What Is the Biblical View of Submission?

Biblical submission has been branded as sexist, or others use this passage as justification for husbands mistreating or abusing their wives. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Submission has a raw beauty when it is intertwined with love for each other and for Jesus.

Heather Riggleman
Husband wife hugging

Becoming a Christian at the age of 23 left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth when a friend handed me a book on how to be a good Christian wife. It detailed all the ways submission was vital to a thriving marriage. Because I loved Jesus so much, I read the book to pieces and did my best to follow the principles of the book.

The more I tried to be a submissive, Christain wife, the more my husband seemed to be irritated with me until at one point he just looked at me and said, he wanted the old Heather back.

You see, the woman God had created was full of spunk, opinions, and could run a board room like a boss. The woman my husband fell in love with is independent, strong, assertive, resourceful, and decisive. My husband loves these character traits about me.

But for the longest time, I was so confused about what it meant to submit to my husband. In my opinion, it was a four-letter word that should never have been included in the Bible.

God never intended for men to use this passage for their selfish gain. God never intended for women, the crown of his creation, to be put in a corner, to leave their brains at the altar, silence their voices, or abandon their careers in favor of being “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.”

Submission is not living or acting in fear, nor is it putting your husband’s will above the will of God.

The Purpose of Woman

God created woman as the pinnacle of creation. He didn’t create her last because she wasn’t valued. She was created because God looked around the garden and saw Adam standing alone.

He knew he would need someone soft, yet strong. Someone wise, yet patient. Someone confident, yet brave. So, God put Adam to sleep and created a woman to be by Adam’s side, formed from his rib.

Eve was created as a “helper corresponding to him.” God called her ezer kenegdo. In Hebrew, ezer means helper. Kenegdo means opposition or against — not disharmony but as support and balance.

Think of a bicycle or the wings of an airplane, he meant for women to the yin to man’s yang, as it were. We were created to complement and complete. We were created to love and serve each other.

The word, ezer is used 21 times in the Bible. It is used five times in reference to women and 16 times to describe God as a helper to Israel.

But here’s the thing that gets lost in modern-day translation: When ezer is used to portray God, the term is used to describe military defense and protection.

When David said his help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:1), he wasn’t saying God pats him on the back and uses encouraging words, he was referencing someone ready, skilled, and able to enter into battle. Women are called to be warriors for mankind.

God intended for us to get behind our men, hold up their heads, and whisper their true identities when they’ve fallen to their knees.

So, if God created women as warrior helpers, like the “yin to the yang,” where does submission come in?

What Does Biblical Submission Really Look Like?

Thanks to attacks on the biblical idea of submission, Christians and non-Christians alike have come to think of submission as oppressive. When the topic comes up, the world points to Ephesians 5:22, “Wives submit to your own husbands,” with a warped sense of the text.

They brand the verse as sexist or others use this passage as justification for husbands mistreating or abusing their wives. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Submission has a raw beauty when it is intertwined with love for each other and for Jesus.

It fills her need for security and love and his need for respect. Submission in marriage always begins with mutual submission to Jesus. To understand the beauty of submission, one needs to look at the whole passage of Ephesians for both roles — man and woman.

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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery: but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Here, we see Paul comparing the roles of Jesus sacrificing himself and laying down his life for the church using the analogy of the bride and bridegroom. In any relationship that we’re subordinate, it is an opportunity to remember Christ himself.

This very word was used for Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:28, showing Jesus’ submission to his Father. Submission is not about losing oneself but giving honor.

According to Paul, a faithful husband willingly lays down his life for his wife. He abandons his own will, affections, and needs for her sake. Just as Jesus laid down his life for the church.

In this context, the wife willingly surrenders to her husband just as her husband chooses to surrender his will to Christ. Submission, based on love, brings peace and harmony to the family.

We see this play out in marriages when a man marries and suddenly all his time, attention, and affection are placed in someone other than himself.

It is a man who begins a little nest egg for their future instead of that boat he wanted. It is a man who picks up extra shifts to ease the burden of bills he and his wife are facing. It is the 10 p.m. milk runs to Walmart, spending Saturdays repairing the closet because her side needs more space.

It is the man who is aware of his faults and prays for more patience. It is a man who gets up at 2 a.m. to rock the baby back to sleep because he knows she needs more sleep.

It’s the guy who carries their world on his shoulders and gladly does so because he draws his strength from God and flourishes in the support of his wife.

A husband does this because his wife listens to him when he needs to talk about work, and she offers encouragement. It is the woman who grabs her favorite book and sits in the garage as he repairs the truck because she knows he loves it when she graces him with her presence.

It is the woman who agrees with the direction her husband is taking in a parenting situation. It is the woman who stops everything she is doing in the chaos of prepping dinner, breaking up fights, just to smile and greet her husband after a long day of work because she knows her smile is his home base.

She’s the woman who is exhausted but gets dressed up and heads to her husband’s work party because it means the world to him.

What Does This Mean?

Submission may be a lot of things, but it is not what the world makes it out to be. It is becoming a team. A team that has different talents, perspectives, and gifts.

It is a relationship of one lifting up the other and one bending to the other in the fluid everyday marital moments.

It means working together in the blending beauty and grace of submission to create a unified front and presenting that to the world.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes


Heather Riggleman is an author, national speaker, former award-winning journalist and podcast co-host of the Moms Together Podcast. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 21 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal,  Mama Needs a Time Out, and Let’s Talk About Prayer and a contributor to several books.  Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman, and Focus On the Family. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.  


Originally published November 10, 2020.