Submission: Old Fashioned or Due for a Comeback?

If you want to have a lively discussion, just ask this question at your next dinner party:

Do you think a wife is supposed to submit to her husband?

For many couples, whether they are Christian or not, submission is an archaic, irrelevant idea. It worked well in the 1950s but today many women are bringing home more money than their husbands. How does submission work then?

The Biblical command to wives has not changed through the centuries to accommodate shifts in the culture. The Christian household is to be characterized by two people who prefer one another and consider the well-being of the other spouse.

In Ephesians 5:21, we’re told to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It goes on to say in the next verse, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” This command is repeated in Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1 and the wives are always instructed to act first.

Perhaps we wives need a little nudge!

Let’s first clarify submission is not about worth, equal rights or ability. It’s more about roles, attitudes and divine order. The dictionary defines submission as “the condition of being humble or compliant, and an act of submitting to the authority of another.”

When I was a teenager, my pastor Glen Cole served as a vibrant role model of a successful marriage. He is now with the Lord. He and his wife were happily married for 58 years. A few months before his homegoing, I asked him about the role of submission. He said:

Submission is the real foundation of God’s creation for both man and wife. It doesn’t imply dominance. It implies a togetherness that puts the other’s interest above their own. Without that kind of understanding, there are huge problems and difficulties. Anything with two heads is a monstrosity and belongs in a traveling circus. In marriage it really is true. You cannot have two heads. There has to be someone who has the final word particularly if they are locked in a disagreement. The female has to give in to the divine order that God created to bring about the right direction for the family. There has to be someone who is responsible for the final decision.

Many women equate submission with being a doormat, but that is rarely the case. You’ve probably heard a wife say, “He may be the head, but I’m the neck!” God has given wives a tremendous position of influence in the home. Wives are not meant to be robots that simply chant “Yes master” and “Right away dear.” Women should express opinions and give advice (after all, we’re good at that!), but ultimately the leadership role falls on the husband. Any wise leader listens carefully to his advisors and the same is true in the marriage. A husband ought to lovingly respond to his wife’s needs, and a wife ought to respect her husband and back him up.

I interviewed co-host of Family Life Today Bob Lepine for my book 31 Days to a Happy Husband. He said,

We joke at our house and Mary Ann laughs that she wants me to lead as long as I do exactly what she wants me to do. I think that’s an issue for a lot of women. They think they must be in control of their environment and circumstances in order to be safe. That’s an illusion in the first place. You’re never in control of your environment or circumstances. Even if you were in control, that doesn’t mean that the decisions you make would be the right one or the safest one.

Personally in my 17 years of marriage, I have found safety and blessing through submitting to my husband James. It hasn’t always been easy. I remember when I was volunteering as a Sunday school teacher at church. James thought it was taking too much time to prepare. He asked me to give up teaching. I tried to reason with him, but a few weeks later I stopped teaching. That was hard because I didn’t understand at the time why I couldn’t continue, but I wanted to respect my husband’s wishes.

It wasn’t too long after that my speaking and writing ministry quickly expanded. God knew I needed that extra time normally used for preparing Sunday school to write and I believe He wanted to test my obedience.

Most likely you’ve seen a marriage deteriorate because the wife insists on running the show and taking control. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that category. Embrace submission, don’t belittle it or dismiss it as archaic. It’s a Biblical model that’s due for a comeback.


Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Gary Chapman), 31 Days to a Happy Husband, and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. She has been featured on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, Family Life Today, Focus on the Family, K-LOVE, The Better Show, The 700 Club, Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah, and TLC’s Home Made Simple. Arlene earned her BA from Biola University and her Masters in Journalism from Regent University. She lives in San Diego with her husband James and three children. Visit Arlene at for free family resources including a monthly Happy Home podcast.

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