Mutual Submission is a doctrine Christians invented decades ago to make marriage less repulsive to women’s sinful natures. We had grown tired of wringing our hands whenever we had to tell women they have to do what their husbands say. We had to find some way around it, and so we conceived a new strategy: Couple our teachings about the authority of the husband over his wife with a hasty assurance that husbands must also submit to their wives. See? Now we can assure the women we preach to that the only reason they think submission in marriage is a bad thing is because they thought they were the only ones who had to do it! Pure genius! Christian teachers latched onto it with glee and we continue to preach it to this day.
Not everyone fell under the spell, however. To my surprise, not even Mary Kassian bought into this. Back in 1992, she wrote the following on page 216 of The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church:
FUNCTIONAL EVALUATION — THE STARTING POINT
The primary concern of Biblical feminists is the question of the ordination of women — whether or not women should be allowed to occupy the office of elder (pastor, presbyter, bishop, priest). A second related concern is the mutual sharing of authority and responsibility in the marital relationship — “mutual submission.”59
The #59 footnote is on page 278. It says:
59. “Mutual submission” is a misnomer. Besides being a linguistic impossibility, it is a concept that is absent from the Bible. See my discussion of the term in Women,
Creation and the Fall, pp. 36, 37.
The book Women, Creation, and the Fall was published in 1990. You can read the following from pages 36-37:
The one in authority is also required to submit.
Mutual submission is also an incorrect concept, for submission is the responsibility of the one under authority. Although admonitions to bend to meet the needs of a submissive partner in a relationship, as well as to lead with love, consideration, and respect, are present throughout Scripture, the one in authority is never asked to submit to the subordinate.8 The term mutual submission is thus a misnomer and is foreign to Scripture.
Ephesians 5:21 is used as the prooftext to support the mutual submission concept. Hypotasso (Greek for “submit”) in verse 21 is interpreted to mean submitting to the needs of each other. Mutually looking out for each other’s needs and altering one’s behavior for the sake of the other is in line with Christ’s pattern of self-sacrificing love and is indeed what He wishes us to do. However, interpreting hypotasso as requiring reciprocal obedience within a hierarchical relationship obviously overlooks its New Testament meaning.
Hypotasso always requires one party in a relationship to submit to the other, and not vice versa. The context of Ephesians 5:21 supports this position. In this verse, Paul makes a general call to all Christians to submit to one another in whatever hierarchical relationships they are involved in. He then gives three specific examples of relationships in which submission of one party is required. Verse 21 is thus properly understood as an introductory verse to those which follow. As James Hurley points out:
Verse 21, “submit yourselves to one another out of respect for Christ,” is thus to be understood as a general heading indicating that there will be various situations in which certain believers will have to yield to the authority of others. The following text (5:22–6:9) sets out three particular relations in which this will be the case: wives will need to submit themselves to husbands; children will need to obey their parents, and slaves their masters. The idea of mutual submission has to do with various members of the congregation rather than with the two partners of each pair.9
Although the Bible does not teach mutual submission within an authority structure, it does teach principles of conduct which are to be mutually practiced by all believers. Believers are to encourage,edify, be devoted to, and live in harmony with each other. They are to exhibit Christlike traits of gentleness, patience, and kindness. Believers have mutual responsibility to show concern, love, and respect for each other, and to esteem each other better than themselves. They are warned against being conceited and against biting, devouring, consuming, provoking, envying, hating, and begrudging one another.10 This is the mutual responsibility of both the one in authority and the one under authority. But submission, or obedience, is required only of the one who is under authority, not of the one in an authoritative or leadership position.
Now fast forward to 2015. In her True Woman 201 book that she co-authored with Nancy DeMoss, you can find this on page 195 (Location 3806 in the Kindle version):
Ephesians 5:21 instructs us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The passage then identifies three specific relationships that call for a submissive posture: wives to husbands, children to parents, and bondservants to masters. The concept of authority and submission extends into all sorts of other chain-of-command relationships, too—like governments and citizens, bosses and employees, church elders and congregations.
The term mutual submission is popular in Christian circles, but “submitting to one another” doesn’t mean that both parties in a chain of command are to submit to each other. It means we’re to have a respectful disposition that inclines us to submit in all the relationships that call for submission. In some relationships you may have the responsibility to govern, and in others the responsibility to submit.
In the “Personalize” section on page 204 (Kindle location 3986):
6. Ephesians 5:21 instructs us to submit to one another. How are those instructions different from the notion of “mutual submission” that’s so popular today?
I assume Mary Kassian hasn’t changed her mind since 2015. If that assumption is correct, then she has been consistent on this point for the past THIRTY YEARS. She has been bold enough to point at “mutual submission” and clearly state it’s a doctrine at odds with what the Bible teaches. That’s despite her hatred for patriarchal authority and her desperate attempt to justify it from the Greek. If even a woman as prejudiced as she is could figure this out back in 1990, then you know that plenty of God-fearing men knew it too. No, it’s worse than that. They’ve known full-well this entire time. Unlike Kassian, they either embraced it, or they let it go unchallenged. That’s why we’re still dealing with it today.