Was The Apostle Paul a Male Chauvinist?


It is funny how God prepares you for life. I remember my last year at graduate school. It was before my first call to serve Berea in Detroit. I wrote my first published article. The subject of that piece was the relationship between husband and wife. Who knew at the time that I would need that biblical understanding of marriage so soon in my young career?

The first wedding I had to perform was with a lovely African American couple. As we went through the marriage counseling, I noticed something interesting about this pair. The wife was, how do I put this in the best light? The bride to be was a strong, opinionated black woman. Observing the interactions between this young couple two things became evident. One, she was going to call all the shots in this marriage. Second, the wedding counseling and upcoming ceremony were going to be trying. When I would ask the fiancé any questions, she would answer for him. I watched as she made unchallenged suggestions about every aspect of the wedding arrangements. I desperately wanted to lean over to this quiet young man and give him a piece of advice. You need to either speak up for yourself or “RUN.”

Once we finally got around to the planning of the wedding service itself I feared we were going to have a showdown of biblical proportions. During the review of the marriage vows, we hit a snag on the word “Obey.” This proud, strong black woman was having no part of that in her marriage vows. Her exact words to me were, “We are not using that term in my wedding. You see dogs ‘obey’ I Don’t!” I wanted to look at the groom to be and say with my eyes, “Run NOW.” I was young, and competition is my number one strength, so I was not going to be intimidated. One man in this room had to stand up to her. I was armed with my well-researched article about the role of husbands and wives from the apostle Paul in the letter to the Church in Ephesians in which Paul said, “Wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife as Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body.”

Was I confident that she would respect my knowledge and the authority of the Word of God? Nope. Her response was classic and entirely unexpected. “Well, I am not marrying Jesus am I?” It was my first experience with culture clashing with theology as a pastor. How do you argue with that? Armed with more experience let’s try and address this issue again.

What Does Submission Mean in Ephesians?

Let me begin with some historical context. It is crucial to understand the audience. Paul was writing to believers. He was in no way suggesting that women are inferior to men. Nor was he suggesting that all women must be in subjection to all men in every situation. Quite the opposite, Paul was in elevating women to a place of honor and respect.

Ancient world philosophers of the day spoke of a Household Code. The roles in this code were explicitly defined. The men ruled the household as the Patriarch, the head of the household. The wife was called to support that reputation publically because in that culture honor and shame were of the utmost importance. The children if there were any, were controlled and regarded as less than fully human. Any servants or slaves were considered below the children; they were at the subhuman level.

Women in Middle Eastern culture faced an uphill climb when it came to honor and respect. The fact that Paul uses Christ and the church as his illustration is evidence that he has the Christian home in mind. Paul was framing the Christian family with a new foundation. Every member of the household has dignity and a role to play in the family.

What is the role of Husband and Wife mutually living under the Lordship of Christ?

When both husband and wife are living under the Lordship of Christ, there is harmony. Headship is not a dictatorship. Each partner is there for the other, and they are both there for the Lord.

Reverence for Christ entails his followers living in mutual subjection to the Lordship of Christ. Paul approaches the idea from a gospel-centered place. Not from an absolute, top-down point of view. Both members of this union willingly give their authority to Jesus Christ. This compliance is based on a mutual respect across every aspect of this marriage relationship. In this new marriage covenant, Paul uses a metaphor of Christ as the head of his body, the church. This biblical concept provides a sacrificial love-based model for this beautiful marital relationship where husbands and wives become “one flesh.” As “one flesh” wives subject themselves to their spouses. And husbands love their wives with the kind of self-sacrificial love Christ had for the Church. Christ was willing and did die for the church.

Paul was not degrading women. He was elevating marriage.

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36 Comments on “Was The Apostle Paul a Male Chauvinist?

  1. Preach Brother! I loved the funny story as lead into the word. I wonder how long that couple made it? Hope they are still together.


  2. I read once that Christianity found a willing audience among women of the time and that they were a key factor in its spread. Evidently, women had never had it so good. We often forget the historical context when imposing politically correct cultural values on the Bible. I think it has aged extremely well.


  3. I love Paul I always marvel at how God used someone who was once so wretched, in such powerful ways. You are brave to tackle this touchy subject! I think it’s one many wives struggle with in present culture (myself included).


  4. You did. I notice the woman in your story was quite disrespectful (well beyond just not being submissive). That’s something our culture seems to promote.


    • Black women have been forced to be strong leaders in their family. I see hear stance due more to a failure in the role of the husband in the family.


      • Good point. Like I said, it’s tough to put this into practice. Men and women have to both live up to their responsibility. We just have to keep trying, and asking God for His help and guidance!


      • I had to remind myself of that point often. The African American woman, struggled with submission because of a whole host of historical reasons. I saw my role as the one called to life up biblical marriage. Thanks for reading and thanks for the dialogue. God Bless.


  5. I always had a major issue with Paul. My dad twisted all of his words and left out some key components Paul did say, like his role of loving his wife as Christ loved the church. Never heard that one in our house. It wasn’t until years of Bible study that I realized that Paul may have been one of the biggest proponents for women.

    I also did not want the use of the word “obey” in my wedding. We used the word cherish. It didn’t matter, neither was evident in our marriage as far as my husband was concerned. When I read about your using it in wedding ceremonies, I still cringed. It turns out I married a man who treated me like my dad did and was anything but faithful to our marriage or God’s plan, not only for his role as husband but for marriage in general. He believed dating other women was part of the plan after we were married. His dad was also a pig when it came to women. Women were nothing and he made church it was well known. I have had many battles with my feelings of worth not only for being me but also for being a female.

    Keep speaking the truth into the lives of your church. Having issues with Paul is a REALLY rough problem to have for Christians.


    • I completely understand. I really want to over the course of the rest of this month focus on Christian families. I think it is something God is placing on my heart for a reason. Thanks for following. Your comments are always to helpful. Now too we have all made those kinds of mistakes. Picking the wrong kind of people for our lives. At least you recognized your mistake. Live in the power of God’s forgiveness and grace. Blessings.


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  10. Thanks for the reminder, Kieth. I’ve done several weddings over the last couple of years, and in every one of them, i have either brushed over or simply avoided the “obey” part. The only reason I can come up with is that I didn’t want to deal with the conflict and tension in trying to explain it. God is using this post to chastise me and remind me to not shy away from the “whole gospel,” even during wedding vows.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is why teaching on Biblical womanhood is so important for women in the church. In our culture, women are taught from a very young age that they must be beautiful and sexy and “put out” to get a man. There is much pressure even among Christian men for them to do so, and so the need to teach on Biblical manhood in our churches. Young women and young men need to choose wisely, when choosing who to date as it impacts their whole future lives. Wives are to be cherished and husbands respected and obeyed. Our social “norms” can be a terrible influence and pressure for singles in the church at any age.


  12. Hahaha! She said, well I’m not marrying Jesus, am I? I just imagine it being a scene from a Tyler Perry spinoff. This post is awesome because so many people don’t understand the meaning of “submission”. It’s funny how she compared it to that of how a dog “submits” to their owner. Honestly, my dog never submits me to so…I tell her what to do and she looks at me, and go lay down or do the complete opposite. 😂 Thank you for this breakdown and explanation. My husband and I will definitely benefit from your insight.

    Liked by 1 person

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