had that which Adam didn’t have.

    Does that elevate “helper” a bit?

  18. You know, I’d never thought about it like that before! Of course, men and women have been created differently, so women naturally have something that men don’t, therefore we can help them.

    But, don’t men also have something that women lack? Aren’t they therefore also our helper?

  19. Ety, sorry, I missed two of your questions.

    -By mutual submission I mean submitting to each other mutually in the fear of the Lord, as stated in Ephesians 5:21.
    I don’t agree with there being one who gets the last word, regardless, because a man shouldn’t be fighting for it and neither should a woman, but if one starts to demand having the last word (often the complementarian man on the grounds of “leadership”), the other (usually the woman) will have two options: give in always on the grounds of submission, or start fighting for her way. I don’t think that this is the way God wants it to be. I believe that a man’s love is submission, meaning he is not demanding to have his way, but considering his wife’s needs above his desires.

    Marriage should be a relationship of unselfish giving and esteeming of one’s spouse above oneself. Sadly, that’s usually not the way Ephesians 5 is interpreted.

    I completely agree with your definition of leadership. It’s not about who makes unilateral decisions, but about who takes the lead with his example.

    This whole topic is making me sad. There are so many hurting people because of misunderstanding of these texts….

  20. Madame, I see now why you are struggling with those particular issues. And you’re right, teachings that don’t accurately interpret the Scriptures, or ignore portions of Scripture definitely don’t help. And it’s even harder when those who believe these teachings try to impose them on us or on our situations. I don’t know if that is your case, but I can understand why some of these things are difficult for you.

    Razzler, my husband would definitely agree that I can’t give a Scripture reference for this off the top of my head, but often, men are understood to be initiators and women are understood to be responders. On the one hand we might say that women need something to respond to, and that men need a response. This is on a relationship level, but I think that it reflects our different spiritual functions as well. A woman’s responsiveness enables her to discern and meet her families needs, and to nurture them. She needs this to be a guardian of her home. But I think too, that our responsiveness helps us be more flexible in many situations. Because of these things I think women are better equipped to submit than men are.

    Biblically, men are to submit to the Lord, and that means laying down their lives for their wives. Of course, that’s not any easier for them to do, than it is for us to submit to them, but still, it’s the way the Lord wants it to work.

    I realize that I can’t control the choices other folks make; I can only choose whether or not to be obedient to the Lord myself. And that’s all I’m going to be accountable for; my own obedience. All the rest, I just have to entrust to the Lord.

  21. Thank you for such a well thought out and gentle response. I eagerly await the next installment!

  22. So men are closer to god since they answer to them, and women only answer to men. Just asking.

    • Tanya, no, but then I wonder if you are really interested in what the Bible actually says. Perhaps your hurt is so much a part of who you are, that you need to see it this way?

      There is not a person on earth who has not been hurt, rejected, or abused in some form, some worse than others, that’s true. Because of that, we are all dysfunctional. We are all scarred and burdened. The answer is not psychoanalysis or lessons in self-esteem. The answer is repentance and forgiveness. Without those, there is no freedom.

      But, to address your question, what the Bible does say, is that each one of us (women and men) is going to stand alone before God some day and give an account for how we lived our own lives. Not for how others treated us, and not for others’ mistakes. When it comes to Christian marriage, it will actually be tougher on men, because they have a Biblical responsibility for their wives happiness, well-being and spiritual growth. Women OTOH, are not responsible for their husbands mistakes, only for their own.

  23. If women are responsible for their choices, but they are just doing what they were supposedly told by a man,a nd by God, how can she be responsible. She is just doing what God told her by submitting. It’s kind of a loose loose situation.

  24. As a submissive wife, you are not able to make your own mistakes, are you?

    • Tanya, from the glimpses you’ve given me about yourself, I understand why you ask these questions. I probably can’t answer them to your satisfaction though, because my worldview is different, i.e. the way I view God, the Bible, men, women, submission, and marriage. It’s as though you and I are trying to talk to one another in different languages. The words we use are the same, but the meanings we assign them are different.

      Perhaps a crude example.

      Let’s say Q’s employer tells her a product has to be at the airport at a certain time, to get get to a customer who needs it. Q gets side tracked and misses the plane. The product is late. Who’s responsible?

      Let’s say Q’s employer neglects to tell her the flight time has been moved up. Q makes it to the airport but still misses the flight. Who’s responsible?

      Both examples involve choices and accountability. In the 1st, Q can either make excuses or accept responsibility. In the 2nd, the employer can either blame Q or accept responsibility. So it is with all of us.

  25. Why do you think bible god says women are the.lowest form of human life (first god, who is the head of men, then men……and the.bottom of the.barrel …women)?

    • Why do I think that? I don’t think that. Actually Chris, the Bible teaches that women are equals with men.

      • I just don’t see that. It sets up a hierarchy of human life-first God, then men…women are at the bottom. Do you think god even likes women. After all, the god.of wants them to sukiyaki like slaves-to have no Choi es in their own lives. Btw, the same. Command was given to slaves. Slaves!!!! That’s one person owning another! We’ve.come a long way-people no longer.own other people. Well except that Christian women are kind of owned by their husbands/master. In the work world, o submit to a supervisor. Bit this is only in certain hours. Once I leave, I am free. I do not live with, or share my home with my superior at work. I put.up with following orders from 9 to 5, but when I come home, I obeying orders. Although I believe in God, I just can’t feel the love.from. inlet god. It seems that bible has some pages of just putting down women.

      • Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t say that about women. Of course, I’m not going to be able to convince you any more than you can convince me. I do detect a lot of anger in you though and it seems to me that you are enslaved to it. Feelings can own people as can circumstances or substances, and yes, other people.

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