The Marriage Issue (Part 8): Submission

JacknJilAnnouncements Nov post 4Last week we looked at a man’s primary responsibility in marriage – sacrificial love. The sacrificial love defines everything in the marriage. It defines responsibility, counters selfishness. We found instruction on the man’s role in marriage in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In that letter, Paul details the mechanical engineering of marriage. (Genesis gives us the conceptual framework). Today, we look at one of the most controversial texts in scripture, the vexed issue of the “submission” of the woman.

It is amazing how we choose to see what we want to see from scriptures. One of the ways we do this is through isolation of verses of scripture to benefit our prejudice and cultural biases. Both sides to the marriage equation have been cherry-picking scriptures to express the cultural divide. The way it is, one would think God is not in consonance with the advent of the “modern age”, that his words are anachronistic. In defining the role of the man and woman in marriage, Paul first lays out a general principle. He then breaks down the principle – the implications for each gender. A lack of knowledge of this simple structure is what eventually created the “submission” challenge.
The omnibus principle governing marriage is found in Eph. 5:21: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In other words, both the man and the woman are required to submit to one another, not just the woman. Then Paul breaks down the IMPLICATIONS of this principle for each gender. Ephesians 5:22-24 contains the breakdown of the omnibus principle of submission for the woman, the implications. Ephesians 5:25-30 breaks down the omnibus principle of submission for the man, the implications. That the woman should submit to her husband will be no big deal if both are supposed to submit to one another. In telling the woman therefore to submit to her husband, Paul was only particularizing the instruction on mutual submission. Why the particularization? It’s simply because of the cultural nuances of both sexes within context of societal dynamics.
The passage implies the reiteration on submission by the woman is because she is culturally bold, wants to take charge. The woman gave Adam the fruit. She dictated the conversation with the serpent. Adam just stood there. (Genesis 3:6). She’s adventurous. She’ll try new things before the man – a new experience, a new store, even a new church! Men on the other hand are told to sacrifice in marriage because culturally men tend to be selfish and self-centered. We can no more question reiteration of submission by the woman than we can question the demand for sacrifice by the man. Both are reiterations particularized for the sexes because of culturally assigned expectations of behavior by society.
You need to study the basic structure of that portion of Paul’s writing to see the flow. It was very simple: (1). Both the husband and the wife must submit to each other. (Ephesians 5:21). (2). Woman must submit to her husband by respecting him and adapting. (3). Man must submit to wife by sacrificing for her. Ephesians 5:22 Amp: “Wives, be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your own husbands.” Ephesians 5:25 Amp: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Indeed, Ephesians 5:25 should have read, “Husbands submit to your wives by loving your wives and giving yourself up for her.” And when you further study the STRUCTURE of Paul’s submission, he was in effect saying it is that sacrificial love that makes a man leave his father and mother and join himself to his wife.
We’ve been reading Ephesians 5 wrong. It’s why there’s so much argument about “submission”. Those who imagined Paul a masculinist on account of the “submission” verse owe him an apology. He clearly said both husband and wife should submit one to another. Never take scriptures out of context. We must not only study context of scripture but the STRUCTURE as well. But all this doesn’t take away from the GOVERNMENTAL construct of marriage. Ephesians 5:23 says the man is head of the wife. The reason the man was nominated as head has to do with spiritual principles, it’s not a male equation. In the Bible, there’s a difference between “male” and “man”. “Man” is a conceptual whole. “Male” is gender. It’s why the man references Christ. He’s the conceptual whole. The church is called woman because she is a part of him. The Woman is “woman” because “she was taken out of man”. She’s not a word-opposite equation. That’s a female. (Genesis 1:23). The male is not the head of the wife in marriage, it is the man. But the man happens to be male and the woman female.
Unlike our modern sociology, which is not really modern since it already existed in the days of Abraham and Lot, God merged manhood and womanhood with specific gender. But we’ve decoupled gender, made it a floating device. Headship is positional responsibility, an arbiter of governmental order. The summary of everything Paul was saying is found in the last verse of Ephesians 5: “Let each one of you without exception love his wife as being in a sense his very own self; And let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband – that she notices him, regards him, honours him, prefers him, venerates and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly.” Ephesians 5:31 Amp.
But the recurrent figure of the marriage equation is Christ. It’s why we find references to him throughout Eph. 5: “…out of reverence for Christ…as service to the Lord…as Christ is head of the church… As the church is subject to Christ… as Christ loved the church…as Christ does the church…” And there are further references to Christ: “So that he might sanctify her…That he might present the church…Because we’re members of His body…I speak concerning Christ and the church…” If there is one place for the application of the What Would Jesus Do principle, it’s in marriage. No wonder, Paul opened with, “Be imitators of God – copy him and follow his example…” (Ephesians 5:1). Mutual submission is at the heart of a successful marriage. That’s God’s design for the mechanical meshing of the parts in a marriage. And that concludes the matter.
© Leke Alder |