Revisiting the Submissive Wives Deception and the interpretation of Ephesians 5:21.
When I wrote the Submissive Wife Deception article I got some mixed responses to it. Many have fallen for the traditional teaching about what it means to submit. One site visitor in particular seems to be a good example of how this topic has been misconstrued by those who wish to keep women subservient to men and wives subservient to husbands. Make no mistake this isn’t about a feminist ideology or gender equality. This is about a radical misrepresentation and misinterpretation of scriptures.
The IFB is notorious for preaching that wives should “submit” to their husbands. One IFB church that I was in, the pastor would disallow women to speak up during a Sunday School lesson or business meeting. He required that wives, if they had an idea or questions, to whisper quietly to their husbands who would then decide if it was worthy of verbalizing. If so the husband would speak up. If not it was cast aside as unimportant. He used 1 Corinthians 14:34 to back up this church rule. What about the women who didn’t have a husband for one reason or another you might ask? Well they were just out of luck entirely.
I keep getting distracted by the line “they are supposed to submit to each other”…or “husbands are to submit, too.” I think you are mistaken (I’ll get to the responsibility of the husband in a minute). Eph. 5 is to husbands, wives, children, employers, employees…everyone. You told this lady that this is misquoted all the time…yet I see you misquoting it here. v. 21 is talking about submission, and the rest of the chapter is explaining how and to whom you are to submit. Husbands are never told to “submit” to their wives, but to God. Employers aren’t to “submit” to their employees, and parents aren’t to “submit” to their children.
Now, God DOES clearly tell each party how to behave, and the husband DOES have a responsibilty [sic] toward the wife…to love as Christ loves. This is love: mercy and grace to those who are “under” your authority, and total submission to those who have the “rule” over you (so long as it does not cause you to sin against God who is your ultimate authority).
So I wanted to set the record straight. Here’s the problem with the way the IFB misinterprets “submit” in Ephesians 5. The person who made this comment is making the same mistake – not really his fault, he’s probably just regurgitating what he’s been taught by the IFB. As you can see he equates a wife submitting to her husband with an employee submitting to an employer or a child submitting to a parent. He’s mistaken the word “submit” in this passage to mean some sort of power or authority over another person. He even explains love in those terms – to “rule” over someone with “ultimate authority”. That’s not what it means! Submitting to another person in this way is misunderstood in our Christian culture, mostly because of the teachings of this passage – and because of the unscriptural church hierarchy that’s set up.
First, this passage isn’t using the word “submit” in the sense of yielding to someone in power or authority. It’s using the term in the sense of a person willingly putting the other person as more important. This is evident in verse 23 where Paul equates the husband with Christ who willingly gave his life to be her (the church’s) savior – Christ considered the church as more important than himself and even his own life.
Second, the idea in this passage is a MUTUAL submission – Paul is addressing husbands AND wives. In my Bible, Ephesians 5:21 reads “…you will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In a marriage relationship, the husband and wife each willingly subordinate his/her rights to the other person’s rights. In a marriage relationship, both husband and wife are called to submit. The husband is called to “submit” (put aside his own interests) in order to care for his wife (see verse 28).
This passage is VERY rich with godly advice for married couples, but it’s so misunderstood because pastors have screwed it up for hundreds of years. So don’t by into the tradition teaching of wives submitting to their husbands. Some husbands I’ve know have used this to keep their wives as, dare I say it… slaves. There is something radically wrong with this line of thinking and I hope that all can see why.
Finally, I din’t want to end this article without addressing 1 Corinthians 14:34. Kept in context, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is teaching the Corinthian Christians about orderliness in church services. If you look back at 1 Corinthians 11-14 we see many examples of women praying, prophesying and using spiritual gifts in public worship. As such it’s clear that Paul was not saying that women shouldn’t speak in church services. In order to understand this more deeply we need to look at the Corinthian culture.
In the Corinthian culture Women did not receive formal religious education like the men did. Was also customary in that culture for women to ask questions about religion at home rather than in public worship. It’s believed that some of the women who became Christians thought that they could use their Christian freedom to subvert this rule. It’s believed that some of the women are asking questions and worship service and were becoming disruptive as a result. Paul was asking those women not to flaunt their Christian freedom during worship but to wait until they got home to ask their husbands. The purpose of this was not to provide guidance about women’s roles in the church but to promote unity.