Should Wives Submit to their Husbands?

There has been quite a bit of stir in Sydney recently.  The Anglican Church is offering to couples a vow about wives submitting to their husbands in their wedding ceremony. Good Christian friends of mine have come out on either side of the issue defending or criticising the change. The Sydney Morning Herald, which has been running articles about this all week, is clearly enjoying the fuss. I am newly married and incredibly blessed by a wonderful wife. With my relative inexperience in mind…  here are my thoughts (especially in relation to the passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 which it all relates to).

1. This is a passage where Paul offers advise to married couples on how to have a healthy, functioning marriage. In one of the worst editing decisions ever, the NIV has started the passage at verse 22 rather than verse 21. The WHOLE passage is a working out of verse 21 “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” While yes it does talk about order and functions within the marriage (very archaic, I know), it is about mutual submission to each other and what that looks like. Stop the rubbish – this is not about dominating anyone, forcing someone else’s will or bossing people about. It is about the example of Christ laying down his life as a model of how marriage works best.

2. This is a letter to a Christian church and not a secular society (or a pagan Roman one). It is PASTORAL in nature. I understand marriage is a common good for society and a Christian view of marriage has been the main driving force over centuries, but this is a letter to Christians about marriage. I am happy to offer the Christian worldview and advice to my community, but ultimately I don’t expect someone who isn’t following Jesus or who doesn’t understand the self giving love of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity, to make vows that reflect this. While it is nice when non Christians want a Christian ceremony, I am not surprised that the majority of people now do not. If you are not following Jesus it would be weird to say you do so on your wedding day.

3. In my view, it is ok to have a little dissent on passages like this. Our context is very different to Paul’s where women were not given equality in any area of public or private life. Things have changed – and I would say obviously for the better. I believe these changes started 2000 years ago when Paul proclaims that in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Christianity has been the greatest liberating force in history. I believe the scriptures have a long arc towards freedom and equality for all. It starts in Christ and it works its way out over history. My only encouragement to those who are uncomfortable with male headship is don’t miss the forest for the trees. Both husbands and wives who submit to one another out of reverence to Christ will increase their chances of being in a flourishing marriage.

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