Submission is a loaded word. It carries a ton of cultural baggage because it has been used to keep women in a place of subservience to their husbands in particular, and to men in general. It’s a biblical concept that has been distorted and abused, but because it is biblical, it is meant to be life-giving and freeing. But how can we talk about in a way that honors God’s command, rather than supporting our particular cultural or political perspective?
I’ve already written about this important topic, and even spoke about it at Hope Church. But here’s the short version. When God commands wives to submit to their husbands, he does so within the context of Genesis 1 and 2, not Genesis 3. In Christ, God is making all things new. That means that he is recreating the world so that it aligns with the original creation, before sin came in and messed everything up. So when God issues commands in Scripture, he does not do so to support the curses of Genesis 3 or to uphold the fallen state of the world. Rather, his commands in the New Testament are always issued with his new creation in mind.
So when it comes to the issue of submission in a marriage, our model cannot be Genesis 3:16, where God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This is part of the curse, the same curse which Jesus died to reverse. Instead, our model must be Genesis 1:27 and 2:23. In the first passage, God declares that he has made humanity, both male and female, in his image. And in the second, Adam sees Eve for the first time and rejoices, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
In this context, submission assumes the equality of the sexes. God, in Christ, does not elevate women to a status slightly below men. Instead, he invites wives to participate in the humility of Christ, just as he invites husbands to participate in the self-giving love of Christ. This, of course, does not mean that men need not be humble and women need not be loving. It simply means that each partner has a role to play in the lived demonstration of the character and work of Jesus.
After all, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, our marriages are living metaphors of the eschatological marriage of Christ and the Church. Christian marriage is a sign that the Church is the Bride of Christ and that Jesus will return someday to betroth us to himself forever. It is not simply a promise to one another, but to the world – the promise that history ends with a wedding, not a funeral. This is the picture of marriage into which submission so appropriately fits.