Well, I suppose it is time once again to set the cat among the pigeons. This is not done for purposes of entertainment, but rather for edification. We need to let the Scriptures admonish us where we are sinning, and not where we are in no real danger of sinning, or where admonitions are established and routine.
A couple generations ago, all evangelicals believed certain things about headship and submission in marriage — because the New Testament taught them — but now if you simply repeat those things, you are routinely dismissed either as a deviant misogynist yourself, or at best, an unwittingly enabler and defender of the husband as jerk.
So let me begin there. The aroma of what I am defending is altogether lovely, and has nothing to do with the abuses of the various domestic mussolinis that any of us may have met. Anyone who has followed my writing on marriage over the years knows that I do not cut any slack for blustering machismo. Abusive and angry husbands are not an example of what I am talking about. But, and this is our point this morning, neither are bitter and unsubmissive wives.
When God assigns our roles to us, the men have to do what God tells them to do, and the women have to do what God tells them to do. The value of doing this is no way undone or refuted by those who refuse to do it. Perhaps a challenging and rewarding course is not best evaluated by the insubordinate students who flunked it.
Say that a young man and woman marry, and their first year is a turbulent and epic battle. This battle is a battle for control, and let us say further the wife wins it. This marriage does not thereby become an “alternative” arrangement — it becomes a standing exasperation to the both of them. She won, but because she was not created to win in this way, she is bitter with him for losing, she is bitter against him for being the kind of man who would let her win, and she is in turmoil within herself because she insists on winning, and despises the fact that she has. Reality has lots of compelling arguments. The way things are has a lot going for it.
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16).
This is not referring to a woman’s desire for moonlit walks on the beach with her baby, but rather a desire for control or mastery. The only other time this phrase is used in the Bible (desire > rule) is in the next chapter, when God is warning Cain about what sin wants to do.
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Gen. 4:7).
This means that the Fall made the relations between the sexes kind of rough. The woman will want to wrest control of the relationship away from the man, and the man will react forcefully, and frequently disproportionately. There is a war between the sexes because the world is a screwed up place.
The gospel transforms all this, but not by setting the issues of authority and submission aside. Rather, the gospel teaches us that submission does not equal inequality — for Christ in His equality with the Father nevertheless submitted to Him (Phil. 2:5-7). And the gospel also teaches that authority or rule must not be the kind of dominion that pursues ego-glory for the one in authority (Mark 10:42-43). Christian women are able to learn how not desire this control, and Christian men are able to learn what servant authority looks like. It looks like Jesus.
There are many examples of this, but Titus 2:5 provides a good sample. Obedience and submission themselves are not set aside by the new covenant — although it is transformed. Titus was written decades after Paul had declared that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), and so it is plain that as Paul envisions headship and submission in the marital context, it is headship and submission conducted, like a glorious dance, between equals who love and respect one another.
There is therefor a way to do this right — for the Scriptures require it. Those who do it wrong, no matter how many of them you may have seen, pose no argument whatever for those who are interested in doing it right — other than the obvious warning to not do it like they are doing it. But the feminist or quasi-feminist reaction to the abuses is to not do it at all. But this is just another abuse. This is simply another way of doing it wrong — and it is why the practitioners of this bad reaction are so unhappy and bitter.
So one of the tell-tale signs of standing resentments of this nature will be the fact that when the biblical position is set forth, and with every necessary qualification made, a bitter opponent will be absolutely unable to represent and restate accurately what is being said. “You are enabling wife-beaters . . .”
True moral equality means that we should be able to state what a husband’s sins are, frankly, and also be able to state what a wife’s sins might be, again frankly. Both men and women are true moral agents, responsible for their own behavior and misbehavior.
But if every time we get to such a statement of what a wife’s fundamental lack of a submissive spirit might be doing in her relationship to her husband we get a histrionic reaction, then perhaps we are seeing a refusal on the part of certain women to see women as true moral agents. Feminists (including the professing evangelicals) are those who loudly demand to be treated the same way as the men, and then, if we do, retreat with indignation and tears behind their petticoats.
So I am not at present talking about lousy marriages that are lousy because the husband is violent, or angry, or resentful, or lazy, or misogynistic, or unfaithful, and so on. I know that such exist, and I am unalterably opposed to every last one of them. I am especially opposed to them when the name of Jesus is invoked as an excuse for the sin.
But let us also be opposed to marriages that are thoroughly unhappy because the wife has usurped control of the relationship, and is a catty, ungodly, controlling, insubordinate, unhappy, and unsubmissive woman. These exist also, correct? Shouldn’t we be against them also?
You are right on point, brother.
The new covenant came first. Desiring the bridegroom was an early promise.
Dr. Wilson, you are a misogynistic enabler of wife-beating. How dare you say that I have to be held accountable for my actions. Do you not realize that it is patriarchy that is the reason women are bitter and un-submissive?It has nothing to do with sin and rebellion against God. Besides, men are violent, or angry, or resentful, or lazy, or misogynistic, or unfaithful, or something that keeps me from being held to account for my sin. Did I mention how bad my husband was?
Doug Wilsons War on Women, Moscow will soon be flooded with Binders full of women.
Pastor Wilson, would you happen to have any advice, or have you written elsewhere, on the role of a child under parents whose marriage is tumultuous and on the verge of dissolution? Particularly if this child feels like he’s the only one who seems to thinking straightly about the entire thing? He admits he may be wrong, but now this third-person is becoming cumbersome.
I just listened to a fantastic sermon that I’d commend to anybody struggling with the contents of this post. You can read the notes here or listen to the audio here.
Very sound Pastor! The model of Christ (for husbands) is something most christian women accept. Unfortunately, the popular culture has influenced women (secular women) that they reject all notions of marital role and accountability. “Just do it baby”, comes to mind.
If married men are heathens, women should be more so… or so the logic goes.
Caution: none of this applies if your wife has BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder, aka Emotional Dysregulatory Disorder).
I personally believe that being a submissive wife takes a lot more strength than “wearing the pants”. A woman is more than capable of being the head of the home. It takes humility,love and trust to submit when you’re well aware that you can do as well or even better than your husband.
What I love about Christ’s command is it is equally hard for men and women. How many men are ready to walk to the cross to ” love their wives as Christ loves the church” for a women less than perfect? And, equally, how many wives are ready to submit to a husband who’s no model of Christ?
It’s a tall order for both Men and Women. The world distorts the command.
Sabine, as a female head of a household, I disagree with your attitude toward submission. Sure, a woman can be the head of a home without a husband/father, go out to a job everyday to provide for her children, and run the home well. But it is very far from what it should be. Children suffer in so many ways when their father is not present or is denigrated by their mother because she thinks she can do better. They also suffer when their mother is not actually submitting but is holding back support and being critical because she is… Read more »
I disagree on two counts: the first practical, the second interpretive. On the first point, I have seen too many successful female-headed households to believe that, as a rule, “nonsubmissive wives” lead to fundamentally unsound household arrangements. Granted, some of these households were female-headed for the unfortunate reason that the husband had abandoned the family, but that fact should not discount the leadership and perseverance that the single-mothers showed in guiding their families. In other instances, the households were female-headed simply because the wife was the better communicator, thinker, and decision-maker. I do not think of these women–family members of… Read more »
Also, I snobbishly point out that Douglas Wilson does not seem to know what a petticoat is. How do you retreat with tears behind your underwear?
What a joy to have come across this blog! I cannot believe that with the divorce rate so high, people actually believe that women leading the home is a good idea. Marriages started to crumble when women began to assert a kind of “power,” but certainly not the real power they DO have. The dissolve of the marriage is what destroys the family and we don’t need to ever be reminded what that can do. On the other hand, it is men who have the most responsibility to the home, marriage, and family. Without God, it is impossible for a… Read more »
What is a wife absolutely refuses to recognize that her role is to be in submission? Few churches would discipline her in this day and age. What can a husband do? It seems we have been given authority, but no means of enforcing that authority.
Poor Rick. He’s got an uppity woman and he’s not allowed to beat her into submission anymore.
What’s a good Christian man to do?
I find it interesting that it was only after the curse that men were told to rule over women, yet this is still seen as “godly.” Though womens’ desire is to master, they must be a servant; but though men want to rule, they still can rule, just as an “authority servant.”
This is all one more reason I’m glad I left Christianity.
@ Rachel, I couldn’t agree with you more. I did not leave Christianity but I am NOT in agreement with what they say concerning marriage but what the Bible says. Husband and wife are to leave in harmony and they set the rules for how they work things out – not the church. That’s the freedom God gives us as his children. Sorry, you left the church. And to Rick, I wish a church would have the guts to try and discipline a wife for being unsubmissive. After I tell them where they could go I would leave and never… Read more »
“This is not referring to a woman’s desire for moonlit walks on the beach with her baby, but rather a desire for control or mastery” — say what? / / / Every commentary I’ve seen (Calvin, Delitzsch, Phillips, Von Rad, etc.) interprets this as saying that the woman would desire to be subservient to the man, or would desire the man sexually (and hence would inevitably experience painful childbirth). This is perhaps more consistent with the use of the word תְּשׁוּקָה in Song of Songs 7:10, and with the context here. / / / Also, most modern translations translate Gen.… Read more »
I think the whole question is misunderstood. The relationship between a husband and wife is not anything like any other kind of relationship. It operates on a different level. For it to work, each partner must submit to the other. Of course variations exist. I would not want a wife who was not essentially my equal. Such a woman would not be a companion, but a child. She would be like Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy.” Who would want someone like that for a marriage partner?
In all humility, brother,can I suggest a different reading (interpretation) of that passage? it is one that made all the pieces fall into place for me, and I see the pattern everywhere. The great gulf between men and women caused by the fall. The reading I prefer (and as I understand is a sustainable reading both linguistically and theologically) “Her desire shall be towards her husband and he WILL LORD IT OVER HER.” I may have a biased sample, but I see more young christian women guilty of idolatry than unsubmissiveness. Disraeli’s wife said it outright “my husband is my… Read more »
rely to Sidneysider: my understanding is that there is a split in the ancient Jewish interpretation of this passage, with the Babylonian Talmud suggesting the reading Calvin et al used, and (is it the Askenazi traditions?) preferring the interpretation I cite. Calvin was a great man, and what the church needed at the time – a faithful legal mind to help develop civil rules at the point where church authority (the only real authority to that point, canon law was IT) and he did a good job doing that. But a good juridical mind is a mind that sees things… Read more »
Because no one has responded to this sweet woman, Beth and because I think the post may have blossomed out of a little post I wrote and because Beth submitted her comment for thought and response and because there has been resounding silence following her comments and because someone alerted me to this post, I would like to thank Beth for her amazing insight and thoughtful response given in humility and hope she does not mind that I have quoted her in full on my blog: http://www.pinkpeppers.com/2014/01/02/while-no-ones-reading/ So if you ever check back here for comments to your comment, thank… Read more »
Thank you Terri. The idea has its roots in a book called Gods Word to Women – a self-published exegeis of the Bible by a gentle, wise, humble woman scholar several generations ago. Don’t even recall how I heard first heard about it, or how long ago it was I read it – but it gave me “new glasses” to see the old problem. For my money, she hit it on the head, as did Genesis 3:16. HOW INCREDIBLY wise those old guys were !!!!! I see this pattern now everywhere, but I find men are usually a bit… Read more »
For God to suddenly passing a punitive sentence upon Eve after the wonderful prophecy in Genesis 3:15 is amazingly crazy making. But lets back up. When God asks Adam in the garden if he had eaten of the tree which I commanded you that you should not eat?” The serpent was surely slinking around and listening, Adam blames God- “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Adam made an evil choice and advanced to the side of the serpent, and became false accuser of God. But Eve, when asked,… Read more »
“This marriage does not thereby become an “alternative” arrangement — it becomes a standing exasperation to the both of them. She won, but because she was not created to win in this way, she is bitter with him for losing, she is bitter against him for being the kind of man who would let her win, and she is in turmoil within herself because she insists on winning, and despises the fact that she has. ” This is exactly what happens, and it happened to me. And it’s hell, both during the marriage and after the marriage ends with an unbiblical,… Read more »
With respect, David, while you may speak for yourself, I do not believe you speak for Eve. We have no evidence that she was bitter or that she was trying to “win” anything. SOME women indeed can be Coercive Controllers (please search this term in google), and the behavior you describe suggests that the “she” you are referring to was a coercive controller. I am so sorry that you found yourself in an untenable marriage with such an untenable person. Marriage with a coercive controller is never fun, in fact it is impossible unless one is willing to be a… Read more »
@ PB: “What I love about Christ’s command is it is equally hard for men and women. How many men are ready to walk to the cross to “love their wives as Christ loves the church” for a women less than perfect? And, equally, how many wives are ready to submit to a husband who’s no model of Christ? It’s a tall order for both Men and Women. The world distorts the command.” I agree with you that it’s equally hard for husbands and wives to live up to their biblical roles and obligations in marriage, when you’re speaking of… Read more »
Ephesians 5:22-25 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church – he himself being the savior of the body. But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. If you replace the nouns “wives” and “husbands” with “dogs” and “masters” respectively, the passage still makes sense. How about this: Wives, help serve and love your husbands as to the Lord.… Read more »
I would be willing to go to a cross for my wife. She is unsubmissive and downright disrespectful at times and allows her 3 yr old child to treat me the same. My wife is starting to get the picture, by how I’m emotionally drifting away from her, but I hope that she learns on her own by God’s Spirit working in her and by her own personal Bible study on the subject. We must have faith in order to please God, but He also loves a broken heart & contrite spirit – motives are everything.