"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;"
Eph 5:25

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mutual Submission? A Sign of the Times

I’m going to state, right at the beginning, that some of you (nay, most of you) won’t like this post. Most of you will be offended, and not just a smidgen. It’s that kind of a subject.

I’ve been reading blog after blog about “mutual submission” and I have to say it’s a dangerous idea. It is destroying God’s design for the Biblical design of marriage. We have largely reversed the roles and placed Christian wives in charge of leading our families. When we misinterpret Ephesians 5:21 to this extent (that is, to include any hint of mutual submission) we are guilty of playing a role in the destruction of the Christian family.

Strong words, yes.

The Bible has a bunch of things to say about husbands and wives, and the behavior our Heavenly Father expects of us. I have outlined many times the nuances of these verses. It wasn’t until recently, however that I had a major “a-ha” moment regarding the realities of Biblical marriage and the benefits / consequences of playing loose and free with those concepts.

Here’s a newsflash:
  • Husbands don't have to obey their wives.
  • Wives do have to obey their husbands.

Yes. You read that correctly.

I know, I know. I will get emails from angry readers who say I’m wrong, and I obviously hate women, and I’m a terrible husband, and I have used the wrong Bible translation, and grow up and join the 21st century, and that was written for a very limited population, and things are different now, and how dare I have such an opinion.

Here are the facts.

Ephesians 5:21 is a tiny verse in a larger chapter, AND it’s the connecting phrase of an idea and the clarification of that idea.

Confused? Stay with me.

Paul gives us instructions, beginning with verse 18, on how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He instructs us to (a) speak to each other, (b) sing to the Lord, (c) giving thanks, and (d) submitting to one another. Paul goes on in the next verses to clarify his fourth point (submitting to one another). In verse 22 he addresses wives, in verse 23 children, and in verse 24 slaves.
If these verses were in outline form they would look like this:

I.                    How to be filled with the Holy Spirit
a.       Speak to one another (v.18)
b.      Sing to the Lord (v.19)
c.       Give thanks (v.20)
d.      Submit to one another (v.21)
                                                               i.      Wives: submit to your husbands
                                                             ii.      Children: obey your parents
                                                            iii.      Slaves: obey your masters

So the “mutual submission” that so many people are fond of isn’t commanded of us in a vacuum. It isn’t commanded of us at all.

You might say, “well, that’s all fine, but the meaning of the word “submit” is subject to interpretation.

Um … No, it isn’t.

The Greek word for submit or subject (hupotasso) was a term used by a military leaders to tell their soldiers to follow commands.  Since Paul did not use a different word in these marriage passages, we have to assume the word carries the same meaning with regard to marriage. Consequently, the wife is charge with the responsibility of subjecting herself to her husband’s wishes as if she were a soldier under the direction of a military leader.

With that in mind, a good husband is not going to do anything that would harm his wife.  He will always keep her best interests in the forefront of his actions. He will submit (hupotasso) himself to Christ, and likewise lead wherever he feels the nudge of the Holy Spirit.
But what if his wife and family won’t follow?

There are many times when a husband attempts to lead and a wife says, “umm … nope. I don’t think so.”  That leads us to some unfortunate consequences. I’ve seen some cases in which a husband is ridiculed for not leading his family when it is his wife and family who rebel against his authority. Often the result is a husband who, after attempting time after time to lead his marriage in a certain direction to no avail, stops attempting to lead in that area.

For example, before leading His disciples to a town or into an area of ministry, Jesus never once asked for their approval. The only approval He sought was that of God the Father. He took that approval and he led as he felt necessary. Yes, he was compassionate, kind, loving, and sacrificial because His role was not to force us to obey Him so He could satisfy some twisted, selfish desire. Rather, He led His followers in accordance with God’s will for them.

At the same time, however, He was brutally honest and factual about what he expected from His church (bride). He guided and taught the things they would need to be acceptable to God. When she disobeyed he forgave and took her back. He continues to do so today. We rebel and He forgives over and over.  To a point. There will come a time in a sinner’s life when God will walk away and leave us in our sin.

Just like Jesus leaves some people to their sin, a husband who faces a rebellious wife eventually relinquishes control of the marriage and family to his wife. She is now the leader and slowly becomes angry because her husband “won’t lead.”

Some would argue that a wife would be more apt to submit to her husband if she understood and agreed with his leadership. Some would say that she would most likely submit to him if he consulted her before making decisions.

Excellent point. 

In fact the Bible tells husbands in 1 Peter 3:7 to live with our wives in an understanding way. Also, it says in Colossians 3:19 that we should love our wives and not be harsh with them.

I can’t find a verse that commands wives to understand their husbands; only to submit to them as to the Lord.

So, a husband who lives with his wife in an understanding way, is not harsh with her, sacrifices his life (desires, wants, energy, resources) for her and leads the way he feels God leading him, should have a wife who submits to him, who says “yes” instead of “no,” and who is at peace.

More on this topic later.  I have a feeling I have only scratched the surface. 

Hold on to your hats!


  1. First, I would like to acknowledge that the Bible clearly and emphatically instructs wives to submit to their own husbands, and obedience is ONE characteristic of submission. I completely agree that "Ephesians 5:21 is a tiny verse in a larger chapter, and it’s the connecting phrase of an idea and the clarification of that idea." However, there are other Biblical principals and examples that buttress the idea of mutual submission in marriage.

    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ec 3:1). With that in mind, there are times and seasons in a marriage when a husband should "submit" to the wisdom of his wife.

    If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking (Jm 1:5).

    The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Pr 4:7).

    The Bible teaches that wisdom is a virtue that BOTH men and women should acquire. In other words, wisdom isn't just for wives seeking to be like the Pr 31 woman. Proverbs lists the characteristics of a wise man:

    A wise man will LISTEN and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel (Pr 1:5).

    A wise man is he who LISTENS to counsel (Pr 12:15).

    LISTEN to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise (Pr 19:20).
    According to the lexicon, one of the definitions for LISTEN (shama 8085) is "to obey, be obedient." According to Proverbs, listening (to wisdom) is a general principle that EVERYONE should follow. Husbands don't get a free pass. Therefore, husbands should listen (defined as obey) to the wisdom of their wives when necessary, and there are examples of that in the Bible.

    Abraham listened to the wisdom of his wife.
    But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. LISTEN (8085) to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned" (Gen 21:12).

    Hannah's husband submitted to the vow that she made to the Lord (1 Sam 1:11, 21-23). This is especially relevant since an OT husband could lawfully cancel a vow made by his wife. Hannah's husband didn't do that; he didn't pull rank. Instead, he listened to the wisdom of his wife.

    Xerxes listened to Esther's plea about reversing Haman's order to destroy the Jews (Es 8:5, 9:13). This is significant because after the king had signed and sealed a decree or given his permission for a decree to be signed and sealed , it was not to be repealed or revoked (Es1:19, Es 3:9-12). However, Xerxes listened to the wisdom of his wife and revoked the decree to kill the Jews.

    Nabal was foolish. Proverbs really sheds light on that by listing the traits of a foolish person:

    ... fools despise wisdom and instruction (Pr 1:7b).

    Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words (Pr 23:9).

    Therefore, we can conclude that Nabal "despised wisdom and instruction" because he was foolish, and that's likely why Abigail didn't discuss her plan of action with him beforehand. As a wise woman, Abigail likely understood that Nabal would "scorn her prudent words." Unlike Nabal, David acknowledged and affirmed Abagail's capacity to " speak with wisdom, and faithful instruction." (Pr 31:26, 1 Sam 25:24-34) David listened to Abigail and decided not kill Nabal and the men in his house. Nabal demonstrated what can happen when a husband is unapproachable and unwilling to listen to the wisdom of his wife when necessary.

    Speaking with wisdom is a characteristic of a virtuous wife (Pr 31:26). Apparently, Abraham, Elkanah and Xerxes understood that. Unfortunately for him, Nabal didn't get it.

    1. Umm ... Yes. You and I agree on all the above. Perhaps you missed the point of my post? I don't dispute the need for all leaders to have wise counsel (for husbands, that counsel would most certainly include wives).

      My point is that the Bible is clear on the submission point, NOT necessarily the "advice and counsel" point.

      An effective leader will seek counsel, then either (a) make the final decision or (b) delegate the final decision to someone else. In either case, once the decision is made, everyone ought to honor the decision and submit to the decision-making authority.

      I followed up the post here http://genuinehusband.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-fact-is-i-need-help.html

      BTW - I must apologize to you. Your second comment was deleted by mistake because I thought it was a duplicate of the first comment. My bad. I truly did not mean to delete it. :(

    2. Modern day examples of husbands listening to the wisdom of their wives:






      Suggested reading: http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2014/11/the-voice-of-helper.html