Unbiblical, Part 1 – Submission v. Self-Defense

In a misguided effort to provide comfort and direction to abuse victims, well-meaning Christians will often quote Bible verses out of context or cite biblical principles which do not apply to abuse, thereby actually exacerbating the pain victims feel.

As a result, victims may turn away from the real comfort they would find in Christ.

This series of articles is intended to clarify – both for Christians, and abuse victims interacting with them – certain Scriptural passages and principles that could otherwise be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Submission v. Self-Defense

Perhaps the most damaging is the principle of “headship”.  The basis for this can be found in Chapter 5 of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, among a set of instructions on holy living for both men and women.  The entire chapter speaks of Christians loving and being “submissive” to one another.

The frequently overlooked instruction to husbands (highlighted below) is an integral part of the principle:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her [Emphasis added]…” (Eph. 5: 22-25).

God alone knows how many battered women have lost their lives on bad and unbiblical advice from a priest or minister that they return to a dangerous household, and submit to the will of their abusive, alcoholic, or drug addicted husbands.

Nowhere does the Bible instruct women to submit to violence – least of all by their husbands. Nowhere does it require that they risk their lives or the lives of their children to remain in an abusive marriage. The Song of Solomon is a full book within the Bible describing in lyrical terms the love and devotion that should exist between a husband and wife.

Christians are to be servants to all, in imitation of Christ. This does not preclude the right of self-defense. Author, Matt Perman describes self-defense as “the restraint of life-threatening evil” [1]. That description puts the Pauline principle of “headship” in proper perspective.

[1] Desiring God, Topic: War, “Did Jesus Teach Pacifism?” by Matt Perman, 1/23/06, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/did-jesus-teach-pacifism.

For more on the equality of men and women, see “Subjugation” 9/7/14

This series will continue next week with Sin Nature v. Abuse-Related Guilt



Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

12 responses to “Unbiblical, Part 1 – Submission v. Self-Defense

  1. jacqui

    Dear Anna, my heart is heavy with the truth of what you are saying, my heart is pained through the memory of being coerced back via the church to an abusive husband, the following years abuse and so much more resulted in deep depression and a load I could barely carry. I am walking with Jesus now some 30 years later healing but it still hurts. I look back now knowing Jesus and can honestly say these Christians did not know Christ and the love he has for women and children. Not only was I affected but the damage to my three year old daughter who is now at 27 years recovering and in counselling. It is painful to us both the results of the Christian church. They rule by the letter of the law and not the spirit of God, although I couldn’t have spoken like that 30 years ago I did not know what these were. I left the church for 10 years after that and spoke to no-one such the shame. I thank God Jesus never left me, although I didn’t know that either Anna. I saw Jesus as synonymous with the church. Little did I know that Jesus had as much trouble with the church in his day to those beautiful saints who love Jesus now. The truth of the damage Anna is coming out like a torrent now, the evil cesspit that it is and I’m glad about that …… The LORD spoke to me personally that I had received more damage from the church than all my childhood and adult abuse put together and as you know that is saying something. Such is the damage. May the LORD weed out those who cause such harm to these little ones both adults and children. May God give us grace to forgive too, I know I have but so many people are still being hurt.

    Anna bring this to light no matter how difficult. I am meeting more and more online who want to speak out their story of the hurt the church is doing. God Bless jacqui x

    • My heart breaks for you, Jacqui. I am at a loss for words. I do believe there will be a reckoning. Christ at Matthew 25: 45 says “‘…inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'” May He continue to sustain you.


      • jacqui

        it is true Anna, we just have to wait…. and that sometimes is the hardest part. But as we trust God in all his wisdom we know he will act fairly and justly. It has taken me years to get to this point of total releasing. ‘Vengeance is mine saith the LORD’. I have held on to this Anna knowing His way is the best way. Blessings Anna xx

      • I see the Lord’s image very clearly in you, Jacqui. Your suffering has given you a tremendous testimony. I am sure others, too, will be moved by that.

  2. You are so right, Anna! If the husband is truly following Christ’s (“the suffering servant”) example, the submission is mutual.

    • Thank you for expressing the viewpoint of a good husband, Bill. Sad to say, the principle is widely misunderstood, even by the clergy. I think that comes from a shallow understanding of the Gospel. I wonder how many clergymen would be willing to take their own bad advice, in the shoes of these battered women.

  3. A great post, dear Anna! ⭐ And so important the truth you share here. Yes, it was painful to read Jacqui’s testimony above, my heart breaks, too. But Bill is so right when he says that submission ought to be mutual in Christ, seeing your spouse as a brother or sister of Jesus. Nonetheless, if a spouse does not know God, the believing part in the marriage should not submit to the spirit of the world/Satan that keeps the other one in bondage. If a spouse presses for something which does not spring from God’s (unconditional) love, women should never submit to their husbands. It is the Spirit of Christ which is tender and loving to which we submit if we can see it in one another (spouses or brothers and sisters). But we should not submit to evil spirits that want to bring us into bondage again.

    May God bless you all on here!

    Much love ❤

  4. Susanne, this right here is why Paul wrote that we are not to be unequally yoke to an unbeliever for it makes for many problems.

    “Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Be’lial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'”
    (2 Corinthians 6:14-16 RSVA)

    You wrote, “If a spouse presses for something which does not spring from God’s (unconditional) love, women should never submit to their husbands.”

    When the Jewish authorities ordered the apostles to not speak about Jesus they answered one thing, “We must obey God rather than men.”

    Thank you dear sisters for sharing your insights and hearts on here. You are a blessing. ❤

    • Thank you, Michael. I would add only this. Domestic abuse is as old as mankind. It has been committed by men of every faith and none at all. Women are not required to submit to abuse — whether by a Christian or non-Christian partner.

  5. Yes, Anna, and we can know the difference by their fruit.

    “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it… So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. ”
    (Ephesians 5:25-28 KJ2000)

    “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
    (Matthew 12:50 KJ2000)

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