The Biblical Meaning of Submission In Marriage for Wives

Submission in marriage has a bad rap in today’s world. When society hears “wives submit to your husband,” they raise their hands with the belief that submission to a man is demeaning. I will shed light on the true biblical meaning of submission and change that perception.

The key text concerning the submission of wives to their husbands is taken from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, found in Ephesians 5:22-33

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything”.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.  For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become flesh. This is a profound mystery: but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband”.

What Submission in Marriage is Not

First, let may say I believe submission in marriage is not reticence, servanthood, inferiority, docile, degrading, and not a sign of weakness. In fact submission in marriage is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It requires a great degree of personal strength of character. Submission in marriage is a spirit of respect a wife has toward her husband. It is an attitude intended to help her and her husband to live a more contentful, peaceful life together. Problems and disagreements between a husband and wife in marriage are inevitable. But when a woman has an attitude of submission in marriage, a heart of respect for her man, it is much more likely the inevitable problems will be resolved harmoniously, without unpleasant quarreling and bitterness and resentment. And that is not to say it will be so because the man dominates and gets his way all the time. Some people look down on submission as if it were something demeaning, degrading, or humiliating. In a biblical sense, that is not what submission in marriage is about.

Biblical Submission for the Wife in Marriage

For a wife practicing submission to her husband does not mean she should be a silent “yes” person or doormat. Nor does it mean she should have no opinions of her own. Rather, a wife who chooses to take an attitude of submission towards her husband is a wife who has a heart of being supportive of her husband. She does so because she chooses to. In choosing to support her husband she is empowering him to have the self-respect he needs. He will develop into the kind of man who accepts his role and responsibilities in the home. He will seek to carry out his God-ordained position of protecting, providing for, and leading his family. When a wife submits she is being a helper to her husband in the broad, biblical sense of that word.

That is what God was referring to in Genesis 2:18,… God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him”. When a wife submits to her husband it is not because she is afraid of his reproof,  domination, rejection, or chastisement. Instead, it is because she chooses to bless him.  In so doing, she is demonstrating a spirit of respect for the man. The blessings of such an attitude and actions in turn elevate her in the eyes of her husband. Additionally, this brings contentment and satisfaction to the couple and the marriage.

The Husband's Appreciation of Biblical Submission

For a husband, when his wife demonstrates a heart of submission in marriage, she is a pleasure to be around. The husband finds appreciation and admiration for her because she is one whom he can trust. As a result, he can feel at peace and content. He can trust her with his deepest desires and fears because he is not afraid of her scorning him, competing with him, or rejecting him.  He can relax with her because he knows that even when he makes mistakes, she will be working with him to help him put them right. The husband can feel secure in himself that she will be working to minimize the consequences of his mistake rather than trying to prove a point or reject him in some way.

A man whose wife truly understands and practices biblical submission acquires a greater sense of self-respect. He knows she respects him as a husband who accepts his responsibility as a leader in the home. He has confidence that she respects him and she is not in any way trying to belittle him.

Biblical Submission Summary

Biblical submission in marriage is a wife making a choice not to overtly resist her husband’s will. That is not to say she cannot disagree with him or that she cannot express her opinion. Indeed, a wife who practices submission is by definition a woman with the strength of character. She will therefore usually have her own opinions and ideas about issues. These may often be different from the opinions of her husband.  But she can express her opinions and ideas respectfully without belittling and without disrespectful confrontation. It might sometimes be wrong for her not to express her opinion. She is ordained by God to be her husband’s helper, not his doormat. By expressing her opinions, giving advice, and offering suggestions she will be an invaluable partner to her husband.