“A wife being submissive does not mean her being a doormat”. This phrase is commonly used even within traditional and conservative Christian circles which promote the submission of wives to their husbands and male headship. But this teaching, that wives should not allow themselves to be doormats for their husbands is totally unbiblical and instead finds its basis in modern humanist teachings.
The Modern Church’s False Doormat Doctrine
GotQuestions.org, in an article entitled “How can a Christian avoid being a doormat for other people?” makes the following statements which accurately represent the modern Doormat doctrine:
“A doormat is a small rug placed just inside a doorway where people can wipe their dirty shoes before entering the house. The term doormat is also used figuratively to describe people who allow themselves to be (figuratively) walked on by others; that is, a doormat allows himself or herself to be abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of without mounting a defense. Since Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and to “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), was He telling us to be doormats?
Jesus was not teaching His disciples to be doormats. Rather, He was teaching that, to glorify God and show ourselves to be His true children, we need to be pure inside and out and to be as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world. To “turn the other cheek” does not mean we place ourselves or others in danger or that we ignore injustice…
It may appear noble and Christlike when someone allows himself or herself to be used as a doormat, but there could also be a selfish reason behind it. For example, some people allow themselves to be doormats because of their own insecurities and low self-worth. They fear rejection, so they allow their personal boundaries to be violated by others in hopes they will be appreciated and loved. They are trying to gain validation by purchasing it with their compliance, in effect, expecting fallible people to tell them who they are instead of relying on God to do that….
Third, Christians can seek wise counsel about boundary-setting. The Bible is a book of boundaries and consequences. Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships. The word no is powerful. We need to learn that enabling the sins or irresponsibility of others is not loving; it is self-indulgent. Selfish fear, rooted in a desire for others to love, appreciate, or need us, propels us to rescue those who should experience their own consequences.”
So, what is the synopsis of this false doctrine?
The modern doormat doctrine teaches that no Christian man or woman should allow themselves “to be abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of without mounting a defense” and to tolerate such mistreatment makes one guilty of the sin of being a “doormat”.
According to the Doormat doctrine, in order to avoid the sin of becoming a doormat, a Christian must learn to set boundaries with others and learn the concept that “The word no is powerful”. When one commits the sin of being a doormat, they are “enabling the sins or irresponsibility of others” and engaging in “selfish fear”.
And let’s not kid ourselves. The Doormat doctrine was invented as a result of the influence of feminism in modern churches. It was invented to give power to women that God never meant for them to have. And that is why in most cases, you will see this Doormat doctrine applied to wives in regard to their husbands.
A Little Truth Mixed in With the False Doormat Doctrine
Many false doctrines have at least a little bit of truth in them. This is what gets people to fall for false doctrines. And this is the case with the Doormat doctrine.
First, it is true that is not always wrong for Christians to say no, in fact sometimes it absolutely right to say no and resist wrong doing that is being done against us or others.
In Deuteronomy 22:23-27 God requires that a young woman say no and cry out and resist if a man who is not her husband tries to make her have sex with him. And the Apostles, when told not to preach the Gospel, said in Acts 5:29 “We ought to obey God rather than men”.
In Nehemiah 4:14 the God given right and responsibility of men to fight to defend their wives, their children and their homes is firmly established where it states “fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses”.
Even within the Christian church among the Apostles, we see that the Apostle Paul took a strong stand against injustice when he saw the Apostle Peter discriminating against the new Gentile Christians in Galatians 2:11-12:
“11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.”
The point is that sometimes we must absolutely say no and take a stand against certain sinful behaviors that are committed against us or against others.
And certainly, we all must set the boundary with others that we will never allow someone to make us do something which God forbids in his law.
The Errors of the False Doormat Doctrine
One of the foundational errors of the modern church’s false Doormat doctrine is that it utterly ignores the relational context of when someone is being “abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of”. But in the Bible, the relational context of when someone is being “abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of” is crucial to understanding what God wants our response to be in that situation.
For instance, if someone is threatening or committing harm against a man, his wife, his children or his property he has the God given right of self-defense (Nehemiah 4:14).
But what about someone who has a master? If they are being “abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of” what does God say they should do in that situation? Should they mount a defense? The answer is given to us in the following passage from 1 Peter 2:18-21:
“18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps”
So, what is God’s answer to those who have masters who are froward (cruel and unjust) toward them? Does he tell them to mount a defense? No, but rather he tells them that it is “thankworthy” and “acceptable with God” for them to endure such unjust treatment by their masters and that in doing so they emulate Christ who also suffered unjustly.
And then, immediately after saying this to slaves regarding their masters, he says the following to wives regarding their husbands in 1 Peter 3:1-2 & 5-6:
“1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear…5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement”
When taken together – 1 Peter 2:18 through 1 Peter 3:6 teaches that those who have masters, whether they be wives or slaves, are commanded to endure cruel and unjust treatment from their masters. And in doing so, those who endure mistreatment at the hands of their masters emulate Christ in his sufferings.
Why 1 Peter 2:18 through 1 Peter 3:6 Is So Hard for Americans to Accept
1 Peter 2:18 through 1 Peter 3:6 is a very difficult passage of the Bible for modern westerners, and especially Americans, to swallow. This passage really takes a sledge hammer to the individualist and humanist ideals which form the foundation for modern American values.
Below is a list of modern American values which 1 Peter 2:18 through 1 Peter 3:6 contradicts:
- No person may be owned by another – to do so makes them a slave and slavery is always immoral under any circumstances.
- No person may be controlled or coerced against their will to do something they do not wish to do. (Of course, the humanists make exceptions for parents with children and the government making people do certain things like paying taxes, giving up guns or taking vaccines).
- Men and women have equal rights and should have equal opportunities in all areas of society.
- No person should ever tolerate abuse from another person, they should always defend themselves against any unjust treatment by others.
The fact is that the Bible does not hold to any of these modern core American beliefs. The Bible explicitly allows the taking of slaves and the concept of human property in Leviticus 25:44-46. The Bible does not condemn slavery, but rather it condemns the unjust taking of slaves in Deuteronomy 24:7 (someone taking one of his fellow citizens and selling them). The Bible also condemns the physical abuse of slaves in Exodus 21:20-21 & 26-27. For more on the subject of slavery from a Biblical perspective see my article “Why Christians Shouldn’t Be Ashamed of slavery in the Bible”.
The Bible also teaches that a person can have a master (be owned) and yet not be slave. This concept is a real head-scratcher for modern Americans but it is very Biblical.
In the passage above from 1 Peter 3:6, God exhorts women to follow the example of Sarah who called her husband “lord”. The Greek word there is ‘Kurios’ which means “master/lord/owner” and throughout the Old Testament it was common for the Hebrew word ‘baal’ meaning “master/lord/owner” to be used in regard to a woman’s husband.
So, both wives and slaves have masters, yet wives are not slaves.
The primary difference in the relationship between masters and their wives and masters and their slaves is that the master of a wife has a much greater set of responsibilities toward his wife than that of a master of a slave. The master of a wife is to love her as Christ does his church and to provide for her and protect her as he does his own body. A master of a wife is to give his body to his wife in the bed. He is to be willing to lay down his life to save hers. He has a responsibility to mold her and teach her how to emulate the church and to be the glorious wife she needs to be. A master of a slave has none of these responsibilities toward his slave. For more on this subject of the Biblical comparison of wives to slaves see my article “8 Biblical Differences Between Wives and Slaves”.
And this is why passages like 1 Peter 2:18 through 1 Peter 3:6 is almost impossible for modern Christians to fully comprehend without first understanding that some of our core American values are in fact unbiblical.
But Aren’t Wives Enabling Sin If They Don’t Confront Their Husbands?
This is a very popular aspect of the modern false Doormat doctrine. It teaches that if wives allow their husbands to sin against them by mistreating them that they are enabling their husband’s sin and thus sinning against God themselves in doing so.
But I encourage you to look throughout the Scriptures to find God calling a woman to go to her husband and rebuke him to his face about his sin. You won’t find one passage. Yes, we have Pilot’s wife warning him about a vision she had about Christ in Matthew 27:19 – but that was not a rebuke – it was a plea. And even with Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 when she acted to save her family from her husband’s evil deeds, she did not rebuke her husband to his face.
So, what is so different about the husband/wife relationship which forbids a wife from rebuking her husband? The answer is found in Ephesians 5:22-24:
“22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 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. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
The husband/wife relationship is different than any other human relationship. It is a sacred institution created by God. The husband represents God and the wife represents the people of God. For the wife to rebuke her husband would symbolize the church rebuking Christ.
Now some would argue that husbands are not perfect like Christ and that is true. Christ was the only sinless man to ever walk this earth – amen.
But the Biblical prescription for how women should handle sin in their lives of their husbands shows us that even though husbands are sinners, God has not given wives the right to rebuke or chastise their husbands for their sin.
The prescription for how a wife is to handle sin in the life of her husband, whether it is toward her or others, is found in 1 Peter 3:1-2. The wife is to win her husband without a word, by her behavior (that is what conversation means in the KJV translation of 1 Peter 3:1).
However, the situation is very different with a husband in regard to his wife. The Bible tells husbands to love their wives as Christ does his church in Ephesians 5:25 and in Revelation 3:19 Christ says to his churches “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”. Therefore, we can rightly say that is a sin for a wife to rebuke her husband but on the other hand it is a sin for a husband not to rebuke his wife because the husband and wife have different positions and responsibilities.
The Doormat doctrine, the doctrine that wives should never allow themselves “to be abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of without mounting a defense” is completely contradictory to the Biblical teachings of 1 Peter 2:18 through 1 Peter 3:6.
The Bible says it is “acceptable with God” (1 Peter 2:20) for those with masters, which includes wives, to “endure grief, suffering wrongfully” (1 Peter 2:19). In other words, it is acceptable and honoring to God for wives to be doormats when it comes to their husbands. And in doing so, wives emulate Christ when he suffered unjust treatment.
Rather than rebuking their husbands for each and every offense, 1 Peter 3:1-2 teaches wives to win their husbands without a word by their behavior which includes their pure actions, their submission and their reverence toward their husbands.
Can and should Christian wives have any boundaries with their husbands? Yes.
Not all forms of abuse must be taken by Christian wives. The prohibition against masters abusing their slaves from Exodus 21:20-21 & 26-27 absolutely applies to masters (husbands) of wives. And women can be freed from their husbands if their husbands do anything that risks serious bodily harm to them. Women can also take actions to defend themselves and their children against imminent harm that their husband’s actions pose against them or their children as Abigail did in 1 Samuel 25.
Women can and should establish the boundary with their husbands that they will never do anything which God forbids in his Word. That means if a husband asks his wife to engage in a threesome with their neighbor or asks her to help him rob a bank, she must respectfully decline in obedience to God which is her higher authority.
This really is the big difference between the Doormat doctrine and what the Bible teaches. The Doormat doctrine teaches that wives should not tolerate any abusive behavior from their husbands, while the Bible teaches that women should tolerate most kinds of abuse but not all abuse from their husbands.
And a final note on husbands and their sin. Many will ask – “If a wife cannot confront her husband on his sin than who can?” And then answer is other men. Whether it be fellow male church members, his brothers, his wife’s brothers, his father or his wife’s father other men absolutely have a right and responsibility to confront one another about their sinful treatment of their wives.