Commentary

Real Family Talk – A Question of Submission

In the interest of oneness, do wives have to submit to their husbands? If so, is it OK for the wife to lose her identity?

Marriage is God’s idea. The Bible story puts marriage as one of the first institutions established by God during Creation Week. Genesis 2:24 is the classic text that sets the God-given parameters for this relationship by stating: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and nother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

We believe Ephesians 5:22-24 is one of the most misunderstood and misused passages of Scripture.

And to make sure no one thinks of marriage as simply an Old Testament notion, this text is repeated three times in the New Testament: Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7, 8; and Ephesians 5:31, making clear God’s intention about marriage as the closest, most intimate relationship among humans.

Unquestionably, God created marriage to be a blessing and joy to human beings. The oneness mentioned in Genesis 2:24, was meant to offset the loneliness felt by man in Genesis 2:18, where it pronounces: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper for him.’” Again, this oneness was meant to be a good thing. Nevertheless, everything God created for our good, Satan tries to destroy. And Satan seems to be succeeding, with the help of many husbands and wives who have completely forgotten God’s intent in marriage.

Now, to your principle question. We believe Ephesians 5:22-24 is one of the most misunderstood and misused passages of Scripture: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their own husbands in everything.”

Often the emphasis of this passage is placed on the submission of wives to their husbands. Yet the message that follows in verses 25-30 defines the terms of that submission. To be sure, the primary decree in Ephesians 5 is for men and women to intentionally imitate Jesus.

Paul calls for mutual accountability and support: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (verse 21). According to this verse, the platform is set for submission when both husband and wife submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives. Anything short of this reduces submission to a matter of domination, rather than the oneness inbuilt in the submission-love continuum God established from the beginning: “And they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

In the biblical model neither partner holds supremacy over the other when true spiritual leadership is being employed in the homes of the people of God.

The secular concept of submission is not emphasized in Ephesians 5. In the biblical model neither partner holds supremacy over the other when true spiritual leadership is being employed in the homes of the people of God. The reality is mutual regard and respect based on agape love, which is unconditional and eternal and comes from a daily, intimate, treasured, and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

Ellen White made clear what submission is by noting, “God requires that the wife shall keep the fear and glory of God ever before her. Entire submission is to be made only to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has purchased her as His own child by the infinite price of His life. . . . Her individuality cannot be merged into that of her husband, for she is the purchase of Christ. . . . There is One who stands higher than the husband to the wife; it is her Redeemer, and her submission to her husband is to be rendered as God has directed—‘as it is fit in the Lord’” (The Adventist Home, p. 116).

We believe that when husbands and wives relate to each other based on the mutuality outlined in Ephesians 5, they will be able to live in a submission-love framework that gives honor and glory to God.

We pray that this will be what you and your spouse experience in your marriage.

Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE,an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or at HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.

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