The Subjection of Women

By Mike Willis

Recently, the front page headline reported that the Southern Baptists passed a measure affirming that women must graciously submit to their husband’s “servant leadership.” This made front page news because it is so out of step with the feminist agenda. An explanation was given that Baptists believe in the “literal interpretation” of the Bible, a deceitful way of saying that others reject what the Bible clearly affirms. The news story for us Christians is not that the Southern Baptists forthrightly affirmed Bible doctrine, but that the secular press viewed this position as so out of step that it was front page news copy.

The model for the home promoted by feminism is egalitarian. The feminist “ideal” is “equal partner” marriages with interchangeable roles of bread winner, house keeper, child trainer, etc. Writing against the concept of women being subject to men in the home, Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy C. Hardesty wrote, “Equality and subordination are contradictions” (All We’re Meant To Be 163).

That subordination does not mean inequality can be seen easily. One can illustrate the principle of submission by referring to civil authorities. One may be smarter, have better decision making skills, and be more qualified as a leader than a police officer, but when he flashes his lights, one’s obligation is to submit to his authority. One stands as a police officer’s equal, but still is subordinate to him.

The feminist agenda has spread so throughly in our society that some women want “obey” left out of their marriage vows. Can we leave out feminine subjection and be true to God’s word?

The Biblical View of the Role of Men and Women

The creation reveals the respective roles of men and women. Man by himself was in a state of separation, being alone (db,“separation. . . b. with sf. (89 t.) to express the idea of by oneself, alone (prop. in his, thy, my separation), Gn. 2:18 it is not good for men to be wdbl; alone,” BDB 94). The Lord made for man a “help meet” (wdgnk rz(). The word “meet” is from the substantive dgn, used to mean “acc. to what is in front of = corresponding to, Gn 2:18 I will make him wdgnk rz( a help corresponding to him i.e. equal and adequate to himself, v. 20 among the animals there was no wdgnk rz(” (BDB 617). Note the concept that woman was made as a “help, succour” to man. Man was not made as a help, succour to woman. Some modern trends would place women in the career field with man as the stay-at-home helper.

This reverses the pattern revealed in creation.

Indications of the role of man and woman are seen in the divine comments about the first sin. Adam was called to account for his disobedience (3:9). Why call Adam to account since Eve led the way in disobedience? The answer is that Adam was the head of the family and responsible for leading it. The role of Eve in her “leading” is condemned. Adam sinned when he “hearkened unto the voice of thy wife” (Gen. 3:17). Eve was placed in a position that her husband would “rule” (l#m, “rule, have dominion, reign,” BDB 605) over her.

The Old Testament recognizes the role of subjection for women throughout its pages. The word “husband” is frequently translated from l(b, the verb form of which means “marry, rule over.” The noun means “owner, lord” and is used of the husband on many occasions (BDB 127). Sarah referred to her husband Abraham as “her lord” (Gen. 18:12). The word “lord” is here translated from Nwd), which is used to refer to Jehovah as Lord, masters in a slave re- lationship, and husbands in their role over the home. This passage is cited in 1 Peter 3:6 as an example for women to follow in their submission to their husbands.

The New Testament is very explicit about the role of subjection in the family. The husband is the “head” of the home just as Christ is the “head” of the church (kefalh&: “head. . . metaph. anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master, lord; tino/j, of a husband in relation to his wife,” Thayer 345) (Eph. 5:23). We do not have an egalitarian role with reference to Christ. He is the supreme Lord who issues commands for us to obey. In the same manner as he is head over the church, so man is the head of the home. The nature of his rule is explained in the text:

  • It is self-sacrificing (5:25). It is based on a self-sacrificing love in which the husband places the needs of his companion above his own needs. This excludes dictatorial, tyrannical rule in the family. A husband who only thinks of what he wants in ruling his family is not following the example of Christ.
  • It is a giving rule (5:25).
  • It is a rule that manifests love for his wife equal to what he has for himself (5:28).
  • It is a rule that provides a home in which the wife is  nourished and cherished (5:29).

The wife is to submit to her husband’s rule (5:22). The word upota/ssw means “to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection. . . mid. to subject one’s self, to obey; to submit to one’s control; to yield to one’s admonition or advice” (Thayer 645). The same word is used for one’s submission to the following: (a) One’s relationship to civil government (Rom. 13:1, 5); (b) A slave to a master (1 Pet. 2:18). The wife is to submit “as unto the Lord” (5:22). Her submission to the Lord Jesus is voluntary, not forced. Hers should be a voluntary submission to her husband. Her submission is to be “in everything” (5:24), not merely to those things that he says that she wants him to say. Her submission is “fitting” in the Lord (Col. 3:18).

1 Peter 3:1-6 commands the submissive role to the woman. She is to submit herself to his rule (3:1). She is to manifest a “meek and quiet” spirit. The word “meek” is from praoj which means “gentle, mild, meek” (Thayer 534). It is from the same word group as appears in James 1:21, “receive with meekness the engrafted word.” The idea is that of yielding one’s will to the authority of the word. In 1 Peter 3:1 the yielding is to the authority of the husband’s leadership. The word “quiet” is from hsu/xioj which means “quiet, tranquil.” The idea is not silence but quietness (cf. 1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12). Sarah gave an example of “obedience” (3:6). The text referred to is Genesis 18:12. It records the time when three angels appeared to Abraham in Hebron near the Oaks of Mamre. He told Sarah to prepare supper for the guests saying, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth” (18:6). Sarah obeyed. The modern woman might not be so inclined.

The woman who is married is described in Romans 7:2 as upandroj. The word is translated “wife” but literally it means “under i.e. subject to a man” (Thayer 638).

The text in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 teaches the subjection of women. The order of submission (11:3): (a) God is the head of Christ. (b) Christ is the head of man. (c) Man is the head of woman. Man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man (11:7). The order of submission is related to creation (11:7). Man is not from the woman, but woman is from the man. Man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man (11:9). The preposition “for” is translated from dia/ which is used in this text to mean “for the benefit, [Eng. for the sake of]” (Thayer 134). The wearing of the customary veil was the symbol in the first century of this relationship to a man.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 speaks of her submissive role in worship. The woman is forbidden to “speak” in the assembly. She is forbidden to speak in the same manner as the others previously mentioned (14:28, 30). Under the circumstances described the tongue speaker and prophet could not speak (i.e. publicly address the assembly). The reason given for the woman’s role is that the Law teaches her to be under obedience (cf. Gen. 3:16). It was shameful for her to “speak” (the opposite of “be silent” and, there- fore, used in the context to mean “publicly address the assembly,” cf. 14:28).

1 Timothy 2:12-15 also speaks of the submission of women. The woman is to learn in “quietness.” The word hsuxi/a means “quietness: descriptive of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others. . . silence” (Thayer 281). The role of women is tied again to creation: (a) Adam was first formed, then Eve (2:13). (b) Eve was deceived in the transgression (2:14). Woman shall be saved if she accepts her God-defined role.

1 Timothy 5:14. Women are “guides” to the house. The word is derived from the verb oikodespote/w which means “to be master (or head) of a house; to rule a household, manage family affairs: 1 Tim. v.14” (Thayer 439).

Titus 2:5. The woman is to be “obedient” (upotassome/naj) to her own husband. If she is otherwise, she will cause the word of God to be blasphemed (Tit. 2:6).

Cultural Influences Challenge The Home

The biblical view of the respective roles of husband and wife is being culturally challenged. Perhaps that is always so in all cultures. In some middle east countries, women are treated almost as if they were sub-humans. Were we to live in those societies, we would need to preach about how that culture influences one’s concept toward the roles of men and women. We must not be blind to how our own culture is influencing our views toward the respective roles of men and women. Our young ladies are being taught that they should not be submissive to their husbands. Perhaps one should look at the marriages of feminists who are teaching this to see how well these principles are working in their own homes. Those who are repeatedly divorced make poor advisors about how to have a happy marriage.

We must shape our families according to the word of God, not according to the culture (Rom. 12:1-2). Those who teach us not to spank our children and those who teach wives not to be submissive to their husbands are both sending twentieth century cultural messages contrary to God’s word. We must look at these messages and make a conscious decision to reject them in order to be submissive to the word of God! The reason for this subjection is the same in both cases: what God commanded is for our own good.