The idea that wives should submit to their husbands is controversial and countercultural in our day. People think it implies that women are somehow inferior to men, or that the Bible endorses male abuse of power. But that’s not what Scripture means at all! The Word is quite clear that both men and women are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and equal in God’s eyes (Gal. 3:28).
So how are we to understand this command (vv. 22, 24; see Col. 3:18)? The short answer is exactly as it reads, but through biblical lenses, not our cultural lenses. Wives should submit to their husbands “as you do to the Lord” and “in everything.” Yet this does not imply any loss in dignity or equality or sanction any male abuses of power. If God the Son can submit to God the Father (John 8:28–29; 1 Cor. 11:3), we might need to rethink our cultural ideas about submission.
Verse 21 continues to build on the idea in the previous verses, so that submitting “to one another out of reverence for Christ” is part of being filled with the Spirit (v. 18). Does mutual submission mean husbands and wives should submit to one another? No; the command means, according to one study Bible, “submitting to others according to the authority and order established by God.” Relevant responsibilities in family relationships are described in the verses that follow.
This verse, then, provides a statement of the general principle, and the following verses give examples of how it works in practice. It’s proper for wives to submit to husbands, because “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” (v. 23). The reverse would not be appropriate, any more than it would be between Christ and the church.
We aren’t great with submission to authority. We cherish our rights and admire vigilantes like Batman, explorers like Daniel Boone, and heroes like Audie Murphy. But submission to proper authorities is a Christlike virtue, whether in the family, church, or society (see Rom. 13:1–2). Ask the Lord to give you a submissive spirit today.