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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. – Ephesians 5:22-24
A lady wrote, asking me to be more careful when I say “the Bible does not teach that a wife is to submit to her husband in everything,” because it’s clear that I’m wrong. She referenced Ephesians 5:24 as her proof text.
It is unusual for a woman to admonish me about my belief that a husband does not have absolute authority over a wife. Typically, it’s a husband who misinterprets this passage so he can maintain his unobstructed rulership over his wife.
My most compassionate response to her is that she is misinterpreting this passage of scripture. My most direct way of responding to her is that she has a blasphemous view of a husband’s authority.
When you set up any human as an absolute authority over someone, that person is in a more powerful position than God. According to this lady, a wife should submit to her husband in everything, with no counterargument or modification. (I’m assuming she is married; I do not know her.)
For example, if your husband asked you to kill your son, you would have to submit to his request because you submit to him in everything. Perhaps he asks you to lie, cheat, or steal. In any of these cases, your allegiance to him would be higher than submitting to God, who would forbid those actions.
Hermeneutics is the science of Bible interpretation. There are many hermeneutical principles, and having a sound hermeneutic is critical when interpreting Bible words, verses, passages, meanings, and contexts.
Paul’s readers knew what he was saying, and what he said to them made sense. It would have been confusing for Paul to say, “Submit to your husbands in some things, but not everything.” That perspective would lead to similar problems as those who wanted to get a divorce for any reason. (Cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” – Matthew 19:3
To say to “submit in some things” would open the door to crazy speculations and agendas, as well as pragmatism, which is what some Pharisees were doing with the divorce issue.
If a person interpreted the last sentence of Ephesians 5:22-24 in the micro, they would only see the word everything without any modification. But there is a hermeneutical principle that says we are not supposed to read a sentence or a word as though we’re looking at it through a microscope.
To understand a verse, you must interpret it in the macro–in the context in which the word sits. In context, Paul is saying that wives are to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord, in a similar way that they submit to the Lord. The wife’s submission to her husband flows out of her submission to her Lord.
And how does she submit to the Lord? In holiness and without sinning are two ways that come to mind. If you submit to your husband in a similar way that you submit to the Lord, it’s apparent that your submission cannot include sin.
Another hermeneutical principle is comparing Scripture with Scripture, which teaches that if one passage is unclear, you look to another one to gain clarity. For example, these two verses, in isolation, could lead to bad practices.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. – Romans 13:1
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” – Acts 5:29
In one passage, we are to submit to civil authorities, and in the other passage, we are to obey God rather than men. But as you “compare Scripture with Scripture,” you find wisdom that leads you to obey your government unless they are asking you to do things that the Bible would forbid. The Romans and Acts passages do not contradict each other if you’re using sound hermeneutical principles.
There is also the “non-contradictory hermeneutical principle;” the Bible does not contradict itself. But without a mature understanding of the Bible, you could isolate texts and make them mean things that the Bible would never condone.
So when you read Ephesians 5:24 and it’s unclear to you, what you want to do is look at other passages to help you gain perspective on the lack of clarity found in that one verse.
Everything cannot mean everything because that would open the door for your husband to ask you to do things that God forbids. And your husband should never ask you to sin.
There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that teach how you are not to sin. For example, if you were commanded to submit to your husband in everything, you would be breaking the first commandment because your husband would be an idol.
You shall have no other gods before me. – Exodus 20:3
It is illogical, unbiblical, ludicrous, frightening, and potentially blasphemous to say that a wife is to submit to her husband (or any other person other than God) in everything.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).