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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Gender Roles: Are Complementarians Traditionalists?

Jocelyn Anderson, author of the book Woman Submit! featured in my left sidebar, has written an insightful post on her blog (linked in my blogroll), called Complementarians NOT Traditionalists? Hogwash!

One of the things I find frustrating about the complementarian movement, Vision Forum, Eagle Forum, Bill Gothard et.al., the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, True Woman, etc. is how the roots of these organizations within a larger movement are shrouded in mystery and utterly unquestioned. Because “all” the “big names” appear to think this whole thing is just straight from God’s mouth to our ears, no one questions what is being taught.

In the article Jocelyn takes apart just one point in the tangled ball of yarn that is the truth and roots of this movement. And a powerful point it is! It is so important for us as believers to be truly aware. Being Bereans is the responsibility of us all – and that must include digging into where these assumed “truths” are coming from and what their roots are. And unfortunately it is such a convoluted mess it can be hard to sort the threads. Jocelyn is doing just that, and this is a very informative piece of the puzzle.

Respect and Equality in Marriage

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Are respect and equality in marriage a radical feminist idea of fairly recent origin? Are they against the plain teaching of the Word?

Ah, I hear the “buts” already. Why am I putting respect and equality on the same footing in that statement? Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians everywhere would say respect and equality are not intrinsically linked. “I can respect my wife in her position beneath me.” That’s what popular Christian marital role philosophy teaches.

True respect values another as being just as important as myself. Respect sees the other person as equal or greater in value. And respect doesn’t pick and choose, limiting respect to a theoretical concept, while still viewing the other as “less” in many ways. It isn’t respect if it isn’t respect.

The Word’s admonition for husbands to love their wives as their own bodies is a good example of this. Who among us is going to treat our own body abusively (deliberately – not through poor diet choices, etc.) Granted there are some people who do hurt themselves – but we can hardly say that is a good thing! We don’t like pain and we go out of our way to avoid it. That is respect for ourselves – I respect my own feelings enough not to deliberately violate them. We are fundamentally created to avoid hurting ourselves – that’s what nerve endings and pain receptors are for! I consider my leg to be just as important as the rest of me. Same with my eye or my foot. That is respect. There is NO element of choosing “less” or “greater.”

In a marriage relationship, respect cannot be one-sided. That will be a relationship destined for abuse on some level. The minute there is a heirarchy, there is some element of disrespect, because there is an expectation that some are “above” others. That means, by default, that those others are “less” or “lower” than those above them.

This is so simply logical, and yet, it is denied. You can put all the words on it you want like “equal but with different roles” – and it is still a higher-lower relationship – which is one of disrespect. Equal with different roles would be equal with different roles, not hierarchical with different roles.

It’s exactly like the prejudiced idea of racial “equality” popularly phrased “equal but separate” – that wasn’t equality of value or respect! I don’t care what words or fancy explanations you want to concoct – it is still disrespect. If one person is “lower” than the other in a heirarchy, that is disrespect at the most basic level – and therefore disrespectful throughout. You cannot have an uneven foundation and expect the building to be level – or secure.

This idea of disrespect in hierarchy is fundamentally in opposition of everything Jesus taught. He gave up His “rights” and put Himself in the lowest position – and instructed husbands to do the same. That doesn’t sound like the hierarchical system the church teaches at all. In fact, it would put husbands as EQUAL to their wives. What a novel concept.

We also have to remember the cultural paradigm of the time when Jesus spoke. In that culture men owned women – women had no rights. They were very little different than slaves – which makes it that much more interesting that the passages about wives and slaves are seen in close proximity in the Word.

Without attempting to directly attack the cultural reality of the day, Jesus effectively overturned it by telling husbands to put themselves in the position of servant to their wives. We interpret that through the lenses of our culture, which does not include slavery. So we think of “servant” as just someone who does nice things for someone else or helps out with the household tasks. We MUST understand it the way Jesus meant it when He said it.

Slaves had the least status of everyone. Jesus told men NOT to lord over their wives (that was His paradigm of leadership across the board, stated elsewhere) – but instead to be the servants in the relationship – to voluntarily take the lowest position in the culturally-expected hierarchical system of the time. That would make them equal to the women, slaves and children rather than being “over” them in a hierarchical system.

If we interpret the rest of the admonitions on marriage from this fundamental perspective, it changes everything.

On a side note — would that make Jesus the original radical feminist??? I think not. And it doesn’t make me one either. It just makes me a Biblical literalist – who believes that taking the Bible literally means taking the entire thing in context, rather than picking out bits and creating doctrines on verses here and there. Hmm – how strange and wicked – and radical – is that?

Is Domestic Abuse Just a Satanic Deception?

This came up in a comments conversation yesterday, and it is, unfortunately, a commonly-held idea. So I thought it would be worth expanding a bit and giving a spotlight of its own. Thanks for sharing, Hannah!

HANNAH:

I came across another [person who doesn’t understand. She said wives] are easily deceived just like Eve. [She] almost hinted that women THINK they are being abused, but generally they are just manipulating to make sure they get their way.

MY RESPONSE:

Why would this woman be under the impression wives are “easily deceived” “like Eve?” I do not see a single thing in Gen. 3 that says Eve was particularly vulnerable to deception, as opposed to Adam.

Nothing at all was said to Eve regarding her “weakness” or sin, other than being given her consequences for disobedience. God held her responsible for her choice but did not offer any additional comment or chastisement. It was simple consequences for action, as is always the case for sin.

But in Gen. 3 Adam was rebuked for listening to Eve – instead of obeying God. In his case, this was a sin of idolatry. He chose to obey his wife over God, when God had personally given Him instructions and he had a direct relationship with God on the subject. I believe this rebuke is clearly because of his idolatry, not because of the gender of the person to whom he listened! God takes idolatry very seriously.

At the same time, there is nothing in this passage to support the idea (extrapolated from the text by some preachers) that men who listen to their wives are panty-waists.

Adam was the person to whom God had given the instruction about what to eat and what to avoid – not Eve. We are left completely in the dark as to what Eve did or did not know about what God told Adam, other than that God said she wasn’t supposed to eat of that tree. So we really cannot make guesses as to her guilt or innocence of motive beyond the text. All we have is what is in the text. She knew better, she chose to do it anyway, and she was given consequences as a result of that choice.

God did not offer any additional rebuke to Eve. However, God did rebuke Adam. That rebuke was not because Adam failed to be a good leader to his family (as some pastors like to say). It was not because he failed to be a “big enough man” (as some pastors like to say). It was because Adam committed idolatry – plain and simple. He obeyed man rather than God. God Himself had given Adam a direct command and Adam chose to follow someone else.

Elsewhere in Scripture it says Eve was deceived and Paul expressed concern that Satan could deceive the Corinthian believers in the same way (II Cor. 11:3). Again, there is no implication here that this was a “woman” problem, as opposed to a “man” problem. In fact, Paul was addressing Christians of both sexes — he obviously didn’t think this was a “wives” or “woman” problem!

THE reason this woman has the idea women are easily deceived is because preachers preach that garbage from the pulpit as if it were from the Bible. They support it with passages like the “weaker vessel” verse, etc. and say women are morally weaker than men. This is utterly unsupportable by the Word and takes verses out of context to create a new doctrine out of whole cloth.

However, preachers today do not come by this idea out of their own heads. This is a long-standing, unbroken tradition from at least as far back as St. Augustine in the Catholic church. St. Augustine stamped large on the theology of the church regarding the roles of men and women.

Unfortunately, Augustine’s beliefs on the subject of marriage were colored by two utterly unreliable – and extra-biblical – sources. He viewed his own parents’ dysfunctional marriage as an ideal. His mother absolutely submitted to his father’s rages and taught other women to blindly and unquestioningly do that same. He also thought highly of the philosophy of Aristotle, who espoused the idea that women must be subjugated to men for the sake of the function of community. Aristotle lived before Christ and certainly did not acquire any of his ideas from any Judeo-Christian text.

But these two sources — the marriage of Augustine’s parents and the philosophy of Aristotle — were the unspoken mold that held the hand that wrote the theology of marital roles still being taught in Protestant churches today. (As time allows I will eventually write more extensively on this subject later.)

The person who said “women who think they are being abused are just deceived” is merely regurgitation the male domination/female subjugation doctrine she has been fed from the pulpit as if God said it, and she completely believes it. Unfortunately, she is far from alone in her deception.