by Ella Corey
Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be addressing manhood and womanhood. I am writing this as an introduction/disclaimer: I am not nor do I claim to be a scholar or expert on this subject. There are many people who have studied this subject far more in depth than I, and thus have opinions with more Biblical and educational backing. I have no intentions of picking fights, though I want to raise the discussion that the role of men and women in the church may be different from what we are currently used to. I understand that this topic may be more sensitive to some of you, so this is my reminder that I believe that the Bible tells us to speak with love regardless of a difference in opinion.
With this being said, I would like to address a particular verse. This is a verse often used to justify oppression, abuse and sex slavery by, yes, even Christians. This is found in Ephesians 5:22, where Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Submit. To be honest, this is a verse I like to overlook. It causes a lot of controversy in the church and in communities. I’m a woman who wants a career before I want a family. I’m a woman who wants to go to school and get an education before I become someone’s wife. I am extremely opinionated, and really would hate to be considered someone’s object.
So, I’m trying to look at this passage honestly and with the right background information, starting with the historical context. At the time Ephesians 5 was written, there was a distinct culture that Paul was writing to. Then, the husband was the absolute head of the house and even had the power to order his wife, slave, or child’s death. As a wife, you were only owed a husband’s duty to provide children and a roof over your head; you were an object of your husband and received no love or respect.
Now, let’s look at the context in relation to the rest of the chapter. Taking it back a just one verse, the word ‘submit’ is actually used in verse 21, when we are told to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are all called to submit to one another, male or female, husband or wife, friend or enemy. In our modern Bibles, these subjects are split with a paragraph break and a title bolded “Wives and Husbands.” However, when this was originally written, there wasn’t even a period separating the two. Paul wrote this as one continuous thought. Submit to one another, for example, wives to your husbands. Also, I would like to note that it does not command for women to submit to all men, this is strictly in a marital context.
Okay, so clearly it’s important for us all to submit. But what does ‘submit’ mean? Pastor Mike Erre elaborates on this in a sermon on Ephesians 5, “The word ‘submit’ does not mean be a doormat, don’t have an opinion, let someone else do whatever they want to you. The word ‘submit’ simply means to place in an orderly way, your interests under the interests of somebody else.” Again, going back to the history of the passage, at this time wives were supposed to submit everything to their husbands and the men owed them nothing. However, this is followed by something that did not align with society: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Anyone reading this passage at the time would be mind blown. Women were owed nothing at this point, but Paul is saying that Jesus came to change that.
This poises a touchy word that for a long time the church has been against: Feminism. Laura Turner, author for Christianity Today labels this the “Christian F-word.” It is acceptable to believe that women can vote and get a job, but there is no way you can be a Christian and feminist. Right? Wrong. In her speech on faith and feminism, Sarah Schwartz says, “using my voice to advocate for women is part of God’s call on my life, a necessary outflow of my discipleship to Jesus of Nazareth as I work to obey him and participate with him in bringing his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven; A kingdom where the last are first, where the oppressed and the marginalized and the voiceless find a place to call their home.” Feminism is not man hating, it is not saying that gender does not exist; it is loving each other as equals, and it is not allowing people to justify sexual violence in terms of the word “submit.”