The custom of women bowing to their husbands, otherwise known in older times as “obeisance”, goes back to the beginnings of human civilization. This custom is still regularly practiced throughout many African nations today as well as other parts of the world.
As Christians we know that not all cultural customs are Biblical. And we also know that the commands of the Bible transcend all cultures and times. In this post, I will prove that the ancient custom of wives doing obeisance toward their husbands is not simply a relic of ages past, but that it is indeed a command to wives found in the Bible.
But before we can present the Biblical command for wives to bow to their husbands, we must first present some other commands that form the foundation upon which this command is built.
The Bible Says Marriage Is to Picture the Relationship of Christ to his Church
In Ephesians 5:22-24(KJV) the Bible says the following:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
Ephesians 5:22-24 teaches us the important Biblical principle that God designed marriage to be a picture of the relationship of Christ and his church. This tells us that we can and should look, not just at Ephesians 5:22-33, but also at all other references to how Christ and his church interact with one another throughout the Old and New Testaments to understand how marriage should operate.
A marriage built only on the principles of Ephesians 5:22-33 will be missing key and important attributes of Christ’s marriage to his church mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. In other words, a marriage modeled exclusively after the attributes described in Ephesians 5:22-33 will not fully and completely picture the relationship of Christ to his Church.
For example, Ephesians 5:25-29 commands men to love their wives a Christ loves his church and lists several attributes of Christ’s love for his church including him sacrificing himself for her, him washing her spiritual spots and wrinkles with the Word of God and him providing for and protecting his wife as he would his own body.
But Revelation 3:19 mentions some other attributes of Christ’s love for his church not found in Ephesians 5:25-29. In Revelation 3:19 (KJV) the Christ said the following to his seven churches:
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
A husband’s love for his wife includes not his spiritual washing of her, his provision for her and his protection of her – but it also includes his rebuking her and chastening her.
The Biblical truth that the wife is to picture the church in relationship to Christ and the husband represents Christs means that a wife is to obey all the commands of God to the church relating to Christ, with the notable exceptions of worshipping her husband or seeing him as her savior from sin. Those qualities belong to Christ alone and not earthly husbands. I will address the worship issue more as this post progresses.
And now that we have firmly established the Biblical principle that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church – we will explore another passage which shows other aspects of the relationship of Christ and the church which also apply to marriage.
Psalm 45 – A Picture of the Relationship of Christ to His Church
Psalm 45 is unmistakably a prophecy of Christ and his bride, the church.
The noble attributes of the king are mentioned first in verses 1-5:
“1 My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
2 Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.
3 Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
4 And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.
5 Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. “
And then in verses 6 and 7 we see that this is clearly a reference to God the father appointing Christ as King:
“6 Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
And then in Psalm 45:10-11 the perspective changes from addressing the King to now addressing the bride who is about to marry the King:
“10 Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; 11 So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.”
These two verses are filled with rich theology. While Ephesians 5:33 commands women to reverence their husbands – it is these two verses from Psalm 45:10-11 which help to show what the reverence of a wife toward her husband should look like.
But before we can apply what these verses are saying, we need to address a translation issue.
Is Psalm 45:11 Saying that Wives Should Worship Their Husbands?
At the latter end of Psalm 45:11 the KJV renders the verse as “for he is thy Lord, worship thou him”. Since this passage is a prophecy of Christ and his church and Ephesians 5:23 tells us the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his church – is God commanding the wives should worship their husbands?
The answer to that question is found in many passages of the Bible but Revelation 19:10 gives us an extremely clear answer where John fell at the feet of angel to worship him:
“And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
We worship God and God alone. So, we know that Psalm 45:11 is not teaching women to worship their husbands. Does that mean we dismiss the latter part of Psalm 45:11 as not applying to human marriage at all? The answer to that is no as well.
To better understand how Psalm 45:11 applies not just to the spiritual marriage of Christ and his church, but also to human marriage we will look at this same passage in the English Standard Version of the Bible:
“Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.”
Notice the big difference? In the KJV it tells the woman to worship the king who will be her husband. In the ESV it tells her to bow to him. And if you were to see the wording of this you would also notice that the KJV capitalizes the word “Lord” while the ESV uses a lower case “lord”.
Why is the KJV translation of Psalm 45:11 different than the ESV translation?
The reason for the difference in translation has to do with the Hebrew word “Shachah”. The most literal meaning of Shachah is “to bow down”. But sometimes when someone bows down, they are not just showing reverence, but they are also engaging in worship. In other words, worship usually involves bowing of some sort, but not all bowing is worship. Sometimes bowing is just reverence.
The easiest way to illustrate this is when Moses did Shachah in two different occasions. In Exodus 18:7, Moses did Shachah toward his father-in-law so it is simply translated as “obeisance” which a synonym for reverence. However, in Exodus 34:8, when Moses did Shachah toward God – it was more than just reverence – it was an act of worship and it was translated as such.
Psalm 45 presents a dilemma for translators when it comes to translating Shachah. In this story, we see a King being married to the royal daughter of another king. But the story here is a prophecy of Christ being wedded to his church.
So, while the KJV would not normally translate someone bowing to a king as “worship” they decided to translate it here as worship and to capitalize the “L” in Lord to indicate it is a prophecy of Christ.
The ESV translated it as “bow down” instead of “worship” because while they agreed that this is a prophecy of Christ and his church that it is using a human story of a King marrying a royal daughter and therefore her bowing down would not be an act of worship, but rather an act of reverence.
I can see reasons for both translations. But in the end if we remember that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church than any reference to Christ and his bride has application to human marriage as well.
So, when applying this to human marriage and not the spiritual marriage of Christ and the church – Shachah must be understood in its most literal sense of bowing down in reverence.
Women Picture the Church Bowing to Christ When They Bow to Their Husbands
The full Biblical picture of the marriage of Christ and his church reveals much than his sacrificial provision for and protection of his wife, the church. It reveals more than his headship over the church. A full Biblical picture of the marriage of Christ and his church also demonstrates his lordship over his church and his discipline of his church.
A full Biblical picture of the marriage of Christ and his church shows us that women are not just commanded to submit to their husbands or even just respect them – but rather they are commanded to reverence their husbands as Ephesians 5:33 and 1 Peter 3:2 command.
Who is being commanded to acknowledge her husband as her lord and to bow to him in Psalm 45:11? It is the church.
When we tie together the principle that marriage is to picture the relationship of Christ to his church (Ephesians 5:22-33) and that the Bible commands women to acknowledge their husbands as their earthly lords (1 Peter 3:6) and to reverence them (Ephesians 5:33) then we can see beyond a shadow of a doubt that the command of Psalm 45:11 is given to wives just as it given to the church whom wives are to represent.
But Aren’t Women Worshipping Their Husbands If They Bow to Them?
Many Christians, even conservative Christians who believe in male headship and wives submitting to their husbands will object to this calling it a form of “husband worship” or a wife making her husband an idol.
But this objection to women bowing to their husbands is frankly rooted in cultural ignorance. In 21st century America when we think of the word “lord” or someone bowing to another we exclusively think of God and worship.
But if we were to go to Britain – they would not associate the word “lord” exclusively with God nor would they associate bowing exclusively with worship. Because in their society they have many lords who are of a nobility class and they bow to their Queen.
In Africa, it is an ancient custom still practiced today for women to kneel before their men when being proposed to:
And traditional African brides kneel before their husbands as part of the wedding ceremony and feed their husbands:
America was founded on the rejection of nobility classes and monarchies so our ancestors came to reject all forms of bowing to people or calling people lords.
However, the Bible does not reject calling people “lord”, which means master, nor does it reject the concept of people bowing to others as a form of reverence. In fact, in the case of a wife toward her husband it actually commands a woman to call her husband lord and bow to him.
As I mentioned previously the Bible shows Moses doing obeisance in Exodus 18:7 toward his father-in-law. In 2 Samuel 9:6 the Bible shows Mephibosheth kneeling with his face to the ground before King David:
“Now when Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, was come unto David, he fell on his face, and did reverence. And David said, Mephibosheth. And he answered, Behold thy servant!”
The word translated as ‘reverence’ here is the same as that translated as obeisance and means to bow.
This American rejection of calling anyone lord but God and bowing to no one but “King Jesus” goes directly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God in 1 Peter 3:5-6 and Psalm 45:11. And this American value, as old as it is, must be rejected by Christian husbands and wives.
Christian women must regard their husbands as their earthly lords and bow to them and Christian husbands must accept this from their wives.
The Difference Between Bowing in Reverence and Bowing in Worship
If bowing is not automatically a form of worship, which the Bible shows it is not, then what is the difference between a woman bowing in reverence to her husband and a woman bowing in worship to God?
The answer is found in the intent in the wife’s heart and how she sees her husband verses how she sees God.
Is the woman bowing to her husband in obedience to God’s command that she affirm her husband’s earthly lordship over her by bowing to him? If so, then her bowing to him is not worship which is reserved for God alone.
However, if a woman sees her husband as perfect, sinless and all powerful like God and that is why she is bowing to him – then she is engaging in an act of worship which is sin.
In other words, when we bow to God, we are and should be acknowledging his perfection, his sinlessness and his being the all-powerful sovereign of the universe.
I am often falsely accused by my detractors, whether they be Christians or non-Christians alike, of teaching that I think women should regard their husbands as gods. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, I teach what the Bible says that God has placed sinful and imperfect men as the heads of sinful and imperfect women. God does not call women to submit to, reverence and bow to their husbands because these men are perfect and all-powerful beings. God calls women to submit to and bow to their husbands in spite of their imperfections and weaknesses because of the position God as ordained men to over women.
A woman’s acknowledgement of her husband’s earthly lordship over her by bowing to him is an acknowledgement of Christ’s lordship over all creation and his authority to appoint her husband as her lord.
Practical Ways That Wives Can Incorporate Bowing into Their Marriages
Now that we have established the Biblical command that wives should bow to their husbands – how can wives practically incorporate this in their marriages on a regular basis? This is the question we will address next.
The images below illustrate several ways in which a woman can bow in her husband’s presence.
The first would be her greeting him as comes home from work as seen below:
This image below from a vintage ad is routinely mocked as “sexist” yet this is very biblical behavior for women to do toward their husbands.
In many African countries today, it is still common for women to bow to their husbands when they bring them their daily meals as pictured below:
Last but certainly not least, is another way women can bow before their husbands regularly as an act of reverence and affirmation of his lordship over them.
The picture above is of an actual bride and groom on their wedding day “simulating” her performing oral sex on him as part of a series of otherwise normal wedding pictures. It is actually becoming a fad for couples to simulate this very pose as part of their wedding pictures.
I know I have extremely conservative readers and I hope you will have a sense of humor with the image above even if you don’t think a bride and groom should share such a picture. It shows absolutely nothing of what she is doing and leaves everything to the imagination.
I know many conservative Christians believe all intimate sexual acts, even if only simulated, must never be shown. But I disagree. I hope most of my readers can appreciate the humor in this image above even if you would never take such a photo at your wedding.
An interesting side note. While they did not see the actual act, it was the custom in Biblical times for two witnesses, one from the bride’s family and one from the groom’s family to stand directly outside the tent or room to hear the couple have sex.
The reason two witnesses would be just outside the door or the tent and could hear sex happening was because unlike today, sex was part of the wedding ceremony in ancient times. Sex actually occurred before the wedding vows were made to assure the woman’s virginity was intact. Then after having sex the couple would present a bloody cloth which would prove the woman’s virginity and it was kept by the bride’s family as a proof of her virginity and a memento from the wedding. This practice is alluded to in Deuteronomy 22:13-21.
And on the topic of a woman performing fellatio on her husband – yes this is mentioned in the Bible in Song of Solomon 2:3 (KJV):
“As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
The apple tree was used as a euphemism for a man’s genitals in middle eastern erotic poems. The top of the tree with branches and fruit represented the man’s testicles and the trunk of the tree represented his penis. This Biblical author is presenting a picture of a woman sitting in her husband’s shadow (so this her being beneath him) and her performing oral sex on him. She knelt before him and performed oral sex to completion with “great delight” and his fruit (his semen) was sweet to her taste.
And for those women who say “Song of Solomon 2:3 is simply descriptive, but it is not prescriptive (commanded) for women” and I would refer you to Proverbs 5:18-19 which states the following:
“Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.”
The Bible commands that husbands are to ravished (the Hebrew her literally means to be sexually intoxicated) by their wives. The English word “satisfy” is a translation of the Hebrew which literally means “drink your fill”. To fulfill the command for husbands to be drink their fill of their wives’ bodies and to be ravished by their wives requires the participation of BOTH the husband and the wife. It requires the husband to seek to be ravished by his wife and the wife to act in ravishing ways toward her husband.
My point here is that Proverbs 5:18-19 commands wives to ravish their husbands and the entire book of the Song of Solomon shows women how to ravish their husbands. It is absolutely true that Song of Solomon 2:3 is written in a descriptive form rather than prescriptive form. However, Song of Solomon 2:3 is part of a larger description of what it means for a wife to ravish her husband which is commanded in Proverbs 5:18-19. Therefore, Song of Solomon 2:3 is both descriptive and prescriptive for wives in marriage.
And even if one argued that they don’t see it as commanded – a husband can simply command his wife to do it and it becomes a command from God. It really is that simple.
And finally, on this topic of wives performing fellatio on their husbands, let me address the “selfishness” argument wives use to get out of performing oral sex or really having sex at all when they don’t feel like it. It is not selfish for a man to do what God commands of him. In Proverbs 5:19, God tells him to drink his fill of his wife’s body “at all times” and he commands that his wife is to ravish him.
Therefore, from a Biblical perspective it is not a man who is acting selfishly for desiring that his wife ravish him by performing fellatio on him, but rather it is the wife who acts selfishly by denying him his privilege to receive this from her as her husband.
To learn more about how you as a wife can fulfill the command to ravish your husband go to my podcast site BGRLearning.com and listen to my 3-part, 3-hour podcast series entitled “A Biblical Guide To Ravishing Your Husband”. In that series I do an extensive exposition of several passages of the Song of Solomon explaining the ancient sexual metaphors and helping wives apply them to ravishing their husbands.
God commands wives to imitate the behavior that he commands of the church toward Christ in Ephesians 5:22-33. And God commands the church to bow to Christ as her lord in Psalm 45:11. Therefore, wives in following God’s command to imitate the behavior of the church, must bow to their husbands as an affirmation of their husband’s earthly lordship which is also commanded in 1 Peter 3:5-6.
The act of a woman bowing is not simply a cultural relic of ages past, but rather it is a Biblical command as part of the wife picturing the church in reverence toward her husband.
And as long as a wife does not see her husband as a god, but rather she bows to her husband in obedience to the one true God, then this is not an act of worship nor is it making her husband into an idol, but instead it is simply an act of reverence.
And yes, this act of a wife bowing to her husband is extremely anti-American and goes against America’s long opposition to lords and kings. And it is extremely triggering to humanists worldwide. But it is Biblical. Therefore, Christian wives must learn to regularly do this and Christian husbands must learn to accept this from their wives.
This simple act of a wife bowing to her husband and him accepting this is a very tangible and visible way that we can bring reverence back into marriages. A woman bowing to her husband is something her children should see their mother do as well (except of course for her performing oral sex!).
And to learn more about other ways (besides bowing to him) in which you can and should reverence your husband go to BGRLearning.com and listen to my 2-part podcast series entitled “5 Biblical Ways To Reverence Your Husband”.