What Does the Bible Really Say? — Wives Submit

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Recently, a drive-by poster replied to the article “Does God Want Me to Stay in an Abusive Marriage. His post was so full of twisted and misunderstood Scripture that it cannot go unaddressed. This is especially true since he managed to encapsulate so much of what the church tends to teach or preach at those who are in abusive marriages. As a result I feel this needs the attention of an article of its own.

I have been unfortunately slow in responding, since this is such a big pot of goo. In fact, I will have to break this into a series addressing each part because a single article cannot possibly do it justice. So this is the first installment, addressing just the first two verses Ancient has nipped neatly out of the Word.

Ancient, on May 29th, 2009 at 8:24 pm said:

Read the Word of the Lord, sisters:

Eph 5:22-23 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Gen 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Mark 10:9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Matt 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Remember that even in the case of a marriage between a believer and a non-believer, it is better that they stay together so that the believing spouse might sanctify the unbelieving spouse.

Trust in the Lord, not men. Christ, not attorneys or psychologists, etc. Pray for your husband. Submit yourself to him humbly and tell him you love him and that God loves him.

If he strikes you upon the cheek, turn so that he might strike you upon the other. Forgive him, for Christ was better than ALL of us put together and he died for us on the cross though we deserved nothing but condemnation. Will you only condemn your husband?

We are Christians, not servants of Islam or any other religion which makes a mockery of marriage. Do as the Lord would have you do, as His only begotten Son commanded of all of us no matter the situation.

May the Lord bless you and keep you always.

Danni response:

In this article, I will address only the first two Scriptures misused.

Eph 5:22-23 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

In the first place, I have to point out that all of these individual Scriptures have been plucked out of their context. In every case, the result is deadly. Let’s get a look at the “back story” on this one.

Eph. 5:17-33

Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

OK, right off the bat – that is a whole lot more verses and verbiage than the one bit Ancient snagged out of the middle!

So here goes. First, let’s isolate who this passage is written to. Given the first part, which is intrinsically linked to the admonitions regarding marriage, it is clear this was written to Christian couples, where both husband and wife are believers. The marital specifics were written in the context of a directive to be filled with – under the control of — the Holy Spirit rather than being drunk with alcoholic beverages. It also says to speak to yourselves in songs and hymns, and to give thanks for all things. Then it says to submit to one another.

Now, people like to chop this entire section up, but you just can’t do that. You can’t separate it out into isolated bits when there is no reason to do so. This is all one string of admonition, one context, and it should be interpreted that way.

The Word indicates we are to submit to one another in other parts of the Bible as well. Let me ask you – how much sense does it make for God to say submit to one another — except if you’re a man who is married; and only toward your wife are you not to submit. If God meant that, He surely would have said it clearly because that’s a pretty hefty and complex exception.

But just in case, someone might want to get that out of it – and many people do – the rest of the context should put that idea to rest.

Verse 22 says wives are to submit to their husbands, but the verse doesn’t stop there! This statement has a qualification in it. It says wives are to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord. As very simply means “in the same way.” So, how is a wife to submit to a husband who is telling her to do things that are against what the Lord tells her to do, to believe things that are contrary to the truth of the Lord, and to obey him, submit to him, and agree with him in untruth that is in direct denial to the truth of the Word? This admonition to submit has a limitation on it — as unto the Lord. And that doesn’t even take into account that this relationship is supposed to be one that is happening in the context of both parties being controlled by the Holy Spirit, etc. and mutual submission.

Verse 23 and 24 put further qualifications on verse 22. Verse 23 starts with the word “for.” That means it is continuing the thought without pause. Verse 23 says for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church… therefore (verse 24) as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Again this includes the qualification that the wife’s submission to her husband is to be as the church’s submission to Christ – not outside of it! There is no circumstance under which the church would obey Christ outside of the context of the truth because, obviously, Christ would never ask such a thing of the church. But that doesn’t mean that a wife is supposed to obey or submit to her husband if he is going outside the stated perameters and expecting his wife to come into agreement with him outside of, or in direct violation of, obedience to Christ.

There is another important qualifying detail here too. Verse 24 says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Well, Phil. 2:2-8 puts some context to that statement.


Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Verses 2-4 describe behavior which is distinctly opposite of the behavior of an abuser. And to make it more potent, these verses are connected to the ones following, which very specifically describe Jesus’ way of being the head of the church.

Jesus was the head of the church, not by being it’s master controller but by making himself of no reputation, taking on the form of a servant, and being humbled in the most extreme way.

This is NOT the model of headship the church teaches. The Word uses the word “head” in the way you would describe a person who is at the “head” of a line. The person at the head of a line doesn’t boss everyone in line behind him. He simply goes first, showing the direction to those with him, and perhaps making a model or path that those behind him can follow. He may clear debris and obstacles from the path so that it is easier for those who follow. But he doesn’t boss around those who are in the line behind him!

This understanding is further supported where the Word specifically states this same understanding in Mark 10:42-45:

But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

In case there was any doubt whatsoever of how God intended leadership to be in the body of Christ, Jesus is very specific in this passage. We as believers are not to model leadership, authority, headship, etc. after the pattern of the Gentiles who rule over others. We are to follow Jesus model – be the servant of all, minister to rather than being ministered to, and give up our lives in sacrifice for the benefit of others, not insist that they do so for us. This was Jesus’ model and the Word very specifically says husbands are to follow this pattern!

We also need to remember the cultural context of these statements. We tend to think of the word “servant” as someone who helps out someone else. But in the culture to which this was written this was a truly radical thought because a servant was automatically understood to be a slave. A slave was the equal, or inferior, to women and children.

When the Word makes these statements it is telling husbands (and church leaders, incidentally) to put themselves on the same level, equal to, the slave who serves their wife and children! There is no room in the Word for the understanding that men are supposed to rule over their families or that a wife is to obey or submit to a husband who is being a tyrant – which would be submitting NOT as unto the Lord.

The passage in Ephesians then goes on to describe in more detail how a Christian husband will treat his wife, by drawing more specific comparisons to the way Christ treated the church. This is the behavior that must characterize him in order for her to submit to him as unto the Lord.

A Christian husband must give himself for his wife, he must love his wife as his own body, he must leave his family, and he must cleave to his wife. Frankly, not one of these things characterizes an abuser. Each one of these points is huge in itself.

But just taking the last one – he must cleave to his wife – this pivotal truth is not taught in the church. This verse is directly quoting Genesis 2:24, another verse plucked out of context and misapplied by Ancient. We read these verses all the time, and they are very popular in marriage ceremonies. But no one really teaches about this. A husband must leave his family and cleave to his wife. When he does that, they will be one flesh.

First of all, we have to note that this is not, nor ever implied elsewhere in the Word to be, directed to a wife. This is ALL on the husband. He is the one who has to leave his family bonds and sever that loyalty as first place in his heart. And he must cleave to his wife. That doesn’t just mean he will have sex with her and they will be one flesh. No, it means he must cleave to his wife.

When something “cleaves” to something else it does a couple things. First, it sticks completely – there is no place of separation. Second, it molds itself to the surface to which it is adhering – not the other way around!!!!! An abusive husband has done neither – and he usually hasn’t left his family either.

A godly husband will make his wife his absolute first loyalty. He will be completely devoted to her, without any place of separation or divided loyalty. And he will mold himself to HER, rather than insisting she mold herself to him.

Then, after all this huge pile of very specific admonition to a Christian husband about how he is to treat his wife, there is one final phrase directed to the wife. It says the wife should reverence her husband. Reverence means to respect and honor. Honestly, any wife who had a husband like this passage describes would have little or no trouble respecting and honoring him!

Can you see that this passage has an awful lot to say about the husband’s behavior and very little about the wife’s? Yet verse 22 gets plucked out of context on a regular basis and women are preached at to submit to their husbands in all things and reverence their husbands – with no understanding given to the fact that the wife’s behavior is to be predicated on whether her husband is acting in a way that she can submit to/reverence him as to the Lord — which is the qualification the verse places on her.

This gross misuse of Scripture by Ancient – who learned it from the church – is one example of how the church is being used as an abuser of women and children, because the church is supporting their abuser and sending them back into abuse, increasing their abuse – all in the name of righteousness and against the clear teaching of the Word.

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10 Responses

  1. What powerful commentary, Danni, and so true! I have heard sermons on the cleaving a husband is told to do, that he is to leave his own family and be joined to his wife. But they forget to mention that HE is to be doing the cleaving, the molding. You bring up a very good point.

    Also on the same subject, it is very common for the abusive husband (and perhaps even those who are not considered abusive) to limit or restrict his wife’s time with her family. Perhaps the real problem is that he has not bothered to mold himself to his wife, that he has tried to coerce her into molding herself to him, and that leaves her feeling lonely and isolated, since a man like doesn’t have qualities worth being molded to. I am not speaking of bedroom intimacy here. I am talking of emotional intimacy, meeting HER needs.

    To add to your conclusion about the husband molding himself to his wife, consider Deuteronomy 24:5 “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” As you indicated; it’s all about him serving her.

  2. I have read this exact same derivation a thousand times online. There is one problem with mutual submission, it is not logically possible. Two people cannot simultaneously submit to one another.
    Have fun trying…..

    after you
    no after you

    nope I insist…after you

    nah, after you really

    no, after you

    mutual submission…..there ya have it

    The correct biblical model would be a man saying “after you”, and honoring her by letting her be first in everything.

    Second. the misandry is thinly veiled. Check facts, women are equal oppty abusers. Dont therefore say abuse of eoman and children….there are not just a few abused men…especially that verbal abuse thing.

    • Read the statement in the left sidebar – re: whether women are the only or primary victims of abuse. Being a fly-by commenter, making judgments without knowing what you’re talking about does not reflect well of you.

      What is impossible with man is possible with God. If God said it, there IS way if both people are first submitted to the Holy Spirit – a criteria specifically stated in the same context. Are you suggesting that Jesus lied or that His leadership model is faulty? It’s all right there in the book – you can’t pick a few Scriptures out of the context of the whole.

      I also did not say a woman is to be unsubmissive – so be careful not to suggest I meant any such thing.

      However, your sarcastic incredulity indicates you have no desire to actually consider the validity of what I wrote, from the Word.

      — Danni

    • Astounded, if 2 people cannot submit to one another at the same time, what was the point in writing Eph 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”? I would much rather have people defer to one another as you have pictured, than to have one of them continually make demeaning demands on the other, and always making the decisions–usually ones that hurt the spouse.

      It looks like you and Danni are in agreement about the husband always being the one to sacrifice. That is indeed the correct biblical model.

      I’m not sure why you mention that women are abusers, too. I believe the subject is that many men USE SCRIPTURE to permit, encourage, and justify the husband control of their wives, which is abuse and often results in domestic violence. This same use of scripture is heard from pulpits all over the USA, and probably all over the world. I have never heard women using scripture to justify dominating men. Neither have I heard any such doctrine from the pulpit. Instead, even the idea of women being equal with men in decision-making power in their homes is shot down by many as “feminism.” The teaching of the submission doctrine is usually co-taught with the husband authority/husband leader/husband-in-charge doctrine.

      Notice that both the submission directives to wives and the submission through loving self-sacrifice directive to husbands are in fact present in the word. When one is taught and applied, but not the other, as is currently the case in many churches, we end up with submission tyranny.

      I have been writing a series called “itching ears” on my Submission Tyranny blog, http://submissiontyranny.blogspot.com After all my research, I am astounded that the entire husband authority doctrine rests on one word–the word “head” that is written in the dirctive to wives. When I look up head in the Strong’s concordance, I find it is referring to the literal head on a body, or it can be used figuratively. The husband authority doctrine is resting on the figurative use of a word, on a metaphor that an abusive husband can twist to mean anything he wants it to mean. No scripture tells a husband to rule, lead, or guide his wife. The one that even slightly does–the one about the qualifications of a church leader, calls it “managing” or “ruling” his house. But a different passage tells wives to manage or rule their households, too. And that is not limited to women in leadership positions. Neither of the passages that say husbands or wives should rule their households make any reference to ruling their spouses. I take it from this that the two are to rule their household together. Indeed, the Bible tells children to obey their parents. It does not say “Children obey your fathers.”

  3. Astounded, I hope you think a bit more about this issue. If you really want to address this, I suggest you start by reading and believing the testimony of Danni and the many victim/survivors who post on the web: that many men ARE using scripture to justify abusing their wives. And many non-abusers are wittingly or unwittingly teaching the headship/submission doctrine in such as way as to allow this to continue.

    Regarding women abusers, yes they exist, but I’ve never heard of one using scripture to justify her abuse. If there are any genuine male victims out there with stories to tell on this, please speak up!

    Reflecting on scripture, I cannot think of one verse which would be easily twisted to justify a wife abusing her husband.
    Mind you, I don’t think there is one scripture which justifies a husband abusing his wife, but the way headship/submission is often taught DOES allow this twisting in favor of male abusers.

    If anyone wants to read more, look at Steve Tracy’s article “What Does Submit in Everything Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission”. http://www.phoenixseminary.edu/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=X89E%2f46lQGA%3d&tabid=227&mid=939

  4. I have a problem with your theory…in this article your stating that we should only follow Gods word if our spouse is following Gods word. This is blasphemy! Gods word is never dependent upon what someone else is or isn’t doing…it’s constant. So if you enter into a marriage and your spouse decides they want to turn their back on God or they never really believed in the first place, that doesn’t mean we automatically are exempt from still being obedient! According to this your saying, if a husband isn’t doing his part there’s no reason to do mine, can you honestly say that if you were standing in front of God that He would agree? Jesus (the bridegroom) DIED for all mankind, this includes those that hate him, is this not the same relationship we’re supposed to emulate? To show a love so deep that no amount of abuse from the other party unto death itself can sever! Your twisting Gods word and making excuses. Men and women alike must submit, but if one or the other decides that’s not for them it doesn’t give us the authority to say “forget it, if their not doing it neither am I”

    • I will address these thoughts further in the other segments of the series. At the bottomline – we are NEVER to obey a spouse when that spouse demands we do things that are idolatrous — which is what ends up happening in abuse. The Word also does not hold someone in a marriage with an unbeliever (and there is Scriptural grounds for judging someone an unbeliever regardless of what they say about their religion) or when a partner has abandoned the marriage.

      We can’t throw out the example of Sarah how obeyed Abraham even in disobedience, nor ignore the Word that talks about husbands being disobedient to the word. I will get to those passages eventually – they are in the Word and they mean what they say. But even they have to be interpreted in light of their context and what they actually say, rather than what the church likes to say they say but they don’t.

      — Danni

    • If your a believer and your husband is not or is pretending he is and is not following the law of God and he asks or demands that you do something that is against the will of God/His Word: No you do not submit to him by going against the Word of God….As a believer your submission is first to Christ .
      If he was truly a believer and truly loving and serving and following the word of God, we probably wouldn’t have the abuse issue then either…

  5. I think there is too much judging and finger pointing going on.

    My understanding of the bible and what God wants of me is unfolding rather than complete.

    I think this site has too much man hating and not enough humitlity.

    What is our true goal?

  6. Finger pointing and judging?
    I believe it says that we will know them by their fruit…that being the fruit of the Spirit…Abuse and or adultery, in any form is not a fruit of the Spirit.
    Judging: I Corinthians 5: 12 &13 says, for what have I to do with judging outsiders. Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside , God judges, Remove the wicked man from amongst yourselves.
    Judging? In fact right at this moment in your comment , you yourself are judging us and that is why you made the assumptions of finger pointing and lack of humility and man hating and asking what the goal is..Is this judgement? Yes, it is because you are not sharing and questioning your own experiences .
    Man hating?
    No, I for myself , do not hate men….after all I gave birth to two of them and they have grown up into two upstanding and respectable men who are neither adulterers nor abusers. For that I am thankful more than I can put into words.
    There are wonderful men out there I am sure, but the reality is, there are also vile and hurtful men out there who hurt their wives and families and destroy their marriages and people in the process of fulfilling their selfish and lustful desires.
    Whether people like it or not, that is the reality of life..as the Lord lets everyone make their own choices..there is that “free will’ thing again.

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