The idea that wives should submit to their husbands can seem strange to modern ears because we tend to conceptualize and practice authority and submission wrongly. Conceptually, we often associate authority and submission with superiority and inferiority, respectively. Our warped view of creation, colored by our own fallenness and the world’s lies, often sees authority figures as inherently superior to those who submit to authority. Fallen culture demands that we view those who submit as ontologically (at the core of one’s being) inferior to others.
Attaching inherent superiority to human beings who possess authority and linking ontological inferiority with those who submit is profoundly unbiblical. We see this by way of analogy with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Son submits Himself to His Father’s authority (John 5:19; 12:49) but not because He is essentially inferior to the Father. After all, the Father and the Son share the same essence (John 1:1). At the level of beingness, one is not greater than the other even if each has different roles and levels of authority in the outworking of salvation. Similarly, husbands and wives are equal in dignity and all else that comprises their essential humanity. Nevertheless, this does not preclude their having different roles in the home.
Wifely submission is also hard for many to bear because too many husbands mistreat their wives. How many of us know husbands who demand that their wives bow to their every whim and bark orders as if their wives were animals? Such behavior is evil and does not encourage true wifely submission. Paul does not tell husbands to order their wives to submit; rather, he exhorts wives directly, calling them to follow their husband’s lead (Eph. 5:22–24). Moreover, the apostle commands husbands to treat their wives as well as they treat themselves (vv. 28–30).
At least two applications follow necessarily from these truths. First, husbands who order their wives around like slaves completely miss what Scripture says about authority (Mark 10:42–44); they are serving themselves, not their families. Second, there is no need for husbands to ask godly wives to submit if they are loving them properly. What holy woman would not put herself under the authority of her husband if he loved her to the degree Christ loves His church?
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “A Christian husband is to care for his wife with the same devotion that he naturally manifests as he cares for himself (v. 29) — even more so, since his self-sacrificing love causes him to put her first” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,702; hereafter MA BC). Christian husbands should not even think about why their wives might hesitate to submit until they love their wives in this way.