21 Problems with Wilsonian Submission in Marriage

21 Problems With Wilsonian Submission in Marriage | RachelShubin.com

This post is for Angie, my friend. Last week Doug Wilson posted his 21 Theses on Submission in Marriage, which I reposted on my Facebook wall with a short preface. I had no intention of addressing anything in Wilson’s post directly because I have a whole pile of other posts sitting around waiting for me to finish them, I have 7,000 other things going on including leaving for camping on Tuesday (yay, summer!), but mostly I just get tired of saying the same thing over and over.

However, then Angie asked me which points of Wilson’s post I particularly objected to and why (I hope you know I love you, Angie!). Argh! So… here I’ve responded to his post point by point with his quote first and my comment following:

  1. The teaching of Scripture on this subject is perspicuous and plain. What God requires of us in our marital duties is taught in multiple places, and not in obscure ways.

  2. I would agree that the teaching of Scripture is plain and taught in multiple, unobscure places were it not for the fact that people see so many different things when they look at what’s written. What I see is that kindness, deferring to each other, and mutual respect are the laws of love but that remedy is provided for the damage that accompanies hardness of heart. What I do not see are super clear marital duties cut tidily down gender lines.

  3. We live in a time when honest exegesis is routinely threatened with calumny, and there are frequently honors and rewards for dishonest exegesis. It should not be surprising that we are getting less and less of the former, and more and more of the latter.

  4. Oh, yes. This one I agree with.

  5. Natural revelation teaches us the natural submission of the wife to the husband. These realities are in our bones, and the revolt against them lies at the foundation of our current cultural madness.

  6. HAHAHAHAHA! No. “These realities are in our bones.” HAHAHAHAHAHA! What does that even mean? Maybe when Adam was separated into two people, the parts that were removed (some say ribs and others say flesh) and fashioned into Eve magically switched from authority bits to submit-o bits during the transfer.

  7. The scriptural requirements are entirely consistent with this natural revelation. The God who created the world, and who fashioned us in His image as male and female, is the same God who inspired the writers of Scripture. Whenever natural revelation and special revelation appear to conflict (they do not ever contradict in fact), we should submit to the express words of God. But in this case, there is not even an apparent contradiction.

  8. See #3, upon which #4 is predicated.

  9. The Bible does not require a universal submission of women to men, or the necessary submission of any given woman to any given man. The Bible requires women to be submissive to their own husbands, which is a protection against having to submit to men generally. Further, because no one can serve more than one authority, this scriptural teaching amounts to a prohibition of a woman submitting to other men. Nor does Scripture require a new absolute submission to her husband. No authority in this fallen world is absolute, and includes the authority of a husband. When the authority of a husband turns rancid, a wife should receive the help of fathers, brothers, friends, and/or elders to help her stand up against it. I have been involved in this sort of intervention more than once.

  10. Ummmm, what now? I am glad that Wilson recognizes that there is no universal submission required of women to men in general nor absolute submission of women to their own husbands. However, is sentence three trying to reference Matthew 6:24 where it talks about how no man can serve two masters (that’s what this sounds like)? Because that passage is in no way a proof text for husbandly authority. The two masters presented in that passage are God and money, not one man you’re married to or every other man that you’re not married to. If you are going to try and smush husbands into that equation, then your two options for masters would have to be God or husband, and I hope very much that you can figure out which one loses in that equation. If that’s not the passage Wilson has in mind, perhaps he could include references to where he’s getting this stuff (but then he’d have twenty-one points all referring to the same three passages: Eph. 5:22-24, Col. 3:18, and I Peter 3:5. That is a monster amount of inference from such a small sample.)

    The other weird thing is that Wilson is referencing the authority of the husband, but if you’re going to talk about wifely submission as per the three verses to wives in Ephesians 5, the counterpart section of the following seven verses there written to men say nothing at all about the man leading or his authority or any of that. What it does talk about is the man loving and caring for his wife as if she were one of the most integral of his very own body parts, which is exactly what Adam says upon Eve’s creation in Genesis 2:23-24 . So the problem isn’t when the authority of a husband turns rancid. Nothing is said about that. The problem is when his love turns rancid. Nice that Wilson at least acknowledges that a woman can ask for and expect help in such a situation.

  11. At the same time, in a healthy society, if wives are generally submissive to their own husbands, there will be a cheerful deference to the leadership of men generally, a reality to be welcomed and not resented. This is a deference to the fact of male leadership, not the quality of it. When male leaders are tyrants, fools, and scoundrels, godly women will have as much objection to it as godly men do.

  12. Wasn’t he just saying in #5 that submission to husbands is a protection against having to submit to men generally? Then why on earth are we now excited in #6 about women having a cheerful deference to the leadership of men generally? There is no fact of male leadership in the sense that men are the special chosen ones or most suited from their general manly makeup to lead.

    The Bible is full of women who lead in multiple roles (see my last post for several of the Old Testament ones: Holy Women Who Hoped In God. I haven’t made it to the New Testament ones yet). Wilson somehow conveniently deletes those from his brain or recasts them as irrelevant so that he can promote this whole other idea that men should always be the leaders of all things everywhere all the time forever. He says in one part that that’s not a plus and then three sentences later that it is.

  13. The requirement of submission within marriage does not prohibit the occasional circumstance when a woman in civil society finds herself in a leadership role over men. Deborah, Esther, and Lydia come to mind. At the same time, when feminine leadership becomes widespread and common in a society, it is not a sign of progress at all, but is rather a sign of cultural decadence driven by male fecklessness.

  14. Nice of him to throw a hat tip to Deborah and Co., but where in the Bible is the notion from that women leaders in general are a sign of cultural decadence driven by male fecklessness (answer: this notion is extrapolated from one verse: Isaiah 3:12, which laments the foolishness of the young King Ahaz and the women who were encouraging him in wickedness. This does not seem to be a directive for all time)? Men and women seem to make good and bad leaders pretty evenly.

    Neither has a lock on good or bad leadership, and I don’t see anything saying female leadership means men aren’t doing their job (not even Barak, who was an excellent commander under Deborah and who understood her position so well that he refused to go out without God’s anointed by his side). Maybe it just means some human people have found some capable allies or leaders who also happen to be women (Oh horrors!).

    You don’t see as many women in leadership positions in Western history not because we are somehow congenitally unsuited or incapable but rather because for most of history and right up until a hundred years ago even in our own country, men routinely prevented us from holding such positions or accessing any of the education that would prepare us for filling them effectively.

  15. In Christian theology, there is no tension between authority and submission on the one hand, and essential equality on the other. God the Father is the eternal Father to the Son, and yet the Father and Son are equally the one true God. The husband is the head of his wife, and yet they are one flesh. Men and women stand on level ground when it comes to being created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), when it comes to the fact of our fall into sin (1 Cor. 15:22), and when it comes to our position in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Men and women are clearly equal in these senses, and so the teaching of the Bible elsewhere on the submission of a wife to her husband means that submission to an equal is not an incoherent concept.

  16. No and yes. First, Wilson is mixing the metaphor in Eph. 5 with the object the metaphor explains. The two primaries are husband and wife. The metaphor for those two are head and body. A head and a woman don’t join together as one flesh. A woman already has a head, so now she would be a human with one head plus an extra head.

    This head/body metaphor is easy to get confused for English-speakers because our English idiom has head meaning both “thing that sits on top of your neck” and “boss of an organization.” So, when you say the husband is head of his wife, yet they are one flesh, that is combining two separate metaphors into a new monstrosity that doesn’t make sense (hence, Wilson’s insertion of the word “yet.”) When you pair the metaphoric components correctly, it makes sense. A head and a body join together because they are one flesh. This is how the husband is to view and love his wife: as part of his very own being. That’s why submission to an equal is not an incoherent concept.

    The other part of this answer that needs commenting on is the beginning two sentences about Christ’s eternal nature and how that plays out with equality and submission to the Father. Wilson isn’t as explicit on the subject here as he has been in the past because last summer the blogosphere got into a massive debate about the idea of Christ’s subordination to the Father and what that means and how it might or might not relate to marriage. I’m not going to cover any of it now because of the enormous volume written on the subject and because Rachel Miller has already done a lovely synopsis of the main points as outlined by Wayne Grudem and the problems with those points if you are interested: Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS).

  17. Women have a deep creational need to be loved and led, so that they might submit and follow, and men have a deep creational need to be respected and followed, and when these needs are thwarted or otherwise frustrated, the end result is deep unhappiness for both sexes.

  18. s just making up stuff. All people, both men and women, have a deep creational need to be loved and respected. All people at different points in their lives need to be led or followed. People of both sexes who are in grief or crisis frequently need someone to come alongside them, take them by the hand, and gently lead them back to safety and life.

    People who can see the way out of the darkness that surrounds them and can see the trail forward frequently become hugely frustrated when they can’t save their loved ones from the grief they are lining up for and often unwittingly signing their families up for as well. This has nothing to do with gender. I completely agree, though, that when these needs are thwarted or otherwise frustrated, the end result is deep unhappiness for both sexes.

  19. At the same time, because of the curse that followed the Fall, women have a deep resistance to dutiful submission, even though such submission would lead them into the joy and true satisfaction that comes from obeying God. It may or may not improve the marriage (depending on his sin issues), but it will most certainly improve her walk with God. The prophecy that her “desire shall be for her husband” was not speaking of romantic getaways, but rather predicting that there would be a struggle for mastery. So instead of trying to gain mastery over her husband, she should struggle to gain mastery over this besetting impulse within herself.

  20. No. The translation of the Hebrew verb in Gen 3:16 is not especially clear, and worse than that, the idea that that verb means a wife is going to try to master her husband is a recent development that was thought up by Susan Foh in 1975. You can read more about both the historic view(s) and Susan’s view along with the strengths, weaknesses, and ramifications of each here: Problems With a New Reading of an Old Verse.

    And what is the rest of that verse? The part Wilson leaves out? “Her desire shall be for her husband, and he shall rule over her.” If your view is that the woman’s curse is that her husband shall rule over her, then why are we not trying to overcome and roll that back like we do garden weeds and childbirth pain? If your view is that the woman’s curse is that she wants to rule over her husband à la Susan Foh, well that seems more like a curse on men than on women.

    If your view is that the curse is that each will want to rule the other, again à la Susan Foh, then first, that’s a curse on both parties as opposed to just on women, and the remedy for that is not giving one side more power and the other side less but is encouraging both sides to loving, respectful cooperation with each other. I don’t think our job of rolling back the curse is helped by institutionalizing, codifying, and requiring adherence to the terms of the curse itself. We don’t do this in any of the other parts of life that were broken in the fall.

  21. The Bible does not teach husbands to enforce the requirement that was given to their wives. Since true submission is a matter of the heart, rendered by grace through faith, a husband does not have the capacity to make this happen. His first task is therefore to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He is to lead by example.

  22. Oh look! We agree on this one.

  23. The fact that husbands cannot mandate or manufacture this does not make it any less mandatory. Wives are to be submissive to their own husbands in everything. The marriage service rightly includes a vow for the bride to obey her husband.

  24. And we’re back to disagreeing. First, the Greek verb used regarding women is never obey except in one case, and that is found in I Peter to describe how Sarah obeyed her husband and called him Lord (hilariously, the cross reference for that is Genesis 18:12; go read it!). The verb for obey is used exclusively with children and both verbs are used regarding servants. Even worse, the form of the verb used with women implies that her deferring is a voluntary act on her part.

    The connotations of the passage overall are nowhere near as forceful as Wilson makes them out to be, and the assertion that to be Biblical, a wedding must include a vow for a bride to obey her husband is just pure fabrication. Nothing in the Bible specifies wedding vow terminology.

  25. The relation of head and body is a constant relation, one that does not come and go. It is not the case that the husband has mere tie-breaking authority.

  26. I’d like to know what he’s trying to say by the second sentence. The husband doesn’t have mere tie-breaking authority? What then are the Wilsonian limits to a husband’s authority? My very careful research does seem to indicate that one’s head and one’s body are integrally connected to each other. Mine are pretty inseparable from each other anyway. See #21 for more on that.

  27. Liberty for Christian wives cannot be enjoyed outside of their appointed sphere. A woman who rejects her obligation to love, honor and obey is like a bird who has thrown away the “constraints” of having wings.

  28. *sigh* What exactly is Wilson supposing is a woman’s “appointed sphere”? One can love and honor one’s husband without spending her life catering to his every whim. One can pursue business or art or theology (!) or teach or be a firefighter or any number of other wonderful things without having her wings lopped off. I know wonderful, happily married women who have children and do every single one of these things (even the firefighter). Has he read Proverbs 31? That woman does everything!

    The ones who are most successful at them and happiest are the ones whose husbands are cheering them on, giving them wings. The same is true in reverse. Husbands do well when their wives cheer them on. This is not a one-directional, gender or role-based requirement about appointed spheres and obligations. All people do generally better when the people they love the most encourage and support them.

  29. Submission is an erotic necessity. The abandonment of this basic marital responsibility is the cause of much unhappiness, and has also been a cause of the resultant pursuit of erotic delusions offered by multiple partners or by various perversions.

  30. Song of Songs; I Corinthians 7:1-6 – bedroom equality for the win! If you want to say submission is an erotic necessity, at least have the good grace to qualify it as mutual submission. Carrying on about how C.S. Lewis says it does not improve Wilson’s usage of it.

  31. Submission practiced poorly does not discredit those who practice it well, and neither does it vindicate those who do not attempt it at all. And conversely, the decision to accept the Bible’s teaching on this subject does not obligate one to defend the many appalling things that are done in the name of following the scriptural pattern. A math student who does all his problems wrong and the student who refuses to do them at all have far more in common with one another than they do with the student who did his assignment properly and turned it in on time.

  32. Sure, nice, uh huh. I mean it would be if we were in any way talking about the same thing.

  33. The liberation of women was a false flag operation. The true goal was the liberation of libertine men, and in our day this was a goal that has largely been achieved. These were men who wanted the benefits for themselves that would come from easy divorce, widespread abortion, mainstreamed pornography, and a promiscuous dating culture. The early twentieth century was characterized by the Christian wife. The early twenty-first century is characterized by the tattooed concubine. And these sons of Belial have the chutzpah to call it “progress for women.”

  34. What? Whose goal was the liberation of libertine men? Is he saying that the feminist movement was really instigated by men so they could sleep around without consequences even more? If so, maybe he could lay off the women for like thirty minutes or so and go after the people he thinks are the actual culprits. If not, then this entire argument is null.

    Also, the early twentieth century is when the first-wave feminist movement really picked up steam, which is why I now have the right to vote, own property, attend university, sign legal documents, and have legal status of my own. Second-wave feminism made it easier and more socially acceptable to start my own business and for spousal battery and spousal rape, while both still common occurrences, to be far less socially acceptable than they were up until the early ’70’s.

    John Wayne spanks women on screen in not one but two movies as late as 1963 — Maureen O’Hara in McLintock! and Elizabeth Allen in Donovon’s Reef. In Wilson’s follow-up post on wife-beating, he includes a picture of Ricky Ricardo spanking Lucy. This was apparently such a common part of culture at the time that it was thought of as hilarious even during the time of Wilson’s own living memory. Again, I am grateful that that has become disgraced in our culture, and I look forward to the day when it is not only disgraced but disappears entirely.

    When I look at what’s going on today, I see hope. While many of the younger people seem truly bewildered by their own sexuality and how to approach it or what to do with it, I think that too is a pendulum swing. Abortion rates went way up after legalization but have been consistently dropping for a couple of decades now and continue to do so even faster with improved ultrasound technique, education, and loving care of pregnant women. After a huge spike in divorces following changes in divorce law, the divorce rate too has been dropping for almost the same length of time as abortions.

    So, why do I see hope? Because while the young people are a bit dazed by sex, both men and women of the upcoming generation seem to be improving dramatically on friendship and caring for one another in each other’s hurts and joys, and they seem to be waking up to and standing up to the sidelining, ignorance, and violence that has weighed down their mothers, sisters, and loved ones for far too long. There are those who are still perpetrating and excusing such things as there have always been, but the fact that it is being noticed and that there are people working to change it is encouraging.

    That caring for each other is a great seed for relationships and an excellent foundation for changing what needs to be changed. I think at some point the culture at large will settle down again about sex. That will probably coincide at least partially with when men stop seeing us women as colonizable house-cleaners and start working beside us as allies, equal in strength and wisdom. That’d be nice.

  35. The general dominance of men over women is inescapable. And so this means that when godly rule (via submission in the home) is relegated to the margins, it will be replaced by an ungodly domination over women everywhere else. We cannot succeed in placing men and women on the same footing. But the attempt to do so can most certainly result in Bruno taking his showers at the YWCA.

  36. No and yes (mostly no). Wilson certainly can’t succeed in placing men and women on the same footing because he apparently can’t even conceive of such a thing in his own mind and therefore will never bother trying to help it come about. If you are truly interested in preserving women from ungodly domination, which is clearly a problem, a good starting place would be asking them what they need and then joining them in their efforts instead of telling them what you think they need.

  37. The God who gives us our commands is the same God who designed and created us. His commandments are therefore good, righteous, and true, and they fit perfectly within the creation order. As wives seek to learn how to live these principles out, they are trying to overcome sin. They are not trying to overcome their nature. Rather, they are growing up into their true nature, which is the only liberation that matters.

  38. I actually like this one. God did design and create us, and his commands are good and righteous and fit with how and what each of us were designed and created for. As we wives and mothers and singles and women learn how to live these things out and overcome the sin and temptation to not use the gifts God placed in each of us, we are growing into our own true nature, which is the only liberation that matters.

    I’m pretty sure that that’s not what Doug is trying to say by “creation order.” That is complementarian code for “men were created first, therefore {insert something about authority or submission or whatever is convenient here}”. To which I say… go find me some firstborns in the Bible who that has worked out for. How about this? I’ll list off a few prominent people who are not firstborns: Abel, Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, King David, King Solomon. Jesus was the firstborn of Mary but is also referred to as the second Adam. Also, the last shall be first. God uses whomever He wants and doesn’t seem to give a hoot about where they fall in the birth order. Okay, your turn.

  39. Submission that is invisible is not really submission at all. As submission is cultivated in the home, it needs to be expressed. It cannot exist as a set of hidden resolves or good intentions. Respect must be verbalized, and the demeanor of submissive deference must be plain to everyone in the home.

  40. “Respect must be verbalized, and the demeanor of submissive deference must be plain to everyone in the house”???? Ugh. Guess occasional iron-sharpening is the purview of someone else because we’re too busy making sure even the kids can see how well Mom is verbalizing her expressions of submission. Does Wilson even read the stuff he writes? Does he have the slightest idea how that comes across to women (and boy do I hope there are some men who find that appalling too)? I’d say he can’t possibly mean that except that he writes stuff like this all the time, so it’s pretty clear that he does.

  41. For each one of these theses, there is of course a corresponding set of responsibilities for the men. Not only so, but the failure of men to conform to God’s pattern has been more spectacular than the failures of women. But I am not listing those responsibilities here because we live in a time such that whenever submission is mentioned, we rush to explain, qualify, contextualize, and otherwise assure the world what we don’t mean. We “explain away” feminine responsibilities today far more readily than we do with responsibilities for men—and this is part of the false flag move which consistently lets men off the hook. If wives don’t have to follow, then men don’t have to lead. We have done this so much that scarcely anyone knows anymore what we do mean by submission. So I am just going to say that the Bible teaches submission for wives, and it is glorious thing.

  42. Oh. My. Gosh. So, men are worse at following God’s pattern than women are, but instead of spending a correspondingly appropriate amount of time correcting them for this, Wilson constantly harps on how lousy women are at submitting, and that is somehow not letting men off the hook??? THAT MAKES ZERO SENSE. (Yes, that was all caps because I was yelling at my computer screen.) As previously mentioned, the corresponding part for husbands is NOT maintaining authority over their wives but rather something else entirely. I’ve written about that here: Ephesians 5, Part 2: The Head and the Body.

Doug Wilson is a prolific, charismatic guy with a sizable following. I wish he were using that platform to preach respect and love flowing both directions in a marriage instead of constantly promoting authority over and subordination of wives.

Well, Angie, there you go. I wrote this post mostly for you and partly for the other women and men who have watched me shift my views so much over the last few years and wonder what the heck has gotten into me. I sure hope this answers your question because if not, my Wilson quota has been filled for at least the next six months.


Holy Women Who Hoped in God – I Peter 3:5

Holy Women Who Hoped in God - I Peter 3:5 | RachelShubin.com

Image Credit to Ariel Lustre

I’m tired. After reading yet another round of blog posts about wives submitting, submitting more, and oh yeah, are you really submitting enough, I’ve just had it, particularly when the hypothetical situation presented in the post has all the hallmarks of being an abusive one. I’m not going to link to the particular post because it’s irrelevant. It’s not an anomalous post. It’s the same post I’ve seen over and over for years with different fictitious names attached to the made-up characters.

Is your husband throwing things and screaming obscenities at you and the toddlers? Submit more, be extra sweet to him, and tell everyone how great he is. That’ll soften his heart and fix him right up. See? I Peter 3 says so, particularly verses 5 and 6 (substitute Eph. 5:22-23 or Colossians 3:18 if you need some other passages to cherry-pick from. I’ve written on Eph. 5 here). If it’s an Abigail situation, you can leave, but right up until he tries to kill you or asks you to do something illegal, the Bible says you have to obey him and win him by your quiet demeanor. Out of the entire compendium of Scripture, I can’t imagine why these verses are the ones that get shoved at heartbroken, terrified women, but that’s a topic for another post (which I am working on).

Anyway, this particular post went with the I Peter passage for its proof text, and verses 5 & 6 caught my eye:


So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.


A couple years ago I did a fair amount of research on Sarah, which I’ll go over in Part 2 (the cross-reference here is hilarious), but this time around I got to wondering about the “holy women who hoped in God.” Hmmm, what holy women are we talking about? If the Biblical ideal is a gentle, quiet, submissive woman who cheerfully obeys her husband’s every word (or father’s or whatever authority is around) even if she disagrees with it, and if Peter is pointing his readers to their examples here, then there should be examples to follow of women like this all over the Bible, right? Shouldn’t be too hard to find. Let’s take a look at most of the prominent and some of the obscure women of the Old Testament who that are either generally thought of today as good examples or who are referred to in complimentary terms elsewhere in the Bible. Let’s find all the submissive women!


No. Rebekah goes directly against Isaac’s wishes to give Esau the inheritance after the Lord specifically speaks to her while the twins are in the womb and tells her that the elder with serve the younger. God tells her that Jacob is the one, but Isaac wasn’t going with the program. After Rebekah tricks Isaac into giving Jacob the inheritance and gets Jacob out of the county before Esau kills him, not only is she not censured for any of this deception, but she is one of only three people in the Bible mentioned as willing to “take the curse” on themselves for the sake of God’s chosen people. The other two are no less than Paul and Jesus himself (fascinating article by Anne Vyn about this point and the rest of Rebekah’s story here).  (Genesis 27:1-28:2)


No. Jacob consults her and Leah both on whether to move or not even after God tells him he has to go. Jacob makes no commands, demands, or even requests for them to go with them. He explains the situation, and then his wives mull it over and respond that this is acceptable and coincides with their own reasons for going. The conversation ends with Rachel and Leah telling Jacob, “So do whatever God has told you,” which sounds very much like permission and assent that they will go as well. It’s an excellent example of mutual cooperation, and this is in a situation where God clearly commanded him to go! (Genesis 31:1-16)


HAHAHAHA! No. After her husband dies and his next brother down gets himself all smited up for sleeping with her and then purposely doing the pull-out routine so he doesn’t have to provide her with an heir as was the legal deal at the time (can’t be sharing the inheritance!), Judah (Tamar’s father-in-law) refuses to fulfill his promise to give her his last son so she can bear a child. Choosing the obvious solution to the problem, she dresses up like a prostitute and tricks Judah into sleeping with her without him figuring out it was her.

When she gets pregnant with Judah’s child, he tries to have her executed (by burning!), but she turns the tables on him when she proves the child is his. Not only is she not censured in any way for this, but Judah specifically says that her behavior is more righteous than his. And… not only that, but their son ends up in the line of Christ, and Tamar herself is the first of only three women that Matthew mentions by name in his genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 (not counting Mary).

Have you ever heard a sermon on Tamar? I haven’t, although now I really want to. I woke up this morning with a whole theory about her story, which at first blush seems like a super weird one to be pointing at and saying, “Yeah, that woman was great!” Anyone else heard a sermon on this Tamar (not the other one, David’s daughter who gets raped by her brother)? (Genesis 38; Matthew 1:3)

Israelite midwives?

No. They disregard royal edict and save bunches of boy babies from slaughter. (Exodus 1:15-22)

Jochebed (Moses’ mother)?

No. She also disregards royal edict and saves baby Moses by sending him down the river in a basket to hide his identity, which is a terrifying option just to consider. (Exodus 2:1-3)


No. She was brave even as a child when she arranged for Moses’ mother to nurse Moses for Pharoah’s daughter after Pharoah’s daughter found baby Moses in a basket among the reeds (Exodus 2). Later she was a Prophetess and a pretty big deal of a woman, leading alongside Moses and Aaron after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Managed to get her own song into the Bible. (Exodus 15; Numbers 12)

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah?

Never heard of them? They were Zelophehad’s five daughters who convinced Moses to give them a portion of their father’s inheritance after he died instead of passing it all on to their uncles. These women are mentioned five times in the Old Testament. (Num. 26:33; 27:1-7; 36:1-12; 1 Chr. 7:15; Josh. 17:1-6)


Don’t know who she is either? Achsah was Caleb’s daughter, who requested an inheritance of land from him. When he agreed, she then asked him for that other part over there with the streams on it too, which he also gave her. (Josh. 15:16-19)


No. Rahab was a hooker from Jericho who become traitor to her own people by protecting the Israelite spies. She manages not only to not get herself killed by either side in the process but saves her entire family as well. She too was a direct ancestor of both King David and Jesus, and Rahab the foreign-born prostitute is number two of the three women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ. (Joshua 2; Matthew 1:5)


Weeeeell, acting on a little plotting advice from her mother-in-law, Ruth secures herself a new husband by snazzing herself up, putting on perfume, and then sneaking over to the threshing floor on threshing party night after Boaz is fed, properly wine-ed up, and asleep, which means she can curl up beside him on his hay bed and ask him to marry her when he startles himself awake. She is the third and last woman to get a nod in Matthew’s genealogy. Did I mention that Rahab was Boaz’s Mom? The guys in that family seem to like strong foreign women who graft themselves into Israel. Interesting that these three women – Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth – are the ones who make it into the genealogy (Ruth 3; Matthew 1:5).


No. Deborah judges Israel faithfully and leads it to success in war. Her reign is followed by 40 years of peace, and she is the only judge with such a strong record. Even though Barak was the general, Deborah called him out when he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing, and Barak even begged her to come along to the battle even though she said his glory would be given over to a woman if she did (see Jael below). Deborah, not Barak, called the army to advance, and Barak took direction from her. Oh! Also, she’s married, and her husband doesn’t really factor in to the story at all. Presumably he doesn’t mind her having the highest position in the land and doing such a bang-up job at it. (Judges 4-5)


Uhhh, super no. She violates her husband’s peace treaty with King Jabor, Isreal’s enemy, by cracking open Jabor’s top general’s head with a tent peg. This earns her a big section written about her exploits in a victory song! (Judges 4:215:24-27)


Barren Hannah prays for and is granted a son (Samuel), whom she brings to Eli the High Priest at age three to lend him to the Lord for the rest of his life. Hannah tells her husband Elkanah what she plans to do (it’s not phrased as a question), and he tells her to do what seems good to her. Like Jacob and Rachel, this passage also comes off as marital cooperation (in both cases with the husband deferring to his wife). (1 Samuel 1-2)


No. Abigail completely disregards her husband Nabal’s wishes to repay David rudely for the good David has done to Nabal’s shepherds, doesn’t have any kind of conversation with Nabal about his behavior or her plans to go directly against his orders (it specifically says she doesn’t tell him what she’s planning to do) but unilaterally decides to go off and take care of the problem herself. Then when she gets to David she doesn’t bother even trying to preserve Nabal’s reputation or speak well of him but chucks him right under the horse’s hooves and tells David that Nabal is worthless and foolish. This all manages to prevent her entire household from getting wiped out and results in her becoming wife to King David after the Lord strikes down Nabal ten days later. (1 Samuel 25)


Heard of her? She was a prophetess of enough renown that when Hilkiah the High Priest finds the Book of the Law, doesn’t even recognize it, and sends it off to King Josiah who has never seen it either, Josiah sends emissaries with the book to the prophetess Huldah to find out what’s the what. None of the men there seem too buzzed by the fact of her authority regarding Scripture including the King, the High Priest, and her husband; and they all take her seriously when the word she sends back to Josiah amounts to “God says you guys are toast.” (II Kings 22:3-20; II Chronicles 34: 8-33)


Ahhh, Esther. After being kidnapped and groomed to extra-beauteousness for an entire year with a whole bunch of other pretty girls, Jewish Esther goes in to the king who thinks she’s the super-fanciest and makes her queen; however, she can only go back into his presence at his request. After discovering that the king is planning to wipe out all the Jews in the entire country, she risks her own life by going in to him anyway and manages to talk him out of genocide. I think Esther is probably the closest to the ideal submissive wife, but that raises the question Why is the supplication method of a teenage, captive, kidnapped girl whose erratic husband threw out the last wife and whom it was illegal for her to go talk to unless her husband invited her now the suggested marital model for free, adult, married women? Weird that she was so submissive!

Esther’s situation would be similar to a young Christian girl getting kidnapped by ISIS and then married off to the unstable head warlord who is plotting to kill off all the Christians in the entire country. Asking your husband to maybe not do that in the most submissive, demure way possible would be absolutely advisable. Doing so any other way and even doing so at all are both likely to end in death. Escape is not an option. Is this in any way similar to a free, adult equal explaining her desires, requests, or complaints to her counterpart (wives are at least ontologically equal, right?)? Is this the model for our Christian spousal relationships? Also, she doesn’t listen to her husband’s authority. She bypasses him entirely and listens to her uncle. (Esther 4:11; 5:1)

The Proverbs 31 woman?

While she is usually held up as the ideal wife, several things about her don’t exactly fit the party line. While she is a capable manager of her home and kind to all, she is also shrewd in business and real estate, and the word translated “virtuous” here is translated as “valiant” or some other word denoting strength all the other times it is used in the Bible except for twice in Proverbs when referring to women and once in Ruth where it is often translated “excellent” (I’ve written about this here). Nowhere does it imply that her capabilities are subject to or dependent upon either her father or her husband. It does, however, say that her husband prospers because of her.

So, what example is Peter trying to get across to the women he’s writing to by pointing them to the holy women of former times? Is it unilateral obedience in all circumstances? I don’t think so. None of those women had a clear “Yes, sir” relationship with authority in which they operated solely as an obedient subordinate.

Some of them went directly against their civic rulers (Esther, Moses’ mother, the Israelite midwives, Rahab), some against their husbands or other males in their household (Abigail, Rebekah, Tamar, Jael), some of them were rulers or in authority themselves (Deborah, Huldah), some operated on a cooperative give-and-take with their husbands (Rachel, Hannah, Sarah), and some just waltzed up and boldly explained what they wanted or needed (Zelophehad’s daughters, Achsah, Ruth). You could argue for many of them that the times they act counter to what they’ve been told is when they are directly asked to sin, but I think that overlooks some interesting occasions.

Arguably Ruth could have seen Naomi’s plotting as sinful and said no but didn’t, and many of these women seem to have relationships with their husbands that appear unconcerned with who is supposed to be submitting to whom. I think Peter is trying to tell the women he’s writing to that there is a balance between cooperation and resistance, and both are viable options depending on the circumstances.

Most of the teaching I’ve heard on these women over the years, which has been extremely minimal for most and none at all for the rest, has been quick to point out that each one was an exception. Deborah was the only woman judge. She was an exception to God’s design, and therefore nothing to aspire to. Rebekah was tricky. Esther and Ruth are both ok. They both do what their uncle and mother-in-law tell them to do, and it works out. Oh, and Abigail. Oddly, that story doesn’t really get much fuller explanation because of those pesky talking bad about her husband and going behind his back bits.

What I see when I look at this is not a list of exceptions. It’s a pattern. It’s a pattern of valiant women, strong women who put themselves in danger to protect others, who stand up to people when God tells them to regardless of whether that person is their husband, king, or enemy general. It’s a pattern of cooperation when possible and resistance when cooperation is impossible. It’s a pattern of God’s protection and provision. It’s a pattern of women of courage and faithfulness. This is our legacy and our inheritance. We are mighty women of God, holy women of old. This is who we are.

And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.


The Wife As “Helper” – A Handy Chart

The Wife As "Helper" - A Handy Chart | RachelShubin.com

Which set of arrows describes your marriage? Which set do you think God put forth in Genesis 1 & 2?

Which side of the chart describes how you think the relationship between husbands and wives should work (or describes your relationship with your own spouse)? Does a wife primarily serve God by helping her husband with his God-appointed tasks or does she serve God by doubling the manpower for dominion work in general? These often overlap but frequently a wife feels called toward something that doesn’t directly help her husband. What then? Here are a couple things to consider:


Genesis 2:18 (NKJV)
18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”


All the animals had gendered counterparts, male and female, but Adam did not. He was alone. So God knocked him out, pulled him apart, and made him a female counterpart out of his bodily stuff. She was equal to himself because she came from himself. This parity is reflected in the dominion mandate itself:


Genesis 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”


Dominion over the whole earth was given not just to Adam, but to both Adam and Eve. The work of filling and subduing it was given to both, and both are created in God’s image. There is no role or hierarchy distinction here whatsoever.


Comparable in Gen. 2:18
Going back to Gen. 2:18, what about that word “comparable” or “suitable” as it is frequently translated? What does that mean? Here’s what Strong’s has to say:


5048. neged
neged: in front of, in sight of, [highlight]opposite to[/highlight]

Original Word: נֶ֫גֶד
Part of Speech: substantive; adverb; preposition; adverb; preposition
Transliteration: neged
Phonetic Spelling: (neh’-ghed)
Short Definition: before


And here is the Brown-David-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon definition:

2 With prepositions:

a. כְּנֶגֶדaccording to what is in front of =corresponding to, Genesis 2:18 I will make himעֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֺ a help corresponding to him i.e. [highlight]equal and adequate to himself,[/highlight] Genesis 2:20 among the animals there was no עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֺ. **Note that in Late Hebrew מכנגד = in front of, Ber 4:5; 9:5; Ab 2:10, מכנגד פני Git 7:7 and elsewhere.

I’d put in all the references, but there are 150+ and most of them are used as prepositions to denote location (e.g. “in front of the mountain”). Personally, I like the way the King James translates it, “I will make him an help meet for him,” but since no one uses the word “meet” this way anymore, modern readers tend to hear it as “help mate” which implies the wife’s purpose is to help her mate. What “meet” actually means here is closer to “perfectly fitted” or “apt.” It is an adjective describing the type of help she provides, not a noun. Eve is Adam’s counterpart, his equal, and is perfectly suited to fill and subdue the earth with him so that he won’t have to do it alone (the filling part would be tough to do alone anyway).

Helper in Gen. 2:18
What about the word “helper”? Hehe. I looked up every instance where the Hebrew word is used in the Old Testament, and it does not mean “head sock darner and diaper changer.” Neither of those things are bad, of course. Both are necessary, and if that’s what you feel called to do, you should definitely do it  with gusto (well, darning may not be necessary, but buying new socks occasionally is good). However, the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18 oddly carries no connotation of domestic help.

The most common usage of the Hebrew word is of a strong force coming to someone’s aid in battle. Often the helper who is coming to deliver someone out of trouble is the Lord himself. That’s the kind of helper God designed Eve to be. Not only a passive encouragement or support personnel, but an active participant and help in the real work of life. Adam and Eve were both designed to image God. Want to see the research? I have it posted here: A Suitable Helper

Why Was Eve Created?
The real question was what was Adam’s problem? Was his problem that the job was so big that he needed an assistant? The job was and is huge, but that’s not what Genesis 2:18 says was problem. Adam’s problem was that he was alone. God, being a Trinity, knew the value of equal companionship. The animals weren’t going to cut it; they weren’t equals. So God made Adam a counterpart.

Did he make her out of dirt? Nope. Adam couldn’t claim she was made of different dirt from his and therefore completely other from him. Did he make her from his feet? Nope. He couldn’t claim he was over her. Did he make her from his head? Nope. She couldn’t claim she was over him. God made Eve from Adam’s side (not just a rib, by the way), the spot that houses almost all the important guts and interior workings of the body, the softest part, the very center. Eve was part of his very body, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, the only instance of human asexual reproduction in history. This is the rending that marriage re-unites. This is the fit help. One becomes two; two become one.

~ Rachel

P.S. If you are a happy complementarian in a good marriage, then more power to you. I think there is room in the Bible and in Christendom for both positions, and I admire many couples of both types. If this post has completely confused you or you are wondering how that fits with Ephesians 5, I have a three part (so far) series on that herehere, and here. If you are curious about egalitarianism and how that can possibly be Biblical, please check out my friend Marg’s excellent post here.


Response to a Trapped Wife

Daughter, Mother, Sister, Friend – How would you respond to one of them if they came to you for help? (Photo by The Guigo .en, http://bit.ly/LicenseCC)

Doug Wilson recently posted a second article in his Open Letter series, this time to a trapped wife. I’m not going to repost the entire thing here, but I did have a few thoughts on his post. Here is his original article: Open Letter to a Trapped Wife; and here is my response:

Continue Reading


Modesty & Bikini Motivation

Bikini Motivation

This woman is out to seduce! Oh wait, no. She’s just drinking soda at the beach, minding her own business…

A month or so ago, I got into a conversation on another blog with a woman I’ve never met. Since summer is coming up, naturally the topic was modesty and bikinis. She hadn’t worn one since her honeymoon, would never let her daughters wear one, would be kindly encouraging others to do the same, and said that the real issue is the motivations of our own hearts for why we would want to wear a bikini (that part I agree with!). Her comment closed by saying that she had hoped she had provided a Biblical perspective instead of just an emotional one. Here was my response, lightly edited for clarity:



I’m glad that you don’t want to be the modesty police. Good goal! I think you’re right; we do all draw the line as to what we see as modest or immodest somewhere, and we each do draw it in different places. But the rest of your comment puzzled me very much.

You said that the only time you wore a bikini was on your honeymoon and that you don’t wear them now or let your daughters. All good. Your actions match your views, and you are raising your kids the way you believe, as you should. But you also mention that “we” need to be more concerned with the motivations of our own hearts; however, just before that you say “you” will be kindly encouraging other women who are not you or your daughters to not wear bikinis. That is attributing the motivations of *your* heart to other people’s behavior and asking them to change *their* behavior based on *your* heart. Then you wonder about possible motivations for wanting to wear a bikini and whether or not is because one wants to feel sexy/garner attention.

Let me illustrate the point that not everyone’s motivations are the same. I will be forty years old next month and have six children. I am fairly small-ish, but my stomach has suffered rather a lot of wear and tear over the years. So, do I wear a bikini to attract attention? Not so much. I bought my first bikini in nineteen years last summer, and I wear it because despite the non-20 year old body, I like it. It’s cute and far more comfortable than my one-piece (pulling up a wet lycra swimsuit over your stomach after going to that bathroom anyone? Kind of like wrestling on a skin-tight slug shirt). Plus, it makes me feel unexpectedly pretty when I wear it. Is feeling sexy a bad thing? Is it necessarily tied to wanting attention? I think the answer to both of those is “no.”

I feel pretty or sexy regardless of whether or not someone else is around to see me. The human body is designed to feel sexy sometimes as it is designed to feel many other things, and feeling sexy isn’t always directly related to bedroom time. I tend to feel that way when I succeed at something and feel confident, when I do more than six pushups and feel strong, when I stand in the back doorway to look out at the woods and feel the breeze around me, and of course when my husband nuzzles the back of my neck when I’m cooking. None of those are related to clothes and none of them are related to garnering attention since almost all of those situations occur when I’m alone except for the last one.

Clothes can and do also make me feel sexy, but for me usually (but not always) it’s in reverse. I feel sexy first, and then the clothes I choose reflect that. If I feel confident yet relaxed and have an opportunity to snazz up, on me that looks like pencil skirts with 4″ heels that look slightly like I’m a refugee from the 1940′s. Why do I like that? Beats me. But I reeeeeeally, really do.

When I feel confident enough to wear something I like yet relaxed enough to not care if other people don’t like it, I wear my bikini. Because I like it. Because it reminds me that a little belly flab will probably not spark the apocalypse and I just need to get over myself. Because it reminds me that that belly birthed six wonderful children, and that is a very small personal cost for a gift of such massive return. Because it reminds me that imperfection is ok and to let go of the small things that I want to hold on tightly to and assign far more importance to than they should have. Because when I mentioned to my wonderful, beautiful husband last year that I was thinking about getting a bikini, his response was, “I don’t know why you didn’t do that years ago” and then when I actually got one he smiled like he did when we were young and said I should wear it all the time. (This then raises the question: should I defer to my own husband’s desires or yours?)

So, does that answer your question as to motivations? If you are concerned that in your own heart, your motivation for wanting to wear a bikini might be that you just want to attract gobs of attention, that is a valid reason to not wear one. On top of that, you said your husband doesn’t want you to, and that’s a great reason as well. But those are, as you said you were concerned with at the start of your comment, matters of your own heart and your own conscience and your own family dynamics. My heart and conscience and family dynamics vary from yours, and many other peoples’ undoubtedly vary from both yours and mine. Those things are not across-the-board universals.

Speaking of universals, you ask at the beginning of your comment if we can ever decide something is immodest and then at the end of your comment mention that you wanted to bring some Biblical perspective. That too is a worthy goal, and as Christians we should be doing that in all areas of life.

Last summer after I posted an article about porn on Facebook, the conversation resulted in 80 comments mostly about modesty and what the Bible has to say about it (answer: surprisingly not as much as one would think). I think pretty much all relevant verses were covered, and the discussion was fascinating (and also very time-consuming and thorough enough that I have no wish to post all the Biblical arguments again here). If you have a wad of time to spend reading and are interested, you can see the whole thing here: Porn/Modesty Facebook Discussion.

The takeaways that I found most interesting from all that were that a) the Bible says very little and nearly nothing specific about clothing sizes or lengths or anything, and  b) the vast majority (if not all) of the references to modesty in the Bible relate to behavior and/or the interior workings of the heart as opposed to the clothes one is wearing. The other striking point was that even among a group of Christians mainly from my own denomination, there were many opinions on modesty and how to define it and what the Bible said or implied about it. Every single one of the people who commented is someone I know personally and like very much. All of them, every one, are Godly men and women who I respect very much, yet we disagree to some extent or another on how it all plays out.

One last note on something that would not have occurred to me at all had I not started wearing a bikini. Having heard for most of my life that wearing a bikini would be a huge temptation for the men around me (or something) and might be a problem for them, I was immeasurably surprised when I started wearing one to the river last year. You want to know who was bothered? Christian friends who weren’t with me and have never seen me in a bikini (mostly women but not all). You want to know who cared among the people who were at the actual river and saw me in my bikini? No one. Nobody cared. Half of them were wearing bikinis too. No one was turning into a raging lust ball or assuming I was out to steal their husband. It was a complete non-event, which was perfect since I wasn’t trying to attract attention anyway. I just sat on the rocks and watched the kids play, which was what we had actually gone there to do. The sun was warm, the water was sparkly, and I was thankful for a relaxing afternoon.

Anyway, that’s the really long way of saying I liked your comment and it’s always nice to talk to someone who is trying to think about things from a Godly perspective. May your summer be filled with sunshine and laughter.



~ Rachel


Reponse to a Reviling Husband

Response to a Reviling Husband | RachelShubin.com

This is not a “marriage problem.” In Christian parlance, this is called “reviling.” (Photo by The Lamp, http://bit.ly/LicenseCC)

Last weekend Doug Wilson posted an piece on his blog entitled “An Open Letter to an Angry Husband.” This topic seems to cause all kinds confusion on what constitutes an appropriate Biblical response, which I think is because so many people struggle to define it. Continue Reading


Duggar Dissection

Duggar Dissection | RachelShubin.com

This is not a “marriage problem.” In Christian parlance, this is called “reviling.” (Photo by The Lamp, http://bit.ly/LicenseCC)

I didn’t want to post on this because I don’t really want to read about it or think about it. After Gothard and Phillips and everything else, I am starting to feel a whiplash effect. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about it and what I’ve been thinking about primarily isn’t the specifics of the case or how many times Josh Duggar referenced himself in his apology statement or what the police report said. What has interested me is the underpinnings, the dynamics. From his case particularly, I think “How common is this in family situations?” and “How do I know what to look for and/or how to prevent such things in our own family?” and “Where is the line between stupid kid and permanent pedophile?”  Continue Reading


Website Recommendation: New Life

Been researching a new post for later this week and came across an interesting site I wanted to pass along. New Life has a bunch of excellent articles on equality and gender issues, and at the bottom of this post, I will post links to some of the articles I found most interesting. If either of these topics are of interest to you, you’ll want to spend some time reading.

Also, on the right sidebar there are now sections for links to external sites with interesting articles/information so that they are easy to find and organized together.

Here are a few of the articles I liked:

I think that’s it for today. If you know someone who is struggling with or interested in these things, please feel free to pass this along. Also, I’ve changed the comment settings so that you can leave comments anonymously if you would like to.



Ephesians 5, Part 3: The Mystery of One Flesh

In the last post we talked about what Paul means when he compares the unified nature of Christ and the church to a person’s head and body. So far this comparison holds up consistently, and that head/body metaphorical language wraps up with verse 30.

Then Paul puts in a reference to Genesis (actually, that one still refers to the body but this time relates it to marriage instead of the church) and a cryptic statement about how incomprehensible this all seems, but he seems to imply that we should be able to get his coded message since he explicitly tells us that he’s talking about Christ and the church. This got me puzzling, which is what happens when I’m breathing. Here’s the whole passage again.

Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

23 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.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—

30 for we are members of his body.

31[highlight] “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[/highlight]

32 [highlight]This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.[/highlight]

33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Okay Paul, what is this mysterious mystery you’re talking about? Help me out here. Guess what? Paul does actually help out here. Ephesians is a letter written to the church in Ephesus, and we’ve been looking at chapter 5, right? I searched for other places that the word translated “mystery” is used and was surprised to discover that Paul uses it five times in the same letter before he even gets to Chapter 5. Here they are:

Ephesians 1:7-10

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

9 [highlight]making known to us the mystery of his will,[/highlight] according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

10 as a plan for the fullness of time, [highlight]to unite all things in him,[/highlight] things in heaven and things on earth.

More unity. Here’s the next one.

Ephesians 3:1-12

1 For this reason [highlight]I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles[/highlight]

2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

3 [highlight]how the mystery was made known to me by revelation,[/highlight] as I have written briefly.

4 When you read this, [highlight]you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, [/highlight]

5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

6 [highlight]This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.[/highlight]

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.

8 [highlight]To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [/highlight]

9 [highlight]and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, [/highlight]

10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

What was the mystery? Verses six and eight spell it out: we are members of the same body, partakers of the unsearchable riches of Christ, and that Gentiles are fellow heirs,. The mystery is that the church is one with Christ. Oh look! That verse has body metaphor in there too. How did I miss that one?

Last one:

Colossians 1:24-27

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh[highlight] I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, [/highlight]

25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

26[highlight] the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.[/highlight]

27 [highlight]To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.[/highlight]

This one wraps up all the components we find in Ephesians 5: the church is Christ’s body (including the Gentiles) and Christ is in us. Again, the overriding image is one of unity.

And now, we get to my favorite verse in the whole passage: Ephesians 5:31. For years I couldn’t figure out why this verse was in here. If the whole point of this section were about how the husband was the head of his wife and how the wife’s duty was to obey what he asks unless he asks her to do something illegal or explicitly sinful, then why would verse 31 be in here? How is the one flesh mentioned in the verse 31 a picture of authority? Here is the passage from Genesis that Paul quotes:

Genesis 2:20b-25

20b but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him.

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh;

22 and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

If Paul is talking about unity, the inclusion of this reference makes sense. It’s in here because it is the perfect summation of what Paul is saying. When Eve was divided from Adam’s flesh, he lost part of himself. The marriage sacrament knits back together as one flesh the two pieces that were split, just like a head and body are two separate parts united in one flesh, and just like Christ and the church are united into one flesh through Christ’s death and resurrection which we commemorate with the sacrament of communion. This is the purpose of marriage. This is the point of the Ephesians 5 passage. This is the profound mystery.



Ephesians 5, Part 2: The Head and the Body

Ephesians 5, Part 2 - The Head and the Body | RachelShubin.com

I wish this were a stock photo instead of one I took of something I drive regularly.

When people suck out verses 22-24 from Ephesians 5:21-33, they tend to concentrate on the “head” part. In isolation, we apply our American idiom of head to the passage and see things like “CEO” or “head of state” which both imply ruling. When you look at those verses with the full passage, it looks less like that and far more like Paul is using pretty oblique language to say what he’s saying. He says the relationship between husbands and wives is like the relationship between Christ and the Church and both are like the relationship between the head… and the body. Let’s look at the text again.

Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)


21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

23 For the husband is the [highlight]head[/highlight] of the wife as Christ is the [highlight]head[/highlight] of the church, [highlight]his body[/highlight], of which he is the Savior.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

26 to make her holy, [highlight]cleansing her by the washing with water[/highlight] through the word,

27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, [highlight]without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish[/highlight], but holy and blameless.

28 In this same way, husbands ought to [highlight]love their wives as their own bodies.[/highlight] He who loves his wife loves himself.

29 After all, [highlight]no one ever hated their own body,[/highlight] but they [highlight]feed and care for their body,[/highlight] just as Christ does the church—

30 for [highlight]we are members of his body.[/highlight]

31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be [highlight]united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[/highlight]

32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The first thing that jumps out at me here is that Paul talks far more about how the wife is like the husband’s own body and all the things that he is supposed to do to care for her, his body, than it does about how the husband is like the wife’s own head. In fact, Paul spends three verses talking directly to wives and seven speaking directly to husbands. Most of the commentaries I’ve read seem to argue about the meaning of “head,” which is used twice here, and whether or not it means “authority” or “source.” Paul isn’t using “head” here as a secondary metaphor for authority or for source. Paul isn’t comparing a husband to a head which symbolizes authority. Otherwise verses 25-30 would have to be comparing the wife to a body as a symbol for submission, which I’ve never heard anyone claim. He’s comparing a marriage to an actual head (the husband) that is an integral part of an equally necessary body (the wife). Paul says specifically in verses Eph. 5:23&29&32 that this comparison between man & wife and Christ & the church somehow relates to how a head & body operate.

What the holy hand grenades does that mean? When I think of my own head and body, I tend to think of them as rather inextricably connected. I’d prefer to keep my body in good working order, thank you. My heart, lungs, bladder, spine, legs? Yes, I’d like those to all remain properly functional. That would be nice. At the same time, my head seems equally necessary to my body. I need it for food stuffs and vision and speech and hearing. Rather important too.

How about thought? That’s pretty important and comes from the head, right? Isn’t Paul implying that husbands should be doing the thinky bits? Well… not really.  While we now know that thinking comes from the brain, the anatomy information at the time was based on Aristotle who thought that the heart, not the head, controlled the mind. Paul adheres to this idea in several places like the ones below.

Rom. 1:21 …but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…

Rom. 2:15 …the law written in their hearts…

Rom. 10:9&10 …it is with your heart you believe…

I Cor. 2:9 …no heart has conceived God’s plans…

I Cor. 7:37 …he who has decided in his own hear…

Eph. 1:18 …may the eyes of your heart be enlightened to know…

Nowhere does he associate the mind with the head. So, he’s not talking about the husbands being the decision-makers either. All of this implies a profound unity since you can’t lop off the body without killing the head, and you can’t lop off the head without killing the body. That’s all grand when talking about a human body, but how does that work with Christ and the church? Surely Christ can survive without us (not so much in reverse though), right? Why would Paul use the body metaphor for Christ and the church? To answer this question, we need to look around and see if he uses body-related imagery in relation to Christ and the church anywhere else and see if it was more obvious what he was talking about there. Turns out, he does!

I Corinthians 12:15-27

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?

20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,

24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,

25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 [highlight]Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. [/highlight]

Did you catch that? We are Christ’s body. We are his hands and feet. We are one with and in Christ. While the subheadings in your Bible usually tag the Ephesians passage as being about submission in marriage, they almost always tag this section in I Corinthians as being about unity even though it shares very similar language.

Romans 12:3-7

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,

5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;

7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;

8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I couldn’t even figure out what to highlight on this passage without ending up highlighting the entire thing. First, verses 4 and 5 reiterate again that we form one body in Christ just like each component of our personal body combines to form one being. Same thought as the head & body idea in Ephesians 5. Second, verse 3 specifically speaks against hierarchical thinking. Then verses 6-8 go through multiple giftings that God blesses members of the body with – prophesy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy – and tells each member to do these things as grace is given to us.

Paul gives no indication that these giftings are given on any sort of gender or marital role basis. Nothing about wives can’t teach their husbands or women can’t lead or men shouldn’t encourage women or husbands can’t serve their wives. (Don’t get all excited; I’m sure some of those specifics will come up when I finally get around to writing about Timothy). The overriding impression from this passage is unity of the body of Christ with Christ, and language follows the same body-metaphor language as the Ephesians 5 passage.

And now, a really long one. Sorry.

Colossians 2:8-19

8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

9 [highlight]For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, [/highlight]

10 [highlight]and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. [/highlight]

11 [highlight]In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ;[/highlight]

12 [highlight]and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.[/highlight]

13 [highlight]And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [/highlight]

14 having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

15 He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath.

17 These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

18[highlight] Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,[/highlight]

19 [highlight]and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.[/highlight]

This passage seems even stronger than the last one. Here Paul says in verse 10 that we have come to fullness of life in Him with the strong implication that since He is the head of all rule and authority, we are joint heirs in this since we are part of him. Verse 11 makes us the heirs of his circumcision. Verse 12 buries us in baptism and raises us from the dead because we are one with Christ and He was raised from the dead. Verse 13 reiterates points out a second time that we are alive and forgiven because we are one with Christ, and He lives. Then verse 19 wraps up that we are Christ’s body and what happens when that bond between head and body begins to dissolve.

Again, this entire passage is a picture of our unity with Christ. Does Christ rule the church? Of course. But is that the aspect of the church’s relationship with Christ that Paul is trying to get across here through use of the head/body metaphor? It would seem not. One last point for now, and that is that this idea is reflected even in communion:

I Corinthians 10:16,17

16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

We are one body with Christ, and this is reflected in both of the sacraments we do in church today: baptism in Colossians 2:12 and communion in I Corinthians 10:16&17. When we see head/body language in relation to Christ and the church, what we are supposed to be reminded of and think of is oneness to the point where we are joined together as a unified whole. How does that work? Doesn’t that seem kind of mysterious? Oddly, going back to the Ephesians 5 passage, Paul even refers to exactly the same thing in Ephesians 5:32. What could he be talking about? Conveniently, he tells us elsewhere exactly what that mystery of Christ and the church is, and that will be the subject of the next post.