And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything (Eph. 5:21-24).
I grew up in a household that I believe functioned properly. Of course, things were not perfect, but they were good. All of my friends hung out at my house and considered my parents their spiritual parents. My parents didn’t pretend like my dad was always in charge and they didn’t take the scriptures above to mean that my mother’s body obtained salvation through my father. I believe these Bible verses have been blown way out of proportion. Firstly, we often leave out the verse that starts this passage, “And further, submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” Secondly, historical and biblical context is often ignored. And thirdly, these verses have been taken way too literally.
Women who stand up for mutual submission are often demonized in Christian sub-culture as those rebellious types who want to find a way not to have to submit to anybody. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Submission is a key aspect within Christian thought. It is an expression of love and its purpose is accountability. It is crucial that we all learn to submit, sometimes even when we don’t agree with our leadership. Husbands and wives are naturally one another’s accountability partners. Our spouses are the people who call us out when we are acting foolish. This is good. This is healthy.
What I find so troubling is the belief that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, but husbands are not supposed to submit to their wives. Many Christians give men a free pass to love their wives without any accountability to their wives. I would argue that this is not a complete expression of Christ-like love and character. Sub simply means under and mission means assignment. Therefore, submission as it relates to all Christians (not just marriages), means “under the same assignment.” A Christian marriage should strive to be centered; equal love, respect, authority, accountability and partnership is key to balance and proper function.
Growing up, I valued my mother’s sweet temperament, but strong approach. She is the go-getter in our family and she led by example. My father, who has devoted his whole life to studying and ministering God’s Word, is even more passionate about ‘mutual authority in the home’ than my mother is. As a family, we recognize and value a man’s ability to walk into a room and bring order. When I was a teacher I loved when a dad stopped by. Just his presence brought my rowdy 7th graders under control. My heart is not to diminish the man’s authority, but to raise women up to take their equal place of leadership in the home. I adore men. They are strong and protective, but this does not always give them the final say.
A husband and a wife should equally reign over their homes as a king and queen would rule over their country. They both have unique gifts to offer and when used together they can do great things. But how do we biblically justify this? Many of us have been taught our whole lives that the man is the head of the home.
Firstly, there is evidence that head in ancient Greek (the language the New Testament was written in mostly) means source. This actually makes a lot of sense being that woman was taken from the rib of man; therefore, man being woman’s source and Christ being the source of the church. But whether this is accurate or not, the truth is that many of us have applied our modern-day understanding to what the word head means and have ignored both biblical and historical context.
First of all, Christians are taught throughout the Bible to submit to one another. Why do we make an exception for husbands in the marriage unit? If we make a case out of just a few Bible verses and ignore the rest of the Bible, we find ourselves making human-made doctrines. Also, it is imperative to understand that the culture the Apostle Paul abided in was male-dominated and Paul was all about fitting into culture as best as possible in order to win others to Christ. Although the Bible’s principals are still relevant and useful for our lives today, we must not forget that Paul was writing to very a very specific audience.
I find it almost amusing how those who teach complete female submission in the home don’t typically have their wives wear head coverings. Why not? If we are going to heed some of Paul’s words as literal commands for every culture and time, should we not heed all of his commands? He clearly writes “for if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head (1 Cor. 11:6).” This is just one example of many double standards. The truth is that this command is not to be taken as a universal principal and need not be applied to American culture in the 21st century. But isn’t this a slippery slope one may ask?
There are always going to be people who take things too far and start proclaiming that there are no absolute truths in God’s Word, but this is simply teetering out of balance in the other direction. There are many principals in the Bible that can and should be taken literally because God is absolutely clear that some things are sinful. But my parent’s relationship of mutual submission and shared authority is far from sinful. They are closely connected, take long walks together often, and talk about everything. They make decisions together, respect one another’s independence, and share financial responsibility. My mother loves to serve my father, but her purpose is much greater than just this. She is an extraordinary artist, savvy business woman, and an effective Bible teacher/speaker. I have watched my father support her in all of her endeavors my whole life and they are a highly cherished couple in our community. They are a shining example of a Christ-centered marriage and have been going strong for 37 years. I could not be more proud to call them my parents!
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