faith, marriage, myths

Debunking False Teachings About Submission

For earlier posts in this series see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

God is a holy, just, and righteous God. He cannot be anything that is contrary to His nature.

He is good.  He can’t be anything but good.

Unlike us, He is steadfast and unchanging.

No one is good except God alone. Luke 18:19

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:5

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Never will He ask us to do anything that is unholy, unjust or unrighteous.

For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. James 1:13

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:9

Even in the Old Testament when the Israelites wiped out the inhabitants of the Promised Land, it was to satisfy His sense of justice and righteous indignation. The Canaanite people sacrificed their children to pagan gods, and this practice angered God. Although it offends our modern sensibilities that He commanded Joshua to kill them, a Holy God refused to abide by the sin of an evil people. See Gods command to the Israelites to not participate in the worship of Canaanite gods here.

Why does this matter?

We’re talking about the relationship between husbands and wives. So, why am I giving a dissertation about the nature of God?

It’s very simple: God will never —NEVER— ask us to do something contrary to His nature, contrary to His character.

It is never His desire that we sin, permit sin in our lives, or follow our husbands into sin.

Did I emphasize that enough?

Let me repeat it.

God never wants us to sin. 


This is a useful tool when listening to teachers talk about scripture: when they are teaching, we can ask ourselves, “Is this contrary to the nature of God? Because He will never ask me to do something contrary to His nature.”

[This is a good reason to locate a catechism if you’re unfamiliar with the nature of God. My boys used the catechism included in Bob Jones Bible curriculum, and I highly recommend it.]

This understanding of God’s nature is monumental in our interaction with our husbands. It is paramount that we understand three things:

  1. God doesn’t want us to sin.
  2. God does not command us to always submit our husbands in everything.  
  3. Submitting to our husbands doesn’t supersede obedience to God.

I’ve actually heard preaching and interpretation that says submission to our husbands does supersede obedience to God.

Usually, in defense of this position, the story is cited of Sarah lying for Abraham to get in the good graces of Pharaoh. They quote the verse in 1 Peter where Sarah is commended for submitting and calling Abraham “lord”. They say that this verse is talking about Sarah obeying Abraham and lying about being his sister.

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:5-6

Is Scripture actually praising Sarah for following her husband into sin? Is Scripture telling us we should do the same?

Let’s examine that idea more closely.

Where in scripture did Sarah actually refer to Abraham as “lord”?

As far as I can find, it only happened one time.

It was in the story where she was told that she would have a son in her old age.

The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” Genesis 18:10-12

She did not say this in response to Abraham’s instruction to lie and deceive any of the kings that Abraham feared would kill him because of Sarah’s beauty.

She was not praised for participating in Abraham’s lack of faith and trust in God’s provision. That’s not what this is talking about.

The Lord took note of the loving and reverential way that Sarah referred to her husband in Genesis 18, and, many years later, the Holy Spirit prompted the Apostle Peter to include a reference to it in the passage about how women should treat their husbands. (I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. Many Bible commentators also note this connection.)

Submission is not a “get out of jail free” card.

It does not mean that we wives can avoid conflict by going along with whatever sin our husbands wish to engage in. We will not be blameless if we sin with them.

We cannot use submission as an excuse for sin.

How do I know?

Because it goes against the nature of God.

Submission is supposed to be a beautiful reflection of the holy relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. It ceases to be a beautiful holy example –and is no longer God-honoring– when we permit sin and make excuses for it.

The idea that you must submit in everything is quite common.

But wrong.

I’ve heard sermons and read blog posts saying that any sin a couple engages in –from bank robbery to pornography– is not the wife’s fault. If she’s submitting, then she’s not accountable, they say. The husband, as the authority, is to blame. She’s still righteous.


You think God wants us to sin and call it holy and good?

God forbid that we do that!

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20

As I’ve poured over scripture and as I’ve worked through this issue in my own mind, understanding the nature of God has helped so much.

God’s nature is the measuring stick by which all teachings –and all actions– can be compared.

My new-found understanding of scripture in light of God’s nature explains a much-confusing passage in scripture.

No one talks about Abigail.

Especially not the extreme submission proponents.

Why would they? She disobeyed –or at very least disrespected– her husband.

The passage has always confused me –especially in light of what I had been taught about submission.

If we are supposed to submit in everything then why isn’t her behavior condemned?

Why does scriptures call her discerning and beautiful?

Why would David –a man after God’s own heart– choose to take her as his wife if she was so obviously and so blatantly disrespectful to her first husband prior to his death?

Let’s look at the story:

David had provided a service for Nabal who was described as wicked and foolish. Nabal had denied payment for those services. David was returning to take the payment by force when Abigail decided to intervene.

Nearly every book on submission would say that Abigail was totally out of line, that she was wrong.

And, yet, scripture does not condemn her.

It calls her discerning.

having or showing good judgment.

Let that sink in.

She disobeyed (or at the very least did the opposite of what she knew he wanted) and disrespected her husband, and, yet, scripture says she showed good judgment.


Because she knew her husband was in sin, and she chose to do the right thing. She acted in accordance with God’s nature: He is sinless and never wishes that we sin.

Not only that, she may have saved her whole house –and herself– from being slaughtered because of Nabal’s sin (David’s intent is unclear; we only know that he took up arms with his men and came to Nabal’s house).

This is not a woman who submitted to her husband’s evil and said, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

She refused to participate –and refused to stand by while he wronged other people.

A wise person does not follow others into sin.

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. Proverbs 1:10

She was not weak.

She not only refused to participate, but she got involved in order to prevent him from sinning.


I’m treading on delicate ground here, I know.

Scripture is not real clear about how to handle sin in marriage. It, frankly, just isn’t. I sometimes wish it were more clear.

Scripture says she was discerning. That means she acted with wisdom. Wise is a synonym of discerning.

I’m honestly not sure how I would react in this situation. I’m not sure that I would be comfortable going around my husband, but, I have a gentle, understanding husband –not a foolish, brash one.

Since we have made note that her behavior was called discerning –it was wise– I suggest that you pray for wisdom if you ever find yourself in the position of having to contradict your husband in order to do what’s right.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach,  and it will be given him. James 1:5

I’m not advocating that we all start going around our husbands and doing whatever we want, but if lives were at stake? Yeah, you better believe I would do whatever necessary to save those lives if my husband was in sin and if his sin was endangering our lives or the lives of other people.

I offer the story of Abigail, not as an encouragement toward unsubmissive behavior but as an encouragement toward godly behavior.

If your husband is in sin, you are not only not required to participate, you are allowed to stand for what is righteousness!

Always, always, always, stand for what is righteous –regardless of what anyone around you does.


Live a life that reflects God’s character and nature to those around you.

An unbelieving husband can be won by the “pure conduct” of his wife. Pure conduct means you are not in sin with him. Being in sin with him would be the exact opposite of pure conduct. It would be impure conduct.

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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 1 Peter 3:1-2

You cannot win him for Christ if you are wallowing in sin with him.

If you want to win your unbelieving husband or backslidden husband to Christ, make sure your conduct is pure –not in his eyes, because he’s a fallen man. Make sure your conduct is pure in God’s eyes. He’s the one who sets the standard for purity.

He’s the One we measure our lives against.

Your husband needs to see God reflected in you!

Stand for truth.

Stand for righteousness.


The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? Psalm 118:6

It’s not unsubmissive.

We must obey God rather than man.

Even if that man is your husband.


Sarah Forbes

P.S. My husband and I have had extensive talks about this topic of submission. I assure that everything that is written here is a reflection of those discussions.


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