Submission is Not Obedience

When scrolling through my Facebook feed today I came across two reshares of a blog post on biblical submission. This is an excerpt …

Whenever submission issues are raised, the first question that needs to be asked is, What is the nature of the marital relationship? Is the husband’s relationship with his wife similar to Christ’s relationship with the church? Does she have free choice, or is she a slave “under the law”? Many marital problems arise when a husband tries to keep his wife “under the law,” and she feels all the emotions the Bible promises the law will bring: wrath, guilt, insecurity, and alienation (see Romans 4:15; Galatians 5:4).

Freedom is one issue that needs to be examined; grace is another. Is the husband’s relationship with his wife full of grace and unconditional love? Is she in a position of “no condemnation” as the church is (see Romans 8:1), or does her husband fail to “wash her” of all guilt? Usually husbands who quote Ephesians 5 turn their wives into slaves and condemn them for not submitting. If she incurs wrath or condemnation for not submitting, she and her husband do not have a grace-filled Christian marriage; they have a marriage “under the law.” [1]


It reminded me of a blog post I’ve had sitting in draft for nearly 1 1/2 years until now…

Submission is Not Obedience

Today I’m dealing with a question of authority as obedience is directly linked to authority.

First of all, we need to reemphasize that Paul did not tell wives to obey their husbands in  Ephesians 5:25 but to submit to them. Submission is NOT obedience! Paul only instructed children to obey their parents and slaves to obey slave owners because they exercised authority over them Ephesians 6:1 & 5.

Secondly, we cannot overemphasize the importance of taking cultural and historical context into consideration before we write on a subject claiming to have the authority to teach others.

When you read something in the bible its context is really important to consider. To make sense of the text correctly you need to be able to understand the social, cultural and current events that affected the writer’s thinking at the time.


the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood. ~ English Oxford Living Dictionary


As I pointed out on my last blog post on this topic: A Question of Authority in God’s Household , the church in Ephesus was receiving many converts from the two major cults from that city and these people were bringing their cult practices into the church.

Below is one such example of a person who has ignored what was going on in the Ephesus church that caused Paul to write what he did in the first place. As stated earlier, Paul nowhere says that husbands hold any sort of authority over their wives or that their wives should obey their husbands.

Idol Worship

However in this example below from an absolutely awful article that’s in my inbox: “Submission of Christian wives to their husbands,” [2] the writer has imported words and phrases and concepts that do not exist in the original biblical text. Either confusion or bias has caused this person in ignorance to confuse obey and submit and present them as being the same thing.

This leads to a serious error where one person  – the wife, hands over her God-given responsibility to another person claiming that she is free of any responsibility at all. Not only is this a very serious error but it is a lie to say that we can shift the blame onto someone else for our actions.  One day we will all be held accountable for what we do regardless of what somebody else tells us to do.

One excerpt from the article is as follows:

God in his written word has told her to submit to, and hence to obey her husband.  It follows therefore that by obeying her husband she is obeying God.


By saying that obeying her husband is the same as obeying God is giving the husband the same position as God. He has become a god. Popes have taken this authority for themselves for centuries.

The writer continues…

God’s instructions that a wife should obey her husband are far kinder and more loving because she can always obey God by obeying her husband. If her husband tells her to do something that God disapproves of then it is her husband (not her) who will have to give an account of it to God. The woman cannot be held accountable for the matter because her responsibility (the bit that God will ask her to account for) is to obey her husband. An obedient wife does right even when she does wrong.


The writer is assuring wives that they will not be held accountable and that the responsibility for all decisions is shifted to her husband.

The writer teaches …

If the married woman believes that is more important to obey God by submitting to and obeying her husband then she can do this with complete confidence.


This is one prime example of how patriarchal/misogynistic teaching has pervaded the church for centuries and has basically led to idol worship and this person’s conclusion is the fruit of it.

It certainly didn’t work for Sapphira in Acts 5 when she obeyed her husband! She was still held accountable and she dropped dead immediately, just like her husband.

Husbands are Not Christ

There is a significant body of marriage literature, particularly within Christian fundamentalism, that asserts that husbands have essentially unlimited authority. Hence, wives are obligated to give virtually unqualified submission. In this model male/female differences are accentuated and equality is at best de-emphasized. Women are explained to be unfit for leadership by virtue of their emotionality, weakness, and susceptibility to deception. Thus, it is a grave offense for a woman to challenge a husband’s leadership for this seriously distorts the ontologically based order for human relationships.

In a work that has sold over two million copies, Helen Andelin argues that God has ordained the husband to be the supreme authority. He, not the wife, has authority over large and small matters, including the discipline and care of children, religious affiliation, and even social behavior. To disobey a husband is to disobey God for, “the family is a theocracy, where the father’s word is law.” Since the husband has unlimited authority from God, a wise wife will never appear to know more than her husband, will accept him neglecting his family, will accept and submit to a husband’s infidelity, and will demonstrate true femininity by being dependent, weak, and fearful.

Elizabeth Hanford Rice articulates a similar model, stating that Scripture gives no restriction on a wife’s obedience to her husband, for when a woman obeys her
husband she is always obeying God.  She states that a husband’s authority is so absolute that according to Scripture, “a woman must ignore her ‘feelings’ about the will of God, and do what her husband says.”  She specifically explains that the
husband’s unfettered authority means a wife must submit to wife swapping, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Influential fundamentalist pastor Jack Hyles argues that a wife has no rights except to submit to her husband.  Being a godly woman means letting the man get all the credit and deliberately choosing to always let the man win, even at ping-pong.

Every human problem is caused when that which is inferior and subordinate refuses to submit to that which is stronger and superior. Females must be obedient all their lives, so the best thing parents can do for their daughter is to teach her to obey “immediately, without question, and without argument,” for in so doing they have “done a big favor for their future son-in-law.”

Other fundamentalist writers do not use such extreme examples of female obedience, but nevertheless posit a model which gives the husband nearly absolute power and authority. [3]


However, Mutual Submission Is Not The Same As Strict Obedience!

As Natalie Hoffman wrote in her book “Is it Me?”:

A man’s belief that he has the right to control you comes from many places, including his own upbringing, experiences, attitudes towards women and theology. The fact that his theology supports a power and control model of male/female relationships gives him greater power because he claims to have the approval of God and who can argue with God? (Using God and the bible to control others is the definition of spiritual abuse, by the way). Because he is firmly entrenched in a power-over model in human relationships, he will have a clear conscience when it comes to controlling you and your life. He and his religious supporters actually believe that a power-over model is godly and biblical. [4]

You see when someone demands respect, obedience, and submission … well, it stops being submission and is, in fact, abusive headship.

On a future blog post, I’ll be covering headship from a New Covenant perspective as the translation of the word “head” or kephale is highly debated among biblical scholars.



Further resources:

My blog series: Women in God’s Household

Yahweh’s Training Zone


[1] What Biblical Submission in Marriage Really Means


[3]What does submit in everything really mean? The nature and scope of marital submission pdf by Steven R. Tracy.

[4] Is it Me? by Natalie Hoffman


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