This post continues from my first post, discussing the results of the head and submission poll results.
At the time of the first post, 215 respondents (by today it is 221) stated they believed that the Bible explicitly teaches that “A man should submit to his wife.” I think as most Bible readers know or can discover, there is no statement in any English Bible version which explicitly has this statement as it is worded in the poll. However, Eph. 5:21 clearly teaches that added to the Greek imperative commands of the preceding verses is the teaching that those addressed are to be: “submitting [Greek participle] to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Those addressed in the letter to the Ephesians are, in the first place, believers in Ephesus. There is no indication that the teaching of mutual submission, however, is limited just to the church in Ephesus. I think most biblical scholars would recognize that a general principle is being taught which applies to bodies of believers everywhere.
There is some exegetical debate over whether Paul’s instruction in Eph. 5:21 is addressed to the relationship between every believer in the church to every other believer. Some exegetes do not believe that the scope of the Greek reciprocal pronoun allelois is 5:21 is that of every believer to every other believer. We have had some discussion about this, I believe, in comments on a previous post a few months ago. I happen to hold to the position that allelois is talking about how any believer should relate to any other believer.
Some people believe that individuals to whom the instruction in 5:21 is given are limited to those groups which are specifically told to submit following 5:21. In other words, the categories of people who are to submit would be wives to husbands (5:22, 24), and the church to Christ (5:24). If we include those who are told to “obey”, which seems reasonable to me, then children to parents (Eph. 6:1) would be another group which is to submit, as well as slaves to masters (6:5).
I mentioned earlier in this post that I take the position that Eph. 5:21 does speak about mutual submission. This has been a topic which has been strenuously debated in recent years, especially in the context of the marriage relationship. Egalitarians believe that the Bible teaches that husbands and wives should mutually submit to each other. This would mean that a husband would submit to his wife and and wife would submit to her husband. To some people, this may seem like a logical contradiction. They might view submission as only able to exist in a hierarchical relationship, such as that of an employer to employee. Complementarians, as far as I know, believe that only wives should submit to their husbands. They, like evangelical egalitarians, take scripture as their final authority, so they also believe that husbands are to lovingly sacrifice for their wives.
As I have thought on these matters, I have come to believe that mutual submission can be at the heart of our human relationships. Jesus is our Lord Christ, to whom we in the church submit. Yet Jesus himself showed his disciples what servant leadership was when they were arguing about hierarchy, which of them was most important. He washed their feet. In that culture washing the feet of another was a sign of humility. It is something that was typically done by servants.
Paul told the Romans: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” (12:11 ESV) Honoring someone is not exactly the same thing as submitting to that person but it is close.
Two main themes of the book of Philippians are joy and humility. Apparently there was some one-upmanship being practiced by some in the church at Philippi. Paul told them:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3, 4 NIV)
Then Paul cited the actions of Christ himself:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5 NIV)
Christ humbled himself and took on human flesh (2:7, 8). He showed how far obedience could go:
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross (2:8 NLT)
It seems to me that submitting to another person means being willing to serve the needs of that person. It means doing what the other person would like done. Wives specifically were told to submit to their husbands. But I believe that husbands must also serve the needs and desires of their wives, that is, submit to their wives, as part of the more general teaching that we in the church are to submit to each other. It does not make sense to me that members of a church are to submit to each other until two of them get married to each other at which point a different rule of submission comes into effect.
But I readily admit that I could be wrong. It may be that mutual submission is not God’s ideal for marriage, so only wives are to submit to husbands. And it may be that there is a divinely ordained hierarchy and that explicit biblical commands for submission apply to the relationships within that hierarchy. I used to believe this. But the more I have studied scripture, the more I have come to believe that God’s ideal is non-hierarchical. I believe that there is mutual submission within the Godhead. Perhaps it is even part of the “image of God” that he has placed within us and that we are to reflect in our relationships with each other.
I do not find anything explicit in the Bible that teaches that husbands have a hierarchical position over their wives. Instead, I find the Bible teaching husbands to do as Christ the head of the church did for his body, the church, namely, to lovingly sacrifice for it. It seems to me that one aspect of loving sacrifice is honoring the needs of one’s wife. Perhaps the word “submit” captures the process of loving sacrifice. If my wife requests that we take the weekend off to spend time together, but I prefer to spend the weekend doing Bible study (actually, knowing me, it would likely be something else which grabs my interest more, but I wanted to use something that sounded spiritual!), it may just be that I need to honor my wife’s request. She is sensing a need and it is a loving thing for me to meet that need. I would consider deferring to her request as a form of submission.
I will continue discussing the results of the poll in my next post.