Why women must submit.

The Bible says all women must submit to their husbands. Or at least, you probably think that–if you’re not a Real True Christian (TM) with a spirit-filled understanding of the Bible. All the real Christians out there know the Bible only says that when you read it out of context.

That’s why Christians love to “debunk” it whenever someone brings up a verse like Ephesians 5:22.

Unfortunately for Christians, the Bible also explains why it is that women must submit. And that “why” creates an even worse problem.

Why submit?

Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

Some of the less moral, patriarchal Christians love to preach this verse to force women into constant subjugation to the men in their lives. Christians with a bit more morality, though, like to explain this verse away. They say it doesn’t really mean women must be in subjugation; you just have to read it in context.

After all, they say, look at Ephesians 5:21 – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

And look farther down the page, at Ephesians 5:25-30 –

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.”

You see, these Christians say, the command isn’t only about women submitting; it’s about mutual submission and mutual respect. Both parties are instructed to treat each other well. Neither one is allowed to domineer the other. So it’s a command to love, and help, and build each other up. It’s certainly not a statement that women are inferior.

What’s the problem? Well, I quoted verses 21-22, and 25-30, but skipped 23-24. So let’s go back and consider Ephesians 5:22-24:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

That’s a little different.

The husband is the head of the wife.

The wife should submit to the husband in everything, just as the Church obeys Jesus.

That’s pretty clear-cut, isn’t it? The husband may be called to be good to his wife, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is like a god to her. In Christianity, Jesus is recognized as God.

That’s not separate but equal. That’s not mutual partnership.

Do you think I’m dwelling on this language too much? Let’s look at some other verses.

Cover that hair!

1 Corinthians 11 says women must cover their heads during worship, and they must have long hair.

Some denominations take this literally, and make long hair on women a theological point. Others go even further with literal head coverings. You see Amish women and older, more traditional Mennonites wearing the bonnets or hats, or those little lacy covering that don’t get in the way as much but still make the point.

But most Christian women do not cover their heads at all. They say this was only a cultural thing, not a statement of absolute morality to be binding for all time. During that time period, you see, it was shameful for a woman’s head to be uncovered, but today it is different.

Smaller head coverings

I’d love to see them show me the Bible verse which says this.

Lucky for us, right there in that very passage, the Bible explains why head coverings are important, and it ain’t “because culture says so”. Verses 3-10:

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife[b] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

That word for “wife” in there can mean “wife” or “woman” depending on the context. Historically it’s been translated “woman” here. Man is the glory of God; woman is the glory of man. Woman was created from man; and woman was created for man.

A woman, it’s clear, is just a sub-man.

Now to be fair to the Bible, let’s quote the next bit, verses 11-12:

11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

That’s pretty good, right? But now let’s finish the passage. Verses 13-16:

 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

So verses 3-10 say women must cover up because they are sub-men. Verses 11-12 say that really, women and men are both from God, and important to each other. Verses 13-16 say, “But seriously, women, cover up, that’s just icky.”

Christians insist that reading the Bible “in context” means you listen to 11-12 and ignore all the rest.

Women, be silent

There are other verses like this too. Here is 1 Timothy 2:11-12 – “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

Christians will say maybe that wasn’t meant to apply to all women at all times. Some say the women in that particular place were teaching falsehoods. Or were uneducated and therefore unqualified to teach. Or were asking too many elementary questions since they were uneducated, and disrupting the teaching, when they should have just asked those basic questions at home.

Other Christians, though, say this verse should apply to women for all time. Why? Again, because the prohibition is based on the very nature of women, dating all the way back to the creation of Adam and Eve. 1 Timothy 2:13-15 – “ For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  But women will be saved through childbearing…”

In other words, the Bible is clear. When it is read in context, the Bible teaches that women must be subordinate to men because women are inherently, by their very nature, inferior to men.

This is why when it comes to women, I don’t think we can say “The Bible is good, we just need to interpret it.” I think to be a moral, caring human being, and to treat women equally as they deserve, one has to be willing to proclaim that the Bible is wrong.

Your thoughts?


10 thoughts on “Why women must submit.

  1. Ruth

    My thoughts are that you hit the nail on the head. I’ve never been able to understand how some Christians can twist these scriptures to be “egalitarian”.

    The only other explanations I’ve heard for these verses is that they were meant for a “certain audience” and a “certain time” and so they don’t really apply to us today.

    Then why are we reading them? Why are they important?

    1. The_Physeter Post author

      Exactly! They were meant for a certain audience at a certain time; therefore they don’t apply to us.

      So do the verses on homosexuals apply to us? Lots of people reject head coverings but still insist that gay=sin. How about verses on polygamy? How about the verses on loving your enemies?

      How do you know which verses are good and true and Apply to Everyone for All Time, and which ones we should just reject? And if you are capable of making value judgments about the passages in the Bible, doesn’t that prove you have a higher moral standard than the Bible?

      1. Ruth

        Sorry, I can’t help with the test for which verses apply now and which ones don’t. My holy writ filtering system is on the fritz.

        For instance, we’re told in one breath that Christ fulfilled the law so we no longer are bound by it. So we can wear clothing made with two or more fabrics, we can eat pigs, we can eat shrimp, etc. But gay people are still an abomination. o_O

        We’re also told we (women) don’t have to wear head coverings but the man is still the head and we (women) are still supposed to submit; either to our fathers or our husbands.

        It’s called cherry picking. It’s lots of fun!

      2. Ruth

        Oh, and then in the next breath we’re told that not one jot or tittle of the law will fail. So keep tithing, keep submitting. It might even be okay to have a slave or two.

  2. insanitybytes22

    I think many Christians misinterpret and take the bible out of context to try and provide back up for their own brokenness.

    If you’ve ever been around really awesome men who are leading, who are genuinely serving Christ, it’s very easy to submit to them, it fact it’s pleasant. The problem comes when men are not in submission to Christ, but seem to believe that women should be in submission to them anyway, as if they are little gods.

    When a husband is genuinely in submission to Christ he has that humility, that authenticity, that servant/teacher relationship happening, and it’s attractive, it draws you to him. Submit simply means to yield. We yield to trust, to love, to honor, it’s human nature.

    1. The_Physeter Post author

      I hear you saying that whenever you meet a very good man, he’s totally safe to be around, and would never take advantage of you. That’s great! But good men would be like that with or without the Bible.
      The Bible doesn’t give the sensible caveats you’ve given here. It tells men to ‘love’ as it tells women to "submit"–but it doesn’t make one a condition for the other. It doesn’t say "Women must submit, but only if men hold up their side of the bargain." If you interpret it that way, that’s great! But many, many have not done so.
      When you’re with a bad man, who isn’t "totally submitted to Christ", as you say, the Bible verses on submission are still there, and he will use them against you, and your pastor will use them against you. The Bible says women are built different and lesser than men by their very nature. That gives bad men a huge power advantage to keep women from being safe. I’ve been reading Libby Anne’s critique of Created to be his Help Meet, and it shows exactly how far some people will push these verses to enslave women.

  3. siriusbizinus

    I am sad that I have run out of blog to read, Physeter. Fortunately you made the mistake of asking for my thoughts.

    As a man and former Lutheran, I always kind of skipped over the passages about women submitting to men(they never applied to me and quite frankly they were less believable than the passages about walking on water). Those verses were also NEVER presented alone or with each other; there was always some sort of mitigating interpretation or verse provided to soften the blow. In that way I am quite familiar with what insanitybytes22 had to say, as it was another common justification for those verses. Essentially any sexist provision was softened to the point of meaninglessness, which is why I was able to just shrug and ignore the Bible’s demands for sexism in church.

    I think the concept of submission is a great example of how people will sacrifice the ultimate authority of the Bible to keep faith in spite of disparate treatment. No one got up and angrily left the sanctuary every time the verses you quoted were read. Believing in spite of doctrine that was openly hostile to women’s rights was more important. Looking back on things, I wish I’d been more open to realizing that these verses describe aberrant behavior and shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone. They weren’t compatible with my beliefs about women’s rights then and they most certainly aren’t compatible now.

    Anywho, these are my 2 cents. If you aren’t going to make a new post soon, just gimme a long-winded comment. Great post and great research! kthxbai!

  4. Alexis

    I think you are correct in saying women should submit. But I don’t think this means that God, the Bible writers meant this was due to women’s inferiority. And even if you want to use this word, it’s only a temporary arrangement that is greatly rewarded in heaven.
    For example: Jesus. Jesus is God, He is also the Son of God. Jesus, on many accounts, talks of His own submission to God’s will. He even submits to his own disciples, who are ordinary men. Jesus also submits to the authority of His parents, Joseph and Mary, pointed out after they found little Jesus teaching in the temple. So, the Bible tells us that Jesus had to submit to: Mary, Joseph, his apostles, and to His Father in heaven. Does that mean that the Bible tells us that Jesus is inferior to his own human parents? Inferior to his human apostles, some who even denied him and his own resurrection? (Peter, Thomas)
    Before the last supper, we see Jesus wash the apostle’s feet, and they object at first. Peter feels that they should wash Jesus’s feet, since it’s seem as a sign of submission. But Jesus insists that He needs to do it, as an example of servitude. And then He instructs them to do the same. He says that a student is not greater than his master, and if Jesus is willing to submit to his own disciples, then his disciples should be willing to submit to one another. Now, we see that after Jesus finished his earthly ministry, and accepted the painful death God asked Him to go through, He was raised and His name is now above all names!
    So when the Bible asks women to submit to men, just as Jesus submits to God, and the church to Jesus, it does not mean to say that women are inferior to men or that God or the church does not value women. It’s the exact opposite. In fact, another example of this is Mary. She submitted her life to God, to her husband, to Jesus. And because of her servitude, she was crowned as Queen of Heaven! So, our job, as children of God, is to live out our own vocations: men, women, mothers, fathers, priests, or nuns. Whatever God calls you to do, He asks you to do it in submission, so He can RAISE YOU in heaven. Because at the end, God loves us all the same, even if we have a different life to live from each other.


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