Should Wives submit to their husbands

Should wives submit to their husbands?

Should wives submit to their husbands or not? Ephesians Chapter 5 is full of wisdom and details about how we should live as Christians. Many happy Christian marriages have the dynamic of a godly husband leading the family and the wife submitting to his prayerful leadership.

But I have noticed that far too many Christian women who seek help in their marriages live in emotionally abusive relationships because people have taken verses 22-24 out of context. People invariably quote those verses without the rest of the chapter. I see the results of this again and again in hurting Christian women. So I want to do my part to clarify it.

St Paul addresses almost the entire passage to men, apart from a few sentences. When he mentions immorality, impurity and coarse jokes we can be sure he was probably thinking about men’s behaviour, not women’s. Although nowadays women also need to take note of that advice as more options have become available to us.

Read the whole chapter

1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
  rise from the dead,
  and Christ will shine on you.”

Instructions for Christian Households

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

The bit that people quote out of context

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” 

This is only a small part of the message of the whole chapter.

The rest of the instructions on Marriage

“25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 

31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

So should wives submit to their husbands or not?

In the context of a husband who is a devout Christian and makes decisions based on prayer, then yes, by all means submit after a mutually respectful discussion.

When discussing emotions, women tend to process them and talk about them faster than men. So when a man is processing and talking about his emotions, his wife should submit in the sense of slowing down and giving him the time to express himself. She should not be giving her solution to the problem or trying to fix him. (The same also goes the other way if a woman is expressing her emotions.)

If the husband is a highly knowledgeable expert about the subject they are discussing and the wife is ignorant, then yes, she should submit to his superior knowledge.

But a man shouldn’t assume he is an authority on every subject just because of his masculinity. Nor should he assume he is any more devout.

When should wives not submit to their husbands?

I believe a wife should not submit to a husband when he makes decisions based on his ego instead of prayer. Or when he is much less knowledgeable about the subject being discussed. Or when he is spiritually and emotionally immature, and making a decision that is clearly wrong and even potentially harmful.

A personal example of when submitting would not have been a good idea was when we heard my mother was dying. We were on a plane that was about to leave for a transatlantic flight. The information had been trickling through to us in messages from my sister, and we were discussing what to do. In the meantime the flight was delayed by a technical problem.

At a certain point, the engineer fixed the problem and the hostess asked for a decision. My husband told me to sit down and discuss it further. He is a person who is incredibly slow at processing and making decisions. I made a split second decision, picked up my stuff and got off the flight.

The stewardess told me that if I had waited a second longer they would have shut the doors and I would not have been able to get off the plane. As a result of getting off quickly, I was able to spend a week by my mother’s bedside, playing her beautiful music and giving her comfort. It was the best decision I have ever made. My husband agreed afterwards that it was the best decision in the circumstances.

Wives should not submit to bullying

Most importantly, I do not believe a wife has to submit to a husband who demands or pressures her to have sex when she does not want to or does not feel able to for whatever reason. Or when he is bullying her to do whatever he wants. I do not support abusive relationships, and that includes marriages that are abusive. I am not saying that all men are abusive, or that all women who submit are abused. What I am saying is that the chapter needs to be taken as a whole.

Where did the idea of submission come from?

Let us not forget that St. Paul, who wrote to the Ephesians lived 2,000 years ago. Women were uneducated in those days and their only hope of survival was marriage. He was writing to a community in an area that treated women as 2nd class citizens. (Ephesus is now called Efes and is in modern day Turkey.)

Paul was a man who had murdered Christians because he disagreed with them. This should give us some insight into his personality before conversion. He had a dramatic conversion after the resurrection, when Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus. From then on he dedicated his life to spreading the truth about Jesus crucified and resurrected.

This however does not make him an expert on marriage. He neither studied psychology nor did research involving thousands of couples. We may remember that he never married. If he had had a wife, he might have highlighted the dignity of each woman as a Daughter of God.

Similarly, modern day pastors are not necessarily experts on marriage just because they have a strong faith in God and are good preachers. Being a good Christian doesn’t make someone an expert in relationships any more than it makes them an expert in Dentistry or any other area of knowledge.

St Paul’s message on marriage

Wives submitting to their husbands is not St Paul’s whole message on marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle writes “4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”

He does not say that wives have to submit their bodies to their husbands when they don’t feel able to. In other words marriage is about mutually giving oneself to the other. This involves mutual submission as well as reciprocal love and respect.

Theories on Marriage develop

Many experts have written about relationships from all cultures. Therapists have written books and given advice with the authority of their profession. Later on, other psychologists have proven their theories wrong.

An example of this is the old belief that affairs are the one major cause of divorce. We now know that emotional disengagement is the major cause of affairs and subsequently divorce.

Another example is the simplification of Emerson Eggerichs’ theory that men need respect and women need love. Research studies now show that men need love just as much as women, and women need respect just as much as men.

Wives submit already

Research shows that women from all societies submit to their husbands already. Nobody needs to tell them because it is so ingrained. So don’t worry about whether you are submitting enough, or how to do it. You probably are submitting more than you are aware of. One of the most important predictors of the outcome of a marriage is actually whether a husband will accept his wife’s influence. They stopped measuring whether wives were submitting to their husbands because it was a given.

What if  your husband is passive?

If you want to submit to your husband’s leadership, but your husband won’t lead, start by loving him. Learn to accept him as he is and create an atmosphere where he can flourish into the best version of himself. Try not to have a rigid idea of how all men must be and how all women must be. We are all different and it’s ok to find your own balance that suits both of you. Each relationship is unique.

For help to improve the communication and connection in your marriage, try a free coaching session.

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