It’s the 21st Century, Do Wives Still Need to Submit to Their Husbands?

Couple at sunset

A couple of British church leaders have come under fire recently for preaching that wives are to submit to their husbands. They claimed that women who refuse to obey this command are at least partly to blame for the country’s high divorce rate.

Not surprisingly, there were many people – especially women – who took offense at their message. One woman was quoted as saying she was “disgusted” by this and said, “How can they talk that way in the 21st century?”

Of course, I did not hear their message. I can only comment on the report about their message. But those who teach that wives are to submit to their husbands are exactly right. If one claims that women’s refusal to submit to their husbands is a contributing factor for many divorces, in a lot of cases, they will probably be right as well.

Let us be reminded of a few things:

  • The Bible teaches, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). This instruction is contained in the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). It was written down by Paul, an apostle, who spoke the things that came from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37). Those who attack this command are not opposing man, but God.
  • The Bible is just as true now in the 21st century as it was in the first century when these words were written. Those who would change the message will be condemned (Galatians 1:8-9).
  • God instituted marriage in the beginning, long before any societal norms existed (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). Therefore, He is the one to define the roles of husbands and wives in marriage.

When we teach that wives are to submit to their husbands, we are sometimes quick to follow up by saying that husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, that they are not to abuse their position, and that they must lead their families as a Christ-like servant. This is all true – and it needs to be stated – but we must not gloss over the wives’ responsibility so that is it almost ignored: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Opinions and norms about marriage have evolved in our culture. We have gone from the husband being the head of the house, to the husband and wife being equal in authority, to the wife leading the house because the husband is perceived to be incompetent and incapable of fulfilling that role.

Wives, your husband is the head of your household. No matter how you feel about that or what the prevailing view in society is – that is God’s design. Your role is as a “helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). That means your role is to help and support him in his role as head, not to usurp his authority or rebel against God’s design for marriage.

Many women do not want to accept this role. They want a degree of independence. They want to be free to pursue whatever endeavors they wish. They want to find fulfillment through their careers or other things. Let us not forget:

  • Married women are not independent. They are to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22).
  • They are not free to do as they please, demanding that their husbands adapt to them. God told Eve of the role he had given for women in the marriage relationship: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
  • Godly married women do not need to pursue a career in the working world to find fulfillment in life. They will be “workers at home” (Titus 2:5) and will focus their attention there. Is it wrong for a woman to work outside the home? Not necessarily. It can be right if she does so to fulfill her role as “helper” to her husband (for instance, if her husband has a physical condition that prevents him from working, or for a time he is unable to find sufficient means on his own to support his family, or some similar reason). It is not right for a woman to work because she refuses to do the work of a homemaker, she wants a role in the household equal to that of her husband, she wants to conform to the world’s standard of the 21st century working woman, or other selfish reasons.

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands.” A woman who will not obey this command should not marry until she is ready to be a submissive wife and finds a man who will honor her for this (1 Peter 3:7). For those women who are already married, if they are not fulfilling their God-given role in marriage, they need to repent. God’s way is right and is best. It is when people act contrary to His way that problems arise – like marital strife and divorce. We need to follow His instructions today, even if society would call them old-fashioned, radical, foolish, or unnecessary.

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