“Wives submit to your husbands.”
Growing up, this seemed to be one of the least understood statements in the bible, right after women being admonished to be silent in church and to wear head-coverings when praying, of course. Bringing up these verses in my relatively modern, evangelical mega-church always produced vague responses and confused expressions. Usually, with a little bit of embarrassment, there was some basic acceptance that men just have to be in charge, maybe because men’s maleness somehow represents God better (that’s why the priests were always male right?), or because, in spite of all anthropological research showing the contrary, men just really are better at being in charge and women really do kind of just want to have and nurture babies (but not really of course… I mean women CEO’s are ok), or maybe it is just an arbitrary command and we follow it because God tells us to… That statement is usually made with a bit more confidence, and garners more respect from me, but I think that all these explanations represent a fundamental misunderstanding of what Paul is saying in these verses.
It is often thought that Paul is simply reinforcing the power structures and gender roles that have existed since the rise of stratification and empires, that he is telling rebellious women to remain in their place. Really what Paul is doing though, is encouraging a radical subordination that reflects Christ nature and helps them be a better witness to that nature, in their society.
In general, we don’t seem to get that. It seems people think about this issue in one of these ways: A) people still view it as God’s dictation on who should be in charge (how power is distributed in God’s kingdom, which is ultimately oppressive to women), B) people don’t know how to view it, so they uncomfortably water it down basically saying that they think women are equal in value but men should still have most of the power (or maybe they just don’t really know what they mean), or C) they believe men and women should be fully equal, but that Christian women are not yet free or equal in our society so they should fight for that and try to attain it (men should help too, but can’t be counted on because they benefit from the status quo). All of these views completely ignore the ethic of submission and subordination which is proclaimed in the life of Christ and Paul’s writings.
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