What are your rights as a spouse? Answer: All the rights of a human being.
You did not forfeit any of your human rights when you married. Your God-endowed humanity is unalienable, which is to say, your personal dignity and liberty can never be conveyed to another—even when by all measures it appears so. One may forcibly subjugate another, and one may yield control to a bullyman (or woman), but that does not convey human rights to the controller. When you married you did not lose your humanity, your autonomy, your dignity, or your rights to your body and mind. Neither the husband nor the wife has the right to physically, emotionally, or spiritually dominate the other. A spouse who intimidates or manipulates their ‘less significant’ other into subjection is a merciless, selfish bully, expressing the opposite of love.
The excuse you hear, “I am doing it for their own good,” is the mantra of all repressive regimes, dictatorships, and abusive husbands. When someone does something unpleasant “for your own good” and you submit to it, you have volunteered to be a victim. If you come to accept it as normal, you may end up speaking in defense of your subjection.
As so, you are suffering from Stockholm syndrome — a historical event where kidnapped individuals were
so traumatized by their captors, that, in their helplessness they came to identify with their captors and speak and act in their defense. Once removed from captivity, they were perplexed by their former acceptance of bondage. Many wives and some husbands are enablers of the bad behavior of their dominating spouse by treating their behavior as normal—even defending it by accepting criticism of their own personal shortcomings. One wife recently revealed how her husband was hitting her, sometimes hard enough to knock her unconscious, but as she shared that information and was encouraged to report him to the authorities, she said, “No, I couldn’t do that, because I deserved it.” That is all too common.
Many wives submit to abuse and degrading acts because they believe the Bible teaches that wives are to be subject to the total control of their husbands. The worst defense (and the most effective) is to reference the Bible as advocating the subjection of wives to husbands. And it doesn’t stop there; we see parents using the Bible to subjugate their children, even grown adult children. Pastors use the Bible to preach subjection to their rule in the church. Cult leaders so dominate the lives of their followers that adherents have been known to submit to sexual misuse, give all their money, and even commit suicide for their beloved, divine leader. History reveals kings, dictators, and parliaments using the Bible to subdue their citizens. Slavery was justified by biblical passages taken out of context.
All use of the Bible to promote one’s own power and control over others comes from the same dark spirit. You will remember that in the garden Satan used the words of God to tempt Eve into doing his bidding. And, again, Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus in an attempt to get him to surrender his will.
Before I address the Scripture most quoted by these little dictators, I want to say this on the front end: The Bible does not cause people to dominate others; rather, those with a dominating spirit just find it convenient to appeal to a higher power to justify their desire to control. When the dominator knows the spouse has no respect for the Word of God, they will find another reason to justify their aggression, such as “he/she is weak minded, doesn’t have a strong will, makes stupid mistakes, is lazy, lacks ambition, needs to be guided to be productive,” etc. But when a man knows his wife regards the Bible as the highest authority, he will use that fact as a cudgel to manipulate her to his will.
Women can command the pious master’s chair as well as men, but for every religious, controlling wife there are maybe five dominating husbands. And the use of physical domination is almost exclusively the domain of men.
Before we look at the verses misused by power-hungry husbands, as well as others that speak of submission, notice one crucial fact that is almost universally overlooked. All imperative verses on submitting to another are directed toward the one who is to submit. There is no command anywhere in Scripture for a husband to submit his wife to himself, or to even assume submission on her part. In fifty-two years of marriage I have never told my wife that she is supposed to submit to me. I have never referenced the Bible when she was of a different mindset. I knew from the Word of God that it was my duty to lead by example and by living and acting in such a way as to generate confidence in my leadership. If she was not following, I understood it was my failure to create confidence. I felt it would be an evil thing to command her to respect and obey me—a fallen, selfish, most fallible son of Adam. And I knew I had no right to use the Bible as a way to manipulate her into following me when she lacked confidence in my direction. Sir, if you have done otherwise, you have sinned. Wife, if you have cowed to that kind of tyrannical rule, you are an enabler of evil behavior.
Verses on Submission
Soul-controlling husbands often quote, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” But they don’t mention the next verse, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Colossians 3:18–19).
The second verse pulled out of context is, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1).
And the third and fourth verses are drawn out from a long passage: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands . . . Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing (Ephesians 5:22, 24).
Controlling husbands have tunnel vision, only seeing these four verses that tell wives to submit to their husbands. To get a clear understanding of the word, let’s look at other passages that command submission.
Every husband is commanded to voluntarily “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme . . .” (1 Peter 2:13).
Every husband (and wife) is commanded to “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Every husband is commanded to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Every husband is commanded to submit to other Christians. The oft-quoted verse “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands,” is preceded by “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21–22). The context of submission reveals that before a wife is commanded to submit, the husband is commanded to submit to others in his Christian acquaintance, to government, to the church elders, and to God. Likewise, in the chain of command, the wife is to submit to her “own husband” (not to men in general). Again, the Bible gives the wife a command to submit, but it does not give the husband the authority to demand it, or even expect it.
There are many men (preachers included) who view the wife’s submission to her husband as unqualified. A woman wrote to us of how hard it is to submit to her husband “in every thing” (Ephesians 5:24). He made her stand guard and be the “get-away driver” at truck stops while he robbed the trucks. I know this is extreme, but it speaks to the question: Is obeying “in every thing” unqualified? Another woman wrote of how her husband had a habit of hanging out at the rest stops along the interstate highway. The dumb woman didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but it concerned her when he decided he would begin taking their young teenage son along. She said, “I want to obey my husband, but I feel something is terribly wrong.” She knew her husband was queer; she just couldn’t bring herself to face it. She believed the command for wives to submit to their husbands in every thing did not allow her to question his motives or actions.
Another woman told my wife how she had come to the knowledge that her husband was sexually active with his daughters. “He tells me it is none of my business; I am to submit to him if I am to be a good wife.”
In all three of the above cases, and many more like them, we informed the wives of their liberty and duty. They informed on their husbands and at least two out of the three were arrested, and one is doing hard time while he gets done by the other inmates who hate child molesters. Prisoners have no tolerance for child molesters and often take justice into their own hands.
Many, many wives write of how their husbands, engaged in pornographic viewing, have come to seek deviant ways of penetrating the wife and of abusing her for their twisted pleasure. Many women have submitted and feel cursedly used and stricken in conscience. Is the command to wifely obedience unqualified? Has she forfeited her human rights to the whims of another?
The command to submit to and obey the elders has equal standing with the command for wives to submit to their husbands. Does the man demanding unqualified submission from his wife yield to unqualified rule from pastors—from government? Or does he exercise his God-given conscience to determine if the authority is legitimate?
Forty-six years ago, when there was an ordinance against homeschooling, noted Christian ministers were preaching that Christians should obey every ordinance of man without distinction or reservation. Well, in good conscience, my wife and I refused to obey unjust laws. The time came when the court sent a summons for us to bring our children and appear before the judge. I did not submit to every ordinance of man. I arranged for the children to be taken out of state to an undisclosed location, and we appeared before the judge without them. I rebuked the judge and left the court promising to resist his rule and change the law, which we eventually succeeded in doing.
How could I in good conscience not “submit to every ordinance of man?” Because the passage doesn’t end there. It continues with a qualifier. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man…as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” The passage assumes that the ordinance of man is founded on godly principles, designed to punish evildoers. Then it acknowledges our freedom from tyranny when it says “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” There is a caution that though we are free to follow our consciences, we are not to take advantage of that liberty as a way of malicious self-promotion.
When the elders of Israel, wielding the office of government, commanded Peter and the other disciples not to preach Jesus, they responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). The law and those representing it were no longer acting to punish evildoers. They were threatening to punish good-doers, and so forfeited their moral authority.
In the 1500s, when the church and state passed a law against the printing of Scripture, William Tyndale became an underground printer and smuggler of Bibles. He did not submit to “every ordinance of man” when the ordinance was against truth and righteousness. He became an outlaw of man and a hero of God.
No Greater Joy Ministries defies the laws of many countries in providing gospel literature to their citizens. The laws to obey every ordinance of man are not unconditional.
A Closer Look at Scripture
Now let us examine the most popular verse on women submitting to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:21 “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
The command to submit comes with a qualifier—submit “in the fear of God.” It does not say we should submit “one to another” out of fear of how God might respond if we don’t; it says the submission is in the context of the fear of God. When friends, church leaders, husbands, or government speak the truth in the fear of God, we should weigh the validity and yield to the truth behind what they say.
Immediately following in the next statement, we see another qualifier. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Just as wives voluntarily submit to kings, governors, pastors, etc., they should submit to their own husbands “as unto the Lord.” Our Lord doesn’t command the unreasonable or sinful. When a wife submits to her husband it is because she sees the will of God behind his wisdom in the matter.
That is not to say a wife must hold her husband to a rigid examination of every turn of direction. She can voluntarily follow his lead (when it doesn’t involve immorality or abuse) even when she thinks it not the best course, knowing that he is growing and trying to do the best he can. He can learn by his mistakes as she honors his office and follows him on the halting path of his sincere navigation of the perplexities of life.
The text continues with “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.” All verses on submission, whether of man to government, church leaders, one another, or wives submitting to their husbands, are rooted in the assumption that the authority is operating in a chain of submission to God. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” Husbands must view their headship as representatives of Christ. Husbands are heads just as Christ is head of the church. That doesn’t translate into brute force or intimidation. The example of what it means to be head is found in the next verses. Sir, read them carefully and ask yourself if you have earned to right to represent Christ’s headship.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
Husbands are the head of the department of love and giving.
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
The husband’s headship is that of “cleansing” and “washing” his wife with his kind words.
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
Husbands are the head of the nourishing department “even as the Lord the church.”
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
The major emphasis of this passage
is what it means to be the head. When a husband loves “his wife even
as himself,” she will reverence her husband.
Caution to the Wives
Wives can be selfish, advantage-seeking Jezebels just like men can be controlling tyrants. We do not have the time, space, or energy to address this, even though I know that, although this article is directed toward correcting the tyrannical husband’s misuse of Scripture, there will be many controlling women who will use what has been said here to justify a rebellious streak.
Of Vital Importance to Misused Wives
Although, dear wife, you maintain your human right to complete autonomy, and you have a right (a duty, even) to resist tyranny or abuse, you also have a duty to humility and grace. Neither husband nor wife is perfect. If you want to find fault in your spouse, there is plenty to be found. If you are stubborn by nature (so-called), this article will cause you to feel liberty to further your stubbornness.
For this article to be balanced, I would need to cover 1 Peter 3:1–17. I encourage you to study it for yourself and consider the advantage of “taking some stuff” off of your unreasonable husband as way to glorify God and perhaps win your man to the path of love and goodwill. Quite often, while acknowledging your rights, giving them up is the more prosperous path.
Next magazine I will provide balance to this subject.
When I first wrote Created to Be His Help Meet we didn’t see many manipulative, controlling men, especially secretly violent ones. I wrote to wives admonishing them to be in subjection because that was what was lacking in the church at that time. Nowadays the pendulum has swung to the other side. I recently spoke with a young Amish wife who sincerely asked what she should do if her husband keeps beating her for no reason. I have to say, I was so stunned my brain drew a blank. Another young bride came and asked, “Do I have to let him choke me? It feels like he is killing me, and he just laughs when I beg him to not do it again.” This is now a thing.
The news, our mail, and social media tell us that there are two issues among men who profess to be Christians. One group of men seems to have just given up. They have no interest in their wives, work, or even hobbies, except what they can do from a couch. The other extreme, which is what was addressed in this article, is the problem of men who feel they are like gods, demanding service, giving little, and showing no compassion or normal camaraderie. Many of these men treat their wives as less than servants. I know there are many possible variables, including odd health issues, but the most glaring change in men’s habits is the wide use of pornography.
Porn reacts with the brain in two distinct ways. One is to remap the brain (literally) so that the man’s body no longer reacts to a woman. He simply can’t get it up. This can lead to depression (moral courage) and to more viewing, which deepens the remapping of the brain.
Another way porn destroys the brain is through reprogramming the brain to lose emotional connections with the one you are supposed to love; the physical brain connections that create feelings are disrupted and rerouted. Without normal feelings, a man loses his natural desire to protect and cherish. He takes, he uses, he expects, and if it hurts, all the better.
We live in a world of vile maliciousness. We have seen it close to home. Surely porn is not the only precursor leading to over-played dominance, but it is the principal one.
This is an alert to wives who are married to hard-working, good-hearted men that are resisting porn. Ladies, please keep in mind that the same old Eve issues are still alive and active in you. You might read this and be inclined to use the old “spiritual heartbreak” to control your husband. You might be disappointed that your husband neglects family devotions, never prays with you, or doesn’t want more babies. Don’t use what Mike wrote as a license to become the spiritual dominator. You can’t be your husband’s conscience, and, if you try, neither of you will thrive spiritually or in your marriage. You need your husband to thrive, so stand by your man and be thankful. Pray for the wives who are not so blessed.