Bit of a stir being caused this afternoon by this story in the papers.

In a leaflet issued to parishoners, the Rev Angus MacLeay used passages in the Bible to justify women playing a submissive role in local church life. He urged women to “submit to their husbands in everything”.

Mr MacLeay, a member of the General Synod, is opposed to the appointment of women bishops. He has campaigned vociferously for Reform, an Evangelical group that seeks to reform the Church of England “according to the Holy Scriptures”.

The leaflet he issued It says at one point: “Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church.

“This is the way God has ordered their relationships with each other and Christian marriage cannot function well without it.”

In a section called `More difficult passages to consider’, it continues:

“It would seem that women should remain silent….if their questions could legitimately be answered by their husbands at home.”

In a sermon days later, his curate, the Rev Mark Oden, a married father-of-three, built on the argument, sparking further controversy.

He told his congregation at St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks, Kent, that the behaviour of modern women was to blame for Britain’s high divorce rate.

He said: “We know marriage is not working. We only need to look at figures – one in four children have divorced parents.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands.”

The views of Mr MacLeay and his curate are understood to have prompted dozens of women parishioners to cancel their direct debit subscriptions to St Nicholas’s.

One disenchanted female parishioner said she was “disgusted” by the sermon.

“How can they talk that way in the 21st century?” she said. “No wonder the Church is losing touch if this is the kind of gobbledegook they want us to believe it.

“I will not be going back to that church and will have to seriously consider my faith if this is the nonsense they are spouting now.”

Another woman, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: “We’re supposed to let out husbands talk for us and remain silent?

“What kind of medieval sermon is that? We are not in the 15th Century. I have already cancelled by direct debit to the church.”

The rector was unavailable for comment.

Mr Oden said: “I did not set out to unnecessarily offend people, but I stand by what God has said in his word, The Bible. “I am passionate about helping people

Cue the usual round of “misogynistic fundamentalist” criticism from liberals and to be fair, the way it’s been reported you can’t blame them can you?

The issue of submission is an interesting one. The Bible lays out examples of godly submission, especially in Ephesians 5 which reads:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Eph 5:21-27

There’s some obvious things to note here. Firstly, the primary command is for all to submit to all out of reverence for Christ.  Paul then goes on to give an example from marriage, but he does it in the context of Christological teaching, so the main theme of the passage is to bring the readers back to Jesus. The mutual submission is to do with signifying what Christ has done.

When Gayle and I got married she insisted on saying “love, honour and obey” during our vows, based on the theology of this passage. Now before anybody accuses her of being an ignorant oppressed victim of a mediaeval mindset, remember that this is a woman who has a double first and doctorate from one of the world’s top universities. Gayle is not a woman to be easily led, but because she knew the theology behind the vows she was happy to say the words “obey”. And you know what, that made me go and examine again Ephesians 5 and to come to realise that in this submission business husbands have the harder deal. That’s because the Bible says very clearly that Christian husbands are called to love their wives in the same way as Christ loves the church, laying his very self down for her. Jesus went to his death for the church, so Paul’s argument is that husbands need to bend over backwards to love their wives. That means that they need to put their wives’ needs first before theirs and such behaviour is the path of submission that echoes ans signifies the work of Christ.

The passage in 1 Peter 2 and 3 builds on the same themes. Peter uses the example of a wife married to an unbelieving husband to show how submission is about echoing the sacrifice of Christ (see 1 Peter 2:21-25 then 1 Peter 3:1-4). And indeed, that’s the point that Mark Oden makes in his sermon, a sermon which is handily online and available to listen to. Just click play below.


As a piece of exegesis Oden’s sermon isn’t a bad job. It fails though I think as a piece of pastoral preaching in that since it is not part of a complete series on 1 Peter, the context of the preceding examination of the nature of sacrifice and submission as being a signification of the work of Christ is not explored properly. That means that the sermon comes across as just being about wives submitting rather then exploring the whole issue of mutual submission and how that works out with specific individuals and situations. It might be interesting to hear the promised sermon on the next part of 1 Peter 3 the following week, but unfortunately that isn’t up on the website yet.

What is available is the leaflet, and that can be found on the Reform website. The controversial sections are as follows:

When it comes to roles within the church family, the same pattern of relationships applies. Because of the order and purpose of their creation, men are to have leadership responsibilities that women do not share. It is not appropriate for a woman to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-13) although it is entirely appropriate for a woman to teach and train other women (Titus 2:3-5). In fact, there is a role here that is uniquely theirs, as while men can teach the Bible to women, they cannot always model it in practice.

The areas needing to be modelled effectively constitute three different spheres of life – the first involves relationships within the family, the second involves purity and self-control and the third involves the whole area of work. Men are needed to model to other men what it means to be godly in these areas but only women can model to women what it means to be godly women. The complementarity of men and women in ministry is therefore as important as it is for husbands and wives in marriage, as each needs the other to do their part. Only then will the people of God be properly pastored by the Word of God.

Most scholars agree that 1 Timothy 2 is dealing with a particular context of Ephesus and is connected to the false doctrines and controversies of 1 Tim 1. And this theme of false teaching and deception continues in 1 Tim 2 with the idea that Eve was deceived by the serpent. So we have a context of specific false teaching within which Paul calls for a unity of prayer and worship (1 Tim 2:1-8) and the handles specific outworkings of the false teaching that was in Ephesus.

What was that false teaching? One idea was that there was a glorification of Eve amongst some of the believers (understandable in a culture that had mass goddess worship), and that would make sense of verses 12 to 15 of 1 Timothy 2. If the gnostic cult of Eve was distorting the teaching of Genesis 1 to 3, then Paul sets about putting it back in order. He points Timothy to the promise that the seed of the woman (not Eve herself) would provide salvation to God’s people (Gen 3:15, 1 Tim 2:15) and he reaffirms the fact that Eve was the one who initially chose to sin (a number of the gnostic sects believed that Adam was the one that initially took the fruit and ate it). If this is what the problem was, then 1 Tim 2:12 can be read as a response to the gnostic teachings (“Tell those gnostic women to shut up”) and not as a catch all for all time (“Tell all women to shut up”).

Once again, context and translation is everything when we turn to the “More Difficult Passages to Consider”. Take for example 1 Corinthians 14:34 – “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.”. The word silent here is “sigao” in the Greek, and that does not necessarily mean “absolute silence”. Time and time again in Scripture it is used in the context of “waiting for a better moment” or “holding one’s peace!”, eg Luke 9:36 and in 1 Cor 14 itself verses 28 and 30. And that’s before you consider the argument (supported by many conservative scholars) that verses 34 and 35 might not even be in the right place and are therefore being read entirely out of context.

One final thing. The quote that reads “No wonder the Church is losing touch if this is the kind of gobbledegook they want us to believe it. I will not be going back to that church and will have to seriously consider my faith if this is the nonsense they are spouting now.“, strikes me as being from someone who doesn’t attend St Nicholas. If not, why would they say “that church” and “they are spouting”? Strikes me as though the Telegraph or Mail journalist has walked down the high street and just got some vox pops in response to the most controversial part of the story. But then context seems to be the theme of this whole issue.


46 Comments on “Submit!

  1. Peter,

    That's an interesting perspective on 1 Tim 2, which I had not heard before. I would be grateful if you could expand slightly in relation to the following point. I have always considered the 1 Tim 2 verse to be key in determining male headship in the church, particularly because of the way Paul appeals to creation itself as support for his argument. After all, creation is historical – it does not change with the passage of time. Thus, if Adam's being created first is sufficient basis for male headship in Ephesus in the first century, it should be sufficient for us now.

    As I understand it, though, you are suggesting that Paul was not referring to male headship at all. If so, and Paul's comments are to be considered *only* in the context of Ephesus, why do you think he says "*I* do not permit…" rather than "*you* should not permit…"? After all, Paul was not based in Ephesus any more, but the passage implies that he still holds the same views. Secondly, if Paul's concern was purely to prevent heresy, isn't it a bit sweeping to stop *all* women from talking (and assume that all men will have the correct view)?

    A great post though, and I agree that the comment about "I'll have to rethink my faith" seems rather odd. After all, if one's faith hinges on the views of one curate in Kent, it is probably not that worthwhile in the first place.

    Thanks, Mike

    • Hi Mike,

      I'm quite convinced by this argument that it's to do with a cult of Eve rather than a more generic ban. As to your specific question, well I wonder whether something could be made of the fact that he says "*I* do not permit" rather than a more directive "Do not permit". The verse itself literally reads "Teach not woman I allow nor authority over man, rather live in quietness". The words for woman and man can be interchanged with wife and husband, so you could see this as Paul reasserting the headship of men (so the "teach not" has less to do with preaching / sermons and more to do with "laying down the law") rather than a blanket "don't let them speak". And again, this would fit in with the idea that Paul is correcting a heresy to do with headship rather than teaching per se.

      Go back a verse and the literal translation of 1 Tim 2:11 is "A Woman in quietness learns (gr. panthaneto which has a number of possible meanings, including Bible study and rabbinic study) in full submission". Now what Paul might be saying in so many words is "Your women need to submit themselves to the Scriptures (rather than going around proclaiming heresies)".

      It's all quite interesting really! Paul is certainly asserting male headship, but not necessarily a blanket ban on women speaking and teaching.

  2. I think the main emphasis should be on that idea of submitting to each other in Christ. Thus a mutual, respectful and self giving love, based on Christ's teaching and example, should be what characterises a marriage. No one deserves our love. respect and loyalty more than a spousYou will probably not be surprised that I don't believe in biblical inerrancy, I think scripture should be interpreted in the context and in the light of our understanding, reason and humanity.I do agree though that, by any definition, the comparison of the husband to Christ is not a green light to lord it over a woman, but rather the opposite, to serve and be prepared to put her needs first, to give to that relationship to the point of being prepared to lay down your life for her. I really wish more men could come anywhere close to this ideal!

    • Sue: putting your three comments together, it does seem a little like you believe in the correctness (inerrancy? :-) of Eph 5:25-32 but not of Eph 5:22-24. Don't the two sections rather stand or fall as a unit?

      • I wouldn't use the term "inerrancy". If you look at my post I say "by any definition" – in other words even those who see scripture as inerrant should not see this passage as giving men the right to" lord it" over women in the way it sometimes interpreted by some conservative believers. The passage does stand as a unit – Paul is using an analogy – of Christ as head of the Church to show how the headship of men means sacrifice and not an arrogant control.

        I do think that in an ideal marriage men should demonstrate a Christ like,self giving love, but I also think women should and can demonstrate the same love.

        Does that help?
        My recent post Presence and perseverance

  3. I wish more people were aware of the background against which Paul was writing. The ancient Greeks saw women as inferior, Socrates said being female was a divine punishment, a woman was half human, half animal. Roman wives got a pretty raw deal, they were often seen as a business deal, for respectability and children, a mistress or male lover was for pleasure. Jewish women were also degraded, much rabbinic teaching devalued women and it is hard for us today to fully understand how utterly radical and controversial Christ's attitude to women was. That he ate, spoke with and allowed not only women – but sinful women – to touch him is staggering!

    So, Paul's teaching on marriage in Ephesians actually allowed woman a wonderful position as someone to be valued and respected, served and mutually submitted to! Of course Paul absorbed some of the attitudes of his time, but he also knew of Christ's teaching and the place of women within it. Paul speaks of women as fellow workers in spreading the gospel and seems to give different advice in different epistles, perhaps fitting it to each society he was addressing?

  4. However, I would like to make it clear that I think Reform is misoynistic. I don't think the type of statements they make and sermons such as the one preached are helpful, sensible or promote respectful relationships between men and women.
    Would I agree to obey a man? I don't personally think that appropriate in this day and age – but no offence to any woman who makes that choice.
    Do I think a husband deserves the utmost respect? Of course, as does a wife. I also think that, considered widely, intelligently and in context that is 100% what the gospel teaches.

  5. I believe in male headship, as does my wife. But I am not a misogynist, my wife thinks freely for herself and I shall not be stopping her from commenting on this issue if she wants to!

  6. I'm with you on 1Tim2 – that Paul was writing about husband and wife, not men and women in the church. Otherwise the passage seems to jump around a lot: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women[a] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
    It seems to jump from roles in church to womens fertility issues!

    HOWEVER, the NIV renders [a] "women", but the actual Greek is singular and just the pronoun: "she". Hence the text actually says: "she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue…" So, why the change of person (singular to plural)?

    The answer is because v12-15 is about man and wife, not about generic men and women..

    If we then reread the NIV using the alternatives "man" and "wife" instead of "man" and "woman", we get a text that is now all about marital relationships (including childbirth) and the last sentence is about God protecting her in childbirth if both wife and husband are spirutually faithful:

    "I do not permit a wife to teach or to have authority over a husband; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (MPR: my possible rendering!)

    Viola! This makes the passage more consistent (all about things to do with marriage – authority and childbearing), and means that Paul was not here addressing the issue of women's roles in church (and seeming to contradict 1Cor15).

    What do you think?

  7. Precisely, suddenly it all hangs together!

    It may still be far from acceptable to current ethical thinking, but that is not a great worry to me theologically – especially considering the current appauling state of personal ethics in post-modern society! And it is, pretty well, consistent with what Paul teaches elsewhere about assymetrical submission within Christian marriage and wives keeping silent/asking their husbands at home etc etc.

    ps Like Gayle, my wife chose to promise to "love, honour and obey" too – much to my surprise! :o

  8. I too said 'obey' but I am now thinking it is unbiblical and worse than that misogynistic. As far as I can see in the Bible it is only slaves to obey their masters and children to obey their parents. On reflection the use of the word obey subverts marriage, which by the very definition of the word suggests two adults who are equals.

  9. When it is written that Jesus was 'obedient' to the Father, we don't read that with a distorted contemporary rendering that understands obedience as a bad thing which should be avoided in favour of personal freedoms. Rather, we understand a subjecting of Himself to His Father's will which is motivated by love – when I say "which is" that's both the Father's will and Jesus' subjecting Himself. So if a woman understands and appreciates the loving care and covering of her husband such that she responds in love in ways that have her subjecting herself to his will, where's the negative? As has already been said, being a loving husband, he'll be busy positioning himself to take the beatings and potentially die for her anyway!

    • Unfortunately, Tim, the reality for most women is very different. Some estimates suggest that one in four of us will suffer domestic abuse at some point in our lives and two women a week are killed by their husbands or partners. As many as one in four women ( and a good number of men) have been sexually abused as children. Thus, when you write of a "subjecting of the self to a Father's will which is motivated by love" you should recognise the horrific connotations of the demand to submit to so many women .
      If a woman wishes to promise to obey her husband and to submit to him, that is entirely her own business and there should be no suggestion that she is in any way a walk over for doing so, or that her husband is some sort of abuser! However, there should be absolutely no pressure upon a woman to agree to obey or submit if this is not personally acceptable to her. Neither churches nor individuals should disrespect women by suggesting that this is our allotted role because of our gender.

      • Presumably you've listened to Mark Oden's sermon on husbands?

        I wonder if your paragraph would be as palatable if rewritten for the husband:

        If a man wishes to promise to cherish his wife and to love her, that is entirely his own business and there should be no suggestion that he is in any way a walk over for doing so, or that his wife is some sort of emotional cripple! However, there should be absolutely no pressure upon a man to agree to love or cherish if this is not personally acceptable to him. Neither churches nor individuals should disrespect men by suggesting that this is our allotted role because of our gender.

  10. Er – both men and women promise to love and cherish in the marriage service, Hopeful Ordinand, wheras the "obey" bit is only be said by women – unless you know of cases where a man has promised to "obey" instead of the wife?

    "Cherishing" is not men's allotted role by virtue of their gender at all, but by virtue of the nature of marriage itself. For two people to promise to "love and cherish" each other is equal, for one to promise to exclusively "obey" the other does, to some, smack of inequality, double standards and can be seen as being rooted in the power imbalance that has historically existed between men and women and arguably still exists – see reference to the numbers of women who die through the violence of a spouse or partner or are on the receiving end of abuse.

    • I was referring back to the Bible, where the command for men to love their wives is explicit (in the same way as wives submitting to their husbands). If you are happy for the latter to be removed on the grounds of 'personal acceptability', you should also be happy for men to not have to promise to love their wives, if they find it 'personally unacceptable'. In fact, from your argument, presumably either husband or wife should feel free to work out which promises they consider to be acceptable to them?

      Given the high numbers of women who commit adultery, should we remove the 'forsaking all others' clause as well?

    • Somewhat less flippantly.

      The domestic violence argument is a very emotive one, but I'm curious about how it fits here. Can you show a causal relationship from wives promising to obey and domestic abuse? Even including the period where that was the marriage service, and not optional, is it demonstrable that husbands who wouldn't have abused their wives did so _only_ because of the promise to obey?

      From the current period, I would suggest (with, I admit, very little evidence) that marriages where the wife did promise to obey are less likely to be ones subject to abuse at home (from husband or wife).

  11. Domestic violence occurs across the social spectrum, I believe. Children from Christian homes are as likely to be sexually abused as from any other home ( I was.) I very much doubt that there is a causal relationship between a wife's promise to obey and abuse and that was not what I was arguing, rather that it is in itself a violation of a woman's personal autonomy to insist that she promise to obey a man who *may* become abusive. If this vow were expected of all women, a large proportion would face the situation of having promised to obey a man who then abused their trust.
    I don't know how you make the cognitive leap from my personal objections to having to "obey" a man, to saying I think that men should be free not to have to promise to love their wives? I simply think the vows should be equal on both sides. I am also fine with a woman promising to obey if that is her choice. However, I do not think anyone should have the right to coerce me to do the same, given that it is not acceptable to me. I hardly think you can refuse to respect that wish and still present yourself as a man ( are you male?) who respects women.

    • I agree with your statement that domestic violence occurs across the social spectrum – Christians are just as wicked as non-Christians; I'm not so sure that the statistics would say that it's just as likely. I've been struggling to find statistics one way or the other.

      With regard to promises, my point was that by making part of The Bible subject to 'personal acceptability', then where do you draw the line? At what point does one say that there's an absolute set of requirements for marriage (or anything else). By deciding that 1 Peter 3:1-6 (and Ephesians 5:22-24) is subject to what is acceptable, then why is 1 Peter 3:7 (and Ephesians 5:25-33) not subject to this personal acceptability line?

      • Yeah there is obviously no direct causal link between 'obeying' and being at more risk of actual violence. And anyway, we all have to 'obey' all sorts of people: policemen, judges, employers, sports team leaders, trainers etc etc etc. Yet we don't think that we are less equal than they are, just that the relationship and roles wouldn't function properly if we didn't have the attitude of 'submission'.

        Men and women are actually different, so to make a permanent marriage work best, roles have to be different too.

        The argument that equality means identical roles is rubbish. Two people in identical roles can still abuse each other! Liberal people who emphasis equality in their relationship can and do still abuse each other. There's huge amounts of harm being caused to spouses and especially to children through uncommitted relatiohsips (usually one side hoping it is more committed than the other) as well as betrayal, adultery and divorce.

        The real issue is loving commitment and mutual submission, in ways appropriate to the role(s) of the husband and wife.

        • I wouldn't disagree with any of this, David. I would point out that police / judges etc are in a position of authority over us. I don't agree that a man is, by nature of his gender, in authority over women.
          I did not say that liberals do not or cannot abuse each other any more than I say that conservative Christians do not have equitable, respectful marriages. I really do try to work beyond such sweeping generalisations, people do defy our labels and boxes.
          Speaking of which, you say "to make a permanent marriage work best roles have to be different." How do you know this? Might not marriages based on respect and consultation, rather than obedience work?
          I agree that love, commitment, mutual respect and submission are what counts.

          • Sue, if men and women are different then for a permanent marriage to work best their roles will inevitably be different too.B)

            It is a false argument to suggest that having different roles inherently means a lack of respect or lack of consultation! It just means having different roles. I doubt that you would suggest this is inherently abusive if we were discussing a partnership of two people with differing abilities, so why try to assert it when talking about the two fundamentally different types of human being?!

            My point regarding submission and abuse was that your argument against different roles is built on a ridiculous assumption (that herarchy means abuse) and ignores the real problem (that human beings abuse each other because they are fallen, sinful creatures). Abuse has gone up, not down, in this new liberal era – the liberal dream has failed because it's ideal are not in accord with the truth.

            • Clearly men and women are different, clearly two individuals are different, clearly they may choose to take different roles. I have not argued that having different roles inherently leads to a lack of respect, nor that hierarchy of itself means a lack of respect or automatically leads to abuse.

              All of these are your assumptions about what I have said.

              I believe that women are equal to men, yes, we are different, sometimes we have different roles. At other times a woman may take more traditionally "male" roles, such as being main breadwinner, or a man may bring up children. There may be times when the roles are practically identical, both wage earners and both carers for example. What matters is the love and respect and partnership in the marriage NOT the woman's obedience or the man's authority!

              I do not believe that a woman should have to promise to obey a man if she does not wish to do so. Not one of you has managed to say "of course a woman should not have to promise to obey, if she finds it unacceptable."

              Why don't you try now, it isn't that difficult :)

              • "What matters is the love and respect and partnership in the marriage NOT the woman's obedience or the man's authority! "


                No, that is wrong and the first three virtues you mentioned do not exclude the fourth. Indeed I would argue that they need it.

                Love, respect, partnership *and* headship are all necessary for a healthy marriage. There is only one man and one woman in a marriage, no possibility for democracy, and when it comes to a crunch someone has to make the final decisions if it can't be agreed on. And I think that scripture and nature teach that, generally, the distinctive attributes of a human male are more suitable for that role – though not in every instance.

                I worry that you'll be imagining this is an apologetic for male domination, but that is not what the Bible says, nor what I mean. Here's what it means to me in practice: We often disagree, but rarely disagree substantially. In many areas (insurance, investments, budgetting, various household responsibilities etc etc) we've agreed who is responsible and they usually just get on with it unless they need help. But when we do have a problem we can usually debate the issues and one will be persuaded by the other. Otherwise we can often leave it a while and try to agree after further thought. But sometimes we have to decide immediately and in such cases I decide…. as a norm I decide that we will do what my wife wants (Eph 5:25). But I can think of two occassions when I have insisted that we will (or won't) do something that she disagreed with – in twenty or so years.

                Now you may see that as oppresive and opening the gate to some horror, but it has worked for us, and all our friends from church who married around the time that we did are *all* still happily or very happily married too…

                • It is not wrong, David, it is only wrong in your opinion! Again – I did not say the first three qualities exclude the fourth – just that the first three are the qualities that make a true marriage what it is IMHO.

                  If a man truly respect and loves a woman, then I personally do not think he would insist on her obeying him if that was not her choice. Coercion and forced subjugation is not a loving act! If a wife chooses of her free will to "obey", that is a different matter. It is a similar issue to that of the veil or arranged marriage in Islam. If a Muslim woman chooses to wear the veil, and many do, that is fine. If she is forced or pressurised to do so, it is abusive and wrong. The same to me applies to the promise to "obey", no woman should be forced or pressurised unless it is a personal faith choice. I am saddened that not one man on here has the respect for women to say that it would be insupportable for a man to pressurise a woman promise to obey IF she was reluctant to do so!!! Can I appeal AGAIN for one of you to be man enough to do so?

                  • Sue, in the current PC world, which agrees with you and demonises anyone who dares to disagree, it doesn't take much manliness to agree with you. It takes a lot of guts, particularly as a someone sensitive to the agressive climate around us, for a man to stand up for the idea that wives should choose to accept the headship of their husband (generally).

                    Regarding your concern that everyone here thinks that women should be forced to submit, you might like to reread the relevant passages in Ephesians 5 (and elsewhere in the NT). These do NOT tell a husband to enforce his headship over his wife's choice! They tell the husband to love his wife like Jesus loved the church and died for her. The scriptural injunction is on the wife to choose to submit to her husband's headship, it nowhere instructs or permits the husband to enforce it. That tension is, I think, very creative.

                    • An injuction is a command, it is hardly honest to command someone to "choose" to submit and then present that as their free will, because it is not a choice at all!

                      But I am glad you have acknowledged ( I think) that it would be insupportable for a woman to be forced to agree to obey- or even pressurised – against her will.

                      As for my "concern" that everyone here thinks women should be forced to submit, I must confess that I was ( and am) very disbelieving that that could possibly be the case. It was my astonishment and incredulity that the men on here did not immediately and generously respond by saying that such coercion is not acceptable that led me to pose the question.

                    • Sue,

                      as I said, people tend to assume the worst about anyone who defends headship. And in fact I never saw anyone in a debate react positively to someone else if they start off by saying something that indicates that his or her main point is not really that important!

                      The prionciple of submission (properly understood) is very important. And regarding you suggestion that injunctions to "choose" to submit are only about choice- God doesn't force people to obey his commands in this world… but it is wrong to ignore or disobey God!

                    • Really David, If we cut to the quick.! Do you believe that if a woman chooses to omit the word "obey" from her vows (as has been legally permitted since the 1890s!) she is somehow sinful?
                      What do you actually think? Do you think, in this day and age, that women should be compelled to obey their husbands?

                      If your answer is "yes, she is sinful" and "yes, women should be compelled " – you are entitled to your views, but I cannot respect them.
                      My recent post Fasting

                • As to your marriage, I am sure it is not oppressive at all and it doesn't sound like it is. I don't see it as opening the gate to some horror – again these are your assumptions about me! If it suits you and your wife that is fine and a private matter.

                  • As I said before, there are plenty of people who agree with your approach to (lack of) headship and who manage to oppress their partner and do all sorts of harm to them and their children.

                    The focus should be on good permanent marriages and on avoiding harming each other, offspring and the wider relationships among kith an kin. The misplaced notion that equality means asserting yourself has caused endless harm to these.

                    How about showing that you are sorry that so much harm has been caused by such sinful self-assertion?

                    • There are plenty of people who agree with my approach and oppress partners and harm children- including violence and rape. There are also plenty of people who agree with your approach and oppress partners and harm children – including violence and rape.

                      I think you have little grasp of the depths of my sorrow that so much harm is caused by that kind of sinful self assertion!!!

                      However, I do not think that a woman telling a man she will respect him, but not obey him, is "sinful" in any way. If she then goes on to behave in ways that are destructive in the marriage, that is wrong, just as it would be in the man.

                    • Sue,

                      as I said, people tend to assume the worst about anyone who defends headship. And in fact I never saw anyone in a debate react positively to someone else if they start off by saying something that indicates that his or her main point is not really that important!

                      The prionciple of submission (properly understood) is very important. And regarding you suggestion that injunctions to "choose" to submit are only about choice- God doesn't force people to obey his commands in this world… but it is wrong to ignore or disobey God!

                    • "I think you have little grasp of the depths of my sorrow that so much harm is caused by that kind of sinful self assertion!!! "

                      Sue, then willingness to be submissive is required… and that will involve agreeing that one spouse, in the end, has the final say !

                    • I don't think you read my posts!
                      I feel sorrow whenever I see people harming each other through a lack of love. I think that is sinful!
                      I don't think a woman who chooses not to promise to obey her husband is sinful.
                      Both partners need to be willing to submit to each other, that does not necessarily involve agreeing that one spouse in the end has the final say.

      • I think we all subject scripture to our own personal lens. I think we all choose to emphasise passages that strike a chord with our views and we all "disminish" , and "contextualise" passages that don't sit easily with our world view in order to make sense of them in a way that makes sense to us. I think conservatives do this just as liberals do.

        I would not use the term "personal acceptability", so I don't see some bits as acceptable to me and others as not in the black and white way that you suggest. I try to read scripture in context and to see it as a product of a particular place and time in history. I revere it as a source of divine revelation through imperfect human channels. In that light, I actually find St Paul's ideas about marriage and gender radical and inspiring. I don't agree with scripture being used as a means to justify oppression though or to be used to coerce individuals to conform to structures and ideologies they find personally degrading.

        • Now I'm confused. I took the phrase 'personally acceptable' directly from your earlier post.

          • I can't find that I have used the term "personal acceptability" to describe my approach to scripture in any post?

            I have used the word "personally" as in:

            "Would I agree to obey a man? I don't personally think that appropriate in this day and age." ( describing my personal choice when it comes to my marriage vows.)

            I have also used the word "acceptable" about the notion that a woman should somehow be obliged or coerced to promise to obey in her wedding vows,

            "I do not think anyone should have the right to coerce me to do the same, given that it is not acceptable to me."

            I haven't however said anything about a "personal acceptability line" when it comes to scripture ( that is your rewording) and I have explained my approach to scripture very carefully in my last post to you.

            • With the risk of ending up in a circular debate…

              What you said was:

              "However, there should be absolutely no pressure upon a woman to agree to obey or submit if this is not personally acceptable to her."

              If "obey" in the marriage vows is one of "personal acceptability", why shouldn't everything else be? Why should a man promise to love, or to be faithful, or anything else, if it's not "personally acceptable" to him? Surely no woman would be so demanding, as to require it?

              My answer to this would be that God's pattern for marriage makes it clear that husbands should love their wives, and wives should submit to their husbands. Once we start messing about with what it says, is it any wonder that marriages have extra problems?
              My recent post What Does The Bible Say?

              • As before- the promise to "obey" is exclusive to the woman, the other vows are mutual and reciprocal. It would certainly be demanding and unreasonable for a woman to expect a man to promise to love her if she wasn't prepared to reciprocate, or for one partner to promise to be faithful when the other didn't!
                If either partner is uneasy saying any of those vows, I would suggest they think carefully about getting married.

                I believe the vows should be mutual and reciprocal and sincere, reflecting the ideal of mutual , reciprocal , sincere relationships between men and women.

                The reason the "obey" bit is optional is that many women, such as myself, find it offensive or degrading. I have no problem with other women choosing to obey, any more than I have a problem with a Muslim woman taking the veil or bhurka, IF ( it is a big IF) that is genuinely her wish.

                Marriage vows are sacred, when you say them you have to mean them. Would you really want a woman to feel forced or pressurised into promising something she was uncomfortable with or felt degraded by?
                (NB: Saying "No, I wouldn't" is really very easy.)

  12. I fear this might begin to seem like a two-pronged attack, Sue, with both HopefulOrdinand and I replying to you – not my intention and apologies if it seems that way!

    For me, the key part of what you write is the pointing to potentiality – * may * become abusive, you write.

    My sinful nature is such that I * may * become abusive towards my wife. Each day I bring myself before God, seeking His grace for the day and glad that He is at work in me by His Spirit to change me evermore into the likeness of Christ. By God’s grace and with His transforming power at work in me, the potential I have to become abusive is dealt with and so I love my wife more like Scripture calls me to.

    Point is, there is all kinds of potential to sinful acts because by nature I am a sinner. However, the commitment that I am biblically instructed to make to things of God’s purpose and choosing which are contrary to my sinful nature holds sway. It is not for me to decide that something is not acceptable to me because of my honest awareness of the potential of the sinful nature of both myself and those around me.

    My wife promised to obey me in full knowledge that I am a sinner with the potential to become abusive. But she trusts in God’s sovereignty and grace and continues to, though with no small amount of hurt and grief, even when my sinful nature wages war within me and I act and behave in ways that aren’t me loving my wife as I want or ought (please note that I have never been abusive to my wife though I know I have failed her in many ways over the years).

  13. Tim, you do not have to tell me that you have never been abusive to your wife and I am sure there is enormous love and respect in your marriage. I bet there are loads of times you have "obeyed" your wife, in that she has expressed a view and you have decided to go with her instincts. But suppose your wife had not wanted to promise to obey? Suppose she had her own reasons for that, or just personally would find it degrading? Would you really have told her she must promise to obey you? Would you have called off the marriage? Suppose the sacrifice demanded of you was that you could not command her, would your love and your masculinity be strong enough for that?

  14. The submission thing becomes clearer if you follow the Greek text of Eph 5. I disagree with my UBS Greek NT 4th Edition about the punctuation of that part. This might seem abstruse, but it is very imporant in understanding what Paul is saying. Every Bible I have seen, and my Greek NT, starts a new paragraph at v. 21. However if you start at v. 18 and the command to be filled with the Spirit, there is a whole series of participles (verbs that are best rendered in English as ending in -ing), such that it reads something like this:

    "Do not get drunk on wine, which will lead to moral degradation, but be filled with the spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father, submitting to one another in reverence for Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church and is himself the Saviour of the body."

    So submission to one another out of reverence for Christ is all part of the business of being filled with the Spirit. The various editions of the text wholly obscure this by not only starting a new sentence and a new paragraph, but a whole new headed section ***in the middle of a single sentence*** as written by Paul.

    As Peter has pointed out, the man has the more onerous burden laid on him in Paul's argument, and the difficulty comes because we have a culturally-conditioned ***edition*** (not original) of the Greek and many culturally-conditioned *translations* of it. The cultural conditioning that really causes problems is ours, not that of the original NT.

  15. Ok folks – thanks for a really stimulating debate! I'm going to close the comments on this post now as I think we've exhausted the topic for the moment. I'll try and give you something else to argue about in a day or so!!!!

    God Bless,