Some Hard Questions (Part 1)

Who has authority?

Christ is, of course, our ultimate authority (Ephesians 5:23).

There are government and societal authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14).

We have authorities in the different groups of believers, our church gatherings (Hebrews 13:17). 

I’d like to point out that some of these authorities have limits.  They govern a specific area of your life, not all of your life.  They may have authority under some circumstances, but not others.  The government doesn’t get to tell you what to believe (though some may try).  The church doesn’t get to tell you what your hobbies should be or how much to pay your babysitter.  

Take the time to look at the different authorities and examine the scope of their authority.  If your ladies group leader tells you to quit your job, she’s acting outside her scope of authority.  She may (in love) point out how your job is too stressful and help you find other options, but she can’t tell you to quit.

Realize also that some of these authorities can be exchanged by your choice.  You can move to another country/government.  You can move from one church to another (hopefully this is a God directed change).  You could change jobs or move to a new house with different neighborhood association rules.  Most of us have the freedom to decide which authorities we wish to submit to.  We can look for people who have integrity and align ourselves with them.  We can look for situations that will bless us and our family.

What about authority in the home?

I’m going to share my “journey of thought.”  I’ve studied everything from patriarchal teachings to egalitarianism and, honestly, I think most people truly just want to obey the Word and honor God with their choices.  I’m in the same boat.  I just want to hear God and do what He says.  I’m not going to fault anyone for where they are in their journey of trying to learn and live truth.

That said, this is where I am.
I think that the husband is an authority over the wife, and parents are authorities over the kids until they become adults.  Most people can agree over the kid part, but the husband/wife relationship is still up for major discussion.

I try to look at scripture in context.

One of the more common scriptures that people point to is this:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Ephesians 5:21  NIV

Some folks take this as an overriding rule ~ we’re all supposed to submit to each other, wives are supposed to submit to their husbands and husbands are supposed to submit to their wives too.  I have a couple of problems with this.  I think, in context, the above scripture is talking about an overall attitude between believers (it’s very general, this section is all about living a godly life), but my biggest problem is that in the next few verses it talks about wives submitting to husbands, children obeying parents and slaves obeying masters (try not to get distracted by the slavery issue, it was a social construct of their day).  If we change the dynamic between husbands and wives because of verse 21, we also have to change children obeying parents and employees not listening to their bosses (or whatever social construct you want to look at).  I can’t in good consciousness break up the set.  I can’t explain away husband/wife and hold to parent/child and boss/employee.  

Analogies are soooo helpful.

Then you have to deal with the Christ/church and husband/wife analogy.  

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 Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Ephesians 5:22-24  NIV

That’s a pretty plain analogy and the topic of the analogy is … (wait for it) … submission to authority.  Not a lot of wiggle room there.

I’ve heard the argument that the word “head” doesn’t mean head/leader/authority, but rather “source.”  I’ve done the research and I disagree, but even if “source” is the correct definition you’re still submitting to that “source.”  The analogy is about submission and it doesn’t really matter what label you slap on your husband’s forehead.

I also look at the overall tenor of Scripture.  

There are a handful of places in different books of the Bible where wives are told to submit to their husbands (not just one what-is-he-talking-about verse that we might question) and husbands are told to love their wives several times.  There’s a theme going on here, I’m thinkin’.

All in all, I’m of the position that the husband is an authority in his wife’s life.  (I do not see anything that says all men are an authority for all women.)

Why does he get to be the authority?  (It’s not fair.)

Nope, not fair at all, but I don’t think fair is a part of the equation.  I have a few ideas about the why, but no guarantee that I’m right.  In the end it’s rather a moot point anyway.  God (in His wisdom that is far higher than my wisdom) chooses the authorities from president to boss to husband to [whatever role or position] (Romans 13:1).  It’s just my job to keep my thinking cap on and submit to authorities where they have legitimate authority in my life.

Some Hard Questions (Part 2) 
Some Hard Questions (Part 3)  


Talk about a respectful and tasteful appeal! (pun intended)   Asking for What You Need? Go with the Oreo  My husband loves Oreos.   :)   (from Assume Love)


This is one of those so good posts.  It’s a heart changer ~ Relationships: The Schoolhouse of Christ-likeness  (from (in)courage)


Be generous! Lori <><

15 Comments on “Some Hard Questions (Part 1)

  1. How does the other social construct of the day-arranged marriages- also influence what the Bible says about marriage? Weren’t young girls often given by their parents to older men without a choice and without love? It was another form of slavery. Telling them to submit to their husbands and therefore the marriage and telling the men to love those wives was helping them to access grace.

    Regarding an authority submitting to those under them, it happens a lot. We have unions to make bosses submit to their employees and not take advantage of them. My children whom I homeschool are constantly asking me to put aside my agenda to be with them, and they have some right to do that. We now have government of the people, for the people, by the people instead of a king.

    I believe God put in some of our hearts a great desire for authority to be carried out the way he does it. He asks me to speak to him about my needs and desires. He pushes me forward but takes into account where I’m at. He’s more gentle and considerate than I have a right to. I guess I have trouble blending that style of carrying out authority with what I expected.

    Sarah Sumner, who is not a complementarian or egalitarian, points out in Men and Women in the Church that “head” in Eph 5 is not the Greek word for “source” or “authority.” It means literally your “head.” What do we know about heads and bodies? Well one without the other is dead. Does that apply? Also what is good for one is good for the other. They are not two but one.

    There’s a lot about the Christ/church submission picture that doesn’t apply to husbands and wives too. Christ would never ask me to do something wrong; husbands might. I want Christ to have absolute power in my life but as you pointed out our husbands do not have absolute power. Christ could, but mostly chooses not to, boss me around. Some wives think the verses mean a husband is supposed to boss them around, to overtly lead and tell them what to do, and when he doesn’t want to they believe something’s wrong with ther marriage.

    So in what ways does the church submit to Christ like I’m supposed to submit to my husband? What parts of the analogy are the ones to pay attention to?

  2. Husbands could just as easily argue that this submission issue is unfair. I would understand an inner protest of “Love her like Christ loved the church? Jesus endured torture and death for her wellbeing!” The analogy asks for a lot on BOTH sides; it’s a good reminder of why we need God to enable us to be good spouses.

  3. WOW, Karen, good questions. Hopefully Lori will address some. I would love a conversation with you. But Here’s my view. Let’s start with the social context of giving to marriage not choosing. First off when we do choose after a while if we do not follow Gods commands we often choose we no longer love the person and seek divorce. (not Gods plan) But even when girls were given to evil men for huisbands it did not prevent God from stepping for the faithful. Look at the story of Abigail and King David, God struck her first husband dead.
    As for other other authorities we don’t lose our voice when we submit. Yes, your children can request things of you but utimatily you have the choice as to what to enforce upon them. As a good parent you listen and take into account their ideas. But they are still to obey in the end. That goes the same as with government. And for the record a King with absolute power was not in Gods plan it was Isreal that wanted a King and asked for it repeatly and God gave them over to it. Isreal paid dearly for that by having some bad kings. The good kings listened to the people when making choices. Just as we now have a say in our government but even with our say things don’t always go the way we want but we are still under that rule.
    All this is the same with husbands. We are not to be silent puppets. We have a voice but the final decision and the responsibility for them lie with the husband. And just as we are to submit Husbands are called to Love their wives as christ loved the church. Christ died for the church and husbands are to give that same devotion to their wives. Christ was here to lead by example so he did not submit to the church. By following Christ we become one with him in the body of Christ just as husbands and wives become one together.
    In this debate everyone goes to he will ask me to do something wrong. But most husbands have good will towards their wives. (granted I know their is the exeption) But most truly love and want to please their wives. Wives make it difficult for the husband to do his job by not submitting for fear of letting someone else have control. We fear being bosses around and turning to slaves of our mate. When truly our husbands want to make a decision that won’t be torn apart by you but loving questioned if you have concerns and then you to trust his judgement and stand behind him regardless of the outcome.
    We submit to Christ as individuals and as the body of Christ by following His word even when we are not so sure why or how things will turn out. The difference is we know Christ to be perfect and Love us to the point of death that while even this is difficult we know He is right and will protect us. But our husbands are human and we worry more about his imperfection that we feel we must make judgement calls on what he asks us to do. But you chose your husband and God allowed the marriage to take place. You really only have to trust that God put your husband at the head of your family and then obey God.
    Okay so that was longer than I wanted it to be but that’s my two cents. :)

  4. Thanks for responding. I’m not really arguing husbands are or are not authorities over their wives. I don’t know yet where I stand on the issue or what it looks like. I only know my marriage looks far different from the picture I had in my head of what it was supposed to look like.

    I do think submission goes beyond submitting to authority. We are asked to submit to authorities and we are asked to submit to our husbands and Christians are asked to submit one to another. I’m arguing that submission doesn’t have to be about a hierarchical authority structure. Can we think about submission separately from authority?

    I also know that in my marriage and in others’ marriages I’ve heard of, if the husband is not a powerful personality, if he is an introvert, quiet, and soft spoken, he often gets criticized for not being a “leader” – the authority – in his marriage. I know of a man who because his wife’s skills at earning money and his skills with children stayed home with the kids until his church told him he wasn’t being “the leader” and had to go out to get a job. The results were disastrous.

    So the way this practically works in my marriage is that sometimes I defer to my husband’s authority on something that he has authority in and sometimes he defers to me in areas where I’m an authority. I spent a lot of time at one point in our marriage bemoaning that he wouldn’t take the “leadership” of our relationship, that he wasn’t more spiritually advanced than me so he could be a spiritual director for me, and that I had to set the tone and pace for the family. The reality is that I’m much more of a passionate, opinionated, bossy personality. As far as the world’s definition I have more “leadership” qualities. God has not designed my particular husband to be the type who organizes everything and tells everyone what to do and when. You, like I used to, may think that means there’s something wrong with my marriage. God showed me that submitting to my husband means that I accept his soft spoken, introverted personality, make room for it and stop expecting him to be like me. I spent years wanting out of my marriage because I thought my husband had failed me as a leader. Then I submitted to God’s will that I not break up my marriage. I submitted to my husband that he was the one to be my husband and that I needed to learn more respect and love for him, as he is, not as the “leader” I interpreted he should be. I learned how to encourage and allow room for his soft voice. And now I refuse to believe that just because my husband does not fit the world’s and sometimes the church’s definition of “leader” in the family that it means there’s something wrong with him.

  5. @Karen
    “How does the other social construct of the day -arranged marriages- also influence what the Bible says about marriage?”

    I’m not sure that I understand your question. The Bible teaches principles and the NT letters often explain how to live that out practically, sometimes that reflected a cultural or time related issue. However the principles ring true regardless of when and where you live or how you got into a marriage. I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question.

    “Regarding an authority submitting to those under them, it happens a lot.”

    I like what Jenny had to say – There’s a lovely give and take in relationship, but in the end the authority has the responsibility and therefore the choice. They make decisions from a place of responsibility so it’s not about giving way to another. It’s about thinking things through and using your position to serve with your choices.

    “There’s a lot about the Christ/church submission picture that doesn’t apply to husbands and wives too. Christ would never ask me to do something wrong; husbands might. I want Christ to have absolute power in my life but as you pointed out our husbands do not have absolute power. Christ could, but mostly chooses not to, boss me around. Some wives think the verses mean a husband is supposed to boss them around, to overtly lead and tell them what to do, and when he doesn’t want to they believe something’s wrong with ther marriage.”

    Analogies do have their limit, yes, but this analogy is about the concept of submission in marriage and I think is fairly overreaching in the relationship because of that. In a couple of days I’ll address the concept of what leadership looks like. I would agree with you that “the bossy husband” is a poor example of what it is to lead. Personally I think it shames the creation of man and woman. It makes man into a god and woman into a child. While the husband has authority, in a marriage you are talking about two adults “being one” and working as a “team.” More on that later.

  6. Mrs. Lori,ihave just read Wayne Grudem’s excellent book ‘countering the claims of evangelical christianity’. (you would probably enjoy it). I readit just this week, coincedentally, as you have also been posting about submission. I have therefore been reading lots about women and submission and all that :D anyways, i read your blog regularly but don’t usually comment – however, I wanted toshare an interesting thing i read. Mr. Grudem suggests that ‘submit to one another’ does not mean ‘each person should submit to each other person’ like some submission gift exchange(my words there), but rather that it means some submit to others – and of course the relationships of submission follow. He says the words that is translated ‘to one another’, is also used in Revelation (i forget the exact place) to describe horsemen slaying one another. clearly, they could not each slay the person who slew them :D

    That answer cleared things up for me.
    Grudem’s book contained many answers to common questions/problems that people have with how the bible seems so misogynistic. In some cases, he suggests that both feminists AND the traditional church positions/actions might be wrong. I found the book helpful, and also affirming, as a woman, as he regularly made reference to the importanceof women in the church and the importance of men to encourage them to use their gifts and talents where God allows and leads. Great book :D

  7. @Lana I’ve heard that about “submitting to each other” phrase. I do like Grudem as a researcher. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but he does know how to get in there, study and dig around.

  8. I’ve been following this post and the comments for days. I’ve enjoyed it.
    I just wanted to respond to one thing that Lana said:

    is also used in Revelation (i forget the exact place) to describe horsemen slaying one another. clearly, they could not each slay the person who slew them

    That’s actually not so hard to believe. Have you ever heard of a double murder? Unfortunately, that happened in my hometown last year. A thief robbed and killed the owner of local restaurant. Before, the wounded owner died, he shot and killed the thief. So, it is possible for someone to slay the person who slew them.

    Just my 2 cents. Thanks for listening.

  9. This is a very controversial topic. It’s good to see Christians discussing it with an attitude of learning and love. I also frequent – which is a Christian discussion site.
    On at least two occasions, threads have been closed down because posters were bickering over mutual submission vs. male headship.

    I am a proponent for male headship in marriage because that’s what the Bible lays out. There are several verses and illustrations about a wife’s submission to her husband, and only one about mutual headship. However, I am also a proponent for mutual submission in marriage, although it is secondary and not primary.

    According to the New Testament Greek Lexicon and others, one of the definitions of hupotasso is to yield to one’s admonition or advice. There are times in the martial relationship when it is beneficial for the husband to hupotasso or yield to the wife’s advice. Sometimes, it’s a voluntary thing and sometimes it’s involuntary. We can find examples of that in scripture and real life.

    1. Queen Esther’s husband yielded himself to her requests and advice. He didn’t have to do it, but he chose to.
    2. Hannah’s husband subjected and yielded himself to the vow that she made to the Lord.
    3. Although involuntary, Nabal became subject to Abigail’s leadership and decision making.
    4. In scripture, adult children would have to provide for aging, widowed or destitute parents ( especially mothers). As a result, those aging parents would become subject to that son’s or male family member’s leadership.
    5. There are times in real life when a husband may be are mentally, psychically or spiritually incapable of leading his wife and household. As the result, a capable wife will step into the leadership role. For example, my coworker’s husband had a severe stoke. He had been feeling poorly for several months, but refused to yield to her advice and go to the doctor. When he had the stroke, he lost his ability to talk, walk and etc. He was bed bound. He couldn’t do anything for himself. His illness was unexpected, so nothing was preplanned. She had to make all of the medical decisions concerning him, the household and their kids. Although he was still her head, he became subject to her leadership and decision making.
    6. My aunt was elderly and unable to care for herself psychically, although her mind was sharp. He daughter lived in another state. Her daughter decided to move her to that state. My aunt didn’t want to go. Legally and medically, she had no choice because she was considered incompetent. The move was in her best interest. She had to subject and yield herself to her daughter’s leadership and decision making.

    Mutual submission isn’t some outrageous concept or misappropriation of scripture. It happens all the time in society. When the person who has usually been subordinate in the relationship leads with wisdom and love, it usually works out well. I think the mutual submission verse is really directed at those in authority. It’s telling those in authority to have a attitude of yielding to those in his/her authority. In other words, don’t lead with an iron fist, but hupotasso/ yield when beneficial.

  10. I think the fact that slavery is included and we “ignore” the social construct applies the same to wives yielding to husbands. Women are not inherently less than men. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be “yielding” in a marriage, but that it should go both ways.

  11. @Melissa I suggested we ignore the social construct of slavery because it doesn’t apply to most of us and it tends to bring on the bunny trails. I do not think that submitting to another person makes you inherently less than another. Jesus submitted to the Father and He is God. He is not less God or inherently less than the Father because He submitted to the Father. I don’t believe wives have less worth or are inherently less when they submit to their husbands.

  12. @ KarenJ I’ve enjoyed this conversation and wanted to say that in my opinion you are blessed with a wonderful husband that is a leader. He must be a good leader and sees your abilities and therefore allows you to use your organzational skills to the max. But yes, I see where the world would look at that and say that you are taking leadership. But true leaders do not do everything themselves, they know when to look to others and when to give place to others and their strengths. From what you say you give him room to have a say and give him space to make decisions so just because he allows you to make decisions in the family with little input fom him show his great trust in you! The acts of submission will look different in each marriage.

  13. @Karen I think there are some definite principles and rules here, but there is an incredible amount of room for creativity and innovation within them. The story you told about the couple with the stay-at-home dad made me weep. If he’s leading the home, what is it to anyone if they choose to have less than traditional roles? Sounds like they were doing the Samba when everyone else was doing the Waltz, and the Waltz folks decided that the Samba wasn’t correct. They totally missed the point of leading in the dance and got cranky over style.

  14. Lori,

    Notice that in the analogy the man takes the place of Christ in establishing a clear reason for submission (i.e. the sacrificial love of Christ given before the church had any desire to respond to that love). Therefore, the authority of the man derives from his showing that he deeply, passionately, sacrificially and proactively desires what will be best for his wife. Once a woman sees this love, I doubt if it will be very hard for her to submit to such a husband. After all, he’s not asking her to do things for his good, but for hers. Of course, since we are not omniscient, husbands have to learn the needs fo their wives to accomplish this. No husband can say, “I know her needs better than she does. She just needs to obey.”

  15. The kephale, the literal head that sits on your shoulders, seems to be, like KarenJ notes, the better interpretation. If authority figure was intended there was a word for that “archon” (from which we get archy [ruler] as in monoarcy) which was known by the author (used elsewhere in Eph and used 36 other times in the NT. Also, if head is understood as “authority” in Eph 5 then what is the parallel to body? If head=authority figure in this context, what does body mean? To me, understood this way 1) it would have been redundant in their culture, but more importantly 2) it totally strips of meaning the head-body, oneness, symbiotic relationship between husband and wife and Christ, his body, the Church. The Church is the *body* of Christ in the earth not his *submission* in the earth. It seems more likely the author is using the oneness, symbiotic relationship of the husband and wife to explain to the audience what the relationship is between Christ and his body, the Church. The qualifiers that support this is the husband is to agape, nourish, cherish , sacrifice for her his bride. There is not a hint of authority or a hint of how a husband, who in that culture did have sanctioned authority, is to use his authority for the good of society, contra philosophers. There is not a hint of how Christ is an authority to the Church, but rather a head-body metaphor explaining oneness.

    As KarenJ points out, if we don’t consider the intended audience and its historical and sociological context, meaning can be lost on us Western post-modern readers.

    If a husband and wife agree that he has authority and set out the terms of that authority and the means for enforcing his authority, it is possible to honor Christ. This paradigm exists in many parts of the world today, though not b/c it’s agreed upon but there is social and cultural pressure for the wife to obey and the husband/father to maintain strict control and discipline of his wife/family. Those who agree to this paradigm or those who come to Christ in such a culture can baptize their arrangement and have as their motivation the glory of Christ.

    However, I don’t believe it’s essential to be “biblical” or more “Christian.” I actually think it could be argued that the more effective thing for our culture in particular in which partners are often independent is to teach the symbiotic, interdependent nature of the head-body metaphor.

    I’m still reading through this series, and maybe you do in a later post, but could you explain the scope of your husband’s authority (which means to right to control, demand, exact obedience)? How do you submit to his right to control, demand, exact obedience in a way that he would not submit to you? What is essentially different? (I mean other than having the right to be the tie-breaker.)

    How does he enforce his right to control, demand, exact obedience should you choose not to obey? (I use obey because it seems as if you have used them interchangeably in an earlier post.)

    I appreciate the gracious tone of your posts. Thank you for helping me understand.

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