Is Mutual Submission Really a Myth?

In a CBMW journal article entitled, “The Myth of Mutual Submission,” Wayne Grudem asks, “How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord’?”

He then goes on to explain what he sees as the significance of Paul’s alleged command to wives:

“For a wife to be submissive to her husband will probably not often involve obeying actual commands or directives (though it will sometimes include this), for a husband may rather give requests and seek advice and discussion about the course of action to be followed (compare Phlm. 8-9). This is probably why Paul used the broader term “be subject to” when speaking to wives…”

What Wayne Grudem apparently fails to recognize here is that Paul did not in fact use the term “be subject to” when speaking to wives.  The oldest known manuscript evidence for Paul’s letter to the Ephesians does not contain this command.  It has evidently been supplied by scribes and translators.  Grudem erroneously attributes the command to Paul, and he attaches great significance to it.

So what does the earliest manuscript evidence say?  Simply put, Paul commands all Christians (including husbands and wives) to “be submissive one to another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This is the only occurence of the verb “submit” in Ephesians 5:21 and 22.  In verse 22, we have only the words, “wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” There is no additional imperative verb here.  In fact, verse 22 is not even a complete sentence.  There is only one command addressed to all believers found in verse 21. “Wives to your husbands” is one example of this form of submission. Later in the chapter, Paul encourages husbands to follow the example set by Jesus when he took upon himself the form of a servant and died on the cross for our sins. “Be submissive one to another.”

Wayne Grudem is so bent on commanding wives to “be subject” to husbands that he even redefines Ephesians 5:21 in light of the non-existent command in verse 22. Instead of translating the passage, “Be submissive to one another,” he insists that it should be read, “be subject, some to others.” Who is supposed to be subject? Wives, and wives alone.

“How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, ‘Wives be subject to your husbands’?”   We recognize that this command is not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Evidently, it was added later by scribes and translators.  We are also aware that the only command to all believers regardless of their sex or marital status is, “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ.”

Furthermore, we recognize that Paul does not tell husbands to “lead their wives as Christ led the church.” Rather he tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

What should this love look like?

The apostle Paul tells us:
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (
Philippians 2:5-8)

How then should husbands love their wives?  By humbling themselves, and taking on the form of a bond-servant:  “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ.”  Mutual submission is not a myth.  It is a biblical command.