Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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Ephesians 5:21-22

I’ve heard some Christians state that submission is always to a person in authority, and so, in reality, there is no such thing as mutual submission. Wayne Grudem is one of these Christians.[1] He states that mutual submission is a myth. He believes that submission “is always one-directional”, always to an authority, and “it is never ‘mutual’ in its force.” He believes this so strongly that he has written at least three pieces with the title of “The Myth of Mutual Submission”.[2] This post is a response to his article, which was published in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1.4 (October 1996), and is available here, or as a pdf here: Grudem: The Myth of Mutual Submission.

There are many statements in Grudem’s article with which I disagree, and so, to avoid tedious reading, I’ve noted my main objections in point form, with additional information in the footnotes and in linked articles. But first, here is the New Testament verse under consideration:

“Submit (or, submitting) to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesians 5:21

~ Wayne Grudem opens his article by suggesting that Christian egalitarians (Christians who believe in mutual submission) try to avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22 by looking at the previous verse, verse 21.
Rather than avoiding the force, reading the other verses in the surrounding passage, including verse 21, elucidates the force and meaning of Ephesians 5:22.[3]

~ Grudem writes, “I think that the whole idea of ‘mutual submission’ as an interpretation of ‘be subject to one another’ in Ephesians 5:21 is a terribly mistaken idea.” He goes on to say that mutual submission “can be advocated only by failing to appreciate the precise meanings of the Greek words for ‘be subject to’ and ‘one another’.”[4]

The Greek word for submission hypotassō is used in Ancient Greek literature with a range of meanings. So I wonder how Grudem can be certain that his “precise meaning” is the correct one. Even Grudem admits that “the exact form submission takes, the way it works out in practice, will vary greatly as it applies to soldiers,[5] to children[6], to servants, to the church, and to wives.”

~ Grudem tries to show that mutuality cannot be part of a relationship where one person, or one party, submits to another, and, to prove his point, he lists some examples where “submit” is used in the New Testament. His observation from these examples is that “Husbands are never told to be subject (hypotassō) to wives, nor the government to citizens, nor masters to servants, nor the disciples to demons. Clearly parents are never told to be subject to their children!”

The five examples that Grudem gives here actually demonstrate, to some extent, the breadth of usage of the word “submit.” However, apart from the example of the disciples and demons, considerate husbands, governments, masters, and parents do submit to their wives, citizens, slaves, and children, even if they do so only occasionally.[7] Furthermore, “submit” is used in many other contexts in the New Testament, other than the ones Grudem supplies in his article. The meanings of “submit” and “submission” are not as cut and dried as Grudem indicates.

Moreover, in two New Testament verses, the quality or temperament of being submissive is given as a virtue for women without there being a clear indication that the submissiveness is directed to someone with authority (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:11). Similarly, the cognate (or, related) antonym (anupotaktos) is used for the quality or temperament of being rebellious without an indication that the rebellion is directed to someone with authority. The KJV translates this antonym as “unruly” in Titus 1:6 & 10. The NIV translates it as “wild” (Titus 1:6) and “rebellious” (Titus 1:10). The demeanour of being submissive and its opposite, of being rebellious, can have nothing to do with authority, but with certain expectations of behaviour in society.

~ Commenting on Ephesians 5:21, Grudem says that our submission “to one another” has limits.
I agree with him on this.[8] Submission to one another is a general principle and, as such, there may be occasions when it is inappropriate to submit to another believer. Grudem thinks the interpretation of verse 21 should be, “be subject ‘some to others’, not ‘everyone to everyone’.” (I’ve written about this “some to others” idea on my Patreon page here.) Yet this is not what the verse says in Greek, and it is not how English versions translate it: the principle of mutual submission in verse 21 remains. It is up to us to use wisdom and even plain common sense in how we apply this verse. Wives should also use wisdom when submitting to their husbands. Even Grudem would acknowledge that wifely submission has limits.

~ Grudem, writing hypothetically, states that “The command that a husband should be subject to his wife would have been startling in an ancient male-dominated culture.”
Grudem is correct here. Women in the Greco-Roman world were used to being told to be subject to their husbands, this was nothing new even if the word Paul and Peter uses, hypotassō, was rarely used in the context of marriage.  But if men were told to be submissive to their wives this could have caused offence and confusion.[9] I suspect that today the concept of being submissive to wives offends and confuses some Christian men.

Paul and Peter do instruct husbands to be submissive to their wives, however; but they use different language (e.g., Eph. 5:25; 1 Pet. 3:7; cf. Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 KJV). The concept of husbands submitting to wives was revolutionary for the Christians who lived in Greco-Roman society where the inferiority of women was a deeply-rooted belief. So Paul and Peter use nobler language to urge husbands to yield and give themselves up for the well being of their wives. Laying down one’s privileges and one’s life for the sake of another person might be considered an act of submission. This is what Jesus Christ has done for his beloved church, and this is what he calls husbands to do for their wives. Moreover, Christ’s example of humility, servanthood, and sacrificial love are an example for all believers, male and female, married or single, to follow (Eph. 5:1–2).

~ Grudem believes that “a wife’s attitude of submission to her husband’s authority will be reflected in numerous words and actions each day which reflect deference to his leadership”. (Underline added.)
“Deference” is a fine synonym for “submission”. I believe that submission—which encompasses deference, cooperation, loyalty, and humility—should be in all our relationships with believers. However, because of the unique union and bond of the marriage relationship, wives and husbands owe each other a greater degree of deference, loyalty and consideration. But a wife’s deference has little to do with authority. Despite what the church has taught for centuries, neither the New Testament or Hebrew Bible teaches that God wants husbands to be the leaders or authorities of their wives.[10]

~ Grudem writes “Although some have claimed that the word [submit] can mean ‘be thoughtful and considerate; act in love’ (toward another), there is no hard evidence to show that any first-century Greek speaker would have understood it that way, for the term always implies a relationship of submission to an authority.” (Underline added.)
Here is some hard evidence from a first-century Greek speaker, the author of First Clement, where submission does not imply submission to an authority.

“Let us take the body as an example. The head without the feet is nothing, likewise, the feet without the head are nothing. Even the smallest parts of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body, yet all the members coalesce harmoniously and unite in mutual subjection, so that the whole body may be saved. So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each of us be mutually subject to our neighbour, in proportion to each one’s spiritual gift.” 1 Clement 37:5–38:1. [There’s more hard evidence in footnote 11 and here.]

~ In his closing paragraph Grudem states “If hypotassō can be emptied of any idea of submission to authority, the New Testament’s ability to speak to our lives will be significantly impeded.”
I am certainly not saying that submission never speaks about submitting to authority. In some New Testament verses where hypotassō occurs, the context is clearly about submitting to authority. It seems to me, however, that too many Christians have an unhealthy obsession with who has authority and who doesn’t, and they have allocated authority and power in ways that are foreign to Jesus’ teachings on leadership and community. Also, it is important to note that there are degrees of authority and there are degrees of submission.

~ Grudem ends his article with “This egalitarian misunderstanding of Ephesians 5:21 carries with it a very large price.”
Mutual submission is neither an egalitarian concept nor a misunderstanding. Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp did not identify as egalitarians but they encouraged mutual submission among believers. [See footnote 11.] And several Greek manuscripts of 1 Peter 5:5 include a phrase about mutual submission; this is reflected in a few English translations such as the King James Bible. (See 1 Peter 5:5 NKJV.) Furthermore, I cannot see that mutual submission has negative repercussions in church life or in marriage. I do not believe that Grudem’s concern about a “very large price” is valid. Conversely, the negative results of a patriarchy that insists on the unilateral submission of wives to their husbands are all too evident. I believe it is Wayne Grudem who misunderstands Ephesians 5:21 and the concept of mutual submission. Mutual submission is not a myth. Rather, it is an ideal dynamic in relationships between members of the body of Christ, and between wives and husbands.

Q. Why is Wayne Grudem so keen to prove that mutual submission is a myth?
A. Because he realises, and acknowledges, that if verse 21 genuinely refers to mutual submission, one to another, this may influence the meaning of verse 22 which is about submission from wives.


[1] Dr Wayne Grudem is a theologian, seminary professor, and the author of a best-selling book on systematic theology.

[2] In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a book co-edited with John Piper, Grudem has written a chapter entitled “The Myth of Mutual Submission as an Interpretation of Ephesians 5:21.” In this chapter, which is an expanded version of the article I critique here, Grudem admits to a form of mutual submission and writes, “If mutual submission means being considerate of one another, and caring for one another’s needs, and being thoughtful of one another, and sacrificing for one another, then of course I would agree that mutual submission is a good thing.” (p. 223) Grudem goes on to say, that egalitarians have a different definition of mutual submission. But his definition of mutual submission sounds just like mine, and I am an egalitarian. Importantly, however, Grudem does not believe that this form of mutual submission is what is being spoken of in Eph. 5:21.

[3] All Bible readers should look at the surrounding verses to help make sense of verse 22. Verses 18–21, about spirit-filled worship and living, is one long sentence in the Greek, with verse 22 following on, and borrowing language, from the preceding verses. The instruction in verse 22 follows a string of directives that begins with “Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). The main verb for the passage is in verse 18b “be filled.” In verses 19 and onwards, participles continue to convey verbal ideas with “be filled” being the overarching idea. The participles in Ephesians 5:19–21 are: “speaking . . . singing and making music . . . giving thanks . . . being submissive (or submitting yourselves) . . .” and they borrow an imperatival sense from the main (imperative) verb “be filled.” Paul is telling the Ephesians what to do.
I believe verse 22 is a new sentence: it begins in a similar way, grammatically, as verse 25 where Paul starts addressing husbands. Even though verse 22 is a new sentence, it borrows the meaning of the participle “being submissive/submitting yourselves” from verse 21. (There is no verb or participle that means “submit” in a few of the oldest manuscripts that contain Ephesians 5:22; the sense carries over from verse 21.) (I’ve written about the Greek grammar in Ephesians 5:21–22 here.)
Note also that husbands are never told to be the authorities or leaders of their wives in Ephesians 5:25ff. Moreover, Paul uses the word “love” six times in these verses. Six times! (Eph. 5:25 X2, 5:28 X3, 5:33 X1).

[4] Allēlois (lexical form: allēlōn) is a reciprocal pronoun. LSJ (1996:69) give the definition of this word in the genitive, dative, and accusative cases as “of one another, to one another, one another; hence, mutually, reciprocally.” (Allēlois also occurs in 1 Peter 5:5 in the context of submission and humility. See 1 Peter 5:5 NKJV.)
I’ve written more about this pronoun on my Patreon page here.

[5] The military relationship between a superior and a lower-ranking soldier should not be taken as a model for relationships among believers or for Christian marriage. The New Testament authors eschew the idea of rank, status, and social hierarchy in the church, and the Bible does not speak about husbands and wives as being of different ranks, or of one being superior to the other.
In one lexicon, a distinction is made between the military usage and non-military usage of hypotassō: “A Greek military term meaning ‘to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader’. In non-military use, it was ‘a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.'” (Source)

[6] Children are never instructed to submit (hypotassō) to their parents in the New Testament; they are instructed to obey (hypakouō) their parents, both their mother and their father. Despite the fact that neither parents nor children are connected with any New Testament instruction for submission, Grudem uses them as examples a few times in his article. Note that the children mentioned in the New Testament “household codes” are primarily adult children.

[7] While parents are not instructed in the Bible to submit to their children, all good parents wisely and willingly submit to their children’s requests at times (Luke 11:11–13). [See previous footnote.]

[8] Our submission to the government is not without limits. There are enough examples of civil disobedience in the Bible by godly people to illustrate that submission to the government has limits (e.g., Exod. 1:17). Moreover, a democratic government (as opposed to the Roman government in NT times) has an obligation to genuinely represent and serve the very people they are governing. A government that is acting democratically is a government by the people, for the people, and should be deferring to the wishes and needs of the people. The Bible shows us that submitting to legitimate religious authority even has limits (e.g., Acts 4:19).

The submission of wives to their own husbands also has limits. Rebekah went against her husband’s wishes when she secured the birthright for Jacob instead of Esau, and there is no hint of censure against her in the Bible. Abigail went against her husband’s wishes when she peacefully and diplomatically intervened between two hot-headed men, and she is commended for it. Jael also seems to gave gone against her husband’s wishes and is praised. Her husband Heber had made a covenant with the Jabin king of Hazor, a Canaanite (Judg. 4:17), but Jael sided with Israel and killed Jabin’s general Sisera. We are to use wisdom and common sense when implementing any biblical directive.

[9] Note that no Old Testament author or Jesus tells wives to submit to their husbands. It is mentioned only in some of the later letters written to Christians living in places dominated by Greco-Roman culture (Eph. 5:22–24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1–6)

[10] There is simply no verse in the Bible where husbands are told they are to be the rulers or authorities of their wives. In Ephesians 5:23, where Paul is addressing wives, he says that the husband is the kephalē (“head”) of his wife. I have written about kephalē in several articles on this website.

[11] In First Clement, a letter perhaps written at the end of the first century, the Corinthians are commended: “Moreover, you were all humble and free from arrogance, submitting rather than demanding submission, more glad to give than to receive . . .” (1 Clement 2:1). Later in the letter, the Corinthians are urged to submit to their neighbour. Michael Holmes translates the pertinent phrase as, “let each of us be mutually subject to our neighbor” (1 Clement 38:1).
In around 110, Ignatius wrote a sentence that includes an instruction for submission to someone in authority as well as an instruction for mutual submission: “Submit to the bishop and to one another” (Ign.Mag. 13:2). “To one another” (allēlois) in Magnesians 13:2 is identical to the word in Ephesians 5:21. [See footnote 4]
Polycarp wrote to the Philippians, “All of you be subject to one another . . .” (Pol.Phil 10:2)
While Ignatius (bishop of the church at Antioch) and Polycarp (bishop of the church at Smyrna) wrote in the second century and not the first, they clearly did not regard mutual submission as a myth. Instead, like Paul and the author of First Clement, they saw mutual submission as being vital for harmony and unity in the church (cf. 1 Peter 5:5 NKJV).
(The quotations from 1 Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp are taken from The Apostolic Fathers, The Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition) edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).)
Furthermore, John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the late 300 and a native speaker of Greek, understood Ephesians 5:21 to be about mutual, reciprocal submission and service, and he uses the master/slave relationship to explain it.

Let there be an interchange of service and submission. For then will there be no such thing as slavish service. Let not one sit down in the rank of a freeman, and the other in the rank of a slave; rather it were better that both masters and slaves be servants to one another;—far better to be a slave in this way than free in any other. Homily 19 on Ephesians (Source: New Advent)

More on these early Christian texts that mention mutual submission, here.

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My article, Does Ephesians 5:21 teach mutual submission? which looks at more complementarian arguments against mutual submission, is on my Patreon page here.
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Screenshot from Bible Gateway.com
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Explore more

Mutual Submission in Early Christian Texts
Mutual Submission in Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 5:5
The Household Codes are about Power, not Gender
Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7–8
Mutual Submission in First Clement 
The Priority of Wifely Submission vs Mutual Submission
My articles on kephalē (“head”) are here.
Double Standards in the Promotion & Practice of Submission
Fear or Respect in Christian Marriage (Ephesians 5:33)?
The Greek Grammar of Ephesians 5:21–22
Gender in Genesis 1
Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our differences or our similarities?
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

20 thoughts on “Mutual Submission is not a Myth

  1. It is very important to not rip some text from its immediate context. The entire teaching unit (pericope, in technical terms) is Eph 5:15-6:9. This is an example where the chapter divisions can be unhelpful.

    Eph 5:22 begin the household codes with 6 examples from a 1st century household, but these are introduced in the context of walking in the Spirit with 4 examples. The 4 examples are in a chiasm with the outer 2 being among the members of the body of Christ and the inner 2 being from believers to God. Just as speaking or singing to one another with psalms and hymns is a mutual activity, so is submitting a mutual activity; Paul is giving us a hint on his intentions for those that see the structure.

    Also, Eph 5:22ff is a 1st century application of the Kingdom principle of mutual submission, we know this as today in the West we do not have slaves. As the slavery verses were so misused by slaveowners, we need to be extra careful in our interpretation of this passage, and Grudem fails the test.

  2. Grudem doesn’t like how he is asked to submit to others, because of his own definition of the word. Submit is always to authority.

    He looks to himself as authority, and having to be asked to step down off that ‘role’ is completely baffling to him. Sadly, he doesn’t look to others in the bible that were in ‘authority’ for his example. Take the example of the Zacchaeus that felt so convicted of his own behavior towards others that he gave back 4x the amount he took for them.

    Grudem might say he never stole, or short changed others as Zacchaeus did. He will miss the point.

    Zacchaeus was able to do what he did because of his power and authority…and other’s must submit to him as the tax collector. No doubt before Zacchaeus humbled himself once convicted his new ‘role’ would have been baffling to him as well prior to being convicted. I mean WHY would he submit to anyone when they know they must submit to him?

    I will never understand WHY he doesn’t see his definition of submission as some power perch. His teachings, attitude, and how he wishes others to live it out is just that. He can only view submission from his position of the power perch, and how others are to submit to him…being the authority, and royal teacher of the ‘biblical’ ways.

    Jesus doesn’t ask us to serve others from our power perch, because we as humans couldn’t do this with the proper attitude that is also called for. We couldn’t possibly look to others better than ourselves upon that power perch. No, it wouldn’t have a ‘force’ that he sees when others have to submit to him.

    God never asks others to grab on to it (authority, position, force, leadership, headship, etc), hold tightly, and not let go of their ‘top dude in charge’ status right? His authority and force is his service to others. Yet, Jesus said the opposite:

    45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

  3. Thanks Don. Good information. It seems so odd for someone of Grudem’s stature to want to interpret a verse in isolation of the text.

    Hannah, I believe that Grudem is softening his stance. It seems to me that his view doesn’t reflect the teachings or heart of Jesus. I hope all of us are open to learn and grow and become more like our Saviour.

  4. Footnote 9 was especially interesting. *thumbsup*

    I concur that 5:21 must necessarily be considered when interpreting the household codes. However, a recent realization of which I am becoming increasingly convinced is that we should also backtrack the “therefore” and “so” statements. That gives the distinct impression that the “unity” and “mutuality” teachings of Chapter 4, while not “part of” the pericope in ch.5-6, nevertheless lay some interpretive groundwork.

  5. Thanks for the thumbsup, NorrinRadd.

    I agree about tracking back. The immediate context is very important. In fact the whole letter, and even the whole canon of scripture, should inform our interpretation of any single verse in the Bible.

  6. Thank you! This was a relief to read. As a woman, I am baffled how two verses in the Bible are so frequently used to exclude, diminish and devalue women. I frequently feel unsafe in the church because of this. But God’s love and His urging to submit one to another in love is something I am convinced of, because I’ve experienced it. It’s freeing, life giving, safe and loving. Not to mention compelling and a love that you want to be around.

  7. Noting that while I’ve often heard people argue that husbands are never instructed to submit to wives, Eph. 5:21 specifically instructs this.

    This can’t be avoided as Paul, after Eph. 5:21, goes directly into how mutual submission between believers is to work *within marriage* in his highly stratified patriarchal culture. The word “submission,” if my study is correct, does not even appear in Eph. 5:22 in the original language. It appears in Eph. 5:22 only because it is carried over from verse 21 as a natural continuation of Paul’s statement on mutual submission.

    1. Yes, the instructions to wives and to husbands are prefaced by an appeal to everyone to love as Christ loved (Eph. 5:1-2) and to be submissive (Eph. 5:21). So, even though wives are singled out to be submissive and husbands are singled out to be loving later in chapter 5, neither wives nor husbands are exempt from being loving and submissive to their spouse.

  8. Hi Marg,

    Great article in explaining the meaning of the Greek words. After I read your words: “It seems to me, however, that too many Christians have an unhealthy obsession with who has authority and who doesn’t, and they have allocated authority and power in ways that are foreign to Jesus’ teachings on leadership and community. ”

    Immediately the scripture that comes to mind is Luke 9:46-48, where the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest. Again in Luke 22:24-27 when Jesus was troubled and grieved over one who would betray Him the disciples seemed indifferent to how He felt; instead they started up again disputing over who was the greatest! Jesus had to get up and demonstrate what being the greatest meant with a visual – washing their feet.

    To me what Grudem’s article and view of Ephesians is no different than modern day (complementarian male) disciples of Christ arguing once again, who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Though the words relate to relationships between men and women and husbands and wives’ “roles”: “I am the husband, I have authority over the wife! She is subject to me not me to her, she does the submitting and serving, there is no mutual submission in my marriage…my role is greater, more significant…” and on and on.

    Interestingly how just like the disciples were more concerned about whose right in their dispute at the Last Supper than paying attention to the significance of the event nor paying attention to the great sorrow our Lord was feeling at that moment…this reminds me of how it’s not unlike how some women (in some complementarian marriages) feel their husbands’ indifferent attitude towards their feelings.

    After 21 centuries disciples of Christ are still bickering over who’s the greatest. How it must pain God to see men like Grudem, and probably a majority of complementarian preachers/teachers, not choosing to grow up and mature in Christ Jesus. How? By refusing to learn the basic elementary foundations of our faith, they are not a workman who can rightly divide the Word of truth, (as you aptly did) nor do they submit to or subject themselves to Jesus’ teaching on what He said about being the greatest in His Kingdom.

    I also think complementarian preachers and teachers who continually incorrectly teach Ephesians 5:21-24 (and other scriptures) have, in my mind, made another idol out of the greater idol – patriarchy. I pray for these preachers that God shows them their error and grant them grace and they repent.


    1. Hi Donna,

      “After 21 centuries, disciples of Christ are still bickering over who’s the greatest.” Pretty much.

      It seems a lot of Christians continue to overlook Jesus’ teaching on leadership and community. I’ve written about it here: https://margmowczko.com/jesus-teaching-on-leadership-and-community-in-matthews-gospel/

  9. Thanks so much for your article. While in seminary I had to use Grudem’s Systematic Theology text and I took issue with a few of his interpretations. I have my own thoughts about his views but I believe we have to begin our studies from the Genesis of who we are in the Lord.

    Nonetheless, your article is refreshing.

    1. I agree about Genesis. Genesis 1 and 2 have wonderful things to say about men and women. In Genesis 1:26-28 we are told that men and women have the same status (as God’s image-bearers), the same authority, and the same purpose. I’ve written many articles about Genesis 1-3 here.

      1. Hi Marg, Absolutely love your work. Thank you! I just wanted to let you know that the link to Grudem’s Gordon Fee response is no longer working.

        1. Thanks, Angela. I clicked on two links, one in the opening paragraph and one in footnote 2. It seems CBMW have taken down the second article. I’ll remove the link when I have a few spare moments.

  10. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    ― Upton Sinclair,

    I see this as the situation with Grudem. He has made money being a teacher and by selling books that teach patriarchy as Biblical. He simply HAS to find a way to discredit the meaning of the teaching of mutual submission in the Kingdom of God as found in Eph 5-6. I find his argument Orwellian. Anyone that is willing to seemingly deliberately misunderstand on such a deep level means he loses all credibility with me, I simply do not have any confidence that anything he claims is correct (even when it might be correct) after making such a blunder and not repenting. I do not seek out anything he writes but may stumble across it in my studies.

    1. Oh dear. There’s a lot of truth in that quotation. For what it’s worth, though, I think Wayne Grudem is genuine, but he is wrong.

  11. Hi Marg, thank you for the article, your other arguments for mutual submission in marriage are also very logical and I appreciate your work towards it very much. I only have one reservation about Ephesians 5:22 – it says “as to the Lord” when speaking of wifely submission. I see this as saying to submit in the same way you do to the Lord – how does this fit into the narrative of mutual submission? Thank you, and God bless.

    1. Hi Jack, Paul framed the submission of wives and the obedience of children and slaves in Christian terms. For example, “Christ,” or the “Lord,” is referenced in Ephesians 5:22–24 (cf. 5:21), Eph. 6:1–2, 5–8, and in Colossians 3:18, 20, 22–24.

      Perhaps Paul framed the codes as service to the Lord Jesus to make the household hierarchies feel more honourable and therefore more bearable for Jesus-followers, among whom there should be, ideally, no hierarchies or castes.

      In 1 Peter 3, Peter brings in the example of “holy women of old” and Sarah to make wifely submission seem more honourable and more palatable. But these wives were mostly married to non-Christians where as the instructions in Ephesians 5 seem to presupposed Christian marriages.

      In Colossians 3:18, Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands “as is fitting in the Lord.” Perhaps this sense of appropriateness “in the Lord” is implicit in Ephesians 5:22 also.

      Colossians 3:18: Αἱ γυναῖκες, ὑποτάσσεσθε τοῖς ἀνδράσιν, ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν Κυρίῳ.
      Ephesians 5:22: Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ Κυρίῳ

      The (dative) article τῷ which occurs in Ephesians 5:22 can be translated in different ways. It doesn’t necessarily mean “to the.” The dative article can mean “for/ in/ with/ by the,” etc. See Mark 5:29, for example. Or Mark 8:12 where τῷ may also have the sense of “in the.”

      I’ve written about the phrase “as is fitting in the Lord” here:

      In Ephesians 5:24, however, the straightforward meaning is that wives are to copy the example of the church submitting to Christ (which history has shown to be a low bar, but this was not Paul’s intention) and they are to submit to their husbands in everything.

      I’ve written about the phrase “in everything” here.

      Paul’s words to wives in Ephesians 5:22-24 don’t sound like mutual submission until we start reading what Paul says to husbands.

      Paul doesn’t use the word “submit” in his instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5:25ff, but what they are asked to do, especially the “giving himself up” bit, could be regarded as an expression of “submission.”

      I think all these verses describe expressions of Christian submission even though the word “submit” isn’t used in most of them.

      ~ In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3b-4

      ~ Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.Romans 12:10

      ~ Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:24

      ~ Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

      ~ As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Colossians 3:12

      ~ … Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5 NKJV

      Husbands had a higher status than wives in most first-century marriages in Ephesus. Paul instructions to husbands, which involved expressions of submission, seem to have been designed to balance the status of husbands and wives, and this would have promoted genuine unity.

      I’ve written about what Paul wanted from the Ephesian husbands here:

  12. […] Wayne Grudem, among others, has made the statement that submission is always to a person in authority. Furthermore, he doesn’t believe submission can be mutual or reciprocal despite what it says in Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 5:5 NKJV. Grudem even refers to mutual submission as a myth. I’ve written about his thoughts on mutual submission before, here, and mentioned most of the following information in a footnote, but I thought this topic needed to be highlighted in its own blog post. […]

  13. […] Mutual Submission is not a Myth […]

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