Wives, Submit. Husbands, Die!

Few sentences in the Bible generated as much controversy in our day as Ephesians 5:22’s text on marriage. In it, Paul commanded Christian wives to submit to their husbands. Some writers say this verse was so controversial that it helped launch the women’s liberation movement of the 60’s. Never mind that the verse has more words attached to it. And never mind that there is a wider context to Paul’s words. Or that Paul actually had more to say to husbands. The word “submit” was just too much for many people. In their minds, the word is synonymous to oppression, subjugation, or dominance.

Assuming we can at least have a break from our shock and outrage, today might be a good day to find out what the verse actually says. No, I will not try to pacify you with Greek root words and different shades of meaning of the word “submit.” I just want to draw your attention to Paul’s command to husbands. In Ephesians 5:25 Paul commanded the husbands to love their wives to the point of death.

Shocking, I know.

That is because Christian marriage actually goes deeper than pleasure and procreation. For believers of Jesus, marriage is a walking parable of the gospel. It is a shorthand for the glorious story of Jesus dying on the cross to redeem his people. Marriage is a lifetime of reenacting that story. By submitting to the husband, the bride symbolically represents the church, the redeemed people of God. By loving to the point of death, the husband symbolically represents Christ in his sacrificial love for his people. In other words, the marriage relationship between husbands and wives points to a spiritual reality that is beyond the institution of marriage itself. And while women are called to submit, men are being called to die.

You can ditch your protest banners and placards now. There’s no scandal here. There’s just a deeply theological representation of the kind of love and commitment that we all desire in the first place.