As I continue my series on sustainable marriage, it’s important to address the issue of submission. Today, I’m going to ask a key question, share a key thought, and then give you an opportunity to respond and discuss. Next Thursday, I’ll share more of my own thoughts.
Discussions on submission in marriage usually focus on whether wives should be submissive to their husbands. Ironically, I don’t know anyone who takes the Bible seriously who questions what the Bible says on this matter.
Paul says it pretty clearly: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 NIV84). There may be disagreement about what submission means; but surely most everyone agrees that Paul’s intent was to teach the submission of wives to husbands.
The real question is whether biblical submission is a one-way street, wife to husband, or whether husbands are also expected to be submissive to their wives.
One verse prior to the one quoted above is this general instruction to all Christians: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV84). This is probably in the top five most-ignored verses in Scripture.
Paul did not make any exceptions. He did not say, for example, “Everyone in the church should submit to everyone else—unless you happen to be married to each other; in that case, the husband should not submit to his wife.” And think how strange it would be if he had. That would mean I should be submissive to every Christian—male and female—except for my wife, Debbie!
It is interesting that in most English Bibles, the two verses are separated by a paragraph break and a bold heading, giving the impression that Paul was dealing with two completely different topics. But in the Greek New Testament, verses 21 and 22 are part of the same sentence. The word for “submit” does not even appear in verse 22, but relies on the participle in verse 21.
Those who teach the view called “mutual submission” suggest that verse 21 provides the context for the teaching on marriage in the rest of the chapter. In other words, husbands and wives are to be submissive to each other, just as all Christians are taught to be submissive to each other. They see marriage as a mutual partnership with the husband taking the lead in some areas and the wife in others, neither asserting absolute authority over the other.
So those are the two primary views: one-way submission (often part of a larger perspective called complementarianism) and mutual submission.
What thoughts do you have regarding biblical submission? What does it mean to be submissive? Should a man be submissive to his wife? Why or why not?
Note: This can be a sensitive issue. Be aware that I moderate all comments and expect commenters to be respectful of all others and their views. The question is not about your feelings on the matter, but what you think the Bible teaches us about it. Also, be aware that I work a day job. Any responses I have during the day will likely be clustered around lunchtime.
You might also want to check out 7 Habits of a Sustainable Marriage.
Read the next post in this series – What Does It Mean To “Submit” In Marriage?