Women in the Text: Reflections on Submission

This isn’t a Bible post, its a reflection. Beware, lots of CAPS and bolds.

Graceful Election

Yes, I went to THAT school.

Have you ever had a shift of purpose? A time when your actions didn’t change, but YOU did? And then it seems EVERYTHING changes? When I was in college, I had one of these shifts. I was raised a Christian. I know I had that child-like faith that saves. But, I didn’t KNOW Jesus. Jesus, to me, was something I did. I chose Him. I learned about Him. I did good things for Him. I didn’t do bad things for Him.

In college, I read the Bible myself and BELIEVED it. In the middle of that avid reading, I fell in love with doctrine. Not because it was something more I could know, but because I wanted to know more about WHO God is because of Him. One doctrine in particular smacked me hard. God chose me. I wasn’t taught election (If I was, I don’t remember it.) by people or books. I found it myself in the words of Jesus. I knew Jesus loved me. I believed He is the Son of God. But the understanding that He knew me and wanted ME transformed my life. Grace.  Outwardly, I still acted Christian. But because my understanding had shifted, I REALLY acted Christian. Does that make sense?

It was no longer duty, it was love. My actions pointed at God because they were birthed in thoughts of God, not thoughts of self. That’s love. Other-orientation. Self forgetfulness. Funny how grace does that. Humans would reason why God deserves our choice. God gives freely regardless of our choice. Reason won’t transform a soul. Free grace does.

Lovely Submission

Submission is another shift of motive. For years, I submitted to my husband because my mom submitted to dad. Crazy as this sounds, I was kinda competing with her. My husband didn’t help. He’d ask, “Why can’t you treat me like your mom does your dad?” And no, I wasn’t wise enough to NOT answer that. lol. Submission was about how I behaved. It was self focused. I wanted to be the best submissive wife for my husband that I could be! There was love involved. I love him. But for many years, we were both a mess because we were  pointing our actions, that were supposed to be wrapped up in the other, back at ourselves. A manipulation dance. I’ll “love” her so I can get my way. I’ll “submit” so he’ll love me and let me get my way. You know what I mean.

BUT. I changed. My husband did too, but he’s not writing. So I’ll tell you how I changed. I didn’t become more or less submissive. Submission just wasn’t my purpose. This was: loving him, hanging out with him, learning to like what he liked, seeing him as a legitimate other that I could intimately know as well as I knew myself.  (If this sounds like I have it all together, don’t be fooled.  I SO don’t.) I was no longer focused on MY submission, I was focused on HIM.

How did this happen?

In the same way the grace-filled doctrine of election made me choose Jesus all over again in love, equality (not fighting for it, but a genuine belief I am on the same spiritual level as men) taught me submission. I no longer HAD to submit. I wanted to.

A recent email to me put it like this:

“As I think about how I’ve been steeped in “godly womanhood,” I realize that I have told myself over and over to accept that my husband is somehow automatically more… ummmm something, what’s the word? Responsible to God? than I am.  That God would choose to talk to and direct our family through him.  I am so used to that idea.  The very idea of God seeing my husband and me as standing side by side accountable as a team in mutual submission and Him seeing me as equally accountable/valuable/usable is at once, exciting and terrifying.

My actions look the same but I serve my husband first simply because I LOVE HIM and I am choosing to be second to him NOT out of duty or rank.  I am honoring HIM not his position. Holy Crap.  That is so radical when you think about it.

It’s blowing my mind to think of the implications of taking the duty and rank out of the equation.  It’s causing me to wonder, did Christ come out of duty or simply love?”

I love how she says “I am honoring him, not his position.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told as a wife that I am submitting to the position, my head. Gah, I don’t care about that! I want to submit to the man I love! Because I love him, not because he has authority over me.

Unity, Equality and Luv


Jesus enjoys equality with the Father. If he doesn’t, becoming submissive while on earth was no big deal. Rather like a lead angel. It was BECAUSE of His equality, that He proved his love by refusing to claim his equal rights. And that’s not paying lip-service to equality. Jesus is God, not some lesser form of God, not now or ever. There is no hierarchy in the trinity; no inherent superiority or responsibility or authority of the Father over the Son, or the Son over the Spirit. They are one. And they love each other.

This equal love; this setting aside of personal rights; this other-focus; this self-forgetfulness; this unity; this is the marriage God calls us to enjoy. There is no danger to the gospel in this. This is gospel.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ~John 17

13 thoughts on “Women in the Text: Reflections on Submission

  1. I feel the imbalance of what my husband is told about what is his job and what I am told is mine (and how often each of us is told). I feel that male leadership is so desired in the church that women are taken for granted and marginalized. -Tanis

    BTDT. A couple things really helped me. The first was finally understanding that God LOVES me and that I am not less valued by Him because I am female. Despite knowing all about God’s character in my head, my heart was not at rest there. Meditating on Father’s Love Letter helped (it’s all Scripture, I linked it).

    Another thing which God showed me through very careful study of the interlinear is the passive Greek grammar in the “wife submit” verses which appear most restrictive. Take Eph 5:24 ““but even as the assembly is subject to Christ,
    so also [are] the wives to their own husbands in everything.” Many translations translate this as if the verb is a COMMAND adding words such as “should”, “ought to” and “must”. That’s flat out wrong! The Greek verb is parsed PASSIVE. This is a little complicated for English speakers to understand, but I think the translation “is subject” conveys the passive force better than “submit”.

    In the Movie “Fireproof”, firefighter Michael advises
    “A woman’s like a rose.
    If you treat her right, she’ll bloom.
    If you don’t, she’ll wilt.”

    Do you find this to be true?
    Does your husband’s behavior have the power to “wilt” you?

    That dynamic is what Paul is describing in Ephesians 5:24 when he says:

    “but even as the assembly is subject to Christ,
    so also [are] the wives to their own husbands in everything.” Eph 5:24

    It’s a reiteration by Paul of the dynamic which came into play in Genesis 3:16 “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” It’s a recognition of how much power every husband has over every wife, to crush her or to make her bloom- just by the words of his mouth and his attitude toward her. That’s why Paul proceeds to coach the husband repeatedly using COMMAND form verbs for agape. Wives are very vulnerable to husbands. If a wife is unloved, she is going to wilt (and now that women are no longer legally chained by bad situations, the marriage is at serious risk of death).

    “Wives [are Subject] to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24Here is a link with more details and links on the passive grammar.)


  2. After a 2 yr major deconstruction I’m still working to rebuild my “God Legos”. I’m trying to carefully look at these aspects in light of new information and looking to see if I’ve been accepting things just because they were said frequently by the right people, or if I really believe they are God’s Truth. Of course it’s hard and I’ll have to redo it over and over throughout my life, but the whole womanhood thing is a hard area right now. It is especially important to me now that I am raising a daughter.
    I see this wonderful personal relationship laid out for me in scripture but when it comes to issues of marriage and how women are viewed/treated in the church I see a disconnect. Maybe I should say, I feel it; I experience it. I feel the imbalance of what my husband is told about what is his job and what I am told is mine (and how often each of us is told). I feel that male leadership is so desired in the church that women are taken for granted and marginalized. What is “progression” to use Kay’s word and what is the logical end that it leads me to and does it aline with everything else I know of the Bible and who God is? That is why this conversation is so important! It’s giving me an opportunity to hear a variety of voices on a variety of topics related to women and God. Thank you for participating!


    1. Tanis, I’d love to have coffee sometime and hear more of your thoughts on this subject. I wonder if we need to make conscious changes so that you and other women don’t feel this way.


  3. Every woman who is taught submission and desires to please God must reflect on it and figure out what it means in her own circumstances.

    Unfortunatally, there are far too many people, busy bodies, who want to tell women what it should mean, define it in their own human terms in a manner that seems right to them and then instruct the woman that if she doesn’t submit in the manner defined by this teacher or that preacher, she is displeasing to God.

    I know for myself, I had to learn that just as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, so also we women, must work out our submission with fear and trembling. Not in fear of men or even that if she doesn’t submit enough according to certain teachings of men, that she is displeasing to God. But rather in fear that, where she started out in the Spirit of her salvation, that she will somehow perfect it in a work of the flesh.

    And this is what female submission has become in far too many circles. A work of the flesh, a bondage and slavery.

    A woman’s submission is between her and God. Third parties are not invited and become trespassers when they try to force their way in and define it for her.


  4. I do know that my own marriage was good when he thought he had to “lead” me, but it’s been even better since we became co-leaders, side by side. As his “strong aid,” I can take the lead when he needs me to, such as in areas where he lacks skill, or when he’s too tired to make a decision and one needs to be made on the spot by someone who will “do him good and not evil all the days of her life.”


  5. Kay, I really like this post. It is a great reminder to all wives that we should submit out of love, not because of some duty or authority. I’m still with Tanis, though, in that there are some times when love for my husband doesn’t cut it. It’s my love for Christ and obedience to him that causes me to submit to my husband, because I believe God asks me to. Peter lifts up Sarah for our example (I Pet. 3:6). Do you really think she had loving thoughts for Abraham when he asked her to go with Abimelech? I believe she “did what was right and did not give way to fear”, not because she loved Abraham at that moment, but because she loved GOD.

    I think there was no hierarchy in the Trinity before the incarnation, and there is not one now, but while on earth, Jesus submitted to the Father and did His will. Yes, it was out of love for the Father, but it was a choice to place his will under the Father’s.

    I agree with all the stuff about the word “helper” used at creation, too. I think it is a beautiful word, and not at all demeaning or placing the woman “2nd” in value.

    Tanis, God does not see you as second. You are equal with Scott in your value to God and others. And, you have a direct line to Him! I guess I’ve just never struggled with feeling this way, even though I believe my husband is responsible to God for the family, and I am commanded to submit to him.

    And by the way, I still have my BJU ID too. =)


    1. Your husband asking you to sleep with someone else is grounds for divorce, according to Jesus. (Infidelity.) How is that in any way an example of proper submission? To Jesus, it’s marriage-breaking stuff. I mean, we might as well use examples of women submitting despite beatings “not because they loved their husband but because they loved God.”


      1. I’m NOT suggesting Abraham was right, or that we should submit to that level. If your husband is abusing you, or asking you to do something immoral, you are NOT required to submit! However, Peter using her submission as an example to wives is worth noting because she “did what was right and didn’t give way to fear.” If wives were honest, the biggest reason they don’t submit is out of fear. What if he ruins my life? What if I let him lead me and he ends up making bad decisions? What if I lose myself in this marriage? What if? What if? What if? Sarah trusted GOD by trusting Abraham. And she was placing her life in His hands, not her husband’s. Jaime, I would never advocate abuse, and I think you know that.


  6. Tanis, I do not believe one-way submission, woman to man, came before the Fall. Submission means yielding to another– it does not necessarily mean an authority-subordination relationship. And “helper suitable” in the original Hebrew is “ezer kenedgo.” “Ezer” means “strong aid.” It is most often used of God as the “help” of Israel. “Kenedgo” means “facing him.” It means that while God is a “help” from a position of superiority, Eve is a “help” from a position of equality. The Hebrew words do not imply being a mere assistant, the way the English word “helper” does.

    God asks wives to submit in the same passage that tells all Christians to be submissive to one another (Eph 5:21). In that context, Paul asks women (under the assumption shared between him and the readers that they are under their husbands’ authority as a given fact in that culture) to submit. He also asks slaves to submit to their masters and children (even adult children!) to submit to their fathers (who were patriarchs of their homes). Husband authority is a shared cultural assumption, not a divine mandate. Paul then tells husbands, slave owners and fathers to stop acting in terms of their authority but to act in ways consonant with mutual submission. Husbands are not told to “lead your wives” but to “give themselves” as Christ gave Himself when He submitted to those who crucified Him. Slave owners are told to treat their slaves “in the same way” their slaves have just been told to treat them. And fathers are told not to “exasperate” their children. Jesus had earlier said that all who enter the kingdom of God must become as little children. Little children had no status in the hierarchy of the day. He was saying that all who come to Him were to give up their status. That included husbands, fathers and slave owners– for it is not the responsibility of the one under the system to change the paradigm, but the one in the position of power who must change it. Husbands are meant to raise their wives up, not exercise authority over them. Mutual submission is about mutual laying down of power– not just one party giving in to the other.


  7. If there is no hierarchy in the trinity why did God the Father ask Jesus to submit? Or do you think Jesus volunteered for the position out of love and then later was submitting to the Father by fulfilling the agreement?
    Why does God ask women to submit to their husbands? Submission came before the Fall right? God never said, make decisions by consensus. He didn’t say man was woman’s helper but the reverse. I’m just still trying to work out the implications. It’s kinda funny because I think in action I, for the most part, agree with you. But in seasons when there isn’t a lot of love for my husband, I find myself needing something stronger…like obedience…like love for Christ motivating me to forgive and try to see my husband as Christ does. It has been so painful at times. In practical, every day life I feel that my husband and I have a good rhythm now, but I still wrestle with questions about what God wants from me, how He designed me and why, how to be strong and wise and feel like I have much to offer and be submissive…and down at my core the fear that God really does see me as second and removed from Himself because I married.


    1. Trinity hierarchy: I hope to put a post together on the controversy swirling around “the eternal subordination of the Son.” If you want to read more now, go here. (http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/2008/09/growing-semi-arianism-in-sbc-and.html) In a nugget, I believe Jesus incarnate submitted. But after he was raised to life, he was given all authority. (John 14:10, Mat 28:18) He has equal unity and authority with the Father.

      “Why does God ask women to submit to their husbands?” Why does He ask anyone to submit? (Eph 6:1) Because the kingdom isn’t about who has the authority. It is about becoming a servant. (Mat 20:26) I believe submission is the way of a Christian. Wives should submit. So should husbands. (1 Cor 7:4) We all have that equal opportunity in the kingdom!

      Creation and the fall is too big for this comment. 🙂 I’ll do a post real soon. Here’s a hook: The word for help meet implies a superior help, not inferior. Think rescuer.

      “Down at my core the fear that God really does see me as second and removed from Himself because I married.” Even if you don’t chose to follow my arguments, you are still a daughter of God. Remember Tanis, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:30) Having a husband in heaven is a moot point. Hurrah!


  8. It seems all of Grandma’s daughters are plagued with her example. I remember hearing once in my household, “Your mother would never treat your father this way.” Hahaha.

    Copying a successful marriage does not make a marriage successful.

    And that’s really how everyone falls into this submission trap.


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