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LIFE > Life in the Family > The Wife's Priority  


In the two foremost passages in the New Testament (Eph. 5:22-6:4 and Col. 3:18-21) dealing with the obligation of each member of the family, wives are addressed first. “Submit” is the word used by Paul and "submissive" is the word used by Peter in his epistle:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Eph. 5:22

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Col. 3:18

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands.
I Pet. 3:1

The teaching is unmistakable; it is concise and understandable. Three epistles are consistent with the statement of obligation. But the clarity of the verses does not intimidate those with feminist inclinations which prohibit them from accepting the simplicity of the text. For them, Paul and Peter are the epitomes of male chauvinism; these Biblical writers obviously did not have in mind the best interest of females when they wrote. Their writings reflect the perverted cultural view of their time, a view that consigned women to an inferior position in society. But in the face of such an evident lack of appreciation by the modern feminist for the normative nature of the revealed text, the single word—“submit”—stands as a challenge and as a condemnation to such thinking.

This word raises a couple of essential questions: what is meant by submission, and what is the reason for submission?

First, what is meant by submission? “Submit” is the Greek word, hypotasso, a verb that appears approximately forty times in the New Testament. To “submit” means that the individual yields his or her rights, with an underlying sense of obedience; the word speaks of “subjection,” “taking a subordinate position,” and “coming under the authority of.”

Following are instances of the word in the New Testament:

then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject (hypotasso) to them (Lu. 2:51);

Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject (hypotasso) to us in Your name”  (Lu. 10:17);

Let every soul be subject (hypotasso) to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1);

Exhort bondservants to be obedient (hypotasso) to their own masters (Tit. 2:9);

Remind them to be subject (hypotasso) to rulers and authorities, to obey (Tit. 3:1);

Therefore submit (hypotasso) yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake (I Per. 2:13);

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers have been made subject (hypotasso) to Him (I Pet. 3:21-22).

The meaning of the word is obvious, but the modern thinker is not so quick to accept the implications. It is one thing to deny the teaching of the text; it is another thing to deny that the text teaches such. It is an indication of double mindedness to modify the meaning of the text in order to accept the text. The text stands in its definitiveness; either “submit” or walk away.

Submission by a wife to a husband is really an act of submission of the wife to God—“as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22) is the teaching of the text. In other words, all of life is either Theistic or humanistic—life is either lived for God or lived for self. Ultimately, submission of a wife to a husband is not for the purpose of pleasing the husband but for the purpose of pleasing God.

The Scriptures teach that the husband is the “head” (“kephale”) of the wife (Eph. 5:23). Much debate in the modern era has related to this word. Without doing an involved exegetical study at this point, agreement with those who have done the research and have come to the traditional understanding of the word can be stated: the word does not indicate the “source” of the woman but rather the “authority” of the man over the woman. Just as Christ is the head of every believer so the man is the head of the woman, and to be head is to have the right to rule (Eph. 5:23-24).

Second, what is the reason for submission? There are three considerations: the woman was made after the man, the woman was made from the man, and the woman was made for the man.

While the modern humanist may think that these three considerations are irrelevant, each one is used by Scripture to support the leadership of the man. Again, the issue is the priority, not that is placed on man, but the priority that is placed on the Scriptures. Do they have normative and absolute value? Does their revelatory nature dictate that their teaching is binding on the minds of men? The evaluation one makes of the Christian Scriptures is decisive in all other areas.

After the man – “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (I Tim. 2:13). Paul is merely using the order of creation to support his point relative to the authority of women in the Church. Whether it is deemed a proper consideration today is beside the point; from the perspective of Scripture, the order of creation is significant: Adam was created first, and that fact indicates and supports the priority of the man, not in terms of intrinsic worth, but in terms of position. While the value of male and female is equal, especially in terms of Christ, their proper place in the arrangement of the created order is different.

In the Church a woman is not “to teach or to have authority over a man” (I Tim. 2:12).  The next verse in English begins with “for”; Paul justifies the point he made in verse 12. And the justification resides in the fact that Adam was created before Eve: “For Adam was formed first.”

A second point is added by Paul: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Tim. 2:14). Responsibility for the Fall resides with Adam, for he was the representative of the race, including Eve: “In Adam all die” (I Cor. 15:22; see Rom. 5:12-21). Even though Eve sinned first, according to the New Testament, it was Adam who represented the human race. In his rebellion and disobedience the curse of sin came upon all men and women. This representation of the race is a reflection of the prominence of the first man, his initial creation before the woman; and it also communicates something of the prominence of every man.

From the man - “For man is not from woman, but woman from man” (I Cor. 11:8) and “For as woman came from man” (I Cor. 11:12). In the context Paul makes the point that woman is “the glory of man” (I Cor. 11:7) since she is from the man. So, this truth that Paul affirms reinforces the Biblical teaching regarding the position of man in relationship to the woman; she is the glory of man.

This reference surely indicates that a prominent position belongs to the man and that the woman in some way enhances that position, perhaps for several reasons: one, because she is from man, taken from him, flesh of his flesh; two, because she is similar to the man, that is, she is made in the image of God just like the man; and three, because of the excellence of her being she reflects the quality that is indicative of the man.

“Man” is not only the word used of the male but it is also used to refer to both male and female; “He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created” (Gen. 5:2)—the human race was named “man” by God. The Hebrew word, adam, translated “Mankind” here in the NKJV is the same word translated “Adam” in the account of creation. What is the significance of such a designation for the male and female, to call both “man”? Grudem commented:

The naming of the human race with a term that also referred to Adam in particular, or man in distinction from woman, suggests a leadership role belonging to the man. This is similar to the custom of a woman taking the last name of the man when she marries: it signifies the headship in the family (ST, 463).

For the man - “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (I Cor. 11:9). This is in keeping with the Old Testament statement: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’ ” (Gen. 2:18). To be created “for” the man does not indicate lesser worth but indicates a specific role that was given to the woman. She is to help and to complete the man—this does not suggest inferiority but special endowment that enables her to fulfill her task.

The woman is given a function that the man cannot begin to emulate; in fact, the man would be less than man if the woman had not been equipped for this responsibility that God has give to her. The woman must understand that submission by her to the man has to do with function, and in no manner speaks of less worth or dignity; it does not imply inadequacy nor insignificance. Scripture teaches that both the male and female are equal in Christ, thus the true value and worth of the woman is seen in her standing before the Father, even though both have different positions in life.

Blessed is the man who has a wife who understands that her purpose in life is to be a helper to her husband in every sense of the word. She is the epitome of the woman in Proverbs.

Verses for wives/women from the book of Proverbs:

And the contentions of a wife are a continual dripping (Prov. 19:13);

A prudent wife is from the Lord (Prov. 19:14);

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones (Prov. 12:4);

the wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down (Prov. 14:1);

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord (Prov. 18:22);

Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord (Prov. 19:14);

It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman (Prov. 21:9);

It is better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and angry woman (Prov. 21:19);

The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit (Prov. 22:14);

It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman (Prov. 25:24);

A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike; whoever restrains her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand (Prov. 27:15-16).

Description of the virtuous wife from Proverbs 31:10-31:

Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good. And her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Disposition of the Christian woman and wife:

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror  (I Pet. 3:1-6).

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