Should a Christian wife have to participate in a threesome or abort her child because her husband tells her to? Some Christians teach that women should submit to any and all requests their husbands make even if they believe that in doing so they would be directly sinning against God. Other Christians believe that if a husband is not living a righteous and holy life he has no authority over his wife at all regardless of whatever requests he asks of her.
How should a Christian wife handle such situations?
The Two Extremes on Submission
When it comes to the submission of wives to unrighteous husbands there are extremes on both the left and the right side of this issue.
On the left we have Christians who believe women only have to submit to husbands that are righteous and treat them right (as they see right).
This comment I recently received from a Christian woman illustrates the left position on wives submission to their husbands:
“In your blog you speak a lot about women submitting to the authority of her husband. Even when her husband is sinning (i.e.denying her sex, which you admit is her right to have) she must still submit to him. She cannot do as men and deny him dates, gifts, etc. Here you say a husband should show love toward his wife and can please his wife, but he must please God above her. I agree with that. However, isn’t a woman’s duty to please God before her husband also? If he isn’t treating her as a Christian husband should, should she follow an unrighteous man?
Authority is given from God, if we do not follow God we lose the power that comes with that authority. Therefore, his authority becomes useless. Would a sinful man have her well-being in mind? I would think not. I agree a man is the leader of the home, but I also believe a woman is only obligated to submit to her husband’s righteous desires the same as a man should only please a woman when her desires are righteous.”
There are so many things wrong with this statement it is hard to know where to begin.
I have never stated that a wife has to stay with her husband if he sexually denies her. I have shown from the Bible that a Christian wife may divorce her husband for these 4 reasons:
If he fails to provide her with food and clothing (shelter is implied with clothing).
If he refuses to have regular sexual relations with her (sexual defraudment).
If he physically abuses her or makes attempts on her life.
If he abandons her.
For a detailed discussion on each of these four items please see my article “For what reasons does God allow divorce?”
However this woman is not looking for serious reasons she may divorce her husband. She is looking for reasons that she does not have to submit to him. These grave sins I have described are not reasons for a wife to stop submitting to her husband’s authority – they are reasons to end the marriage so he is no longer her husband. If the woman chooses to stay even if he is chronically sexually denying her, physically abusing her or refusing to work then she must continue to submit to him. As long as he is her husband she must submit to him.
So if a woman were to come to me and tell me “I am not divorcing my husband for refusing to work and playing Xbox 7 days a week while he sends me out to work. But I won’t submit to him either.” – I would tell that woman she is wrong. She has two choices – submit to her husband or end the marriage so he is no longer her husband. Those are her only two choices.
A wife does not submit to her husband because he is “treating her as a Christian husband should” or because he has “her well-being in mind”. She submits to her husband because God has commanded it. A husband, Christian or non-Christian, does not lose his authority over his wife if he does not follow God’s Word.
This woman and a whole host of Christians today ignore this passage from Peter on the subject of submission of wives to unrighteous husbands:
“3 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”
I Peter 3:1-2 (NASB)
This passage makes it crystal clear – wives are to submit to sinful and disobedient husbands. Whether your husband is a Christian, a non-Christian or a professed Christian who is living in disobedience if you are his Christian wife you are to submit to him despite his sinful behavior.
This attitude toward submission is by far the biggest problem today with Christian’s attitudes toward marriage.
But there is another extreme – the far right extreme. And while this far right extreme may be a small minority and some think it is not worthy of our time even to address their false teaching – as Christians we must also stand for the truth and stand against false teaching.
It does not matter if many people are teaching a false doctrine or just small groups are teaching it – false teaching is false teaching and it must be exposed.
Should we not talk about exceptions to submission?
Some of the people on the far right of on this topic of Biblical submission believe we should not talk about exceptions to submission. This is demonstrated in recent comments by the blogger Deep Strength:
“You’re falling prey to the same trap that women do. It’s an obvious diversion! You don’t answer the question to an obvious diversion or if you do then you have to tie it back to righteous attitude and actions.
Good answers to a question like “But what if my husband commands me to sin?” are:
- “lf that ever happens, feel free to call me at any time and we’ll look through the Scriptures to discuss it. Now, as I was saying about submission…”
- “When’s the last time you heard a husband command his wife, much less to sin? Now, as I was saying about submission…”
- “You should find where it says it is a sin in the Scripture. Then you come to him with a respectful and submissive attitude and say: ‘Hey, I think this may be against what God says in the Scripture here and my conscience. Is there anything else I can do instead to make it up to you? Now, as I was saying about submission…”
The point is to stay on topic because the desire to divert a topic away from uncomfortable Truths is one of the strongest temptations that women have which is the desire to be rebellious. Submission is righteous and holy. Discussing it is good, and diversions away from it are to play right into temptation.”
Deep Strength argues that it is a “diversion” and a “temptation” to even discuss exceptions to a wife’s submission to her husband. He acts like it is so rare and unfathomable that a husband would ask his wife to sin. Does he forget how many Christian women are married to unbelieving husbands? Husbands that might ask their wives to do drugs? Husbands that might as their wives to have sex with their friends or participate in a threesome? Yes these things happen.
And yes even professing Christian husbands may ask their wives to do sinful things. Just because it is rare does not mean it does not happen.
I really don’t see the fear these men have of discussing exceptions to submission. Since when is the truth a “distraction” or “temptation”?
It is actually very easy to address these exemptions and then continue on in the topic of submission. We don’t ever have to be afraid of the truth as Christians.
Now are there Christian bloggers who add to the exemptions to submission like the way the female commenter did above? Yes and they do it all the time. But just because people add to God’s Word does not mean we can take away from it.
We are to teach the whole counsel of God. We are not to go to the left or the right:
“Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”
Proverbs 4:27 (KJV)
People on the left and right extremes of submission both have something in common. They both dismiss those passages they don’t like and they both add things to the text that are not there. But we are not to take away from God’s Word or to add to it – but instead we are to follow the entire Word of God:
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
Deuteronomy 4:2 (KJV)
So truth about the submission of wives to their husbands is very simple. A wife is to submit to her husband in all areas of her life and everything he wishes her to do or not do as long as he does not ask her to sin against God. Even if he asks her to sin against God she should respectfully refuse his request but this does not mean she stops submitting in every other way. Even if her husband is living a sinful life either as a Christian or non-Christian she must submit to him. She is not responsible for his sin, she is only responsible for hers.
But this then brings us to the final part of submission to sinful requests by husbands to their wives.
Is a wife responsible for doing something sinful if her husband commands her to do it?
This statement was made by the blogger Moose Norseman in his post “For clarity’s sake”
“But perhaps the last one tells the most. Do these blogs and ministries teach young women to be obedient to their husbands, or do they teach things like this:
“Submission does not mean that the men in authority, whether in the church or in the home, are always right. They aren’t. They’re sometimes and often wrong. They sin, as do we. Submission does not mean blind obedience. It does not mean that we sin in order to submit. It doesn’t mean that you overlook sin in the authority. “(emphasis in original)
“Now, what if he asks her to participate in a threesome, abort her baby, or help him commit robbery by stealing from a bank? Should she submit in these instances? NO!”
A reminder about headship and covering: The one that is covered bears no iniquity. It is the authority that bears the iniquity.”
Moose first presents a false dichotomy – If a Christian teacher teaches that there are any exceptions to God’s command that wives are to submit to their husbands then the person is said to be negating the entire Biblical teaching of the submission of wives to their husbands.
So according to Moose – a Christian wife should participate in a threesome, abort her baby, help her husband commit a robbery and do anything else her husband requests of her even if she believes that action would be a sin against God. If she does God will not hold her accountable – in fact he honors her for participating in acts she believes are sinful if her husband asks her to do it.
This teaching by Moose Norseman is not just simply absurd – it is the very definition of heresy. Any teaching that tells someone it is ok to sin against God is heresy.
As believers we will often disagree on Bible interpretations and what is and what is not sin. But to acknowledge that something is a sinful activity and then say God is ok with us doing that sinful activity under certain circumstances is the height of heresy.
The Apostle Peter made this point abundantly clear:
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:29 (KJV)
Moose bases his heresy on a passage from the book of Numbers which is linked from the phrase “the authority that bears the iniquity.”
“13 Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.
14 But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.
15 But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.
16 These are the statutes, which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father’s house.”
– Numbers 30:13-16 (KJV)
The key verse Moose is pointing to is verse 15 of Numbers chapter 30:
“But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.”
This is a great passage of Scripture that I have spoken about several times on my blog. I do not disagree that this passage demonstrates the headship of man over the women in his family whether it be his wife or his daughters.
But what it does NOT show is that a husband can ask his wife to directly participate in an activity that she believes is a violation of God’s law and that God would honor her for obeying his sinful command and participating in these kinds of sin.
In this case with her broken vow the husband by not overriding the vow his wife has made when she made it has taken on the penalty for her not fulfilling that vow if he stops her from doing it. If he tells her he has changed his mind and does not want her to fulfill the vow she made then he bears what would have been her sin. It is his sin now since he approved her vow.
A simpler way to say this is – when a woman makes a vow to do something in her husband’s presence and he either remains silent or actively agrees with her vow then as her husband he takes on the responsibility and the penalty if he stops her from fulfilling that vow.
God’s Word teaches us two important principles as it relates to the submission of wives to their husbands. God tells wives to submit to their husbands in “everything” (Ephesians 5:24) but the Apostles when told to disobey God said that “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So when we take the whole counsel of God on the matter of submission we see that wives are to obey their husbands in all things unless their husband directly tells them to do something that would violate God’s law.
It really is that simple.
Christians on the left of Biblical submission want to find every way they can out of submission so they abuse the principle that “We ought to obey God rather than men” by saying things like if your husband chooses a church you disagree with you don’t have to follow him there which is utterly false. But then on the far right of Biblical submission we have those like Moose who claim that there are no exceptions for wives submitting to their husbands and even if their husband asks them to participate in a threesome or kill their child they must do these things.
The people of God must avoid all extremes. We must instead walk the straight path – following the whole counsel of God and not veer either to the left or the right.