How should wives submit to their husbands?

A family situation involving my sister, raised Catholic and converted to Fundamentalism 25 years ago, and her hurtful response to our mother who asks for her help has arisen. She married another Fundamentalist and both attended a Protestant Fundamentalist college in the Midwest. My sister refuses to help, among other reasons, because after discussing the matter with her husband, he refuses to let her travel. This has been the modus operandi in the family, that she defers all decisions to her husband, 9 years her junior. They will refer to that passage in New Testament (forgot verse; no Bible nearby) that states that wives should/shall be submissive to their husbands…

I would like to get the understanding of conservative Christians who use this verse as the correct relationship between husband and wife. My understanding is that they take it out of context, omitting later wording about the reciprocal, whereby husbands should be submissive to their wives reflecting the relationship between Christ and his Church (?).

Could you please explain the thinking behind their justification of their interpretation. Is it valid?


The verses I believe you are thinking of are Ephesians 5:21-33:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject 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, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

There are also similar verses in Colossians 3:18-19 and 1 Peter 3:1-8.

I cannot comment on your sister’s and her husband’s decision because there may be more involved in it (e.g., finances, personal responsibilities) than what they have shared with you and your mother. While it is possible that the decision should have been related more tactfully, especially to your mother (cf. Matt. 15:4-6), your sister’s primary responsibility is to her husband and to the family they have created by their marriage (cf. Matt. 19:3-6). If you end up being the one who is able to support your mother in her time of need, at least you can take comfort from the knowledge that God will reward your sacrifices on her behalf
(cf. Prov. 23:22-25).

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As to the more general question about how a wife should submit to her husband:

Wives are not called to submit to husbands merely for the sake of submission to an authoritarian. They are called to submit to their husbands as they would to Christ because the husband in the marital relationship signifies Christ. Likewise, husbands are called to serve their wives, not for the sake of mere servility, but as Christ served the Church. The wife in the marital relationship signifies the Church. Just as wives are called to submit to husbands even when they’d rather not, so husbands sacrifice for their wives even when they’d rather not because that is what Christ did out of obedience to the Father for the sake of his bride, the Church (cf. Luke 22:41-42). This sometimes may mean that the husband may have to sacrifice his will in a particular matter when he realizes that what his wife proposes is the greater good. Likewise, a wife submits her will to her husband’s when he calls her to a greater good.

For more information on spiritual headship in marriage, I recommend the following articles:

Spiritual Headship by Jimmy Akin
The Authority of Women by Monica Migliorino Miller
Feminism and Marriage by Mary Shivanandan

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