Struggling with Submission

In the last couple weeks, I read a blog by Mike Duran about Egalitarianism vs. Complementarianism. In the context of congregation/church relationships the former means everyone is equal in worth and role accessibility. The husband is not over the wife; and a woman can be a pastor/teacher, etc . . .  Complementarians believe that man and woman remain fundamentally different, though most say equal in worth, and therefore their sanctioned roles are different.

Following this blog and the comments that followed has left me struggling with the two sides. I was raised very complementarian . . .  Actually after looking in the dictionary for the correct spelling (Oxfordsays these words don’t exist), I found that I still am because complement comes from complete. In other words, a complementarian should believe that a woman completes the man, rather than like my shoes complement my pants. But over the years, something about the doctrinal camp (as opposed to the literal meaning) has come to bother me.

Especially after mostly completing my forthcoming doctrinal book on Torah, Backwards, I am more convinced than ever that there is no truth in the New Testament whose substantive origin is not found in the Torah. Something may be revealed in a new way, some new understanding, but looking back the premonition of a thing is always there.

But I have read the whole Bible several times. Almost yearly. I have read the Torah specifically, if not more than that, I have visited it and re-read it multiple times more. And yet, even with the help of E-sword, I cannot find any Torah command for women that sounds like total submission.

I can see that the curse as it pertained to Eve was that she would desire toward her husband and he would rule over, but that is a prediction. God does not command that man’s garden must produce thorns or that he must sweat; it’s going to follow as a consequence. So if anything man ruling over woman is a consequence of sin, not something we should willingly endorse. I can see examples of submission, Peter points to Sarah. But I can also point to many women who would seem to break the mold. And an example is not necessarily something binding. Jacob’s sons didn’t eat thigh meat, but Abraham did and the Passover commands it. The patriarch’s had multiple wives and occasionally met with prostitutes. Examples do not make commands.

I think Paul was a genius, who knew scripture better and deeper than I, but I also think he was often (and is often) misunderstood. So until I can see this root in Torah, I cannot see how to apply Paul’s doctrine of submission.

And yet egalitarianism . . . that does not even make logical sense. Men and women are different, does it not seem cruel to tell them they are the same? God made only women capable of bearing children and so for the species to continue a certain amount of time and energy must be devoted to this labor, so the basic natural responsibilities on a woman are different than on a man. Likewise, man’s greater physical strength makes him responsible to do the heavy lifting. Any man who sees a man making his wife carry the luggage is subject to a downgrade on his man card. And does not the physical always tell us of the Spiritual? Why would God give different abilities without different functions? Here’s a hammer; use it to peel this orange?

But, I can’t just leave Paul out. After all if the face reading is wrong than I am inappropriately burdening my wife. But if it’s right and I ignore it, then I am abdicating my responsibility the same as Adam.

Fortunately, God has given me a new tool. Long before Paul, God caused 70 scholars to translate the Hebrew Tanakh into a Greek Septuagint, thus we have a good commentary on what a Greek word might mean versus a Hebrew one. This allows us to search for Hebrew words for a Greek “equivalent.” There is a wealth of understanding through this. At the moment, I don’t have a true interlinear between the Tanakh-Septuagint-English Old Testament, so I’m left to discern which word was supposed to be which.

So I took the word submit from Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:1 (all the same word hupotasso = arrange/order under). In Hebrew it seems to come back as several different words. Some I could not make heads or tails of (1 King 10:15, 2 Chronicles 9:14), something about trade.

Some seemed to lead toward the traditional Pauline view (1 Chronicles 22:18 kabash), but really God wants women to be “tread down” the same word God used between Mankind and animals? Perhaps Psalm 8:6 (shyth = to place) is better? Psalm 18:47, dabar, arranged?

And then there was a third group that started to make sense 1 Chronicles 29:24 says the princes of King David “submitted themselves” a compound word meaning “gave hand”. So here, submit (compound of our Greek word, together “give self”) is give hand. Hand has the picture of power, deed, action. Submission is giving power, but not being lorded over as we might think, but it’s adding my strength to another. Now that does reach back to the beginning.

I think Give Hand is the one of the many renderings that is best. Why that one? The others have shades of the truth, but remember man “ruling” was a symptom of the curse, a result of sin, not the original design or even God’s suggestion. Even when God gave judges they were to judge, they were not to rule. Sin wanted to rule Cain. Pharoah ruled Egypt. But, if we go back what was the relationship between man and woman supposed to be?

Genesis 2:18 (in the beginning, duh!), God says it’s not good for man to be alone. Alone is bad. So God makes not a help-mate, a help-meet. That’s old English. Imagine you lean against a wall, that wall is a “meet”. What do you think a “meet-ing” is? Two things come together. Coming together is coming against, surface to surface, face to face, strength to strength. Meetings are by nature two things headed in opposite directions or at least tangentially opposite. If you have two things moving in parallel, they will never meet. They have to have crossing directions. But the thing about the woman is she is a “help-meet”. Her opposition, her different direction is for the help (literally to surround or protect). In other words, woman was created to give the man a hand.

I think Paul and Peter were not thinking of dominating women when they gave their letters. When we think of submit, we think of one person being lorded over, but what they are saying is “give yourself to your husband.” And is that not the only way to “cleave” to your husband? If two forces meet one or both must change direction for them to stay together. Paul says the woman was made for the man, she was created for the man’s need, not the man for the woman. That is why the man is the head, not because he is better but because his commission was first and she was created to protect him in accomplishing it. Man cannot complete his mission alone.

So it could be argued, this is the same thing. Woman is still being asked or told to curtail her direction according to her man’s (counterfeits always look like the genuine), but firstly it is not for the man to cause her to cleave. It is not for the man to make her give. It is for her to give. But in doing so, if she is giving, if she is that opposing helper, then where would be the strife? Where would be the burden?

If a man truly gives of his labor to build someone else’s house, run some else’s farm, fulfill his Captain’s objective, is it not become his own mission? How else can you be a cheerful giver? You can only give cheerfully when the gift has become your objective. The gift is only a burden when we are not giving it, when we clutch and cling to it. Once the gift is truly given, there is no complaint. When something is given, the previous owner loses all claim to it. When two become one, they cannot have two directions.

The other side of this, the part that differentiates from the counterfeit, is that then submission (giving oneself) does not mean giving someone else. For example, to be that helping opposite, you must both help and be opposing. Suppose, a man wants to help a young woman get through a bad part of town, but when trouble comes he screams like a girl and runs away? The point of him being there is for him to be there.

Was Abigail submitting or not submitting when she defied her husband Nabal (fool) who would not give hand to David? Traditionally she was defying him, but she by her strength protected him (and David) from David’s vengeance. Submission does not mean becoming a blank slate with no direction or strength of your own, it is sacrificing yourself to protect your husband. To do that you have to be present, your strength, your direction must be there, but it has to be given to him.

Blind obedience can never be submission. Trusting obedience, yes. Reverence, yes, but if your husband wants to take his family down the path of destruction, you are only being a help-meet by fighting him. Which would be a help-meet; the woman who stands by while her husband goes crazy, kills the kids, the wife, and then himself? Or the one who pulls out a gun wastes him but protects his legacy? His good legacy? His good work? The work of his true self?

That points back to another truth. Remember, before Eve came along God had given Adam a mission. Adam was not left without instruction, without any direction but his own. The wife is not there to help the man do whatever the heck he wants to do. “I want you to go get a job so I can spend all my time camping, fishing, riding my motorcycle, and golfing.” He is there to work the garden and to protect it. It was in the context of that mission that God said “Nope, not good for him to be alone. I’ll make him a help-meet.” Her aid, her protection is not centered around his self-will, but around his God given directive.

That is how a woman can discern with her own relationship with God, when she is to help by aiding and when she is to help by opposing. That may seem like a scary idea to us men. What if my wife goes off willy nilly and won’t back me up? That’s the flesh talking. How do you think God feels about your performance? I’m guessing that’s what leads to the “ruling”. Woman does something man thinks is stupid (maybe it actually was), Man’s like, I need to keep tighter reigns on her. Instead of focusing on tending the garden, he’s focusing on tending his help-Meet. But as your parents always said, “I’ll worry about what your sister is doing.” Focus on the Garden, and let God focus on Eve.

I think that’s the only way I can reconcile the two. Paul is not saying being a groveling servant, he is saying be the Helping Opposite. Rather than “submit”; Give yourself to your husband. Rather than Paul saying to become a non-will, he is saying return to your original mission. Be the Help-Meet, which is what Eve failed to do. Tempure him, resist his folly, enable The objective.

What do you think?

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7 Responses to Struggling with Submission

  1. Sarah says:

    Well written and thought provoking:) Tis a delicate balance in the relationship between helper and leader….leader and helper. A helper taking the lead while walking in submission is like a dance duo in which the leader allows the helper to lead during the part they are best at.

  2. Valerie says:

    Very good thoughts. I have looked up submission and the definition is to put one’s self under another. In other words, I put myself under the protection of my husband. The husband was never told to make his wife submit; he was told to love her. If the husband tries to make his wife submit then he is really trying to subjugate her/bend her to his will/enslave her. In submission we have order in which to move but only if the one we submit to is in order. That is why, as a help-meet, we have to bring an opposing viewbl. I see it as coming into balance. When I present the opposite view point then we can work together to see where G-d’s balance is.

  3. Jill says:

    I think we sometimes make things more complicated than they are. It really is as simple as woman being a proper helper/companion/lover to man, in contrast to the animals. For 1000s of years, men and women have tended “the garden” together for better or for worse.

    • jsclark says:

      Amen to that. The more “in depth” I go in theological understanding, the more I realize it is simple. I think it only gets complicated when we have to peel back the complications we put in place.

  4. deana bowling says:

    Sending manying to this article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Christopher Ingersoll says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Another interesting aspect is that the Holy Spirit is called th helper too. If we look at the relationship between the Holy Spirit and God the Father we can see some idea of how God meant for us to work with our wives. We don’t see God ever in the bible managing his Sprit, but rather the two enabling each other along with Yeshua to fullfill God’s purpose. Likewise, it’s not my job to make my wife submit. The moment I make her do anything it is not submission but rather forced labor. It’s my Job to get caught up in God’s vision for my family and invite her to share in it with me and she will give her unique strengths to me and the cause as God has gifted her.

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