When is authority given and when can it be rightfully assumed? These are questions that have divided egalitarians and complementarians in the area of marriage. While egalitarians generally will agree that submission is a characteristic of Spirit-filled Christians who love and respect the body of Christ, and who serve each other with love, complementarians say that husbands are never commanded to submit to their wives because husbands maintain a God-given sphere of authority that requires sacrifice and not submission. To a complementarian, submission is always something given to an authority. Since they don’t believe that a wife has authority over a husband they refuse to submit to their wives. Is this Biblical?
In order to refuse submission as a Christ-like action and/or attitude of both spouses in marriage, they must reject that the reciprocal “to one another” in Ephesians 5:21 really does mean “one to another”. Instead, they are forced to interpret the inspired reciprocal and change it to mean “some to others” as in “Christians who are subject to authority” are to submit to “those in authority”. This makes it a one-way submission and it adds the condition of authority when no such condition exists. It also noodles with the inspired text to remove the inspired reciprocal nature of the term to one another. This is one of the weak links in the complementarian argument.
First of all let’s prove that Ephesians 5:21 has the reciprocal. Note the screen print below of the Greek and the reciprocal grammar:
If God had meant that Christians are to submit to authorities in the church, then why didn’t God God just say it like that in Ephesians 5:21 like He did in Romans 13:1?
Romans 13:1 (NASB) Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities…
Ephesians 6:7 (NASB) With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,
Paul goes on in verse 9 to present the reciprocal nature of the submission:
Ephesians 6:9 (NASB) And masters, do the same things to them, …
The same things that these Christian masters are to do is what their slaves were to do for them. Their slaves were to be subjected to them and serve them. God shows that the masters are to do the same.
This is the Christian doctrine of mutual submission. The submission is not just for slaves but for their masters too! In the same way, husbands are to be a part of mutual submission and they are not a special class that is exempt from Christian submission. (Eph. 5:21)
So what does this mutual submission look like in practice between husbands and wives, parents and children and slaves and masters? It isn’t hard to envision. It is two-fold submission that is expressed in willing service. Submission is also expressed as a willingness to receive God’s gifts through the other brother or sister in Christ. Let’s see this submission in action:
1. A wife has a busy day and needs to put together a meal before she leaves for her Bible study when she realizes that she forgot to purchase milk for the children. When her husband comes in the door, she asks him to go to the store to pick up the milk for the meal. Her husband willing submits to his wife’s request.
2. A Father tired after a long day lays back in his easy chair to relax after dinner when his four-year-old son asks him to read him a bedtime Bible story. The Father submits to the request of his young son and goes to his son’s bed to read him a Bible story and tuck him into bed.
3. A servant has a teaching from the Scriptures that he will be giving to the congregation and his master submits to learn from the teaching that his own servant brings.
Notice that in all three examples the one who submits himself to the other one is not obligated to submit because the other person has authority over him. Rather he submits because it is the right thing to do. It is a Christian humility that puts himself under another person’s need or the submission is given to the brother or sister in order to receive a gift that the other person has for them. This is the face of reciprocal submission.
But most complementarians cannot even think about submission without re-defining submission as a response to an authority that is over them. But is Christian submission as defined by Ephesians 5:21 really to be assumed as an attachment of a God-given authority even though God never says that? Are we really to assume that God gave masters their authority over their slaves? The fact is that this reasoning was rejected a lot of years ago as a man-made system that was never authorized by God. So is the authority that husbands believe they have over their wife a God-given authority? Like the authority of the master, the authority of the husband is also never established by God.
So what is the unique authority that complementarians say that the husband has been given over the wife? Complementarians are not in agreement over the extent of the authority. Some say that husbands have the final say in every decision of the marriage and home. Others add that the husband’s authority is to love his wife and sacrifice for her. However, they can’t seem to explain how the husband’s authority is not also the wife’s when she loves and sacrifices for him.
What I would like to do is challenge complementarians to give a Biblical example of the one-sided submission that they believe must be given by wives to their husbands but is not allowed for husbands to do for their wives (i.e. a non-reciprocal submission)? Let’s have a look at your examples and discuss the Biblical passages that originate that type of submission.
I will give the first example as one that Mark gave in the comment section on the last post. Mark said:
Gal 5:13 is a prime example of the husbands role as husband. The husband is called to love his wife like Christ did the Church. IN Gal we are told to ‘through love serve one another’, so yes i would through love serve my wife.
I ask, what kind of love is the husband called to give that is not allowed for his wife to love him back in the same way? What kind of service is not allowed for a wife that is only allowed for a husband? In what way is this a role that is unique to a husband and where does the authority come from to command an application of a service to apply solely to the husband?