Ephesians 5:22 states “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

I don’t have a problem with wives submitting to their husbands; however, stopping there creates a false sense of what we as Christians are called to do. After all, if we look at Ephesians 5:21, the immediately preceding verse, we read:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

So we discover that all of us, regardless of gender, are supposed to submit to one another. That puts what follows in 5:22 about wives submitting in a little different light. Too many take the biblical passage out of context. I think it would be useful, if we want to think about the nature of our interpersonal relationships, to also consider what Jesus had to say about leadership in Matthew 20:25-28 (Cf. Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:25-27):

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”

The interesting passage in 1 Corinthians 7:4 also indicates that the point, scripturally, is mutual submission: “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.”

We need to recognize that submission is an act of love motivated by a free will choice; it cannot be made to happen. The meaning of the term “submit” in Ephesians 5, and the point of Paul’s argument, can be summed up in Matthew 22:36-40:

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
“‘Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (cf. Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8-10)

Everything boils down to loving one another. Jesus is so bold as to say that love is the whole point of the Bible: its central theme. Everything else is commentary. Thus, any interpretation we make of the Bible must make sense in light of the two commands, to Love God and to love people. If our conclusion puts us at odds with either of these commandments, we can be certain that we have failed to interpret a passage correctly. If our attitudes toward one another violate the spirit and letter of 1 Corinthians 13 (Paul’s famous passage explaining what love is), then we are out of line.

Those men who are uncomfortable with the equality of women should ask themselves a slightly modified version of a question Abraham Lincoln asked those who advocated slavery. Would you like to be a slave? If the answer is no, as it must be, then perhaps it is obvious that slavery is a violation the golden rule. Likewise, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of being forced into a subservient role yourself, how can you in good conscience advocate it for others?

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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