Drinking Deeply

Monday, August 21, 2006 at 11:46 AM

A wife's submission to an unjust husband (2)

Wow, my original post was a bit more exciting than I expected.

To reiterate a few points -

I am not addressing husbands. I am not addressing whether or not it is right for the husband to beat his wife. That is another topic, and I agree in most cases it's sinful because of the underlying heart condition.

I am addressing what a wife should do under an unjust husband who does end up beating her.

My encouragement to stay is based off of 3 points in Scripture.

1) Peter's encouragement to slaves and wives - In 1 Peter 2, Peter encourages slaves to submit to their masters, not only the good and kind, but also to the unjust. In a relationship which may not have been entirely voluntary (I am of the understanding that people would sell themselves into slavery to repay debt), the exception of "but if the beatings ever get to a level..." is never mentioned. Peter, after addressing slaves, transitions to the topic of a wife's submission to her husband again not mentioning a "beating" exception. I find that omission to be a very telling sign. It is hard to concieve of a circumstance where Peter would not mention such an exception, especially if the relationships are of a different order to be governed by different rules.

2) The example of Christ - In 1 Peter 2 and 3, Peter points to Christ as the great example of someone who endured in submission to an unjust authority. He did everything right, and even inspite of being rejected by the world, He entrusted himself to God. Peter calls Christians to emulate Christ in times of suffering under authorities, masters, and husbands. And we can't say that Christ stuffered under authority but not a husband because Peter cites Christ's example after the topic of slaves. Then it is reasonable to apply Christ's example (submission under authorities) to slaves and wives, especially in light of Peter's reemphsis of the example after he finishes with husbands and wives.

3) The encouragment of Paul for a believer to remain married to an unbeliever if the unbeliever is willing in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. He makes a very specific promise to these such people, and I hope it would be a promise that they would treasure, even in the midst of difficulty and suffering.

"For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."

lj also posted the following comment -
some things to consider:
-read Malachi 2.

-i believe you're simplifying the issue a bit much. you need to explore a few things...
-the nature of a covenant
-the nature of the relationship between a husband and wife (not just the headship/submission part, but their oneness and the fact that they reflect the union of the trinity)
-the nature of the relationship between master and slave
-the nature of the relationship between child and parent
-the effects of spousal abuse. that is...can the husband's abuse toward the wife cause her to grow resentful, bitter towards her husband? you say that the woman ought to "joyfully submit" as if it were an easy thing. bear in mind that a master and slave are not one. a child and parent are not one either. there are some different relational dynamics going on.
-i would look at some more OT passages too (you mostly stuck around the NT)
-i would also be wary of your statement that it pleases God when she sticks around for her husband's beatings. if the marriage is to reflect the glorious trinity, i'm not sure how great of a reflection it is when the suitable helper is getting beat to a pulp.
-your essay is packed with assumptions and simplifications.
-if the beatings she receives tempts her to sin (yeah like planning a murder--it's really not beyond women), should she remain in that household?

let me know if you've considered any of the above issues...
Many of the topics you bring up I am unsure about, so if you could clarify it, I'd appreciate it. With regards to your question, I think my answer would be "yes, so far as I thought it was relevant to the topic. Is there something I missed?"

Some of the topics I will address specifically below in hopes of giving a better answer-

The effects of spousal abuse - Yes, abuse can cause someone to be bitter and resentful, but it doesn't have to. Can we take delight in the commands of the Lord? Can we say with Paul (Philippians 4) that we've learned to be content in plenty or in want? In suffering and in injustice? Entrusting to God that in Christ we can do (endure) all things?

The Trinity - you brings up an excellent point that the marriage reflects submission in the trinity. May I point to Christ's gracious submission to His Father, knowing that suffering, pain, and death were on the way? Yes, the wife doesn't believe the husband is infallible, loving and just (rather, he's a sinner, just like she is, just like we are), but she's called to submit anyways, entrusting herself to God.

What if it tempts her to sin? - Well, that's difficult. I hope the wife would see not only murder as sin, but resentfulness and anger as sin. In that sense, I'm sure even the beginnings of abuse (or even kindness itself) can tempt someone to sin. Yet, is this temptation enough to justify divorce? I'm unconvinced that this is the case. The call to cut off one's own hand seems much more a command to wage war against our sinful natures than a command to break a covenant.

Is this glorifying to God? - I would say it pleases God so far as she submits knowing God. Once again, I would point us to 1 Peter.
2:20) But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
3:14) But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
3:17) For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
4:19) Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
As to the OT - I mostly stuck with the NT (and specifically 1 Peter) simply because that's what prompted the post. I am unaware of specific OT references that run contrary to my line of thought, but am open to passages. I agree that the OT is relevant as it is one Bible, inspired by one God.

All in all, I think if I am to be convinced otherwise, I would request these three points addressed. I think they are reasonable, and if they aren't, let me know.

1) Why Christ's submission to the death is not to be an example for all believers. Alongside this, what aspects of Christ's submission are we to emulate?
2) Why Peter does not have a "beatings" exception. This does not necessarily have to be Scriptual, but at least a plausible story. And if it includes an appeal to history, dig up a source or two.
3) An agreement that I'm not encouraging that husbands beat their wives.

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Blogger Shane said...

I haven't read your followup post yet, but I wanted to throw this out there to see what your response would be.

You say the overriding concerns for the Godly wife would be submission and reconciliation. If the beatings perptrated on her constitute a breach of the criminal law of their land, is the wife free to report the criminal act to the authorities, or would submission include not reporting the criminal act because it would separate the spouses from each other on a more than temporary basis?  


Blogger Shane said...

On your 3rd point - an agreement that you are not advocating that husbands beat their wives.

Actually, you are. Not frivolously, or without reason, but you are. And I think you are wrong on that. Not your section in the first post, "on physical discipline". Your take the verses about fathers having the right to physically discipline children and extend it without warrant to disciplining their wives in like manner.

Your wife is not your child. Your wife you have union with - you are one flesh. Col 3:19, Eph 5:28,29. I don't see how physical discipline can be called anything but harsh. Also, in reference to 1 Peter 3:7, I don't see how physical discipline can be reconciled with respect for your wife, or consideration for your wife. And I also don't see how it is God honoring to inflict physical pain on the "weaker vessel" - are we not called to protect those who are weak?

1 Cor 7:5 when taken with the opening (and I would say governing) verse of Ephesians 5 (verse 21) and the verses above about hating one's own body, I think clearly show that it is irreconcilable to physically discipline your wife. It is as inconcievable as is the ancient practices of asceticism and self-flagellation. The idea of punishing one's own body is ludicrous - so should be the idea of punishing one's wife. That is not the love the Christ called us to when Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church."  


Blogger mxu said...

Shane -

If you follow what I've said in the first post, I merely used those points regarding child discipline to point out that physical discipline is not necessarily wrong in and of itself. I said, (regarding the husband and physical discipline of the wife)

"I'm not saying that he's commanded to (like he is with children), but that the Bible certainly doesn't forbid it, and from my understanding, there are some cultures that see it as normal. In this case, the biblical model would be submission to just punishment."

Whatever my position on that situation, the rest of the essay is about a wife's response to an abusive husband, which stands unchanged regardless of what I believe regarding the husband-wife discipline.

Regarding your first comment, that's something I'm willing to leave up to individual consciences and wisdom of the church elders to decide. Personally, I see nothing wrong with appealing to the authorities. ::shrug::  


Blogger lj said...

my general point in having you consider the earlier issues is looking into greater depth at what you're talking about.

IT IS TOO SIMPLIFIED; people are not robots. that is just one of the gripes i have with the argument you're making. it is not thorough. it answers the question from one perspective and does not consider any other factors. you only look at submission, authority, Christ's example...BUT THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER FACTORS. the factors being...(and i'm not saying that i fully grasp them myself)...but the nature of a covenant as it is revealed through Scripture. the nature of the sacredness of marriage. the fact that Christ has ultimate headship over any marriage. and all the other stuff i listed. you seem to easily equate the relationship of child/parent and slave/master to that of wife/husband. too simplified.


ahhh...that's all i can say for now. it's hard for me to remain level-headed about this. maybe i'll write more later. i hope that clarified the comment i made earlier?  


Blogger mxu said...

lj -

That does clarify things. And you are right, I do simplify things a bit. I am looking at the wife's call for submission to be similar to that call for a slave and similar to that call for someone under the government.

The reason why I do that is because Peter himself did it in 1 Peter. I would be the first to agree that the nature of the relationships between the citizen-government, slave-master, and wife-husband roles are different.

Yet, Peter asks them to submit. He doesn't say that the husband has made a covenant with the wife, so that in cases of abuse the wife may separate because the husband has broken the covenant, because implied in that covenant is a "no-abuse" clause (and I don't think such a clause exists btw). He doesn't say that since Christ is the head over the relationship, when the husband disobeys Christ, the wife may dissolve the relationship. He simply points us to Christ as the great example:
1 Peter 2
22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When 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. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

This is our reason. Christians are to submit joyfully, because Christ left them that example. That now that He's made life a "no condemnation" life for us, we can endure and bear all things, emulating Him. This is what Peter is talking about, this is the Christian witness that begs a question. "Why would you stay with that? How could you deal with that?"

We can, by God's grace, answer, "We do it because a loving savior has already done it for me. Nothing on this earth can compare to the torture and suffering He endured on the cross for my sins, and I now look to a heavenly kingdom, where I will be free from the bondage of sin, from the abuses and brokenness of this world. Knowing this promise I can fulfill my marriage covenant, I can submit to the authorities, I can stay and live joyfully in a world of brokenness and decay. That's what God has asked me to do, and I am able to do it joyously, because He's done it joyously for me already. I trust God with my life, and that's how I can submit to this sinful and broken authority."

I'm not saying that we want to bring this upon ourselves. But if we find ourselves in that position (Lord willing no, but it happens), I pray that we would be able to trust God with it.

1 Peter 4

19Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.  


Blogger Shane said...

lj does have a point - I think that a complete picture would include a look at covenant relationships, but I think that emotion is colouring lj's responses at the same time. Understandably so, I might add. This is one of those issues that women have very strong feelings about and men express their opinions at their peril.

I find this to be one of the "hard teachings" of the Bible. It is one of those things that is so against our nature that we fight against it tooth and nail but ultimately, the Bible says what the Bible says. I think he is right - that if we are called to be Christlike at all, that must by necessity include unjust punishment and abuse, simply because that is exactly what Christ endured, to his death. I don't know if this will help your female readers, but men are called to Christlike sacrifice for their wives. In other words, we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and (endured hardships for her sake, endured torture for her sake, endured death on a cross to save her life). That is at least as tall an act to follow.  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding mxu's comment on how submission to gov't is similar to a wife's submission to husband:

In the context of 1 Peter 2,yes Paul does call for submission to every authority (vs. 13) instituted by man, regardless of whether the authority is Christian or not. However, there is a difference between submission and acquiescence. The authority of man here is never meant to supersede the authority of God...as evidenced by the lauded acts of civil disobedience in Daniel, Exodus, and even the apostles(in their refusal to keep from speaking out). [Is not Exodus a clear example of "rebellion" against the master?] There is also the example of Peter/apostles escaping the prison from where he/they had been (wrongly)imprisoned by the authorities. Granted, not all of the apostles were rescued/delivered, but it seems clear that the issue of submission to the authorities does provide a framework for the issue of submission of slaves to masters, of wives to husbands and thereby, a distinction between submission and acquiescence.

I agree with lj that your argument is oversimplified. The passage by Paul on the slaves makes provisions for harsh masters, for injustice. However, Paul is underscoring the understanding that submission to the master does not mean the slave is forced to go against God's laws (i.e. 10 commandments). Furthermore, I do not believe Paul is arguing that the master has the authority to violate the sanctity of the slave's body, sexually or otherwise.

The argument for suffering (as seen in the use of 1 Peter 4:19) as Christ suffered for us does not mean we need to justify the human cause of the suffering, nor even acquiesce to the suffering. If such a thing were propagated by the church, we would have far more Jews executed in the Holocaust, apartheid in South Africa, and Jim Crow in the US.

On another note, 1 Cor. 6:19-20 also makes it clear, as do other passages, that our bodies are to be considered temples of God, and guarded. In the context of Corinthians, it's speaking on sexual purity, but if we are to truly consider our bodies as temples of God, it is arguable to protect our bodies from other forms of physical abuse.

scattered thoughts on a complex issue, but I would strongly caution mxu on taking the passage out of context and interpreting it in ways that are contradictory to the message of the Scriptures.



Blogger mxu said...

wyu -

I've responded in general to much of what you've said.

I agreed that it was right to disobey when obedience would lead to disobeying God. I don't find submission to unjust authorities to be disobeying God, rather it is pleasing to Him. I agree with all your examples. I don't see suffering physical hurt as disobeying God's commands though.

Regarding 1 Cor. 6, your interpretation contradicts Christ's unjust death on the cross and the apostle's deaths under authorities.  


Blogger Judy Callarman said...

I have not read all this carefully, because it is lengthy and the hour is late! But--I think I want to point out that in these writings, I see the wife's duties in submission but not much about the husband's part of the deal. He is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, and as he loves his own body, as explained in Eph. 5:25-33. Respect, tenderness, loyalty--all these play a part. Abusiveness has no part in it.

I don't suppose the Bible says a woman can leave her husband for any reason but unfaithfulness. If she is a believer and he is an unbeliever, she must stay, because she might be removing the only influence he has, if she leaves. But....if he beats her, surely she may leave and live elsewhere so that he can think about it more clearly and she will be safe!! I myself could never advise a woman to stay with a physically abusive husband; he is definitely not keeping up his part of the covenant.  


Blogger jul said...

I just wanted to ask if anyone has considered the question in light of children being involved? As a mother, I would consider it my duty to protect my children from this kind of evil, demonic influence in their lives. Make no mistake: a violent hateful husband is under the influence of the one who has been a murderer from the beginning. Without children in the picture, I think it is possible that God might lead a wife to stay and endure, but it is her decision and should be rooted in faith and the mercy of God by a genuine supernatural love for her unbelieving husband. Too many women stay in these situations for exactly the opposite reason--too afraid to leave.  


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I wince when I read you comments.
Christ's suffering was unjust and so is the abuse of a woman (both physically and mentally). Just because they are both unjust does not mean that a woman should stay with an abusive husband. Christ agreed to suffer for our sins and that is what God called him to do. Christ did not give women that same calling (to suffer for others' sins.) Christ paid for our sins by suffering on the cross. It was God's will. It is not God's will for women to suffer abuse. Women do not have the job of suffering for the sake of paying for the sins of mankind; that is Christ's job and he already paid this price for our sins. You have confused what type of suffering Christians are to tolerate. Christians are called to suffer when they are persecuted; that is, when they are to stand up for their faith against evil--not when her husband beats her. These are two different things.
I hope you put as much emphasis on the scriptures referring to a man's role of submission to his wife also and you do when you interpret verses to make the woman feel false guilt for staying with an evil abuser.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is illegal and should be reportecd to the government.

I was beaten for 20 years and I tremble with distress at idiots who think that was any way to live. Yes, we lived in every other way as born again Christians, attending an evangelical church, leading Bible studies. People are incredibly naive.

I think churches should be taxed by the govt so someone can provide rehabilitation and counseling for those who survive this kind of lifestyle.

Some of us are damaged inside and out. The utter callousness of these comments tears my heart. Where do they hand out the hammer and nails so that women can be nailed to the cross?  


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