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18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,... 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
-Ephesians 5:18,21

Submitting to one another is often interpreted as meaning Christians are submitting to each other mutually. Is this the right read that Paul had in mind?

This interpretation seems to undo the significance of the following verse.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
-Ephesians 5:22-24

Does Ephesians 5:21 mean that when Ephesians 5:22 teaches that wives should submit to their husbands we are to understand that husbands are also commanded to submit to their wives?

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    This is a roundabout way of making Paul's words meaningless, for the sake of modern ways of thinking. It may well be unpopular that Paul requires wives to submit to husbands, nevertheless that is what he actually requires in the church, and for good reason, as is stated. That all submit (as appropriate) does not alter the other. Else you would wish aged elders to submit to the whims of a newly converted convert, I suppose.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 28 at 13:10

4 Answers 4

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Does Ephesians 5:21 mean that when Ephesians 5:22 teaches that wives should submit to their husbands we are to understand that husbands are also commanded to submit to their wives?

The short answer: Yes.

Ephesians 5:21 states, "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." This verse, as you said, is advocating for mutual submission among Christians. Meaning, all believers are called to humility and servanthood.

  • But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12 NKJV)

This is the great Christian ethic.

When Ephesians 5:22-24 instructs wives to submit to their husbands, this does not nullify the principle of mutual submission expressed in Ephesians 5:21.

The submission described in Ephesians 5:22-24 pertains specifically to the marital relationship. Not all relationships within the Christian community like Ephesians 5:21. Therefore, they refer to two different types of submission.

I think RENEW put it well:

both men and women were created by God to equally reflect, in gendered ways, the nature and character of God in the world. In marriage, husbands and wives are to submit to one another, yet there are gender specific expressions: husbands model themselves in relationship with their wives after Jesus’ sacrificial love for the church and wives model themselves in relationship with their husbands after the church’s willingness to follow Jesus.

Conclusion: Ephesians 5:21 is a call to humility among believers including husband and wife. Ephesians 5:22-24 does not issue an explicit command for husbands to submit to their wives. Rather, it outlines a hierarchical framework for marriage, positioning the husband as the head of the household in a manner similar to Christ's role as the head of the church.

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    + 1... although I'd say the answer is simply "yes." Mar 28 at 14:03
  • I would doubt whether marital relationship do not consider as a governing behavior within the church. Additionally, please delve into Paul's perspective in 1 Cor 14:34-35 on women (wives) within the church. Why did he advocate for their silence during the church gatherings while simultaneously encouraging them to engage with their husbands at home? So if both husband and wife are present in church, does it imply that the wife should remain silent and let the husband to speak? Please note that my comment pertains to the biblical context, not my own attitude. Mar 28 at 14:21
  • @VincentWong see this question. I may not completely follow what you said... Genesis 3:16 says: To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.
    – Jason_
    Mar 30 at 7:47
  • @VincentWong This is my general view, I quote Both men and women were created by God to equally reflect, in gendered ways, the nature and character of God in the world. In marriage, husbands and wives are to submit to one another, yet there are gender specific expressions: husbands model themselves in relationship with their wives after Jesus’ sacrificial love for the church and wives model themselves in relationship with their husbands after the church’s willingness to follow Jesus.
    – Jason_
    Mar 30 at 7:58
  • @VincentWong As for women being silent, this questions and answer does a good job presenting the possibilities. Personally, I don't know the answer and I think I will have to ask Paul when I get to heaven.
    – Jason_
    Mar 30 at 8:03
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The principle stated in Eph 5:21 is so important, it is repeated several times:

  • Eph 5:21 - Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
  • Rom 12:10 - Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another.
  • 1 Peter 3:7 - Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as a delicate vessel, and with honor as fellow heirs of the gracious gift of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

Then the NT writers provide specific examples of this general principle:

  • submit to the civil governing authorities, Rom 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17
  • wives should submit to husbands, Col 3:18, Eph 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1, 5
  • husbands should not be harsh with wives, Col 3:19, Eph 6:25-27, but love them as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, see also V28-30
  • children should obey parents, Col 3:20, Eph 6:1-3
  • fathers should not provoke children or be harsh, Col 3:21, Eph 6:4
  • slaves should obey masters, Col 3:22, Eph 6:5-8, Titus 2:9, 1 Peter 2:18
  • masters should not be harsh with slaves, Eph 6:9

Thus, husbands and wives must have mutual respect with the husband providing protection and security to the extent that Christ did for the church (Eph 5:25).

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The answer is simply yes. Once a couple unites in love centered on God they are to submit mutually to one another. Once this mutual submission is achieved, they are "one flesh" and "in Christ there is neither male nor female." (Galatians 3:28) Commandments that indicate the husband's lordship or headship over the wife are given as a guideline for situations where the above ideal is not present.

In the analogy of the relationship between Christ and the church, God does not want humans to act as submissive servants but to respond actively and creatively in love. Humans may even initiate at times, rather than waiting passively for God's guidance. Similarly, although a husband usually tends to lead, the woman will often initiate, in which case the husband will follow. Also, the two partners naturally take responsibility in different areas of the marriage, such as bread-winning, household management, cooking, upkeep, various aspects of educating children.

The more God is present, the more "mutual" the submission. Indeed, just as in Christ there is neither slave nor free, a marriage in which God is fully present will transcend the idea of "headship" and slavish submission altogether.

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When God created the world, He established simultaneous orders of relationship that are foundational to understanding His divine plan:

  1. The order of Love: Father loves Jesus (John 3:35), Jesus loves for humanity (John 3:16) and within humanity, this love manifests in the sacrificial love of husbands for their wives (Ephesians 5:25,28; Colossians 3:19).
  2. The order of Submission: Wives are called to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:24,33; Colossians 3:18), then humanity is instructed to submit their obedience to Jesus (1 Peter 1:2, or God James 4:7), and Jesus submits to the Father as demonstrated in Luke 22:42.

It is important to understand that submission within this divine order does not imply blind obedience. True submission is rooted in faith, love and sacrifice. It echoes the very essence of love, which is exemplified in Jesus's ultimate sacrifice for humanity.

While in God's design, submission is a pure expression of faith and love, our human experience find distortion with elements of hate and fear. This distortion arises from the misuse of power by those in authority, leading to submission devoid of love.

Jesus's teaching in Matthew 26-28 underscore a profound truth: greatness in the eyes of God is not achieved through exerting power but through humble service. He exemplified this by washing His disciples' feet in John 13, teaching them the essence of true leadership and service.

The term "Submission" within the divine order signifies more than mere obedience; it encompasses the virtues of faith, love and sacrifice. Therefore, when a husband honors his wife's request out of love and care, it transcends mere submission, as his actions are rooted in the attributes of true love and devotion.

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