SBC Professor Bruce Ware Blames Wives for Husbands’ Abuse

This article is courtesy of Ethics Daily. My thanks to the author, Bob Allen, for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

This article is such an appalling and revealing glimpse inside the mindset of Southern Baptist Church theology. The SBC certainly doesn’t hold the corner on the market with this viewpoint, however. There is a reason why I feel this article warrants particular attention. We are in a time when domestic abuse is becoming an epidemic in the church. The average pastor is completely unequipped to address the problem. In fact, the secret horror is that the pastor’s wife, in fact, is often one of the abused wives in the church – and there’s definitely no one available to help her. Not only is the pastor unequipped to address the issue of abuse professionally, the pastor applies erroneous theology when teaching from the pulpit and in private counseling. Bruce Ware is a professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is one of the men who is teaching these pastors the theology they are using to support abuse in Christian homes.

How will things in the pulpit ever change, when the pastors remain unchanged, because the seminary professors remain unchanged? When a student goes to seminary he is told he will be studying the Word to learn for himself what it teaches. However, the reality is quite different. Students are led to reach the theological conclusions of their denomination through the very deliberate slant in the teaching of their professors. I know this is true because I have seen it in action. In fact, if a student in seminary were to study the Word for himself and reach a conclusion contradictory to his professor, at the least he would receive a reduced grade and at the worst he would be expelled from school. This is the reality of seminary.

I have already written an article which thoroughly addresses the theology used by this speaker, in my article Theology of an Abusive Marriage. This article specifically addresses the misuse of the word “desire” in Genesis 3, the pattern of excusing the husband’s abuse because of his wife’s behavior (whatever happened to personal responsibility?), and the erroneous ideas that males were created before females and that females were created to complete males.

A couple of Ware’s points which I don’t address in the article above I will briefly address here. First, is his idea that woman sinned first but God held the man responsible because he was in authority. That interpretation reads into the text extensively. Adam blamed his wife. But God held the man responsible for using his wife as an excuse for his own choice. Using God’s standard for Adam, God would never accept the excuse that men abuse their wives because their wives don’t submit. God held each party responsible for their own sin and gave them each consequences in accordance with their actions. He did not buy in to their blame game.

Another misuse of Scripture in Ware’s argument is the eternal submission of Jesus to God the Father. In Philippians 2, the Word says that Jesus is equal with the Father. He voluntarily laid that equality down to become a man and interact with the Father as a man, rather than claim his rightful equality with the Father as God. In fact, using the model of the Trinity, we would have to come to the conclusion that husband and wife are equal, with differing roles, which, in fact, agrees with the Genesis record, as I explore in more depth in the Theology of an Abusive Marriage article. While Jesus was on earth living as fully man, he said he was under the authority of God the Father. This was while he was voluntarily laying aside his deity and functioning as a man. In fact, this is a HUGE theological point for us to understand. The authority Jesus had on this earth was no different than what He has given to us through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus went out of His way to make it clear this authority was his as a man in submission to God the Father, and then made it clear this same authority was passed on to his followers. As humans, we are in eternal submission to the Father.

At the same time, in the relationship of the Trinity we see modeled equal authority and equal submission – which, indeed, should be a parallel for the human relationship of marriage. Each part of the Trinity has a different role and each submits to the other in His role.

That said, I leave you to read the words of Bruce Ware, and be amazed.


One reason that men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband’s God-given authority, a Southern Baptist scholar said Sunday in a Texas church.

Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said women desire to have their own way instead of submitting to their husbands because of sin.

“And husbands on their parts, because they’re sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged–or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches,” Ware said from the pulpit of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.

In North Texas for a series of sermons at the church on “Biblical Manhood & Womanhood,” Ware described his “complementarian” view as what “Southern Seminary as a whole represents.”

Commenting on selected passages from the first three chapters of Genesis, Ware said Eve’s curse in the Garden of Eden meant “her desire will be to have her way” instead of her obeying her husband, “because she’s a sinner.”

What that means to the man, Ware said, is: “He will have to rule, and because he’s a sinner, this can happen in one of two ways. It can happen either through ruling that is abusive and oppressive–and of course we all know the horrors of that and the ugliness of that–but here’s the other way in which he can respond when his authority is threatened. He can acquiesce. He can become passive. He can give up any responsibility that he thought he had to the leader in the relationship and just say ‘OK dear,’ ‘Whatever you say dear,’ ‘Fine dear’ and become a passive husband, because of sin.”

Ware said God created men and women equally in God’s image but for different roles.

“He has primary responsibility for the work and the labor and the toil that will provide for the family, that will sustain their family,” he said. “He’s the one in charge of leadership in the family, and that will become difficult, because of sin.”

Ware also touched on a verse from First Timothy saying that women “shall be saved in childbearing,” by noting that the word translated as “saved” always refers to eternal salvation.

“It means that a woman will demonstrate that she is in fact a Christian, that she has submitted to God’s ways by affirming and embracing her God-designed identity as–for the most part, generally this is true–as wife and mother, rather than chafing against it, rather than bucking against it, rather than wanting to be a man, wanting to be in a man’s position, wanting to teach and exercise authority over men,” Ware said. “Rather than wanting that, she accepts and embraces who she is as woman, because she knows God and she knows his ways are right and good, so she is marked as a Christian by her submission to God and in that her acceptance of God’s design for her as a woman.”

Ware cited gender roles as one example of churches compromising and reforming doctrines to accommodate to culture.

“It really has been happening for about the past 30 years, ever since the force of the feminist movement was felt in our churches,” Ware said.

He said one place the “egalitarian” view–the notion that males and females were created equal not only in essence but also in function–crops up is in churches that allow women to be ordained and become pastors.

Ware said gender is not theologically the most important issue facing the church, but it is one where Christians are most likely to compromise, because of pressure from the culture.

“The calling to be biblically faithful will mean upholding some truths in our culture that they despise,” he said. “How are we going to respond to that? We are faced with a huge question at that point. Will we fear men and compromise our faith to be men-pleasers, or will we fear God and be faithful to his word–whatever other people think or do?”

Ware offered 10 reasons “for affirming male headship in the created order.” They include that man was created first and that woman was created “out of” Adam in order to be his “helper.” Even though the woman sinned first, Ware said, God came to Adam and held him primarily responsible for failure to exercise his God-given authority.

Ware also said male/female relationships are modeled in the Trinity, where in the Godhead the Son “eternally submits” to the Father.

“If it’s true that in the Trinity itself–in the eternal relationships of Father, Son and Spirit, there is authority and submission, and the Son eternally submits to the will of the Father–if that’s true, then this follows: It is as Godlike to submit to rightful authority with joy and gladness as it is Godlike to exert wise and beneficial rightful authority.”


4 Responses

  1. Hi Danni,

    Your link for “Theology of an Abusive Marriage” didn’t work. I found the article here:

    Great job covering this! Is it wishful thinking on my part or will the outcry after huge gaffes like this put an end to this deadly theology?

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Charis,

    Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll fix it.

    I wish! But I doubt the outcry will affect the religious machine. Hopefully, however, individuals will start to dare to question the system and go to the Word for themselves instead of blindly trusting a religious institution to tell them the truth. God wants personal relationship, not dogma! He wants Bereans not blind followers.

    — Danni

  3. Hi Danni and others,
    My view on Genesis 3:16 is more nuanced than most theologians.

    I believe that God was declaring that because of the fall and the sinful nature it bequethed to all mankind, the relationship between husband and wife would be distorted in various ways.
    The desire of the woman seems to mean, at one and the same time:
    1. a desire to rule, to be master, or take equality in leadership (as Eve did); and
    2. a longing for the man, a profound desire for emotional commitment. She would seek to maintain relationship with the man, perhaps at any cost, even to the point of servility.

    The man’s rule seems to mean, at one and the same time:
    1. that man ought not be passive (as Adam was) but take his proper headship role, leading himself and his wife in a God-glorifying direction; and
    2. that the man would henceforth experience a tendency to dominate and oppress the woman.

    I agree with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood where they state that:

    “The Fall introduced distortions into the relationship between men and women. In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.”

    Thus, when God spoke these words to Eve, he was implying:
    1. that her husband ought properly to rule over her; that it was the husband’s responsibility to lead the couple/family unit in a God-glorifying direction [note the important qualification “God-gloryifying direction”]
    2. that she would suffer from a tendency to desire to master (or share leadership with) her husband
    3. that her true fulfillment would come from submitting to her husband’s godly leadership [again, note the qualification that his leadership must be godly]
    4. that she should support her husband in his leadership role, not take advantage of any passivity he might display, or manipulate to gain power
    5. that her husband’s capacity to provide godly leadership would suffer from a tendency to rule her in an tyrannical, oppressive, domineering way
    6. and that her desire for her husband would make her more vulnerable to such oppression. She would feel drawn to the man, need his commitment and love, want to lean on him for the strength and protection he provides. If he manipulated and domineered instead of providing security, she might become servile to his sin in order to ‘fix’ the relationship.

    The few words of 3:16b speak to us of the complex role conflicts, strife and suffering that characterize gender relationships in this fallen world.
    Since the Fall, womankind has faced the same situation that God spelled out to Eve. If she tries to share in his role, or to master him, she finds herself un-submissive to her husband. Yet in her desire for her husband, she can end up complying with his sinful domination. If so, she finds herself un-submissive to God.

    In cases of a husband abusing his wife, the godly thing for the wife to do is not to submit or comply with the sin of her husband, but to take a stand for godliness. This might include rebuke (Matthew 18:15-17, taking all the four steps one by one, which could eventually lead to church discipline of the abuser), separation, seeking protection from the courts that God has ordained to protect the vulnerable (Romans 13), divorce.

    To submit to an unrepentant, persistent abuser will only enable him to continue in his sin.

    My reading of “desire” in Gen. 3:16 has been approved by Alan Groves a Hebrew specialist from Westminster Theological Seminary.
    Unfortunately my view is yet to be published (in my next book, “Biblical Answers to Domestic Abuse”) which I will get back to once “Not Under Bondage” is selling well.

  4. Hmm… in my recent studies, I have come across the information that the original meaning of the Hebrew word in Genesis 3:16 (teshuqa) that is translated ‘desire’ actually meant ‘turning’ or ‘turning away.’ The implication then, that women’s turning away would be for their husbands and their husbands would lord this over them. What I see is that if women turn away from God in favor of their husbands, i.e., put their husbands above god (which is in essence what some of these teachings promote), then her husband would lord this over her.

    I also did a post on the term ‘help meet’ in Genesis 2…

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