Who is in Submission to Whom?

Jan Antonsson

Woman-rolling Pin Newest

The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

November 11, 2017

Neosho, MO

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (I Corinthians 13:12, The Message).

My good friend Win Parker sent me a writing on wives submitting to their husbands and it sparked a lively phone conversation on the subject with him and our mutual friend Chuck Andrus.  Meanwhile, another good friend, Jonathan Mitchell, whose translation of the New Testament has been invaluable to me,  sent me a promo on another new translation, The New Testament by David Brinkley Hart, and I want to share from both sources some new insights that I have gleaned on an old and very tiresome topic to many of us women who have been brow beaten by church authority with Paul’s statement,Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord  and Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 24,  ESV).  There’s not much wiggle room in these verses, or is there?

As Win pointed out in his excellent article, any woman would be delighted to submit to her husband if, as Paul also mandated, husbands loved their wives and gave themselves for them even as Christ gave Himself for the church (See Ephesians 5:25, 28). Sadly, those kinds of husbands are in short supply, or so I thought until God sent Lenny into my life. He showed me unconditional love in every circumstance we faced with humor and patience and also tolerance for my opinionated stance on many things.

It was drummed into us in Fundamentalism that not only are we wives to be subject to the wishes and demands of our husbands, but also, “And if they (wives) will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church(I Corinthians 14:35, KJV). That rule put me in a personal bind from which there was only one way out because my first husband didn’t know and didn’t care about the Bible or my questions regarding same. No way could I ask him anything about spiritual things.  As a result, I was mighty upset with Paul in my 20s and 30s because I considered him a rank misogynist who showed remarkable lack of grace toward the fair sex.  “When I see him in glory, I’m going to give him an earful,” I thought often enough.

Therefore I appreciated David Bentley Hart’s study note on I Corinthians 14:35, “Particularly in I Corinthians 11:5, Paul fully expects women to speak and prophesy in church, and clearly approves of the practice so long as women do not provocatively flaunt their “glorious” hair while doing so.  And, in fact, the whole tenor of Paul’s genuine writings is one of almost unprecedented egalitarianism with regard to the sexes (Galatians 3:28 being perhaps the most famous instance). Wow!  For most of my life, I had thought, “What do I know?  I’m only a woman,”  but if the Apostle Paul, who is now my hero, said something was OK, then I’m good to go.  Thank God for enlightened translators!

Now, admittedly, as you can see by the silly graphic I felt led to use, women can be problematic, unruly, disrespectful to authority, and as a friend said of me once, “like a bull in a china shop.”  I was no push over or shy about expressing my opinions, a quality that some men find threatening.  Thankfully, Lenny did not.

I’ve always loved the Bible and read it through yearly for many years, and to my way of thinking, there was no way out of this dilemma about a woman’s right to speak about religious matters.  For instance, in my youthful Sunday School class, though I always had the answers to the questions our teacher asked, he would NEVER let me answer the question until he had asked every boy in the class first!    The church would not allow women to pray in public or lead singing.  And forget about prophesying or speaking in tongues in public because they didn’t believe in it regardless of the gender of the person doing it.

This left me with the strong impression that I as a woman was less-than in the church’s eyes.  It’s no doubt why I include book, chapter and verse for the scriptures I quote.  When Lenny and I had our first real conversation, he quoted Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  I knew right then, that he and I would get along great. 

In my youth, the only Bible translation we had available to us was the KJV, which led to big trouble for someone like me.  A rolling pin like the old gal in my graphic  is holding would have been a big help in getting someone to listen to me, maybe.  Or maybe it would have just gotten me tossed out of church sooner than actually happened.

Win Parker points out in his paper that,Paul was challenging cultural norms in his demand of the husband. Marriages were often arranged for the betterment of a family’s social status, for financial gain or to create alliances between families or nations. To marry for the romantic idea of love was unheard of. Even more out of the cultural landscape was the idea that a man should love his wife. She was property, a means to an end. To have to” love her meant a complete revolution in the husband/wife relationship. Paul was pointing back to the beginning, past all the cultural distortions, past the traditions, past the motives of gain, to the original marriage in which corresponding halves made a whole, each contributing her or his uniqueness to the other, each yielding to the other, each supplying what the other lacked in order to become one whole person again.  (From personal experience, I realize that this describes a marriage made in heaven.)

“Serve one another as Christ serves you. Love each other to the death. Bear all things with a smile and in love. Never let your love die. You are Christ’s and His life, lived in and through you, is the only means by which you can truly submit to, truly love your spouse. Knowing this, experiencing this, you will continually love and serve your spouse as the first and prime and hardest of all loves. What we are to our spouses, in Christ, will be what we are to the world around us, for the love of spouse is the human wellspring from which all other loves flow. End quote.

Providentially, my copy of the New Testament translation had arrived at the same time as Win’s paper, and he and I and Chuck Andrus, who were discussing this topic by phone, were delighted at David Bentley Hart’s foot note to Ephesians 5:21,  which he translates “Being stationed under one another in reverence for the Anointed.”

Hart’s study note totally supports Win’s comments about cultural norms of Paul’s day versus today’s:  “The verb here and in the following verses, literally means subordinate in the sense either of arranging under or of being “sub-ordinated to”; but it can also mean being “stationed under the shelter, of something or someone, like a horse tethered beneath an awning, or simply being assigned” to something or someone.  In the case of wives and husbands, the issue here does not seem to be merely one of domestic authority (which in the first century would have been regarded as a matter of positively banal obviousness), but also one of reciprocal service and protection…. In the world of late antiquity a household was under the authority of the paterfamilias; but it is also the case that, in an unpoliced society, households were often small fortresses with bolted outer gates and inner doors; wives were often much younger than their husbands, and male labor was the foundation of most of the economy.  So, here, a husband’s reciprocal responsibility to his wife, who is under the shelter of his household, is to lay down his life for her, on the model of Christ’s self-sacrificial headship.  End Quote.

His translation of Ephesians 5:21, as well as his study notes are the answer to the question posed by this article, Who is in submission to whom?

As Win put it, what wife wouldn’t choose to submit to a husband who loved her the way Christ loved the church?  The way this has played out over the centuries, however, has been a source of great pain, shame, and rebellion for some women, including me.  I’m so grateful for scholarship and the boldness of translators like Jonathan Mitchell and David Bentley Hart to declare what the naked text actually conveys, not what outdated cultural norms decree.  

Thank You, Father, for shining the light of Your incredible unconditional love, Your marvelous grace and Your infinite patience into the gloom, and for removing the veil from our eyes so that we see You as You are, and therefore view each other as Your children.  We love and adore You, fall on our faces before You, in worship and praise. “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.”  Amen. Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)

All our writings from 1997-2010 are on

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