As Christ Submits to the Church

Those who know the discussions about women in ministry as well as those about the relations of husbands and wives know the name Alan Padgett, and those who don’t know the name need to do (and should have known it). Alan is one of the few theologians who has actually written on most of the debated passages in the Bible about women. And he has given us all a gift in taking all those writings, condensing and clarifying them into one very readable and important book: As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission. I cannot speak enough to the alertness of this book to the history of interpretation, cultural context of each passage, and how to read such a text in the light of a gospel-centered (and he’s on the side of the angels when it comes to “gospel”) approach to the Bible (historical, canonical, and Jesus-centered).

It is impossible to get into each chapter of this book in a single review, unless this were to become tediously long (just to explain how he gets to his conclusions), so I want to emphasize some of the highlights of this exceptional book.

A gospel-shaped view of marriage and women’s ministries is shaped by the pattern of Jesus’ life, which is voluntary surrender to the other, and not shaped by authority and power.

He traces the roots of the present conflict between egalitarians and complementarians, whom he accurately calls man/male-centered leadership [some will see this as harsh; I see it as an accurate description; keep reading], and shows that this isn’t simply a feminist issue but arose in the Reformation (he mentions Argula von Grumbach), the Radical Reformation (he mentions Margaret Fell Fox), and Phoebe Palmer.

Why are we so attracted to “authority” and so afraid of “mutual submission”? What does the life pattern of Jesus tell us about church “hierarchy” and about the ministry of women?

The current heat has been set by Charles Ryrie, then Letha Scanzoni/Nancy Hardesty, Paul K. Jewett, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, the Evangelical Women’s Caucus that broke into two groups, leading many into the Christians for Biblical Equality, and saw responses in George W. Knight, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, et al.

Alan Padgett argues that “role” is a post-feminist term in this way: the first person to argue that men and women are equal in being but different in roles was George Knight (1977). The whole “role” thing then is very modern.

Furthermore, he examines the turn to the Trinity in theology and in this debate: inherent to this debate is that the male-centered complementarians think the Son though equal is eternally submissive/subordinate to the Father. He points to a Syndey diocese conclusion on this, and Padgett, a theologian, knows this view is not in fact orthodox. Kevin Giles, an Aussie, has examined the Trinitarian theology of the complementarians and finds it wanting.

Another major conclusion of Padgett’s, and here I have to do him the disservice of incompletely sketching his view, is that true Christian leadership, including in the home, is servant leadership and servant leadership is nothing other than Christ-following mutual submission. Too many think that men are “servant leaders” and women are servant followers, but Padgett argues persuasively that biblical servant leadership takes its shape in the pattern of the life of Jesus, who became a slave (temporarily) for the good of the other. And this is exactly what Paul means by mutual submission in Ephesians 5, and in that passage Jesus is the example, not of leadership or lordship, but of servant-like mutual submission. In effect, Jesus deconstructs authoritarian shapes of leadership and offers a brand new way for his followers: mutual submission for the good of the other.

Padgettt thinks that “the real problem with complementarian views is their man-centered notion of authority” (32). They have anchored authority in gender. Role expresses character, if and you connect submissiveness to role one connects it to character. [This is a monstrous reduction of a fine discussion by Padgett.]

Crucial to this book is Padgett’s breakdown of the meanings of “submission.” There are two types: Type I is involuntary obedience to an external authority; Type II is biblical: voluntary submission to another person out of love for the that person for the good of that person.

Christ “submits” to the Church in that he voluntarily, and temporarily, surrendered his status, took on the form of a slave, and worked for the good of humans out of love. That is what it means for a husband to be a “leader” and that is what mutual submission is all about.

Padgett finds examples outside of Ephesians 5, and he points — to take but one example — to 1 Cor 7:3-4: “3 The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should do the same for her husband. 4 The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This is mutual submission and surrender to one another for the good of the other. It is not coercion; it is not Type I but Type II.

I rest my case with this, but want you to know that he has sketches of his views of Ephesians 5, Philippians 2, 1 Corinthians 11 (bottom-up reading) and 14 (innovative views here including that the silence passage is both authentic and connected to one kind of silence), 1 Tim 2 (he’s into typology here), the later NT epistles (which he thinks partake at times more, for social reasons, of a Type I view of submission)

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Weekly Meanderings, 14 July 2018

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  • Scot, this is so interesting, as I’m preaching on Eph 5:22-33 this Sunday! It sounds like Padgett (and you?) would agree with Tom Wright when he says, “Within marriage, the guideline is clear. The husband is to take the lead – though he is to do so fully mindful of the self-sacrificial model which the Messiah has provided. As soon as ‘taking the lead’ becomes bullying or arrogant, the whole thing collapses.” This sounds like the Type I/II distinction Padgett makes above. Is that right? Or is Padgett (or are you) saying that leadership is not Christ or the husband’s role at all? Thanks.

  • Woo hoo, I’m looking forward to reading it! I currently live and worship in the Sydney diocese and am praying hard for change on this issue. Thanks for the review!

  • I second Andrew’s question, since, in taking on the form of a servant, Christ never took off the form of a leader.

  • bob2

    I think too often we equate leadership with authority over someone. These are two different things. I can lead with vision and gently model what “going in this direction” looks like. I may have the vision to go this way but I may not have the authority to coerce someone into my way of doing things. Coercion is quicker. It’s efficient. Modeling and giving direction takes time. I suspect, we as men want thinks to happen now, on our schedule. Being a servant leader is not like that.

  • Jesus always led by serving. Men should. Women should. He showed authority over demons who rebelled against God’s authority. That’s where authority fits into the equation.

  • Please don’t overlook this important factor when you discuss leadership. Women do not need leaders. Children need leaders. A father and a mother should lead their children together. That is what a marriage is. Two equals in a union raising and protecting their offspring. When you are talking about leadership in a family, you are soft-serving patriarchy.

  • Andrew,
    I’m curious where you read or heard N.T. Wright say that about marriage? I’d just like to know.

  • Elaine

    “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    Why is “Not so with you” so difficult for some understand?

    Or is it only difficult to accept?

  • Don Johnson

    Gotta get this book. Thanks.

  • Verity3

    I think there remains some confusion about whether men and/or women *have to* do Type II submission, in particular circumstances, as a rule. To me, it seems that if you “have to” consistently, then it is not Type II. It seems that Type II involves more of a case-by-case decision whether submission is in the other person’s best interests, perhaps discerned with the help of the Spirit.

  • Much agreement with “Mutual Submission.” 🙂

    Anyone… I was wondering… Can’t seem to find servant-leader in the Bible.
    Where are you with the use of the word “leader” for a “Disciple of Christ?” 😉
    Male – or – Female?

    Jesus always took and recommended the **low place.** Yes?
    The word “leader” seems like a “high place.” Yes?

    Seems Jesus has a unique take on “Leaders” for His Body. “ONE”

    As man – Jesus humbled Himself, made himself of NO reputation,
    and took on the form of a *Servant.* Php 2:7-8. 😉

    How do “you” reconcile a “Disciple of Christ” – today – being known as “leader?”
    When “Jesus” told **His disciples** NOT to be called “leader?”

    Jesus, in Mat 23:10 KJV, told **His disciples** “NOT” to call themselves
    “Master / Leaders,” for you have “ONE” “Master / Leader” “The Christ.”

    King James Version
    Neither be ye called masters: for “ONE” is your Master, even Christ.

    New American Standard Bible
    Do not be called leaders; for “One” is your Leader, that is, Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible
    Nor be called leaders, for “ONE” is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English
    you must not let people call you leaders, you have only “ONE” leader, Christ.

    Today’s English Version –
    nor should you be called leader, your “ONE” and only leader is the Messiah.

    Jesus told **His disciples** NOT to be called **leaders** and NONE did.

    Why would a “Disciple of Christ” – today – want to be known as a “Leader?”
    When NOT one “Disciple of Christ” – in the Bible – called themself “Leader?”

  • BradK

    It is only difficult to accept, Elaine. Which is why so many are so determined to read scripture in a way that supports their personal preference. If a man wants to be in charge and have control, then it is easy to read scripture in a way that supports this desire.

    Of course we are all so often guilty of doing this in so many other ways not related to marriage. There are many things commanded by our Lord that we simply don’t want to do, so finding a justification to disobey is easy.

  • DRT

    Andrew#1, while I am not a biblical expert, I have thought about leadership extensively. My view of leadership is the leader is the one taking the initiative toward a direction in a particular instance. In this sense everyone is a leader and leadership changes hands constantly during normal, healthy interactions between people. Those who never take leadership are not somehow subservient, but they are not living up to what they should be.

    To state it somewhat differently, a leader contributes their unique perspective to the endeavor or relationship. In the case of Jesus, his leadership was in his thinking, concepts and relational views (not to mention being resurrected). Leadership is not about assuming authority over others. It is showing others.

    The magic that happens in leadership is when the values of the people are such that the action oriented authoritarian style is not over weighted relative to other styles and substances. Let’s face it, the male testosterone tends to dominate the action oriented authoritarian style. It comes more naturally to more males than females, but is *by no means universal*. But that is not the point. The point is that many styles are as, or more, valuable as the action oriented authoritarian style. It is situationally dependent.

    Now to Tom Wright. I agree that in most relationships it is the male person who has more of the drive to conclusions gene than the woman. But I think the split is closer to 49/51 than 10/90.

    Now to Darren#3. You are right, a leader is not someone who is the one pounding the table and telling people what to do. A leader is someone who contributes their unique perspective in a way that people can understand, relate to and get behind.

    If the husband says “we are going shopping today”, and the wife says “shopping would be good, we also have a strong case for the need to relax in the country….” And the husband says “We will go to the country today!” then they are both leading. Its a conversations.

    Sorry for the length.

  • Tim

    This is a helpful “big picture” look at Padgett’s book. I like his explanation of the distinction between the two types of submission. I agree that diving into the details would take many words to do. On my own blog I did make an attempt to do that with a few of his exegetical discussions related to 1 Cor 7:1-5 and 1 Cor 11. Just do a search for “Padgett” on my blog and you should find the three posts.

  • Dan Jr, he says it in his commentary on Ephesians 5:22-33.

    Scot: any thoughts?

  • Lesa Engelthaler

    Thanks Scot! had not read but will now. :o)

  • I embrace mutual submission within marriage with deference to headship. I often serve my wife by actively submitting to her intuition, wisdom, correction and suggestions. My role is to empower her to greater heights as Christ did for the church using selfless love. We share in all things. I’m convinced the bible teaches that men and woman are equals.

    I might get hammered for this, but I still struggle greatly with a certain idealism that doesn’t seem to work out in reality. I’ve been doing professional marriage counseling for couples for 15 years. I can’t tell you how much chaos I see in the identity of children if the Dad does not embrace a humble headship. I’d like to believe otherwise but I’ve seen it with my own eyes for years. I teach mutual submission for both husband and wife but there is a real tangible dynamic absent when someone is not acting as overseer. 9 times out of 10 if its not Dad there is measurable identity crisis in their family.

    Not sure what to do with this?

  • P.

    I think the issue of male CEO-stle leadership in the home has been made into almost idol status within the church. Both men and women lead, we just do it differently. Plus, as Shirley said, women are adults. We need partners; children need leaders. Speaking as an adult, educated woman, I need my husband to be a leader with me, not for me. How does this play out in reality? We make decisions together. The Bible does not say that the man makes the final decision, even though the couple are free to do things that way if they choose. We do unto each other as Christ teaches by putting aside our selfish tendancies. I know this doesn’t speak to “who’s the boss?” like some want, but I believe this is really what the Bible means when it speaks about marriage.

    As to Dan Jr’s comments, great point. Yes, children do need a strong father. Usually, the mother is already acting as a leader whether she’s call herself that or not. So yes, fathers need to step up and wives need to let them. Does that mean the wife needs to step back? I don’t think so, but I haven’t seen the situations Dan has.

  • EricW

    @ A. Amos Love 11.:

    I suspect that Jesus’ words at Matthew 23:1,8-11 would create cognitive dissonance for many “leaders” at churches which have “Biblical” elders and deacons and pastors and “head pastors” in authority/leadership.

  • DRT

    dan jr., P. says it all in my book. Yes, a non-leading husband would be a problem. But I bet a non-leading wife is an equal problem. Because the need is for both to lead. Though I respect your years of trying.

  • DRT

    OK, I’m going to have to ask my kids who they think is the leader in our house….tonight.

  • Most of the time that I counsel couples the wife seems to have a built in sense of responsibility and that the family needs leadership. So the wife honorably steps into the void. But the weird rhythm is that often the need for counseling is initiated by the wife because of the dysfunction in their home and her frustration with the husband not exercising leadership for the family.

    Most of the time I’ve observed that the wife who is leading seems to be better communicator and is less apathetic. But often their family has contempt that Dad is taking a back seat. So when I give concrete counsel for Dad to lead a bit more I’ve had many of those same wives get defensive about giving up power and feel that this counsel is chauvinistic.

    The only way I can summarize this is “they often want the security of their husbands leadership but they don’t want to give him space to lead.”

    Just my observations after 100’s of hours of counseling.

  • Good thoughts, dan jr. Let me offer my thoughts here. Perhaps it is not that the mothers don’t want to give space to lead, but that there is difficulty in negotiating shared leadership? So that when father leads, it is in father’s way — which may contradict or undermine mother’s way (this cuts both ways, too).

    I have come to see this as parallel leading rather than joint leading. Dad and Mom are unable to come to agreement on how to handle all things, so Mom handles her things the way she wants and Dad handles his things the way he wants. This causes great confusion for the children and friction between parents.

    Scot — man, if this isn’t a definition of cHesed (and looking through cHesed glasses), I don’t know what is!

    Leading is taking initiative for the best interest of the other. It is not about power or authority. It is about mutual submission as covenant keeping (chesed).

    The concept of cHesed, as I am knows to drone on about, is central to understanding relationship as it is shown between the Trinity….

    Jesus turned power and hierarchy and patriarchy on its head — reserving the title of Lord and Master for himself and the title of father for our Heavenly Father. We have to work out the ramifications — and that is a major stumbling block for many.

    Peace, all

  • Leah

    Dan Jr.,

    In effort to explain the wives’ plight whom you are describing, I think what you’ll find missing in the relationship is the idea that as a team, a true one-flesh union, they are BOTH leading. What I find to be true in many marriages is the husband striving to attain a CEO-type leadership and either swinging to the authoritarian side of the leadership pendulum or to the side of abdicating any responsibilities in it. Co-discernment, mutual submission, tandem leading with Jesus Christ as the head, is the goal.

    When you hear women cry for the leadership of their husbands, you’re not hearing them ask for their husbands taking sole leadership or power. It would be a mistake to hear that in their cries. What they’re calling for is a partner, someone equally invested, pulling equally hard for the family toward the goal, who is Christ. While women don’t want their husbands in the back seat, they don’t want to be pushed to the back seat either. As it is more messy, and our culture is wanting in adequate examples of this style of leadership to model after, the revolutionary Way, the way of Jesus is most effective at cutting our flesh–manifested in power-seeking or responsibility-adbdicating–out of our relationships.

    Women–nor men for that matter–don’t want a ruler in their home besides Christ. A human ruler/leader will never make a person happy. It’s never honorable for a person to take on a position that Christ alone should fill. It will leave the person who takes it wanting and others miserable. The sin of pride and the desires of the flesh in power are age-old. Our culture gives us close to no example of true godliness when it comes to roles in relationship. The disciples pondered the same questions we’re discussing today, “Yeah, but who is in charge? Who is first? Where does the buck stop? Who gets to be the leader? Seems like someone–a human–needs to be ‘in charge.'”

    Christ is the head–Who, being in very nature God, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. He is the example for anyone who would be ‘head’ of the home or any other group of people for that matter. Jesus Christ placed God in charge of everything and as the head of the church became a servant, serving God by serving people. As ‘head’ of the home, we’d do well to place Jesus as the real head, and become servants, mutually, to each other, co-discerning, no one overpowering the other, and no one taking a back seat (or being pushed to the back seat).

    That’s the truly revolutionary, culture upturning, beautiful way of Jesus. He leaves us no room to put anyone but Himself in charge. We’re all called to lay it down and serve. Trust that when He alone is leading (and we remain brothers and sisters in Christ only), things will go well for us.

  • ao

    One strand of these comments (beginning with #1) brings to surface an area of disagreement among Biblical egalitarians who would, more or less, agree completely on issues of praxis.

    I’ve read some egalitarians argue that Eph. 5 does teach husband-leadership, but that the husband’s leadership should be self-sacrificial, or that the husband leads in serving the other spouse. I think Giles and Witherington take this approach. And it looks like Wright does, too.

    But other egalitarians argue that Eph. 5 does not teach husband-leadership in the first place (mainly by arguing that “headship” does not mean “leadership”). Kroeger and Bilezikian take this approach.

    The net effect of either view is that marriages are characterized by mutual submission, regardless of what “head” means. I can’t tell from the summary where Padgett (or Scot) would fit into this.

  • DRT

    I love many of the comments, and FWIW, this kids say Mom is the leader, not me. I bet you all would not predict that.

    I do have to point out one obvious fact. Husbands and wives chose each other. No doubt there are countless cultural, societal and power struggles bound up in the choosing. This is a complex question.

    My wife and I were raised in the north. When we moved to the south, the biggest thing for me to get used to was that when we went shopping, or went to a restaurant , the staff would *always* address me first and ask me what I wanted before even acknowledging my wife. When we went furniture shopping in the north it was obvious that she was the one that was going to decided. Not in Virginia. When we were asked what kind of table we preferred at the Outback it was obvious that she would decided in the north, not so in Virginia.

    I don’t even notice it now, but it was shocking to me at first.

  • DRT

    …and I have to add, it has a lot to do with body language and such. I push my wife forward in social situations and bow to what she wants. Not because she is better, but because it is, well, just better, if her needs are met. I think the folks in the north can see that more easily than those in the south. In the south they assume I make the decisions, regardless.

  • Taylor

    So do egalitarians (type 1 per ao #25) even have a beef with complementarians who believe in headship through sacrificial service? Or are the two just twins who adopted different titles?

  • @ ao #25…

    I got this book on Kindle … and went right to the chapter on head stuff. Very interesting discussion…I will have to finish this book soon. Scot is correct when he says this review cannot do justice to the discussion had in the book.

    I miss not having the actual book, but I will get over it … 8)

    Get the book … the same old rehashing between Es and Cs will not advance the discussion without considering his refreshing approach.

    Oh, and Scot — i had not heard of this brother. Thanks!

  • rjs


    I think that the best of complementarians and egalitarians, at least in the context of marriage, are twins with only slight distinctions. Both view marriage as a partnership, and it often doesn’t even matter if husband and wife have slightly different takes on the issue because there is a mutuality not an assertion of rights and authority.

  • Rick

    Very interesting, Scot.
    We are working our way through a series on 1 Corinthians in our church. Your Life Application NIV Commentary is one of our key resources. Love it! I am currently preparing to talk through 1 Cor 11. For background, I firmly believe and have upheld the mutuality principle–at least in some respects (1 Cor 7, etc.) I would probably be called a complementarian. In preaching this, I always emphasize that as the leader, the husband has the more demanding role. Leadership is not about position, but about function. It’s not about privilege, but responsibility.

    Can you help me understand a few things?

    It seems that a key verse for the egalitarian position is Eph 5:21, understanding the “submit to one another” instruction to be the first statement in the discussion about husbands and wives. However:

    –it seems to be then concluding statement of the section beginning in v 1, “dearly loved children,” referring to mutual relationships in the church.
    –beginning with husbands & wives, Paul discusses three relationships within the context of authority structures.
    –in the parallel passage in Col. 3, there is no mention of mutual submission, just “Wives, submit to your husbands” and “Husbands, love your wives.”
    –no passage anywhere in the Bible instructs husbands to submit to wives.
    –although Christ did take the form of a slave and washed feet, etc., I am missing how this is tantamount to submission. It certainly was laying down his life, and loving us–as husbands should love and lay down their lives for their wives. However, through all his humility and service he never aligned himself with the will of man. He came to do the Father’s will. Even while washing feet and serving, he twice overrode Peter’s will. I’m not seeing mutual submission there.

    Help me out. I greatly respect your hermeneutical skill. I’m not seeing what you are seeing. Would you address the points above?

    Thanks much,


  • Deirdre

    Really interesting discussion and I really appreciate the tone of mutual love and freedom expressed here. It is so funny that so many evangelicals talk about being equally yoked and then in the same breath say that the husband is the head. How can you be under the yoke of Jesus/ Holy Spirit and have the reins in your hands at the same time? How can you be one flesh and command the other half into submission or worse subjection. How is that truly possible in a ONE FLESH union. Paul is trying to demonstrate UNITY, MUTUAL SUBMISSION and JOINT HEADSHIP , how is it that so many of us want to be first when Jesus specifically said the last will be first? I also want to point out the strong warning Peter gives to husbands who do not honour their wives as JOINT-HEIRS, there is no such admonishment to wives. Thank you for the article about this book. I shall definitely be buying it.