CONCLUDING REMARKS ON THE HEADSHIP OF THE HUSBAND.
354. If the headship of the husband, then, does not imply government by the husband, why is the wife exhorted to “be in subjection” to her husband, rather then the husband to the wife? Because the real meaning of the word “subjection” refers, not to servility, but to conciliation. Where wrong exists, or is supposed to exist, the Christian method is always to exhort the wronged one to efforts to keep the peace, if possible, until the wrongdoer learns the better way. Read 1 Peter 2:18-23 for light on this point: note the transition to 3:1, especially the word “likewise.” The “subjection” urged is toward a wayward, not Christian, husband. So the Apostle Paul, in Ephesians, fifth chapter, exhorts the wife, who is the one likely to suffer wrong, to one set of duties, summed up in the word “subjection;” and the husband to another set of duties, because he is the one inclined to oppress. The husband is to show that love which gives itself for the good of another.
355. But the expositor wrongly interprets Paul’s intention, in the use of the word “subjection.” Let us illustrate: In China, for centuries past, mothers have felt compelled to bind the feet of their girls in order to prepare them for the matrimonial market. This custom is now yielding before the humane influences of the Christian religion, and mothers, with the support of the men of their families, refuse to bind the feet of their daughters, and often unbind their own. But the problem of having free feet is one thing to the daughter, whose feet have never been bound, and quite another to the mother, whose feet have been bound for years. The reason is, that the very bandages which have so weakened and crippled the feet, have, in the course of time, become an essential support to the weakened members; so that, when the woman medical missionary unbinds the feet of the Chinese mother, she must remove the old bandages, and then put on fresh bandages,¾this time, binding each individual toe to its individual splint,¾only until it can go free of all support.
356. Now this latter is a process of binding, but it is done with an opposite view to the original foot binding. It looks to the restoration of lost freedom, while the old process aggressively deprived of freedom. It is, moreover, in the very nature of things, a process wholly unsuitable to the girl whose feet have never been bound. Would it be fair, now, or truthful, because of this temporary device, looking to eventual complete freedom, which the doctor adopts, to represent the woman doctor as favorable to foot binding? Yet, precisely after this manner has St. Paul been misrepresented by those wiling to justify male rule. They ignore Paul’s declared object; they are silent as to Paul’s clear utterances elsewhere, as to “the glorious liberty of the children of God;” they disdain the guards Paul puts about his words, and pervert his meaning.
357. Such words as, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female,” convey small authority to their minds; but because Paul has twice reminded the wife that her husband is her “head” (“support,” see par. 282), therefore would these expositors permanently rebind upon women the very burdens of oppression which Paul would remove from their bowed backs. This false representation of the Apostle’s intention has led many people into irreverent ridicule of the Bible and Paul; and the perverters of Paul’s meaning are responsible for this. Paul does not speak as an “old bachelor,” but as the mouthpiece of God. Nor is he labouring under the blight of rabbinical training. Paul speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and can be easily understood, with the Spirit’s help, by those who care to understand him rightly. Any other representation of his words is irreverent.
358. The Apostle, then, realizing the difficulties under a pagan government, and under civil laws unjust to women, first declares that within the Church bandages of oppression must be removed, but that the bond of matrimony must be carefully conserved (“Let marriage be held in honor of all”); wives must be patient; and husbands be used as individual splints to each broken and crushed woman. The revolutionary ethics of a Christ-like love would shortly accomplish all the rest. Like his Master, Paul came “to proclaim liberty to the captive,” by his Gospel message,¾not to proclaim captivity to the captive. Paul’s goal for women, as much as for men, is “the glorious liberty of the children of God,” and he declares it in many ways, again and again; and when once that goal has been attained by women, the method is obsolete and meaningless. In Christian lands, in real Christian homes, special injunctions upon the wife to “be in subjection” to her husband, are out of place,¾the method has accomplished its work; oppression is gone; the liberty is wrought out.
359. Let us turn now to Ephesians, fifth chapter in the R.V.Verse 22 reads, “Wives [be in subjection] unto your own husbands, as unto the lord.” Note first that the words we bracket are not in the original. The duty is the same one that was already laid upon all Christians by verse 21, and this does not design to extend the duties of the wife to indefinite proportions, but to limit them. The form is equivalent to Colossians 3:18, concerning the same set of duties, “as is fit in the Lord.” Subjection, to Paul’s mind, could go beyond what is “fit.” For when false brethren came to him and gave him bad counsel, he declares, “to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour.” Yes, this Apostle who taught all believers to “be in subjection” one to another, as did Peter also (1 Peter 5:5), declares even of Peter, “I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed,” (Galatians 2:3-5, 11). An unqualified subjection of one to another has never been enjoined upon man or woman Christian by the Bible.
360. Very different is Milton’s teaching from the Apostle Paul’s, to women:
Such teaching as this puts man in the very place of God. It is the spirit of Antichrist who “sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 R. V.). It also teaches woman that most hateful of all sins to God, idolatry.
361. If the Apostle does not especially enjoin “subjection” on husbands, as such, it is because he has occasion to set forth more important duties on his part. Verse 23 of this passage in Ephesians tells him that, like his Lord, he is to be to his wife, “the savior of the body.” How free and chaste Paul intends her to be! Verse 25 teaches an utter self-renunciation, like Christ’s, for her sake. Verse 26, that by his own cleansed and sanctified fleshly nature, he is to “sanctify and cleanse” his wife’s body, so as to be prepared in the end to present her spotless (verse 27) to Christ,¾free from all moral injury by his conduct. Verse 28 teaches him to love his wife as he loves his own body, i.e., to nourish and cherish her. The opposite conduct¾the oppression of lust¾is to hate her. Verse 31: He (not she) is to forsake all others, and to cleave to her alone. (See pars. 45-64.)
362. Woman’s only century, in the Christian Church, was during apostolic days, and a little while thereafter. Prof. Ramsay, in his valuable book, The Church in the Roman Empire, states: “The Universal and Catholic type of Christianity became confirmed in its dislike of the prominence and the public ministration of woman. The dislike became abhorrence, and there is every probability that the dislike is as old as the first century, and was intensified to abhorrence before the middle of the second century.” With the growth of this abhorrence, we may rest assured that every conceivable effort would be made to find a warrant for silencing and subordinating women; and the “Judaizer” was at hand to point the method of torturing and twisting Scripture, especially Paul’s words, into teaching the same. Here we have, in a few words, the history of that “tortuous special pleading” which enables conclusions to seem to be drawn from arguments presented by Paul; arguments which, if rightly read, and interpreted by unbiased minds, would lead to very different opinions of the Apostle Paul and his teachings on the “woman question.”Lesson 48 Home