Sanctified Marriage: Part 4

Made For Each Other

(see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul tells all Christians that they must submit to one another.


21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Out of reverence for Christ, all members of the church are to be putting themselves under—ranking themselves under—each other: humbling themselves, yielding control. It is the middle voice “subjecting oneself” rather than the imperative (command) “obey, be subject”: yielding that which one might otherwise claim to grant authority, status, or privilege to another.

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

This submitting in v21 is the same submitting in v22. There is no verb ‘submit’ in v22. v21 informs the meaning of submit in v22. The wife is submitting herself as she would to the Lord, who is preeminent, and the submitting is proper, not absolute.

Paul never tells husbands to be leaders over their wives in any of his letters.[1]  He never provides any instructions to husbands to grasp authority. After telling the men and women of the church to submit to each other, Paul does not take the opportunity here to clarify that husbands should never submit to their wives in anything. Rather, he says that husbands should love their wives, provide for them, and care for them. This is one way[2] that a husband can be submitting to his wife. By loving her, he is yielding his preeminence to her[3], even as she gives it back (by respecting her husband). That is mutual submission.

The way each person submits themselves to another is different, but it is submitting nonetheless. Paul gives no exemptions.[4] All Christians submit themselves to all other Christians. Even adults are to be submitting themselves before children, as Christ himself did when he let the children come, setting aside his preeminence to love them and elevating the status of children.[5]

The act of submitting may grant authority[6] from one to the another. When I submit to Christ, he has authority over my life. When I submit to my pastor, he has a measure of authority over my life. When he submits to me, he too grants a measure of mutual authority, for we are subject to—have responsibility for—each other.

Thus Paul quotes…

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”

…to emphasize mutuality. This is also why Paul says[8]:

“For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

Man to woman, woman to man, in mutual submission, but all submit to God.

The focus of mutual submission is giving up something of yourself to give to another. It is not about one person exerting authority over another, even as God does have full authority over us. You yield to another, rather than another commands you.


And so we come back to sanctification:

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26so that he could make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he could present the church to himself as a glorious church, not having a spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands are obligated to love their own wives as their own bodies.

Paul spends most of his time on what the husband is supposed to do. Here the focus is holiness and purity. Jesus gave himself up for the church in love to sanctify us. He yielded his control. He submitted to God[7]. Husbands are instructed to love their wives—to give themselves up for her—to sanctify her. This act of submission—of sacrifice—is required to sanctify, to make pure and holy.

Paul says to submit, love, care, present, and respect “out of reverence for Christ”, “as you do to the Lord”, “as…to Christ”, and “as Christ does”, for all submit to God’s primacy[8]. Jesus submitted to the Father in order to give himself up for the church. Whether in the church or in marriage, because we submit to Christ, we also give ourselves up for each other. This submission is the method of sanctification, which goes both ways[8].

All submit to God, and all submit to each other. Through this mode of holiness and purity, we sanctify our spouses. If we cannot submit—give ourselves up—for our wives in the manner of Christ, then we cannot sanctify our spouses, nor can we be holy and pure, nor will our prayers be answered[9].


The word ‘head’ (kephalē) has been incorrectly assigned the meaning of ‘source’. When Paul says…

“For the husband is the head of the wife [so] wives should submit to their husbands in everything…”


“…everything comes from God…”

…the error is thinking this means ‘God is the source of everything’ or ‘the source of all marital authority is the husband’. In both cases, preeminence is in view, not origin or authority. God comes before everything. In 1 Corinthians 11, God is first, while neither husband nor wife takes priority over the other or is independent of the other: spouses are equal and mutually-dependent, but God has primacy over both.

The wife submits ‘in everything’ to her husband because the husband is preeminent, not because he has authority. He has authority because she submits. Furthermore, this is mediated by two things. First, he is not preeminent in everything.[2] Second, he is told to give up his preeminence by applying the Golden Rule.

Just has the church does not submit to Christ on his favorite color when deciding what color robes the clergy should wear, so too is the wife’s submission in ‘everything’ here scoped: not every interaction is a matter of who commands and who obeys. And yet, in all things the church is submissive. Even when deciding what color robes to use, each member of the church submits to the other members. A submissive—or humble—disposition is not a matter of authority and obedience, it is a matter of purity and holiness.

That’s why the robes should be white.


[1] Nor did he command Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery, but rather submissively asked nicely, despite possessing a higher authority.

[2] But not the only way. Paul instructed matrons of the estate to take dominion over the household affairs, which includes managing the home businesses, delegating responsibility, managing laundry/cleaning/cooking, and managing children and servants.

[3] For a man to apply the Golden Rule to his wife was to give up his primacy, to culturally debase himself, treating her as his equal. This is why Paul quoted from Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

[4] Any claimed exemptions are inferences and speculations, far from explicit commands. By removing the verb ‘submit’ in v22, Paul is trying to be as implicit (that is, delicate) as possible. Just as he did with Philemon.

[5] Given Jesus’ status, children were expected to know their place, but Jesus didn’t care about that. He said “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

[6] But it does not have to involve authority. One can submit in order to cooperate with another.  One can submit to be humble. One can submit to share responsibility.

[7] Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:12

[9] 1 Peter 3:7

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  1. Pingback: Headship: Authority or Preeminence?

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