Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Proper Understanding of Biblical Submission

One of the common arguments against Biblical submission in marriage is the idea that submission is dangerous. The claim is that if a woman submits to her husband, he may abuse her or direct her to do wrong or harmful things. People with this view often point to cases of women who stayed in an abusive marriage out of a belief that the Bible commands them to submit to whatever their husband says. Sometimes, the abusive husband even quotes scripture at his wife (out of context) while abusing her, making her believe she is meant by God to submit to that treatment.

This is a faulty understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject. A proper understanding of Biblical submission is that a woman should submit to her husband only in areas where he has God-given authority.

It's all about authority structure. The wife is under the authority of the husband, the children are under the authority of their parents, and all of them are under the authority of God. However, because God is the ultimate authority, His laws about morality trump any directives by lower authorities. A wife must obey God rather than her husband where they directly conflict just as children must obey God rather than their parents where they directly conflict. The same sort of prioritizing also occurs in the secular realm where we must all obey God rather than government or our employers where their orders conflict. This is nothing new or earth shattering. We all need to understand God's hierarchy of authority and our place in it so that we can make wise choices in keeping with God's will.

No man has the authority to abuse his wife or children or to order them to do anything contrary to the word of God. That authority has not been granted to men, and any order in direct conflict with God's word is an invalid order. So, for example, if a husband were to tell his wife to sleep with another man, to renounce her faith, to steal from someone, or to take a beating from him, she should refuse because her husband does not have authority to tell her that. God's laws trump her husband's authority.

However, within the sphere of her husband's authority, she should submit. The husband has authority from God to make decisions for the family, to discipline and train the children (though not abuse them or deprive them of things they need), to lead the family spiritually, and to set the overall direction and goals for the family. In these areas, a wife should submit to her husband's leadership.

A woman's place in the family authority structure provides her both a unique role and a unique protection. Because the husband is in the place of greater authority, he will bear the greater responsibility. Thus, he will answer to God for the overall direction and mission he chooses (or shirks) for his family and how he carries that out. Much like being the boss in the business world, when someone has more responsibility, they bear the blame when something goes wrong. Wives have the protection of a lesser responsibility. They are responsible for fulfilling their own role, but not for the role of their husbands.

Wives also have the responsibility of their own unique role as helper and encourager to their husbands. A good wife is blessing to her entire family, handling details and logistics and making a happy home so that her husband can concentrate on his overall mission for God and leading the family. As such, she plays a vital role in the success or failure of those endeavors. If she leaves her role and tries to take over the authority role of her husband, not only does that result in a conflict for authority that weakens the family, but it results in her own proper role going unfilled. This is not good for anyone in the family. A wife is needed in her own role and no one else can fill it.

As a final note, this all has nothing to do with women being inferior. That's a common misconception, but completely false. It is a very modern and erroneous notion that those with more authority are more valuable. That is simply not so in God's economy. In fact, the Bible teaches that the greatest is the servant, not the master. God sees the role of servant or helper as a vitally important and valuable role, not one of lesser value. There is simply no reason to believe that having more authority confers more value and we must work to rid ourselves of that unbiblical notion.

Thus, Biblical submission does not mean that women are inferior to men in any way or that they may be mistreated or abused by their husbands. But they do have a different place in the authority structure set up by God for the family. There has to be a single leader for the family because if there is no leader, there is no direction and any disagreement (which is going to happen in any marriage) will lead to struggle, conflict, and chaos. God's authority structure for the family avoids this conflict and leads to a more peaceful and efficient family that can be more effective for God.