Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wifely Submission, Part V: Wives, Submit Yourselves to Your Husbands

Austrian Infantry Officer With Wife
I searched all over for vintage photos of couples who looked happy.  I know they didn't smile in photos then, but even going by their eyes, nearly all the wives all looked resigned or scared.  Maybe they were following a less accurate translation?
When it comes to difficult Scripture passages, whether it is verses about the rod or about submission or anything else, one of the hardest things to do is to set aside our own cultural baggage and preconceived notions about what the text really means.  I suspect that God likes to challenge us.  To play hide and seek, in a way, so that we will look for Him more earnestly.

I believe that Scripture is holy, and that twisting it to make it more palatable to our own way of thinking is incredibly dangerous.  I have seen first hand the terrible damage it does to families and societies when it is warped and misused by those who want to justify their own sinful nature.  And that is especially true when it comes to the issue of Biblical submission.

Parts I, II, III and IV of this series looked at the issue of wifely submission in passages on Creation, the Fall, the Curse and the Gospels.  Over and over we saw that God's design was for unity and mutual submission.  Which is probably why people consider Ephesians 5 to be the big guns of the argument for hierarchy within marriage.  So let's take a look at it:
"Be filled with the Spirit, while you are supporting one another out of respect for the Anointed One, wives with your own husbands as to the Lord.  The man is the source of the woman just as the Anointed One is the source of the assembly.  He himself is the protector of the body.  Just as the assembly is a support for the Anointed One, so let the wives be a support for their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as the Anointed One loved the assembly.  He sacrifices himself to make the assembly sacred and to cleanse it with baptism by the spoken word.  He did this so he would have a a sacred and unblemished assembly, an assembly held in high honor, without stains or wrinkles or any flaws.  Husbands are obliged to love their own wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his own wife loves himself.  No one hates his own body, but provides for and cares for it, just as surely as the Lord provides for and cares for the assembly, because we are the members of his body.  The Scriptures say, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will be a single body."  This is an important hidden secret truth.  But I am referring to the Anointed One and the assembly.  So to get back to the subject - each one of you is to love his own wife just as he loves himself, so that the wife is able to respect her husband." ~ Ephesians 5:21-33 The Source
Wow!  That clears up just about everything right there!  But before going back into it, let's talk about the, er, source.  That ain't the KJV.  We all know that if John the Baptist used the King James Version, then it's good enough for us, right?  Except that he didn't, and neither did Paul or any of the other Biblical authors.  God has not changed since the Bible was written.  His Word is forever.  His character and His design for relationships have not changed. 

The English language has changed, though, and so has Biblical scholarship.  We have access to much more material than the KJV translators had.  We have a much better understanding of the Biblical languages thanks to that material.  Because of that, we are able to get a more accurate picture of what the Bible really said to the first people to read it.  And it turns religious patriarchy on its head.

The Source is a treasure trove of information, with extensive notes on the Greek texts and the most accurate translations of them available.  Let's break down a few of the key words in this passage:

According to the notes in The Source, hupotasso, the word translated here as "to support", and in many other translations as "to submit", is most often used as "to be attached" and "to support" (p. 338).  Even if you use the mistranslation of "to submit", the verse "Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands" does not occur in ANY known Greek text!  This is a case of the early translators reading their own ideas of patriarchy into the text.  The idea of support is not only more consistent with Greek usage, it is also much more consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Also, the Bible *does* clearly state is that it is to be mutual.  Look back at the beginning: the instruction to both husbands and wives is to support (or if you insist, submit) to one another.  In other words, the husband is also called to support/submit to his wife! 

It then goes on to beautifully illustrate the mutuality of the relationship--we are not independent of each other.  Man is the source of woman (taken from his body).  The word used for head in this passage does NOT imply authority in Greek, just a physical head.  Much like the head of a river is the source of a river, not authority over it. 

The verses about the husband loving the wife once again speak of the importance of echad--unity in the relationship.  But an incredibly important part of the last verse that is that subjunctive form in the Greek that is sadly omitted from some English translations: the husband is to love his wife just as he loves himself so that the wife is able to respect her husband.

I fully believe that wives are to submit to their husbands, in the sense of unselfishly supporting and caring for them.  I also fully believe that husbands are to submit to their wives and unselfishly support and care for them.  That is who we are supposed to be as believers.  Look at Phillipians 2.  How much more should that apply to the intimacy of a husband and wife!

Ephesians 5 is a beautiful passage about family relationships and what it means to love and support one another as we love God.  It is not about hierarchy of men over women, or even husbands over wives.  There are other Biblical passages to examine, too, but so far the trend is pretty clear.  God's Word doesn't change:  the picture from the very beginning is of oneness, not separateness.  Of both partners supporting and submitting to each other, not of one ruling the other.

For another look at Ephesians 5 from the standpoint of mutual submission and Hebraic thought, please check out this link:

Image credit: josefnovak33

Read the whole series :)


SortaCrunchy Megan said...

Beautifully, wonderfully explained. Thank you for this. That last paragraph especially - good, good stuff.

Rose ASL said...

That's fascinating. I wish I could read the old texts.

Kathleen said...

Thank you Dulce! This was beautiful and insightful.

Hermana Linda said...

Well done! Does this complete the series?

Brianna Graber said...

Beautiful post....enjoyed very much. It sparked great conversation for Ben and I, which is always fun...

Rose ASL said...

Lately I really wish I could read Greek. So many passages seem so questionable or unclear. On so many issues. Yet this book is supposed to be the black-and-white rule book. It just doesn't make sense that God would expect us to live based on something that can be interpreted so many different ways. I still believe the Bible - specifically, the teachings of Christ - but I wonder what it REALLY says too often.

Anonymous said...

"Wow! That clears up just about everything right there!"
Yes, learning that you were getting your info from The Source New Testament cleared up a lot for me ;). A translation done by *one* person, and a female at that. Now, I don't have anything against female translators themselves, but it does seem kind of fishy that she would have such a drastic difference in her translation on "supporting" our husbands, it's pretty well known it's a hard teaching for we woman to swallow. I imagine it's even harder for someone whose life's work is "advocating tolerance and social justice for ALL people". Now, I agree we should be loving, helpful and humble toward ALL people...but I'm betting this means she's found a "new" way to translate the verses that condemn homosexual behaviors too...
"Ann Nyland is also the author of the science fiction / dark fantasy / time travel novel Hedgeland (the first in the Hedgecraft Series), and the ghost suspense novels, The Dashwood Haunting and The Ghosts of Morpeth."
...Not someone I'm going to trust to translate the Word of God alone ;)...
I sign this "anonymous", not out of fear, but out of respect to the friend who shared this with me...

dulce de leche said...

Interestingly, every argument that I have heard against Dr. Nyland's work, is, like your comment, only an ad hominem attack against her gender or personal beliefs, never against the accuracy of her scholarship. I am not familiar with her fiction works, but there is quite an illustrious history of Christian authors who also wrote science fiction, not the least of which is C. S. Lewis.

Leaving aside the red herrings of any personal prejudice, it is incontrovertible that the Greek text, regardless of your translation of specific words, commands husbands to submit to their wives. That point is indisputable, and really is the crux of the matter.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post, agreeing that if a husband truly loves his wife, he will not hold his authority over her in a dictorial, unemotional way, but will also love his spouse, as he loves himself.

However, I do find your article bucking against the idea that indeed, God has placed an order for the family, the father being the head. Why does it say in Ephesians 5, "For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands." If the husband is not the head, then why does this passage explicity say that?

Also, in I Peter 3 it reads, "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands...." I'll agree that a huge part of submission is being a support to our spouse, but it also means we are to recognize that God has given our husbands the lead of the family.

What happens when you have a spouse who does not give preference to his wife's desires/thoughts. Does this mean the wife has the right to fight and demand that she is equal and she won't be "bossed" around? For this very reason, I believe, God made it that the husband would take ultimate leadership of the home. And if that husband is truly following the Lord, then He will indeed give preference to his wife. But do we live in a pefect world???

dulce de leche said...

Anonymous, if you read the post, you should see that it addresses your question about the head. It is a beautiful picture of interconnectedness, not of hierarchy.

When the husband is not "the boss" of the wife, that means that God is the leader of the family, that Christ is in control. As you point out, we do not live in a perfect world, and giving men power simply because of their anatomy opens the door to all kinds of unhealth and abuse. However, when both husband and wife are united in submitting to Christ, then the Holy Spirit is free to work in both of them as they wait on God and practice the beautiful principles of Phil. 2 together.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. I am still left puzzled by your explaination, specifically that giving men power (simply because of their anatomy) opens the door to all kinds of unhealth and abuse. That has a ring of feminism to it. If you read I Timothy 2, it kind of knocks down the idea that women have just as much authority as a man.

Here is an example: Say my husband wants to buy a motorbike. I don't agree for various reasons and I list them out to him: no space for parking/storing it, we have little kids, money could be used elsewhere, I feel uncomfortable with it.....

He listens to me, but decides my reasonings are baseless and goes ahead and buys the bike. From what I read in the Bible, I am told to submit to his decision, even if it gives him less time with the kids or cuts into our savings.

I'm still left wondering how you address the home where the husband does not "love his wife as his own body." Where he makes the decisions even when the wife is not on board? Does that mean the wife rises up and demands her say and way? Or does it mean exactly what Ephesians 5 writes, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

dulce de leche said...

Anon, I appreciate your comments! I love it when people disagree on things but are still gracious to each other. I am guessing that your reference to I Timothy 2 was specifically to verses 11-17,
"A woman must learn and she is to learn without causing a fuss and be supportive in everything. I most certainly do not grant authority to a woman to teach that she is the originator of man-rather, she is not to cause a fuss- for Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman made a mistake as she was beguiled, and she will be saved by means of the Birth of the Child if they continue to be trustworthy, loving and holy and have good sense."

A woman, especially in a teaching position, must learn (and for the Jewish believers, often the men had studied Torah for years and years where the women had not). The comments about being the originator of man refer to Gnosticism teachings. The point about Adam and Eve goes back to saying that Eve made a mistake or blunder because she didn't have enough knowledge. Paul is encouraging these women not to make the same mistake and to study first.

Regarding your example with the motorbike, a loving and supportive wife would here become the "ezer kenegdo"--the "help who opposes". Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stand up when someone is going down the wrong path and get in their way.

You bring up an important point about the husband who does not love his wife. That is such a heartbreaking situation. In cases of abuse, I believe that the most loving thing she can do is get out so that he is not in a position of continuing to sin against her in that way.