I learned about biblical submission in marriage at a very young age, even before I was really interested in boys! I knew that one day I wanted to be married, and I also knew that I didn’t want a marriage like my parents.
Although I grew up in a Christian family, I did not learn about Biblical submission there. My mother was a Christian wife, but she was not submissive to my dad. Even as a young teen, I knew she was wrong.
Advice on Biblical Submission in Marriage
One time, an older Christian lady was chatting with me about her husband, the administrator of the Christian school I attended, about his peculiarities. And as one of his students, I knew he certainly did have many oddities.
She admitted that sometimes she would get very angry with him and disagree with his decisions. But then she said something that stuck with me.
Here is what she said:
“When I obey Mr. Lee, even when he is wrong… God works everything out.”Mrs. Robert H. Lee
What she was saying was that she was obeying God when she submitted to her husband’s decisions, even though for her it was hard work. I never forgot her words.
Fast forward to many years later.
I was days away from a life-changing event: getting married to the man I could not live without. We were in pre-marital counseling and finalizing some wedding details with our pastor. Then our pastor turned to me and said these words:
“Mary Jane, in your wedding vows, I would rather that you promise to obey Joe than promise to love him.”Pastor Kevin Kline – December 2003
At that point, I wasn’t really thinking about vows; my mind was on the tiny wedding specifics, even though I was a bit jittery about taking this very serious step. But our pastor’s words hit me hard. My role as a wife was going to be based on being obedient to my husband.
I remembered Mrs. Lee’s words and my mother’s lack of submission, and now it was my turn. My pastor wanted me to promise to God and my husband, before an entire room of witnesses, that I was going to be a submissive wife!
I wanted to obey God because I desperately wanted, above everything else, to have a Biblical marriage since I realized the great benefits of a healthy marriage. So when we wrote our vows, I included the part about obeying my husband.
This Biblical admonition is expressed in:
“To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (KJV)
The Origin of the Submissive Wife
Most of the details about the idea of submission in the context of a Christian marriage are found in the New Testament. But the origin of submission by the wife is a result of the fall of man, especially the sin of Eve.
If Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, quite possibly today the marriage roles would be reversed, and possibly it would be God’s design that the woman would be the leader of the home instead of the man.
But back to the Garden of Eden… God created Adam first, then Eve. Satan, in wanting to destroy God’s creation, successfully targeted the jewel in the crown of God’s creation—the woman.
She sinned, and part of the consequences of her sin was that, from then on, the man was told by God to rule over the woman who was to be in subjection to him.
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Genesis 3:16 (KJV)
49/51, Not 50/50
Many couples say that their marriage is 50/50. They see themselves as equal partners in the marriage relationship. And so they are.
However, on the topic of Biblical submission in marriage, the numbers are more like 49% for the wife and 51% for the husband. God made the husband the leader of the home. God created Adam first, then created Eve, brought her to Adam, and performed the first wedding ceremony.
God also created the wife from the rib of the husband. The rib is symbolic of the companionship of husband and wife.
He did not create her from Adam’s foot, so he would step on her and grind her into the ground, nor did He create her from his head, so she would dominate him. God’s idea for marriage is two separate individuals working in peaceful harmony with each other, with the husband being the leader.
Definition of Biblical Submission
The definition of submission is yielding to another’s wishes without resistance. But when two very different individuals are married, each has their own thoughts, habits, and wishes.
Many times, the two individuals clash. Something or someone has to give, and the wife is told by God through the Apostle Paul to submit herself to her husband. Here are some passages of Scripture regarding a wife’s submission to her husband.
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." (KJV)
In any relationship, there has to be a leader, a head, a “pecking order”. Marriage is no different. And God chose the man to be both the head of the home and the head of his wife. God makes this family order very clear in:
1 Corinthians 11:3
"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (KJV)
And also in:
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." (KJV)
It can be a scary thing for a wife to consider the enormity of submitting to her husband “in everything”! But there are very great benefits for the wives to submit to their husbands.
Biblical Submission in Marriage is for Strong Women
While many independent, fierce, thinking strong Christian women may have the idea that submission to any man is a sign of weakness on their part, according to the Bible, a voluntary attitude of submission to the authority that God has given is actually a show of great strength.
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” (KJV)
It is against our sinful nature to submit to anyone. God knows that. He says that a person—in this context, a Christian woman—who does not get angry quickly is a better person than a valiant soldier. Also, the person who will subdue their own passions is a more powerful individual than a strong soldier who captures a city.
A wife who does not get angry with her husband and keeps her temper under control as she submits to his leadership decisions is not a weak individual but is rather an extremely powerful woman. Submission can be difficult at times, but it is of great value to God.
Biblical Submission in Marriage is Christ-like
Christ Jesus, the second Person of the Godhead, not the first, is submissive to His Father. He is not weak; He simply has a different role and a different position. Christ’s position defines Him, but it does not weaken Him.
Jesus Christ, our perfect example, gave us the ultimate pattern to follow. He was submissive to His Father’s will, which included a horrible, painful death plus the agony of taking the punishment for all of our sins. But because Jesus submitted to His Father’s will, God exalted Him to great heights. Philippians 2:9 tells of His present glory:
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (KJV)
I have an idea that women who, in this life, take submission to their husbands very seriously will receive great rewards in heaven. A clue is given in Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:31. “But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” (KJV)
Perhaps in heaven, wives who were submissive to their husbands on earth will have an exalted position?
A Wife’s Submission Makes Her Beautiful
The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:1–6, tells wives that their meek spirit, their submission to their husbands, is a valuable ornament.
1 Peter 3:1-6
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (KJV)
Related: Daughters of Sara…want to learn more from her? Click here.
It is part of a woman’s nature to want to adorn herself. Women decorate themselves, which is usually accomplished through means of hair styling such as braiding of hair, accessorizing with gold jewelry, and wearing pretty clothes.
Peter is not telling women they can’t fix themselves up; rather, he is introducing another accessory that women should also utilize in their adornment. That is the decoration of a meek and quiet spirit, which is a beautiful thing.
God puts very high value on this particular “ornament”. A woman who realizes how precious her spirit is to God will strive to cultivate it, knowing that it enhances her beauty.
When a Wife is Not Submissive
In observing marriages, my parents were the first that I scrutinized, looking for clues to make my marriage better. I found similar patterns in other couples’ relationships when the wife was not submissive.
When a woman assumes the leadership role of the home rather than the husband, as God has directed, the result is that that man feels very weak. This is not a good thing. The husband becomes both frustrated and angry. This is expressed by either outright anger or anger turned inward, which is depression.
He knows that he is a weak man, controlled by a woman, and many times he despises himself for his weakness as well as his wife for controlling him. As the wife is out of her God’s given role, she is not happy either. While she dominates her weak husband, she resents his weakness and him as well. When God’s given roles are reversed in marriage, neither partner is happy.
Stronger, happier, and more fulfilling marriages occur by choice, when each partner chooses to follow God’s design for their own particular role.
What Biblical Submission in Marriage is Not
There are many positives to being a submissive wife. So when a wife desires to be submissive, she may not completely understand what it is and how to do it. Here are some things that wifely submission is not:
Living in Fear
Enduring a physically abusive relationship is not submission. If a woman is living with an abusive husband and she fears for her safety and the physical welfare of her children, she needs to remove herself from her present unsafe domestic conditions.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (KJV)
Agreeing Completely with the Husband
A woman has a brain, and both God and her husband expect her to use it. While the husband needs to make the final decisions for the family, a good husband gets input from his wife. Women think differently than men, and she may have an angle that he did not consider. A wife should feel free to express her thoughts and opinions to her husband, reiterating that, despite what she feels, the final decision is his call. Just because a man and his wife disagree on some topics does not mean the wife is an unsubmissive woman.
Putting the Husband Ahead of God
When a woman is submissive to her husband, she does so out of obedience to God. And she does so, trusting that her husband will lead her and make decisions that will be beneficial to both of them. But if a husband tells his wife to do something that is directly opposed to God’s will and His commands, she needs to obey God, even if this means disobeying her husband’s will. This action by the woman is commanded in
When a husband wants his wife to do something that is not according to God’s Word, “fit in the Lord”, she needs to tell her husband why, lovingly, respectfully, and politely, she will not follow his lead in this particular area, even as she lets her husband know that she wants to follow him as he leads according to God’s commands.
Biblical Submission in Marriage by Husbands
The concept of Biblical submission is not exclusive to wives. Usually, when the words submission and marriage are used in the same sentence, the subject is the woman. But the husband also has his own responsibility for submission.
The husband’s submission is to God and His commands regarding the treatment of his wife. A man who loves God submits to God and follows His commands. One of the things God tells husbands to do is both understand their wife and give her honor.
1 Peter 3:7
"Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered."(KJV)
When a man submits to obeying God in this way, he endeavors to understand the woman he married, to know what she likes, to understand how she thinks, to be considerate of her feelings, to utilize her strengths, to get her input, and to collect her opinions.
He listens to her—to both her heart and her words. He desires to help her fulfill her dreams and desires. He values everything about her, including her input, her mind, and her thoughts. A husband’s love for his wife helps to make him a good leader.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." (KJV)
The husband is commanded by God to love his wife. The husband is commanded even to sacrifice for his wife, all while he still maintains the leadership position of their marriage.
Here is how a husband is to love his wife:
"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." (KJV)
A Christian husband is to carefully protect his wife just as he would his own body. The husband is to have the same type of love for his wife that is similar to Christ’s love for His church.
In the realm of submission, and with this verse in mind, a cautious husband may forbid a wife to take some actions, realizing the possible danger she would expose herself to in a particular situation. A submissive wife, although she may disagree with her husband, would still obey him in this matter, understanding her husband’s leadership and his desire to protect her.
"Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them." (KJV)
It can be easy for a man to become bitter toward his wife. God knows that. Therefore, He makes sure that He gave a command specifically for husbands to love their wives, even while they guard against bitterness. A woman can help her husband when she shows her love for him through her desire to submit to him and follow his lead.
Final Thoughts on Biblical Submission in Marriage
While men and women are equal in God’s eyes, they have different positions in the marriage relationship. The pattern of two leaders, but a single one in charge, has been shown in fiction for years. Consider the TV show Star Trek. In the original series, Captain Kirk’s first mate was Spock. There were two intelligent leaders, but Kirk was the captain. He had the final say. Spock was submissive to him.
In The Next Generation (TNG) of Star Trek, Captain Picard had Number One, Commander Riker. Both Spock and Commander Riker showed what submission to their particular captain was. They didn’t always agree. They had their own input and ideas. But they obeyed their captain. Their role in this fictional universe was to help and support their captain to be the best.
Each captain depended on the unique knowledge and character traits of their second in command. Although this TV series is fictional and not based on Scripture, this pattern is a good model for marriage.
As you personally command your own Starship (insert your last name here; ours is Humes) through the galaxies of life, the husband is the captain; he has the final say. The wife is his first mate, his Number One.
You are both equal, but you have different roles, and yes, the husband, not the wife, has the final say. Mutual submission to the commands of God by both marriage partners makes for a healthy marriage.
To learn more about what the Bible says about being a good wife, check out 48 Excellent Bible Verses About a Good Wife.