But what if he is a toad?

When ever the topic of submission comes up, the standard objection is “But where do you draw the line?” This is a good question which we ought to consider.

We live in an egalitarian society, where any kind of hierarchy is considered to be bad. But our Maker has established a chain of authority and submission for His people, and we ought to give His instructions our attention. God’s Word is for His people. I do not expect an unbeliever to understand or apply God’s standards that He has given for own His people to follow. These are house rules that are ours, and we do not impose them on our neighbors. But we also tend to run to the hard cases (read Rachel’s post The Human Shield) to create an argument against the easy cases. Were there no abused women in Ephesus when Paul wrote his words about submission to them? Of course there probably were, and wise pastors would watch out for them. But . . . were there no quarrelsome wives in Ephesus either? Paul was addressing the latter, and we still need to hear this today.

Submission is a holy thing. Why do I say this? Because Jesus submitted to the Father. Submission is seen and lived out for us in the very Godhead. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11).

Submission is emphatically not women to men. It is wives to husbands, and, as I said in the last post, it is up to wives to be submissive, it is not up to their husbands to enforce it. But what if a husband becomes a little tyrant? What if he is not a believer? What if he is abusive to the kids or to the wife? What if he is an all out toad of a husband?

First, if you married such a man, you might need to start with repentance. You freely made an unwise choice. It is actually helpful to acknowledge this to God before you move forward. Abigail did this when she told David her husband was a fool. You don’t have to pretend your husband is wise and loving if he is not. Abigail intervened when her husband was being dangerously foolish, and the Scripture commends her for this. We ought to follow her example if we are in a similar situation. For many years, as we have taught on submission, we have also held up Abigail as an exemplar.

Second, you are a free woman in Christ. You are not a second-class citizen like a Muslim woman in an Islamic culture. Christianity is radically opposed to such things. Men and women are co-heirs and equal in their standing before God. Children are equal to their parents in the same way; employers are equal to their employees; students are equal to their teachers. But we still expect obedience and submission in such relationships (though we may not call it that).  But this does not mean you have to do anything your boss or teacher or parent tells you to do. I will point again to Abigail.

If a husband is misusing his authority as a husband and father, he can be held accountable. He is not an absolute authority any more than a teacher or an employer is. If an employer asks the employee to lie or cheat, it’s time to pull the plug and move on. If a teacher requires something immoral of her student, the student should refuse. If a church oversteps its authority (arranging marriages, demanding financial gifts), then it’s time to leave. If a husband is pushing the limits in a similar way, a wife should not submit to him. His authority is limited. God’s authority outranks his by a long shot. If you cannot submit to your husband “in the Lord” than you may not submit to him, period. God’s Word guides us, not a fallible man or institution.

So what does this mean? Here are a few examples. If a husband leaves the Protestant faith to join an apostate church, a wife should not follow him. She should stand firm on this and absolutely refuse. If her husband is asking her to do ungodly things (like pose for nude pictures that he can put on his phone), then she should utterly refuse. If he hits her or threatens to hit her (or anything else that might fall into the violent category), she should not hesitate to call the police. If he is being a jerk at home, she should call her pastor for help.

Now some wives may think that calling for help or calling the cops or just telling her husband no is disrespecting her husband. I think it is the reverse. She is holding him accountable. She is affirming that she is under God’s authority, and she obeys Him first. She will not lay aside her primary loyalty to God to obey any secondary authority. If she simply puts up with such ungodly behavior, she is disrespecting herself, her husband, and everyone else who is directly involved. It certainly takes courage and faith to draw the line and tell your husband, “No.”  Women often want to protect their husbands from the consequences of their (disobedient) behavior. But that is not what they need. Why do so many battered wives (or girlfriends) in our country stay on for more bad behavior? No one is making them stay, and yet they would rather take it than leave. This is terrible, and we ought to help any women we know out of such a situation.

So now that I’ve addressed some of these things, I’m sure you can think of more. I will say it again: a husband’s authority over a wife is not absolute. But it does not follow from this that he has none at all.


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20 thoughts on “But what if he is a toad?

  1. Reducing submission to:

    1. Shame on you if you are an egalitarian
    2. Repent if you married a dope, you dope.
    3.If you need to call the cops because your husband is beating the crap out of you, by all means do.

    This does not address the nuances of real live Christian women living with real live Christian men who can just be overbearing boobs sometimes. The answer is not to always plant the apple tree his way (see previous post) and ta da marital bliss!

    That would make your husband out to be a toddler who can’t abide a woman with an opinion and a wife who has decided it’s easier to let her husband have his way all the time than actually dealing with his problem of being a pure sinful selfish boor. You bet, all your problems will appear to disappear when you always “submit” this way. But is it really the best thing for anyone? Really?

    Until the church figures out just exactly what Genesis 3:16 was getting at we will continue to hear the admonition to, “Aww, come on can’t you just let your husband do it his way. Always. I mean if you don’t have to call the cops, is it really that bad?”


  2. As I’ve understood it the “he shall rule over you” is not part of the curse, but a pre-fall state. The curse is “your desire shall be for your husband,” meaning “your desire shall be for mastery over your husband” (as the same sort of expression is translated in Genesis 4:7 with sin desiring Cain).

    Just as work and childbearing did not suddenly come into existence after the Fall but were made more difficult as a result of the Fall, so the need for wives to submit to their husbands was not a result of the Fall but was made more difficult because of the Fall.

  3. Hi, Terri! Glad I finally got the chance to meet you last Sunday!

    I’m wondering if you’re being quite fair in your summary of what Nancy wrote. Those three points don’t reflect the spirit of what I read. One of the main jobs of authority is to protect, and when authority in one sphere, e.g., marriage, becomes something one needs protection from, there is usually recourse to seek protection elsewhere, e.g., civil authorities (if there is abuse of a criminal nature) or church authorities (if there is overbearing boobitude). And I know that’s what Nancy means because I see that lived out in this community. I see husbands and fathers protecting their families and I see pastors and elders protecting their flocks from the husbands and fathers who don’t. I see the churches here coming alongside women, disciplining toads, and calling in the cops when warranted.

    I know as well as anyone that things don’t always work that way. My father’s general toadiness turned at times to physical violence toward my mother. I heard the cops tell her, “There’s nothing we can do unless we see him hit you.” I heard the silence of emasculated church leaders who did little beyond giving my father a copy of I’m OK, You’re OK.

    But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater! I don’t want to throw out the truth, beauty, and goodness of God-ordained authority and submission just because some people have depicted them in false, ugly, and wicked ways. I wish we’d been in a church that taught and practiced what Nancy’s written in these last two posts. I wish my mother had been taught what godly submission looked like as much as I wish my father had been taught what godly leadership looked like. They might still have sinned in the same ways, but at least they might’ve had a fighting chance to get it right. And I’m grateful that I’ve been taught how marriage is supposed to work, even if I haven’t been blessed with the opportunity to submit to a godly husband of my own.

    Of course I’m a sinner, too, and if a suitable suitor ever did show up, he’d be one, as well, so there’d be no reason to expect “ta da marital bliss!” But there’s nothing in what Nancy’s written that would lead me to believe in such easy-peasy magical perfection. Marriage takes hard work on both sides, and even then any marital bliss is all grace. “Unless Yahweh builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” But I hope I’d be a wise woman who builds alongside Him with the tools He designed for the purpose: respect and submission. That’s what I hear Nancy calling wives to be and do.

  4. Hi Terri!
    I can see that this topic strikes a very deep and passionate chord within. I’m honestly struggling a bit with the wisdom of your post because I don’t think you’re re-stating Nancy’s position in a way that she would affirm to be an accurate representation of her words. I think it would be much more honorable and productive to confirm that you’re getting her position right before stating any disagreement you might have on your end.


  5. Nancy, thank you for your willingness to tackle the touchy subject of submission. I’m with you. Wives submit to husbands. Yes. If he’s a deadbeat jerk appeal to the authorities in place. Yes. However, there is a little bone I’d like to poke at.

    “Submission is emphatically not women to men. It is wives to husbands, and, as I said in the last post, it is up to wives to be submissive, it is not up to their husbands to enforce it.” I’ve read this and heard you say things like it several times and I can’t help but think that you might protest too much. I am with you that wives are not to submit to other husbands than their own, Scripture is clear about “your own husband”. But we do have creation order (God, man, woman, creation) and that really does mean something. For instance, the basis for women not being teachers in 1 Timothy 2 is this order (and also that she’s weaker-more easily deceived). It makes me uneasy when you make such definitive statements as that above. I know you’re trying to ward off the “Women are not unequal to men!!” crowd. At the same time, creation order means something. And just to be certain, I fully affirm that women are equal in worth and value while being made differently and for different things than men. What about deference? There is at least that. If not, 1 Timothy 2 and other passages would mean nothing.

    The second part about “it is not up to their husbands to enforce it.” Um, kind of. I don’t see how you can say this while affirming that “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Yes, husbands are sinners and not everything translates directly, such as wives are not saved through their husbands as we are directly through Christ. But, being the head, the authority, does mean something. He can’t call her to obey? Vows aren’t Scripture but that naughty, little word ‘obey’ used to be what every woman vowed to do in marriage right along with love and cherish. No, he ought not beat her over the head, as it were, with Scripture or vows. But authorities call and are responsible for the respect, obedience, behavior of those in their are. Just like the wife, the husband has the right of appeal to elders if his wife is perpetually unsubmissive, disrespectful, and hard hearted. I’ve seen this played out in our church and she was quickly restored, by the way.

    My concern is that you’re not giving the full weight of the Scripture on this topic. With statements like this I think it allows dissenters some room to wiggle with and kind of be okay with it if it’s just their husband, but ‘who gives a rip about any other man. I’m free to act and interact with anyone however I feel like!’ I appreciate your time and consideration.


  6. Can I take a stab at the first one, Amanda?

    Although being a man is a necessary qualification for an office, any authority flows from the fact that the man is in the office, not from the fact that he is a man.

    Let’s say, for instance, that the elders of my church announce, “The service time will be moved from 9:30 to 9:00.” I’d certainly be obligated to show up at 9:00 next Sunday. But if Joe Schmoe from the next pew over told me to show up at 9:00 next Sunday, I’d be within my rights to ever so politely suggest a nice lake for him to jump in.

    Also, an elder’s authority over me would be limited. Elder George Schmorge might be the one to inform me that the service time had been moved, but if he came to my house and directed me where to plant an apple tree, I probably ought to ever so politely suggest to him that Joe could use a swimming partner. My domestic affairs are rather outside the sphere of his authority.

    While there are certainly differences across the board between men and women (happy, happy differences!), they don’t and can’t always play out as authority and submission. Authority flows from a role or office, not merely from one qualification for that role or office.

  7. Amanda,
    Thanks for your comment and good question. My point is simply that the command to submit is addressed to the wives. Wives may not choose to be unsubmissive because their husbands don’t really care or enforce or insist on it. That is beside the point. God holds them accountable for this even if their husbands do not.
    And I do agree with you that husbands should be able to do something about a wife who is being a real handful. He is responsible for his household. But he should not try to fix her lack of submission by issuing commands. When he appeals to her, he should remind her of God’s commands, which he freely submits to as well. They are not his own commands. God has designed a chain of submission: the wife freely offers her submission to her husband out of reverence for Christ, and he freely offers his submission to God. In the same way, Jesus freely submitted to His Father.
    Hope that helps to clarify.

  8. Just a question, and this may illustrate some naivety I am not sure…but why is it ungodly for a husband to have a naked photo of his wife on his personal phone? Is it because the photo is on the phone? Or because he has a naked photo of his wife at all? I am genuinely confused!

  9. @Emma and Faith:

    If I had to take a stab at this one, I would guess that it is along the lines of “Why would he need an image of his naked wife to carry around when he has the real thing in his bed?”

    There is no innocent purpose for carrying around pictures of naked people, regardless of who they are to you.

  10. Hi Nancy,
    I’m reading and chewing this material, and also Terri’s (the ones she put up in the comment sections and her article, I Belong To You, You Belong To Me– http://www.pinkpeppers.com/, and I would love to hear your thoughts regarding what she discusses. I respect both you and Terri, so I think it would be great to have more dialogue on this. A specific question I have is your thoughts on the interpretation of Genesis 3:16, and the out workings of various interpretations. I think discussing this more and looking at what God says would be helpful to our families, as we desire healthy fat souled homes and churches. Thanks!

  11. Nancy (and Valerie),

    Thank you for your reply. I think it’s pretty easy to see between my comment and yours that we’re on the same page with the bulk of it. I didn’t want to be a nitpicker, but after reading back over both posts and also having your (Nancy) comment in mind I think I ended up picking a little closer than I needed to. I know not every post needs to or should say everything, at the same time hot button issues like authority and submission are so often misunderstood that clarity is very important. After your comments my real beef came not with what was said, but how or why it was said in this way. I think in this case the risks are greater than the benefit. The way I see it, you risk misrepresenting the whole truth and allowing people to take something from it other than you intended or is true to the Scripture.

  12. Another thought re: the naked photo question: if your husband struggles with porn at all, you might be struggling with thoughts like “does he compare me to them,” or “does he want me to be like them?” Being his own personal centerfold would, I would think, exacerbate those feelings.

  13. The interpretation of Genesis 3:16 is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.
    First, the phrase under fire is right smack in the middle of God handing down a curse. Which follows that it is indeed itself a curse or at least part of the curse, yes?
    Which brings me to the second thought. If in fact it simply means that a wife will find her husband to be “hot” how and why is that a curse? Wouldn’t a physical desire for our husbands be a good thing? Why would that be considered a curse?
    That view just doesn’t make sense to me.

  14. Thanks for the careful discussion, Nancy and Terri and others.

    For those who have lived through this, it is a very nuanced situation. There’s a fine line between bad-mouthing your husband and seeking help, and a woman in a troubled marriage may not be able to see clearly where that is. But she’s got to figure it out, because it affects the children drastically. I have found that having some backbone made him back down, but those few comments have been the hardest things I’ve ever said.

    It also helps to recognize any illnesses that may be involved. For example, my husband has Aspergers.

    I wish God’s blessings and wisdom to all women in this troubling situation. It is a lonely path.

  15. Thank you Nancy,that is all I can say.I have one of those toads at home you see.I understand submission and follow-but this is the first time I have read anyone call into question limits to it.I always thought submit no matter what(and I’m not joking).This have given me something to think about,God bless you.

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