A Christian Understanding Of Submission -- By: Alan Johnson

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 17:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: A Christian Understanding Of Submission
Author: Alan Johnson


A Christian Understanding Of Submission

A Nonhierarchical-Complementarian Viewpoint

Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson is professor emeritus of New Testament and Christian ethics and adjunct professor of theological ethics at Wheaton College and graduate school. Johnson is an active member and former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is author of commentaries on Romans, the book of Revelation, and the forthcoming 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004). He is co-author with Robert Webber of What Christians Believe (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989). Alan is a teaching member of Immanuel Presbyterian Church.

The introduction of the word “submission” into a Christian conversation about adult human relations immediately strikes different responses. For some Christians, submission is a happy word describing the proper biblical relation of a wife to her husband or of a woman, whether married or single, to the males in the church congregation.

For other Christians, submission is a bad word. For them it conjures up concerns about possible restriction, discrimination, de-humanization, and even abuse. One wonders, then, whether in this latter context we can even talk about submission or use the word favorably.

Nevertheless, I am going to try to discuss a Christian understanding of submission while remembering that where I walk there are mines on all sides of the path.

To begin on the lighter side, I read with interest a letter sent to the editor in the Chicago Tribune evoked by the Southern Baptist’s revision of their “Faith and Message” statement several years ago. You may recall that the revision added the words, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” In his letter to the editor, this husband relayed that he and his wife had agreed to a similar relationship when they began their marriage some forty years ago. He was to make all the major decisions and his wife the minor ones. Everything, he said, had worked out quite well over the years with this arrangement. “Incidentally,” he added, “to date, no major decisions have been needed!”

This essay will explore the biblical—and especially the New Testament commands—for submission, with special attention to one of these commands. Second, the relationship between the New Testament issue of submission and the mission of the church will be explored. And finally, I will summarize and suggest without elaboration some possible implications of this study for the church and our present Christian lives in the new millennium.

The Biblical Materials On Submission

Let’s begin with some definitions. In E...

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