Is Womanly Submission Really Biblical?


Is Womanly Submission Really Biblical?

(The Unpopular Truth)

Richard Hollerman

In our day, many Biblical topics are being restudied, reconsidered, and reinterpreted.  Occasionally this results in a more accurate understanding of God’s will revealed in the Holy Scriptures.  However, very often this rethinking of Scriptural subjects results in a rejection of God’s truth in exchange for man’s fallible wisdom and desires.  We must always remember that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Corinthians 3:19).  What may seem like “good, common sense,” may actually be opposed to the will of the Lord.

Sadly, pastors, teachers, preachers, and laymen can justify many aberrations by rationalizing the truth away.  What would have been shocking to people who had a respect for Scripture in the past can seemingly now be accepted and justified by people who have little regard for the authority of God’s Word.  Therefore, some religious people attempt to justify homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, abortion, women pastors, immodest clothing, bizarre musical styles, women’s short hair and men’s long hair, “get rich” schemes, pleasure mentality, materialistic pursuits, and a host of other religious and moral compromises.

One area that has been “reinterpreted” in our day is that of the position and role of women.  In former generations, there was not as much controversy in religious circles as there is presently on this topic.  Those who respected the authority of God’s Word generally recognized the unique roles of the man and the woman.  However, the influence of secular society began to change all of this.  The women’s suffrage movement in the nineteenth century opened the door to the public leadership of women.  Women also took a leading role in the abolition of alcohol in the United States in the early twentieth century.

Along with this, the holiness movement in the nineteenth century permitted women to have public speaking and leading positions in the holiness churches.  This continued into the twentieth century with the advent of the Pentecostal movement.  Liberal denominations that gave up the infallibility and authority of Scripture eventually permitted women to become pastors and church leaders.  Presently, nearly every major denomination now permits women to speak in public, assume the role of pastor or bishop, and be chairwoman of boards and committees.  The Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) is a major denomination that has installed a woman as denominational President!  Other liberal denominations likewise give full authority and leadership to women.

Churches justify this departure from the Biblical norm in various ways.  Some say that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others were simply attempting to keep women bound to ancient first century Jewish restrictions.  Others say that the New Testament teachings were meant for a particular locality–such as Corinth or Ephesus–but were not meant to be applied to other places.  Still others say that the New Testament prohibitions were only temporary until the role of women in secular society would change, as it did in the past two centuries.  And others would simply say that the Bible is not inspired of God and therefore not authoritative for ordering the role of Christian women.

In the past, we’ve produced three booklets that give Biblical evidence that a woman’s submission is not absolute.  Instead, it is limited by the Word of God.  A minority opinion is that the husband has absolute authority over the wife, therefore the wife is required to obey her husband–to the extent that she must sin if her husband demands this!  Our three booklets show that this view of absolute submission is unbiblical.  In fact, it amounts to making the husband a virtual “god”–and thus it is idolatry.  In cases like this, the women must “obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).

The absolute submission view probably only accounts for one to three percent of religious people.  Perhaps another five to twenty percent of religious people would agree that women are under some measure of the husband’s authority and must generally submit to this authority.  However, we suspect that up to eighty percent of men and women who are professing Christians would deny nearly all belief in the women’s submission.  They would accept an egalitarian view rather than a hierarchical view of the marriage relationship.  They say that they endorse a complimentary position—giving both man and woman equal headship in the marriage.  But is this what the Word of God teaches?

We write for those who do accept God’s view of this subject as the final authority (cf. 2 Timothy 1:13; 3:16-17).  God’s Word is truth and we must accept it as such (John 17:17).  Jesus has “all authority” and His authority (through the apostles) is found expressed on the pages of our New Testament (Matthew 18:18).  So what does God say about this matter?  Consider the following Scripture passages:

1 Corinthians 11:3.  “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”  A woman’s “head” (source of authority) is the man.  This is especially true in regard to the husband and the wife relationship.  This is the basic, time-enduring principle.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35.  “Women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. . . . It is improper for a woman to speak in church.”  Although this pertains to gatherings of the body of Christ, the principle of submission is plain.

Ephesians 5:22, 24, 33.  “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. . . . As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. . . . The wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”  The submission of the wife to the Christian husband is clear.  It should be the same submission as that given to the Lord Himself.

Colossians 3:18.  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”  It is fitting for a wife to be submissive to her husband and under his headship.

1 Timothy 2:11-12.  “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”  This is in the context of teaching, but it still shows that the woman is not to have authority over the man, but is to be submissive, especially to the husband.

Titus 2:4-5.  “. . . they may encourage the young women to love their husbands . . . being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”  If a woman is not subject to her husband, the word of God will be dishonored.

1 Peter 3:1, 4, 6.  “You wives, be submissive to you own husbands. . . . let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God . . . . Saran obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”  A Christian wife is to be submissive to her unbelieving husband, manifesting a full attitude of compliance.

If you have read these scriptures carefully, word for word, you will see how plain they are.  There are no grounds for misunderstanding.  We must not be like those who “distort” (NASB, NIV) or “twist” (ESV, NET Bible) the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).  These passages of the Bible don’t require that a wife submit to a husband who requires that she obey him to the point of sinning.  No, a woman is first under the authority of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11).  If the husband requires her to disobey Scripture and sin, she must gently, kindly, but firmly decline, saying that she must obey God rather than the husband (Acts 5:29; 4:19-20).  But in matters that do not require her to sin against God, she should yield her will and submit to his authority.  This attitude may actually lead him to the Lord and salvation (cf. 1 Peter 3:1ff)!  More than that, this attitude can give her to a wonderful clear conscience (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

If you are a woman, we hope that you will determine in your heart to apply these findings to your own life.  We encourage you to fully “respect” your husband as the Scriptures say (Ephesians 5:33).  Interestingly, the Greek term actually may be translated “fear” and it is so translated in verse 21.  Thus a faithful wife should have a healthy, honorable “fear” toward her husband.  We don’t refer to a paralyzing terror here at all but a deep respect for her husband and his headship (see also 1 Peter 3:1-2, 6).  Based on this respect or reverence, the woman will want to be under submission to him (as we have seen earlier).

Be willing to take God’s Word for what it says and don’t make excuses for your disobedience.  Take the Scriptures seriously and refuse to compromise what God has said for the sake of secular society, humanistic reasoning, and religious rebellion.  The Word of God must be taken seriously for it will judge us in the last day (John 12:48).  Let us never knowingly rebel against it but joyfully submit to it!


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