Our Submission Series: What Does It Mean to Obey Like Sarah?

by | Sep 5, 2018 | Marriage, Uncategorized | 65 comments

Submission and Sarah: Does the bible teach that wives must obey their husbands?
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When it comes to the issue of women and submission, I get a lot of “drive-by” Bible verse quoting on this website.

Here’s how it works: I’ll have a long, drawn out post on how women should handle a husband’s sin that is endangering the family, and someone will leave a comment that simply quotes Bible verses on how women should stay silent and obey their husbands. 1 Peter 3 is a big one for them. They often quote verses like:

1 Peter 3

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.…For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

This is a very passive aggressive technique–it’s like saying “I’m absolutely right without having to make any argument because THE BIBLE.”

I’d like to spend the Wednesdays this month looking at how Jesus wants women to act in marriage–and I’d like to lay the groundwork in this first post by looking at how using the Bible to silence women isn’t biblical at all. Today we’ll look at how that method of interpreting Scripture is seriously off; and then next week we’ll look at how too many who want to silence women ignore Jesus, who is, after all, The Word of God. Then later in the month we’ll turn to how we should be treating and serving our husbands in marriage.

I’ve started a new theme on the blog where we spend the Wednesdays of each month looking at one particular subject in depth. Last month we launched it with our MBTI and marriage series. This month we’re going to get really in-depth in gender roles and marriage.

 

Like this post? You should also check out:

And I want to start with this passage in 1 Peter 3, because it is left so often in the comments that I just want to deal with it once and for all.

Scripture cannot contradict itself

We know that ALL Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and that means that Scripture has to tell one complete story–the same story. Yet when someone uses “Drive-by” Bible verses, and I leave a long comment with plenty of Scripture references showing that the issue is far more nuanced than that, they typically ignore all my other Scriptural evidence and just repeat the verse, as if that is an argument. Too often, commenters refuse to engage with the whole of the Bible. In fact, I had one commenter tell me that the ONLY woman that we are supposed to emulate is Sarah, since she’s the one that Peter specifically tells us to emulate. Apparently women shouldn’t take any significance out of how Mary or Deborah or Lydia or Elizabeth or Hannah or any other woman lived. Only Sarah. That makes it sound like the Bible for women should only be about 5 verses. Today I want to engage his argument. Let’s only look at the 1 Peter passage about Sarah. First, we’ll look at Sarah, the object of these words; and then we’ll look at Peter, the author of these words.

Did Sarah always obey Abraham?

Peter writes:

They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Reading this verse, and only this verse, gives the implication that Sarah obeyed Abraham in everything because he was her master. When Peter was writing this, though, he was writing to Jews, people who were very familiar with the Abraham and Sarah story. They would have read that verse with all of the history of Abraham and Sarah in mind. And what would they have thought? Let’s look at the four main interactions that the Bible records between Sarah and Abraham.

First, God called Abraham to leave his homeland, Ur, and go to a place that God hadn’t revealed to him yet (and would later become the Promised Land). And Sarah went with him.

As far as we know, God didn’t tell Sarah any of this, but she followed Abraham anyway.

Second, in the longest interaction, Sarah and Abraham negotiated what they should do together (without God)

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham remaining childless, years after Abraham received the prophecy that his descendants would be numerous and that God would bless them. So Sarah suggested that Abraham take her handmaid Hagar and use her to get offspring. In this interlude, we don’t see Sarah obeying Abraham, but instead Abraham listening to Sarah. (The mistake here is that neither checked in with God or did what God wanted).

Third, Abraham was told to obey Sarah.

Many years later, after their son Isaac was born, Sarah told Abraham to get rid of his other son and Hagar, who bore him. Sarah knew that the promise was to come through Isaac, not Ishmael, and Ishmael was a threat to Isaac. Abraham didn’t want to do this, but God told Abraham to obey his wife:

But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

Genesis 21:12

So Abraham expelled Hagar and Ishmael. (God, however, did take pity on the two who had suffered so much, and protected Hagar and made sure that Ishmael thrived as well.)

Finally, Sarah agreed to lie about Abraham’s identity.

Twice when the couple were traveling through unfriendly territory, Abraham told Sarah to lie on his behalf and say that she was his sister rather than his wife (though he claimed it wasn’t a lie since she was his half-sister). As it turned out, the rulers took Sarah, who was very beautiful, into their harems, and God rescued them before real harm happened. Sarah sacrificed her own well-being. What was her motivation? Was it obedience for the sake of obedience, as my drive-by commenters would imply? In Genesis 12:13, we learn why. Abraham says:

Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.

Abraham doesn’t say, “do what I say because you’re my wife and you must obey.” He says, “protect my safety and act to bless me.”

If we are to emulate Sarah, then, what do we learn from these four stories that the Bible tells us about their interactions?

The overall message of Sarah’s life would be: Follow your husband when God is clearly telling him something, even if you’re scared, but confront your husband when he is obviously not following God. Don’t do things without checking with God first. And, as Peter reiterated in his letter, do what is right (don’t lie for other people).

Who did Peter think we should obey?

The Jewish readers of Peter’s letters also would have read his words through the eyes of their own relationship with Peter. These people knew Peter (they likely were part of the Jerusalem church that was later scattered in the persecution), and so they would take what they knew of Peter into account when trying to figure out what Peter meant by things. Let’s look at just one chapter in the book of Acts that sheds light on Peter’s thinking about obeying one’s husband and following God’s will: Acts 5. Acts 5 opens with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who had decided to sell a piece of property, keep back some of the money, but tell the apostles that they were donating the whole thing to God. Ananias came in first and gave the apostles the money, and then he was struck dead for lying to God. A little while later Sapphira came in, and Peter checked with her, too–“was this the whole price?” She said it was, and Peter said,

How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?

He gave her the chance to separate her actions from her husband’s. And if she had–if she had told the truth, in contrast to her husband–she would have been spared. As it was, she was struck dead, just like Ananias. Doing something wrong just because your husband did it is no excuse before God. Later in the chapter Peter makes the point even more clearly. Peter and the apostles were arrested by the temple police, and had to defend themselves before the council. They were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, and Peter declared,

“We must obey God rather than man!”

Acts 5:29

To Peter, we serve God and God only. We obey God, not men. He was absolutely adamant about this in the way that he lived his life and in the way that he taught the early church. And these two events were pivotal to the early believers. The readers of Peter’s letter, then, would not have taken his words to mean that women should just follow men and do whatever their husbands wanted. That’s putting the husband in the place of Jesus, and that’s idolatry!

Are you PeaceKEEPING or PeaceMAKING?

There’s a huge difference between the two. And if you don’t get it right–you’ll never be able to feel truly intimate in your marriage.

There’s a better way!

So what would the readers of Peter’s letter have thought about emulating Sarah?

My drive-by commenters believe this verse clearly says that women should always obey their husbands no matter what. However, the readers of Peter’s letter would never have thought that. First, they would have known that Peter didn’t think this; but second, even if Peter had wanted to tell his readers to do so, he would not have used Sarah as the example. Sarah’s life was hardly the picture of a wife obeying her husband in everything! Instead, when contemporary Jewish readers encountered Peter’s command that women emulate Sarah, who obeyed Abraham “rather than giving way to fear”, that last part would have given them the context of what Peter meant.

They would have known that it was not a command to obey in all circumstances. Instead, they would take that bit of the verse–“rather than giving way to fear”–and hearken back to to the time that Sarah DID obey, even when it was scary.

We serve God and God only. We obey God, not men.

And that was the time that Sarah followed Abraham out of Ur, because God called him. That was a pivotal time in Jewish history (really the beginning of Jewish history). It would make sense that Peter would remind his readers of it.

And the message they would take? When God is speaking, you follow by faith. It’s that simple. They would never think that it meant that women should not confront their husbands’ sin, or that women should forget God’s will and only follow their husband’s will, because that would go against everything they knew of Sarah, and everything they knew of Peter. Instead, they would have remembered Sarah exercising faith when God told Abraham something. And that’s an important lesson for all of us–it just isn’t the lesson that these drive-by commenters think. Does the Bible say wives must obey their husbands? A look at Sarah and Abraham and Submission in Marriage.

Drive-by verse quoting is immature and silly.

We learn about God and how we should act through the whole of Scripture, together, with each piece showing a different part of the puzzle. When people choose to ignore the rest of Scripture because of one verse–well, then they’re the ones not treating the Bible seriously. So next time you’re trying to figure out what the Bible says on a complicated issue, and someone quotes one Bible verse as if it makes further discussion unnecessary, they’re the ones in the wrong. It’s okay to ignore them, but if you can, try to make them defend their position when other Bible stories contradict it. Next week we’ll look at Jesus, because He is the author and perfecter of our faith, and He is the one that we need to see all Scripture through. And we’ll see what Jesus would say to people who believe like my drive-by commenters.


Our Submission Series:

And if you’ve liked this series, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage delves into what submission and conflict resolution really does look like in a healthy, Jesus-centered (instead of husband-centered) marriage. Check it out! 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

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joiIiwiYWZ0ZXIiOiIifX0=@

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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65 Comments

  1. Mary

    Wow! That was long winded, and I can see why perhaps it needed to be so, but in short, I agree! I’m glad you’ve started off on this footing, because I have wondered where you really stood on this at times. You tend to spend a lot of time explaining what submission is NOT and putting a lot of caveats in place, to the extent that I was wondering if you really believed in submitting at all!
    Anyway, thank you for the post – it has reaffirmed what was my own instinctive understanding of that passage. It also fits, I think, with the instruction in Ephesians 5 for wives to submit “as unto the Lord”. A biblical caveat! Submission to any person has to be commensurate with our personal responsibility to serve God.
    Governmental authority doesn’t get a blank cheque from God (see Acts 4, which you have mentioned). I have never understood why husbands should think that they have one!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Mary! I absolutely believe in submitting! It’s biblical. The problem is that we don’t understand what the word submission means. We think it’s all about authority and decision-making, but if you take that interpretation, then Ephesians 5:21–“submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”–makes absolutely no sense.
      Jesus didn’t come to earth to establish power structures. He came to earth to show us how to serve one another and how to love God. If we concentrate on those two things–how to faithfully love God and faithfully serve one another–then our marriages will be awesome!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        And, yes, it was long, but I get people quoting that verse SO OFTEN that I just wanted to write it once and for all, so that whenever people try to pull that again, I can just point them to this post. Using the Bible to tell people to “shut up” is so wrong, it makes me wonder if people even understand Jesus at all.

        Reply
        • Teenie Anne

          Peace be with you!
          Do you have a blog about a verse on women and keeping silent in church and they should not teach.
          1 Corinthians 14:34
          Bless your very spirit for this blog.
          I also, right before reading this one, I read about controlling husbands. I admit, I am beyond worn out over constant talk about women nagging, but no one, on spiritual level speaks of men nagging.
          It is as if woman has healthy self-respect and are not ok with bad treatment, we are considered feminists.
          Very awesome both blogs I just read. I curious about 1 Corinthians verse, as you have mentioned Deborah, Mary, Elizabeth, Hannah ( I would like to add Esther as well, except getting her husband drunk, I do not recommend that at all ), I believe women are used, and be called to teach, so 1 Corinthians verse seems to be taken out of context to me.
          Bless your very spirit for writing this!

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Hi Teenie,
            Thanks for your question! I’m not really a theology blog, even though I do deal with these things every now and then. I’d suggest you look at Marg Mowczko’s blog, because she deals with all of this at length. Here are all her posts on that verse.

  2. Lydia purple

    So well written!
    Does Keith approve? Just kidding, of course he does! 😂
    Just the other day I looked up one of the Greek words that is used for „obey husband“ – hypotasso
    Here is what it says : This word was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military (like marriage) use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      HAHAHA! Yes, Keith approves. 🙂 He gets super ticked off at the commenters who try to use the Bible in that way. It’s just so against everything he stands for.
      I like that distinction in Greek about obey. That makes sense when you look at what else Peter wrote. Given how absolutely adamant the apostles were about idolatry and about how there is only one mediator between God and humankind, it seems very strange that we would have created a whole doctrine that would put a husband in that role.

      Reply
  3. Kay

    How do these commenters get around the opening phrase? That even though Sarah is the example, this is still an instruction for a wife who is married to a NON-believer? On how best to convert him to the Christian faith? So unless you are a man coming here to say you are NOT a Christian, this verse is not applicable to your wife and not applicable to (hopefully) the vast majority of the women sitting in the pews.
    Jesus and Peter clearly tell us we ARE to confront fellow believers when they are unrepentant in their sin, including your spouse, and even to bring that sin to other believers and then your church if the spouse won’t listen (submit, ahem) to your confrontation/correction. True submission to God means refusing to submit to sin, even when that means refusing to submit to your husband.
    So although I wrestle with the strict and extra-biblical restrictions in my home church, I am grateful that my FIL pastor leaves NO ROOM for this kind of nonsense. If it becomes known that a husband/father is mistreating his wife/kids—and *especially* if using Scripture to justify it—the church elders come down hard on those men. They have no tolerance for that, and I am thankful for that much, anyway.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I am glad that your church sees that, Kay!
      And, honestly, I don’t know how they get around the context of those verses. But maybe that’s the point. These commenters just pull verses completely out of context, and ignore the rest of Scripture, because they have an agenda. And they don’t want the context or the rest of Scripture to interfere with the agenda.
      I’m thankful that this view isn’t that widespread, but I just wanted it all up in one place so that I can stop writing all of this in the comments section whenever someone does drive-by commenting, and can just point people here! It’s much easier.
      And maybe, if we keep making these arguments, people will start to see that these interpretations really are crazy.

      Reply
    • MaryBeth

      It is so great to be a part of a church like that. Sadly, many protect these abusive men. God abhors tyranny of any type. Marriage is becoming one with your spouse, not one having rule over the other. This isn’t rocket science! The Bible cannot be cherry-picked to fit your narrative. Real men love and respect their wives and do not want control over her. Period.

      Reply
      • Kay

        I can’t go so far as to say that it is great to be part of a church like mine, because I am very bothered by the view of gender roles most of this denomination holds. For example, we once had an entire Sunday school class in which my FIL pastor wrestled out loud with whether women should be allowed to talk in Sunday school class (not teach Sunday school; talk, period). So although he believes that women are easily deceived and therefore they are not qualified by God to lead in church or the home, he holds husbands/fathers to a much greater responsibility and will not tolerate any abuse of power whatsoever.
        At least they’re consistent in their theology?

        Reply
  4. Natalie

    Great article, Sheila! (& glad to have you returned safely from Africa). I’m looking forward to the rest of your articles on this topic! I was raised in a branch of the Evangelical church that is very pro-woman and more nuanced (as opposed to thinking that all women should obey and follow their husbands in every single circumstance no matter what). But even I deal with feelings of guilt and not being a “Christian enough” wife when I try to confront and help my husband with his struggles with sloth, gluttony and lust. Looking forward to reading the rest of your stuff on this topic!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Natalie! Glad to have you here, too. It is so hard to confront well. I’ve certainly never mastered it (though my husband has very little I need to confront on!). That would be a good post, though.

      Reply
  5. Jes

    You say in your blog on this post that God did not tell Sarah any of this, but he told Abraham. You were talking about when God told Abraham to leave his country and family and move, it’s Cetera. Could it not be argued that God did tell Sarah this, only through Abraham? God never tells one spouse something that he does not in some way? tell the other.

    Reply
  6. Dean

    I am not sure that such an in-depth analysis is even needed: for me it is enough to think what Jesus would say to somebody claiming that “women should stay silent and obey their husbands”.
    Most of the good things in my life came out of my wife NOT being silent and of ME obeying her. Thanks to that I overcame anxiety, depression, overweight, and it helped me build a career I love. Men who silence their wives have a lot to lose.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Love that, Dean! And I totally agree with you. From my perspective, that would totally be enough.
      But I honestly think that these drive-by commenters, and many who believe like them, DO think that Jesus would say that. In fact, it’s so much a part of their theology (the women being inferior to the men) that it’s perfectly natural to them. I find that very sad.

      Reply
  7. jon

    Disclaimer. I serve outside the US, so that may figure…
    In any case, in the ministry, I’ve had men come to me, wanting me to tell their wives they need to obey them, or honor them, or whatnot. Every time that happens, I take them to Ephesians 5, and ask them, “Do you love your wife? Do you love her like Christ loves you? Do you give your all for her? Is she the most important part of your life, like the Church is for Christ?” As husband, our task is to do this–love our wives. I’ve not yet had a man honestly tell me that this was true about himself. After that, I tell them that if they want their wife to honor and obey them, they need to model Christ in the home first. When the wife knows that her husband loves and honors and respects her, and–looking a bit further north in chapter five–that he submits to her out of reverence to Christ, then she will find it much easier to honor and obey him. If he’s trying to force her to do something when he’s unwilling to submit to Christ in this, he’s being a hypocrite, and dishonoring God and his wife. Marriage does not negate the command to submit to one another–nor does parenthood. Submit means much more than just “obeying” or succumbing to someone else’s will. What it really has to do with is respecting and honoring the other person as your equal, with the same honor and respect you would desire to be treated with.
    The truth is, those drive-by-verse-quoters are dishonoring you and Christ with their behavior. The irony is that when they do that, they create a quandary, because it now becomes quite difficult, if not impossible to deal with them with any respect, as they have also…. dishonored themselves. It’s a downward spiral. Solution? Disengage is the best thing I know to do. I try to respectfully disengage if at all possible, but sometimes, they refuse, and try to keep pushing until I just walk away. They would rather your argue with them than leave them in silence.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks for this, Jon. I agree about the disengage thing. Usually what I do is that I reply to one of the comments with a thought out response (a shortened version of this post; from now on I’ll just put the link to this post), and then they usually reply with something offensive again, and at that point I usually just ban them so they can’t keep commenting, and I suck the air out of the conversation. I may allow 2 comments, and perhaps 3 if I think the conversation would be helpful for others reading, but usually just 2. And then they’re gone.
      Unfortunately, it’s just so common an occurrence that it’s rather disheartening. It does make one start questioning what pastors are teaching. And why aren’t we combatting stuff like this?

      Reply
  8. Joe B

    So reading the bible is “silly and immature”.
    Got it!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Actually, no. Reading the Bible–the WHOLE Bible–shows great maturity. Quoting one verse out of context is silly and immature.

      Reply
      • Joe B

        Hmmm, out of context meaning? that it places obligation upon wives, or the context that the bible is clearly instructing husbands to submit to their wives? What is the wife’s duty to insure this demand of submission be met?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Did you READ my post? What part of it did you disagree with? Again, you’re focusing on just one verse, when I just wrote 2000+ words about how there’s more to it than one verse. Are you disagreeing with that?

          Reply
          • Joe B

            Oh yes, indeed read it a few times, a lot to sift through but I did read it. Wow 2000 words! Impressive!
            Just having a hard time with the contradiction evident within many parts of the bible just off the top of my head:
            1 Peter 3:1-22
            1 Peter 3:7
            Colossians 3:18 and 3:19
            1 Timothy 2:12
            Ephesians 5:22-33
            Galatians 3:28
            Proverbs 14:1
            and the book of Hosea, and my own family history dating back to 1915. Every man in my family has led the home and those men’s wives submitted to their husbands, including my own wife. Your article would seem to debunk over a hundred years of western tradition so I am having a hard time digesting the theory, or why anyone would even consider my headship as being at issue. I am really just trying to wrap my head around this stuff, and there is a lot to go through. I appreciate your writing it though!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            You’re still not engaging with the actual material though, Joe. The issue is about Sarah and Abraham and Peter. That’s what I did–I said, even if you look ONLY at this verse, you still can’t draw the conclusion that the commenters are drawing, because when you look at the context of Abraham and Sarah, and at the context of what Peter said and how Peter acted, that is not the correct interpretation. And then I gave the interpretation that the Jews of the time would have taken–that Sarah followed Abraham in faith when he came out of Ur, and we should follow in faith, too, when God is calling us.
            Can you please stick to the issues and look at the Sarah and Abraham story, and at Peter’s actions and words in Acts 5? Thank you.
            By the way, the fact that an argument debunks “100 years of western tradition” isn’t really a reason to KEEP a particular viewpoint. The abolitionists debunked thousands of years of theology. Jesus debunked hundreds of years of Pharisaical theology. Maybe some things are meant to be debunked?
            And I’m a big advocate of submission. Submission is biblical. I submit to my husband. We submit to other believers. We are all to do that. The problem, I think, is that we read submission through the eyes of power and authority, rather than through the eyes of servanthood, which is what Jesus modelled, and which is, again, the only grammatically possible interpretation of Ephesians 5:21-22.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            By the way, next week we’ll be broadening all of this to look at how Jesus would have seen these arguments, looking at different lessons in the life of Jesus. To pick individual verses, without looking at the stories that they are about, is problematic.

  9. Kyle

    Obeying your husband isn’t idolatry…if it were, there wouldn’t be any Bible verses telling wives to obey. It goes without saying that if there’s conflict between obeying God and obeying her husband, a woman should obey God every time. (I’m mostly talking about clear, unambiguous cases where God says “this is sin” in the Bible. I’m wary of when people say “God told me to do this” but can’t point to scriptural references that unambiguously support their decision. I’ve seen too many cases where people conveniently hear whatever they want to hear from God.) I think the Bible is clear about the idea that women should submit to their husbands in all matters where submitting would not require her to sin. Responding to this Biblical command by pointing only to the situations where a husband tells his wife to sin seems like a diversion to me.
    Also, I hear a lot of people in the church saying “the husband should be as Christlike as possible, which will make it easier for his wife to submit to him.” I agree. But if the husband fails to do this, that doesn’t release the wife from her obligation to submit. If you believe it does, then ask yourself: if a woman doesn’t hold up her end of the deal by submitting to her husband perfectly, does that release the husband from his obligation to love his wife as Christ loved the church? Of course not. But I see people telling women all the time that if their husband doesn’t lead them as perfectly as Jesus, they don’t have to submit. It’s an obvious double standard. Also, let’s not forget that God was the perfect leader and the perfect lover, yet his bride (humanity) STILL rebelled against him. Perfect leadership does not guarantee that the wife won’t be tempted to rebel. If the wife is tempted, it doesn’t mean her husband is an evil, selfish tyrant, unless you’re willing to say the same thing about God.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Kyle, I think there’s a discrepancy between what you think submission means and what I believe the text means.
      We are all supposed to submit to one another, and that means serving each other sacrificially. If we all did that, there would be no marriage problems! And we are all absolutely supposed to do that, whether or not our spouse does it in return. Absolutely.
      The issue, I think, is that too many people read submission to simply mean “the husband makes the decisions and the wife obeys”. As I showed in this post, that isn’t what Peter meant, and as I’ll show later in this series, that isn’t the reading of it in Ephesians, either (grammatically, the word “submit” must mean the same thing in Ephesians 5:21 and Ephesians 5:22. It can’t change meaning between the two verses).
      So again–let’s have the mind of Christ, as Paul calls us to in Philippians 2, and let’s serve each other, “putting ourselves under” the other, sub-mitting (which is what it literally means), so that we can faithfully love and serve each other.

      Reply
      • Kyle

        (I’m not the same Kyle, BTW)
        So if Ephesians 5:21 is to drive our understanding of “submit” away from its military metaphor, then does the same redefinition apply with respect to “submit” as it is used in Romans 13? Does it simply command the police officer and me to “faithfully love and serve one another”?
        Yes, “submit” (“hypotasso”) refers to decision making and obeying in this context.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Well, let me put that back on you, Kyle: What does Ephesians 5:21 mean? And once you’ve figured that out, then it’s easier to figure out what Ephesians 5:22 means. It is the same word (in fact, the word doesn’t even appear in verse 22 because it’s all a continuation of verse 21 in the Greek).

          Reply
          • Kyle

            Sheila, context matters.
            Paul is starting a new line of thought after “submitting yourselves one to another”. He even goes to great lengths to make the comparison between Christ and the church. He uses the same simile when he explains how men are to love their wives, and you have no issue following the logic on THAT one.
            You can’t mess it up unless you want to. And you clearly want to.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I love how you say “context matters” but you completely refuse to talk about the context. Context apparently only means one verse of the Bible?
            Kyle, you say that he is starting a new line of thought, but that is your opinion. I’m telling you that in the Greek, there is no verb “submit” in verse 22, because it’s a continuation of verse 21. That’s not an opinion; that’s a fact. That’s how Greek works. They don’t repeat the verb if it can be inferred from the previous use of the verb. Therefore, the verb in 22 and 21 is exactly identical.
            You’re obviously more concerned with making sure women obey men than you are listening to the Bible as a whole. I have stated my point again and again using multiple points of Scripture, and you just go back to one verse and one verse only. When I read your comments, I see someone who has hardened their heart to the truth of the entirety of God’s scripture for the sake of one belief you desperately want to cling to, even in the face of the rest of God’s word.

          • Ashley

            Sheila is right about the word submit not appearing again in verse 22 in the Greek. A while ago my pastor taught a class on how those of us who don’t know Greek can access the Greek text. I used BibleHub to check out if Sheila is correct on this. And she is!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thanks, Ashley!

    • Joe B

      I think I get it, the title of the blog is “to love honor and vacuum”, BIG hint what I am reading here. Don’t obey scripture (or that sexist husband!), just apply context to the words and fly by the seat of your pants. 😉
      Looking forward to the next installment.

      Reply
      • Jon

        Joe and Kyle, where does Scripture tell the wife to “obey” her husband? Is that what “submit” means to you?
        If so, then do you also think that Paul’s admonition for all of us to submit to each other is nullified when it comes to the marriage relationship and the husband submitting to his wife?
        Do you really want your wife to blindly obey you regardless?
        And do you think it’s a good thing, if, for instance, a husband tells his wife to do something illegal, and she ends up in jail because of him, that she was right to do that? What if, she sticks by him while he’s in jail, but after he gets out, he divorces her (he, supposedly a respected Christian)? (true story) Should she have obeyed him in the first place and broken the law?
        Another question, do you think that all women should “obey” all men?

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      One other thought–you say that if the husband isn’t following Christ, that doesn’t release the wife from following the husband.
      What do you think God would prefer–that the wife dedicate her life to following God’s will, and in so doing serve and honour her husband and point him to Christ, or that the wife spend her life following the husband’s will?
      I’m not talking about necessarily sin issues. But let’s say that the husband wants to play video games all the time; never talks to the kids; and does other things that aren’t the best for the family.
      Should she say–“well, he’s supposed to lead the family, so I’ll follow”, or should she say, “let’s see how I can have a sacred influence on him by serving and pointing him to God so that God’s will can be real in our family”?
      In other words–whose will actually matters? The husband’s, or God’s? And what do you think God would think about this?

      Reply
  10. Eternity Matters

    So you read this passage and conclude that it means women should NOT obey their husbands?! And people actually follow you?!
    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, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.3 …For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Wow… I think this is actually the perfect example of the drive-by commenters that Sheila is talking about.
      Who cares about context when it’s easier to just pick the verses you like the best? Props to you–it takes a lot of effort to wear the spiritual blinders you’re wearing.

      Reply
    • Jon

      Interesting you should point that out. Scriptures clearly teach that children should obey their parents in a way that it never suggests that wives should obey their husbands. There is a completely different emphasis between how these two situations are expressed, and a completely different relationship between parent and child and husband and wife.
      Are you suggesting that a wife has the same kind of relationship to her husband that a child does to her parent? oooohhh… and that brings up another question. Does a child’s relationship to his parent ever change as the child gets older? Is and adult? What are your thoughts on this?

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      A woman is not a child.

      Reply
  11. Rob

    You make several logical and theological flaws to come to your conclusion. The first is that you think leading cannot be service, that it cannot be an integral and essential aspect of loving like Christ. You have the natural feminist mindset that to have authority is evil, it is the same mindset found in Eve in the garden.
    The second is that Ephesians 5:21 does not tell you how to interpret the rest of chapter five of Ephesians but that the rest of the chapter tells you how to understand verse 21. Same mistake though. You start with your ideology and works backwards letting it dictate not what the Bible actually says.
    Lastly, you dishonestly say that guys drive by but the fact is you do not let them continue to comment. You accuse them of not making an argument but won’t allow them to put a biblical scriptural case in front of your readers. You do this not the commentators.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Rob, when someone leaves a comment that is only a Bible verse that says “shut up”, that is a drive by comment.
      Ephesians 5:21 is the flagstone verse for the Ephesians passage on marriage. As I said, in Greek, the verb “submit” doesn’t even appear in verse 22. It is only in verse 21. That’s because verse 22 is a continuous thought with verse 21.
      So let’s get back to the issue at hand, which I notice that no negative commenter has actually dealt with. Sarah did not obey Abraham in everything. Peter did not believe that anyone should ever replace our obedience to God. Peter was angry at Sapphira for going along with her husband. These things are Scriptural. You cannot say that the 1 Peter 3 passage means that women should obey their husbands when the context says it does not. And Jesus came to redeem us, to teach us how to serve, and to give us the Holy Spirit so that we would be able to follow God. That is the point of our lives, whether we are male or female. And if we all did that–if we all radically loved and served–none of these conversations would be necessary.
      You know, I spend pretty much this whole blog teaching women how to be more open sexually to their husbands; how to love their husbands; how to create a marriage where their husband feels loved and where there is open communication. And yet men get mad at me because I tell women that it is more important to obey God than to obey their husbands, and that the main point of our lives is that we do God’s will. I find that very illuminating as to what you believe the point of the Christian life might be.
      Perhaps if you spent more time telling men how they should care about their own wives’ sexual satisfaction; how they should make their wives feel loved; how they should work on communication and listening to God together–well, then maybe we’d also have more to talk about.

      Reply
  12. Susanna

    I respect your writing, Sheila, and I want to believe this interpretation. I really do. But I hesitate, so I have a couple of questions.
    I am aware of the “missing verb” in Eph 5:22. But the way I have heard that passage explained is that “we should submit ourselves to one another [in the following ways]”: wives to husbands (who should also love and serve their wives), children to parents (while parents strive not to frustrate their children), servants to masters (while masters avoid harsh treatment).
    Not that, because of no repeated verse, everyone should submit to everyone else identically.
    Secondly, you say that “submit” doesn’t mean what many of us have been taught that it means. I certainly agree that it is less about obedience and more comprehensive than the “drive by” definition. But I still trip over a) the military origin of the word (does it really mean different things in different places if they are still using that word?) and b) why wives are explicitly told to submit at least 3-5 times and husbands are not (though it can be inferred perhaps once or twice)?
    Thank you for taking the time to do this!

    Reply
    • Shannon

      “(does it really mean different things in different places if they are still using that word?)”
      Absolutely the same words can have different meanings in different contexts. That’s how languages work. “Running” can mean the act of physically propelling itself in a quick, forward motion but that’s not the same meaning as “running a business” or “running to the store” or “running behind”. I think people get stuck on one meaning of a word and forget that context matters (which is Sheila’s point).

      Reply
  13. Chris

    Hi Sheila,
    I’d like to point out that Genesis 21:12 is not an example of Abraham obeying his wife; it is Abraham being commanded by God to listen to the words of his wife in this particular instance. When he did so, he was obeying God, not his wife. In addition, the one in submission always ***asks or requests*** for something to be done; he never commands the head, because he has no authority to do so. If not, we would have to concede God could have obeyed Manoah in Judges 13:9, because He listened to him and did what he asked; the same Hebrew word is used there. Who can believe it?
    I’d like to know why you’d title an article on what it means for wives to obey like Sarah, but then formulate arguments that seem to contradict that premise. Your writing style gives the reader opportunity to look for disobedience in 1 Pet. 3, when Peter’s argument is clearly opposed to that method. I mean, do husbands really need more confrontation from their wives when the husband is allegedly not doing what he’s supposed to be doing? The world is already full of that. I don’t see Sarah confronting Abraham like you assert; rather, she is continually bowing herself in humble submission to her husband, and by extension, to the Lord.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Chris–the issue is really quite simple. Should women obey their husbands, or should women obey God? Peter answered that question in Acts 5. And Jesus’ message, over and over again, was that we should not worry about who is in charge. We should instead concern ourselves with who is serving. We should all strive to be servants.
      And yet, when I read marriage advice, what I hear again and again is that “Jesus wants men to be in charge.” That’s simply not the thrust of the Bible at all. And as I have clearly shown here, Sarah was not the picture of a woman who did not think for herself but just did what her husband wanted. No, she did think for herself, and she insisted that Abraham get rid of Hagar and Ishmael.
      That may not be what you want to hear, but it is in Scripture.
      And so let’s get back to the real point: Why is it that so many male commenters are so adamant that women obey them? Why aren’t these male commenters instead asking the question: How can we all strive to know God and serve Him together? How can we make sure we’re doing God’s will?
      Because all I see, quite frankly, is men concerned that women do MEN’S will.
      That’s not of God. And until I start hearing men being more concerned about families reflecting God’s will than families reflecting a husband’s will, I will have a very hard time believing that God is the main concern here.

      Reply
  14. Elena

    I appreciate this so much, Sheila, and I understand completely what you’re saying. My husband and I’ve often talked about this subject and agree that if we all were to treat our spouses in a Godly way by living lovingly and sacrificially, then there’d be no need to discuss this topic at all.
    I’m sorry for all the negative and mean-spirited comments, however, I’ve noticed the tone of those who are the most unkind and demeaning to complete Internet strangers — rather than reasoning together as brothers and sisters in Christ — seem to be more interested in being served rather than in serving others. In other words, their take on this particular issue seems to be more about them than it is about you. Just my two cents.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I like your two cents, Elena. 🙂 Thank you! And I completely agree, and want to reiterate that–if we all just loved sacrificially, none of this would matter. I think that’s why Jesus stressed loving and serving so much. It really does make everything else pretty much irrelevant.

      Reply
  15. Bella

    Thank you Sheila, I love your heart and your understanding of God’s heart. I’m so thankful that as I obeyed the voice of God and brought our young children to church many years before my husband decided to join us. Our children are grown now, we have a strong marriage and we have healthy discussions, “submitting to one another”. If we disagree, I would pray for clarity and unity. God is not the author of confusion. Thank you for such a thorough explanation!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re so welcome, Bella!

      Reply
  16. Mercy

    More grace to you, Sheila. I don’t understand how people still choose to misunderstand you after such an explanatory post. A lot of people are just plain resistant to change, even when there are truths staring them in the face. I feel sad for them because it takes turning to God with an “open face” to behold God’s glory and be changed into it (2Cor3:18). Again I say, more grace!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Mercy!

      Reply
  17. Kim M.

    Shelia,
    I definitely agree that countless men (only God knows the exact number) like to use 1 Peter 3:1-6 as a tool to put women in their place. However, in spite of how countless men use or misuse 1 Pet 3:1-6, when I read the Bible, I’m reminded of what an incredibly balanced and equitable God we serve. Most of the virtues and duties listed in 1 Pet 3:1-6 apply to BOTH men and women. They are part of the Christian lifestyle, and they are not contingent upon gender. Christian men should practice them too.
    1 Peter 3: 2 – WHEN THEY SEE THE PURITY
    BOTH men and women are commanded to be pure: 1 John 3:3, 1 Timothy 1:5,
    1 Peter 1:22, James 1:27, James 4:8.
    Some translations use CHASTE instead of purity. Nevertheless, BOTH men and women are commanded to be chaste: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:3, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Romans 13:13-14, 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 2:11.
    1 Peter 3:2 WHEN THEY SEE THE REVERENCE
    BOTH men and women are instructed to reverence God: 1 Samuel 12:24, Acts 9:31, Ecclesiastes 8:12, Proverbs 26:14, Hebrew 12:28, Psalms 2:11.
    1 Peter 3:4 GENTLE
    In that same chapter of 1 Peter 3:4, after Peter instructs wives to have a quiet and gentle spirit, he instructs ALL Christians to be gentle to others: 1 Peter 3:15.
    Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 4:5, Titus 3:2, Colossians 3:12, Galatians 6:1.
    Paul practiced gentleness 2 Corinthians 10:1
    Jesus IS gentle. Matthew 11:29
    Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5:22
    1 Peter 3:4 QUIET
    BOTH men and women are instructed to be quiet: Ecclesiastes 3:7, James 1:19, 1 Timothy 2:2, Proverbs 13:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Proverbs 11:12, Proverbs 10:19, Psalms 4:4
    1 Peter 3:5 TRUST GOD
    BOTH men and women are instructed to trust God: Proverbs 3:5, Psalm 9:10, Psalm 84:12, Psalm 37:1-3 Psalm 115:11, Isaiah 26:4
    1 Peter 3:6 SARAH OBEYED ABRAHAM
    Genesis 21:12 describes a time when God told Abraham to listen (Shema – defined as obey) to his wife Sarah concerning a very important household matter.
    1 Peter 3:6 DO NOT GIVE WAY TO FEAR
    BOTH men and women are told “do not
    fear.”
    John 14:27, Philippians 4:6, Matthew 10:31
    Countless men (only God knows the exact number) are so quick to quote 1 Peter 3:1-6 to women. However, I wonder how many of those very same men are leading by example and practicing purity, chastity, reverence, gentleness, quietness, trusting God, listening to wisdom from their wives and not being afraid. After all, men are suppose to practice those virtues and perform those duties too because they are all part of the Christian lifestyle. Men are not exempt.
    Sheila,
    I find that truth and knowledge incredibly edifying.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amazing synopsis, Kim! Thank you. And if you take the analysis outside of just 1 Peter 3, you see that all sorts of other things that we often ascribe to women are also ascribed to men. For instance, Ephesians 5:21 and Ephesians 5:22–BOTH men and women are instructed to submit to each other. Too many get so caught up in making sure that someone is in charge that we forget to act as Christ did–sacrificially serving. If we all did that, we wouldn’t use “drive by verses” and try to put each other in their place so much.

      Reply
  18. Emmy

    Interesting post Sheila :). I know it is old post but because I’m new here this post is also like new to me.
    This is perhaps a side issue…but I’m sometimes having hard time seeing either Sarah or Abraham as good and attractive examples as how to treat others, because of what they did to poor Hagar.
    Sending Hagar and Ishmael away, yes I can get that somehow, but why on earth did Abraham send her away with just one bread and one lousy bottle of water? They were not just sent away! They were sent to DIE. And if God had not stepped in they certainly would have died.
    Sometimes I have hard time to find either of them very symphatetic. 🙁
    And to think that Ishmael bothered to come to Abrahams funeral, after everything that happened. Perhaps he did not turn out that bad after all.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I totally hear you, Emmy. To me, the stories of the Old Testament tell me that God can use us even if we’re really messed up. But I don’t think either of them are really ones to emulate.

      Reply
  19. Nkosi Moyo

    This is western interpretation of bible . Ephisians teaches how to submit to one another .i am an African , so here in South Africa this is how we see this scrripture …… Husbands submit to your wife by loving her as christ loves yo ……..wives submit to your head by obeying him same way you obey headship of christ . Westerners and Africans read same bible different due to our cultures . At times i think its best to let scripture interpet themsalves . , if colosians say husbands love your wife then tht is final standrd for men and if same colosians say wife submit to your husband then that is final standard . The fact that divorce ther in Americ where you live is 50 % while here in South Africa is somewere around 2 % says lot about the destructive way you westerners see marriage , i think western christians have a lot to lern from us Africans . Mind my english please . I like to hear your reply …thanks

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi there! I absolutely agree that we should submit. It’s just that the interpretation that wives must obey is not found in the text–since then Ephesians 5:21 would make no sense. Let’s remember that we should always obey God, not man.
      As for divorce rates, it’s actually closer to about 20% for Christians, with those in Bible belt areas where they have more hierarchical views of marriage having higher divorce rates from other states where there’s less of that. I’m actually doing a study on that now!

      Reply
  20. Nkosi Moyo

    I dont mean to start a debate byt confused by how westerners interpret so obvious verses . You say the verse that says wives to obey their husbands wont make sense because of verse that says submitt to one another . Then verse that say submit to one another wont make sense because of verse that says husband is hed of wife .. What does head of wife all mean ? I understand it s a position of authority . Bible say like sarah who obeyed her husband . How ? By calling him master if abraham was her master then what was sarah . I mean if Husband Abraham wss master then what was Wife Sarah ? I do believe in mutual submission . Here in South Africa most overwellmmiinngg majority believe in murttuuaall submission . But Ephisianss explains this mutual submission concept ………to husband love care nature your wives just as christ loves naturess cares for you ……….to wife respect honour obey your husbands just as you respect honour and obey christ . Is that hard or clear interpretation . So 1. Christian marriage is mutual submission centred in christ . This means 2. To husbands love care nature yor wives as christ naturess loves cares for you 3t. To wives respect honour obey your husband’s as you respect honour obey christ 4. Ultimately marriage is all about christ using both husband and wife as vessels to express his love faithfulnes compassion joy peace pertience kindness long suffering …….be lights in their marriage salt in their marriage . Atliisstt that is what we South African believe and kept divorce below 2r % nationalyy . I like to hear from you ….

    Reply
  21. Laura D

    Who is “Paul”? Who is “Peter”? Why does their opinion matter? There are many Christians today. Many different opinions. All could write letters.
    Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Jesus said to follow no man. Jesus said to call no man teacher, master, father.
    When did that change?
    Jesus said to teach new believers what He Himself taught and commanded in His earthly ministry as the Great Commission in Matthew 28.
    When did that change?
    Who decided that what these men said was “scripture”, the equal of Jesus Christ speaking, and permissible to be added to what Jesus Christ taught and commanded?
    Did Jesus Christ “weigh in” on that? Or do we just obey men, not Jesus?
    Because Jesus strictly forbade that we should teach new believers anything other than what He Himself already taught.

    Reply
  22. Jaime

    Hi Sheila,
    Thank you for this post. This is my first time on your site and this has been very helpful. You mention the length of your marriage in your bio, and also specify you’ve been happily married for five years less. My husband and I are a few days away from our 2nd anniversary, and it has been a very unhappy marriage. Your comment gives me hope. So, do you have any blog posts that you can point me to that describes what changed to make your marriage happy? Any guidance would be most appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply
  23. Lydia

    This is great. So thankful for this perspective.

    Reply
  24. Christine

    Thanks for this blog post. It makes sense in a lot of ways, but there is still something that I am confused about, and this is an honest question for which I have been wrestling for an answer.

    The first verse says that women are supposed to submit to their husbands so that if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over – a non-believer. But then you give the example of Sarah, who followed Abram when God was “clearly telling him something.” But if this is about submitting to nonbelievers then why are we using an example of Sarah submitting when he was believing God? It seems as if that context wouldn’t fit.

    Please help me work this out if you can. I would really appreciate it.

    Reply

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