Back in the summer of 2009, a lady named Shelley Poston wrote several articles for carm.org addressing the topic of submission in marriage. She teaches that wifely submission in marriage is voluntary in nature, and thus, it’s not appropriate for a husband to demand it.
The Greek word for submission is hupotasso, “to subordinate…put under…” God exhorts women to voluntarily follow their husband’s leadership (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1). A woman is actively doing this– choosing to put herself under leadership, choosing to be subordinate in a circumstance or relationship. This is not forced upon her by the recipient. Biblical submission is chosen, no coerced.https://carm.org/womens-issues/is-a-wifes-submission-to-her-husband-like-slavery/
Mary Kassian and Nancy Wolgemuth made this same argument in their book True Woman 201: Interior Design – Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood:
Hupakouō means to yield to a superior command or force without necessarily being willing, whereas when Paul tells a wife to hupotassō herself, it means to willingly put herself in the proper position.3(…)According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband has no right to demand it or to try to extract obedience from her. His only responsibility is to love her, woo her, and humbly sacrifice himself for her as Christ did for the church.True Woman 201: Interior Design – Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood Mary Kassian & Nancy Leigh DeMoss (Page 189)
I’ve already debunked this argument here. I want to approach this from a different angel. In this same article, Shelley Poston wrote (bolding mine):
First, submission is actually a voluntary action by the wife. Wives are commanded by the Lord to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1). This is a commandment from the Lord. However, there is nowhere in Scripture in which husbands command their wives to submit. A wife chooses to follow her husband’s leadership. Slaves, on the other hand, choose nothing. Their decisions are chosen by their master. When a woman submits to her husband, she is actually submitting to the Lord. It is an act of worship and love for her Savior, not as one of a weakened slave.https://carm.org/womens-issues/is-a-wifes-submission-to-her-husband-like-slavery/
The most glaring flaw in this article begins with the title. It asks if a wife’s submission is like slavery. You might expect that Shelley, having chosen such a title, would naturally proceed to quote and analyze 1 Peter 3:1, since that is a key text in Scripture that explicitly compares those two things with each other.
I Peter 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,
That’s the text, and yet, Shelley only references I Peter 3:1, and never quotes it. She also did not even reference I Peter 2:18-25, which are the verses directly preceding I Peter 3:1. Those verses explicitly talk about the submission of slaves before immediately commanding wives to submit in the same manner. They would been a perfect launching pad for the topic Shelley wanted to write about. She could have taken those texts, expounded upon their meaning, and showed how a wife’s submission is not analogous to that of a slave’s. However, she didn’t do any of those things. In avoiding delving into those most relevant texts, she wound up making the ludicrous statements she made above, which I will delve into now.
The notion that a wife must submit like a slave to her husband is clearly abhorrent to Shelley. For her, a slave who obeys isn’t “choosing” to obey. Nor is this obedience born out of strength, but weakness. This is in direct contradiction to I Peter 2 which says:
I Peter 2:18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Shelley’s wrote that slaves, “…choose nothing.” That’s false, as verse 18 clearly shows not only that they can choose to submit, but they have the ability to do so in a particular manner- respectfully. They can choose to respectfully submit even when being beaten. And not only when being beaten fairly, but when they’re being beaten unjustly. There’s a great deal of choosing being mandated for Christians who are slaves.
Also, while Shelley attributes such obedience to weakness, Peter attributes it to grace. He even says it’s following in the footsteps of Christ.
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
For Shelley, this cannot be true. For her, a wife’s submission to her husband is to perform an act of love and worship for her Savior, in contrast to that lousy weak submission a slave might perform.
When a woman submits to her husband, she is actually submitting to the Lord. It is an act of worship and love for her Savior, not as one of a weakened slave.
And yet verses 19 and 23 directly state that a slave is doing both. A slave would submit to the master specifically because it is also an act of mindful obedience towards God.
19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.(…) 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Even a scratch-the-surface approach to these texts might have helped Shelley avoid saying what she did. Then again, neglecting to do so could very well be purposeful. Her attitude is typical of Christian women who have been raised to think they are God’s princesses on earth. They aren’t doormats, gosh-darn it! Sure, they must submit to their husbands, but not like some weak slave!
But consider how callous this would be to slaves in the Christian church. Let’s say Jeremiah-Mc-Slave-Boy has a master who beats him even when he doesn’t deserve it. He may well wish to kill his master in retaliation. And yet, having heard the command from Peter, he does what his master says and shows him respect in spite of it all. This would require a level of humility and self-restraint we can only imagine in our minds. This would be an incredible demonstration of strength of mind and character, not to mention devotion to God. Then Shelley comes along, and sneers at Jeremiah’s lot in life. His behavior isn’t something to be praised and lauded for the sterling example of Christian faith that it is. No, it’s something lowly. Something weak. Has nothing to do with obeying God, just mindless obedience to his master.
Which is made all the more ironic considering what Shelley said in her opening paragraph:
Culture views submission as a weaker person allowing a stronger person to use them, a person of lesser value giving up his rights to someone of greater value. This is not what the Bible means when referring to submission.
And yet when slaves submit to their masters, this is exactly how Shelley sees it. The cognitive dissonance is strong with this one.