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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

head and submission poll results - post #2

This post continues from my first post, discussing the results of the head and submission poll results.

At the time of the first post, 215 respondents (by today it is 221) stated they believed that the Bible explicitly teaches that "A man should submit to his wife." I think as most Bible readers know or can discover, there is no statement in any English Bible version which explicitly has this statement as it is worded in the poll. However, Eph. 5:21 clearly teaches that added to the Greek imperative commands of the preceding verses is the teaching that those addressed are to be: "submitting [Greek participle] to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Those addressed in the letter to the Ephesians are, in the first place, believers in Ephesus. There is no indication that the teaching of mutual submission, however, is limited just to the church in Ephesus. I think most biblical scholars would recognize that a general principle is being taught which applies to bodies of believers everywhere.

There is some exegetical debate over whether Paul's instruction in Eph. 5:21 is addressed to the relationship between every believer in the church to every other believer. Some exegetes do not believe that the scope of the Greek reciprocal pronoun allelois is 5:21 is that of every believer to every other believer. We have had some discussion about this, I believe, in comments on a previous post a few months ago. I happen to hold to the position that allelois is talking about how any believer should relate to any other believer.

Some people believe that individuals to whom the instruction in 5:21 is given are limited to those groups which are specifically told to submit following 5:21. In other words, the categories of people who are to submit would be wives to husbands (5:22, 24), and the church to Christ (5:24). If we include those who are told to "obey", which seems reasonable to me, then children to parents (Eph. 6:1) would be another group which is to submit, as well as slaves to masters (6:5).

I mentioned earlier in this post that I take the position that Eph. 5:21 does speak about mutual submission. This has been a topic which has been strenuously debated in recent years, especially in the context of the marriage relationship. Egalitarians believe that the Bible teaches that husbands and wives should mutually submit to each other. This would mean that a husband would submit to his wife and and wife would submit to her husband. To some people, this may seem like a logical contradiction. They might view submission as only able to exist in a hierarchical relationship, such as that of an employer to employee. Complementarians, as far as I know, believe that only wives should submit to their husbands. They, like evangelical egalitarians, take scripture as their final authority, so they also believe that husbands are to lovingly sacrifice for their wives.

As I have thought on these matters, I have come to believe that mutual submission can be at the heart of our human relationships. Jesus is our Lord Christ, to whom we in the church submit. Yet Jesus himself showed his disciples what servant leadership was when they were arguing about hierarchy, which of them was most important. He washed their feet. In that culture washing the feet of another was a sign of humility. It is something that was typically done by servants.

Paul told the Romans: "Outdo one another in showing honor." (12:11 ESV) Honoring someone is not exactly the same thing as submitting to that person but it is close.

Two main themes of the book of Philippians are joy and humility. Apparently there was some one-upmanship being practiced by some in the church at Philippi. Paul told them:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3, 4 NIV)
Then Paul cited the actions of Christ himself:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5 NIV)
Christ humbled himself and took on human flesh (2:7, 8). He showed how far obedience could go:
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal's death on a cross (2:8 NLT)
It seems to me that submitting to another person means being willing to serve the needs of that person. It means doing what the other person would like done. Wives specifically were told to submit to their husbands. But I believe that husbands must also serve the needs and desires of their wives, that is, submit to their wives, as part of the more general teaching that we in the church are to submit to each other. It does not make sense to me that members of a church are to submit to each other until two of them get married to each other at which point a different rule of submission comes into effect.

But I readily admit that I could be wrong. It may be that mutual submission is not God's ideal for marriage, so only wives are to submit to husbands. And it may be that there is a divinely ordained hierarchy and that explicit biblical commands for submission apply to the relationships within that hierarchy. I used to believe this. But the more I have studied scripture, the more I have come to believe that God's ideal is non-hierarchical. I believe that there is mutual submission within the Godhead. Perhaps it is even part of the "image of God" that he has placed within us and that we are to reflect in our relationships with each other.

I do not find anything explicit in the Bible that teaches that husbands have a hierarchical position over their wives. Instead, I find the Bible teaching husbands to do as Christ the head of the church did for his body, the church, namely, to lovingly sacrifice for it. It seems to me that one aspect of loving sacrifice is honoring the needs of one's wife. Perhaps the word "submit" captures the process of loving sacrifice. If my wife requests that we take the weekend off to spend time together, but I prefer to spend the weekend doing Bible study (actually, knowing me, it would likely be something else which grabs my interest more, but I wanted to use something that sounded spiritual!), it may just be that I need to honor my wife's request. She is sensing a need and it is a loving thing for me to meet that need. I would consider deferring to her request as a form of submission.

I will continue discussing the results of the poll in my next post.

12 Comments:

At Wed Sep 12, 01:28:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

I would be really interested in the Bible reference for the Father submitting to the Son or the Holy Spirit as I am experiencing some difficulty in tracking it down.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 05:29:00 AM, Blogger Daniel Goepfrich said...

I agree that the non-heirarchy is the ideal in marriage. It seems like we were created to be co-rulers over God creation.

However, after sin, the curse seems to place a heirarchy of sorts - "you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you" (Gen 3:16).

Even under grace we live under the curse of sin and the sin nature. Is not this heirarchy, then, still in place?

 
At Wed Sep 12, 07:52:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Daniel asked:

Even under grace we live under the curse of sin and the sin nature. Is not this heirarchy, then, still in place?

Daniel, my own belief is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of sin and the sin nature. We can still feel its affect, but God desires us to live victoriously over that affect, living under the new law of love, which, IMO, would include mutual submission of Eph. 5:21.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 08:02:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Glenn commented:

I would be really interested in the Bible reference for the Father submitting to the Son or the Holy Spirit as I am experiencing some difficulty in tracking it down.

Glenn, if I did not state it clearly enough, thank you for this opportunity to do so: I *believe* that there is mutual submission within the Godhead. There are Biblical hints at this, but no explicit statements (just as there are no explicit statements that there is eternal subordinationism within the Godhead), so I must be humble about holding to my belief. One Biblical hint is Jesus saying, "I and my father are one." (John 10:30). Jesus, of course, on numerous occasions said that he was doing whatever the Father wanted. I think everyone agrees that the Son submitted to the Father.

My new sense that there is likely mutual submission within the Godhead comes from my understanding of the unity and fellowship that there is within the Godhead. I have had the sense that there is lack of disagreement, that each member of the Godhead honors each other member, that they listen so well to each other. They minister for each other, sometimes one or another being the one to interact with humans.

I cannot prove mutual submission within the Godhead (and I could be wrong), but it fits within my understanding of God's call to us to live that way and the way that it is revealed to us that the members of the Godhead do interact with each other.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 08:08:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Daniel, in case I wasn't clear enough in addressing your specific question, I believe that through Christ the curse that you mentioned no longer rules over us. The hierarchy within marriage is gone. There is a new creation, one that God intended for us from the beginning, but which we lost due to the Fall.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Daniel Goepfrich said...

Wayne said:

I believe that through Christ the curse that you mentioned no longer rules over us.

Wayne, I have a hard time with that. Did Christ lift only part of the curse? Why was the heirarchy lifted but not the increased pain in childbirth, the hard toil to survive, or the returning to dust. All of these are a part of the curse (Gen. 3:16-19).

I have understood the "law of love" to supercede the "law of Moses", not necessarily the universal curse because of sin.

I agree that mutual submission is the ideal, but I don't see that "looking out for each others interests" (Phil 2:4) excludes an order or "chain of command" within the relationship.

On the Godhead analogy, Jesus frequently submitted to the Father, but I don't find the Father submitting to Him. Again, they can exist in perfect fellowship and harmony without mutual submission and with a heirarchy (1 Cor. 11:3).

Thanks for your continuing thoughts.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Daniel responded:

I agree that mutual submission is the ideal, but I don't see that "looking out for each others interests" (Phil 2:4) excludes an order or "chain of command" within the relationship.

You're right, Daniel, it doesn't. The larger question is whether or not the Bible teaches a male hierarchy. I do not believe that it does. Others disagree with me. There are no explicit statements either way, so we are left to choose what we believe is closest to our understanding of God's truth, as interpreted from the statements of the Bible and organized into theological systems.

I want to try to hold what I believe sincerely and yet not so tightly that I condemn anyone else who holds a different opinion.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Daniel replied:

Wayne, I have a hard time with that. Did Christ lift only part of the curse? Why was the hierarchy lifted but not the increased pain in childbirth, the hard toil to survive, or the returning to dust. All of these are a part of the curse (Gen. 3:16-19).

Very appropriate questions, Daniel, ones which many have struggled with.

One thing I would suggest would be for us to very carefully study what actually was the curse. As I understand Gen. 3:16-19, the only curse was upon the serpent. God did not say that he was cursing the woman or the man. The consequences of their sins was that the woman would have pain in childbearing and that her husband would rule over her. There are always consequences for sin, whether before Christ or after Christ. Christ does not remove the consequences of our sins but he has promised to be with us always.

I personally am not convinced that God put any curse on either Adam or Eve. Instead, God put a curse on the serpent and on the land.

Does Christ's death and resurrection have any effect upon the consequences of Adam and Eve's sins? Absolutely. If it did not, we would have no hope and no salvation. So even though it is a natural tendency for men to rule over their wives, that is not what
God wants. He instructs men to treat their wives tenderly. Jesus showed us the better way of being a servant to one another.

I find nothing in the Bible that tells men to rule their wives. I find nothing that says that women are cursed forever to be ruled by their husbands. Men rule over their wives because men are sinful. But Christ can free men from the sinful tendency to exert power over their wives. I don't want to let the wives off the hook either. We all know that there are sins wives commit, as well, which are part of the sinful nature. But, once again, Christ frees us to live victoriously. We are no longer slaves to sin, says Paul. We do not have to live sinfully when there is freedom through what Christ did for us.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Beyond Words said...

Nicely put, Wayne.

My friend Jon Case who teaches at Houghton College gave some wonderful lectures on the mutuality within the Trinity. He said one example of their mutual submission is in the way the Father depended on the actions of the Son to accomplish the inauguration of the kingdom.

Cases explains the three persons of the godhead are mutually distnct, mutually dependent and mutually honoring. The more I study the relationships among the Trinity, the more I think of marriage as similar. I think the ideal expression of "one flesh" is something like the divine community--not hierarchical but reciprical. Husbands and wives have different strengths, weaknesses and gifts that vary with each couple. They move in and out of different roles--and submitting isn't a role,in my opinion, it is a discreet act--not unlike Jesus submitting to what the Father called him to do on earth, and not unlike the Father depending on Jesus to be faithful to that calling.

 
At Wed Sep 12, 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Daniel Goepfrich said...

Thanks again, Wayne. I'm not satisfied yet, but I'll definitely keep your points in consideration as I study it.

Daniel

 
At Fri Sep 14, 06:17:00 AM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Daniel, I'm curious which translation this comes from:

"you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you" (Gen. 3:16)

A quick perusal of the translations I have at hand all have God saying to the woman that she will desire her husband, not desire to control him.

Also, the husband's ruling over is never a command to the husband, nor is accepting such rulership ever commanded of the wife.

 
At Fri Sep 14, 01:36:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Daniel,

Just a little tip. You might want to think about whether 2 Tim. 2:2 really means just "faithful men", or whether it means "faithful people" as the Greek says. This is one of those verses where a certain paradigm has been laid over the plain sense of the text. Too bad Holman chose to make common cause with the ESV on this.

 

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