Wife Only Submission vs Mutual Submission
I have noticed a confusion about the difference between WOS (Wife Only Submission) and MS (Mutual Submission) so I would like to clarify the difference and add some thoughts.
WOS is the belief that, in marriage, husbands are not obligated/called to submit to their wives out of reverence for Christ.
MS is the believe that husbands and wives are both obligated/called to submit to their spouse (and others) out of reverence for Christ.
WOS is often tied with patriarchy — which is the philosophy that, in marriage, the male has authority over his wife due to his gender.
In my opinion, patriarchy can be mostly-healthy, when the man is choosing sacrificial love towards his wife and/or when he uses his perceived authority in wise and godly ways — which would generally include trust, respect some ‘delegation’ of that perceived authority, etc.
In that ‘mostly-healthy patriarchy’ case, WOS is not what is truly going on — because ‘sacrificial love’ fits the Biblical definition of ‘submission’, even if neither spouse would use that word for it, and even though it depends on the (in my opinion, inaccurate) perception of inherent male authority. If the husband is submitting to his wife (by loving her sacrificially) that is a MS scenario, and anything else is just semantics.
The reason WOS (the idea that males are not obligated/called to submit to their wives out of reverence for Christ) is a bigger problem than ‘mostly-healthy patriarchy’ is because if men do not submit to their wives (no matter what vocabulary they prefer to use about it) they are not obeying God’s commands to them, and that’s a problem — often a problem that has effects on many others (the wife, children, children’s spouses, grandchildren). It’s hard for me to see people ‘normalizing’ the disobedience of one gender, while twisting the obedience of the other gender to compensate for it.
Now I believe that the NT describes a situation in which a husband had legal and civic responsibility over his wife, who was, by law his property. He had the full authority granted to him by the Roman government, and he could not ignore it. No one could.
Therefore I find it quite understandable that, in reading the New Testament some readers would draw the conclusion that because that hierarchy is described in the Bible, it is to be understood as ‘the right thing’ for Christians. I hold nothing against people who have honestly come to this conclusion — it’s easy to come by!
Patriarchy was the building block of Roman society. Equality between men and women would have been illegal. Therefore the New Testament gives commands as-to how a man with legal/civic authority is still capable of submitting to his wife, and is not exempt from the command to do so.
Therefore I consider marriages that involve ‘presumed authority’ of the male, ONLY WHEN combined with proper Christian submission (to each other) — to be within the Bible’s definition of a godly way to live.
Patriarchy-with-mutual-submission worked for the 1st Century Roman Christians, and it can work for our brothers and sisters if they want it to. We have no place to stand against them as if their conclusions and choices were sin.
What can’t work (as far as I can possibly see) is patriarchy-without-mutual-submission… because the belief that some Christians are free not to submit to other Christians (for reasons of gender and marital status) is completely out of step with the Bible — encouraging disobedience to direct commandments as well as disregarding the very core of the character of the Christlife.
Patriarchy can hurt people — and does — but it does not always hurt people, and it can be done ‘well’ according to the New Testament.
WOS (the belief that husbands are free to behave unsubmissively towards their wives) is the real poison. Living with someone who claims Christ but lives with a me-before-you attitude, and believes and preaches that it is right and proper to do so… that’s just not right… and people are definitely going to get hurt.
[…] you’re going with this.” Inside I was a quivering mess because I knew that if he believed in Wife-Only Submission, I’d have to immediately say good-bye to him and I really didn’t want that to […]
[…] I just randomly asked him what he thought about submission in marriage. So many people believe in Wife Only Submission (WOS) where it is only the wife who has to submit to her husband regardless of how she feels. […]
Excellent — very clearly and helpfully stated. The interpretation of scripture that completely ignores the context in which it was written does a disservice to Christianity and to the people who are trying to live it out faithfully in practice.
Bolt, thanks for this thoughtful and respectful analysis. You wrote: “‘sacrificial love’ fits the Biblical definition of ‘submission’, even if neither spouse would use that word for it…” Great point!!
Well said. =)