The Bible on Authority & Submission in Marriage

The Bible on Authority & Submission in MarriageThose who’ve read my article on Church authority will know I’m a stalwart anti-authoritarian. Politically, I’m a Libertarian and I dislike centralized power in all its forms (except God of course).  However, The Greatest Commandment is about “giving preference” to what God wants over what we want.

I realize the idea of women submitting to men (wives to their husbands, never-married daughters to their fathers) is repugnant in our modern culture.  What few people realize is this: women submitting to men was repugnant in the first century Roman culture too.

 

(Note: This is the 4th article in our series on marriage.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading the first part, entitled: How Getting Marriage “Wrong” Destroyed Every Great Civilization in World History.)

 

A Note About Historical Context and Roman Patriarchy

Many have said that in 1st century Roman society of Paul’s day, women were completely subservient to men. They had little – if any – rights and were basically regarded as property of the man of the household.

That is patently and categorically wrong.

That was true of the early Roman Empire, and certainly before 300 BC.  However, Roman women had a lot of freedom by the 1st century. They could do almost anything a man could do. They weren’t slaves in their husband’s house; they could own property, held great influence, and could even divorce their husband if they didn’t like him.

By the late Hellenistic Age, this had resulted in a metamorphosis in the position of women. Equality for women extended beyond politics into economic life, and in some occupations such as plumbing they came to dominate. The rate of divorce increased enormously, and the power “of the paterfamilias was shaken to its foundations and eventually swept away altogether.” “The meek and henpecked Roman husband was already a stock comedy figure in the great days of the Second Punic War.” This changing relationship led Cato the Censor to protest bitterly, “All other men rule over women; but we Romans, who rule all men, are ruled by our women.” Equality had progressed to the point that by the late Empire a woman who married retained her property, “and, legally, the man had not even the right to enjoy the income from it.”

“Egalitarianism and Empire” by William F. Marina here.

 

Hopefully the bold quote above by a Roman Historian (Cato the Elder/Censor, died 149 B.C.) will dissuade you from believing that 1st century Roman women were completely subservient to their husbands/fathers. If not, I recommend you do some more digging. You’ll find that women were the equals of men in most respects, and had advantages over men in others.

In earlier centuries of Rome, women were indeed regarded as the property of their husband (or father if they were unmarried).  As late as 300 BC, this was certainly the case as quotes by Aristotle and others will indicate. But this had changed long before Paul wrote.

The supposed Patriarchal oppression of women in 1st century Rome is one of those “facts” that everyone “knows”, and yet it’s totally false.

(If anything, the opposite is true as the quote above testifies.)

There’s more evidence too.

For example, in 42 BC a woman named Hortensia addressed the ruling Roman Triumvirate consisting of Caesar Augustus, Mark Anthony, and Marcus Lepidus; heavyweight names in history and the rulers of the empire. The three men were short of cash during a war, and – having exhausted many other options – chose to levy a tax on the city’s 1400 wealthiest women. Hortensia successfully argued against such a tax being instituted.

I’d like to point out a few things:

  • The tax was placed women, meaning women could clearly own property and receive income from it (it didn’t go to their husbands).
  • The speech took place in the Forum Romanum, which was the center of day-to-day life in Rome for centuries.
  • The leaders tried to have her removed, but weren’t able to (Presumably because of popular support, which is about the only thing that challenged the Roman emperors)
  • The three most powerful men in the world capitulated because of a speech made by a woman.

The three most powerful men in Rome couldn’t remove a woman from a public forum. Does that sound like women were oppressed and could never leave home?

 

There’s also Fulvia.

She lived from 83 – 40 BC and (in succession) was the wife of three great Romans, the best known of which is Mark Anthony. According to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, at one point Fulvia controlled the politics of Rome. Dio wrote:

“The following year Publius Servilius and Lucius Antonius nominally became consuls, but in reality it was Antonius and Fulvia. She, the mother-in‑law of Octavian and wife of Antony, had no respect for Lepidus because of his slothfulness, and managed affairs herself, so that neither the senate nor the people transacted any business contrary to her pleasure.

 

Did you catch that: a woman was basically ruling Rome. In fact, feminism isn’t even a modern invention.

I mention the matter now because, owing to the egocentricity in our historical outlook, to which I have already referred (para. 159), it is often supposed that female emancipation is an invention of the modern white man.

Sometimes we imagine that we have arrived at a conception of the status of women in society which is far superior to that of any other age; we feel an inordinate pride because we regard ourselves as the only civilized society which has understood that the sexes must have social, legal, and political equality.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. A female emancipating movement is a cultural phenomenon of unfailing regularity; it appears to be the necessary outcome of absolute monogamy.

(“Sex and Culture” by JD Unwin, pages 344-345)

 

Women were the full legal and cultural equals of men in 1st century Rome.

Therefore, the idea that the New Testament’s opinion on marital submission was guided by culture is simply ludicrous. Those teachings didn’t conform to the culture of the day. 1st century Rome was far more egalitarian than most people know. Women were not required to obey – or even submit to – their husbands.

The New Testament’s teachings on marital submission didn’t conform to the culture; they were radically counter-cultural.

While Rome was busy being “ruled by the women” – as Cato the Elder puts it – the Bible espoused a different arrangement.

 

Now we’ll Turn our Attention to What the Bible says

To start with, let’s examine to see if we can find any female leaders in the Bible.

 

Female Leaders in the Bible?

First, I want to clarify: By leader, I mean someone who was in a position of authority. I mean someone who – by their own authority and not by someone else’s – was given the responsibility of commanding men.

I do not mean prophets.

Prophets have “delegated authority”, meaning they have no authority of their own. Their authority comes from the fact that they relay God’s words and His authority, not their own.

A prophet might hold an office of authority, but by itself the office/job of prophet holds no actual authority. This is also true of the various judges in the book of judges. If say judges had more authority than “thus saith the lord“, you run into the sticky problem of that making them a de-facto king.

God was clear on his opinion of kings.

The Bible calls Samuel a judge

1 Samuel 7:15

Now Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.

 

yet it’s clear from his long life – much of which is recorded – that he had no authority besides “thus saith the Lord“.

The word translated “judge” is the Hebrew word “שָׁפַט”, (shaphat) which means “specifically decide controversy, discriminate between persons, in civil, political, domestic and religious questions“. The people would come to the judge to inquire of the Lord, and then God would then decide the controversy through the mouth of the judge.

I make this distinction because there are several Old Testament prophets who were women.

They were used mightily by God to do wonderful things and I don’t want to downplay their (significant) contributions. However, they’re all prophets, not authority figures.

Even Deborah the judge was only a prophet/judge, not an authority figure. The Bible never records her issuing a command that doesn’t have “thus saith the Lord” attached.   Her (prophetic) judgeship notwithstanding, she is never recorded as being given or exercising authority over a man.  Further, as we will see in the next article in this series, she was required to obey her husband.

 

Female Leaders in the Old Testament?

This will be a short section because there are none, save for only the wicked queen in 2 kings 11, and possibly Jezebel depending on how you read it. Given the fact that the Bible explicitly describes both women’s behavior as “wicked”, I see no reason to take anything they did as a laudable or worth using as an example of good behavior.

That’s it.

That’s the whole list.

There were several prophetesses (Like Miriam, Moses’ sister) and even a judge (Deborah). But there isn’t recorded a single woman in a position of authority. (Remember, Deborah got her authority from “thus saith the Lord”, and didn’t have any herself because she was “merely” a prophetess.)

 

Female Leaders in the New Testament

If you’ve read my article on Church authority, you’ll know I don’t believe there’s any actual authority in the Church. But even if I’m 100% wrong about that (and I’ve been wrong before), there still aren’t any women in authority.

Arguably, there aren’t even any women in leadership roles.

Some say there are New Testament women who were in leadership roles. However, they are never shown exercising any authority and even a cursory examination will prove there’s no Biblical support for them having authority. For those who want to read my analysis, click the button below to expand it.

 

Click Here to expand my analysis

 

Junia

Romans 16:7 (ESV)

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

 

This is the only passage in the Bible where Junia is mentioned.  Some use this passage to say Junia was an apostle, and thus had authority.  That’s problematic for several reasons.

First, it’s highly unlikely from the Greek.  There are two ways to read this passage in Greek.

  • The first is to say that Junia (and Andronicus) were well known “to” the apostles.  This would automatically exclude them from being apostles, and kill the argument instantly.
  • The second is to translate it well-known “among” the apostles. This might seem to make them apostles, but it certainly doesn’t have to.  Take the following sentence for example, “Shakespeare is well known among literature teachers.” Same construction, but it’s obvious Shakespeare wasn’t a literature teacher.

I would argue the Greek construction clearly points to them being known “to” the apostles.  I would translated it “well known by the apostles”, as that’s more literally correct translation of the Greek conjuction “ἐν” (en) used there. However, don’t wish to devote a few thousand words to the reasons why here. I suggest this article for further reading on this topic (second heading).

 

Second, lets’ say that Junia was an apostle (which is highly unlikely). That still doesn’t necessarily give her any authority in the Church. Let’s look at the word translated “apostle” to see why. It’s the Greek word “ἀπόστολος” (apostolos) and it means:

652 apóstolos (from 649 /apostéllō, “to commission, send forth”) – properly, someone sent (commissioned), focusing back on the authority (commissioning) of the sender (note the prefix, apo); apostle.

 

Apostle is a description of a role, function, or gift. The word “apostle” is never – not even once – used to denote an “office” of authority the church. It appears on many lists of spiritual gifts, but never as a position of authority within the church. Properly, it refers to someone who is sent out, either on a mission or errand. (Like spreading the Gospel perhaps…)

Apostles are never given authority nor are they given any special responsibility for caring for people (beyond what all Christians are called to). A person might be an apostle in addition to having authority, but being an apostle does not confer authority by itself.

The only office of the Church that is ever given any authority is the “office” of “elder/overseer/pastor”. I prove these three are the same in my article on church authority.

However, you can be an apostle and not be an elder, and we know this from Acts.

Acts 15:2-6

2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.

4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.

5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.

So please follow:

  • If Junia was an apostle (highly unlikely from the Greek, but possible)
  • And if Apostles have authority (which is supported nowhere in the entire Bible)
  • Then Junia might be considered a woman with authority.

But, that’s a lot of big “ifs” to base a doctrine on.

 

Phoebe

Romans 16:1

1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;

2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.

 

Greek is at times extremely precise and at other times maddeningly imprecise. This is one of the latter times.

The word translated “servant” is the Greek word “διάκονος” (diakonos) and it simply means a servant. Of the 29 times it’s used, 19 times it’s translated “servant/servants“, and 7 times it’s translated “minister” (as in ministering to someone as a servant, not in a pastoral/priestly sense).

The other three times it’s translated “deacon”.

It’s the latter translation that makes people think Phoebe had some kind of authority. As I said about Junia, the only office in the Church that is ever granted any authority is (maybe) elders/overseers/pastors. Deacons have no authority, therefore Phoebe has no authority, even if she was a “technical deacon”.  However, we know she didn’t occupy the position of deacon because of 1 Timothy.

1 Timothy 3:12

12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.

 

“Deacons” as a technical office were “official servants” (you can read about their creation in Acts chapter 6) However, anyone who served in the church could rightly be called a servant. The trouble is the same Greek word is used in both places.

Like I said, sometimes Greek can be maddeningly imprecise.

(One example, Greek has no word for “husband”, so they use the word for “man” and the context and words surrounding it determine if it’s a man or a husband. It’s the same for woman/wife.)

Given the context of 1 Timothy 3:12, we must conclude she was simply someone who was serving the Church – and serving well.  Even if she was a technical “Deacon”, that still doesn’t mean she had any authority… because deacons didn’t.

 

Priscilla

Acts 18:24-26

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.

25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John;

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.

 

(NOTE: Aquila and Priscilla are also mentioned in Romans 16 and 1 Corinthians 16, but nothing there would indicate anything about authority)

Apparently, this verse proves that Priscilla had some kind of authority because she and her husband taught Apollos something. Where’s the supposed authority here? My 7 year-old niece has taught me things, does that give her authority over me?

Even if we assume Aquila was almost silent and Priscilla did all the explaining, that there’s still no reason to assume she had authority.  (And BTW, when my wife and I explain things to people, I tend to do most of the talking and she’ll chime in occasionally with an insight.  Even so, people will still say that “we” explain things to them.)

We’ll talk more about this passage in a future article in this series.

 

 

Female Pastors/Elders?

The Bible is 100% clear about the qualifications for the only two offices proscribed: Elder and deacon.

1 Timothy 3:2

2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

Titus 1:5-6

5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,

6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.

 

Literally in the Greek, the phrase “husband of one wife” reads a “one-woman man“. Biblically, elders/pastors/church leaders are supposed to be men. In a moment, we’ll look at 1 Timothy 2:12, which specifically says women shouldn’t have authority over men. Biblically, church leaders should be men. To do otherwise is to invalidate the word of God for the sake of your traditions.

Deacons are the same.

1 Timothy 3:12

12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.

 

If you follow what the Bible says, then one of the requirements for church leadership is that they be male. I understand this may offend some people.  However, I didn’t write the book; God did.  If you don’t like what the scriptures say, please talk to the author.

 

Does “one flesh” mean equality?

Genesis 2:24

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

 

Some people say this verse refers to the spiritual/mystical joining of two people’s souls in marriage. They say this makes them essentially equal, which means no difference of authority. Unfortunately, they have the “mystical joining” part wrong. (I love the idea of a soul mate too, but sadly…)

Straight up, this is a Hebrew euphemism for sex and nothing more.

How do we know?

1 Corinthians 6:16 (Note: in the NASB, New Testament phrases in ALL CAPS denote a quotation of the Old Testament.)

16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”

So while I agree that marriage is special, that verse in Genesis is purely talking about sex. (Unless you want to say that sleeping with a prostitute is basically the same as a man sleeping with his wife. If you think that, I suggest you read 1 Corinthians chapters 5-6, or my article: Yes, The Bible CLEARLY Says Sex Outside of Marriage is Wrong.)

 

Mutual Submission vs. Wifely Submission

If you ask most feminists, the following verse overrides every other verse about submission in marriage. They say it means wives and husbands must submit to each other.  Their opinion of marital submission is the idea that the wife and husband submit to each other. This argument is primarily – though incorrectly – supported using a passage in Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:21

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

 

However, using this verse to say that husbands and wives must submit to each other is wrong for so, so many reasons.  Let’s unpack them.

 

#1: There are NO commands in Ephesians 5:21

None.  Not even one.

Let’s look at the passage a little deeper for an explination.

Greek is an inflected language.  This means that the form of the word – typically the ending, but sometimes the prefix – tells you exactly what the word’s function is in the sentence.  If this is hard to understand, you might find my article A Few Fun Things About Biblical (Koine) Greek helpful.  It’s not too long or technical, and contains plenty of (English) examples of how this works.

Now, the form of the word “submit” in Ephesians 5:21 is not an “imperative” (a command);  It’s a participle (ongoing action = “submitting”)

If you don’t believe that, you can easily double check by looking at Ephesians 5:21 in an interlinear Bible. It clearly says “submitting”, and the parsing guide underneath the word will confirm this.  It says “V-PPM/P-NMP” which stands for

  • V= Verb
  • 1st “P” = Present (verb tense)
  • 2nd “P” = Participle (verb type, here a participle. If it was a command, it would be “M” for “imperitive”, because “I” is taken by “Indicative” )
  • M/P = Middle/Passive (the voice of the verb; it’s either middle or passive because the middle and passive endings are the same for this Greek word.  Context typically dictates which is intended.)
  • N = Nominative (the grammatical case, and nominative is the “subject” case)
  • M = Masculine (the gender of the word, in this case masculine)
  • 3rd “P” = Plural

See, not a command.  It’s a statement of an ongoing action.  Therefore – since the word means to submit or be subject to – it should be translated:

Ephesians 5:21

21 and be subject submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.

But there’s more.

 

#2 Breaking the passage up incorrectly.

Many people want to attach verse 21 to verses 22-33 about marriage.  But that’s not where it goes.  It’s the end of a multi-part, multi-verse sentence that begins in Verse 18.  Paul links several participles throughout these verses as things that believers should be doing on a continual basis.

The participles are highlighted in the quotation below, and we’re using a more literal translation than the NASB for this next quote.

Ephesians 5:18-21 (BOS Bible)

  1. And don’t be drunk with wine, which is wasteful excess, but be filled by the Spirit:
  2. speaking to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart,
  3. always giving thanks to our God and Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  4. and men submitting themselves to one another in reverent fear of the Anointed.

 

See the list of participles that we should always be doing?

Now, I’m sure you noticed the word “men” in verse 21, which the NASB doesn’t have.   That’s the next bit of context, and for this discussion it’s probably the most important part about this verse.  The translation above more accurately conveys the genders used in Greek, which we’ll look at now.

 

#3 The Gender of the Greek words

As we’ve already seen, words in Greek have multiple forms. The ending of the word will change to provide a few specific bit of information about the word.  We need to look at nouns, adjectives, and participles, and here are three things the word form will convey:

  1. The function of the word in the sentence.
  2. Whether the word is singular or plural.
  3. The gender of the word.

(Yes, this is radically different from English.  You can check out my A Few Fun Things About Biblical (Koine) Greek article for more information.)

Gender-wise, Greek words can be Masculine, Feminine, or Neuter.

  • Masculine words obviously refer to males/men (and objects/actions)
  • Feminine words obviously refer to females/women (and objects/actions)
  • Neuter words can either refer to something that is both male and female (usually a mixed group of people), or something that is neither male nor female. (Our English words “they” and “it” would be considered neuter words because they don’t convey gender.)

Make sense?

Good.

Now, here’s a link to Ephesians 5:21 in an interlinear Bible so you can double check what I’m about to say. Remember, I didn’t write the Bible and all complaints about its content should be addressed to the author (God).

Both the verb translated “be subject” and the pronoun translated “one another” are Masculine words.

They aren’t feminine words (applying to women) and they aren’t neuter words (applying to both/neither). They are in the masculine form (applying to men). And please, double check if you don’t believe me.

Go ahead.

And before you ask, yes the neuter form of “one another” is used in the Bible (indicating both genders). For example, in Galatians 5:17 it’s used to talk about how the Spirit and the flesh war with “one another” (neither/both genders). In Matthew 25:32, it’s used to talk about How God will separate the nations from “one another” (both genders) like separating sheep and goats.

So again, we’re looking at something that is addressed to men, as the translation we just looked at conveys more accurately:

Ephesians 5:21 (BOS Bible)

21. and men submitting themselves to one another in reverent fear of the Anointed.

 

The verse couldn’t be clearer in Greek.  Now, you could make an argument that the participle applies to both, but primarily men.  However, the fact that the participle and the pronoun “one another” are both masculine makes it abundantly clear that it’s men submitting to other men.  Women aren’t included or mentioned in Ephesians 5:21.

They aren’t.

Even if they were, the following verse makes it clear that women should submit to men, not the other way around.

 

#4 The following verse

As if to avoid misunderstanding, Paul adds the following (with verse 21 included for context):

Ephesians 5:21-22 (BOS Bible)

  1. and men submitting themselves to one another in reverent fear of the Anointed.
  2. Wives [must submit themselves](734) to their own husbands as they do to the Lord,

 

The text in [brackets] indicates a textual variant, and here’s the footnote for it.  Please read the whole footnote carefully.

“must submit themselves” There’s a textual variant in this verse centering on the verb for “submit”.  In the source text for most modern translations, the word “submit” isn’t present and is implied/carried over from verse 21 (“men submitting themselves”).  However, this omission is based on extremely scant textual evidence.  Very few manuscripts (just: P46 B Cl Hiermss) don’t have an imperative verb (a command) here.  Those manuscripts are early, but belong to a textual family known for omission. Every other manuscript has an imperative verb (a command) in either the 3rd person (“must submit themselves“) or 2nd person (“must submit yourselves“).  The third person reading was chosen here because it has far more support from early manuscripts.  Also, the endings for the middle and passive voice for this Greek verb are the same, so either could’ve been intended.  In the middle voice, it contains reflexive force and thus has the connotation of voluntary obedience, so “wives must obey” is more accurate to the intended sense (though less literal, despite this meaning being in the lexicons).  In the passive voice it could be translated “must be submitted”.  The middle voice is more likely because the passive voice could indicate that their submission/obedience is being done to them (i.e. they’re being made to submit).

 

I bet you’ve never heard that in a Sunday sermon!

I had always heard that the Greek word here – which is “ὑποτάσσω” (hupotassó) – means “voluntary obedience”.  It does… if you assume the middle voice. (as the footnote says).

However, Paul often uses the (sometimes identical) Middle/Passive word forms to say two things at the same time.

A significant number of Greek words don’t have a separate form for middle and passive.  Paul will sometimes use a word which has the same endings for the middle voice (I do to/for myself) and the passive voice (It’s done to me) to indicate both apply.  This happens a lot, and we’ll look at an example which is easy, because two popular translations chose to translate it as different voices (middle vs passive).  It also happens to be relevant. 🙂

Colossians 3:19

ESV: Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

NASB: Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.

 

The highlighted red words are the same word in Greek – “πικραίνω” (pikrainó) – which changes meanings slightly depending on the voice.   ESV picked the passive voice, NASB picked the middle voice.  Neither is translated wrong because it can mean either depending on the voice.  More importantly, Paul almost certainly intended both meanings.  That is, husbands are commanded not to be harsh OR be embittered against their wives.

This is one example of Paul using a Middle/Passive form where both meanings are intended. 

Might Ephesians 5:22 be another place?

Maybe?

We’ve all heard the “wives must submit”.  But is it possible that there’s a double meaning there?  Is it possible that if the wives won’t submit themselves voluntarily that they “must be submitted”?  We’ll look at this in far more depth in a later article in the series.

For now, I want to leave husbands with a word of warning, lest they take this and run too far with it.

1 Peter 3:7 (NASB)

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

 

If you would like God to ignore your prayers, simply don’t treat your wife with honor.  That’s an excellent way to incur God’s wrath and ensure He ignores your prayers.  And as we just saw, don’t be embittered or harsh with your wife.  Ever.  That’s a command from God.

We’ll revisit the topic of whether wives should be made to submit later in this marriage series.

 

Wrapping Up Ephesians 5:21-22

Even if I was completely wrong about the Greek, that still wouldn’t change the meaning of the passage.

Even if it did say “submit to one another”, that still wouldn’t change the basic meaning of the passage.

Why?

If you were helping me move and I said, “Everyone start loading the furniture; kids open the doors.” you would understand that the kids were an exception to “Everyone move the furniture“. The construction is the exact same here, only with the added clarity of gender-specific words.

The Bible never – not even once – says husbands should submit to wives; it says wives should submit to/obey their husbands 6+ times.

(And it says women should not have authority over men at least once, which we’ll look at in a moment.)

 

Galatians 3 “Neither male nor female”

This is another passage that some people use to say there is no authority in marriage.

Galatians 3:26-29

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

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.

29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

They say this verse makes everyone equal before God, and thus there is no authority in marriage.

However, context!

The opening of Galatians chapter 3 is one of my favorite passage in scripture. It speaks of how we received our salvation through grace and not by works. It says we are all equal in salvation; i.e. we are all equally saved. God’s grace saves everyone, regardless if they are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; we have all “clothed yourselves with Christ” equally.

We are all equally saved, which is the point of the passage.

Mutual submission is a common idea today, but it’s simply not Biblical.

 

Bible verses about authority/submission in marriage

Now we’ll look at the other side, which is the verses which support the idea of authority in marriage.

Genesis 3:16

Genesis 3:16

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

Notice there are four specific parts to the curse on women:

  1. I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth,
  2. In pain you will bring forth children;
  3. your desire will be for your husband,
  4. And he will rule over you

 

We’ll look at each in turn.

#1 “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth conception“. The Hebrew word translated “childbirth” here is “וְהֵֽרֹנֵ֔ךְ” (heron). It’s only used two other times in the Bible and both times it clearly means “conception” not “childbirth. If you’ve ever wondered why a woman’s period hurts, it’s because of the curse.

 

#2 “In pain you will bring forth children“. Anyone who’s ever seen/heard a birthing mother will understand this. Enough said.

 

#3 “Your desire will be for your husband“.

The Hebrew word translated desire is “תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ” (teshuqah). It’s only used two other times in the Bible.  Mountains of ink have been spilled trying to explain exactly what this word means, and I won’t try to solve the debate here. It’s used 3 times total.  The other places are in Genesis 4:7 to indicate sin’s “desire” for Cain, and in Song of Solomon 7:10 to indicate a man’s “desire” for a woman.

Interestingly, there could be a very cause > effect relationship, with this part being the result of part #4.  We’ll talk more about this in the 7th part of this marriage series, which explores what really attracts women to men, and men to women.

 

#4 “And he will rule over you.”

I looked at the Hebrew words, and they mean exactly what they’re translated as. “Rule” is an accurate translation of the Hebrew word “מָשַׁל” (mashal). It’s translated as “rule/ruler/ruled” the vast majority of the times it’s used. However – and I can’t stress this point enough:

While #4 is definitely Descriptive, it’s not (necessarily) Prescriptive.

God was not (necessarily) saying that man should rule women here – though it’s said elsewhere – He was saying that man would rule over women.

There’s a difference. Please don’t read more into the text than is there. Saying that should happen might have been intended, but it’s not clear enough – in this verse – to say that.  It’s plenty clear in others, but not this one.

(As we’ve already seen in the first article in this marriage series, civilizations are destroyed when women become the legal equals of men.)

Further, let’s take a look at a relevant passage in Acts.  This is the High priest speaking, and he is giving advice to his fellow Council members about opposing the Christians.

Acts 5:38-39

38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown;

39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

 

Follow the logic.

If something is from men, it will fail.  If something is from God and you fight it, you’re effectively fighting God.

God said men would rule over women (or at least husbands over wives).  If you set yourself against that decree, you might “be found fighting against God” Himself.

That’s not a place I’d want to be.

 

Ephesians 5:22-24

We’ve already looked at this passage some, but we’ll look at it a little more.

(Note: the BOS Bible correctly translates “Christ” as “the Anointed”, because that’s what what the Greek word “Χριστός” (Christos) means.  so “the Anointed” = Christ.)

Ephesians 5:22-24 (BOS Bible)

  1. Wives [must submit themselves] to their own husbands as they do to the Lord,
  2. because the husband is head of the wife, as the Anointed is the head of the church.  (He Himself being the body’s savior.)
  3. But just as the church submits itself to the Anointed, in this way also, wives should submit themselves to their husbands in everything.

 

How many sermons have you heard and how many passages in the Bible are we told to obey God/Jesus? On the surface – according to this verse – wives are supposed to submit to their husbands the same way. On a deeper level the meaning doesn’t change.

This verse appears to mean exactly what it says.

Wives are to submit to their husbands just as they would the Lord. (The obvious exception is if a husband tells his wife to do something that’s morally wrong; we’ll talk more about the few exceptions later in the marriage series.)

I want to point something out:

This is the strongest statement of human authority in the entire Bible.

I’m not aware of a stronger one.

Wives are told to submit to their husbands just as they would submit to the Lord.  Think about that.  God tells wives to obey their husbands just as they would obey God Himself.  The obvious exception is if they tell her to do something wrong/immoral.  But besides that, wives are commanded to treat their husband’s commands as they would treat God’s commands.

I once heard someone say wives should treat their husbands more like a boss at work.  As you will see from the next verse that’s a bad analogy, thoug perhaps not strong enough.  At a job, you listen to your boss even when you disagree or don’t like it.  You might respectfully suggest an alternative course of action – which is a good thing in a marriage too – but if the boss overrides your objection, you listen to him.

God ordained a similar arrangement in marriage.

This is even more apparent because in the next nine verses after this passage (chapter 6:1-9), he talks about Children obeying their parents and servants obeying their masters. And remember, these were counter-cultural instructions because women were the full legal equals of men in the 1st century Roman Empire.

 

1 Peter 3:1-6

This passage begins with the phrase “in the same way”.  Therefore, to get some context we’ll look at the preceding verses to see what Peter was talking about.

1 Peter 2:18-20

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.

19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.

20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

 

Wives should be submissive “in the same way” that servants are to masters.  Like we just saw, the boss/employee relationship is a modern equivalent.  With that in mind, let’s look at the passage.

1 Peter 3:1-6

1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,

2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;

4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

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;

6 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.

 

Again, I don’t see a meaning other than the plain obvious one. It starts with “in the same way” after talking about how Christians should obey the government and servants should obey their masters. He goes further by giving Sarah as a good example because she obeyed Abraham and called him lord. (A good parallel to Ephesians, because the church calls Jesus Lord and obeys Him as one; so also Sarah called Abraham lord and obeyed him.)

Sounds pretty clear to me.

 

Colossians 3:18

While the preceding verses don’t seem to lean on this passage, the following verses do.

Colossians 3:18-22

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.

20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.

21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

 

Everything we saw about the word “submit” in Ephesians is applicable here.  It’s the same word in almost the same form (2nd person imperative here, 3rd person imperative in Ephesians 5; otherwise identical).

Again, the command for wives to submit to their husbands is in the middle of a fairly self-explanatory list of admonitions.  Each one is about obeying someone in authority over you, and wives submitting to husbands is on the list.

 

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Ah, the infamous “head coverings” passage… which isn’t actually about “head coverings” if you look at it in Greek.  This is the Bible’s most complete treatise on marital authority.  I have a whole article that goes into great depth entitled: Does 1 Corinthians 11 Require Women To Wear “Head Coverings”.

Further, we’ve already covered the most significant portion of this passage in the earlier article on the why of submission in marriage.  However, it’s so central and so important that it’s worth looking at in brief, though you’ll get far more information in the article dedicated to head coverings.

1 Corinthians 11:9-10

9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

10 Therefore the woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels.

(Note: many translations add “a symbol of” in front of the word authority.  However, it has no basis in the Greek, and is added for – *ahem* – “clarity”.  The NASB indicates this by italicizing it.   You can double check me on this using an interlinear Bible.)

 

The word “ought” that I’ve underlined is the Greek word “ὀφείλω” (opheiló).  “Ought” isn’t a bad translation per se, but doesn’t capture the full scope of the Greek.  Here’s the definition, copy/pasted from the lexicon (emphasis added).

3784 opheílō (a primitive verb, NAS dictionary) – to owe, be indebted, i.e. obliged to rectify a debt (“ought”).

3784 /opheílō (“owe”) refers to being morally obligated (or legally required) to meet an obligation, i.e. to pay off a legitimate debt.

[3784 (opheílō) “originally belonged to the legal sphere; it expressed initially one’s legal and economic, and then later one’s moral, duties and responsibilities to the gods and to men, or to their sacrosanct regulations. . . . opheílō expresses human and ethical responsibility in the NT” (DNTT, 2, 662.663).]

 

This word is used in the parable in Mathew 18:21-35, where the king forgives his slave who owes him a ton of money.  Then the slave beats up another slave who owes him a small sum of money.  Same word, indicating a legitimate debt that needs to be paid.

Let’s look at the verse again with that understanding.

1 Corinthians 11:9-10

9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

10 Therefore the woman is morally obligated to have authority on her head, because of the angels.

 

The Bible says women are “morally obligated” to be under authority.  And notice, it doesn’t say “wives” have this obligation. It said women, as in all women.  There’s nothing in the context of this passage that says this applies exclusively to a marriage relationship.  We’ll look at this moral obligation in the next article, especially as it applies never-married, widowed, and divorced women.

Paul also directly addresses those who might disagree.

1 Corinthians 11:16

16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

 

According to scripture, this was the practice in the entire first century Church.

(Note: many egalitarian Christians argue that the word “head” in this passage (κεφαλή, or “kephalé” in English) means “source”, not “authority”.  The word literally just means “head”, as in the part of the body that sits atop the neck.  Source vs authority is a matter of exegesis, not translation.  For an in depth treatment of this word, I highly recommend this article on the meaning of kephalé.  Notice too, it doesn’t matter how you translate kephalé in the verse I quoted just above.  The meaning is clear no matter how you translate it.)

 

1 Timothy 2:11-14

At first glance, this verse seems horrible. However on reflection – with some understanding of the Greek – it’s not nearly so bad.

1 Timothy 2:11-14

11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.

12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.

14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

 

The word translated “quietly/quiet” in both verses is the Greek word “ἡσυχία” (hésuchia) and it means:

2271 hēsyxía (from hēsyxos, “quiet, stillness”) – quietness, implying calm; for the believer, 2271 (hēsyxía) is used of their God-produced calm which includes an inner tranquility that supports appropriate action. This term does not mean speechlessness, which is more directly indicated by 4602 (sigḗ) (J. Thayer). See 2272 (hēsyxios).

 

This verse doesn’t say women can’t speak in the church. Rather it seems to be an instruction to calmly “keep it down” and listen “with entire submissiveness” without being disruptive. The women are to listen and learn, not be loud and/or disruptive (or teach).

Paul goes on to clarify this in the next verse.

1 Timothy 2:12-13

12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.

 

If there is a clearer passage about whether women can teach or be in church leadership, I haven’t found it.

Further, Paul gives a reason for this and it’s because of created order.

Adam was created first, then God created Eve from Adam, for Adam. Remember from the previous article in this series (the “Why” of submission in marriage) that women were created for man, and from man.  This – as we’ve already discussed – is part of the reason for authority in marriage.

Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 11 for a moment.

As 1 Corinthians 11:9 says, man wasn’t created for woman, but woman was created for man. Thus, from a created order standpoint, woman has a “moral obligation” to be under man’s authority.  This is because she was created for that role, and thus is “morally obligated” to fulfill the role God gave her.

However, it’s impossible for woman to pay her “moral obligation” of being under authority if she’s in authority.

Remember, part of the reason God created women was to help men.  (Genesis 2, starting at verse 18.  We talked about this in the “Why” of submission in marriage.)  If women are in authority then men are helping women, not the other way around.

Putting women in authority actually makes it impossible for them to fulfill one of their God-given roles (helping man).

Does it make sense to put someone in a position that makes it impossible to do what God created them to do?

 

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

As with all things in Bible translation, context is absolutely crucial. Therefore, we’ll back up a few verses to get that context.

1 Corinthians 14:29-33

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.

30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.

31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;

32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;

33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

 

Here, the Bible is talking about order in the church service.  This theme is a continuation of the rest of the chapter, especially from verse 23 onward. Notice the immediate context is about prophecy.

Note the words I’ve highlighted, as we’ll be looking at the Greek for some clarification.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

 

The above is a perfectly valid, rational translation… But there is another way to look at it that doesn’t require women to sew their mouths shut.

To start with, let’s look at the Greek words.  The word translated “silent” is the Greek word “σιγάω” (sigaó). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it means:

“To keep silence, hold one’s peace“.

 

The word translated “speak” is the Greek word “λαλέω” (laleó). It means:

To emit a voice make oneself heard; hence to utter or form words with the mouth, to speak, having reference to the sound and pronunciation of the words and in general the form of what is uttered. While λεγο refers to the meaning and substance of what is spoken; hence λαλεῖν is employed not only of men, especially when chatting and prattling, but also of animals

 

Piggy-backing off the verse in Timothy which we just examined, the themes are similar. Women are to “keep their peace” and not be prattling on, but instead to listen “quietly” in the sense of not disrupting; not in the sense of never uttering a sound.

And remember: context.

This passage comes after an instruction to prophets.

As we’ve already seen, there were female prophets in the Old Testament.  I would argue that this passage is an instruction to the women when prophesying.  They are to “hold one’s peace” and not prattle on.

For some more context, let’s back up to chapter 11.

1 Corinthians 11:5 & 16

5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

In verse 5, Paul seems to assume the women will be praying and prophesying. If you look at verse 16, it appears this praying and prophesying is happening in a church setting.  God used female prophets in the Old Testament occasionally.  I don’t see why He would stop in the New.

Going back to chapter 14, remember that a few verses earlier Paul said:

1 Corinthians 14:29-33

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.

30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.

31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;

32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;

33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Then right after says:

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

 

I think the verses we just looked at are to bar women from “passing judgement” on the prophecies of men.  Again, remember how 1 Timothy says “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet“.

A woman who’s correcting men’s prophecies or teaching men isn’t “subjecting themselves”.

I think this part of 1 Corinthians was Paul saying that women can’t “judge” the prophecies of men. (Because 1 Cor 11:5 seems to indicate the women did pray and prophesy in the church.)

However, I’ll admit that’s not perfectly clear from the context.

You could also take this to mean that women can’t prophecy – or even speak – in a church meeting.  That’s not how I read it, but I concede it’s a valid interpretation of this passage.  God used female prophets in the Old Testament though, so I don’t see why he would prohibit them from prophesying in the church.  Again though – while it’s not my opinion – I concede that’s a valid interpretation.

 

One final thought on this passage.  Paul seemed to know it would be contentious because the next thing he says is this:

1 Corinthians 14:36-38

36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.

38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Paul says these commands about women speaking (or at least having authority over men) in the church come from God Himself.  Not Paul, God.  Paul then adds the person who “does not recognize” this is “not recognized”.    It’s interesting, the Greek word there is “ἀγνοέω” (agnoeó) and it means:

I do not know, am ignorant of (a person, thing, or fact), sometimes with the idea of willful ignorance.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has another interesting take:

  1. to be ignorant, not to know
  2. not to understand
  3. to err, sin through mistake

The interlinear puts that verse this way “If however anyone is ignorant, let him be ignored.”  Strong words, but then Paul was relaying God’s commands…

That potentially very scary in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.

Matthew 7:22-23 (BOS Bible)

22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord; didn’t we prophesy by your name and authority? And by your name and authority we cast out demons. Also by your name and authority we performed many miracles.”

23 “And then I will agree with them but say: “I never knew you. Depart from me; you are working but ignoring God’s commands.”

(BOS Bible text courtesy of BosBible.com)

 

One last thing: Wives aren’t told to respect their husbands; they’re told to revere them

1 Peter 3:1-2

1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,

2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

The word translated “respectful” in that verse is the Greek word “φόβος” (phobos). I talked at length about the Definition of this word in my article on what the “fear of the Lord” really means. You can see the article for a full discussion, but it has three primary meanings:

  1. Fear (as in I’m scared of something’)
  2. A sense of awe
  3. Reverence.

I don’t think wives should be afraid of their husbands (because “perfect love casts out fear”). I also don’t think a sense of awe makes sense in the conext.  Therefore, “revere” seems to be the only meaning left.

Ephesians confirms this:

Ephesians 5:33

33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects (phobeó) her husband.

 

The Greek word translated “respect” in the Ephesians verse above is “φοβέω” (phobeó). It’s the verb form of the word phobos used in 1 Peter 3 (which we just looked at). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, phobeó has three primary meanings.

  1. to be put to flight, to flee (Homer)
  2. to fear, be afraid; the Sept. very often for יָרֵא; absolutely to be struck with fear, to be seized with alarm
  3. to reverence, venerate, to treat with deference or reverential obedience

I understand that requiring wives to “revere” their husbands seems laughable in today’s society.  Please don’t forget it was equally laughable – possibly more so – in 1st century Rome.  God still saw fit to give these commands, proving they transcend culture.

You can always choose to disobey because we all have free will  but I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

Conclusion

Wives are told to submit to their husbands many times in the New Testament.  Yet never once are husbands told to submit to their wives. Men are called to honor their wives (and God won’t listen to your prayers if you don’t), but they are never told to obey, submit, or revere them.

In half a dozen places in the New Testament, wives are told to submit to husbands.  Men are never told to submit to women. Ever. Not even once.  Further, in at least one passage the Bible is clear that women shouldn’t have authority over a man.

Further, there is that “moral obligation” for women to be under authority.

The Bible is a very patriarchal book.

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, an honest look makes it clear that wives should submit to their husbands.  Yes, that means obeying them (though of course women aren’t required to sin.).  Ignoring this prescription has drastic consequences for any society, and I would guess that’s by God’s design.

When women are the full legal equals of men, a society implodes every time. (Please see the first article in this series for an explanation and proof)

If you don’t like this, you’ll need to complain to God because I can’t change it.

As we’ve seen, we can either follow God’s plan or watch our disobedience rip society apart.  As far as I’m aware, there is no third option.

 

In the next article in this series, we’ll answer the question: Does God View Women as the (Social/Political) Equals of Men?  That will give you an excellent “bird’s eye” perspective on how God thinks a society should be arranged, and especially the relationship between men and women.

(You’ll also learn which sin condemned mankind to struggle with sin.  Biblically, it wasn’t Eve eating the fruit. Further, Adam eating the fruit was his second sin; not his first according to God.)

Marriage Series Index:

  1. How Getting Marriage 'Wrong' Destroyed Every Great Civilization in World History
  2. Gender Differences and the Biology of leadership
  3. The “Why” Behind God Telling Wives to Submit to their Husbands in Marriage
    1. Does 1 Corinthians 11 Require Women To Wear "Head Coverings"
  4. The Bible on Authority & Submission in Marriage
  5. Does God View Women as the (Social/Political) Equals of Men?
  6. Follow up articles coming...
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3 Comments

  1. Fleus December 9, 2019
    • Berean Patriot (admin) December 10, 2019
  2. Fleus December 20, 2019

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