What Does it Mean to be a Submissive Wife in the Bible?

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When people hear the words “submissive wife”, many see a woman who has given up her “power” to her husband. This idea is, however, not biblical at all!

The Bible speaks of the importance of being submissive in both marriage and church leadership, but submitting does not mean that you are less important or should be taken advantage of. Let’s take a look at what it really means to be a submissive wife, biblically speaking, and what submission really means.

A bride and groom dancing at a reception with confetti falling and a text overlay that says What Does it Mean to be a Submissive Wife?

What Does Submission Mean?

When we talk about a woman being “submissive” to her husband, we often conjure up these images of a meek and mild woman who is under the thumb of a domineering husband.

And that is the case for many women. That is the reality of how they live.

But that is NOT Biblical. God does NOT approve of a husband being abusive in any way, emotionally or physically, to his wife. And we will explore what God DOES intend here in a moment.

If you are being abused in any way, help is available to you.

Here in this post, we are speaking of BIBLICAL submission as a household of God.

Many times, Colossians 3:18 is the verse people quote with regards to being submissive to your husband.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”


But it’s impossible to take just one verse, silo it and unpack it that way. You have to know the following keys to interpreting scripture:

  • Who is speaking
  • Who are they speaking to
  • When are they speaking
  • What is the context of the surrounding verses
  • What is the speaker trying to convey

You see, if we just grab ahold of this verse (or ANY verse) and run with it, we could make it mean pretty much whatever we want and make it appear to be permission for men to be authoritative and domineering over women and that somehow God and the Bible under-value, demean and degrade women.

The word “submit” here is the Greek word hypotassō and, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary:

This word was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.’

Vine’s Expository Dictionary

This is really important information for the discussion. It refers to “attitude” here and one who WILLINGLY places oneself under the authority of another.

It does not refer to a less valuable person, but instead refers to one who takes on responsibility and cooperates with others in order to complete what needs done; this would include being willing and able to take up leadership when that need arises as well.

It uses the example of the military. In the military, authority is needed in order to keep things functioning properly. Imagine if there was no rank in the military! Everyone would be jockeying for control, making conflicting decisions, endangering lives.

There HAS to be order in the military. But that does not mean a commanding officer’s life has more value. It is just a hierarchical position, not a position of worth.

A home has to function with some order as well.

This is just like we see in the life of Yeshua Himself.

He submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

Was God some domineering Being that saw Yeshua as diminished in value? Well, we know that is not the case or God will have diminished Himself and His own plan of salvation for the nations.

Instead, He willingly submitted Himself to a higher authority because it was what needed to be done as part of the Father’s plan.

But Colossians is not the only place in Scripture that we see this type of submission to husbands.

In Ephesians 5:24, Paul says:

“But as Messiah’s community is submitted to Messiah, so also the wives to their husbands in everything.”


If we look at “Messiah’s community” (also known as the ekklesia or the ‘church’), are we diminished in value or considered to be of little worth? Of course not! We are beloved and cherished to the point that Messiah gave up His life for us.

Let me say that again…Messiah’s community is submitted to Messiah BUT is so loved and cherished BY Him that He gave His life for them.

Submission to Messiah does not make His followers worthless. In fact, it does just the opposite. It makes them WORTHY.

This is what it means to be a submissive wife. It does not mean that you are less important or should be taken advantage of. Being submissive is related to a hierarchy in the home, not a matter of importance.

Our children are part of that hierarchy. We have authority over them but does that mean they have less worth or value than we do? No! It simply means there is an order to everything so that there IS order.

Submissive Wife – Husbands Are to LOVE You

So let’s talk about that value and worth of the woman here for a moment by looking at the two verses that come AFTER Colossians 3:18.

Colossians 3:19-20 says:

“Husbands, love your wives and do not become harsh toward them. Children, obey your parents in every respect, for this is pleasing to the Lord.”


You see, many times people want to stop at verse 18 and make a point that Paul is misogynistic, the Bible (and God) demeans women and that Christianity or Messianic Judaism view women as little more than property, belonging in the home barefoot and pregnant.

But they neglect those next two verses (and the ones following those) that speak of the husband’s role as head of the home AND the role of children as under the authority of both parents.

Love is at the heart of this hierarchy in the home. Paul specifically says do NOT become harsh with your wife. It then goes on to tell the children to obey their parents.

This is the structure of the home that allows it to function effectively.

Being obedient to others, including wives to their husbands, has nothing to do with worth or importance; it’s about humility and obedience.

This type of relationship between parents leads children to grow up into kind people who can love themselves by learning how to honor themselves as well as those around them (verses 22-29).

People often misunderstand what biblical submission means because they forget that hierarchy doesn’t have anything at all to do with power or authority but rather respect for elders and differences among individuals (as seen from passages such as Romans 12:16; Hebrews 13:17).

The husband is to love their wife as Messiah loved His church and gave Himself for her.

Ephesians 5:25-31:

“As for husbands, love your wives, just as the Messiah loved the Messianic Community, indeed, gave himself up on its behalf,  in order to set it apart for God, making it clean through immersion in the mikveh, so to speak, in order to present the Messianic Community to himself as a bride to be proud of, without a spot, wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without defect. 

This is how husbands ought to love their wives — like their own bodies; for the man who loves his wife is loving himself. Why, no one ever hated his own flesh! On the contrary, he feeds it well and takes care of it, just as the Messiah does the Messianic Community, because we are parts of his Body. 

“Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and remain with his wife, and the two will become one.” “


These verses show that the husband and wife become ONE FLESH and as such, how could a husband demean or despise his wife, by biblical command, as she is his own flesh? That would make no sense.

The Bible here says it would be like hating or mistreating his own body.

The husband is to love their wife as Messiah loved His church and gave Himself for her. Click To Tweet

So the Bible, while providing a structure of order does not provide here a structure of value and worth, nor does it say that men and women have NO equality in ANY matter.

In Judaism, women have quite a bit of worth in fact.

A bride and groom making a heart with their hands and Colossians 3:18 quoted in Tree of Life version

The Submissive Wife – Women in Judaism

So let’s take a look at how women are viewed in Judaism. Why Judaism? Well, because whether you are a Messianic Jew, like myself, or a Christian, your Messiah is Jewish. He was raised by a Jewish mother. His disciples were Jews as were the apostles.

Judaism, and therefore Israel, cannot be removed from the Messiah, period. End of story! Quite literally in fact, since the end of the story also includes Israel.

So in light of how women would have been viewed in the time of the Apostolic Writings, let’s look at how Judaism views them.

You see, Judaism is actually a matriarchal and matrilineal society. Women are revered in Judaism. In fact, Judaism is passed on to subsequent generations down the line through the mother and grandmother, not the father (although some sects of Judaism now will recognize lineage through the father as well).

Yes, there were definitive roles for women and men but don’t mistake that for inequality as regards VALUE. They weren’t held in lesser regard just because their roles differed, as we have already discussed.

The website Judaism 101 defines it this way:

“In traditional Judaism, women are for the most part seen as separate but equal. Women’s obligations and responsibilities are different from men’s, but no less important…”

(Judaism 101 http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm)

This page also goes on to say:

“Many of the important feminist leaders of the 20th century (Gloria Steinem, for example, and Betty Friedan) are Jewish women, and some commentators have suggested that this is no coincidence: the respect accorded to women in Jewish tradition was a part of their ethnic culture.”

(Judaism 101 http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm)

What Does it Mean to be a Submissive Wife?

Being a submissive wife merely means being a good communicator. It means listening to him and validating his opinions and viewpoint. It means you trust him to lead and, while you are a team, every team has to have a “captain” or leader and, when you cannot agree, you trust him with the decision as the leader of YOUR team.

It does NOT mean your views and opinions are not valid or important. A good leader always listens to others, including children (especially older children). But then they weigh all of the variables and make the decision they feel best supports the family and the marriage.

Being a submissive wife means trusting your husband, not only to lead but to listen.

Being a submissive wife means trusting your husband, not only to lead but to listen. Click To Tweet

Men and Women are Different and That is OK!

I am the first to say I am not equal in many things to my husband. But that has nothing to do with value! He can do things I can’t and vice versa. He will never be able to give birth or experience a cold with dignity (come on…man cold is REAL)!

We are NOT equal and that is OK!! I personally don’t WANT to be! I like being a woman. I enjoy our differences! But what we ARE equal in is our value as human beings and our value in the eyes of God.

We discuss everything! We come to decisions for our home and family together! But at times when we just do not agree on something that affects our family, I WILLINGLY submit to him.

And here’s a secret…most times we side together! As a husband who loves his wife the way Yeshua loves us, he WANTS to make me happy. So we have a good balance of responsibility and making each other happy!

And because I trust him and know he loves the Lord, I am happy to be a submissive wife.

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The Worth of a Woman

Maybe you’ve had men in your life who made you feel worthless or insignificant and you fear being a submissive wife.

I get you! I really do! Prior to being married to my husband, I had experienced emotional abuse. I had that fear that you have.

But God sees you as worth far more than rubies! He does not want you to be mistreated or diminished.

Listen to me, you are a beautiful, powerful woman already! The Bible doesn’t diminish the value of women, it actually demonstrates it!

Look at examples such as Ruth, Esther, and yes…the Proverbs 31 woman. She was a successful businesswoman, a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur.

She bought property without consulting her husband. It says in Proverbs 31:16:

“She considers a field, then buys it, and from her earnings she plants a vineyard.”


SHE considers this land, buys it and then plants a vineyard on it. Nowhere does it say she asked her husband for permission.

Why? Well, let’s look back at verse 11:

“Her husband trusts her from his heart, and she will prove a great asset to him.”


A bride and groom posing for picture and Proverbs 31:11 quoted in the Complete Jewish Bible

He trusts her. She does not cause conflict with him or act in a way that is irresponsible for her family. He knew she could run that aspect of their family on her own without him.

But if she WAS irresponsible, then he had a biblical mandate to step in and control those finances, not to be domineering but to protect the family as a unit. He shouldn’t stand idly by and allow his children to suffer the consquences.

He has a biblical responsibility to protect and guard his household.

But that was not the case with the Proverbs 31 woman. She ran everything on her own and made her husband look good!! He was proud of her and let her run the show. She did it all! She is referred to as the “virtuous” woman.

The Hebrew word used here for “virtuous” is “chayil” and means strong, capable. It was actually a word used to refer to military strength. See, we are seeing that military theme coming through again!

There are many Biblical examples of women of virtue and strength in both the Old and New Testament.

God loves you and created you to be a beautiful, strong, valuable woman nonetheless and He desires a relationship with you. He longs to know you and He longs for you to know Him as the loving, faithful Father He is.

And a loving and faithful father will never diminish your worth and value. People may, but God never will.

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CJB – Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.

Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society.  Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.