If you are (were) a regular reader of Dalrock, then you’re familiar with a particular claim made by complementarians- namely, that husbands are forbidden from demanding submission from their wives. Even the authors that affirm that husbands’ have authority over their wives feel a compulsion to discourage those husbands from ever demanding their wives submit to them. Either they tell the husband to mind his own business (see Dalrock’s article here), or they simply assert that because a wife’s submission should be voluntary, then the husband can’t demand it from her.
Kevin DeYoung is one of the latest authors to fall into this pattern. This past April he released a book titled Men and Women in the Church. He, like most complementarians, understand that husbands having headship over their wives means that he has authority over her.
Likewise, in Ephesians 5 Paul says wives are to submit to their husbands, for the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church (5:22–23). Citing the headship of the husband as a reason for the wife’s submission makes little sense if headship implies only source or origin without any reference to male leadership. Kephale, in at least these two instances in Ephesians, must mean “authority over.”DeYoung, Kevin. Men and Women in the Church (p. 44). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
But because he is a complementarian, Kevin can’t leave it at that. He must undermine headship in some manner:
Because of these two realities—the headship of the husband in the created order and the analogy of Christ and the church—the wife should freely submit to her husband.
And don’t miss that word freely. The command is for the wife, not the husband. The man is never told to submit the wife unto himself. Instead, the woman is told to submit herself unto her husband. It is a submission freely given, never forcibly taken.Kevin DeYoung, Page 66 of Men and Women in the Church Paperback – April 6, 2021
One might simply reply with, “Says who?” This passive-aggressive warning to husbands is never backed up with Scripture. Let’s say a husband wants to, in Kevin’s words, forcibly take his wife’s submission? If that’s a sin, then why is there no verse in the Bible that teaches that?
This should strike complementarians as very odd, considering that men living in ancient times had all kinds of legal justification to compel their wives to do things. Add to that the frequent New Testament emphases on wives submitting to their husbands, and you have a recipe for utter disaster- assuming DeYoung’s perspective is correct. The men from such a sexist culture would certainly latch onto these teachings and run wild with it! They might assume that they had the right to do that very thing that Kevin DeYoung decries- namely, forcing their wives to submit to them. Paul and other NT writers would have been aware of this, right? Surely they would have made sure to warn these ancient brutes that to force their wives to submit would be to sin against God! But they never did.
Now, Kevin DeYoung is technically correct when he says that husbands are, “…never told to submit the wife unto himself.” However, he is only correct in the strict sense that there is no verse in the Bible that contains such a simplistic, word-for-word command. In a debate, such a statement would be eviscerated for being utterly irrelevant. If that kind of statement carried any weight, then one could just as easily refute it by pointing out that husbands are, “…never told NOT to submit the wife unto himself.” Now what?
However, let’s set that issue aside for a moment and examine Kevin’s claim that, “…the woman is told to submit herself unto her husband. It is a submission freely given, never forcibly taken.” Let’s try and parse out what’s wrong with this carefully.
Let’s say we lived in a society where we legally enforced God’s command for wives to submit to their husbands. Let’s also assume that if a married woman broke this law, her husband could punish her for doing so. Let’s say he has the liberty to bring his wife before a judge and subject her to punishments such as monetary fines, beatings, jail-time, etc. This could reasonably be an example of a husband “forcibly taking” submission” from his wife. You might even call it slavery!
Where Kevin DeYoung goes wrong is in assuming that if submission is forcibly taken, then it can’t be freely given. I’ve gone into this in detail in I’m not going to submit like those lousy slaves! and The Greek Says My Husband Can’t Demand Submission From Me!. Very briefly, there is this errant assumption Christians keep making wherein we assume that if a person can be compelled to do something by another, then they cannot obey that other person in a voluntary or meaningfully respectful manner. This is a common assumption, but it is a false assumption. The Bible contradicts it clearly in Ephesians 6:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:18-20 when it commands slaves to do that very thing to their masters. These slaves/bondservants were compelled by law and by force to obey their masters, and yet, the Bible still commands them to obey sincerely, respectfully, and in a willing manner.
Now let’s get back to wives. Let’s say a husband does “forcibly take” his wife’s submission. Does that prevent his wife from giving it voluntarily? Of course not.
If Kevin DeYoung’s assumption had merit, then surely Paul and Peter left many a born-again slave befuddled as to how they would obey those commands. After all, if they had no choice but to obey their masters, then submission could not be freely given! This is absurd, of course, and it’s just as absurd for Kevin DeYoung to come to such a wrong-headed conclusion about husbands and wives. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands whether they are being forced to or not.
In fact, when DeYoung claims that wives should submit entirely of their own volition, then he’s teaching a Christianized version of the protests of rebellious children. We’ve all heard young kids say, “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you tell me too!” Wives certainly should not speak that way to their husbands, but when it comes down to it, that’s what complementarians believe. They would not advocate a wife speak in that manner, but when it comes to how they see wifely submission, they think that’s exactly right. Submission MUST be freely given, and hence, wives can, in a theologically sophisticated manner, disobey their husband on the grounds that he tried to forcibly take that which must only be freely given.
It’s unbiblical, and it’s irrational. Imagine trying to defend this kind of teaching in a debate. One of my readers suggested that Kevin DeYoung might be open to debating his views. Given how flawed his thinking is, I very seriously doubt that he will ever leave himself open to such scrutiny. I know I wouldn’t if I were him.