Thursday, November 25, 2010

It's cruel to submit

When I suggested to my mother that we might read Ephesians 5 at our wedding. She reacted very strongly. Totally out of character for her. "You should not read that. You shouldn't submit to your husband! I don't submit to your father!"

However, I can remember plenty of times when she has "submitted" to my father. Her idea of what the word "submit" meant, was obviously different to mine.

Through conversations with other non-Christian friends I've come to realise that to many people to "submit" means, primarily, submit to cruelty. That a wife should not speak up about being beaten. That a wife should just do whatever her husband wants, no matter what he asks or what his motivation. To blindly obey.

The idea of "submitting" to something good, in my opinion, isn't contemporary use of the word. This is especially so in the case when you're commanded to do it (in this case, by Paul).

What did the original, Ephesian audience think of a wife "submitting"? That it wasn't particularly controversial. Of course a good wife will submit to her husband.

If it wasn't anything controversial, why did Paul have to say to do it? That reason is left unsaid in Ephesians, but it is stated in Titus:

"being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited."  Titus 2:5

In the letter to Titus, the behaviour of "submission" is guided by the principle "so that the word of God may not be discredited".

In a society where the thing which most strongly discredits God's word is charges of misogyny - how are we to interpret these verses.

Though submission does have strong negative overtones in our society, respect for your husband remains a very positive thing. Instead of encouraging Christian wives to submit (and thereby derailing they whole purpose by using a confusing term, and by inviting charges of misogyny from others). Let's put our energy in encouraging our wives to respect their husbands. To be devoted to them. To encourage the good in them. To overlook the bad. Under Christ to be devoted to them, and to their wellbeing. Who wouldn't want a wife like that?

1 comment:

  1. You're right, we do lose something in the word "submit", and add something else (which is against the goal of not discrediting the gospel). I agree with your suggestions on what we should ask wives to do, but think the list is lacking. Although "submit" might not be the best word now, because of its connotations, surely it meant more than respect and devotion. It's comparable (in Eph 5) to the church's response to Christ, which is a lot more than respect and devotion; and it's paralleled with slaves to masters and children to parents. There is certainly an element of authority, which is counter-cultural now, and an element of willingness and cheerful heart, which was counter-cultural then.