Men, Submit to Women in the Home & Church (A Series)


This past year my 32-year-old husband, Luke, was diagnosed with diabetes type one, and it has rocked our world. For a few months prior to the diagnosis, Luke was urinating every half hour, and his thirst was unquenchable. He was also consuming sugar in a way I had never seen him do.

When one’s pancreas stops producing insulin, blood glucose levels rise above normal. Sugar, found in simple carbohydrates, is necessary to human survival and energy. Luke did not know it at the time, but his non-stop craving for sugar was his body saying, “I am dying.”

Since diabetes runs heavily in Luke’s family, and he was displaying common symptoms, I told him to go see a doctor for a few weeks (or maybe months). As a man who was used to good health, Luke felt doctors were unnecessary for him, and ignored my advice. That was, until his eye sight became blurry, and his limbs started to tingle for hours at a time.

Luke drove himself to the nearest urgent clinic, where a doctor told him that his blood sugar was dangerously high, since he had ignored my advice and his body for far too long. The non-specialist gave Luke insulin, without much direction, and sent him on his way.

By the time Luke had returned home, he had begun to lose his mind. Normally, Luke is very rational, level-headed, and non-emotional. Since Luke is fiercely independent, I was letting him figure out his own problem, as he prefers. So I was sitting on my bed, writing, when Luke walked into the bedroom. The look on his face made me think someone in his family died. “What is wrong?” I asked in a panic. He didn’t answer me.

Luke simply walked over to our bed, laid down, nestled his head under my armpit and began to sob in a way I had never seen him do before. He was able to let me know that no one died, but he was completely overwhelmed by the news and he was actually unable to think reasonably.

When one’s blood sugar is too high or too low, it very much affects one’s mind and emotions. He had medication, but he had no idea how to use it. Neither one of us was educated on how to manage this disease, and it became apparent that we needed to find a specialist immediately.

Luke could not think straight, so I sat down and began to call one specialist after another. They each gave us appointments that were at least a month away. We did not have a month. In fact, we did not have a day. Luke was seemingly losing his mind and his eyesight.

As Luke’s wife, I am used to him taking care of us, keeping us calm, and directing us in times of stress. But this time was different. He needed me in a way that he had never needed me before, and it was time for me to rise up.

As tears streamed down Luke’s face and he was becoming increasingly agitated, I made a “final” decision.

“We are going to go to the emergency room at the hospital, right now,” I said. I just had to run upstairs and grab something. As I was jogging up the stairs, I sensed a deep gut feeling that the Holy Spirit was about to speak to me. The still small voice said, “A head must listen to its body, or both the head and body will begin to break down.” All of a sudden I understood God’s heart for marriage, as best as I can as a human.

In the Church, there has been a hyper focus on wives submitting to husbands as their “head,” but almost zero focus on husbands submitting to their wives, as their “body.”

Though Luke submits to me a lot, he would not submit to me when I told him that he needed to go see a doctor weeks earlier. Because he did not listen to me, his body and his mind were pushed to the limit and were breaking down. Further, because he did not listen to the signals that his body was giving him, both his body and mind were dysfunctional.

I ran back downstairs and we got into the car. Luke’s eyesight was getting worse, so I drove. Like most married women, I am used to Luke driving most of the time, but it was now time for me to take the wheel. The Spirit continued to speak to me. “You are Luke’s eyes when he cannot see.”

If Luke and I represent a one-flesh unit as a married couple, then my eyes are his eyes and his eyes are my eyes. We are one, as the Bible tells us in Mark 10:8.

“Husband headship” (based out of Eph. 5) has often been thought to mean the husband having “authority” over the wife, but the linguistic evidence for this interpretation of scripture is minimal to non-existent among ancient texts.

Egalitarians have often thought that this word “head” (kephale in ancient Greek) means that of “source.” In other words, man was the source of woman, because Eve came out of Adam. While this view has more ancient linguistic evidence than “authority” does, the evidence is still minimal.

What if the Apostle Paul did not think the meaning of “head” was “authority” or “source?” What if Paul was writing about a literal head?

Kephale meaning a literal head would have better linguistic evidence among ancient texts. What if Paul was using a head/body metaphor to help married couples understand the importance of mutual love and mutual submission? After all, the passage begins with the command to both husbands and wives to “submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).”

Some argue that Eph. 5:21 does not go with the rest of the passage on marriage, but it most certainly does. As my friend and theology student at Fuller Seminary, Nick Quient, puts it,

Ephesians 5:15-21 contains a string of participles. It ends with v.21 with the injunction to “submit” to one another. There is no verb in v.22-23, and so common sense (and basic syntax) means one draws from the previous section and the verb therein. The verb “submit” is in v.21, and there is no more verb until v.24, and that verb is applied directly to Christ and the church. However, there is a lack of a verb in v.24b regarding husbands and wives – it is inferred from v.24a, which the stress falls upon.

V.21 is thus the entrance into the household code, although I would press it back further to 5:15. Whatever one says about “head” must flow from the context of v.15-21. Thus, v.22 is grammatically dependent upon v.21 and there is no exegetical or syntactical reason one should separate the two. Thus, v.21-22 are directly linked and the injunctions are given to both husband and wife. Mutual submission is grammatically, syntactically and contextually necessary because of this.

The husband is given the only imperative in the passage (5:25: ἀγαπᾶτε), as I can see.

Wives are not directly commanded to do something, and it all flows from v.21 where both parties “submit themselves” (middle participle, reflecting self-action). [Nick’s research sources that were most prominent in his findings: Philip Payne, Craig Keener, and Gordon Fee].

Could it be that the Apostle Paul meant it when he said, “husbands and wives, submit to one another?”

If so, it seems that Paul is commanding husbands to both submit to and love their wives, while wives are commanded to simply submit to their husbands. It seems that husbands are actually being held to two commandments, while wives are only being held to one commandment. Of course, we don’t read the Eph. 5 in a vacuum. We read it in context with the rest of God’s written Word.

Jesus tells us that the two greatest commands of God are to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). Surely God expects wives to love their husbands as they would love themselves.

The entire New Testament points to mutual submission and mutual love, not just among married couples, but among the entire body of Christ.

And so, there we were, in the emergency room, facing Luke’s problem. But it was becoming increasingly clear that Luke’s problem was my problem. It was our problem, and I was ready to stand beside my man as his eyes, ears, and greatest advocate. I was ready to be the ezer (Greek word for helper in the OT) that God created me to be – not an “assistant” sort of helper, but an “equal, strong partner” sort of helper.


This is Part 1 of a Series. Follow Jory’s Blog to have Part 2 Delivered Straight to your Email


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  • My husband has Type 2 diabetes, and I, too, urged him constantly to see a doctor for his joint pains and his eyesight but to no avail! I understand how broken down your husband seemed after the diagnosis, as my husband seemed to break down and be in denial also!
    Thank you for sharing your story and showing me how God is using this situation!

    • Oh Susan, men can be so stubborn, but we can be too! 😉

      There is purpose in everything. Keep on your hubs. He may listen one day!

  • Jory,

    You’re great, and I love you and agree with you.

    But you’re stopping the story right there in the e.r.? What will happen to Luke? To you? Oh, the angst I feel!

    Can’t wait for the next part…

  • This is so good! I love the analogy. It’s such a common saying, listen to your body. It just makes so much sense. Focusing on authority we miss the whole point.

  • I am so sorry – diabetes is a very difficult disease. My husband also resists health advice – it’s got to be some kind of guy thing! I have heard so many stories of men having to be pestered into the medical care that saves their lives.

  • Excellent points. I appreciate the details that you offer. It has given me a lot to consider. Although I am not married anymore and I am quite satisfied in being single, it can still benefit me to have a clear understanding. Sorry to hear about the diabetes. I have some family members who got juvenile diabetes and it’s a tough job to manage it.

  • I can think of about 9 reasons why the submit of Eph 5 is NOT mutual. One of these is that the wife/submit to husband/head is mapped by Paul to the relationship between the church and Christ. This cannot possibly be mutual, and I think rules this out in the marriage relationship absolutely, quite apart from all the other reasons. When Paul addresses wives, he means wives, and when he addresses husbands he means husbands. There is no verse that specifically tells husbands to submit to wives.

    On the same basis, when the NT writers address husbands with the agape love, cherish, honour and live considerately … etc, they do not mean wives, the two are always treated separately, and is also not mutual. Paul lays a greater burden on husbands than wives!

    This does not mean it is ‘illegal’ for a husband to ever submit to something his wife says or requests, some common sense is required here.

    I would be willling to be persuaded otherwise on the mutuality issue, but when suggesting all the reasons why submission here is not mutual, I’ve always been ignored! Which is not a hint for a long discussion which are often fruitless, but I wonder just why this is so, something else is going on here apart from the meaning of the text.

    • I like the way Sarah Bessey puts it,

      “And so we discover the great paradox hidden within these hotly debated passages of Scripture, tragically misused to subject and berate and hold back, to demand and give place to pride – however benevolent the intention. If wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, and if husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, and if both husbands and wives submit to one another as commanded, we enter a never-ending, life-giving circle of mutual submission and love.”

  • I’m confused, could we not turn the argument around and say that we shouldn’t submit to Christ? κεφαλή Has a few different meanings, head, cornerstone, first of, etc…. so if scripture says that Christ is to the church as a husband is to the wife, why is there even an argument?

    • Hello Will. If husband’s are to be like Christ, then they should empower their wives, as Christ empowered the Church. John 14:12 states, “”I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” Therefore, Jesus empowered “His Bride” to do even greater things than he did. Sadly, men have not loved their wives or women in the Church, as Christ did. Men have not allowed women to preach and teach, or sit at decision making tables.

      Men have failed to loved women as Christ loves the Church, due to their lust for power & money. Men have dominated women and excluded us. When men decide to start acting like Jesus, then women will consider submitting. We women are not called to unconditional submission. When we are being ignored, silenced, and abused, we must unsubmit to protect ourselves and each other.

      (Note: of course, I mean men in general. Not all men are power hungry).

  • Thank you for your reply. I agree with Bessey up to the point where she assumes submission is mutual! You would not get this from looking at the parallel in Colossians (to Eph 5), and I don’t think it is sustainable from Eph 5 itself.

    I noted from your reply to Will that submission should not be unconditional. I totally agree here, but apart from a lunatic fringe, does anybody actually teach this? I also don’t think a wife’s submission is contingent on the husband fulfilling his part of the bargain on a kind of an ‘I will do what Paul says if you will’ basis. It is ‘as to the Lord’ meaning she can’t opt out of this without displeasing him. (That doesn’t mean a husband should not be expected to obey what the apostle instructs him to do.) The answer to this is not to unsubmit on the part of women, but to instruct husbands how to nourish and cherish and love their wives as themselves.

    I don’t think men not allowing women to teach or have authority over men is a result of a lack of love, if they have derived it from their understanding of 1 Tim 2. If the apostle has laid down a restriction, then we should respect it, it is for our and the church’s good. It would be unloving not to put this restriction into practice. This is not invalidated because some men have added many other restrictions to this, or abused it to make women seem to be inferior or second class in the kingdom of God. Perhaps if women were actively doing everything else as I think they should, the issue would not be so hotly debated.

    Kudos to you though for not going down the head = source route!

  • Women are given a directive, it is to submit and to respect. V21 is to the church not directed at marriage. Nowhere does it say husband submit to wife. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 33Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. This is not to say husbands should not consider the wife’s suggestions or opinions. 28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies . He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh , but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
    I’m not sure what version you use, but if those are your conclusions then it clearly looks nothing like the NASB. I suggest you read a few more translations and see if you come up with the same husbands submit to wives idea.

    • While I thank you for your opinion, I believe you to be wrong. I would offer you the same suggestion of digger deeper into the Bible. I am educated on this subject (I wrote my master’s thesis on this subject), so my mind is made up that Eph. 5:21 is a call for husbands and wives to submit to one another.

      • And yet you said wives weren’t given a directive in the passage but they were clearly given two. Submit and respect.
        We are about to go through this passage in our small church group. So I will study thoroughly in the coming weeks.

        • I think wives are called to submit to their husbands, just as husbands are called to submit to their wives.

          I don’t see anything about respect in Eph. 5?

          But, I would think that God expects husbands and wives to respect and honor one another.

  • The end of Eph 5 says “however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (RSV)

    I find it interesting that ‘submit’ has been changed to ‘repect’ here. Again there is no mutuality instructed (!), but I wonder if this teaching was not always readily received in Ephesus back then as it also not popular in some parts of evangelicaldom today. I think at least in part it helps define what ‘submit’ means earlier on in the chapter. It might just be Paul is guarding against some men being unable to get away from the word submit, and forgetting what Christ, through his apostle, is telling them to do in loving their wives.

    Like your thesis on this, I have also given this a lot of thought, and am not likely to be shifted from it in a hurry. I think your statement “my mind is made up” is dangerous if it means you would never be willing to reconsider your existing interpretation. I read an egalitarian not long ago say “I know that I am right …”, which means she will never even consider she might be wrong or have gone into deception.

    Anyway, that is enough conversation on this particular topic! 🙂

    • Ken, God has put a very specific message in my heart, and that is why I will never change my mind about women being considered equals to men in both value and authority. The Holy Spirit lives in Christian women, just as much as the Holy Spirit lives in Christian men. Our power and authority comes directly from the Holy Spirit. The entire NT points to mutual submission among believers. Why would God pardon husbands from submission? It makes no logical sense. Further, Gal. 3:28 is the crux of Pauline theology.

      There are many biblical figures that were told to speak a very specific message, and I refuse to be swayed from that message. That is not a lack of humility; but rather, me being faithful to what God has told me to say and do.

      Many folks won’t believe me, but, I am in good company. Many folks did not believe Noah, Joseph, and so on.

      God bless.

      • What I’m seeing here is that when you are confronted with a very straightforward answer putting the scriptural text in context, you attempt to dismiss it by referring to your education and/or your thesis. When that fails to persuade or silence, you simply elevate your own authority to being superior to scripture and claim direct revelation from God. So if scripture is subject to your direct messaging from God, could any aspect of your theology ever be corrected by Scripture? I hope that you will at least consider that you are on very unstable ground when you claim your authority to be equal to that of the prophets.

      • Personally, I see no differentiation between men and women (and ethnicities and occupations) with regard to justification, where all are ‘sons’ with entailing privileges (in this sense only there is “no male or female”), with regard to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts – prayer and prophecy and by implication all of the others listed. God’s grace and promises are for all as joint heirs.

        I see some differentiation in marriage – husbands are not specifically told to submit to their wives because they are ‘head’, whether husbands like it or not, and the wife is never described as joint ‘head’. I also see differentiation in the ministry of the church regarding pastoral and teaching ministry. The ‘ministry of the word’ in both OT and NT has always been restricted to relatively few men.

        Gal 3 : 28 and 1 Tim 2 : 12 come from the same apostle and are both true and should not be set against each other. The latter is the only restriction I can see, but needs to be obeyed by the church – it is for her benefit and blessing. There were women named by Paul who clearly had ministries in the early church – co-workers of his. I for one have no hang-ups about this!

        I don’t think I am easy to place in the usual egal/comp divide. There is no mediating position, and part of the problem is reading back into the NT a modern idea (equality) that the NT writers were not really interested in.

        I would echo PB in being wary of subjective leadings of the Holy Spirit that enable any part of the NT to be set aside. The NT is the canon by which to measure such spiritual experiences more objectively.

  • Susan – thanks in turn. I read the link. I think the author has it about right – a general attitude of respect and deference amongst Christians in general is a very good thing, but without making the word of God as regards Eph 5 of none effect.

  • If you want to use Ephesians 5 as a teaching on marriage at least start at the beginning of the chapter. But, we know that in the original writing (letter) there were no chapters or sentences. At least start at v18 which is where the verb is. And it says be FILLED with the Spirit. Continue in v19, 20, and 21. In verse 22 there is no word submit in the original text. In the NASB the word submit is in italics which lets us know that it was
    added and is not in the original text.
    The thing that confuses me the most on this chapter is how it ever became the trademark for the marriage relationship. In v32 Paul wrote “This mystery is great; BUT I AM SPEAKING WITH REFERENCE TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH”. v33: NEVERTHELESS, LET EVERYONE OF YOU SO LOVE HIS WIFE EVEN AS HIMSELF, AND THE WIFE THAT SHE RESPECT HER HUSBAND.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong but the only place where I read where Paul is specifically addressing a marriage is in v33.
    I wonder if Paul was concerned that this letter could be misunderstood so he was specific in v32 that he concluded this portion of teaching stating that “this is a great mystery’. And then follows up with nevertheless……you can read the rest of the verses.
    Obviously, you can see that I am neither a teacher or a writer, but I hope you can understand my confusion here. And please correct me if I’m wrong.

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