Concerning Wives Submitting

21 Dec

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So much is said today of God’s command that wives submit to their husbands. Does he actually command such a thing, and, if he does, why would he do such a thing? Certainly in our modern world women have enjoyed unprecedented freedom in society. This is not to say they enjoy true equality, perhaps some do, but probably not all. When it is pointed out that both Peter and Paul command wives to submit to their husbands, it is almost like men (and it is usually men who point this out) are afraid of a world in which women enjoy the same privileged position that society has always bestowed upon the male. I have to wonder about that, but I also have to admit that some point to Peter and Paul in a sincere effort to speak out for what they assume the Bible teaches.

Let me begin by first saying what the Bible does say. It says that in Christ there are no distinctions. No believer enjoys a privileged position over another believer in Christ—not the Jew over the gentile (or visa-versa), not the male over the female (or visa-versa), and so on regarding slaves (modern employees) and masters (modern bosses), and those one may consider civilized / cultured and uncivilized / those with rough edges (cf. Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28). We are to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34; 15:9, 12). Moreover, Jesus tells us that in the world (which is not Christ’s kingdom – John 18:36) men exercise authority over others (Mark 10:42), but this would not be done by Jesus’ followers (Mark 10:43a). Rather, the servant’s attitude is to be embraced by those wishing to be his disciples (Mark 10:43b).

That’s what the Scriptures do say, but what about what Peter and Paul say—are their words contradictory or shouldn’t they be considered Scripture? Not at all, what is unscriptural is the manner in which their words are often interpreted. We need to remember something whenever we interpret what the Bible says in a particular place. First of all, no Scripture was written to be interpreted by itself (2Peter 1:20). Seeking to do so only expresses the opinion of the reader, which may or may not be correct. Error is significantly reduced when one compares Scripture with Scripture (1Corinthians 2:13). The second thing one must keep in mind when interpreting a difficult passage of Scripture is that its true meaning is never contradicted elsewhere in Scripture (cf. John 10:35). So Peter’s words in 1Peter 3:1-4 and Paul’s in Ephesians 5:22-24 (see also Colossians 3:18) cannot be forced to contradict what Jesus says in John 13:34 and Mark 10:42-43. If one does force such an interpretation, one may be reading the Bible, but what one believes cannot be the word of God, because God does not contradict himself.

Years ago, I was astonished when my eyes stopped on Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:21. I had read over them many times, but when I stopped to consider the implication of these words at that point in the text, my understanding of what my relationship with my wife should be was revolutionized. How is it possible that I read “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands…” (Ephesians 5:22), but never really considered: “Submitting yourselves one to another…” (Ephesians 5:21)? All I can say is that the power of a false understanding is phenomenal. Once a person believes something, it is so difficult to understand it differently.

Recently, I read a study that confirmed my understanding at Ephesians 5:21, and I so appreciate that study.[1] In Ephesians 5:18 Paul tells us not to be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit. The point is wine and doctrine affect behavior (for good or for bad), so does the Holy Spirit. Paul immediately tells us how we can know that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5:19-21 he uses four phrases that express our spiritual condition. Namely, 1) speaking to oneself in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; 2) singing and making melody in one’s heart to the Lord (v-19); 3) giving thanks to the Lord for all things (v-20); and 4) submitting to one another out of reverence for God (v-21). If we are doing these four things, we know we are filled with God’s Spirit!

Many of the Greek manuscripts don’t have the word submit after “wives” in Ephesians 5:22. Some even have it just after husbands in verse-25. It seems the original thought expressed by Paul was: “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord, wives to your husbands…” and so husbands, children and parents, servants and masters (Ephesians 5:21 to 6:9).[2] This makes so much sense to me, and it seems to be the teaching of Christ, not just that of Paul. Consider the fact that in Ephesians 5:25 husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. How does Christ say he loves the Church? Well, he does say that greater love has no man than that he give his life for his friends (John 15:33), and Paul even says as much in Ephesians 5:25. However, I think it is telling that Jesus told his disciples that they did well calling him Lord, because he is our Lord (John 13:13), but this was said after he washed the disciples feet! Imagine, the Lord submitting to such service!

In another place Jesus asked who is greater, the one who sits at the table or he that waits on him? All would agree the greater position is to sit at the table, but Jesus added “I am among you as one who serves!” (Luke 22:27). One may say that Jesus wished only to make a point during his ministry, but that’s not completely true. Yes, he is our example, but he also tells us that when he returns (Luke 12:36), he will cause his faithful servants to sit at the table, while he waits upon them (Luke 12:37). This is how Christ loves the Church, and this is how husbands need to love their wives. This is how I need to love my wife. Submission is a mutual matter not the duty of the wife alone. It is a family matter and, if done well, will be an example that is apt to cause those who have rejected Christ to reconsider.


[1] See John Brunt, The New Testament Haustafeln Passages.

[2] Ibid. “The textual evidence is as follows: “Submit” is omitted in P46 and Vaticanus. It is added after the word “husband” as a second person imperative in K, 181, 326, 614, 630, and 1984. It is added after the word “wives” as a second person imperative in D, G, and 1985. It is added after the word “wives” as a third person imperative in W. It is added after the word “husbands” as a third person imperative in Sinaiticus, A, I, P, 33, 81, 88, 104 and several others. This diversity suggests that it was added by various scribes according to the analogy of verse 21.”


Posted by on December 21, 2016 in Epistles of Peter


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2 responses to “Concerning Wives Submitting

  1. Ken

    December 21, 2016 at 12:03

    Thank you so much for explaining this section of scripture. It has long angered and saddened me that some paid professionals (preachers) have mis-taught this passage by focusing on the “wives submit to your husbands” part; and all but ignoring the “husbands love your wives” part. Only in the church are people taught to rip individual pieces of scripture out of context; and then try to live Godly lives according to the naked fragments.
    Even at the most simple level of understanding, there are two sides to this coin of relationship.
    22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.
    How did Christ give Himself for the church? One obvious way was self-sacrifice.
    Just imagine: A wife submits when her husband says “I want you to plant a garden in the backyard to grow some of our food.” And later, the husband sacrifices his personal desire to buy a fishing boat – and uses the money to pay for his wife’s night school (or whatever other Godly desire she might have).
    There might be less divorce in the church if scripture was taught in balance – even at the most simple level.

    • Eddie

      December 22, 2016 at 08:50

      Greetings Ken, and thank you for reading and for your insight into this Scripture.

      Lord bless you.


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