“… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” [Eph5:21-29]
One of the first arguments against husband as head of the family is taken from the start of the passage above, which tells us to “submit to one another”. The suggestion of some is the verse is saying every Christian should submit to every other Christian, and thus husbands and wives are to submit to each other – mutual submission. The easiest way to cast doubt on this is to point out that the same Greek word is used in Rev 6:4 where we read, “that they should kill one another”. Clearly every person cannot kill every other person! Likewise, how can everyone submit to everyone? If we all follow each other, the best we can do it walk in a circle!
Beyond this, if we read forward a few more verses, we find Paul telling children to submit to their parents, and slaves(see note below) to submit to their masters. If Eph 5:21 applies to marriages, it must also apply to the other two relationships. If husbands are to submit to their wives, then parents are to submit to their children, and masters to their slaves. The answer I when I ask this is that the chapter change means that children and slaves are a new discussion. The problem with this is chapters did not exist in the original text.
I’ve also been told we are to be like Jesus and God, and that God did not rule over Jesus; Jesus was in full agreement with God on everything. My answer to this is the garden of Gethsemin. Jesus asked to not go to the cross, but said “not what I will, but what you will.” Seems very clear to me that Jesus didn’t want to do it, but choose to submit to God.
My bigger problem with this is husbands and wives are not called to imitate God and Jesus; we are told to imitate Jesus and the church. This takes us back to the passage at the top, where we are told wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to the Jesus. I see this as another argument against mutual submission; while I have seen those who want Jesus to submit to their will, I don’t find it a biblical concept. We submit to Him, He is our head – nothing mutual about it!
Bottom line for me: God called husbands to be head, and wives to submit to his headship. If I accept that as truth, my next task is to understand what headship and submission are supposed to look like.
A note on slavery: The slavery at the time of Christ and the early church was nowhere as horrible as the atrocity Britain and America carried on in the 17th, 18th, and much of the 19th century. I don’t mean to defended any kind of slavery, but I think we should understand the kind of slavery Paul is talking about was very different than what we all think of when we hear the word slavery.
This is a seven part series:
Headship? Me? Maybe not … Why men shy away from being the head.
Submit to each other? Wait, how does that work? Does it work?
Submit! But only if you want to? It’s a choice?
Who submits to whom, and why? God has a plan here, really.
Being the head What it means, and how it’s to be done.
Sexual submission New we’re talking … or not.
How we do headship and submission How it works in our message.