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Submission: Three reasons wives should not obey their husbands and why husbands should never expect them to.

I was taught for years that the Bible teaches wives to obey their husbands because husbands are the “head” of the household.

This comes from a verse in Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of his wife…”

After 16 years of marriage and 21 years of pursuing Jesus, I see these scriptures very differently now.

In fact, the teaching that wives should obey their husbands is wrong. Even harmful.

Here are three reasons why:



Reason #1: The context of Ephesians 5 tells husbands and wives to submit to each other


When we take any scripture out of context, we usually misunderstand it’s meaning.

If you’ve ever been interviewed, then quoted out of context, you know how this feels:

“Hey! I didn’t say it like that!”

This is precisely what happens with Ephesians 5 teaching about wives and husbands.

Let’s look at the context of the scriptures in Ephesians 5 surrounding “wives submit to your husbands.”


21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this (submission) means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this (submission) means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5)

Paul here gives advice about husband and wife marriage relationships:  Submit to one another.

Wives are to submit to their husbands. And husbands are to submit to their wives!

He then elaborates. I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s like he’s saying, “for wives, my advice for how to express submission is to treat your husband with respect. For husbands, my advice for how to express submission is to show love like Christ loved.

Think about it. Christ actually “submitted” to His church by loving her and giving his life for her. He led through submission. Not a pansy pushover, mind you. A strong, decisive, sacrificial leader who submitted his natural desires for the betterment of his bride, the church. Christ showed his authority by submitting. (As we’ll see in a moment, we can’t understand Biblical submission if we view our relationships through a hierarchical lens.)

In Christ, God and People become One. In marriage, husband and wife become one. Submission is not about hierarchical authority – it’s about relationship and oneness like God showed us in Christ.


submission and obedience

Reason #2: The meaning of

the Greek word translated as “submit” does not mean “to obey”


In Greek, the word “submit” is “hupotasso”. It means to get under and lift up. It’s a very different word than the Greek word (“huakoe”) which is translated as “obey.”

Sandra Clements elaborates on this:

Finally, submission does not mean “to obey.” The Greek word for “obey/obedience” is hupakoe, which means to listen to or to harken to.  Submission (hupotasso) means to get under and lift up, or to put in order.  It does not mean obedience.  Gundry well defines this equalizing principle as a sort of voluntary raising everyone else to your own personal level of importance and worthiness. It is interesting to note that other languages further reinforce this concept.  For example, Kluane Spake, writes, “The German translation of that word, sich unterstellen, means to place oneself at a disposition of another.”  It can also be a military term referring to the equal sharing of tasks, to support, to fulfill one’s part of the assignment.”*



hierarchy and submission

Reason #3: A hierarchical view of relationships contributes to our misunderstanding of authority and submission.


submission and hierarchy


When we view marriage (or a church organization for that matter) through a hierarchical lens, understanding submission gets really foggy.

When I got married, I thought I was the boss. Sure, I needed to listen to my wife, love my wife like Christ loved the church, etc. I had all the good sayings down. My intentions were good.

But I had this subtle belief that, at the end of the day, I was the one who called the shots.  After all, I was “the head”. It’s Biblical, right?

When it comes to understanding relationships and authority many of us see the world primarily through a hierarchical lens. Jesus had (and has) all authority. But he never built a hierarchical system of order.

In fact, he shatters the paradigm of hierarchical authority:

24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. (Luke 22)

Think of it this way. The one who has the most authority must be the one who submits the most. Jesus lived his life and fulfilled his ministry by getting beneath others and lifting them up – this is the essence of great leadership.

It’s what he did as he taught his disciples. When he fed the crowd, taught them the way of His kingdom and healed their sick. It’s what he did when he bent to the floor and washed the filthy feet of those he led. It’s what he did when he took the worst place imaginable at the cross. He was a leader in the greatest definition of the word imaginable. 

It’s not about pandering to others whims and wills. Certainly, Jesus didn’t live like that. Jesus led well. The one who wishes to lead must lead in the same fashion. Jesus broke down the traditional ways of dividing into hierarchy.



26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3)


The church which silences women will be found to silence the Holy Spirit,” and “a sect or sex, or race which attempts a monopoly of the Spirit’s voice and power, will find that the Holy Spirit will flee far from it.” — Dr. Katharine Bushnell



Jesus shattered hierarchy in our relationships based on ethnicity, economic status, or gender. He calls us to a wholly unique way of relating to one another in Christ. This is how we change the world.


34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jesus in John 13)

I haven’t found it easy to always figure out exactly how this mutual submission thing works in marriage and decision making.

Sometimes it’s slow.

Sometimes it hurts.

But it’s good. Jesus showed the way. I think I’m on the right track.



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Submission: Three reasons wives should not obey their husbands and why husbands should never expect them to.

24 Responses

  1. Erik,
    Good article. Loving and serving and lifting must be fully integrated into Christ’s body of order. In fact order cannot exist without them. And they can’t exist without order. Jesus’ desire is that they be fully integrated into the lives of His disciples, so that thereby they can be fully integrated into His body. It may seem paradoxical by some, but what you say is absolutely true, “The one who has the most authority must be the one who submits the most.” Marriage/family and the Church – many parallels.

    Bob Fish June 17, 2017 at 6:25 am #
  2. Very Interesting article. Two more thoughts:
    First: Paul tells the women: obey the husband (my German bible says “respect”, by the way) and the man thinks: Hey, I’m the boss! No, you guys. It’s not directed to you! Where Paul tells the men: love your wive, that doesn’t mean for the woman to say “Hey, I’m the princess!”
    Second: What Paul says here is: give, what the other one needs. There is a saying in Germany: For a man it is OK, if the colleagues say about him: „He’s such a jerk, but he really knows his stuff – you got to respect him.“ For a woman it is OK if the colleagues say „She’s a bit of a dummy, but such a heart – you just have to love her.“ Of course, People are different, but very often women crave to be loved and men crave to be respected. So give to the other one, what he/she needs most. This is what the verse says to me.

    Esther June 18, 2017 at 7:24 am #
  3. Brilliant.

    Also, Paul was writing in Greek but he was thinking (and was always thinking) in Hebrew. The whole flavour of the passage is Hebrew. The word he would have used for submit if he was writing in Hebrew is ‘nasa’ – which means ‘lift up’. The difficulty with the Greek word it can have connotations of putting down rather than lifting and depends on the context. ‘nasa’ – ‘lift up’ is the same root as in Jehovah Nissi – the Lord is my banner which he lifts up over us for our protection. ‘Nasa’ carries the idea of the armour bearer.

    So, be each other’s armour bearers. For wives, this looks like… For husbands, this looks like…



    greg stigter June 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm #
    • Very insightful, Greg. Right on!

      Erik Fish June 21, 2017 at 12:39 am #
  4. When I look in Strongs it says submit is hypotasso 5293 which does mean to put in subjection; obey; subject to; obedience. Please explain that to me because I really like this article but in my own research I found different meaning. Was that a book or article where Sandra Clements said that because I would also like to read that text. I’m not familiar with her, respectively. Thanks!

    Ashley July 15, 2017 at 2:26 pm #
    • Ashley, you might find these two articles helpful:

      Also, Greg made some excellent observations in his comments above related to the use of the Greek in light of Paul’s Hebraic worldview.
      God bless!

      Erik Fish July 15, 2017 at 3:20 pm #
      • You didn’t deal with several passages that saynwives obey (at least according to Strong)

        William December 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm #
        • William, as far as I know, there are zero passages in the New Testament that instruct wives to obey their husbands. Which passages are you referring to?

          Erik Fish January 15, 2019 at 9:19 pm #
  5. More and more emasculation from false teachings of the end of time .
    It is crystal clear that the devil is after male authority like maybe never before .
    Scary .

    Isabelle January 17, 2018 at 12:33 am #
    • Or perhaps the devil is after keeping us locked in a false view of God’s design for marriage relationships and our responsibility to disciple all nations. Time for men to rise up and love their wives like Christ loved the church. It takes a strong man to do so, not an emasculated one.

      Erik Fish January 29, 2018 at 10:29 pm #
  6. THANKYOU ! As a confident and strong man married to a confident and excellent leader, I am thankful to read a correct interpretation of what Paul meant. Mutual submission has been key to us becoming one, and not two strong individuals! I appreciate and love her Christian leadership!

    Dean June 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm #
  7. I am struggling with this passage in the Bible. The idea that people interpret these passages makes me not want to get married. Why get married and build a home and family with someone who sees me as lesser? Why do this when I have less say in the hard work I helped in? Why am I so much lesser than a man? And so many say that’s not what’s happening- well isn’t it? Isn’t that what you do when you submit to God? You don’t question God or debate with God.
    I’m close to just giving up on ever wanting children and never getting married because I don’t want to be dehumanized.

    Samantha Womack October 7, 2018 at 2:52 pm #
    • Samantha, God’s plan for marriage is never for anyone to be dehumanized. Quite the opposite. Your description of some people’s view of a woman being of lesser value than a man is abhorrent and has no place in any reasonable interpretation of Biblical passages or what God says in regard to His design for marriage. I think you might enjoy this transcript of a message given by Tim Keller, “The First Wedding Day.” God bless, Erik

      Erik Fish October 7, 2018 at 9:11 pm #
      • Thank you for sharing this link and for writing this article. It really helps.

        Samantha Womack October 19, 2018 at 5:38 am #
  8. The last article you sent me really helped, so I was wondering if you could help send me more in order to fight the constant feeling I have that, as a woman, my only purpose is to be for men. I often do not feel as though I have the right to be my own person because I am a woman and because of the way people interpret the Bible.

    Samantha Womack November 1, 2018 at 7:09 am #
    • Samantha, my heart aches to hear about your struggles. You were certainly created by God with dignity, purpose, and identity that God alone defines, no other person. Here are a few resources you might find beneficial in your journey of healing. I recommend you check out Kris Vallotton’s book, “Fashioned To Reign” as well as Felicity Dale’s book “The Black Swan Effect.” You also might find some beneficial articles at: God bless you, Erik

      Erik Fish November 1, 2018 at 5:26 pm #
      • Thank you so much! God bless you and your family!

        Samantha Womack November 2, 2018 at 9:40 pm #
  9. Hello! Sorry to bother you again, but I was wondering what your response is to those who argue that women are to serve their husbands like Paul says in 1 Peter 3:1-7?

    Samantha Womack November 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm #
    • Samantha, I’ll refer you to others who are much more knowledgable than me on this topic. Again, The Junia Project has many excellent articles on this topic and well-thought-out research into controversial scriptures about gender roles, hierarchy, and marriage.

      I’ll leave you with a few general thoughts, though, about interpreting scripture I’ve found helpful, which are pretty standard practice among most Biblical scholars: 1) Specific scriptures should be interpreted in light of the whole revelation of Scripture (in other words, don’t pick a couple verses out of context to prove a point and say, “The Bible says…”. All sorts of weird ideas and teachings can come from this poor Biblical interpretation practice) 2) A core Christian belief is that the Scriptures (The Bible) are inspired and authoritative for all matters of faith and practice, as written in the original languages and manuscripts. While I trust the validity of modern translations of the Scriptures, often an original meaning is blurred (or sometimes very poorly obscured) as a result of poor translations. I think regarding the issue of suppression of women and hierarchy in marriage, at times, certain verses have been translated poorly to back up a previously held belief. So, a bit of research into the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic of the scriptures often sheds new light on controversial passages 3) Read specific verses in light of the whole context of that particular letter or book. In reference to the scriptures above, What is the main point of Peter’s letter? Who was he writing to? What particular challenges were they facing that he is addressing? How do the verses before and after shed contextual light on those specific scriptures? What do we apply insights from this letter to our situation now? God bless you, Erik

      Erik Fish November 7, 2018 at 5:53 pm #
      • Thank you so much!
        I been dealing with a lot of stress with these questions and it’s amazing to see new arguments that make sense with the overall teachings of Jesus.

        Samantha Womack November 8, 2018 at 4:33 pm #
  10. I’m a 28 year old female and going through a difficult time. Tears were running down my cheeks earlier as I searched Christian blogs to help my situation from Bible.

    My husband earns well and always buys anything he wants easily. He also buys me somethings. He is good person because there are husbands who never buy anything for their wife. But, my husband never discusses anything with me. He does whatever he pleases. That is sad and disappointing. After marriage, my life crumpled and I lost all faith in God and became a backslidden Christian that went into sin. By God’s glorious grace, God has restored me again and again. Now especially after going home to my parents for Christmas and New Year, there is a visible change in me. Today also, the Holy Spirit of God helped me and comforted me many times. God enabled me to pray in faith using Bible verses to defeat the devil’s negative worrying and depressing thoughts. But alas ! Here the devil threw another big rock at me. Even now as I write this, I believe that God is able to change situations. Jeremiah 32: 27 “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

    My husband is a fallen Christian. He is addicted to porn, smoking and sometimes drinking. He always threatens me saying, ‘Wives submit to your husband’. He is very rough in sex even though I cry. He wants to me wear see through dresses like prostitutes and wants me to be naked also. [I’m from a very conservative place where most people don’t even wear skirts or sleeveless]. He wants me to use sex toy. He even bought me on his own will. He also has something like that. I’ve been living in depression all my married life (2 yrs 9 mos). He always threatens me saying, ‘He’ll go to prostitutes if I don’t do whatever he says’. He says he’ll be able to love me only if I submit to him and when he feels satisfied. Even his family supports him fully. After many problems, and me not having any desire in having sex with him (because of no love or care from him), I still wanted to start a family no matter what. I even told my husband that after the Christmas holidays to be spent at our native, I wanted to get a job to take care of expenses and start a family life. Even if he doesn’t be with me, i can take care of my baby with a job to provide for us. He also accepted to help me look for jobs.

    On Christmas (25 Dec, 2018), my husband came to our native and I went with him to church for the second time to accompany him. It was all going well. But suddenly, without a warning, like a big bomb, my husband came to my parents house with his mother, the day after Christmas (26th Dec, 2018) and shouted at me and my parents that I’m not cooperating for family life and my mother in law threatened to send a divorce notice in a week. By God’s grace, it hasn’t happened yet.

    On top of it all, my husband wants to live with his parents in our hometown. They declared it in front of their relatives without even asking me. Now, my husband uses the Bible verse saying, ‘A husband is saved through his wife’s acts.’ When I ask him to come to church, he says, ‘You go. I won’t. I’m not interested.’ and repeats the same verse again.

    I’m also confused by Bible, what does it mean by ‘submission’ and that ‘our bodies do not belong to us’. Therefore, I’m afraid to approach church lest they tell I’m wrong and I should obey whatever my husband says. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to his threats anymore. But I even prayed today that if God tells me to do whatever my husband says even if its disgusting and uncomfortable, then I will get His strength and obey. If that pleases God, then i’ll do it too. But honestly, if its not for God, I’d rather die than to do those disgusting things (like using sex toys and same behaviour like prostitutes on those videos). With tears running down my cheeks, I told my husband,’I can live like a wife but how can you expect me to live like a prostitute?’ He said, ‘What they show in the videos is real. That’s what happens in every life. That’s what that Pastor whom we met for counselling told us. Go and ask him. He said, ‘His wife always complies (but its mutual desire)’. If I asked you to please many men, that means I’m treating you like a prostitute. But if you won’t do whatever I say and submit yourself in whatever I want, if you don’t please me and if i’m not satisfied, then I’m going to go to prostitutes.’

    I’m all alone in my house. I need a job also to take care of myself and my parents also in their old age. Also, my in laws have told my husband to sell everything in my house before coming to stay with them in our native. They told this without even consulting me or my parents who have bought many things as dowry. Please help me with God’s words on this. Even after all this, I really want to forgive my husband and start a family with him but he has become more worse than before. Even after what he did at our parents house and hurt my parents with harsh and ungodly words, I still talk with him everyday over phone and tell him everything that happened that day. I’m able to forgive and maintain peace with my husband only with the help of the Holy Spirit. I’m praying to God and believe that God will change my situation.

    But I really want to know – What does God say? What does His word say? I’m desperate !

    Desperate Soul January 17, 2019 at 12:46 pm #
    • Desperate Soul, first, I’m so sorry for the pain you’re going through. God does care and you have reasons to be hopeful. It’s so painful and harmful to a marriage relationship if one person demands pleasure at the cost of pain, humiliation, or violating the will of the other. This is never how God teaches us to relate to each other. Relationships built on control/domination are not God’s design for marriage, but marriage built on love and a commitment of both husband and wife to follow the Lord and treat one another with respect. There is HOPE if someone finds themself in a tough situation to create a new kind of relationship over time, but both people must be willing to learn and to change. It’s work, but it’s worth it as you experience growth together. Love is always something that can only be freely given, never demanded. A thriving marriage partnership only works in the long run when BOTH husband and wife are committed to show willing, sacrificial love toward one another. In short, if love and serving each other is not the motivation of both, it makes a mutually-submissive marriage relationship impossible. That doesn’t give you an immediate answer to your situation, I know, but I hope it gives you some sense of hope that 1) You’re not crazy 2) God’s design for marriage is that both spouses experience love, trust, and support from each other. No marriage is perfect, but hopefully both of you can experience some practical ways to work on your marriage together – because God loves you both. I’ve seen many marriages experience breakthrough when it appeared hopeless. I’d encourage to continue to seek safe, wise people for you to talk to about your situation who aren’t connected to your immediate families. There are tons of great resources available online if you do a quick google search for “online christian marriage resources” Praying for breakthrough…

      Erik Fish January 25, 2019 at 8:45 pm #
  11. Erik,
    Good article. Loving and serving and lifting must be fully integrated into Christ’s body of order. In fact order cannot exist without them. And they can’t exist without order. Jesus’ desire is that they be fully integrated into the lives of His disciples, so that thereby they can be fully integrated into His body. It may seem paradoxical by some, but what you say is absolutely true, “The one who has the most authority must be the one who submits the most.” Marriage/family and the Church – many parallels.

    Go Ear January 25, 2019 at 5:44 am #
  12. I agree with parts and either disagree or misunderstand other parts of your article. I appreciate you writing this as I am looking for different opinions on this matter to actually check mine. I just want the truth, and I don’t mind being corrected (I’m wrong way more than I want to admit). Here’s my “two cents” accumulated from Biblical counselors, sermons, Scripture, and as much as I hate to admit it… “Hollywood” affects my opinions too.

    Women and men are equal in the sight of God and will not be married in Heaven, so the “equality” will be more clear when our “roles” are done away with.

    Mutual submission in some things is good. Obviously we should not submit to sinful requests of our spouse.

    Jesus submitted to the authority of God the Father and did His Will (commands, desires, etc…) which is evidence of hierarchy. From your article… Jesus “served the disciples” is more accurate than “submitted to the disciples”. The disciples didn’t ask Jesus to die for them or to wash their feet or heal their sick countrymen so “submission” may not be the best choice of words. Jesus did not submit to many requests and whims of the disciples (The disciple wanted to build temples at the transfiguration; the disciples wanted to keep little children away from Jesus; Peter didn’t want Jesus to go to Jerusalem and die; “let me go and bury my father”… “let the dead bury the dead”, etc…) Jesus was Lord over the disciples but instructed them in their relations to one another, and perhaps these examples and others were sinful desires of the disciples, but I’m trying to point out that Jesus submitted to God’s hierarchical authority even though Jesus was equal with God which means God has the final decision and authority in practically everything and likewise the Husband has the final decision in directing the family in practically everything not sinful. In loving his wife as Christ loved the Church, the husband should defer to his wife and try to please her whenever he can as long as it does not create danger, harm, foolish behavior, poor stewardship, etc… A husband has to use wisdom and discernment in leading the family. Everyone can’t be “chief”. Someone has to have the final decision. Family is not majority rule or democracy. Abraham told his family they were moving without knowing where they were going, and his family submitted and obeyed and they moved …. not having a clue where they were going. That’s leadership by Abraham and submission by his wife and family. Abigail did not submit to her foolish husband Nabal (who was sinning) and saved her family from being slaughtered by David. David had been protecting Nabal’s herds (wealth) and deserved some compensation. David had never asked for compensation until he really needed it. When Nabal rudely refused to give aid to David after benefitting so much from David’s protection, Abigail wisely gave David aid as David and his men were en route to kill every man in the household…. saving her family. What Nabal did was worthy of God striking him dead, so sometimes we have to read between the lines to figure out what’s really happening.

    Church elders are not to “lord it over” the congregation but serve them and lead by example and persuasion (Heb 13: 7, 17 the Greek means “be persuaded by” not obey). This passage in Luke 22 and Matt 25??? is not specifically a “marriage” passage. The disciples were looking for a “ruler” in the Church government structure. Everything about “Church” government does not correlate to the family government or the “civil government” even though God instituted all three.

    In Galatians 2 we see an example of the “weaker brother” Peter who was not allowed to have his desire which was to observe the old rules and not eat with Gentiles. Paul confronted him and corrected him. Jesus corrects and holds his Church accountable in love. Justice is a function of love. Husbands sometimes need to correct their wives. Also women are not permitted to teach men in the Church because Eve was deceived. Adam was not deceived … he sinned and he knew it. There’s a reason why women are advised not to negotiate contracts alone … because they are easily taken advantage of. Men and women are physically and emotionally different and God gives each different roles in the family and Church while remaining equal in the sight of God. Hierarchy is simply different levels of authority or stewardship. God owns everything and gives stewardship to the husband and stewardship to the wife. The wife is commanded to respect and the husband is commanded to love. The Church is commanded to submit to one another as well but everyone can’t have it their way. A final decision must be attained in civil, church, and family government.

    In the family, the husband has the final decision, but he should listen to and consider the opinion and suggestions of his wife. Also, I believe the husband should try to persuade his wife as much as possible so they are “in agreement” but sometimes the husband has to make decisions that the wife disagrees with and the wife has to submit to his decision unless he is asking her to sin. If the Church thwarts the will of God, it’s always sin. The husband’s will is obviously not perfect and should be questioned and analyzed … maybe even like the Bereans checked the teachings of the Apostles to make sure it was correct.

    sonny June 7, 2019 at 11:33 am #

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