Friday, May 09, 2014

Mutual Submission in Ephesians

This is a debate concerning whether the Bible really teaches that husbands are supposed to have a one-way authority over their wives. One of the passages that is often used to support this is Ephesians 5:22, but it Ephesians 5:21 Paul says “Submit (or, submitting) to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

Wayne Grudem is a critic of the idea of mutual submission, but Margaret Mowzscko defends it. I'm definitely on Margaret's side here. It seems to me that one-way submission opens the door for abuse.


B. Prokop said...

Well, before any dope thinks he can use Ephesians 5:22 as an excuse to demean or abuse his wife, he'd better read on a bit first... like on to 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Pretty darn clear there - the husband certainly gets the short end of the stick in this exchange. He's required to lay down his life for his wife (which is how Christ loved the church). What did Christ hold back? Nothing! What did he give up? Everything!

oozzielionel said...

Verse 21 ends a verse about meeting together for worship. Verse 22 starts a discussion of family relationships. Mutual submission is spoken of in the context of a church gathering.

There is no exhortation nor permission for abuse of any kind here.

B. Prokop said...


I think Verse 21 is more like a bridge or a segue. It applies equally well to what precedes it and to what follows.

And let's always remember that our chapter and verse divisions weren't introduced into the text until as late as the 16th Century A.D. (This never ceases to amaze me!) Even worse, the New Testament writers did not use punctuation marks (they didn't exist in the 1st Century). The earliest appearance of such was in the 4th Century. Jerome introduced line breaks into the Vulgate, but he wasn't particularly consistent in doing so. (The lines in various versions of the Vulgate have differing break points.)

Victor Reppert said...

No, of course it wouldn't justify abuse, but I think human nature makes it tempting if there is a one-way power relationship.

B. Prokop said...


I'm going to double down here. If a Christian married couple determined to sincerely follow Paul's advice here, then the far greater burden is put upon the husband. Women are told to "be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord." Sounds pretty one-sided, right? And so it would, until you get to the kicker that I mentioned above. "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Youza! That's pretty clear-cut. Husbands are called upon to imitate Christ in their relationship with their wives. It does not take much reflection upon that to realize that he's been given by far the weightier end of the burden. For just how did Christ "love the church"? For starters, by emptying himself, by assuming the status of a slave, by becoming obedient unto death (see Philippians 2:7-8).

Were a husband and wife to really and truly follow those precepts, there would be no abuse. In fact, the two would be falling over each other to make the other as happy as possible.

oozzielionel said...

We might say that there is always a one way power relationship in any relationship between two people. If the dominant role is not defined by gender, it will be defined by other factors. Leadership is a good thing.

I find that mutual submission does not work well when choosing a restaurant.
"Where should we go?"
"I don't know."
"I don't either. You decide."
"Why do I always have to decide?"

Hmm. I may be too self revealing here.

B. Prokop said...


Ouch! That hit too close to home! Don't you know we're supposed to keep our conversations here on this site all elevated and philosophical?

oozzielionel said...

There may be no punctuation, but grammatically there are still sentences. The context from the preceding verses is the church. This context does not shift much when Paul starts to talk about wives, husbands, and children, but the shift to family relationships is evident. He can't seem to talk about marriage without including Christ's love for the church. The specificity of his instructions in 22 and following is not negated by the generality of verse 21.

Ilíon said...

"No, of course it wouldn't justify abuse, but I think human nature makes it tempting if there is a one-way power relationship."

Oh, do you mean the current social situation of a "one-way power relationship", is which a woman can accuse a man of literally anything and he's automatically guilty ... with all the violence of the state enforcing his guilt before he even gets a day in court? Do you mean the "one-way power relationship" by which a man can be expelled from his home (by state violence that she can resort to), that he bought and paid for with the sweat of his brow, and denied his children, just because woman he foolishly vowed to cherish wants some emotional drama in her life?

Ilíon said...

When a woman says to a man, "You decide", what she *means* is, "It makes me feel cherished when you act all take-charge ... but, by damn, you had better choose what I've already decided on (which I'm not going to tell you)".

The only way out of this Catch-22 trap is for the man to *be* "take-charge: make a decision and tell her what it is, rather than asking her what she wants it to be.

B. Prokop said...

Whoa, Ilion! Where's all this misogyny coming from? Had some bad personal experiences, perhaps?

Ilíon said...

B(lindly).Proofem "Whoa, Ilion! Where's all this misogyny coming from? Had some bad personal experiences, perhaps?"

I *knew* that some woman would say precisely that, with precisely that "reasoning" behind it. Next, you'll tell me that I need to get laid.

You can call it anything you want, it remains the truth.

oozzielionel said...

If yoy really love me, then you will know what I am thinking. Then you will also know when I've changed my mind.

Andrew W said...

Of course it opens the door for abuse. It's right there in Genesis 3:16: the woman will want to rule her husband, but he will put her down (cf Gen 4:7, where the exact same idiom is used for sin wanting Cain and how he is to respond). The serpent led Eve astray, and now there will be war between them. Eve led Adam astray, and now there will be war between them.

The true counter to this is 1 Pet 3:1-7. The wife is to be subject to her husband, and the husband is to honour his wife and not exploit his superior power to her detriment.

Now, one could argue that authority in marriage is a "human institution", as for kings and governors and masters over slaves (1 Pet 2:13-25). But unless you've already determined that this is the only conclusion you'll accept you're going to have a very up-hill slog arguing it against the direction of both the Torah and the NT letters, all of which consistently trend patriarchally and only very rarely trend against it (e.g. Num 27:7).

Ilíon said...

You know, this "potential for abuse" stuff is just a red-herring to avoid confronting the truth that:
1) you have been coopted by man-hating feminists and their irrational fear and loathing of patriarchy;
2) you don't want to take up your God-defined role as head of the family, you don't want to be a patriarch.

The truth is, a man is far less likely to abuse his woman than that woman is to abuse him and their children. One of the reasons that a woman is commanded to willingly submit to her man is that in doing so she is less likely to abuse the people around her. Plus, she's happier.

4GOD said...

I have a problem with the entire concept. The Church and body as individuals are suppose to submit to wives, who are commanded to be in subjection to their husbands in everything? Why does this have anything to do with GOD?

Grudem is a Theology Professor; Marg says she is going to school. Sounds like an authority issue (just like the entire concept); having nothing to do with submission (Romans and Hebrews 13).

Maybe we should teach both the young men and women the requirements so the Word would not be blasphemed; the souls are the same, but the roles are very different (Titus 2).

Do we not place ourselves on the same plane as Christ within concept? Do we even rate spoilt children playing in the sandbox?

Ephesians 5:6 “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of GOD upon the children of disobedience. “