Women are Not Supposed to Submit to Men

I just read this post, “Women, Stop Submitting to Men” from Dr. Moore’s blog (in case you aren’t familiar with Dr. Moore, he’s Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY):

Those of us who hold to so-called “traditional gender roles” are often assumed to believe that women should submit to men. This isn’t true. Indeed, a primary problem in our culture and in our churches isn’t that women aren’t submissive enough to men, but instead that they are far too submissive.

First of all, it just isn’t so that women are called to submit while men are not. In Scripture, every creature is called to submit, often in different ways and at different times. Children are to submit to their parents, although this is certainly a different sort of submission than that envisioned for marriage. Church members are to submit to faithful pastors (Heb. 13:17). All of us are to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Of course, we are all to submit, as creatures, to our God (Jas. 4:7).

And, yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). But that’s just the point. In the Bible, it is not that women, generally, are to submit to men, generally. Instead, “wives” are to submit “to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1).

I couldn’t agree more. The past month or two the staff has been engaged in reading together Two Views of Women in Ministry (Zondervan, 2005). One of the things that peeved me was how those in the complementarian camp turned to Genesis 1-3 and used those chapters to support the idea that women (as women) are called to submit to men (simply as men). For example, Schreiner writes, “We have already seen that men and women equally are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and are thus of equal value and significance as God’s creatures. But I would also contend that there are six indications in Genesis 1-3 of a role differentiation between men and women [emphasis mine].” Later Schreiner contends, “The doctrine of creation is of enormous significance for the debate on the roles of men and women.”

My point isn’t to pick apart his “six indications,” but to remind us that Adam and Eve weren’t simply man and woman, but husband and wife. In fact, I use Genesis 2:23-25 in every wedding I do. What is true of their relationship may be true of men and women in general, but not necessarily – you’d have to support that with some other texts. I do see principles for how men and women are to relate in the family (and it is possible, though debated, that Paul applies these principles to the family of God), but I reject the idea that these principles are to be applied to all male/female relationships.

John Piper goes, in my opinion, way beyond what Scripture demands (and I think everyone knows I love Piper). In “A Vision for Biblical Complimentarity” (in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womandhood) he asserts, “A mature woman who is married, for example, does not welcome the same kind of strength and leadership from other men that she welcomes from her husband. But she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men” (50). He goes on to assert that when, in their vocations, women have men who are subordinate to them, they need to interact with these subordinates in ways “that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a women” (50). He goes so far as to suggest that if a women is asked by a man for directions, she needs to do so in a manner that ensures his manhood and leadership are not compromised (51). For these reasons, Piper thinks it is unbiblical for a woman to hold the office of President (she would be Commander in Chief and over the Armed Forces), showing how broadly he applies this principle of male leadership and female submission.

My opinion – that’s nuts. Looking to these chapters and applying it beyond the husband wife relationship to men and women in general goes beyond what Scripture indicates. It may be true, but you need to argue it from other passages. More, I think teaching/preaching the notion that women are to submit to me is flat out dangerous. I have counseled more than one young women who thought she was supposed to submit to her boyfriend! Let me be real clear: a girlfriend is NOT called to submit to a boyfriend! What a recipe for disaster. Even if the man is a godly man, the dating couple begins to act and relate to each other in ways that to closely resemble the patterns of marriage. Dr. Moore articulates this well,”Sisters, there is no biblical category for ‘boyfriend’ or ‘lover,’ and you owe such designation no submission. In fact, to be submissive to your future husband you must stand back and evaluate, with rigid scrutiny, ‘Is this the one who is to come, or is there another?’ That requires an emotional and physical distance until there is a lifelong covenant made, until you stand before one who is your ‘own husband.'”

Dr. Moore points out a few more dangers of this general call for women to submit to men. First,
“Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?”

In addition, “Additionally, too many predatory men have crept in among us, all too willing to exploit young women by pretending to be ‘spiritual leaders’ (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2). Do not be deceived: a man who will use spiritual categories for carnal purposes is a man who cannot be trusted with fidelity, with provision, with protection, with the fatherhood of children. The same is true for a man who will not guard the moral sanctity of a woman not, or not yet, his wife.”

I do think you see elements of male leadership and female submission in the Genesis 1-3, but in the context of the covenant of marriage. These elements are subtle, and without Paul’s words in Ephesians and other places, I wouldn’t make much of them. But I think they are there, and they are still the pattern for husbands and wives. As such, the roles of leadership and submission in marriage are voluntary roles as we enter into the covenant of marriage voluntarily. Parallel to this is the Son’s submission, voluntarily, to the Father in the Covenant of Redemption. It goes beyond Scripture to argue that the Son was eternally subordinate to the Father. Certainly he became subordinate in the incarnation, but that was a willing submission not borne out of inferiority or ontology. Instead, it was a humble submission chosen by the Son as part of the Covenant. Similarly, a wife’s submission is not owed to her husband because he is male and she is female and thus ontologically inferior to him, but instead because she has agreed to take on that role as terms of the Covenant of Marriage, just as the husband has agreed to take on the role of leader.

My point isn’t to elaborate extensively on what this kind of submission should look like in the husband-wife relationship, only to suggest that Genesis 1-3 speaks of this relationship and NOT of the male-female relationship broadly. I think we really need to get this right.