If “Submit” Isn’t the Right Word for Christian Wives, What Is?

If “Submit” Isn’t the Right Word for Christian Wives, What Is? January 26, 2009

dictionaryThis past Sunday I went to a meeting of a church men’s group. The group was in session #20 (!) of a series it was doing called (something like) “Finding Your Authentic Manhood.” Just before offering my idea about exactly where each man in the room could find his authentic manhood, it occurred to me to shut-up.

Staying quiet was easy to do, too, because what the thirty or so men in the room were doing when I showed up was watching television. That made perfect sense. It was a men’s group—and if there’s one thing men like to do, it’s watch TV. What these middle-aged men were watching on their big-screen TV was another middle-aged man talking about what does and doesn’t make for a happy marriage.

I got there just in time to watch the guy on TV start talking about how in a good Christian marriage a wife should be submissive to her husband. The moment he said that he started saying what I knew he would, which is that what he meant by the word “submissive” isn’t what people generally mean when they use that same word.

I have never, ever heard a pastor or ministry leader assert that a Christian wife should be submissive to her husband without them immediately launching into an explanation of how they’re not using that word to mean what everybody else thinks it means. And then they always say a bunch of stuff I can never follow, because in my mind it keeps folding in on and contradicting itself. But I’m sure that’s just me.

Anyway, I would like to suggest that when it comes to describing how a Christian woman should act toward her husband, we Christians start employing a different word than “submit” and/or “submission.” Think of how much time pastors could save explaining themselves by using the right word in the first place! I know Paul used “submit,” but … maybe he meant something different, too. Or maybe “submit” is a terrible translation of whatever word Paul originally used to describe how Christian women should act toward their husbands. I don’t know. All I know is that today every pastor who uses that word when he’s talking about women in marriage then has to spend 15 minutes talking about how that’s not actually the right word.

I think we should come up with the right word. I’m a writer. I like using the right word. If I want anyone to take my work seriously, I have to use exactly the right word, every time. And pastors say way more important stuff than I do. I think at this point it’s safe to say that “submit” isn’t working for them or us. There are about one million words in the English language. Surely there’s one in there somewhere that comes closer to what we’re actually trying to communicate about the proper attitude of a wife toward her husband than “submit” does.

It’s weird, though. I can’t, at just this moment, think of that word might be.

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  • Melissa

    What's all the fuss about? I think it means exactly what we think it does – we just don't want to admit it. We can't just change it because we don't "like" it – and I certainly do not – but we must decide how we handle that particular command. In Paul's time, I feel certain women were expected to submit, no matter what. Apply it today's standards and go from there.

  • I think submit is a perfectly fine word for it. Of course that submitting walks hand in hand with accountability and mutual respect, but it really is submitting.

    I think that rather than explaining exactly how they don’t mean that women should be submissive, they should talk about how if a man is being the husband he should be- offering himself for his wife, presenting herself to him as radiant, loving her as he loves his own body- a woman will GLADLY submit to and honor him, because it would be a pure joy to do so!

  • If they use the term ‘submit’…then they mean ‘submit’…and you can’t spin it any way that does doesn’t mean the wife is not an equal partner. It’s one reason I consider holy books intrinsically dangerous.

    Most men know that their wives are equal partners (I would hope…I think mine is more equal than I am!), but the theist has to jump through hoops and take ‘gods word [submit]’ and convince themselves they don’t know the ‘true meaning’ …. or want to use another, better word. Remember that the simpler answers are usually the the right ones. I would put my money on the bible simply being wrong. Problem solved.

  • Els

    How about submit is the right word, but it just doesn’t fit with the modern view of women’s role in the family? Maybe pastors aren’t explaining, but rather trying not to be controversial. In this time and age, it is controversial for a woman to say she sees the man as the head of the family. Even worse if a man says it. I bet it wasn’t back in Paul’s time.

  • I think that a whole lot of people have a wrong understanding of what healthy submission means. Most of the people I talk to that are really big into submission of the wife as their life’s theme equate it to being a doormat, or not speaking her opinion, or something.

    You could get into a whole slew of angles from a translation standpoint, but if we want to keep it quite simple we should also remember other verses with “submit” in them, such as “submit to one another…” and such. You can make an awesome case for most any view with a single verse and enough spin. Taken as a whole, I see it as both parties submitting to each other’s strengths. Why wouldn’t I let him take the lead on stuff he’s better at. To his credit he certainly does the same for me–it leads to a better outcome for both of us.

    Which might look different in each family. My husband is a strong personality and despises the doormat. I used to take half an hour to explain the ins & outs of this, but I stopped getting quite as defensive when one day I asked him if he felt I was submitting to him enough, and he said, “relax, you’re doing fine,” and then asked me to please decide what we were going to have for dinner.

    All that to say, “submit” is a perfectly acceptable word given the assumption of a person with a healthy-ish view of self & others. Or you could say “respect”–I think that conveys the spirit of the thing just as well.

  • I think submit is the right word… it’s just that pastors generally want to sound PC and don’t want to have to justify themselves for having used that word.. because in our society it’s easier to dull down the word so that everyone agrees with it, rather than possibly offending someone..

  • Eva

    I don’t like the word “submit.” Nothing makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up faster. All it says to me is that whenever I get married I will automatically become the “lesser” being in the relationship. Ugh.

    So, even though it has different connotations to different people and different meanings in the original language, I’m voting for “love.” I think it’s a great catch-all. Conservative, fundamentalist Christians can interpret it “submit” if they want and Not-Forfeiting-My-Brain-For-My-Faith Christians, like myself, can interpret it however we each want, without the demoralizing connotations that come with “submit.”

  • Submit to me woman! Please? I really need you to have a submissive heart, thats not a problem is it?

    I dunno, no matter how you say it just doesn’t sound right to me. I know its what the bible teaches, and I know I agree with it notion. But any way you spin it self empowered women and those that respect the movement will likely turn sour when they hear the phrase.

    In my opinion a submissive wife isn’t a bad thing. Men need their wives as much as women need their husbands. I might be far off and crazy to say this, or maybe just young and stupid, but its not that women are incapable of taking the dominant role, leaving the man to be submissive, but a man’s drive to lead and prove himself is one of our most inner passions. That appetite for masculinity doesn’t function in a woman the way it does in a man. If anything its a shame to take that manliness away from the husband so the woman can feel empowered. It’s not that she can’t, but maybe that her passions really lie in a more captivating hunger. She doesn’t need to be the leader to have peace, at least not as much as the man does.

  • Cibola

    I think that we need a definition of submit. Melissa says that it means exactly what we think it means, but what exactly is it that we think it means? The doormat? The one who is assigned to give in when there’s an unresolved issue? The one who is allowed no opinions?

    I think that my definition would be something like: be ready to be the one who gives in when there is a unresolvable difference of opinion. Is there a single word for that? But I agree with Lindsey that it works best, and doormat issues are avoided, if the man is also doing his part and loving his wife….as Christ loved the Church, guys! Did Christ always want his way in everything? Did he order the Church around, expecting them to do everything while he did nothing?

    P.S. John, from the sound of your writings, I think that you’ve got this one nailed down. Cat is a lucky woman.

  • Des

    Doesn’t your co-author in crime Steve throw around the phrase “mutual submission”?

    Forget the submit, I think wives should be empathetic toward their husbands.

  • ick! i shy away from classes/books/teachers/etc who hold up the concept of submissive women. it’s something i refuse to be. love, respect, empathize [haha]–sure! but these are things that should be mutual. if both partners aren’t holding the other in high regard, it’s not a partnership at all.

    of course, some conservatives i’ve had words with on the subject don’t think marriage is or should be a partnership in the first place. i’ve been told that a marriage is like a business relationship: employer and employee, and when the employer says something, the employee listens. needless to say, we differed very greatly.

  • Sam

    This discussion presents a whole new paradigm for the phrase "Submitted for your approval…" made popular by Rod Serling and "The Twilight Zone."

    I'm in agreement with Jeff and Lindsay regarding the "leadership" role of the husband while recognizing also that two are better than one – and my wife's brain definitely dwarfs my own when it comes to making logical decisions.

    "Submitted for your approval… a marriage facing disintegration due in part to a husband's fanciful view toward finance and his spouse's final frustration with his view."

    That example is not my own – it is that of my parents. They managed to stick together after coming to an agreement on who made better decisions in what type of situation, agreeing to always, always consult one another before major purchases (mom really WAS "surprised' when he parked the new boat in the driveway).

    There's no way you could call my mother submissive according to (and here we disintegrate into connotations, folding, …etc). Her discourse on the same verse under discussion combined with another on whether it was permitted for a woman to teach man got her fired as a Sunday School teacher. She linked it to the social and historical context in which the book was written. She did that back in 1970.

    But mom and dad really did model a mutual admiration, consultation and leadership with each other that I wish I could follow better in my own marriage.

  • Oy. Where to start. If you're a concordance type guy, your answer is readily found there; exactly what Paul said it, in the Greek and how its best translated to yes, "submit" just like it sounds.

    As a recovering legalist, I have done extensive research on this topic. Not to mince words or look for a loophole or get off on a technicality. But because I was willing to believe that taken as it's written, God's word is good and true & applicable.

    Without giving proper credit, since that'd take footnotes, just suffice it to say that this is a "Biblical" explanation as it is a woman's, researched and journalled and read and pondered and prayed on:

    It doesn't just say "wives submit to your husbands." It says, at the top of the paragraph, "submit to one another out of reverence for God." Then he says what that looks like; wives love your husbands like you love Jesus. Husbands, die for your wives like Jesus did for you. That's a lot harder than "me Tarzan, you Jane."

    There is a lot more to say than that, but that's what I have turned up. And when you think about what Jesus did to make children & women free in a society where they were not, you can see how He placed the bar a lot higher for men- to honor & respect women & where a husband's love for his wife would be so pure & unselfish that it would cleanse her and make her a better woman. How can you not submit to a husband who loves you like that? Where you were never going to have your identity or personal power usurped, only enhanced, refined, encouraged?

    Jesus showed us that love is sacrifice. He also showed us & said over & over that the least among us would be the greatest. Jesus doesn't love the church by bossing it around, bullying it around, pulling rank, having his every whim catered to. Ick. There are lesser gods around who require that kind of crap. We know who He is without a doubt. Jesus loved and sacrificed but never compromised Truth. Marriage calls us ALL to do the same.

  • I think submission is inherent to relationship. Any relationship, really. When I really allow the significance of the word to seep past my cultural filters, I am in awe of the power in it. It is the ultimate paradox… the power of the submissive spirit. I don’t mean “Yes, Dear” submission. That’s cheating. I mean the “I am going to do everyting in my power to enable you to be the most awesome person you can be because I love you THAT much” kind of submission. Which, of course, is more difficult and requires a much deeper investment in the relationship.

  • Supportive… agreeable… within reason.

  • One thing that I’ve noticed is that the Bible doesn’t instruct us regarding things that come easy to us. We’re not told to breathe. We’re not told to sleep. Mothers are not told to love their children. These things come easily.

    I believe God knew to give us instructions where He anticipated we would have difficulty. How easy is it to submit to your husband when he’s being a jerk? How easy is it to love your wife when she’s being a shrew? Not easy, that’s how.

    The Bible is full of instructions that, when followed, make our lives BETTER, even when following them is not EASY.

    That being said, it’s key to note that BOTH husbands and wives are called to submit to one another. Only the husband is called to love his wife as Christ loves the church (which I interpret to mean sacrificially). (Women are already naturally sacrificial in relationships–you really don’t have to look too far to see that.)

    The story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 is a great example of how to be a submissive wife when your husband is a jerk, incidentally. God is not an idiot–He knew situations like that would arise, ladies. Why not trust Him at His word?

    Thanks for stirring it up again, John!



  • Candace

    Personally, I see no need for a word change. It’s the thinking/heart that needs changing, not the vocabulary.

    Particularly for Christians, this should be a no-brainer. What’s good about submission? Well, for example, Christ’s submission to the Father’s will seems like a darned good thing to me. We’d all be lost without it.

    If I am called to become more like Christ, then the proper order of priority in my life is “God first, then others, then me”.

    The only thing that makes submission difficult is that we would prefer that order to be “me first, end of sentence”.

    This that I have written thus far is non-gender-specific. We are ALL called to submit.

    If a husband is submitting in the way God calls him to do, then a wife will have no issue at all with submitting as God calls her to do. That part has been covered quite nicely by several commenters here.

  • And I forgot to say- sexual innuendo is just another service I offer free of charge. 😉

  • Get in the KITCHEN and bake me a pie, WOMAN. I'm addled today.

  • John, point taken. I appreciate that you want to define the word submission. But as I read the comments, I got the sense that some were trying to redefine it. That's all.

  • Yes, what you've said is entirely clear: You only submit to your husband when you agree with him. If you DON'T agree with something he wants to do that you think is wrong, then, as you say, "he'd have to have his Kevlar undies on." You've been very clear about that fact that YOU decide when, how, and if you're going to "submit" to your husband.

    My only point is that that's NOT anywhere near "submission." Again: "submission" is to accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person. You're not doing that with your husband at all. If he's "missed his mark," as you put it, or if, as you say, you have to "hold him accountable," or if you have to "help him grow to be the man he should be," then that's what you do. But doing each of those is the exact OPPOSITE of submitting to him. That's you judging and exercising your will upon him. You only "submit" to him once he's become someone with whom you can absolutely agree. In which case you're not "submitting" at all.

    I think that's great. But it's so far from anything having to do with the word "submission" that—and this was only ever my point—we definitely need another word.

    (Oh, to your CEO/CFO example: No responsible CEO "submits" to his or her CFO's budget. He either agrees the budget is good and right, or he doesn't. If he doesn't, the CFO goes back to work. Again: that's not submission, by any stretch of definition.)

    I like the way you function in your relationship, Lindsey: it sounds sane and … well, normal. It's the way all good, sane marriages work. But you are no sooner "submitting" to your husband than you are flapping your arms and flying. You yourself have been explicity and repeatedly clear about that.

  • Jeff

    I would love to know what the Greek word was (assuming it was Greek – or did Paul write in Latin?) and what the various nuances in translation might be. Take, for example, “love” – Greek has an at least a half-dozen words that we cavalierly translate as “love”. The Greek word “arete”, which originally described a kind of “manly excellence” is typically translated “virtue”, which has a completely different sound to modern ears. When I was growing up, the phrase “faith, hope, and charity” sounded idiomatic…somewhere along the line it changed to “faith, hope, and love.” I don’t know, but I believe the world Paul used here was “caritas” (sounds like “charity”), which, I believe, conveys a sort of gracious acceptance — quite different from, say, “eros” or “philia” or “agape” (often translated “Christian love” or “Platonic love”). I hate the sound of “submit”, but I think what Paul was getting at was that, in marriage, there needs to be a leader. As Lindsey suggests…if I’m being the kind of leader I should be, my wife should be happy to follow my lead. Conversely, if I recognize my proper role, I should lead with strength, but also with a healthy dose of humility that recognizes my reliance on my wife. I wish I could say I always do so…..

  • Ah… If someone has said this already and I missed it, then my apologies.

    Shouldn't we take into account few other things? Such as that:

    -Paul is a first century Jewish man who has been raised in a society that for centuries has been patriarchal. He is speaking from and to a culture that is in so many ways 'behind the times' – stonings, slavery, subservient woman who are not allowed to teach or lead etc.

    -In many of Paul's letters he is answering those who have voice prior concerns, concerns that may have been unique to the people, time and place. We will never know what these questions were, but only hearing the answers to them means that we may not be getting the whole story.

    -Paul is also not married, so I would hesitate to take marital advice from him. I have a friend who is a Catholic priest and he always refers couples with marital problems to married Protestant ministers our other counselors – he says he's not really qualified – to hard for him to relate.

    When we first came to the faith, in a very fundamentalist community, my wife and I tried the submission thing. For about 2 or three months. Neither one of us liked it. Oh, I am the natural head of the household, of course. When it comes to some things. And I take her lead on all the rest. We each have our own skill set. The problems usually arise when one or the other of us takes it upon ourselves to lead without being asked to.

    You may stone me now. 😉

  • Lindsey: No, I never said anything about "always" anything. I just … never said that.

    We seem to be going around in circles a bit. All I'm saying is exactly what you keep saying: You "submit" when you choose to. My only point (which I'll stop making now, cuz it seems stupid to just keep repeating myself) is that that's not submission at all. It's not even close. CHOOSING to go along with something absolutely cancels out the idea that you're in any possible way submitting to that thing. Totally wrong word.

    But you've made lots of great points, which I appreciate. Your marriage sounds like a very happy one indeed.

  • (Lindsey: By the way, I didn't mean to indicate that I don't understand the sense in which you're meaning the word "submit." You mean "willingly acquiesce." I totally get that. And of course, a lot of times that is what you have to do in a marriage, to keep everything nice.)

  • We are so totally saying the same thing, in different words, right now. My contention is that submission is a choice one makes, not a state of being. A woman chooses to submit or be submissive. Perhaps there would be a better word- but when looking at the definition of submission (not the "putting oneself under authority/being beneath a higher power but "compliancy, humility, meekness") submission seems as good of a word as any.

    But perhaps this is a state of being for which a single word will never suffice. Talking about it inevitably leads to hours of discussion, right? So perhaps the word picture painted by Ephesians is the only one that works: The man (represented by Christ) says, "I give my life that you can be released from the oppression of the world" and the woman says, "I give my life in return."

    Both lives are no longer their own, but both continue as their own person. In cooperation.

    Maybe that's the only word: cooperation.

  • There are many instructions in the Bible that, were they to be taken as absolute directives rather than over-arching principles, would be ridiculous. "Pray without ceasing" comes to mind. Perhaps the word submission does not need to be redefined so much as it needs to be incorporated, as many commentors have commented, into an overall spiritual philosophy that also includes: submit one to another, love your enemies, take care of widows and orphans, live lives of sacrifice, etc. Then, should a difficult situation such as you have hypothesized arise, I have more than just one biblical statement on which to base my actions.

  • John, how does choosing to submit automatically make it not submitting? That's like saying when I choose to follow Jesus I really can't be following Jesus because I agree with what he wants for me.

    As for submitting when I don't agree…long story there. But yes, there have been times when I didn't want to do something my husband does, but I allowed it anyway. Because believe it or not, while I didn't want to do it, I agreed that it was probably exactly what God wanted for us. So I did it. Which is why we're in the military.

    But if I say "hey I don't think we should do that because such & such," and my husband says "you're right, you wonderful genius, let's not do that." How is that not submission either? I voiced an opinion and we came to an agreement, which is way better than one having to give in.

  • Interesting discussion. Will have to come back and see what you all decide. 🙂

  • My two cents:

    I hope to never be involved with a woman who submits to me. Or with one who i submit to.

  • Ah, I see what you mean. I'll have to read up a bit…

  • Josh Coate

    Instead of changing the eternal truth of the Bible to fit our culture, why don't we change our culture – freeing it from the life-sucking grip of this post-modern philosophy so many of us are encouraged to "submit" to.

  • Patchouli

    This may answer some questions- -http://www.godswordtowomen.org/boss.htm

  • "Instead of changing the eternal truth of the Bible to fit our culture, why don’t we change our culture"

    Because then we'd be stoning disobedient children to death.

    And I have no intention of letting that happen.

  • And I would be standing right next to Morse along with every other enlightened individual.

  • All right, you two. Get a room.

  • Hey now, it's not often I get this much blog action. Let me bask in it! 😉

  • Lauri: You’ve said something that I think captures what so many here have said: “…where a husband’s love for his wife would be so pure and unselfish that it would cleanse her and make her a better woman. How can you not submit to a husband who loves you like that?”

    That’s great, of course, to be in a relationship like that. But it renders the word “submit” meaningless. If the husband at hand is perfect, as you just described him—if, as Lindsey put it, “the man is being the husband he should be”— then of course his wife has zero problem “submitting” to him. But that’s not submission. That doesn’t have anything to do with submission. That’s just enjoying a ride on the greatest yacht ever. That’s just you doing what anyone wants to do, which is to be loved and admired by a perfect person. Of course you’d agree to that.

    But doing that—happily letting a moral, intellectual and emotional genius lead your team—entirely removes the whole concept of submission from the dynamic of the relationship. It doesn’t even a little address what submit actually MEANS, which is … well, according to the American Heritage Dictionary: “to accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.” To submit means to do what you think or know is wrong because you HAVE to, not because you want to. If you WANT to, that’s not submission at all.

    What do you do when your husband is wrong?—and when he’s NOT going to change his mind? What if it’s about something large—like, say, he wants to send your children away to a boarding school because he thinks they’ll benefit from being away from home, or he wants to buy himself a new SUV because he thinks the prestige of it will be good for his business, which is already failing? THEN do you “submit”?

    It’s not interesting that you “submit” when he’s fantastic. It’s interesting what you do when to “submit” means compromising your own sense of morality, your own sure knowledge of what’s best, and sane, and most pleasing to God.

  • Morse, I just noticed you are smiling in your new pic…very nice!

    I'm right with Mike & Morse on this one. Stoning children–bad.

    There were a lot of things wrong about the culture then, just as there are plenty of things wrong about our culture now. It's the problem with being human and fallible and all that. Same thing with applying our human understanding to God's word. We just can't do it justice or make sense of it all, so there are going to be areas where we disagree.

  • I feel the need to point out that Jesus died to break the curse of sin and death and to bring us the message that all of the law and the prophets come down to loving the LORD our God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, so I'm pretty sure that Jesus would agree that stoning kids = bad.

    Just sayin'.

  • Gotta say…I am repulsed by those (often women) defending ‘submit’. People are willing to violate a fundamental human right based on ancient dogma and zero evidence.

    Know this…those outside of theistic beliefs see these things and consider them vile, while many of you see absolutely nothing wrong. Nuff said.

  • Whoa, whoa, whoa…hang on a second here. The mere idea that we are going to redefine a word in the Bible gives me the creeps. It’s just a bad idea and sends us down a slippery slope with regard to redefining any part of the Bible we don’t like.

    Perhaps we need the context of the entire passage in Ephesians. If you read Ephesians 5:22 – 33 I think you will find that Christ (through Paul) places the greater burden on men in describing our roles as wives and husbands.

    Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church. He is to present himself to her without stain or wrinkle, but as holy and blameless. Men, your role is to get right with God. You have to walk in his will which means you have to be praying about it every day. If you don’t draw upon God’s strength to lead your family and love them within His will, you will fail.

    Els suggested that “submit” doesn’t reflect ‘the modern view of the woman’s role in the family.’

    I would suggest that women have been forced to change their role because men have failed in their role as leaders. Be it in the church or in our families, men are either shirking their responsibilities or taking them entirely upon their shoulders and leaving God out of the equation.

    In short, I don’t think we can even discuss a wives submission until we talk about men’s roles at the same time.

  • Therisnogrey: I was only suggesting we find another word for “submit” because, as I wrote, I’ve never seen a pastor use the word when talking about Christian wives in marriage without that pastor immediately then launching into a total redefinition of the word. The word GETS redefined, every single day, in churches all over the country. Seems to me they should come up with another word—one that means something they’re actually comfortable saying.

  • John, are you confusing submission with subordination? A subordinate is beneath by default, but submission is one choosing to place one’s self beneath another. It’s a gift.

    The wife puts herself beneath her husband not because she is a doormat, but to uplift him. To help him grow and be more like Christ. And because of the wife’s choosing to be with him, to uphold him, to set aside some portion of her own desires to honor him, the husband is commanded to give up his life for her as Christ did. And I can assure you that this is not the least bit uninteresting- in reality these things can get awfully bloody. Because no woman WANTS to be beneath a man all the time, and a lot of men confuse the woman’s GIFT of submission as subordination.

    This is submission: A woman has some unsettled feeling about a decision, the husband insists that he has heard God, the woman puts her trust in his relationship with God and sets her feelings aside. (The same thing sometimes happens with dirty towels on the floor and his insistence on giggling when he farts. She sets her feelings aside and goes on with her day with grace and good nature)

    This is subordination: he says, “get in the woman and bake me a pie.” She says, “I’m busy.” He says, “SUBMIT.”

    That isn’t submission. That’s treating her like an employee. Submission honors- subordination hurts both.

  • Skerrib said:

    We just can’t do [God's word] justice or make sense of it all,

    That's not true. I have made complete sense of it. 🙂

  • Lindsey: But I’m not talking about a situation where you have “unsettled feelings” about something your husband wants to do. “Unsettled feelings” means you have no clarity on the issue at hand; you don’t know what you think. So, sure, in that case, why not go with what your husband thinks?

    I’m talking about what happens when you DO know what’s right–or where you’re sure you do, anyway. When you DO have a thought or idea that directly contradicts something your husband says is right: when God has told YOU what’s right, and your husband wants to do something different.

    Do you then submit to his will? And if you do, isn’t that the very definition of being subordinate to him? It is, of course. I haven’t confused submission and subordination. You submit when you’re subordinate. That’s just … not debatable. I’m not JUDGING that at all: it’s just a fact. Suborinates submit. That’s … what those words mean.

  • Submission is NOT subordination. A subordinate always submits, but you can submit WITHOUT being subordinate. A CEO will submit to the CFO’s budgetary plan, but the CEO is still the boss. And a wife can submit to her husband’s will without being his subordinate.

    In a godly marriage both are putting the other first, and in that way both are always assured of their best interests being considered. If you’re asking me if I would submit to my husband when I unequivocally knew that he was in the wrong? Um, No.

    Maybe I should think about this more.

    Um, still no. Because my duty as his wife is NOT to be his doormat, it’s to help him grow to be the man he should be. If he wanted to do something that could put my family in peril, I would have a duty to hold him accountable. If he did something that I knew was sinful, I would have a duty to hold him accountable. If he made some sort of important life decision without consulting me or considering my needs, I would have a responsibility to call him on it. Because I’m not his employee- I am his “help-mate”. I am to help him lead a better life, and I wouldn’t be doing that if I lost my voice. I wouldn’t be doing that if I allowed him to think that his will was the only will that matters.

    God’s will still matters more.

    Which is why we live in Christian community, we have friends and fellow believers and pastors to help mediate those situations in which the husband misses the mark. (And the wife, too, because God knows no one is perfect.)

    I submit when I am unsettled, when I am unsure, or in areas where no long term ill will befall my family. If he wants to go out with his friends and I want him to stay at home and fix the leaky sink, I can submit and shrug it off and let life be life.

    If he wanted to send my kids to boarding school without my consent, he’d have to have his Kevlar undies on. I hope that clears things up?

  • Holly

    I believe that "submit" is the only word. We are talking about to your husband. If you don't want to submit to him, then why did you get married. If you have chosen someone that you are compatible with, respect, love, and who loves the Lord..what's the big deal? Women these days don't want to be viewed as different from men…reality check-we ARE! God made us that way, and we glorify Him most when we embrace the way He created us. Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Chirst and the Church-are we not to submit to Christ? The first thing someone does when they come to Him is deny themselves. And while I'm at it..I am sick of pastors trying to be PC and watering down the Truth.

  • Especially if the pastor is a woman. Can't be havin' that now, can we?

  • A G

    That anyone brings up having to submit as something that only wives are expected to do means that said person is not following the whole counsel of God; nine times out of ten, such a person chooses to ignore the admonition immediately before it in Ephesians 5:21,” Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Wouldn’t this mean that periodically, husbands would have to submit to their wives, parents to their children’s wishes, etc.?

    Also, shouldn’t a men’s group be talking about how a husband should treat his wife, and not vice versa? Isn’t the admonition in Galatians 5:25 on how a husband should treat her wife as follows: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”?

  • John, John, John! I only said the Kevlar undies thing about him trying to take my kids away from me! (And I dare you to find any mother who wouldn’t say the same!)

    I submit to him often when I disagree. A disagreement is NOT the same thing as unequivocally knowing he’s wrong. If we, for instance, disagree about what our grocery budget should be, there is no reason for me to believe that I am in the right. We both have reasons and arguments, and I will honor his side of the argument. If we, for instance, disagree about whose family we will spend Thanksgiving with and we can’t come to a compromise, I will honor him. These are situations in which there isn’t a clear moral imparative or any way to empirically define “right” and “wrong”, just “she wants” and “he wants” and in these cases I’m willing to set aside my desires. When I said “if I’m unequivocally sure he’s wrong” I was talking about a moral imperative. If he, for instance, decided that watching porn and sleeping with other women was fine there’s no way I’d “submit” to that, because I’d be doing both of us a disservice. There is a line between healthy submission (showing that I honor him EVEN WHEN I DISAGREE, about matters that WOULD NOT PUT OUR FAMILY IN PERIL) and castrating the relationship.

    A good wife isn’t a doormat or an extension of her husband’s will. She is willing to set herself aside and apart for him, as a sign of respect.

    But he has to be respectable. He HAS to show that he has her best interests at heart. You keep trying to divide these things, you keep trying to define submission as ALWAYS giving in, ALWAYS saying yes, but the fact of the matter is that Ephesians 5 is talking about BELIEVERS, not just MARRIAGE, it is MARRIAGE in the context of BELIEVERS, and thus this “submission” thing does hinge on both people behaving as a spouse that is ultimately submissive to God should behave.

    Which means that the wife should never be in a situation where she would be asked to submit to a bad behavior or situation that puts her family or the wellbeing of her children in peril. A Godly husband wouldn’t do that.

  • Skerrib: What I’m meaning (and, clearly, failing) to address is that fundamental aspect of submission that isn’t about choice at all. Yes, when you CHOOSE to submit, we can call that submission, too—no problem. But Paul directs women to submit to their husband’s will absolutely, at all times. He says:

    “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

    “Wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

    That’s as clear and unequivocal a command as exists anywhere in the Bible. And all I was saying is that I’ve never heard anyone preach on it without them immediately going into a long bit about how Paul doesn’t REALLY mean that wives should submit to their husbands in everything—even though, as we see, that’s exactly what he says.

    It’s funny (ha, ha, ha) how sometimes we argue that Paul is so perfectly clear it’s foolish to pretend that what he’s saying is any more complicated than it is—and then, relative to other things Pauls says in which he’s as perfectly clear as he ever is about anything, we not only tolerate subtlties of interpretation, we vigorously insist upon them.

  • You’ve got to keep in mind the entirety of the verse. What Paul says isn’t “wives, submit to your husbands in everything”. He’s saying, “submit as you would to Christ… …in everything”.

    So since her husband isn’t Christ and is fallible, it is impossible for her to Submit as she would to Christ. Because while Christ will always be caring for her and everything Christ requires of her is ultimately for her good, the same isn’t true of the husband.

    It is only possible for this command to be followed when the husband is truly acting as Christ for his wife.

  • this seems to be the most frustrating and wrongly interpreted discussion ever … sorry John … i thought your original article was quite clear in your objective to find a word that when said more clearly implies "the heart behind" "submission" without tying in all of the emotional connotations of being a doormat that "submission" often implies

    i have no ideas or suggestions, but i just wanted to let you know that i feel your pain with this discussion…who knew it could go so wrong, lol

    i look forward to any better words that people come up with

    so far, i've liked "mutual submission". i think that might help women to feel less like they'll be walked all over for submitting b/c the guy will be submitting too

  • House

    “Submit” hhhmmmmm? The word of JESUS is like a 2 edged sword. “Submit” I believe it’s our responsibility to understand this word via the Holly Word and its understanding instead of the “World” understanding!

    This is one of word(s) which needs to get a specific understanding and not a assumption of what the word means set up by MAN but by the understanding of GOD word.

    Remember everything we do in life should be evanglism….

    If you happen to a friend which is not a believer and doesn’t understand the word, well it would be a pleasure to explain and also present the gospel..

    So, I agree ! I would keep it the same.

    Praise him name ALWAY!


  • shelley

    I have enjoyed reading all of these comments. I have submitted to my husband because I trust him with everything but there are times he ask for my opinion because he trusts me. As a Christian I have always read the scripture from Paul:

    “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

    As I was reading all these posts, I realized Jesus did not say this, it was Paul. I then dared to question why it is different from any other Pastor today who might say something we would disagree with. Couldn't this have just been Paul's opinion and nothing more? Pastor's give there opinions and doctrine all the time. So what I'm asking is, how is it any different than say if Billy Graham said it? The pastor at the church I grew up in said "Women should not wear pants"?

  • And there, to me, is the $10 million dollar question.

  • uh-oh

  • yeah

  • Candace

    (eyes rolling)

    Silly people. Maybe a little brush-up on the Bible being the inspired Word of God is in order??

    The difference between Paul and any old preacher?? Puh-lease. Give me a BREAK.

  • Yeah, Beyer.


  • Couldn’t this have just been Paul’s opinion and nothing more?

    …so it follows that the bible is just the thoughts/opinions of mortal man…so it follows that religions based on the bible are based on the ignorant, 1st century minds of those mortal men…so it follows that those religions are mere mythology

    I don’t think many here could allow themselves to consider that possibility.

  • Yikes, Mike. That is one astoundingly flawed attempt at logical reasoning. I just … can’t imagine where to start with that. Have you EVER taken, like … well, an actual college course in formal logic? DO, please. I’ll pay for it.

    Anyway, I can live with you being the worst logician ever. But could you please at least try to show a little respect for people’s religious beliefs? If you just somehow can’t manage to be anything but dismissively insulting, I’m gonna have to block you off this site.

    C’mon. You can do it. You’re a humanist. Show some respect for the idea that not every human who believes in God is, automatically, a moron.

  • shelley

    Sorry if I offended anyone by my question. 🙂 I don't think asking that question was denying that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I would never say that. With that said, Paul was a Christian and by no means perfect. I don't think we can put him in the same category as Jesus himself. So was he perfect? Are some Christians perfect? No, of course not. Are we saying Paul was not fallible and say Billy Graham is? I doubt Paul was without sin. I am sure my pastor prays over his sermon and recieves God's guidance concerning it. But he also is just a man and fallible. Unless Paul was Jesus himself, it is possible that it could have been partly his opinion. I don't know that it was? I also think it is perfectly normal to question things like this. It's not like I'm questioning my faith or Jesus? By the way, I have no problem with the word "submit". It has never been an issue with me and my husband. I just thought it was an interesting topic. 😉

  • At the first reading I thought that Mike's comment was sarcastic – that he was actually criticizing Shelley's suggestion as the slippery slope that leads to falling out with fundamentalism. Which, in a way, is what it is. But that's not a bad thing.

    I think Shelley makes some very valid points. Do we really think that Jesus cares as much about marital hiearchy or gender roles as Paul does? Paul was sort of an early church consultant – fielding all kinds of questions from struggling congregations, pointing out where others were making mistakes etc. But this was in a vastly different time and place. It's not necessarily that Paul was at times making 'mistakes' or was in error (though I don't see why that is so outrageous a suggestion) but that some of the things he said were specifically directed to the listeners of his time and are not necessarily relevant today.

    The Bible is certainly inspired but not everything in it is the "Word of God" speaking to us today.

  • John,

    The interpretation of what I said varies greatly with the perspective of the reader. Hardly an effort at a convincing argument; Christian Beyer more accurately saw my intent.

    The contrast between your two interpretations is quite stark and that difference is important in itself and might warrant a post of its own. My only real concern is that level of certainty that, by its nature, breeds fundamentalism. The problem is, (to my mind), is that soooo much of the ‘major player’ religion’s texts and core principals that are keystones in the faith. If those keystones are removed (or fundamental precepts are questioned), things begin to collapse quickly.

    In the matter of Shelly saying that Paul’s comment were just the opinions of a biased, mortal man; does that not call into question the veracity of ANYTHING that is in the bible? Hence; if we can’t trust the veracity of what is written in the bible, does that not greatly diminish the foundation upon which Christianity is built? Is it not critical, then, to maintain that biblical writings are, at least, edited by God?

    My last statement still stands. Few here would be willing to contemplate that the bible is merely the products of first-century, men’s, mortal minds.

  • Interesting discussion. I suppose that it all depends on what type of church the husband and wife attends.

    You said, "I think at this point it’s safe to say that “submit” isn’t working for them (pastors) or us."

    But again, in some churches, "submit" is working VERY WELL for THEM!!!! There are some churches and pastors today who are using the marriage institution as a tool; as a weapon in order to gain their own ends.

    Wives are being subtly taught that submitting to their "pastor," over and above their husband, is the more higher calling and duty!! Marriages are being destroyed through this teaching. A tremendous article that describes this false teaching in great detail can be found at:


    What they say in that article is very disturbing, yet very real!


  • Brandon: Good point, I guess. I don't know how common it is, though, for pastors to tell wives in their congregation to obey them over their husbands. I tried to look at the "article" you linked to, but it was just too crazy-looking for me to deal with.

  • Dana

    I’m so late to this conversation, but I have to chime in. John, you are exactly right. It drives me crazy.

    When my pastor preached on Ephesians 5, he gave examples of headship and submission. When he was talking about the wives, he showed a clip from the movie “300” because a Spartan queen shows what submission is. When he talked about the husbands, he used an example from his own marriage. In his marriage, his headship entails making the bed.

    Whenever I read Ephesians 5 I envision myself as a Spartan queen watching the king make my bed. Yeah, that’s it. I want to be a submissive Spartan queen. I will certainly submit to all that bed-making. Oh yes, I will.

  • Mindakms

    I like that it was at a men’s group that they were discussing what a wife should do. Because that is pretty helpful. Hey guys, here’s some ammunition to take back for your next fight with your wife. Quote scripture to her about how she’s supposed to submit to you. Tell her you learned it in your church men’s group where you are learning how to find your manhood. feel free to be a really great guy and add in the part about submitting not really meaning what she thinks it means. It won’t help, but maybe you’ll feel better about your equinamity afterwards (is that a word?)

  • jes

    “I might be far off and crazy to say this, or maybe just young and stupid, but its not that women are incapable of taking the dominant role, leaving the man to be submissive, but a man’s drive to lead and prove himself is one of our most inner passions. That appetite for masculinity doesn’t function in a woman the way it does in a man. If anything its a shame to take that manliness away from the husband so the woman can feel empowered. It’s not that she can’t, but maybe that her passions really lie in a more captivating hunger. She doesn’t need to be the leader to have peace, at least not as much as the man does.”

    At least as far as applying this to me goes, yeah, you’re pretty far off and crazy. Which doesn’t at all mean it’s not true for you and your wife. But in my relationship, I’m the dominant one, and he’s the better cook, and we’re a good match and happy about it. He has no need to prove himself as my leader, and I haven’t in any way taken away his manliness by having a good job where people call me Doctor.

    What works for one couple cannot just be applied with a broad brush to all couples. A submissive wife who is happy being submissive isn’t a bad thing, but neither is a dominant wife with a submissive husband if they’re both happy. Trying to force a driven, dominant woman to be a quiet, submissive housewife will just result in her being miserable and probably a little nuts.

  • Lore

    In 1st century Rome, women were legally subject to their husbands. Paul could have just been acknowledging a legal fact rather than prescribing the psycho-emotional pattern that all couples must follow for all time.

  • Ladyofleisuredc

    LMAO! You’re too dumb.
    Sorry, I’m succinct- I don’t do theological explanations because well, I can’t.
    You’re dumb because you’re right and I’m about to go into an explanation that by dumb, I didn’t really mean dumb in the bad way…how about I use the right words? You’re fucking right in a funny way. lol

  • Cletus Atinga

    The pastor are just timid!!! There is no other right word. The church is full of women and they have to keep the collection too.