Thursday, March 6, 2014

Submission, Obedience and Other Meanings

Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything”

I have said that I would do a later post about submission and I decided to analyze what the word really means in marriage, in the church, to authority etc.  The word submission always conveys up a lot of controversiality since it is the most misunderstood word in the bible.  Many people have held different views on what it means whether it implies mere obedience or obedience in certain situations and subordination.  The most common belief is that it means yield to someone in authority.  In the marriage, the wife is to suppose to yield to her husband’s authority by letting him make the major decisions.  The majority believe that this happens only after the couple can’t be in agreement on a major decision and as a last resort she submits his leadership.  I even read a debate on a forum whether submission means obedience giving the husband the right to expect his wife to obey his every wish.  I have always been wary with this kind of thinking wondering whether some men who use this logic to justify their own self of entitlement of some power in the marriage based on possibly hidden chauvinistic feelings they harbor from their patriarchal up bringing.  

Other explanations that make little sense to me is that the wife allows the husband to decide on most things including where they go to eat out, where they go on their vocations etc.  Other examples that I have read was that one is to suppose to give up what they like for the other, or that a wife is to put aside her judgment for her husband’s judgment even if her judgment is better and wiser. One website described the wife’s submissive attitude by including domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning.  I really couldn't buy into any of these ideals on submission.  I don’t see how any marriage is good when one party constantly gets to decide on any issue including where to go when eating out, nor do I believe it’s good for one party to give up everything they like for their spouse.  Would this include giving up reading, crafting, knitting or any hobbies the person has? I would think a husband who really loves and values his wife would be willing to compromise and sometimes do what she wants, including her in major decisions and respect her hobbies and interests and vice versa.  In other words, a marriage is never good when one spouse is treated like a secondary figure whose purpose is to be obedient and subservient to the other spouse but rather a marriage of two equals, a unit who work together to honor the lord both willing to compromise, strive to be on common ground, and serving one another. 

Unfortunately, many have misinterpreted the word submission to justify husbands controlling and abusing their wives and treating them as the lesser role.  I read complaints from wives who say their husbands lord it over them that they have to do what they tell them to do so long it isn’t against god’s will.  I read many others claim that a wife has to go along with her husband even if it is wrong or stupid or even if the husband is spanking their child harshly that borderlines abuse.  The most extreme example I read from a female commenter saying that she will do what her husband demands even if it is wrong, sinful or illegal since god would only hold her husband accountable in the end.  That’s another popular view among many Christians, that the husband is always held accountable for any major decision made right or wrong and the wife is let off the hook.  Just to clear things up, I don’t believe submission is the same as obedience nor do I believe a wife’s submission means that she obeys her husband’s commands or wishers like a child obeys a parent, or an employee obeys an employer etc. unless it goes against god’s will. So what does submission mean?  

First, let’s go back to the Greek translation of the word which is “hupotasso”.  This word means to arrange under, to yield to admonition or advice, to yield oneself to another’s will, or place oneself at the disposition of another.  It could also be used in a military term that means to arrange a troop in an orderly fashion under the command of a leader.  However, in a non-military use it means a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility and carrying a burden.  Paul did not use the word in its active voice, in which he told husbands to hupotasso their wives meaning husbands cannot demand or insist on their wives submission to them.  Instead, Paul used the word in its passive/middle voice which was a voluntary action on the wives part.  In its passive/middle form, the word is "hupotassamai" which means give allegiance to, tend to the needs of, be supportive of and be responsive to.  In a military term, hupotassomai meant taking the position in a phalanx of soldiers.  This term wasn’t about ranks or status but promoted equal sharing of the tasks troops were ordered.  If one solider failed to join his troop or held back in an advance, the commanding officer would use this form of the word to order the soldier to return to the line and join his troop, being supportive of them and fulfill his part of the assignment.  

There are a few other bible verses that about wives submission to their husbands.  Colossians 3:18 “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord”.  Titus 2: 4-5 “and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, keepers at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled”.  1 Peter 3:1-2 “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives”.  This does not refer to the obedience but a voluntary attitude of giving up oneself for another by coopering and responding to the husband's needs.  The wife has the self-giving act of serving her husband and caring for his well-being, rather than always thinking of one’s own self-interests. This could require respecting him, giving her strengths to build him up.  Also, have a yielding attitude and let go of need to always be in control in order to work with him rather than have power struggles by constantly fighting, competing and resisting his will, trying to dominate him or the need to be right.  The wife’s submission should also include her submitting her husband as the head.  This means she willingly yields to the husband's initiating a Christ-like atmosphere in the home.(view my post on the husband’s role in marriage).  Other ways the wife is to submit is respect his needs as the man in the marriage, as a mentioned before some of men's needs may differ from women's.  This doesn’t mean she gives him the right to dominate and rule over her, but may require at times to let him take charge of a situation(not in a controlling or domineering way) and yield to his protection when it’s required rather than rebuff his attempts in order to feel more independent and prove  that she is strong.  Submission is nothing more than voluntary of giving up one’s own will to benefit another.  To be yielding, even when it’s difficult and let go of the need to always have your own way or to win.  

Despite this, many have used 1 Peter 3:6 “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” as proof that wives should obey their husbands.  However, to better understand the context of this verse would be to go back to Genesis 12:10-16, in which Abraham and Sarah were traveling to Egypt, and Abraham feared because of Sarah’s beauty, someone would kill him in order to kidnap her, so he tells her to say she is his sister,(although that his partly true since she is his half-sister) and Sarah obeyed him.  Her obedience was only just one demonstration of her submission in which she willingly  yielded her own will and cooperated with him in order to save his life.  It wasn’t meant to imply that obedience the only way to show submission.  Besides in Genesis 21-9-11, God tells Abraham to do what Sarah tells him, when she insist he send away their slave girl Hagar and Ishmael, the son she had with Abraham.  However, there is a catch with submission that a wife doesn’t just submit to her husband in every single thing.  Ephesians 5:22 states “as to the Lord”, and Colossians 3:18 quotes “as fit in the Lord.  Both these verses make it clear the wife’s submission should be only what is appropriate in God's will.  Meaning, a wife should never submit to anything that goes against god’s will, immoral, illegal or goes against her conscience.  

This brings up another point regarding the wife’s accountability in the marriage.  Many teach that only the husband’s are held accountable before god when making the final decision in what is known as duck and cover for the wives.  Some even believe even if the wife submits to something sinful the wife is not held accountable.  I read some women even reveal being relieved to much position that puts all accountability at their husband’s feet whenever making a major decision.  I, myself, don’t believe this is a biblical attitude nor is it true.  I believe part of the wife’s role and her submission may require to willingly carry some of the burdens along with her husband and that includes some of the major decisions that affects them or the whole family.  Besides if a wife supports and cooperates with anything that is sinful, illegal, unethical and causes harm, she is equally guilty and held accountable under god.  One example of this is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.  In this story Ananias sold his land and rather than donate all of it to the Apostle Peter, was dishonest and kept some of the profits for himself.  Peter confronted him on his deception not only to him or the people but to god and Ananias died on the spot and was carried out.  Three hours later his wife Sapphira unaware of what happened, was also confronted by Peter who asked her how much they received for the land.  Saphhira, who was aware of her husband’s deception, lied about the amount they received and died on the spot as well.  God punished Sapphira along with her husband Ananias for her role in the sinning against the Lord and thus held her equally accountable.  

Another example that is quite opposite, is the story of David, Abigail and Nabal in the first book of Samuel chapter 25.  In the story, David as fled from King Saul who wants him dead and he and his men are hiding in the wilderness.  David sends his men to go to seek a wealthy man name Nabal who is described as mean and surly and owns a over a thousand sheep and goats in carmel and he was in the sheep shearing business.  David sent his men to seek out Nabal and asks for some supplies informing them to remind Nabal that they have protected his shepherds in the wilderness.  However, when the men confront Nabal, he refuses his request and insults him.  A furious David, then plans to send his men in to raid the place and take the provisions they need.  Then Nabal’s wife Abigail described as a beautiful and intelligent woman learns all this from one of her servants, so she and her servants set out on donkeys bringing a lot of food and wine and finds David, apologizing for her husband’s foolishness and begs him not to retaliate against Nabal and take his anger out on her instead.  David accepts her apology and the food she offers and promises her he will reward her for her kindness.  When Abigail returns home she finds Nabal drunk and when she tells him of what she did the next morning he dies ten days later.  Afterwards, David takes Abigail as his wife.  The moral is that Abigail didn’t submit to her husband’s boorish and stingy behavior and even went against his wishes which in turn stopped revenge from being taking on her household and prevented David from his committing a murderous attack.  

There may be times when a wife will have to go against her husband, especially it is for the benefit and well being of herself or others and after enough prayer and seeking guidance from the Lord.  For example, if her husband is abusive towards her and/or the children or he is an addict, she definitely shouldn’t enable him but rather flee for the sake of her family and seek help.  Both men and women are to be first and foremost submitted to God.   Another misconception is the idea that submission is only preserved for wives.  In fact, the bible has several verses on submission including the Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  This verse refers to all of us as brothers and sisters in Christ should be submitting to one another by supporting, cooperating and serving one another; catering to each other’s needs and shouldering one another’s burdens which is also mentioned in Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”.  Basically, we should all voluntarily yield our will for another’s benefit. This can also include husbands submitting to their wives as Abraham did by yielding his will to his wife’s wishes as God commanded him.  Even Jesus Christ himself submitted to the church when he gave up his life for it dying for all our sins.  

Of course, in the bible, submission has been used regarding submitting to a higher authority in several verses.  Romans 13:1 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God”.  Titus 3:1 “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work”.   Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you”.  In these verses, it tells people directly to submit to authority and obey them placing submission and obedience as two separate words and making the meanings not one in the same.  In fact, in Hebrews 13:17, another Greek word is used for submit which is “hupeiko”.  This word means to surrender after the battle, to give way, retire, yield to authority or admonition.  

As for the word obey, the Greek word used is “hupakouo”.  This word is used in Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”.  Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ”.  However, this word is never used for wives regarding their husbands.  There are other Greek words translated as obey.  The word "peitho" means to persuade, to convince, to seek one’s favor, to gain’s good will or to seek to win.  In its passive/middle voice the word is "peithesthe" which means to be persuaded, to listen to, to be won over.  Peithesthe is used in Hebrews 13:17 and is translated as obey telling those to obey their leaders and submit to them.  An almost similar word is "peitharcheo" which means to obey or to be persuaded by someone in authority.  This word is used in verses Act 5:29 “Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”.  Act 5:32 “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him”.  Titus 3:1 “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,”. 

Debunking the misconceptions of the word submission, women needn’t feel threatened, disempowered or oppressed by this word.  Neither should men feel self-entitled to control, dominate or have any privileges over women.  A better understanding of submission could help and having healthier marriages and better relations between men and women.