Lately I’ve been working through the idea of submission as it relates to marriage. I’m pretty sure my husband and I have looked at this before, but neither of us can remember the conversation or what decision we came to, so it’s probably time to revisit.
Luckily, we don’t have unresolvable conflicts. At least not yet.
To start: Ephesians, since that seems to be where the most controversial verses are. Specifically, Ephesians 5:22-24
When I read verse 22 (Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord) I get a face-value understanding that my husband is in charge. But immediately, that doesn’t make sense to me. As Christians we’re called to be continually seeking God’s will in EVERYthing that we do. Would submission to my husband in that way require seeking his will in EVERYthing that I do? From a practical sense, that’s unreasonable. I can’t seek hubby’s counsel for each and every decision. From a theological sense, that’s inconsistent with the idea of God’s singular authority. Right? In Matthew 6:24 Christ himself says that no one can serve two masters without loving one and hating the other. I suppose I don’t have a direct biblical command to love my husband, but I’m pretty sure the concept is covered under things like ‘love thy neighbor’.
I wonder if the reason God chose to directly address wives and direct them to submit stems from the garden. Part of the curse was that Eve (and all the subsequent bearers of XX) would wish to dominate her husband. In the Greek, the word submit doesn’t actually appear in verse 22. According to a former pastor of mine the literal translation is ‘wives, also to your husbands’. The verse is referring to the verb from the previous sentence -verse 21. Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul intended for verse 22 to be a reiteration of verse 21. We are all called to submit to one another. The instruction was repeated with specific direction to wives because we would be especially resistant to submission within a marriage.
For me, the key concept that pops out at me when I read Ephesians 5:21-22 is that we are all called to be submitting to each other, wives to husbands and husbands to wives. Also, brother to brother, friend to friend, etc.
Verse 23 says this: “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.” Someone once told me that the word translated as head is also used when referencing the headwaters of a river. So, from that perspective, the verse could read ‘For the husband is the source of the wife as Christ is the source of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” That sounds like a retelling of the Genesis story. God made man then God made woman out of man. Simple. And, a reminder of the curse that gives wives special trouble with that whole submission thing.
Verse 24: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Again, I see Paul referencing the idea of the church submitting out of reverence for Christ, and women not forgetting that their husbands are included in that. I still don’t see anything that would indicate that a woman’s submission is different than a man’s, or that a wife’s submission to her husband is different than her husband’s submission to her.
The church is the body of Christ. We are to be emulating Him and doing the things he asked us to do (feed, clothe, visit – remember?). One thing Christ has asked of us is to submit to one another. Ephesians 5:21 And since this section, which immediate follows that verse, actually uses a grammatical structure that requires us to go back and re-read that verse before we can understand 22-24, I believe what Paul is saying to wives is an extension of verse 21. Paul is trying to help wives to understand that the submission of all to all is also a part of our marriages. But I don’t see anything to indicate that a wife is called to submit in a way that husbands aren’t.
Now, I’m not saying that this perspective is correct (yet) and I’m not interested in basing my theology on hearsay and my own random inklings, but when a simple, consistent, straightforward answer is available, it’s the one I tend toward. I prefer simplicity. And this idea seems simpler and more consistent than the idea that wives submit differently than their husbands.
Because this post is getting long and a full discussion of this topic would require books and because I have one very sad baby and another I should be waking from nap, I’ll have to go now. I’ll be working working on this topic for a while and be back to write more soon.