Are wives to submit to their husbands?
Paige Patterson, the recently-ousted president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, thinks so. But now, in light of the Me Too movement, Dr. Patterson is in hot water for tapes that have surfaced of him allegedly preaching that wives should be submissive instead of leaving abusive marriages. Another taped sermon included an inappropriate comment about the body of a teenage girl, and another urged that female seminarians should work hard to look attractive.
People often submit to their own biases and backgrounds when reading the scriptures. Dr. Patterson grew up in a male-dominated era when most women were dutiful wives and housekeepers. Other times, we might read one or two verses in a passage and jump to conclusions without grasping the entire context. Then there are instances when we miss the true meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word that is translated into English.
The submission text that is often trotted out in these discussions is Ephesians 5:22-23: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
In many cases, however, what is conveniently overlooked is the verse before this passage: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The focus of this section of Ephesians 5 is not the submission of a woman in a marriage; it is the man and woman equally subjecting themselves to Christ. Mutual submission to Him is the key. If that is happening, there is no desire to dominate from either side. Indeed, one could hardly call a marriage “Christian” if one partner tolerates no dialogue or disagreements. Christian relationships are built on cooperation, not control.
Dr. Patterson has a whole lot more theological expertise than I do, but on this biblical topic, I can confidently say that he missed the mark. Yes, even leaders in the church can have a skewed definition of “submission.” It does not mean rolling over like a scared puppy in the presence of a know-it-all master. The Bible teaches freedom from oppression — not slavery to fear.