Not too long ago I visited a Church congregation in one of the Southern states and found myself listening to a fine Christian minister talking about the women in the church being “under subjection” to the man in a marriage relationship. When he had the folks turn to the passage in Ephesians 5:22-24 and began to read, I couldn’t help but notice a few of the men glancing with a superior grin toward their wives and nudging them to pay attention.
The King James Version renders this scripture as a familiar one for sure,
“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.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
To drive this point home, another scripture was read:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18)
Finally, to anchor the point solidly, the final scripture was read:
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11-14)
Taken out of context, these passages suggest that subjection is not only demanded, but subjection in silence is required. In fact, it is almost a punishment being applied since the woman “deceived was in the transgression.”
Having been “raised” in the Church I have actually heard sermons based on those scriptures that outlined this position many times through the years. In fact, the remnants of this position are still maintained in some facets of church life, especially in some main-stream religions throughout the world. From a prohibition of female public prayer or teaching anyone other than children within the church, to the complete dominance of men in all aspects over women practicing the Islamic faith, the subjection of women to men is regarded almost as absolute.
To be fair, many fine ministers of the Gospel have explained this man-woman relationship over the years in a way that has expanded the interpretation simply by putting it in context with the full scripture that also explains the responsibility of the husband. By placing it in the context (and this is why context is so important), it provides a balance of responsibility for both marriage partners that otherwise is absent. Ephesians 5:25-33 records,
“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.”
Likewise, continuing on with the passage in Colossians 3:19, in context it records,
“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.”
Well, husbands, you might want to reconsider that little elbow in your wife’s ribs when the “subjection” topic begins. It seems that your responsibility goes well beyond the responsibility of your wife. Her responsibility is only to submit herself to you; YOUR responsibility is to die for her.
This idea was perfectly outlined in a book written by Dr. M.R. De Haan entitled Portraits of Christ in Genesis. In that book Dr. De Haan explained that it was indeed Eve who sinned. She first ate of the “forbidden” fruit by listening to the Serpent’s word over the word of her husband who had told her what God had commanded. But when Adam approached his bride in the garden he was surprised at what she had done. Not only surprised, perhaps, but extremely saddened
Adam and Eve had been in a face-to-face relationship with God up to that very moment. Prior to that, when God had made Eve from Adam’s side, Adam had declared Eve as “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23) But had very quickly realized the special relationship he was to have with his wife and declared, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) But now, Eve had sinned and had fallen out of that relationship and had fallen under the condemnation of God’s edict of death. At that very moment, however, Adam remained in his face-to-face relationship with God, but was lost in his relationship with his bride. The only thing that he could do was to “give himself up for her” and join her in her sin. Adam died for his bride in order to save her. But God knew that even Adam’s sacrifice for his wife was not enough to extend to the entire human race. It would take much more than that. The death that Adam experienced was to bring death into the world through his sin. But God, later brought life back to the world through the death of His Son.
When God joined the two of them again He found that they knew they had sinned against Him. It was then that God revealed for the first time a hint of the great sacrifice that would come. In Genesis 3:15 we read,
“And I will put enmity between thee (Serpent or Satan) and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it (Christ) shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his (Christ) heel.”
We usually attribute this passage as foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ. Formally the two had been naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25), but now, in the presence of God, they had covered themselves because of their sin. Adam remembered, and knew that he had left his Father and will now always “cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Paul picked up on that in his great passage in Ephesians 5 when he interpreted that passage as
“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.”
For us it has forever been declared that even in the beginning God was speaking of the relationship between Christ and the church.
To bring that home even further, Paul declared in Romans 5:14 that Adam was a “figure” of Christ.
“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”
Christ is the one who ultimately gave the blood sacrifice that restores us to the saving relationship with God. And it was Adam who first died for his bride as a way to join her in the transgression. Therefore, although Adam did not die a physical death immediately, he died the ultimate death of separation from God as he participated in the disobedience to God by following his wife’s sin, even though Adam had heard the command to not eat the fruit directly from God’s lips.
Therefore, for each of us guys who may have a tendency to expect “submission” from our wives, we need to first examine our own willingness to lay down our life for our bride in the same type of love that Christ gave the Church. We need to yield to the realization that husbands have a greater responsibility. Although it is likely that we will never be called upon to demonstrate that level of love, but we should nevertheless be willing to reflect that level of love.
And if our love for our wives reflects that responsibility, then there will never be a problem of willing submission from our wives.