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Let's Talk About Submission

As a newlywed, I’ve spent the past several years figuring out how to have a healthy, God-honoring relationship with my now-husband. What kind of man does God expect my husband to be? What does it mean to be a godly woman? What exactly does the Proverbs 31 woman look like? How to balance the shocking, raw equality of Adam and Eve in the Garden with Paul’s enigmatic words on man being “the head” of woman? It’s tricky.

Many Christians today consider themselves Complementarian, and embrace the mysterious simplicity of wives submitting to husbands in all things, as well as male leadership in the church. Others consider themselves Egalitarian, using historical context to contend that Paul’s words in fact turned male dominance on its head, and citing Jesus’ commission of Mary Magdalene as the first bearer of the “good news” of the resurrection (and many other examples of biblical female leadership) as rationale to ordain women in the church. Many people don’t feel they fit in either camp, admitting that Scripture does seem to support both sides at varying times.

Rachel Held Evans, a progressive Christian blogger, has become a champion for mutuality in marriage, and in 2012 hosted a series on the topic. Now she is set to host a new series (and synchroblog) on the topic of submission, writing,

“The series will be similar to our Mutuality Week from 2012, but will focus specifically on those frequently-cited passages of Scripture that instruct wives to submit to their husbands, slaves to submit to their masters, children to submit to their parents, and Christians to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 2:11).”

This complementarian/egalitarian dance has been a hot button issue in this era of endless Internet debates, and many voices and resources can be found on Some, like Mary Kassian and John Piper, have written extensively on Crosswalk (and elsewhere) on female submission and the biblical distinction between the roles of husbands and wives. Recently, blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire penned a piece on marriage and the biblical view of gender, writing that mutual sacrifice defines her marriage.

“Whenever I write about resolving conflict, or areas in which husbands and wives disagree, I get taken to task in the comments for not telling women to submit more.

I find this rather strange. To so many, it seems as if submission is the goal of marriage. Oneness is the goal of marriage; submission is a tool to get there. It is not the end, in and of itself.

But I think what I mean by submission and what some other people mean by submission are really two different things. I consider submission when I care about my husband’s needs first; when I think about what he may want or need, and I sacrifice something to meet that need. I consider submission when I pray God’s will for his life.”

Elisabeth Corcoran also tackles the issue from the perspective of a troubled marriage, and how to view submission when abuse may be involved. In another piece, Wendy Alsup focuses on the biblical mandate for husband to love their wives as Christ loves the church – often a neglected perspective in conversations on female submission. The idea of women as “weaker vessels” is discussed in Jen Wilkin’s article, “How Are Women ‘Weaker Vessels’?”

Sara Horn (author of My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife) releases a new book this month, entitled My So-Called Life as a Submissive Wife. will be interviewing her soon on her one-year experiment, what she learned about biblical submission, and how her own marriage has changed because of it. *Update: Watch the video here!

For more perspectives on biblical submission, check out these resources:

Why I Submit to My Husband (And He Submits to Me)
Recovering Our Humanity: The Secret Life Of A Submitted Servant
7 Misconceptions about Submission
Christians, Hillary, and Our Gender Mess
What's So Scary About Submission?
Does Genesis 2 Support Complementarianism?

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for

Publication date: August 21, 2013