Submission – What the Bible Really Says
Biblical Submission. This is a difficult topic. Many abusive spouses and churches take what God meant for good and twist it into something that keeps women in bondage to their abusive spouses. So, what does the Bible really say? My pastor often talks about reading the Bible “intelligently” rather than “literally.” When we read the Bible literally, we see things like:
- Parents must stone their disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
- It is a sin to wear clothing with more than one type of thread (Leviticus 19:19).
- Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard (Leviticus 19:27).
- Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed (Leviticus 19:19).
So, how do we interpret verses like Ephesians 5:23-24 which say:
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
I have frequently written about this topic because my first husband used the Bible to abuse me. When I went to my church for help, they also misused Bible verses to try to keep me in bondage to my abuser. I thought it might be good to share in one place several perspectives on this issue. Here are several blogs I have written:
Articles by Caroline Abbott about Submission
Pastor Mark Hallock gave an excellent sermon on this topic. In it, he listed seven things biblical submission is NOT. Here are a few:
- Biblical Submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says and giving up independent thought.
- Biblical Submission does not mean that a wife gets her personal, spiritual strength from her husband. She gets her strength from God.
- Biblical Submission does not mean that a wife should give up her efforts to influence and guide and help her husband be conformed to the image of Jesus. She can pray for him to be the leader God wants him to be.
- Biblical Submission does not mean living in fearful intimidation of a husband who can strike out in physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse at any point.
This article looks at two Bible passages that are often used to keep women in their place, Ephesians 5:21-35 and Genesis 2:18-23. It views these passages through the eyes of biblical scholars who give insights into how these verses can be accurately read.
In this blog, I refer to Dr. Walter Kaiser’s work on this topic. Dr. Kaiser refers to Genesis 2:18 which says:
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Dr. Kaiser’s translation of the words helper suitable are “a strong rescuer who is equal to the man.” Therefore, “suitable helper” does not connote a weaker, inferior or subordinate position. Her role may be different, but she is not less valuable, or less important.
This article lists bible verses that talk about:
- abuse is sin
- separating from an unrepentant abuser
- standing up against abusive behavior
- divorce after abuse
- remarriage after divorce.
Articles by CryingOutForJustice
The next several blogs are found on CryingOutForJustice.com, which is written by Pastor Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts. Both have studied what the Bible says about abuse, and both have written books on this topic.
Most Christians have taught the ‘submit’ doctrine in a way that disempowers women. It teaches women to ignore their gut feelings, to put their legitimate needs and preferences and wishes aside. It discourages wives from using negotiation skills with their husbands. It deters wives from setting boundaries when their husbands behave selfishly or sinfully.
By refusing to comply with abuse, the wife is doing good, being morally pure, trying to limit and curtail her husband’s sin and hold him accountable for it. Tweet This It is good to restrain sin and to try prevent it from running loose, is it not? When a husband is entrenched in a pattern of egregious sin against his wife, the wife actually shows RESPECT for him by judiciously setting boundaries against his abusiveness and by employing justice and truth to hold the husband accountable.
There are numerous instances in scripture of Jesus and the Apostles refusing to submit themselves to evil.
There is a limit to what wives should suffer at the hands of ungodly husbands. The limit is set by Peter’s command to ‘do good’, to do the right thing, even in the face of intimidation. Peter tells wives to do good and not give way to the fear of what their husbands might do. We should submit to our husbands only in so far as righteous obedience to God will permit.
And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7)
This is a vital verse to help us discern if evil is perverting Scripture. Mercy, not sacrifice. Interpretations and applications of Scripture that end up demanding more sacrifice, laying more laws on us, piling up a huge burden on us, are not mercy. They are not consistent then with God’s character.
As a result of the fall, sinful man has a bias to rule over woman, and sinful woman’s (natural pre-fall) need for protection from man has become biased into a more strongly focused and attentive need for man’s protection and love — which makes her extremely vulnerable to exploitation by man.
Articles by Leslie Vernick
Leslie is a Christian and a licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach. She is the author of seven books, including the best-selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.
The apostle Paul says that we are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes. Tweet This
Leslie shares many Bible verses that make the point, “When a husband uses the headship argument to justify making unilateral decisions for his wife, he is misusing his position.”
Question: What do you believe biblical submission means?
The question of what biblical submission really means has been debated for centuries. I believe that God meant this for good, and it is only because of sin that it has been so distorted. God did not say this to put women in bondage. I pray He will walk with you as you wrestle with this topic.
May you feel His love and care today.