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.
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.
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. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 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.