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.


  1. This is exactly how I teach submission. If a husband asks a wife to do something evil, she should disobey him. In everything else she must obey him and if it's something that she doesn't want to do at all like work outside of the home or send her children to public school, she gives it to the Lord in prayer and learns contentment in the meantime.

    1. What scary nonsense. Thank goodness fewer and fewer people believe this rubbish.

    2. Scary to obey God? I am more afraid NOT to obey God and miss out on all of His wonderful, gracious plans for my life. If what you read on this site offends you, you may want to find a place that agrees with you so you won't be so offended. Otherwise, you are welcome to absorb some great wisdom here. If more women listened to God's Word, all would greatly be benefitted.

    3. If I as a wife do not want to do something at all my husband and I sit down and look at other options and talk it out, pray, and figure it out. No way am I going to just sit there and be content on something i disagree with or dont feel right about. (Yes i know the bible has scripture on being content in your situations) but that has nothing to do with how I feel as a wife on important matters. Those examples you gave are really important topics that would have me saying nuh uh! We gonna find another option. Now if i have to work i will (that has nothing to do with my situation) but if my kids were old enough for school and i didnt want my babies going to public school I know i'd have my reasons for it and id have research to back up why i wouldnt want my babies attending there. These children are OUR children and we both have a say and we BOTH need to communicate and discuss and be in agreement with EACH OTHER.
      Where i'm getting at is I am not going to sit and be silent. Be respectful and loving in my opinion but definitely NOT be silent.

    4. Who has demanded silence from you?

  2. Thank you for writing this post, Lindsay! This is a great explanation of Biblical submission, and how it does NOT mean being brain dead, or accepting abuse!

  3. Great article and I liked how you pointed out that a husband bears a greater responsibility (see Luke 12:48).

    I find it very helpful to remind myself of my primary duty as a husband and father which is to make sure my wife and children go to Heaven. Obviously I don't make that final determination, but it does guide me as to how I treat my wife and children both in a religious context and personally. I also remember that Christ served others (even washing the feet of his apostles) and I'm called to do no less as a husband and father.

  4. Just a note: I think Daniel is a great example of HOW a person should respond to commands that are against God's authority. First off, Daniel had a plan that did not include disobeying God ever. Then he was creative to find a way to show his desire to obey the authorities without violating his conscience. He used "appeal" as a way to have a viable alternative to disobeying but when he had only a choice to obey God or not, he chose to obey God.
    Also, in the Book of Acts the disciples were told NOT to preach about Jesus by the religious authorities. They appealed to them by asking who should they obey if given the choice--God or men.
    Appealing to the one in authority is the first step to winning their heart and showing your commitment to obey God above all else.
    The "way" in which a wife submits and appeals can make the difference in winning the husband's heart for Jesus. For instance, if a husband tells his wife to lie for him, she should appeal to him that she would not ever lie TO him and should not lie FOR him. "You wouldn't want me to ever lie to you, would you?" This takes to the heart.

  5. What the Lord has shown me about submission as a wife is this.
    It's not about being told what to do. Or being used as a door mat.
    Submission is about service. Love. And respect.
    What's service about? Doing for others out of LOVE from your heart. (Not because you have to)
    What is LOVE about? Service and Respect
    These words all tie in to each other.

    I have come to understand it this way. My husband is also commanded to LOVE his wife(me) like Christ loves the church. There is that word again. LOVE
    We back up to Ephesians 5:21 Paul is telling Christians in general that we need to submit to each other.
    Does it mean that just because we get married and it doesn't specifically say for the husband to
    Submit to the wife that he gets all the say in everything no matter what? Um. No.
    That part does not get erased for the man just because we get married. After my marriage journey recently, I have come to find out that my husband is to be in submission to me as well.
    Loving. Serving. And respecting. In return it makes me want to do the same for him. And vice versa. We both have a say in things. If one doesn't agree with something we work it out. Or don't do it at all. We pray about it.
    Now, if we feel something is spirit lead we pray and don't interfere with what God is calling us to do. We are supportive of each other in that area. But with anything else. Nope. I have every right to express what I feel (in a loving way) and vice versa the same for him. We work together on our decisions. It isn't right for a man to go against his wifes wishes just because he is a man and thinks he has the right to do whatever he wants no matter how she as the wife feels on any matter just because it says a wife is to submit to her husband. That just isn't right at all. And not to mention, extremely disrespectful to the wife. Sometimes, some of the interpretations of what I read on submission just makes me sad. But hey if it works in some families. Okay. But this is how it works in mine. And what God has lead me to believe on my journey.

    Hope that didn't sound like I was bashing your post. Just my take on the topic.
    Have a blessed day.

  6. Submission is about recognizing authority.

  7. You are commanded to respect your husband.
    He is commanded to love his wife.

  8. Great article, everything was biblical and spot on.