Should a Wife “Obey” Her Husband?

Should a wife obey her husband?

In the year 2019, that seems like a ridiculous question, but when I began as a young pastor the question had real significance. In most marriage vows of that day, “love, honor, and obey” were part of the vows of the bride.

But somehow, it didn’t feel right to me. I very soon omitted “obey,” though I wasn’t sure exactly why. Should a wife “obey” her husband?

That gave me problems. I certainly grew up in a traditional home and a traditional church. My mother and father were a faithful part of their church from the time of their marriage. My mom was a submissive wife, but she didn’t obey my dad, and he didn’t expect her to do so. She could disagree and often did. They worked together to make important decisions. She had free rein to speak her mind.

While my father could be stubborn, he always gave me the example of “how you treat a woman.” He treated my mother with tenderness and respect. That example was so, so important for a boy to see.

So, should a wife obey? Where did we get that idea?

Yesterday, I read John Stott’s exposition of Ephesians 5:21-6:9 concerning the house family in the New Testament. He pointed out that while children should obey their parents, Paul called on wives to be submissive to their husbands–two different words and concepts. Ephesians 5:21 is clear that we all are called to mutual submission.

Stott pointed out that the Anglican 1662 Prayer Book included obey for the wife’s vows and in his opinion the prayer book was wrong to do so. “The concept of a husband who issues commands and of a wife who gives him obedience is simply not found in the New Testament.”

Instead, the picture of the New Testament is “a voluntary self-giving to a lover whose responsibility is defined in terms of constructive care; it is love’s response to love.”

This is God’s picture of marriage: mutual submission, lovers who love and care for one another and seek to love and respect their spouse because they love, honor, and obey God.

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