Why should wives submit to their husbands? If God could have recorded any kind of relationship advice in his Book, why include this? Here’s how Peter puts it in 1 Peter 3:1-6:
1Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
In this post I want to consider submission and the traditional Christian view of complementarianism (basically that husband and wife are different but complement each other).
1. Isn’t Submission Inequality?
There are three major patterns for marriage, but only one that teaches submission.
In many ways I am a feminist. Woman have been oppressed and marginalized by men and we should fight for their rights and make their voices heard in society as equals. But I’m not about to encourage braless lesbianism. This view is an over-reaction to patriarchy. Husband and wife (or husband and husband/ wife and wife) live together without any role distinction. This comes from a view that makes no distinctions between the sexes. It often has two people living out two radically independently lives; two bank accounts, two financial plans, even sometimes two master bedrooms, held together by a common interest or cause or kids. Once I spoke to a beautiful, young, smart, lady who was a feminist and she summed up the danger behind this view when she said ‘I just don’t think I could spend my entire life with one person because we are always changing’. If someone better comes along, if interest change or if the children leave then this marriage has nothing holding it together. It’s basically friends with benefits.
Many wonderful Christian and non-Christian couples practice this model. I totally respect that. But similarly to the previous view, there are no intrinsic role distinctions. No difference between the sexes other than the obvious biological ones. It’s a kind of a Mandoza 50/50 thing. She works he works, she cleans he cleans, she does what she likes with her money, he does what he likes with his. Two people leading two lives, two decision makers, lots of independence. And what often happens with this model is that when the kids grow up, or the interests change, the glue that kept them together is lost. This is also where she has to find herself at 40 or he has to go through some mid-life crisis, by a motorbike, wear T-shirts that are too small and try to find himself. The individual is very important in this view and that can ultimately lead to distance between the couple.
Now, some of you reading this may say that you are Egalitarian but you actually function as Complementarians. God is the authority and charges the man to lead his family (Eph 5:25). It’s delegated authority. God holds the man ultimately responsible for the well-being of his wife and kids (Gen 2:16; 3:9). The wife and husband complement each other because they are different by design (Gen 1:27). Yet they are equal since derive their worth from the divine image of their creator (Gen 1:27). She follows him as he follows the Lord, by helping him and comes alongside him. The children are to submit to their parent’s leadership and honor them (Eph 6:1-2). They are a team who need each other, where created to serve each, complement each other’s strengths, and cover each other’s weaknesses and they are one as God is one (Gen 2:24, Eph 5:31).
What this does NOT mean
Does this mean that the husbands make all the decisions? We watch the movies I want to watch and braai every night? No, Peter cites the example of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Does Abraham make all the decisions? No. Sarah made the decision to have Hagar and Ishmael sent away to the wilderness, a decision that God affirms and Abraham struggled with but eventually endorses (Gen 21:8-13). Abraham listens to his wife’s decision, takes it to the Lord and implements it.
What this means to me is that within complementarian marriage wives are allowed to make decisions, however the important ones like what church will we attend, when will we have kids, how many kids, do we buy a house, etc are made by the man through listening to his wife, consulting with God and making the final choice.
Essentially this implies that husbands make bad wives. They are different. I am actually ok with the dishes piling up. It’s fun to eat my cereal from the pan with a spatchula. Don’t put me in charge of keeping our flat in order, just tell me what to do, when I should vacuum and it will get done. I don’t make a good wife. Don’t expect him to be you. And don’t expect her to be you. We complement each other.
But if men get to lead then that surely is inequality!
Not necessarily. Consider the creation story in Genesis.
Father = Son = Holy Spirit
In Genesis 1:1 we have God the Father taking the lead in creation. He decides to speak the world into being. John 1:10 tells us that Jesus is the agent through whom all creation was made. And the Gospel’s have numerous accounts of Jesus submitting to the will of the Father. Like in the Garden of Gethsemane for example “not my will be done but yours” Luke 22:42. We also see God the Holy Spirit active in creation. Nothing gets done without the Holy Spirit. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is Paraclete in Greek or Helper translated into English. The Father leads, the Son submits and follows and the Holy Spirit helps. So, there is difference within the Trinity. They do different things. It is not the Father who dies on the Cross. It is not Jesus who turns his face away. And it is not the Holy Spirit who is resurrected on the third day. But at the same time complete equality. Jesus is as much God as the Father, the Holy Spirit is not any less God than Jesus. God is one, God is equal and yet there are differences.
Husband = Wife
In verse 27 we see God creates humanity male and female in his image. They are equal, they both carry the image of God, but they are different, hence male and female and when they come together they reflect the image of God. Would you agree there are biological differences between us? We’ve all had that chat right. Physically we are different and complementary, if you know what I mean. Even within the love making we complement; one partner gives and the other receives. Physiologically we are different too. Girls think differently to guys, their hormone composition is different. Some psychologists even suggest that ladies use different parts of the brain than men do. Research shows that for example:
- When little boy babies approach an obstacle they try to push it over (This explains why guys drive the way we do).
- While little baby girls approach an obstacle they go around it.
- When 6 month old girl babies have jazz music played to them their hearts beat faster.
- When boy babies hear it they just ignore it.
Equal yet different
Back to our story. In Genesis 2:16 note before the fall, the Bible says “And the Lord God commanded the man…the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil you shall surely not eat”. He did not command the woman. He places the ‘spiritual’ responsibility of guiding the family on the man. And when they disobeyed and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God goes looking for the man (Gen 3:9).
Now, Eve came from Adam. God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs. She comes from him. And he is connected to her. That is why when they unite its feels like you are home. Isn’t this complement- arianism? He looks at her, she is perfect, he says ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’. First poem in the Bible.
But then in chapter 3 we see for the first time the woman acting independently of the man, that unity, that oneness, is broken. Adam was not deceived, Eve is deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). She is leading and she is leading poorly because she is deceived. And isn’t it interesting that Eve’s sin is that she is taking the lead and Adam sin is that he is being submissive and passive. Maybe we posses some general spiritual weaknesses as well as some general spiritual strengths? He knew what the right thing was he just didn’t do it.
She is created to be a helper for him (Genesis 2:20). So, she sees that the fruit is pleasing to the eye and good for food. What’s that? She is trying to help. And today woman still gravitate towards helping and the helping professions. But the struggle that Eve has is knowing when helping becomes leading. If you have a passive husband then because you are trying to help, you end up taking the lead for him. Has your helping become leading? He isn’t batting so well, so you just pick up the bat for him. And after a couple of years of batting in his place you are tired and worn out, because you are doing what he should be doing. It’s time to put down the bat. Even if he doesn’t pick it up, you leave it there.
Later in chapter 3 God punishes them. Does he give them the same punishment? No. Why? Because, they are different. They have different weaknesses, and their sin is different, they have different responsibilities and so the punishment is different.
All this to say, point number one, that we are created equal, yet different, guys have a different responsibility to girls. Therefore, different roles. But this goes wrong when we rebel against the created order. It’s actually very functional and practical.