Redefining Submission -- By: Denny Burk

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 17:2 (Fall 2012)
Article: Redefining Submission
Author: Denny Burk

Redefining Submission

A Review of Alan G. Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

Denny Burk

Editor, Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
Boyce College
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul makes an analogy between Christ’s relationship to the church, and a husband’s relationship to his wife. The analogy goes like this in Eph 5:24, “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” This comparison has been a bit of a sticking point in egalitarian interpretation because the wife’s submission is patterned after the church’s submission to Christ. Evangelical interpreters agree that the church should submit to Christ, but they do not agree that a wife should submit to her husband. What then are egalitarians to do with Eph 5:24 and the clear implication that a wife’s submission should be patterned after the church’s proper submission to Christ? Isn’t wifely submission the clear implication of this passage? Moreover, what are egalitarians to do with other texts (like 1 Cor 11:3) that suggest Christ’s headship over man is analogous to a man’s headship over his own wife? Christ’s obvious authority over man necessarily implies the authority of man over woman both in marriage and in church leadership.

This is the challenge that Alan Padgett takes on in his recent book As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission. Padgett argues that Christ actually does submit to the church. Because of that, complementarians need to reconsider their view of gender roles as patterned after Christ’s relation to the church. Padgett argues that Christ submits to the church and provides us with an example for us to follow in submitting to others. Before making his case, however, Padgett suggests that there are two types of submission. Type 1 submission is obedience to an external authority, which can be voluntary but often is not. Type 2 submission is “the voluntary giving up of power in order to take up the role of a slave, so that one may serve the needs of another person” (xiii). Padgett argues that Jesus submits to the church only in the second sense. Type 2 submission is essentially “mutual submission,” and it precludes any notion of gender based roles or hierarchy between men and women.


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