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Is Genesis 3:16 About a Wife’s Desire to Control her Husband?

July 10, 2011


“you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” Gen. 3:16 NLT

“your desire shall be against your husband, and he shall rule over you” Gen. 3:16 ESV footnote

The above translations have embraced the mapping of a wife’s desire (Genesis 3:16) to sin’s desire (Genesis 4:7) to the extent that they add words to the text which appear to color wives as control freaks (NLT), and enemies of their husbands (ESV, “against” him).  Much as I want to dismiss these translations as twisting the passage to say the opposite of its “plain meaning” and “putting the pants on” wives via bold-faced projection of a male inclination, the teaching is commonplace and needs to be addressed.

As far as I have been able to determine, this popular interpretation of “desire” as a wife’s enmity (“against” him) and desire to rule/control her husband originated with Susan Foh in 1974.  Preached from pulpits and repeated in marriage books, it has been embraced by complementarians (Ware, CBMW) and egalitarians alike (Hess, CBE ).

For the sake of presenting a thorough analysis, I will address the translations quoted above at face value, but in a way which is respectful to women rather than the demeaning, marriage killing teaching which perceives the wife as her husband’s enemy- the equivalent of “sin”- to be resisted, subdued, and mastered.

The ESV’s “against”, is compatible with the following view of ezer from the Torah Study for Reform Jews:

The Torah Study for Reform Jews says, “From the time of creation, relationships between spouses have at times been adversarial.  In Genesis 2:18, God calls woman an ezer kenegdo, a “helper against him.” The great commentator Rashi takes the term literally to make a wonderful point: “If he [Adam] is worthy, [she will be] a help [ezer].  If he is not worthy [she will be] against him [kenegdo] for strife.” This Jewish study also described man and woman facing each other with arms raised holding an arch between them, giving a beautiful picture of equal responsibility (source)

As for the NLT and a wife desiring to control her husband,  is a wife’s desire to control her husband a negative?  Should she have influence and authority within marriage?  You don’t have to look far to find the male propensity to control, rule, exercise authority baptized as good Christian husbandry.  I got nearly 8 million hits when I google searched “Bible husband ‘head of the household‘” (even though its a myth that the Bible ever designates the husband as the exclusive head of the household!  The husband is head of the WIFE but that is an intimacy metaphor, not an authority metaphor.)  But a wife desiring authority/control in the relationship? Can you  find any encouragement and support for that anywhere among evangelicals?

What are the results of a wife being denied any control/influence over her husband?  In developing countries, the results are a big problem, with men spending money on alcohol and other vices while neglecting their families’ welfare.  In my own background as a practitioner of Quiver Full teachings, I surrendered to my husband complete control over where we lived, how many children I had, whether I worked outside the home or not, whether I homeschooled the children or not, whether any of us received medical treatment or not, the “permission to participate in activities” of everyone in the family, how money was spent, what kind of vacuum cleaner we owned, etc.  And I had no control/influence over how he spent money or time (which turned to vices during several seasons of our marriage).  It was an oppressive lifestyle which sucked the life right out of me.

I submit that the high divorce rate among evangelical Christians is rooted in marriage killing doctrines which rob evangelical wives of control/influence within their marriages.

Are the NLT and ESV renderings used to “keep women in their place” (ie firmly under the control of their husbands; baptizing male control, and chastising female control)?  That approach will backfire. A wife will eventually break under the oppression of this paradigm and seek relief from her subjection to him.  Christian teaching on marriage should make sure that men and women understand that wives should have power/authority/control/influence within the marriage in equal measure with that of husbands; that husbands should be submitting in equal measure to wives.

I used to read CBMW uncritically but I recall the watershed moment when I read Ken Sande’s assumption that my Genesis 3:16 DESIRE was to “control my husband”.  This was so far removed from my personal experience in a woman’s skin that I began a journey of asking hard questions about the theology of womanhood which I had uncritically embraced and practiced- to the extreme- in my Quiver Full lifestyle.  I can testify from living in a woman’s skin that my desire was to please him.  It was a form of idolatry, and because of it my husband CONTROLLED (Ruled Over) me in a way which was extremely unhealthy for both of us.


My Blogs

February 17, 2010
God’s Word to Women
A Wife’s Submission

The Rise of Abuse in the Last Days is Prophesied

February 11, 2010

The Rise of Abuse in the Last Days is Prophesied

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:1-6.

The abusers “have a form of godliness but deny its power,” and their female victims are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” I was one of those gullible, controlled women, and I am here to testify about a pathway out of that painful, powerless place. I learned and learned, listened to sermons, read books, heard advice . . . Like the women described, I did not come to the knowledge of the TRUTH. Instead, I became more and more bound. The TRUTH shall set you FREE!

Let’s have a little test:

Please read the following quote and think about it before you scroll down the page.

“. . . every man should be ruler over his own household.”

That quote is from the Bible. I’ll tell you where to find it in a moment. First, I would like you to think about what the quote says . . . Have you heard teaching from books, sermons, and Christian radio that represents this model as God’s Will and Plan for a satisfying, God-honoring, biblical, Christian marriage?

Did you think about the quote? OK, then click on the link to read the verse in context.

“. . . every man should be ruler over his own household”

Now that you have read the verse in context, is it about Christian marriage? What sort of marriage is it about? From the world’s perspective, WHO had all the authority, power, control and WHO had none? How about from God’s perspective? WHO was anointed, appointed, and empowered with spiritual authority “for such a time as this?” Do you see how worldly authority is trivial, and how spiritual authority is powerful – so powerful that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it! (Katharine Bushnell’s enlightening commentary on this account is available on the God’s Word to Women website- Click Here)

Much teaching out there on Christian marriage contributes to the potential for abuse and the high divorce rate among Christians. When I realized the error which I had heard and believed, I felt intensely betrayed. I was very cynical about His representatives, but God never left or betrayed me. He led me on a journey deep into Him and His Word. I brought my pain to Him with great intensity–often using the Psalms as a springboard for prayer. I “pounded on His chest” in prayer, and He comforted me. Despite the opposition and judgment from those who do not live in my shoes and do not understand, I learned to listen for His still, small voice and proceed with confidence where He leads.

One of the most significant lessons I learned is that “submission” is NOT the same thing as “obedience”. Walking in “obedience” was death to me. Walking in godly submission is LIFE! When one goes to the original Greek, a better word than “submit” is found in the definition – “support.” The word the translators chose as “submit” could as well mean “to be attached to,” or “to be in support of,” meaning to “append” or “to identify with.” The word was commonly used in the postal system with the meaning “stick (to)” or “attach.” Support or submission can never be required of another but can only be voluntarily given on the basis of trust in God’s Word and in one another and of willingness to grow in relationships.

When I believed that my husband was “in charge” of me and I attempted to walk in obedience to him, I was committing the sin of idolatry.
I was rendering lordship and mastership to my husband instead of God.
I confused obedience and submission: I thought obedience to my husband = submission. So I obeyed my husband and in so doing –

– sinned against God
– enabled husband’s sin
– lied to the Holy Spirit

Ultimately, in my attempt to “serve two masters,” I came to despise my husband.  Luke 16:13 – “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.

Reading Katharine Bushnell has confirmed what the Lord showed me and strengthened my resolve and sense of calling. Here are links to just a few of the many insights from Bushnell which have resonated with me:

Husband hooked on vices? Wife REPENT from your vicious self-effacement. Rise up and be help MEET!

entire independence of “other control”

I cried when I read this . . .

All Christendom has been morally crippled in its progress by the attempt to keep the female sex in bondage


Genuine submission “as unto the Lord” is incredibly freeing and powerful because I am looking to the LORD for guidance and instructions, not to my husband. The Lord has entrusted me with gifts, talents, abilities, and responsibilities. In addition, HE has given me wisdom, a conscience, and HIS Holy Spirit as counselor. Allowing myself to be run like an appliance from the outside was an affront to the God who made me and gave me good gifts. Not only that, I really know far more about running the household than my husband does, and his micromanagement wasted many, many hours of my time and my children’s time on less-efficient routes.

“Woman can never be matured as a useful instrument in God’s hands, or an efficient servant of His Church, until she comes to understand that “she is not her own; she is bought with a price,” and it is neither her duty nor her privilege to give herself away to any human being in marriage or in any other way . . . There is no social redemption for woman until . . . she maintains the inviolability of free will, as her sustained attitude towards every human being, including her husband. There is no method of moral improvement remaining, after the loss of a free will.” Katharine Bushnell Lesson 45

In giving myself away to be treated
in marriage
as a child or a slave (who MUST OBEY),
I gave up my free will,
and I remained immature.

Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 is a supportive/submissive wife who disobeys.

Sapphira (Acts 5) is a wife who should have supportively/submissively told her husband “no” but instead goes along with him agreeing to “lie to the Holy Spirit.”

Love and Respect?

February 11, 2010

The Greek word in Ephesians 5:33– translated “respect” in the NIV and “reverence” in several other versions – is the word phobeo, Elsewhere it is consistently translated fear, be afraid, be afraid of, etc. Here is the breakdown of translation choices in the AV: AVfear 62, be afraid 23, be afraid of 5, reverence 1, misc 2

I believe that the text of the original autographs of Scriptures is Holy Spirit inspired and God breathed down to the smallest detail. There is another word which would more accurately express what we think of as “respect”. Paul and God did not choose this word. This word is time and is used of marriage, but of the husband’s duty toward the wife, not vice versa:

1PE 3:7 “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

Here the greek word for respect is “time” (value, esteem)

5092 time {tee-may’} from 5099; TDNT – 8:169,1181; n f AV – honour 35, price 8, sum 1, precious 1; 43 1) a valuing by which the price is fixed 1a) of the price itself 1b) of the price paid or received for a person or thing bought or sold 2) honour which belongs or is shown to one 2a) of the honour which one has by reason of rank and state of office which he holds 2b) deference, reverence

Note: The Greek “time” respect is commanded of all believers one to another: Rom 12:10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour (Greek- “time”) preferring one another

Returning to consideration of Ephesians 5:33, a parallel instruction to wives to phobeo/phobos is found in 1 Peter 3.

1Likewise, 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;2While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

3Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;

4But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

5For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:

6Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Do you see the paradox there?
Wives, “FEAR”!
yet be “NOT AFRAID”!
The links go to the verse in the Blue Letter Bible where one can see the Greek word phobos and phobeo.

The question is WHY do Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 tell wives to have an attitude of phobeo/phobos (fear, be afraid) toward their husbands?
What does this mean?

Think about Sarah, the role model given in the 1 Peter 3 passage. How did Sarah feel when her husband packed her off to the harem of a pagan king twice? Perhaps she struggled with fear? Nevertheless, GOD was with her. HE protected her. She was quite right to fear the men: her husband, that king. She was quite justified not to trust them, not to trust their motivations nor their spiritual maturity. What about fearing GOD? She did struggle with that too at times: “Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh.‘”Genesis 18:15

But God taught Sarah the same way HE teaches me and you!
GOD taught her

– by experience-

that HE is trustworthy, HE is faithful, HE is loving.

Think about Esther. There’s another woman who lived the paradox of “FEAR your husband” but “DO NOT BE AFRAID”! She feared her husband who could have had her put to death. But she trusted GOD and put her life in HIS hands.

Think about Sapphira and Ananias of Acts 5 infamy. Sapphira did not FEAR her husband nor God enough. If she had a healthy dose of phobeo/phobos, she would know that her selfish husband- like a hot stove or a loaded firearm- had the potential to be dangerous. Had she FEARED appropriately, she might have at least tried to reason with him and she certainly wouldn’t have enabled his foolishness by going along with it!

I noticed that the Ephesians 5-6 periscope uses the word “fear”/phobeo/phobos in two other instances:

Eph 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear (phobos) of God.

Eph 6:5Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear (phobos) and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

Does the latter sound like what one thinks of as “respect”? I don’t think so! This phobos/phobeo TREMBLES. That sounds like FEAR not “respect” to me!

I find this validating. This passage is not about God setting up some impossible bar for wives, a hoop we need to jump through, a brick wall against which we must dutifully bash our heads or else we have “failed”. Quite the contrary, the instruction to wives to phobeo captures what being in a wife’s skin feels like.

The passage nowhere tells the wife to “love”. Yes, every Christian has a duty to love even our enemies as ourselves, but WHY does GOD leave out  agape “love” when talking to wives about marriage? I think GOD does that because HE is merciful. HE knows that I cannot MAKE my husband love me and lay down his life for me. I cannot MAKE him obey God’s commands to him. When he isn’t submitting to GOD’s word and will, then he is dangerous and God knows it. I am designed by God to be insecure and FEAR when married to a man who is living for himself and that is OK, just as it was OK for the slave to fear and tremble. GOD UNDERSTANDS! It is also OK that my heart is hidden from my husband. 1 Peter says it will be. A wife cannot expose the deepest treasures of her heart; she cannot trust her pearls to one who will turn and rend her and trample them underfoot. She is not safe being vulnerable like that with a man who is living for himself. Its OK to be afraid, to fear him and the damage he is capable of inflicting.

Meanwhile the treasures of her heart are very precious to GOD. GOD says the hidden person of her heart is of great value to HIM (1 Peter 3:4). GOD says “daughter of Sarah, do what is right without being frightened by any fear” (1 Peter 3:6). GOD says “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your GOD”. GOD says “perfect love casts out fear”. I am imperfect, HE is perfect. I press in to HIM that I may be comforted and feel HIS perfect love, that He would grant me, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner woman, that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith; that I, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that I may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3)

So, what about “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear (phobos) of God.” Eph 5:21??? A couple does not just get away with doing marriage the Gen 3:16 way. The consequences are painful, the cost is high. Be afraid, be very afraid!

Ananias and Sapphira: “agreement” unto death

February 11, 2010

There are very few real life examples of married couples in the NT.  Among them are Ananias and Sapphira.  You can read the account of them from Acts 5 here.

Why did Sapphira follow her husband in death?  The passage explains that this happened because they “agreed together“ (Acts 5:9).  The Greek word there is derived from, sumphóneó with root words  sun together and phóné -voice.  Strong’s concordance defines sumphoneo as “to call out with, to be in harmony, generally to agree”.  Note how the word resembles our English word “symphony”.

Ananias and Sapphira were harmonious; agreeable. But what did they agree to do? They agreed to to lie to the Holy Ghost (vs 3); to tempt the Spirit of the Lord (vs. 9).  The definition of “to tempt” provided here is “to challenge”.  They agree to lie to the Holy Spirit and to challenge the Holy Spirit.

Notice the repetition word for word of the birth of great fear, following the death of Ananias, and again following the death of Sapphira:

and came fear great Acts 5:5
καὶ ἐγένετο φόβος μέγας
kai egeneto phobos megas.

and came fear great Acts 5:11
καὶ ἐγένετο φόβος μέγας
kai egeneto phobos megas.

I am struck by the equality of responsibility, and of consequences.  I am also struck by the root cause of their death- an absence of appropriate FEAR!

Could a lack of appropriate FEAR be at the root of the death of marriages?

Upon some word study of the teaching on marriage in  Ephesians 5, I realized that within marriage,  PHOBEO/fear is a responsibility expressly  placed upon the wife:

Eph 5:33 “wife that she fear [her] husband”

Bible translations are just that: translations.  The God breathed Word was originally given in Greek and Hebrew.   I believe the above rendition of Ephesians 5:33 (from the interlinear at is an honest translation which takes the God breathed Greek word at face value.

Is it comfortable?  Does it fit the tradition?  Do we like it?

Maybe not.  But I believe God has good reason for His instructions to wives, and I don’t believe it is merely a relic of a bygone era where wives were chattel.  Its truth and timeless.

I did some research and found several resources which acknowledge the FEAR meaning of Ephesians 5:33.

M. Barth (p. 662)  “the substitution of words softer than ‘fear’, e.g. ‘awe’, ‘reverence’, or ‘respect’, contradicts philological evidence and must be rejected in favor of the literal translation.” Thus, he interprets Ephesians 5.33: “Just as a political revolutionary must ‘fear’ the ‘wrath’ of the authorities, wives appear to be enjoined to live in ‘fear’ of (the wrath of) their husbands” (p. 649). [Ephesians by Markus Barth]

“‘fear’ is a better rendering than ‘reverence’ or ‘respect’”  page 437 The Letter to the Ephesians by P. T. O’Brien

Some teachings interpret wifely PHOBEO along the lines of  FEARing a pounding from their husbands and/or God if she “disrespects” her husband .  I suggest that the  FEAR instruction to wives has quite a different focus than that!   A  close look at the account of Ananias and Sapphira clarifies the intent and importance of GODLY FEAR in a marriage.   It does involve fear of consequences, but not from “disrespecting” her husband, No.  She should have the fear of consequences upon herself and the children from failing to stand up to him when he is headed in the wrong direction.  His “private” vices can sow death, not only into his own spirit, but into the spirits of his wife and children.

Rather than living in FEAR of the WRATH of the husband- as the  quote from Barth states- I suggest that Paul and God’s intent is more along the lines of living in FEAR of the consequences of tolerating and  enabling lying to  the Holy Spirit.  Renounce the “Sapphira Spirit” and refuse to cover up and agree with a pretense of righteousness while your husband is keeping back, not part of the sale price of some land as did Ananias, but part of his very life.

“Wives [are Subject] to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24

February 8, 2010

“A woman’s like a rose.
If you treat her right, she’ll bloom.
If you don’t, she’ll wilt.”
-Firefighter Michael in  “Fireproof”

Do you find this to be true?
Does your husband’s behavior have the power to “wilt” you?

That dynamic is what Paul is describing in Ephesians 5:24 when he says:

“but even as the assembly is subject to Christ,
so also [are] the wives to their own husbands in everything.” Eph 5:24

A close look at the Greek grammar of the hupotasso verb in Ephesians 5:24 as well as Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1 and 5 reveals that in each of these cases the hupotasso verb is in parsed in the passive voice (see Appendix for Technical Details).  These teachings are descriptive of how a marriage is rather than prescriptive about how a wife is supposed to “perform”.

The Passive Voice by definition means that the subject (noun) is the recipient of someone or something else’s action.  “No volition – nor even necessarily awareness of the action – is implied on the part of the subject“.  [2]

A wife IS SUBJECT to her husband like a person IS SUBJECT to gravity

Suppose when you rode in an airplane, I was to chastise you for your “rebellion” because you “defied” gravity?

Rebellious? Defiant? IMPOSSIBLE!
There is no choice and no escape from GRAVITY as long as we live on planet earth- even in an airplane, parachute, or hang glider we are SUBJECT to gravity. Scientists refer to gravity as a LAW: “the LAW of gravity”.   There is no escape on earth from our subjection to gravity. Living in denial can be downright dangerous!

In the same manner “Wives [are Subject] to Their Own Husbands in Everything” Ephesians 5:24… and those interconnected in a body relationship are subject to one another. Eph 5:21, 1 Cor 12:12-26.

The use of the  translation “submit” in the case of the hupotasso verb in the passive voice confuses the issue, as does the addition of extra-biblical words such as “ought to”, “should”. “must”, etc.  How does it sound if I say as a COMMAND: “Mary, you ought to/should/must  SUBMIT to gravity in everything you do on earth!”.  It sounds like Mary has some choice in the matter, like she can choose to defy gravity.  But the truth is she cannot defy gravity.  She IS SUBJECT to gravity in a passive indicative sense just like wives ARE SUBJECT to their own husbands in EVERYTHING.  Passive Indicative is the parsing of the Greek verb used in Ephesians 5:24.  Its a DESCRIPTION not a PRESCRIPTION!  Just like “humans are subject to gravity” is a DESCRIPTION not a PRESCRIPTION.

The context of Ephesians 5 provides compelling evidence for the  accuracy of the passive voice parsing of “is subject” in Ephesians 5:24.  The context speaks of a HEAD and a BODY.  The body “is subject” to the head, but there is no volition involved on the part of the body.  It is a description of a state of being, not a command for a certain behavior.  Thus the head/body metaphor is a perfect  illustration and object lesson of connectedness and subjection in the passive voice.

“Submit” distracts the mind from the implications of the teaching because of the  difficulty disentangling the mind from the implication that some action, some effort of the will is required on the part of the one who “is subject”.  One of the lexicon definitions under hupotasso is “yield”.  Even there, I have a mental picture of a “yield” sign which implies a command and the possibility of refusing to “yield” with dangerous results.

To “get” what I am saying will take some effort. I don’t think its complicated. It just so goes against the grain of what has been drilled into church people they can’t seem to hear it!

What I am saying FREES women from the whole “submission” teaching because the “submission” teaching emphasizes performance (and the associated self criticism, and constant feelings of failure to “measure up”), which emphasis cannot possibly be Paul/Peter/God’s intent! I looked at the grammar in Eph 5:24, 1 Peter 3, and Titus 2, I discovered that they ALL use the passive voice of the greek hupotasso verb! In every case of the verb “submit” paired with “wife”, the Bible uses verbs in the passive voice (with one exception, which I also explained: here)

Try this.
She has no power, no volition in it.
It is DEscriptive, not PREscriptive.
VULNERABLE is a state of yieldedness which fits withing the range of meaning for the hupotasso and is a good description of what I think Paul/Go meant when they declared that wives ARE SUBJECT to their husbands in EVERYTHING.
Eph 5:24 is NOT telling a wife “what to do”.
It is telling us how it IS in marriage.
It is DEscriptive, not PREscriptive.

While challenging to put aside preconceptions and read this passage with fresh vision, nevertheless I  encourage the reader to re-examine traditional assumptions in light of the context and the use of hupotasso verbs in the passive voice.

Appendix: Technical Details regarding hupotasso in the Passive Voice

The original language of the New Testament is Koine Greek which has some grammatical nuances with no English equivalent.  One such feature is the option of Passive Voice for a verb.  The Voice of a Greek Verb is included in the Parsing which can be checked in an Interlinear Bible.  Please inspect for yourself the parsing in the interlinear for the highlighted hupotasso verb in each of the following passages:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and being  subject  to (V-PPP-APF) their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.  Titus 2:3-5

1Wives, in the same way being subject (V-PPP-NPF) to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives… 5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful being  subject (V-PPP-NPF) to their own husbands, 6like Sarah,  1 Peter 3:1,5

The Passive Voice by definition means that the subject (noun) is the recipient of someone or something else’s action.  “No volition – nor even necessarily awareness of the action – is implied on the part of the subject“.  [2]

According to Professor Carl Conrad [3] there is a judgment call about assigning the Passive Voice to verbs:

Yet the formulation of the phrase in question in the Greek by itself does not offer any clue to which alternative may have been intended by the writer who formulated it, and the question must be resolved, if it is to be resolved at all, by a careful examination of the broader context of the passage in which the phrase occurred and perhaps of the entire corpus of that author. The same is true of the Greek “middle-passive” forms—and by that I mean both the -μαι/σαι/ται-μην; -σο/το forms and the -θη- forms: since Greek does not in fact distinguish morphologically the middle and passive meanings, the determination of whether the meaning is middle or passive in any particular instance is a matter of judgment. [3]

The verb translated “is subject” (upotassetai) is parsed as  Passive Voice in numerous interlinear resources [1] Many (if not most) interpret Ephesians 5:24 upotassetai with a middle voice.  The emphasis is upon the wife performing the action.  Some translations even go so far as to (erroneously in my opinion) insert an imperative force


New International Version (©1984)
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

New Living Translation (©2007)
As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

International Standard Version (©2008)
Indeed, just as the church is submissive to the Messiah, so wives must be submissive to their husbands in everything.

GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)
As the church is under Christ’s authority, so wives are under their husbands’ authority in everything.

Bible in Basic English
And as the church is under Christ’s authority, so let wives be under the rule of their husbands in all things.

Weymouth New Testament
And just as the Church submits to Christ, so also married women should be entirely submissive to their husbands.

There is no “should be”, “ought to” nor “must” in the Greek.  Those are interpretational additions by translators.   The following versions provide a more accurate rendition of the Greek:

Darby Bible Translation
But even as the assembly is subjected to the Christ, so also wives to their own husbands in everything.
Young’s Literal Translation
but even as the assembly is subject to Christ, so also are the wives to their own husbands in everything.

The verse is not a PREscription of what a wife or the church is supposed to DO.  The verse is a DEscription of the state of BEing of the wife and the church.  The church IS SUBJECT to Christ in EVERYTHING.   And the wife IS SUBJECT to the husband in EVERYTHING.

Of interest to those who will object that a wife has equal power to “wilt” her husband,  the  hupotasso verb in Ephesians 5:21-  upotassomeno- is also in the passive voice according to numerous interlinear resources.[1] Again, the head/body object lesson of the context illustrates: a body is subject to the head, AND the head to the body in a  reciprocal and mutual manner.  However,  because Ephesians 5:24 is a unique statement about the wife with no reciprocal statement about the husband,   and because the statement sounds so universal: “wives [subject] to their own husbands in EVERYTHING” I suggest that Paul (and God) are  speaking of a unique, broader, and deeper vulnerability of wives to the impact of husbands than vice versa.

The Textus Receptus (TR) has an extra hupotasso in Ephesians 5:22 (hupotassesthe) which is in the middle voice[4].   The earliest and oldest manuscript called “P46″ omits the verb in Eph 5:22. Interestingly, this manuscript was not discovered until the 1930’s.[5] I presume that the hupotassesthe in Eph 5:22 Textus Receptus  is an unfortunate  interpretational scribal addition which has served to obscure the truth about the meaning of wives  being subject “to their  husbands in everything”.. “as the church is subject to Christ”.


  1. The following interlinears have the Passive Voice parsing of the hupotasso verb in Eph. 5:24 as well as  Eph. 5:21:

    Blue Letter Bible- Eph 5:24
    Blue Letter Bible – Ephesians 5:21

  2. see “Voice” in this  online Greek Grammar: “This grammar is a compilation primarily from Wallace and Mounce”
  3. “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb” by Carl Conrad, Associate Professor Emeritus of Classics, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. See also Active, Middle, and Passive: Understanding Ancient Greek Voice
  5. There was some discussion of P46 here

God's Calling to Women

August 4, 2009

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