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R. L. Copple's Blog

Submit, Woman!

You already know what Scripture verses I’m going to discuss, don’t you? My recent guest post, “Have You Committed Adultery Lately,” at Mike Duran’s blog, “Decompose,” inspired me from the comments to address this subject: the infamous Eph. 5:22-24 passage:

Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. (ASV)

Using this Scripture passage, abuse, adultery, ill-treatment, as well as lesser sins and crimes have been excused, justified, and ignored if a woman was the victim. If only she would have submitted like St. Paul demanded, she wouldn’t be a victim of these crimes, the reasoning goes.

With the authority of Scripture behind them, Christian husbands, even pastors and religious counselors, have enabled sinful lifestyles at the expense of their victims and God’s justice.

So are the above verses to be taken as many interpret them? Even feminist, intent on battling a male-dominated culture, interpret them in this manner and label St. Paul a misogynist.

It is my contention that these verses are taken out of context, and perverted into teaching an attitude that is 180 degrees opposite what St. Paul meant. Allow me to make my case.

First, we must understand the general context and message St. Paul is conveying to us. This is established at the beginning of the chapter:

Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. (Eph 5:1-2 ASV)

Love. St. Paul is attempting in the verses that follow, to give practical examples of what walking in love in imitation of Christ looks like. Any interpretation, therefore, that does not flow from love, violates this context and is not the message St. Paul sent. It is not God’s Word to take a verse out of context and proclaim it as truth. You are, by definition, a false prophet.

If you don’t concede the point, then I quote to you the following Scripture, which by your method of interpretation, you are required to do: “…you would even go beyond circumcision.” (Gal 5:12 ASV)

Second, let’s take a look at the immediate context:

…subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. (Eph 5:21 ASV)

Memo to religious leaders: St. Paul is talking about how everyone, male and female, subject themselves to each other! He isn’t singling out one group over another. His intent is to show how each group, and he goes through several, subject themselves to one another. Even those in authority over others.

Mutual submission is how we “walk in love” in our daily lives. It is the opposite of pride, of “don’t tell me what to do” attitude, of lording it over each other. Any interpretation that violates the context of mutual submission is a false teaching of the evil one. Not worth the words wasted on it.

St. Paul therefore excludes any teaching that a woman should put up with abuse from her husband. He excludes using these verses to justify adultery or other sins. Neither of those is submitting to one’s spouse. Neither is walking in love. Neither is imitating Christ.

So what is the context? Simply, this is what walking in love through submission to each other looks like.

Wives, you show your love, your respect for your husband by submitting to his leadership. Obey him.

Husbands, you show your love and respect for your wife by submitting to her needs. Obey her.

“What?” you may ask. “It doesn’t say that to the husbands!” It most certainly does. It specifically says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it…” (Eph 5:25 ASV) What did Jesus say?

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mat 20:25-28 ASV)

To be an imitator of Christ, to walk in love as Christ did, requires a husband to become a servant to his wife. You are not married to her to be ministered to, but to minister to her! If you fail to do this, you are not loving your wives as Christ loved the Church. To act as a lord over your wife is in direct conflict with what Jesus taught.

St. Paul clearly intended that a husband and wife submit to each other in love. If one or both fail to do this, the relationship doesn’t work and is not following Biblical principles for marriage.

Likewise, it should be clear that any type of teaching from these verses that a woman should submit to abuse, excuse adultery, or live in a hostile environment because she should submit to her husband is not only using these verses out of context, but is using them to excuse and justify sin. A sin in and of itself that Jesus equates as a “brood of vipers.”

My advice? Don’t be a viper. Be a servant.

How do you submit in your daily life to witness to Christ’s love?

About R. L. Copple
R. L. Copple enjoys a good cup of coffee and a fun story. These two realities and inspiration from the likes of Lester Del Ray, J. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, among others, caused him to write his own science fiction and fantasy stories to increase the fun in the world and to share his fresh perspective.
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3 Responses to Submit, Woman!

  1. Jill says:

    In a nuanced relationship, in which both parties are trying to make things work, a lot of these issues just disappear–especially given time. When people are devoted to ideology or rules over relationships, they often can’t see the forest for the trees. Thanks for writing this.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      True, Jill. I guess I’ve rarely encountered people who are bent on being the “head” based on these verses, that they lord it over their wife. Certainly not me. But I have run across enough of them to know they are there and use these verses to justify their totalitarian rule.

  2. Shay West says:

    Thank you for that insightful interpretation of the Scriptures. I admit I’m only beginning my journey with the Lord but I somehow knew that if I was a beloved daughter of the Lord most high, He wouldn’t want me to be treated as nothing more than a slave to say “Yes, dear: to everything my husband said. It just didn’t feel right and now I know why. :)

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