Misconceptions about Submission


Ring in MarriageSubmission in marriage is one of the most misunderstood and controversial areas in Scripture today.

The word “submission” is not only controversial, it is considered by many today as a repulsive word. The idea of a wife submitting to her husband is considered by many to be a horrible and offensive sounding scenario. Some today advocate that wives being called to submit to their husbands is from ancient paradigms that believed women to be inferior, and thus should be controlled. Now that IS a terrible, offensive scenario, and no one disagrees with that.

What then is the biblical definition of submission as pertaining to wives? Practically speaking, what does Scripture teach when it commands wives “to submit to their own husbands as to the Lord.” In order to correctly identify what submission is, we must first identify eight things that submission is not. Next post will cover what submission is more in detail.

What Submission is Not

1.  Putting the husband in the place of ChristSubmission is NOT

In other words, in marriage, the husband is not the king and lord of his wife. While it is true that husbands are called by God to lead the family and to love his wife just as Christ loved the church, the husband is not like Christ in every way. And he certainly is not a replacement of Christ!

In addition to this point, submission does not mean that a wife gets all her personal, spiritual strength primarily from her husband.  Now don’t get me wrong, this does not let men off the hook completely.  A husband in Scripture is called to be a source of strength and spiritual stability, for that is what good husbands are called to provide.  But a husband is not a women’s priest or Holy Spirit or Savior!  Even when the husband’s leadership is lacking, a wife is not without a source of spiritual strength. Husbands are not the inexhaustible source and fountain by which they are satisfied.  The husbands role is to point his wife to that well or fountain of satisfaction, found only in Christ.

2.  Inferior

Misconception: Wives are second class citizens in the family.

Heirs with ChristJoint heirs: Wives are joint heirs with their husbands to Christ’s kingdom (1 Peter 3:7). Scripture makes it clear that husband and wife have equal standing before the Lord.

 Gal. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Christ’s exampleChrist submitted Himself to the Father (John 5:30, 1 Cor. 11:3), and to his earthly parents (Luke 2:51). Yet, Christ is not inferior to His earthly parents or to the Father.

A wife’s submission is not a sign of inferiority, but an act of worship. It is the sign of a strong woman who is not driven by fear.

1 Peter 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

3Leaving your brain or will at the wedding altar

Submission does not mean a wife has zero input or no influence on her husband. On the contrary, apart form Christ and His Word, really without much exception, a wife will be the most influential person in his life. A wife is not called to be a pushover or doormat, but an influential adviser, bringing her gifts to the marriage to help support the husband and family.

4.  Slavery

Scripture nowhere advocates that a wife is not a mindless maid servant whose only task is to engage in menial, unskilled, lowly, mindless tasks. The direct opposite is portrayed in Scripture!  A Proverbs 31 woman is anything but a slave.  She is an intelligent, thoughtful, wise, and trusted manager, supervisor, planner, provider, counselor and friend.

Silence5.  Silence

Misconception on expressing opinions: She is to remain silent and should not express an opinion, give advice, or have a voice on an issue. Rather, she should quietly and dutifully support her husband.

Acts 18:26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Wives should not give up independent thoughts on an issue, but rather should bring her thoughts and wisdom into the discussion.

Prov. 31:26 And opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says. Genesis 2:18—the role of the wife is a helper! The very fact that she is a helper, is that there will be times when she disagrees with him. There is a way to speak truth to one’s husband and yet still respect him, while still putting Christ on display.

6. Acquiescence

Misconception – “Yes dear”: Wives should be “yes women” who always give in to any and all ideas that her husband has. Voicing concerns and stating objections: Wives can and should voice their concerns and opinions about issues, problems, decisions, topics, etc.
Although wives must submit to their husbands’ ultimate decision, it is appropriate for wives to express their respectful objections to a particular decision.
Opposing decisions: There are even times when wives should oppose their husbands when their husbands take a course of action that violates God’s law.

 Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men . . .”
Gal. 2:11,14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. . . . But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Husbands Love Your Wives7.  Act out of fear

In other words, submission is free, willing, voluntarily, glad-hearted submission to the loving leadership of her husband.  Coerced submission is not found in Scripture as a pattern to follow.  A wife is not be be bullied or threatened.  Submission should take place in a place of profound safety, security and love by God’s design.  All believers are to encourage, exhort, and admonish one another. In a word, all believers are to influence others toward spiritual maturity and growth.

 Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .
1 Thess. 5:14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone..

8. Was Not Invented after the Fall

Submission was not imposed as a penalty. The role of submission was even around in Paradise, in the first marriage before the virus of sin was unleashed in the world.  Sin is why submission is so difficulty.

Conclusion: So is a wife’s submission derived from an ancient system of male dominance?  Or is it a divine calling to participate in the global cosmic plan of salvation?  Is submission about the exploitation of women or is it a pointer towards something profound, eternal, glorious and epic?  Does submission suppress and stifle the freedom of women, or is it a inspiration that frees women to be who God has created them to be?  Next post we will briefly explore what true, biblical submission is.


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About Brett Smith

Brett Smith is a graduate of Bob Jones University and is currently pursuing his M.Div. at The Master's Seminary. A native of Chicago, Brett serves on the Events staff at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA.