“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
How many times have you heard this passage from Ephesians 5 cited in an attempt to prove that the Bible and Christianity are sexist? In all likelihood, several. Many interpret these verses as a declaration that men are intended to establish dominance over their wives and families by being tyrants; the masters and commanders.
Mary Ann from Green Bay called in to Father Simon Says to ask Fr. Simon for an explanation of this directive from St. Paul, and find out what it really means within the context of marriage and family.
The very people who will quote this passage in an attempt to invalidate Christianity will always leave out the preceding and succeeding verses to prove their point.
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ… Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:21, 25-30)
Marriage can be characterized by complementarity, teamwork, unity, and selflessness. There is no true and solid union without these things. Fr. Simon recalled an interview of the late Francis Cardinal George in which the reporter conducting the interview began his question, “Well, as the leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago…” But Cardinal George cut him off: “I’m not the leader of the Archdiocese. I’m the head of the Archdiocese.”
The reporter responded, “What’s the difference?”
Cardinal George explained that when “the stomach” is hungry, it is the job of “the head” to make sure that the body is fed. Headship is about service in the Christian context. “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)
Submission is not about inferiority or abject servitude. Submission within the marital context is about the wife allowing her husband to do his job: to be of service.
“Give him the role of helping you, of being your servant. That’s an element of submission that no one thinks about. And the Bible is clear that the headship of a man is a role of service. When a woman denigrates a man’s role of service, she does herself no great favors. Submission is, ‘Honey, what do you think?’ It isn’t, ‘I’ll do whatever you say. Walk all over me.’”
The word “husband” comes from the old Norse words hús, which means house, and bóndi, which means occupier and tiller of the soil. Together, they form húsbóndi, which means the tiller or cultivator of the house. It is the role of the husband to service the home and its inhabitants, providing care and cultivation. That is not a role of filling one’s own needs but the needs of the house as a whole.
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