Misused Scripture 6: Ephesians 5:21-22 "Wives Submit To Your Husbands"

If you've been around conservative Christians long enough, you've probably encountered the idea of "Biblical manhood and womanhood" or complementarianism. It's essentially sexist patriarchy baptized with Scripture so that men retain decision-making power and authority while women, well, don't. Evidence used by complementarians is Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord."

Except that's not what the text says.

One nice feature of the New American Standard Version (NASB) is that it italicizes words that translators have added in for the sake of clarity in English.

Here is Ephesians 5:22 in the ESV:

Eph 5:22 ESV

And here it is in the NASB:

Ephesians 5:22, NASB. Note the italics.

Do you see those italics? It means the words "submit" or "subject yourselves" are not there in the original Greek. The translators added those words in to make sense of this sentence that otherwise would have no verb.

WTF, translators? Of all the verbs in the world to choose from, why did you choose that one? Why not "Wives, cuddle your husbands, as to the Lord," or "Wives, stop taking your husband's fries, as to the Lord?"

Well, the translator is borrowing this verb from the verse above, where we find the "master verb" that makes sense of this entire section, into chapter 6. Now, you may not know that this section actually begins one verse before because translations will also add section headings to, theoretically, help the reader along. But those section headings aren't inspired Scripture. Somebody chose where to put it. And, in the case of Ephesians 5, they chose a pretty crappy spot because they're ignoring the fact that the main verb is being cut off from the rest of the paragraph by this arbitrary section heading.

Some dude added the section heading

So, what is the main verb in the verse above that defines the paragraph topic moving forward?

"Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (emphasis my own).

Submitting to one another

You can now see, first, how grossly misplaced that section header is, and, second, where the translators got the word "submit" for the verse about wives. It comes out of the command for everyone to submit to each other!

How many sermons have you ever heard about women needing to look for submissive men? Or sermons commanding husbands to submit to their wives? Theoretically, it should be the same amount as the other way around because the command to submit is a mutual command to the entire community. To make this section solely about wives submitting to husbands is the opposite of taking Scripture "literally." It makes a mockery out of it, all in the name of sexism and misogyny, so that men can retain power and feel spiritual while doing it.

So-called "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" is twisting Scripture to support the oppression of women. It's wrong, and it undermines the work of Jesus, who elevated women to leadership, evangelism, preaching, and apostleship.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC