On the continuing Right Detour through recent conservative political events, the most interesting aspect of the Republican debate was the exchange between panelist Byron York and Michele Bachmann. He inquired about the scriptural command for a woman to submit to her husband. He reminded Bachmann of a previous occasion when that scripture guided her decision- making. York asked, “As President, would you be submissive to your husband?"
The question evoked a chorus of boos from the audience. The question seemed appropriate enough. She one one occasion asserted her religious belief that a wife should submit to her husband, yet she seeks the highest political office in the country. York gave her an opportunity to clear up the apparent incongruity between those desires.
As might be expected from a politician, Bachmann finessed the question. She subtly shifted the point of the question from the idea of submission to that of respect.
But is this what the Bible says? The text to which York alluded is found in Paul's letter to a church a Ephesus. In this letter, he writes:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
In this passage, Paul includes an analogy that precludes the notion of respect. He instructs Christian women to submit to husbands in the same way they submit to the Lord. No Christian seriously believes that the relationship between God and any human being is merely one of mutual respect. It is creator and creature, savior and sinner.
A little word study makes this even clearer. The Greek word for submit is hupotasso. It means to obey, to submit, to subordinate. The same word is used in commands for believers to obey God Almighty as in James 4:7, for Christians to obey the laws as in Romans 13:1, and for slaves to obey masters as in Titus 2:9.
Some Christians might claim that this text refers only to the home. Paul did write, however, that wives are to submit in “everything.”
Bachmann might be referring, however, to another passage in the letter in which Paul, after exhorting husbands to love their wives, summarizes his teaching in the following manner:
“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
Some moderns translations, as a concession to modern sensibilities, render the word reverence as respect. But even this will not do. The Greek word used in this text for respect is phobeo, which means to be frightened, alarmed, or in awe. Again, the ideas of fear and awe differ considerable from respect.
At any rate, Bachmann received praise from most analysts for her answer. Perhaps it will put the issue to rest so that the electorate can focus on more substantive issues. The exchange, however, does illustrate the way one's private religious beliefs can intrude into public affairs. President Barak Obama, of course, learned that lesson not too long ago.