Submission in marriage

Over the years, my wife and I have had the blessing and joy of walking alongside a number of engaged couples as they prepare for marriage. One of the recurring discussions has been around the topic of submission. It seems that in our day and age, there is increasing confusion and suspicion surround this all-too-clear biblical mandate (see Ephesians 5:22).

Some resources that I think are helpful in understanding how biblical submission could work in our day:

  • the appendix in Tim & Kathy Keller’s book, “The Meaning of Marriage”. Short and succinct presentation. Also, one of the best books written on marriage and the Gospel.
  • this blogpost by Paul Tautges (don’t know who he is).
  • there’s also a booklet he mentions in the post, but I haven’t read it.
  • “Who Does the Dishes?” – a short booklet by the Christian Counseling Education Foundation by Winston Smith.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on headship and submission. Is it just an old-fashioned, mysogynistic, relic of male-dominated society? Or is there something beautiful to be found in the idea that equal in essence does not mean equal in function? Leave a comment.

4 thoughts on “Submission in marriage

  1. While I have never been married, this topic has found me on multiple occasions while hanging out with girl friends and an occasional date. I have never talked to two people with the same opinion. I have been in a position where I can see how it works in others relationships. I think as culture normally changes, so will couples relationships in the way they work. Call me a hypocrite, but I also believe to some extent that scripture puts more pressure on men to lead a biblical family simply because when it was written, men were regarded more as leaders in that present culture. As to now, I am not really sure there is a correct answer. While men should continue to lead their relationships in a Christian path, women can do it just the same. I think it all come down to the couple and how they want their own relationship to play out.

    • Interesting thought, Cary. It still doesn’t answer the question of how we stay faithful to the authority of Scripture though. If it’s just a matter of coming down to the couple’s preferences, what authority does Scripture hold? And if doesn’t hold any authority in the arena of the marriage relationship, how can Scripture hold authority in other matters pertaining to life and faith?

  2. I do see that by adopting a literalistic reading of the Pauline epistles, one sees differences when comparing the “function” of men and women. However, when one adopts this position, I see it as perhaps misleading to claim still that men and women are “equal in essence”. Regardless of “essence”, is not the telos of the gender found in the function? The differences observed in the function of a man and woman are a final cause, so to placate the problem that inequality in “function” intuitively provokes by assuming men and women are equal in essence seems a bit disingenuous. Supposing indeed that men and women are “equal in essence” but unequal in “function”, it matters not as “essence” appears to be secondary to “function”. I humbly and surely inadequately refer to the work of Aristotle and Saint Anselm for this argument, as I have other qualms, but to present them would be to present an entirely different hermeneutic.

  3. Caleb! Good to hear from you and deep thoughts. I would disagree on one major point though. The telos of the gender is not found in the function, but in the imago dei…”male and female he created them”. And if the imago dei, then both function and essence are crucial. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by a “final cause”, but I don’t think it’s hiding an inequality by arguing for different function, but calling it ontological equality. I think rather it’s a theological priority in emphasizing both the difference in function as well as equality in essence…a true reflection of the Trinity.

    Good thoughts though! What did Anselm say about essence and function?

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