Does the Bible really say that “wives should submit”?

I grew up in a church where equality between men and women was modelled. Women held positions of leadership and I saw respect and mutuality modelled by my parents and the other adult couples in my life. I did not encounter the idea that a “wife should submit” until I was in my 20’s. As an individual Christian, I did not lose sleep over the couple times that this is said in the Bible. Passages that really shaped and informed me were passages such as Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Such passages, along with the general way in which Jesus treated women, informed my belief that men and women are created equal and no one gender is intended to oppress the other.

When I began working with women impacted by abuse, however, I discovered that I needed to actually go and look closely at these passages that speak about submission. I found that many Christian women were coming to me saying that passages about submission were being used, in situations of abuse, to further entrap them. Some clergy were telling women that the solution to the abuse was that they “submit more.” Many abusive husbands were using this language to further control their partners. ***I looked closely at these passages and found that they are often less oppressive then they are sometimes portrayed, and certainly leave no room for abuse*** . Ephesians 5:21-32 for example, begins, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. The Greek word that is translated as “submit” means, “to behave responsibly toward another, to align oneself with, to relate to another in a meaningful way”. Notice that the passage begins by saying that a couple should be “subject to one another…”

Too often this text is used against women. It may be helpful to note that if the above text is read in its entirety, there are 9 verses in this passage that are instructive to men and only 3 that are instructive to women. The emphasis of this text is its instruction for husbands to care for and respect their wives as Christ did the church. Let’s remember that Christ died for the church – showing absolute self-sacrificial love. This text leaves no room for a husband’s abusive behaviours towards his wife. Neither does it obligate women to stay and tolerate abuse; no teachings in Scripture say this.

Quotes from the New Revised Standard Version 


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