What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband?

Today, one of the most difficult concepts in God’s Word is biblical submission.  The word submission is not limited to wives alone.  For example, Christians are to submit themselves to each other (Ephesians 5:21), to government (Romans 13:1), and unto God (James 4:7).  This is a frequent concept in the Bible.  Self-sacrifice is required in each circumstance.  Submission is never glossed over to be seen as easy or always convenient.  Instead, it is viewed as service unto God.

The Greek word for submission is hupotasso, “to subordinate…put under…”   God exhorts women to voluntarily follow their husband’s leadership (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1).  A woman is actively doing this-- choosing to put herself under leadership, choosing to be subordinate in a circumstance or relationship.  This is not forced upon her by the recipient.

A wife shows submission unto her husband when she allows him to take leadership in the relationship.  His position as leader is biblical (1 Corinthians 11:3).  Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is an example of a woman following her husband’s lead (1 Peter 3:6).  Sarah has never been confused with being a woman who was a frail doormat.  Peter notes that she was not afraid in life.  Submission should not be confused with a person being weak.

Women are not commanded to submit to their husband’s because God insures that men will be just or loving.  When a woman submits unto her husband, she is actually submitting unto God (Ephesians 5:22).  A woman therefore does not submit because her husband deserves it in his own merit- she submits because she knows it is pleasing to her Lord.  There will be times when a woman needs to submit, and her husband does not deserve it from a human perspective.  But by divine right, God set the man as leader and a woman can trust that God is good.  She can also know that nothing escapes God’s notice, and a wicked man will be held accountable for his actions.

When a wife submits to her husband, she does not try to take leadership from him.  From the beginning of time, woman has tried to take leadership from the man- and man has often gladly given it away (Genesis 3).  Some scholars believe that Genesis 3:16 refers to Eve’s new sin drive to override her husband’s headship, which has continued down the line of women.  Women use many tactics to try taking control of leadership, including nagging, deception, and manipulation.  This always results in sin and often, sorrowful consequences (Genesis 27).  When a woman resorts to these tactics, she is trying to usurp God’s good design of relationship roles.  A submissive wife must first learn to trust God’s goodness and His sovereignty.

However, a submissive wife is not relegated to idly sitting by while her husband makes all the family decisions.  In a healthy marriage, husband and wife work as a team.  When a decision cannot be jointly agreed upon, the leader makes it, knowing he is responsible foremost unto God for that decision.  In these circumstances or in a decision that the husband must make alone, a submissive wife is not overstepping her boundaries by offering counsel.  She must learn to do it in a way that shows respect for his God-given position as head of the family.  A submissive woman also offers abundant encouragement, understanding that making decisions is a heavy responsibility on a man’s shoulders.

Some women are not satisfied with this.  They want to be in charge.  But realistically, marriage cannot work this way.  Unity requires relational structure.  We see this pattern in other relationships.  But submission is never a sign of value.  Jesus submitted to the will of His Father (Matthew 26:39).  It would be heresy to say that Jesus is of lesser value than the Father.  They are One, and Jesus cannot be of lesser value.  His submission had nothing to do with His value—it had to do with God-ordained structure.  It is the same with husband and wife.

Submission takes humility.  It also takes a lot of prayer and relying on the Holy Spirit.  But so does Godly leadership.  Women can look unto Jesus as an example, and reflect His love and Self-sacrifice as they lovingly choose to submit unto the husband God has placed in their life.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.