An excerpt from CT’s Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. Here’s the full list of CT’s 2020 Book Award winners.

I was an undergraduate at Cambridge when I first wrestled with Paul’s instruction, in Ephesians, for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22, ESV). I came from an academically driven, equality-oriented, all-female high school. I was now studying in a majority-male college. And I was repulsed.

I had three problems with this passage. The first was that wives should submit. I knew women were just as competent as men. My second problem was with the idea that wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. It is one thing to submit to Jesus Christ, the self-sacrificing King of the universe. It is quite another to offer that kind of submission to a fallible, sinful man.

My third problem was the idea that the husband was the “head” of the wife. This seemed to imply a hierarchy at odds with men and women’s equal status as image bearers of God. Jesus, in countercultural gospel fashion, had elevated women. Paul, it seemed, had pushed them down.

Gospel Roles

At first, I tried to explain the shock away. I tried, for instance, to argue that in the Greek, the word translated “submit” appears only in the previous verse, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), so the rest of the passage must imply mutual submission. But the command for wives to submit occurs three times in the New Testament (see also Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1).

But when I trained my lens on the command to husbands, the Ephesians passage came into focus. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for ...

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