You might be thinking, “Why is Answers in Genesis talking about the issue of wifely submission? Isn’t that a New Testament doctrine?” But just like all other New Testament doctrines, the issue of leadership and submission in marriage has its foundation in Genesis.
The verses most commonly quoted concerning the wife’s role in relation to the husband’s role are Ephesians 5:22
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
and Colossians 3:18
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Many women struggle with the concept of submission in marriage because they mistakenly equate being submissive with being inferior. From Genesis we know that men and women are equal in God’s eyes because everyone, regardless of gender, is made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Eve was made from a rib from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:21), which also infers equality with Adam. I really enjoy the way the famous seventeenth–century Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, writes about Eve’s creation from Adam,
Not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.1
Galatians 3:28 also makes clear that both men and women are equal in their personal worth before God. Jesus Christ came to save all people who put their trust in Him, regardless of their gender, nationality, or place in society.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Here’s another way to think about it. John 6:38 and many other passages throughout Scripture show Christ’s submission to God’s authority. If being submissive means being inferior, then Christ, in being submissive to the authority of God the Father, is inferior to God.
However, Scripture makes it clear that the Father and Jesus are both equally God. Jesus claims, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus and God the Father have different roles within the Trinity, but in their personhood they are equally God. Likewise, a wife and husband have different roles in marriage, but they are equally loved by God and equally bear His image.
Another common misconception is that the role of Adam as leader and Eve as helper was a result of the Fall and not part of God’s original created roles for husbands and wives. Many evangelical feminists, such as Rebecca Groothius, assert this blatant misreading of God’s Word.
In fact, there is no mention of either spouse ruling over the other—until after their fall into sin, when God declares to the woman that “he will rule over you” (3:16). This is stated by God not as a command, but as a consequence of their sin.2
However, a plain reading of God’s Word makes it clear that Adam’s original created role was to be a leader in the family and Eve’s original created role was to be a helper to her husband and family.
God created Adam first and gave him the authority to not only name the animals (which he and Eve were to have dominion over) but also to name his wife [he first called her woman (Genesis 2:23) before the Fall and then later Eve (Genesis 3:20) after the Fall]. In Old Testament times, this was considered a sign of authority for the person doing the naming.
God signified that He was going to make a “helper comparable to him [Adam]” (Genesis 2:18). The role of helper would be understood as someone who helps the person doing the leading. Paul considered the order of creation of Adam and Eve significant and used it as a reason insisting on male leadership in the church (1 Timothy 2:12–13). Paul affirms male headship in the home in 1 Corinthians 11:9 by reminding readers of Genesis 1, “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”
The original created roles of husband/leader and wife/helper can also be understood from the curse on Adam and Eve as a result of the Fall. God said to Eve:
I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule you. (Genesis 3:16)
What does it mean that Eve would “desire” her husband? The same grammatical construction is used in Genesis 4:7 when God says to Cain:
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.
God is saying to Cain that sin will want to rule him (“desire is for you”) but that Cain should rule over sin instead. Applied to Genesis 3:16, Eve will want to rule over Adam (“your desire shall be for your husband”) as a part of the curse. So, if the curse is that Eve would want to rule or lead Adam, then that must not have been Eve’s role before the Fall and she was originally created to be a helper not a leader. Otherwise, it’s not much of a curse—Eve originally led and she’s to keep on leading?! In response to Eve’s wrong desire to lead, Adam would react sinfully by leading harshly instead of lovingly. Eve would desire to reverse roles of leader and helper, and Adam would react by wrongly distorting his leadership role.3
Another important support for the original created roles of husband/leader and wife/helper is found in the attribution of sin to Adam not to Eve. How many times have you heard someone say, “It was all the woman’s (meaning Eve) fault,” or, “We wouldn’t be in this mess (cursed world) if it weren’t for a woman”? I always cringe when I hear statements such as that because they are not biblical!
It is true that Eve was the first one to sin but whom did God question first after Adam and Eve sinned? Adam was questioned first because he was the leader of the family. To whom is sin attributed throughout all of Scripture? Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:22, 15:45; Romans 5:15). Why? Because as the leader, Adam was responsible for his wife Eve; he shirked that responsibility by following her leading in disobedience to God and eating the forbidden fruit.
Interestingly, when God tells Adam and Eve His plan to redeem mankind (Genesis 3:15), He says the Redeemer will be “her Seed.” So, even though Eve was the first to sin, through her descendants would come mankind’s Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Sin is attributed to Adam (because of his leadership role), and so spreads to all people, men and women. Redemption comes through the offspring of Eve: the Messiah.
Scripture makes it clear, beginning in Genesis, that Adam was created to be the leader, and Eve was created to be the helper in the marriage relationship. Both men and women are equal before God as His image-bearers. But they have different roles in marriage, much like the differing roles yet equality within the Trinity.
Why Do Modern Wives Struggle with This Issue Today?
The number one reason is sin. Through Eve, all women bear the weight of the Curse in this specific area, so we will always struggle with this issue to some extent. The passages in Ephesians and Colossians instruct husbands and wives on their original created roles in marriage to bring restoration to marriage that has been marred by sin.
How many of you have seen the TV show Jon and Kate Plus Eight? I’m sure many of you have, and even if you haven’t, you’ve perhaps heard about it. The show is part of the reality TV genre depicting the life of a married couple, Jon and Kate, and their children comprised of a set of twins and a set of sextuplets. Jon and Kate recently decided to divorce, and there has been a lot of speculation as to why they were having problems and made this decision. In an episode aired earlier this year, Jon and Kate discuss whether to continue the show for another season.
Kate: “I’m loving what we’re doing so we just have to figure it out.”
Jon: “Yeah it’s really difficult, for me, on my end.”
Kate: “And I’m very happy.”
Jon: “So there you go, there’s your conflict.”4
The conflict in and of itself is not bad, but how they are handling it is. Kate makes it clear (in this episode and others) that she wants to be the leader in the family and will not submit to Jon’s authority. Jon tends to be very passive and doesn’t take the leadership role. They have reversed their roles, and as a result they are miserable. Instead of seeking divorce, they need to read God’s Word and understand the cause of their problem and the solution.
Another reason women struggle today with submission to their husbands is the differences between the role of women in the workplace and in the home. More women today work outside the home than ever before, and often they are in male-dominated fields like science, engineering, and business.
I know the struggles these women face. I was the only woman in my class to complete a PhD. I was the only female biology professor at the Christian college where I taught. I am one of very few female creation scientists and the only one in the U.S. who I am aware of speaking and researching on creation full-time.
Women often feel that they have to work hard to be seen as equal to men in many professions. Women have achieved success and leadership roles. However, some of us tend to view life as a continuum and don’t separate our professional and personal lives like men do. The leadership mentality in the workplace tends to carry over into marriage and problems arise. Women (including myself) need to do a better job at recognizing and separating their roles in the workplace from their roles in the home.
Wifely submission is not an indication that women are inferior to men, nor is it a result of sin and the Fall. Instead, husbands and wives are equal as image-bearers of God with distinct roles in marriage as leaders (husbands) and helpers (wives). When we accept the authority of God’s Word and fulfill those roles, our marriages can thrive and—for those that need it—can be restored.
Do you want to learn more about the role of women in marriage and how it relates to Genesis and the authority of God’s Word? Then be sure to attend Defending the Faith 2010 conference. For the first time ever, we will offer a special women’s track with three relevant presentations, including “Separate But Equal: Building a One Flesh Marriage.” We would also recommend the resources of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.