Wives, Be Subject to Your Husbands

If wives (and women) are equal to their husbands (and men) then why does St Paul command wives to be "subject to" their husbands? (Eph. 5:22) How nonchalantly patriarchs and complementarians quickly skirt past the prior passage: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph. 5:21, emphasis added) Here is an overt call for men to be subject to women and women to be subject to men -- for young believers to be subject to older believers and older believers to be subject to younger believers -- for all who are in Christ to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Rom. 12:10, 16; Gal. 3:28)

Jesus demands that strict lordship not be implemented in our Christian context. (Matt. 20:25) St Peter echoes Christ's teaching. (1 Pet. 5:3) St Paul commands husbands to life-giving headship and redemptive-affirming equality for their wives. (Eph. 5:25, 28) He insists that the body of the husband belongs to the wife and vice versa. (1 Cor. 7:4) He states that "woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman." (1 Cor. 11:11, emphasis added) He explicitly notes equality in Christ. (Gal. 3:28) So why the obsession with female subservience? The husband and the wife cannot be equal in Christ if the wife is supposed to submit to her husband like a boss or a priest. Why does the apostle follow a command of mutual submission with a command for wives to be subject to their husbands?

The husband is noted as being the "head," κεφαλὴ, of the wife -- our Greek word referring to "source" or "corner-stone." Adam, strictly taken, is the "source" of Eve because God takes an element from within Man to create Woman. (Gen. 2:21-22) Still, the apostle Paul also states, "Indeed, man was not made from [is not the original product of] woman [as the head or source], but woman from man." (1 Cor. 11:8) He also notes: "Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man (1 Cor. 11:9), meaning that God notices that Adam is in need of Eve, and the two, in union, become one and equal. (Gen. 1:26-27) However, he concludes, "For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman" (1 Cor. 11:12), and thus both are equally dependent upon the other.

The so-called headship motif, then, maintains principles of creation and not of rulership. In light of 1 Corinthians 7:4; 11:12 and Ephesians 5:25, 28, we argue that such passages emphasize "the mutual dependence that a [husband] and wife have on each other, and it calls on husbands to nourish and cherish their wives since they have such an intimate connection with them in a spiritual sense."1 But this still does not address our main concern proposed in the title of this post.

When the husband recognizes the equality of his wife, spiritually and relationally, he loves her as he loves himself. He places her before himself. Is she not called to the same respect? In a marriage of equality, the wife does not become superior, but she, too, submits herself to her husband as he is submitting himself in mutual admiration and function -- they key being function.

Keep in mind one historical reality: a movement of female domination was on the rise and certain women in society were beginning to assume authority over men. (link) But relational authoritarianism and lordship is exactly the motif that Christianity rejects. The apostle does not want Christian women to follow the novel ways of the Roman Woman worldview, in which women were viewed as superior and men subservient, but to submit to their husbands as their husbands lovingly submit to their wives. Mutual submission and working and functioning in harmony best represents a Christ-redeemed Christian perspective. Patriarchy and complementarianism maintain a fallen perspective -- that the husband rules over the wife and the wife submits to the whims of the husband.

Women, in a redemptive Christian context, are to learn (1 Tim. 2:11), yes, but not to assume authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12), just as men are not to assume authority over women and others (as already referenced). We cannot maintain mutuality while one party is vying to control, manipulate, or lord so-called authority or priesthood over any other party. The purpose of Paul's exhortation is, in itself, a culturally clever one -- one that protects both the Gospel of Christ and the new first-century Christian. Dr. Craig S. Keener argues:
If wives submit to their husbands [as per Ephesians 5:22], Roman moralists and others could not claim that Christianity subverted pagan morals. But if the husband also submits [as per Eph. 5:21, 25, 28; 1 Cor. 7:4; 11:12; Gal. 3:28; Rom. 12:10, 16], and husband and wife act as equals before God, Paul is demanding something more than Roman moralists typically demanded, not less.3
Dr. Keener's final point is a proverbial slap in the face to any notion of complementarianism, male so-called headship, and patriarchy, given that complementarians do not even consistently hold to the exhortations of the passages from which they quote in an effort to subjugate women/wives.

For example, most complementarian men do not enforce their wives to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11:5), keep their own "manly" hair at a short length (1 Cor. 11:14) -- who decides what is short and what is long? -- nor do they govern their wives in enforcing they keep their hair long (1 Cor. 11:15). Why not? As mentioned in previous posts: Most complementarian men do not lift their hands during prayer, as they are instructed (1 Tim. 2:8), nor do they enforce their wives to dress modestly with inexpensive clothing, nor do they forbid them to wear jewelry, again, as they are commanded (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3). Why not?

Complementarians do not enforce their wives to call them "lord" (1 Pet. 3:6) -- or, at least, I have never heard nor read of any complementarian man enforcing such. Why not? Why are complementarians permitted to pick and choose which commands they will obey and which they will discard as too antiquated, while they themselves enforce other parts of Scripture -- according to their own complementarian hermeneutic -- that are equally as antiquated? Why the hypocrisy and double standards? They demand that wives be subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22), meaning that the husband is to "lead" the family as priest of the home, making all the decisions, while neglecting to be subject to their wives and others (Eph. 5:21), and neglecting a host of other commands and biblically-cultural practices of a bygone era. Only egalitarianism avoids such double standards and contradictions of interpreting these biblical texts.


1 J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2000), 84.

2 Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 169.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.