“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Eph 5:22. There it is, that settles it, it’s in black and white, husbands have authority over wives, no argument… right?
I have heard this case put forward many times over the years, but is it what the Bible really says? Let’s have a look.
Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18, both say that wives should submit to their husbands, true, but that is a million miles from husbands having authority over their wives. Neither of these Scriptures are about male authority, they are about Church life.
Marriage is subject to the Word of God like every other part of our lives. That means, husbands and wives are not to Lord it over one another any more than anybody else, Jesus said that is the opposite of Kingdom living; we are to emulate Jesus by serving each other in love and that includes husbands and wives. Matthew 20:25-28.
If we are to serve each other, why does the Bible tell the wives to submit? (Please note, it says wives and not women in general).
The three main rules of biblical interpretation seem to be, context, context and context. If we consider Ephesus, we have a situation where their eschatology was all messed up (as in Corinth) and some of the women thought that they were already as the angels (Matt 22:30) and had effectively annulled their marriages; it is also possible that some of them had realised who they now where in Christ and were disregarding the cultural expectations of marriage, which had the possibility of bringing dishonour on the Gospel and even getting them killed. First century women in general had very few rights, the majority had no independent means and wives were more or less the property of their husbands, many of whom were not believers.
When Paul wrote Ephesians he was very aware of all this, so instead of reading it as a to do list for Christian behaviour, we have to see it as Holy Spirit inspired solutions into a specific situation. To illustrate what we have done to Eph 5:22 we could say the following, “I also want all the fathers to change nappies (diapers)”; does that mean the mothers don’t have to, do all fathers everywhere and at all times have to be changing nappies? Of course not, the full instruction should be something like “I encourage the parents of babies to be diligent in their responsibilities, and ask both parents to do their fair share of the work. That means; I also want all the fathers to change nappies (diapers).”
Can you see that our instruction to parents has two parts to it; a general requirement followed by a focussed exhortation on an area we think might be neglected. In other words, the dads can have a tendency to leave too much to the mums. Eph 5:22 works in a similar way, if we read Eph 5:21we have a general instruction where we are told to submit to one another (and that includes husbands and wives) out of reverence for Christ.
Mutual submission is the context for what Paul goes on to say about marriage and he focuses on the wives for the reasons we have already mentioned, but he does his best to make sure he is not misunderstood. Once he has outlined the wives responsibilities within that culture he then puts the spotlight on the husbands by telling them to love their wives as Christ loves the church, by giving Himself up for her (Eph 5:25).This was cultural dynamite, a husband loving and giving his life for his wife; that would have been an outrageous idea at the time.
The command for wives to submit is sandwiched between the whole church submitting to one another and husbands loving according to heavenly standards. Submission is not the unilateral responsibility of the wife; it is how Christians are all supposed to live, single or married.
What about Col 3:18? Similar rules apply, for example Paul gives instructions on how believing slaves should behave, but isn’t supporting slavery; he is telling Christians how they should behave in that culture. When he says wives show submission, he is not demoting wives to be the inferior half of the marriage; he is showing husbands and wives how to show godliness within their environment.
What about today? The same applies, submit to one another, serve one another and of course this is all summed up in loving one another. Marriage is probably one the hardest places to show Christian unity, and yet that is what can help the world believe (John 17:23).
Go well my friends. 😀
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