Does Ephesians 5:21 teach mutual submission?

"This view of mutual submission means that a husband is not in fact called to be the leader of his family nor is a wife called to follow her husband’s leadership. So which interpretation is right?" - Denny Burk

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Dave White's picture

Here's a rule ...:

But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— ... But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:32-34)

If you're not up for that program: "An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. " (vs 32)

Paul Henebury's picture

This passage expressly tells us who submits to who!

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Jay's picture

But if it is, I only wanted to note that when a husband loves his wife like Jesus loves the church and is not harsh with them, then submission probably isn't going to be a huge issue in the relationship.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Don Johnson's picture

And probably numerous other examples where the husband (on average) treated his wife well. Doesn't always work out. Submission to God isn't easy no matter what your role is.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Paul Henebury's picture

My comment wasn't aimed at you personally (sorry for any offense caused).  I was just pointing out what the verse said.

As for the rest of you comment; I only wish that were true.  But modern culture is not conducive to a biblical attitude of submission, and many Christian women do not submit as per the command.  It is not an "I will if you will" thing.  It is a direct command to both parties which they will both have to answer for individually before Christ.  A woman who submits to her husband (as long as he is not expecting her to sin) will be rewarded, no matter how the husband obeys, and vice versa.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

dmyers wrote:

Susan, your first comment was actually titled "Conditions."  In that comment, you said, "IMO, the expectation (and condition, from my POV) is that the husband will obey Christ and love his wife as himself."  If you're retracting your insistence that the wife's submission is conditioned on the husband's Christ-like love, then we're in agreement.  But I didn't put words in your mouth.

I explained the conditions in that paragraph "IMO, the expectation (and condition, from my POV) is that the husband will obey Christ and love his wife as himself. A wife is not required to submit in a way that violates her own God-given conscience or endangers her in some way in order to please her husband. "

Everyone in this thread has agreed with those conditions. I've never insisted that a wife's submission hinges on her husband's perfection as a leader, but Godly leadership is not "I say jump you say how high". Bad leadership isn't an excuse for bad followership, and vice versa. That's why I've asked for some feedback on what is a proper exercise of authority in the home, because regardless of the order in which commands are given, if everything rises and falls on leadership, then everything rises and falls on leadership.

dmyers's picture

Susan R wrote:

dmyers wrote:

Susan, your first comment was actually titled "Conditions."  In that comment, you said, "IMO, the expectation (and condition, from my POV) is that the husband will obey Christ and love his wife as himself."  If you're retracting your insistence that the wife's submission is conditioned on the husband's Christ-like love, then we're in agreement.  But I didn't put words in your mouth.

I explained the conditions in that paragraph "IMO, the expectation (and condition, from my POV) is that the husband will obey Christ and love his wife as himself. A wife is not required to submit in a way that violates her own God-given conscience or endangers her in some way in order to please her husband. "

Everyone in this thread has agreed with those conditions. I've never insisted that a wife's submission hinges on her husband's perfection as a leader, but Godly leadership is not "I say jump you say how high". Bad leadership isn't an excuse for bad followership, and vice versa. That's why I've asked for some feedback on what is a proper exercise of authority in the home, because regardless of the order in which commands are given, if everything rises and falls on leadership, then everything rises and falls on leadership.

Whether you realize it or not, you're playing word games.  Several people in this thread have explicitly disagreed with the first condition you stated (which you yourself explicitly identified as a condition), "that the husband will obey Christ and love his wife as himself."  As to your second set of conditions, the ones you italicize here for some reason, your formulation differs from and is much broader than the standard disclaimer about abuse or sin that we all endorse.  We all agree that the wife has no obligation to sin at the direction of her husband, but that's not necessarily synonymous with the wife's subjective conscience.  Why not just say the wife has no obligation to violate God's Word at the instruction of her husband?  Likewise, the phrase "endangers her in some way" is amorphous.  Is that deliberate or unintentional?  Your phrasing leaves the door wide open for the wife (or unwise friends) to claim subjective "endanger[ment] in some way" where objectively there is no such danger.  For example, the husband (Christian or non-Christian) believes it's best for the family to move to a different city.  The wife refuses to submit because the move "endangers her in some way" -- it requires attending a church she doesn't care for, the schools aren't as good, the crime level is higher, she'll have more allergy problems, and so on ad infinitum.  Why not just say she doesn't have to submit to physical abuse, unless the intent is to keep the escape hatch as large as a barn door?

You keep saying "everything rises and falls on leadership."  No one else has said that.  I haven't said that.  Saying that contradicts your professed agreement that the wife's obligation to submit is independent of her husband's obligation to lead or to love.  You also re-insert your original "condition" by the back door by saying "Godly leadership is not 'I say jump you say how high.'"  It's true that godly leadership is not that, and no one here has argued otherwise.  But neither Ephesians 5 nor 1 Peter 3 nor any other submission/respect passage cited in this discussion conditions submission on "Godly leadership."  In fact, 1 Peter 3 explicitly excludes godly leadership as a condition because it's addressing the wife of an unconverted, ungodly man.

TylerR's picture

Editor

dmyers wrote:

Why not just say the wife has no obligation to violate God's Word at the instruction of her husband?  Likewise, the phrase "endangers her in some way" is amorphous.  Is that deliberate or unintentional?  Your phrasing leaves the door wide open for the wife (or unwise friends) to claim subjective "endanger[ment] in some way" where objectively there is no such danger.  

For example, the husband (Christian or non-Christian) believes it's best for the family to move to a different city.  The wife refuses to submit because the move "endangers her in some way" -- it requires attending a church she doesn't care for, the schools aren't as good, the crime level is higher, she'll have more allergy problems, and so on ad infinitum.

If any husband makes this move over his wife's objections, with an authoritarian attitude ... well, heh, heh, heh ... Have fun! And, shame on him, too! This looks more like a dictatorship with sex, than a marriage.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

...but I know of a situation where the husband bought a pick-up truck for work over his wife's continued and well-grounded objections.  I have seen other situations where the wife was only consulted on what color the new car would be.  The husband took care of everything else because it was his God-ordained responsibility as her head.

He IS the head of the home, you know. And the wife DOES have to submit.  

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

dmyers's picture

TylerR wrote:

dmyers wrote:

Why not just say the wife has no obligation to violate God's Word at the instruction of her husband?  Likewise, the phrase "endangers her in some way" is amorphous.  Is that deliberate or unintentional?  Your phrasing leaves the door wide open for the wife (or unwise friends) to claim subjective "endanger[ment] in some way" where objectively there is no such danger.  

For example, the husband (Christian or non-Christian) believes it's best for the family to move to a different city.  The wife refuses to submit because the move "endangers her in some way" -- it requires attending a church she doesn't care for, the schools aren't as good, the crime level is higher, she'll have more allergy problems, and so on ad infinitum.

If any husband makes this move over his wife's objections, with an authoritarian attitude ... well, heh, heh, heh ... Have fun! And, shame on him, too! This looks more like a dictatorship with sex, than a marriage.

Tyler, you're spinning the example with negative details that aren't there.  Why is that?  I thought about padding the example with various qualifiers of the husband's good intentions, his diligence in investigating the pros and cons of the move for all concerned, etc.  But the bottom line is that the wife's obligation is to submit, as to the Lord, to her husband's decision, even if he's unsaved and is not taking anything spiritual into account.  Certainly she can respectfully provide her thoughts and analysis and concerns.  But if she ultimately doesn't agree with the decision and he executes it, her obligation is to cooperate with a loving, respectful spirit.  Your cavalier and snarky "Heh, have fun!" is a non-biblical (really, anti-biblical) endorsement of a Christian wife's unChristian response.  Shame on you, not the hypothetical husband.  Attitudes like yours (her feelings trump his decisions -- and the Bible) is a big part of the reason Christian marriages are so frequently little different from non-Christian, feminist influenced marriages.

Jim's picture

Advice I would give (some specifics)

[all case of unsaved husband w believing wife]:

  • H says: Don't give $$ to church | W: OK, I won't give $$ to church
  • H beats wife | W: call police & file police report immediately
  • H says: Don't attend church | W: I must obey God - Hebrews 10:25
  • H says: You attend too many services | W: I will attend Sunday am only
  • H says: You are too busy volunteering at church | W: I will restrict my volunteerism to Sunday AM only

JP: All from my own experiences as a pastor

Bert Perry's picture

Per Jay's example, it strikes me that what you've got there is more or less a dispute over financial propriety and priorities.  If it were my family, for example, my wife would be right to be concerned, since (a) my boss just told me today to work from home if I needed 4 wheel drive to get to work and (b) my family budget does not exactly need the additional stress of paying for a $50k truck.   I can imagine the "fun", however, of bringing financial issues up for church discipline.  Lots of people would be saying "is it getting hot in here?  I'm sweating like anything!".  

That said, I do remember a church that looked up a prospective pastor's financial stewardship in the hiring process--and it worked out wonderfully.  The candidate, who was hired and is doing great as far as I know, saw that a previous action had been foolish and committed not to repeat the experience.  Perhaps if we bring Matthew 18 in over the "smaller" things, we can approach it in the bigger things, too.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

As Susan has said, I think people have different ideas about what "submission" and it's corollary "leadership" look like. Inigio Montoya has some insight here!

I see attempts to impose a certain style (often, an authoritarian oneand make it the definition. What submission and leadership look like will change with couple.

I question how sacrificial and selflessly loving it would be to order your wife to move over her legitimate concerns!

I'm not sure if our disagreement is over substance or style. But, we certainly do disagree.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dmyers's picture

He should never have to "order" his wife to move -- if that's what he thinks is best, she should do it willingly and with a good attitude because (a) that's her obligation, per, you know, God (and her own choice when she married him), (b) she should trust her husband's good intentions toward her and the family, as well as his equipping by God to make the final decision when they aren't in agreement, and (c) even if he's wrong objectively, even if he's not as concerned about her interests as he ought to be, submitting to him is submitting to God, whose power, good intentions toward her, and care for her cannot be doubted (assume the requisite footnote has been dropped here where I have to disclaim dragging her into objective sin and physical abuse, because otherwise that's what you'll come back with).  The husband shouldn't be an objective tyrant, but the Bible leaves no doubt that he's the tiebreaker when they disagree -- not her, not her feelings, not her concerns (legitimate or not).  Since there's apparently no situation conceivable to you in which her will isn't determinative, it seems pretty obvious to me that we disagree on substance.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Got it. Take care.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

GregH's picture

There are some people using the term "physical abuse" in this thread as if it is a line that should not be crossed. Apparently, emotional abuse or perhaps other kinds of abuse is not crossing the line for them. That is in my opinion typically a sign of old school thinking, or in other words, on this particular issue, bad thinking.

I believe any kind of abuse justifies a spouse leaving a marriage. Emotional abuse is probably much worse than physical abuse in some ways. No, you can't call the police in those situations but the spouse probably should at least separate anyway at a certain point. 

Jim's picture

GregH wrote:

There are some people using the term "physical abuse" in this thread as if it is a line that should not be crossed. Apparently, emotional abuse or perhaps other kinds of abuse is not crossing the line for them.

  • Physical abuse is easy to define. A definite line that should not be crossed!
  • Emotional abuse is very hard to quantify 

Trust me ... as a retired pastor 

dmyers's picture

GregH, you raise a good point.  The problem with equating emotional abuse with physical abuse is that claims of the former can often be subjective or flatly untrue.  If what the wife claims to be emotional abuse has been witnessed by others or admitted by the husband, and if the behavior was in fact abusive and unrepentant, that's one thing.  But if the wife claims abuse without witnesses or confession, the claim has to be investigated rather than just accepted.  If the claims are the basis for a divorce filing, the church leadership has to verify it one way or another.  The simple claim that "he was emotionally abusive" isn't by itself a get out of marriage (or submission) free card, though many are happy to use it that way.  I hope what you meant to say was, "I believe any kind of abuse justifies a spouse leaving a marriage" if the behavior in question was actually abusive, has been verified by the church, and is unrepentant.

dmyers's picture

My previous comment springs from, among other things, a conversation with a godly friend who for decades had a divorce practice in which he limited his representation to the innocent or non-moving spouse.  (Sometimes this might mean representing the moving spouse who in fact had biblical grounds and where reconciliation was genuinely impossible, but usually it meant defending against an unwanted divorce.)  His conclusion after all those years was that adultery as a ground for divorce had to mean physical adultery rather than mental adultery and that abuse had to mean physical abuse rather than emotional abuse, precisely because it was very common for spouses to lie, exaggerate, or misperceive non-abusive behavior as abusive.

GregH's picture

dmyers wrote:

I hope what you meant to say was, "I believe any kind of abuse justifies a spouse leaving a marriage" if the behavior in question was actually abusive, has been verified by the church, and is unrepentant.

No, I really did not mean what you might have hoped me to mean. I think a person who is emotionally abused is justified in leaving her marriage regardless of whether the church verifies it or not. The church does not have the power to force people to be married. Of course, they can throw her out if they wish if she decides to take care of her emotional health; I would say that she is better off if they do.

In other words, it is an individual decision that a person has to make and live with. I don't know many church leaders that I would feel comfortable with making that decision for someone else. Maybe they would fit on one hand in fact. 

dmyers's picture

Well, your view is completely unbiblical.  Church leadership should be involved in every divorce of its members, to exonerate any innocent party and to discipline any errant party.  Any member who doesn't cooperate with that process should be disciplined for their non-cooperation -- discipline to which they agreed in advance when they joined the church.  Your attitude is common, which is part of the reason divorce in the church is so common:  I come first, and I don't have to submit to church authority (just like a wife doesn't really have to submit to her husband unless she wants to).  If you don't trust the leadership of your church to handle disciplinary issues wisely, you're in the wrong church.  Unless you just don't want to submit to any church authority, so changing churches wouldn't matter.

GregH's picture

dmyers wrote:

Well, your view is completely unbiblical.  Church leadership should be involved in every divorce of its members, to exonerate any innocent party and to discipline any errant party.  Any member who doesn't cooperate with that process should be disciplined for their non-cooperation -- discipline to which they agreed in advance when they joined the church.  Your attitude is common, which is part of the reason divorce in the church is so common:  I come first, and I don't have to submit to church authority (just like a wife doesn't really have to submit to her husband unless she wants to).  If you don't trust the leadership of your church to handle disciplinary issues wisely, you're in the wrong church.  Unless you just don't want to submit to any church authority, so changing churches wouldn't matter.

I don't see any Biblical evidence that churches should be granting permission for marriage or divorce.

I would not in fact attend any church that tried to control marriages of its members and I certainly would not attend any church that disciplined a victim of abuse simply because they were not able to "verify" the abuse (which by the way is often impossible). I would tell any victim to run (not walk) away from a church that pressured her to stay in an abusive marriage simply because they could not verify the abuse. Same goes for a church that tried to discipline her for divorce in those circumstances.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Well ... this thread is moving along nicely ..  I guess ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dmyers's picture

TylerR wrote:

Well ... this thread is moving along nicely ..  I guess ...

On the contrary, I think it’s valuable to see how our ostensibly most conservative, most Bible-believing churches are rife with people who will brag about their rejection of the Bible and of church discipline when they disagree with either. 

Jim's picture

Reminder: Resources and attributes church leaders lack:

  • Not omnipresent
  • Not omniscient
  • Cannot subpoena
  • Do not have the investigative resources of the FBI / CIA
  • Cannot inject truth serum or administer polygraph tests

Meanwhile the pastor has to labor in the Word to prepare feast of truth for God's people when they gather for worship

Image: Tell me about your marriage

GregH's picture

dmyers wrote:

 

TylerR wrote:

 

Well ... this thread is moving along nicely ..  I guess ...

 

 

On the contrary, I think it’s valuable to see how our ostensibly most conservative, most Bible-believing churches are rife with people who will brag about their rejection of the Bible and of church discipline when they disagree with either. 

I make no apology for what I said. Your words are dishonest and ungracious in your representation of what I said. However, it is not hard to see through the emotion of your writing and guess that you have been personally impacted by these things. For that reason, I have no ill will.

Bert Perry's picture

I'm one who sees emotional abuse as a very real sin, but at the same time, I also think church leadership ought to be involved in helping couples (individuals) see their sin and repent of it.  Easy?  No, but it's what the church is called to do, and a lot of times, people really don't hide their sin very well because they don't view it as sin, or they are observed by others.  In the case of marriage, kids see, and friends see.  The process, as I understand it, would involve determining whether physical or emotional abuse occurred, and then determining a path out--and whether that would involve counseling, separation, or even divorce would be determined in that process, using outside experts as necessary.

Side note: I am fully aware that this view of mine makes many people cringe, and reasonably so, because so many churches have made a total hash of the process of church discipline per Matthew 18 and other passages.  That noted, doing this to some degree seems to be what God calls the church to do.  We don't get a "this is tough" card to dodge it.

To use moving as an example, moving can be a good example of submission, but it can be a form of emotional abuse if the motive is evil.  For example, husband (wife) observes that wife (husband) is attached to church/family/friends in one location and wants to "get her (him) away" from that network--e.g. from jealousy.  He knows the impact it will have on her, possibly leading to depression, etc..  Now is that legitimate headship, or emotional abuse?

Alternatively, party 1 wants party 2 to provide something "just for party 1" whenever party 2 does anything nice for other parties, resorting to great anger when that's more than party 2 can do in the time frame party 1 desires.

Another example; party 1 claims abuse by party 2, but when asked what the details of said abuse might be, simply says that one doesn't question the victim.  Not talking about Perry Mason doing cross examination here, just wanting a basic accusation.  I'd argue that claiming abuse without substantiating it is itself....emotional abuse, and I've seen a number of people doing it--in some circles, it seems to be a "trump card" they think they can play to automatically get their way. 

(real examples, BTW)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

GregH wrote:

. I think a person who is emotionally abused is justified in leaving her marriage ...

interesting choice of pronoun

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jim wrote:

  • Physical abuse is easy to define. A definite line that should not be crossed!
  • Emotional abuse is very hard to quantify 

I think the main issue we have with the concept of "emotional abuse" is exactly what Jim says here.  I've heard a new college graduate (one who was departing the Christian faith) claim she was "emotionally abused" because of her being raised with Christian teaching which left her with guilt she now can't shed for doing things she no longer claims to see as wrong.

There must be very clear lines (as Jim said about physical abuse), or anyone can claim emotional abuse, and no one else can say anything.  Without an accepted objective definition, it gets very close to the mindset from Judges -- "every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

Dave Barnhart

GregH's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

Jim wrote:

 

  • Physical abuse is easy to define. A definite line that should not be crossed!
  • Emotional abuse is very hard to quantify 

 

 

I think the main issue we have with the concept of "emotional abuse" is exactly what Jim says here.  I've heard a new college graduate (one who was departing the Christian faith) claim she was "emotionally abused" because of her being raised with Christian teaching which left her with guilt she now can't shed for doing things she no longer claims to see as wrong.

There must be very clear lines (as Jim said about physical abuse), or anyone can claim emotional abuse, and no one else can say anything.  Without an accepted objective definition, it gets very close to the mindset from Judges -- "every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

I am not saying that it is easy. I actually don't know that defining lines in physical abuse is too easy either. But there are experts that have done a lot of work in this area. Leslie Vernick is one on the Christian side and perhaps my favorite would be Dr. Diane Langberg. For me, emotional abuse is not just fighting but is a form of control that substantially damages the victim's capacity to operate/think normally. There are some very strange things that go on--Stockholm Syndome kinds of things.

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