This week I received the following question in my inbox:
“I understand your thoughts on women in ministry but when it comes to our husbands, doesn't it say to submit to them?
The Bible passage from which this question arises, is Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.”
To be honest, there are also a lot of other questions that come out of this passage that aren’t asked as frequently. Let me list some of those below:
Does the act of submission by the wife mean that the husband is to have authority over her?
Does it mean the husband has a mandate to be the leader of the home?
What does submit even mean? What does it look like?
What about abuse, should a wife submit herself to that?
What is the meaning of the word “head” in Paul’s head-body analogy?
Should a husband submit to his wife?
Should a wife love her husband?
Clearly, to get a thorough understanding of this passage and Paul’s intent, it is going to take more time and words than I can write in one blog post. So let’s start at the beginning, and work our way through these questions over the next few posts.
Part 1- Mutual Submission
Should husbands love their wives? Should wives love their husbands? Should wives submit to their husbands? Should husbands submit to their wives?
When Ephesians 5:25 “clearly tells” only husbands to love their wives, does that mean that wives shouldn’t love their husbands? When Ephesians 5:22 “clearly tells” only wives to submit to their husbands, does that mean husbands shouldn’t submit to their wives?
Think about that for a while.
We’ve had a lot of excitement here at our home lately as we prepare for our daughter’s wedding. She and her fiancé have been dating and waiting for 4 years to be able to get married. They are so excited and are looking forward to gathering with friends and family and professing their love for one another. But wait, should she love him? Ephesians 5:22 never tells her to do that. And in Ephesians 5:25, instruction is only given for the husband to love his wife. So, based on those two passages, it “seems clear” that she shouldn’t love him.
Obviously, I’m having some fun with you! But I’m doing so to make a point. It is not good practice to take one or two isolated passages and construct an entire practice around them. Unfortunately, this is what has happened in many of our churches and homes with regard to “wives submit to your husbands.” So let’s break it down a bit and then I’ll include some links to some other awesome resources out there that you can check out if you want to study further.
Contrary to some people’s belief, egalitarians are not against submission. The difference is we believe in mutual submission. We base this off of many passages throughout the Bible, Jesus’ teaching and example, and the verse that precedes these very verses that we are talking about today. We also believe in submission that is in line with God’s standards. We do not believe people are to submit to someone if they are wanting them to murder, abuse, etc. It must be a submission as unto the Lord, what He would find good and pleasing.
Verse 22 does state that wives should submit to their own husbands. This was actually a pretty radical statement because it differed from the patriarchal idea that all women should submit to all men. Never once will you find anything in God’s word suggesting for women to do that, but it was a common practice in the patriarchal society of that time, and in some circles it is still fully operating today. The other interesting thing about this verse is that it has been translated poorly into almost all of our English bibles. There is actually no verb in the original text of what we now call “verse 22”. In other words, it relies on the verb from the previous “verse 21”. (If you weren’t aware, the original Greek manuscripts were not divided into chapters or verses, that was done much later to make reading and referencing portions of text easier. That is why I used quotations in this part.)
So, what does v.21 say?
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Here, we see Paul instructing them/us to submit to one another, a mutual submission that is born out of our reverence for Christ. You might remember in Phillipians 2 we get the following description of Jesus:
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
Jesus completely laid down everything for us. He yielded everything. He completely submitted any desire he had to the prefer the Father’s plan. Verse 21 is telling us that we need to remember that. We need to have “reverence, fear, terror” (from original Greek “phobos”) for Christ and what He did for us, all of us. Then, out of that reverence of how he laid down everything, we are to do the same and submit to one another. This is how the whole body will be drawn together and be built up and grow. (If you read the whole chapter, you’ll see that’s Paul’s point.)
So a more accurate translation of v.22 is “wives, unto husbands”. You see, no verb is present. Therefore, the best way to read these thoughts are combining v.21 and 22 to get something like, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, to your own husbands.”
In short, the first part of this passage and today’s question, can be answered, “yes.”
Yes, egalitarians believe that wives should submit to their husbands. However, we also believe husbands should submit to their wives. Even though it is never clearly stated “husbands submit to your wives,” we’ve now seen that the submission Paul instructs the wives in is based on a mutual submission. For the record, I also think it’s perfectly wonderful for my daughter to love her future husband even if this passage doesn’t clearly say “wives love your husbands”. There are plenty other passages where it tells us they should. And there are plenty more passages where we see all believers, in many different situations, called to mutual submission, preferring others over themselves.
Keep in mind, we still have a lot in this passage to work through.
Next post we’ll tackle the following questions:
Does the act of submission by the wife mean that the husband is to have authority over her? Does it mean the husband has a mandate to be the leader of the home?
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