Understanding the Meaning of Submission in Marriage
Ephesians 5:22-27 is a well-known passage of the Bible that has been the subject of much debate and controversy over the years. In this passage, Paul addresses the topic of submission in marriage, where he calls on wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives. This passage has been misinterpreted and used to justify oppressive and abusive behaviour towards women. However, a closer examination of the text and its historical context reveals a different perspective.
The Context of Ephesians 5:22-27
Before delving into the passage’s meaning, it is essential to understand the context in which it was written. Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians while he was imprisoned in Rome. The purpose of the letter was to encourage and instruct the Ephesian church in the faith. The church in Ephesus was a mix of Jews and Gentiles, and Paul wrote this letter to emphasize the unity of believers in Christ.
In Chapter 5, Paul addresses the behaviour of believers in the church and the home. He encourages believers to imitate God and walk in love.
Ephesians 5:1-2 — Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
He also urges them to abstain from sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness.
Ephesians 5:3-7 — But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting – all of which are out of character – but rather thanksgiving. For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be sharers with them,
Then he addresses the topic of marriage and the relationship between husbands and wives.
Understanding the Meaning of Submission in Marriage
In Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul writes,
“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.”
The word “submit” has caused much controversy over the years. Some have interpreted this passage to mean that women must be subservient to men and that men have the right to dominate and control their wives. However, this interpretation is incorrect and goes against the teachings of the Bible.
The word “submit” comes from the Greek word “hupotasso,” which means “to place oneself under.” It is a military term used to describe soldiers placing themselves under the authority of their commanding officer. In the context of marriage, submission means that wives are called to respect their husbands’ leadership and to willingly place themselves under their authority.
It is essential to note that this passage does not call for blind obedience or unquestioning submission. The phrase “as to the Lord” indicates that wives’ submission is not to their husbands but to Christ. Paul is not calling on wives to submit to their husbands in everything, but in the same way that the church submits to Christ. This submission is voluntary and is done out of reverence for Christ.
In verse 25, Paul turns his attention to the husbands and writes,
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Here, Paul is calling on husbands to love their wives sacrificially. Christ loved the church so much that he gave his life for her. Husbands are called to love their wives in the same way, by being willing to lay down their lives for them.
The Role of Husbands and Wives in Marriage
In verses 26-27, Paul writes,
“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.”
The focus in these verses is on the analogy between the relationship of Christ and the Church and the relationship between a husband and wife. Paul emphasizes that the relationship between a husband and wife should mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church, with the husband serving as the head of the household and the wife submitting to his leadership.
The analogy between Christ and the Church is significant because it highlights the sacrificial love that Christ had for the Church. Just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, husbands are called to love their wives sacrificially. This means that husbands are called to put their wives’ needs before their own, just as Christ put the needs of the Church before His own.
The purpose of this sacrificial love is to sanctify and cleanse the wife, so that she may be presented to Christ in splendour, without spot or blemish. This is not to say that the husband is solely responsible for his wife’s sanctification, but rather that he has a role to play in promoting her holiness.
Not Oppression or Exerting Power
It is important to note that the submission of wives to their husbands is not intended to be a form of oppression or a means of exerting power over women. Rather, it is a call for wives to voluntarily submit to their husbands’ leadership for the sake of a healthy and harmonious marriage. This does not mean that wives are to be passive or voiceless, but rather that they are to work together with their husbands in making decisions and building their marriage.
Furthermore, it is crucial to recognize that this passage is not a blanket statement that all women are to submit to all men. Rather, it specifically addresses the relationship between husbands and wives and calls for wives to submit to their husbands. Both men and women are equally created in God’s image, and both are heirs together of eternal life.
Importance of Love
In addition to the idea of submission in marriage, Paul also emphasizes the importance of love. Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, which means sacrificially and unconditionally. This kind of love requires a willingness to put one’s own needs and desires aside for the sake of the other person. It is a love that seeks to build up and strengthen the other person, rather than tearing them down.
Overall, the passage in Ephesians 5:22-27 highlights the importance of sacrificial love and mutual submission in marriage. It emphasizes the need for husbands to love their wives sacrificially, and for wives to submit to their husbands’ leadership for the sake of a healthy and harmonious relationship. It is not a call for women to be oppressed or silenced, but rather a call for both partners to work together in building a strong and loving marriage.
Here are additional verses related to Ephesians 5:22-27,
Genesis 2:18, 21-24 provides insight into God’s design for marriage and the roles of husbands and wives.
Genesis 2:18 — The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
Genesis 2:21-24 — So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.
In these verses, God creates Eve as a companion and helper for Adam. The two become one flesh in marriage, a union that reflects the perfect unity between Christ and His church.
God’s plan for marriage includes a clear distinction of roles between husbands and wives. While both are equally valuable and essential in the marriage relationship, the husband is the head of the household, responsible for providing leadership, protection, and provision for his family. The wife is called to submit to her husband’s leadership, respecting and honouring him as the head of the household.
This design is not meant to be oppressive or unfair. Rather, it is intended to promote harmony and unity in the marriage relationship. Just as Christ sacrificially gave Himself up for the church, husbands are called to love their wives sacrificially, putting their needs and well-being above their own.
Colossians 3:18-19 — Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Similar to Ephesians 5:22-27, Colossians 3:18-19 emphasizes the importance of wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives. The phrase “as is fitting in the Lord” suggests that this submission should be in line with God’s will for the marriage relationship.
The command for husbands to “not be harsh with them” (referring to their wives) is an important reminder that love should be characterized by gentleness, kindness, and compassion, rather than domination or abuse. It also implies that wives may be vulnerable to harsh treatment if they do not have the protection of their husband’s love.
1 Peter 3:1-7 — Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
Here, Peter reinforces the concept of wives submitting to their husbands but adds an important twist: wives can win over their husbands through their godly behaviour. If a husband does not believe in the gospel, he may be won over by his wife’s submission, purity, and reverence. This implies that wives have a powerful influence on their husbands and can be a source of positive change in the relationship.
The passage also emphasizes the value of inner beauty over external adornment. A gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight, is a more desirable quality than elaborate hairstyles or fine clothing. Peter cites the example of Sarah, who obeyed her husband Abraham and called him her lord, as a model for wives to follow.
Titus 2:3-5 — Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
This verse emphasizes the importance of mentoring relationships between older and younger women in the church. Older women are instructed to teach younger women to love their husbands and children, be self-controlled and pure, and submit to their husbands.
The phrase “so that no one will malign the word of God” suggests that the way wives behave in their marriages has a direct impact on how non-believers perceive the gospel. If wives are loving, kind, and submissive to their husbands, they will be powerful witnesses to the transformative power of the gospel in their lives.
In conclusion, the Bible provides clear guidance for marriage and relationships. Submission and love are essential components of a healthy marriage, and both partners are called to honour and respect one another as equals before God. Genesis 2:18, 21-24 establishes God’s intention for marriage as a lifelong partnership between a man and a woman. Ephesians 5:22-27 further emphasizes the importance of mutual submission and love in the marriage relationship, with the husband as the head and the wife as his helper.
It’s essential to remember that these biblical principles are not meant to be oppressive or one-sided. Instead, they serve to promote the well-being and harmony of both partners in the marriage. Couples can build a strong foundation for a lasting, fulfilling marriage by following these biblical principles.
Let us Pray
Gracious Father, we thank you for the wisdom and guidance you provide us through your word. We ask that you help us to understand and apply these principles in our marriages and relationships. We pray for strength and patience to love and serve our partners as you have called us to do. May our marriages be a reflection of your love and grace, and may they bring glory to your name. We ask for your continued guidance and protection over our relationships. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.