Women, Submission, and Work

Recently I heard someone speak about how a woman is to interact with males in a vocational context, and the word “submission” kept coming up. Now, that would have been fine if this speaker had meant an Ephesians 5:21 kind of submission—in which everyone serves everyone else mutually and reciprocally. But the submission she described was a one-way kind of service that applied only to the women serving the men in the office. And that is wrong.

Some say women are made for submission and men are not. But every one of us is called to live in submission to our Creator (James 4:7). And we are all also called to submit to our leaders (e.g., Hebrews 13:17). Additionally, we are all to serve one another and to live in humility (too many verses to cite). There is nothing especially female about submission. Submission is not a “woman thing,” it is a “human thing.”

So where do people get the idea that submission is for women only? Largely by looking at Bible verses addressed to wives in the context of marriage. But even in the marriage context at the time, the apostle Paul actually made it clear that all women were not called to submit to all men. He told the wives in Asia Minor that they were to submit not to every man but “to your own husbands” (Ephesians 5:22, italics added). By implication, they were not called to submit to other women’s husbands or men in general. So regardless of whether or not you see him espousing hierarchy in marriage, it’s clear that he was not espousing a male-over-female hierarchy.  

If you are a woman in Christian leadership, you serve everyone because that is the nature of Christ. You serve others not because you are a woman, but because you are a Christian. And the Christian men are called to serve, too. Consider the male who wrapped a towel about his waist and washed dung off people’s feet.

Women are not called to submit to men in some special way because they are male. We are called to serve other humans because all are made in the image of God, and the Savior we serve came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. So let us be clear: We are not called to contribute to a culture of inequality in which men rank above women in the human “org chart,” because doing so is at odds with building shalom, which is rooted in the not-showing-favorites character of God.

Submission is not a female thing; it is a human thing. Serving one another is not a female thing. It is a Christian thing. 

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.