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” . That description puts the Pauline principle of “headship” in proper perspective.
 Desiring God, Topic: War, “Did Jesus Teach Pacifism?” by Matt Perman, 1/23/06, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/did-jesus-teach-pacifism.
Originally posted 3/8/15
This series will continue next week with Sin Nature v. Abuse-Related Guilt
Wishing You All A Happy Thanksgiving!
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24 responses to “Unbiblical, Part 1 – Submission v. Self-Defense”
Yes. I went through horrors in my first marriage, the worst of which was when he kicked me in my pregnant belly while wearing his steel-toed work boot, while yelling that he did not want me to have his child, after all. I had already been told that God expected me to submit to my husband’s abuse “as unto the Lord.”
After losing my faith for several decades, but finally coming back to believing in Christ Jesus shortly before my 50th birthday, I met and married the Christian man who is now my husband of nearly 15 years. One day, early in our marriage, when my husband was trying to get me to do something that I could not do, he angrily declared: “The Bible says that a wife is supposed to submit to her husband!”
“Yes, the Bible does say that,” I replied. “And in that very same passage, the Bible also says that a husband should love his wife enough to die for her. So, Mister: If you aren’t dying, I am not submitting.”
That was 14 years ago. And my husband has not pulled the “wives must submit” line on me ever again. 😊
PS: Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Anna. I forgot to say that.
It grieves me that you suffered so, Lady Quixote. How wonderful that you’re now in a good marriage! Have a great Turkey Day! ❤
How sad that so many men have been deceived to believe that they are permitted to control their wives via scripture. Part of this lies at the feet of willing ignorance on the part of pastors/teachers who fail to apply the “submit verse” to the context.
Then again, that also explains why there are so many denominations today who are built upon one single verse of scripture instead of the entirety of God’s word. Man does like to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that suit his particular inclinations, wouldn’t you agree?
In my early years as a Christian I heard so many stories of women who would come to church knowing that when they returned home a beating awaited them. Even as a babe in Christ, I knew that couldn’t possible be right. Since then, if I hear any preacher use the verse about submitting to your husband and not include the verse about husbands loving your wives as Christ loved the church, I dismiss them as not worth listening to.
Happy and blessed thanksgiving to all, especially to you dear Anna.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Ron. You are a blessing and and an encouragement to me, all year round. It means a great deal to know that there are godly men like yourself, who would never abuse a woman. Hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
It’s frightening to think that people would use scripture to justify abuse. Yet, I know this happens, I am thinking about a man we knew from the church we used to attend.
Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friend.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Bill. You are a treasured friend.
Love and submission only work where the two subsets intersect. There is submission in the spectrum of love just as there is love in the spectrum of submission.
The man that loves his wife, enough to die for her, has no time, energy intention or interest in demanding any form of submission from her. He is too pre-occupied with giving more of himself to her. If any man finds a woman who is truly lovingly and willingly submissive, it is because she has seen the love that blows her mind.
Every time we find submission coming before love, it is either abuse, manipulation or dogmatic indoctrination. With any of these, disaster lurks around.
There is no place where submission to Christ is demanded of his followers. Christians willingly submit to Christ when they come to realize that he loves them so much that he laid his life down for them.
The wisdom in Christ’s words is that of the “cart- and-the-horse”. In this case, love is the horse. Love is the cart and love is the wheel.
Thank you, Anna, for another amazing post. Happy Thanksgiving ❤
Thank you for another amazing comment, Gbolabo. Happy Thanksgiving. ❤
I agree with every thing that’s written.
People often manipulate the words of every holy scripture to fit their selfish narrative.
I like how you added the emphasis to that quote. The very same emphasis that’s overlooked by abusive men. A textbook case of contextomy.
Thank you, Sulaiman. Sadly, abuse comes in many forms.
Amen!! Thank you for this.
You are so kind, Nicodemas.
Peace and be blessed!
Well-written. Clear writing.
If it is right to use force to stop someone from harming an innocent person, then surely we can use force to stop someone from harming ourselves.
Thank you, Chris.
Context changes everything! I’m so blessed to have a husband who loves me as Christ loves the Church ❤ Hubby's dad, however, was a violent drunk. Yet his mom took her marriage vows to heart and stayed. Now he's old/feeble/crusty/selfish, while she's healthy and still there taking care of him. Despite (and likely because of) his selfish behaviour, all the kids (including 3 sons) took after their godly mother… All glory to God! 🙂 💜 Jackie@KWH
Thank you for sharing the story. ❤
Must admit my comment’s been bothering me, Anna Who am I to broadcast the wrongs of another when only God can see inside our hearts?! Selfish or whatever, it breaks my heart to think his soul may be lost for all eternity!!! Praise the Lord for His grace in sustaining my MIL to be God’s daily witness to him still, after all these years ❤ And may today be the day of my FIL's salvation! 🙏✝️😇💜Jackie@KWH
You have a kind heart, Jackie. We can hope and trust that God is at work on your father-in-law’s heart as He is on the hearts of many others. He rescued me for which I will be eternally grateful. ❤
Glory to God, we are nothing apart from His grace! ❤ I suspect issues from my FIL's upbringing keep holding his heart hostage … trust/hope/pray 🙏✝😇💜 Jackie@KWH
I’m a little late to the game in commenting on this post, but I just want to say that I am always grateful for anyone who is willing to the discuss the Ephesians 5 passage, especially within the context of abuse. It has been my experience that when people quote this passage in an attempt to establish dominance over a woman they always leave out the beginning verse of the passage: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v21). Also overlooked (and I love that you put it in bold) is the command for husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. Considering the lengths to which he went to love and serve the church, God has some pretty high expectations for husbands. Thank you for the post!!!!
My pleasure. I think the passage has been badly misused over the years.
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