The apostle Peter wrote, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1), and the apostle Paul wrote that wives were to submit to their husbands in everything just as they would submit themselves to the Lord (Eph. 5:22, 24), adding that this is what God requires of them (Col. 3:18).
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wives make a covenant to listen to and follow their husband’s counsel in the same way that her husband harkens to and obeys the counsel of God. This doctrine, which is plainly taught in the New Testament, has created a lot of controversy within the Christian faith because it seems to subordinate women to a second-class status in the marriage. In other words, if taken literally, it clearly means that the husband rules over the wife, giving him greater authority than her.
However, there are those who contend that this cannot be the case because the Bible teaches that God is no respecter of persons (Leviticus 19:15; 2 Chron. 19:7; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11). The way this is usually interpreted is to mean that God doesn’t show favoritism or preference toward people. In other words, He views everyone equally. And if that is the case, then He must view husbands and wives as being equals rather than thinking that the husband is greater than the wife.
Then why did both Paul and Peter say that the wife is to be in subjection to her husband in the same way that we are to be in subjection to Christ? After all, as Christians, none of us feel we are equal to Christ but rather we consider Him to be our Master and ourselves to be His servants. Therefore, the clear implication of the apostle’s words is that husbands and wives are not equal but that the man is the master and the wife is his servant.
There are some husbands who interpret these verses of scripture to mean that wives are nothing more than slaves who are to do whatever their husband demands of them. However, in this modern era of woman’s rights and equality of the sexes, such an attitude is considered arrogant, condescending, and demeaning to women and is not the way Christians believe we should behave towards one another. Therefore, many modern-day Christian women do not feel they should be in “subjection” to their husband as the Bible says but rather feel they should be an equal partner in the marriage.
Then what did Peter and Paul mean when they wrote these words?
Before we can appreciate the answer to this question we first need to understand the principle of governance. In order for any organization to operate smoothly, there can only be one leader. Those who have tried to govern by committee have found that such an arrangement doesn’t work very well. Someone has to be in charge to give guidance and direction and to make the final decisions. In business that is the role of the president of the company. Within large corporations there are department heads who provide the guidance and direction for their area of responsibility, yet, each of these heads take direction from those in authority above them. However, even the president of the company must take direction from his customers if he hopes to be successful. Thus, every leader is also a follower.
We see this same system of governing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ward members take direction from their bishop, who takes direction from the Stake President, who takes direction from the Quorum of the Twelve, who take their direction from the President of the Church. Therefore, there is nothing demeaning in taking orders from others and doing what we are told to do. However, just because each person is a follower, doesn’t mean they are treated as work animals who have no rights. Rather, each person is to be treated with dignity and respect by their leaders and every leader should be treated with proper regard and honor by those under their authority.
This is no different than the way families should also be governed. Just as children take direction from their parents who love them, so does the wife takes direction from her husband who loves and respects her.
However, what is often forgotten in the discussion of the role of husbands is that the man is responsible for taking direction from Christ who governs out of love and who takes His direction from God, the Father. Thus, each husband is expected to be just as much in subjection and obedient to Christ in the same way God expects the wife to be in subjection and obedient to her husband.
But there is still another principle that is often overlooked in the discussion of the role of husbands and that is accountability. In business, each leader has the responsibility for managing that portion of the company to which they are assigned and are held accountable for the success of their department to those who preside over them. As such, no department operates completely independent of the other departments, but rather works together with them as part of a team to help insure the success of the entire organization. And to make sure that happens, all large organizations have written rules and procedures that each department head is expected to follow. These manuals are usually known as Standard Operating Procedures or SOP’s.
The same situation holds true of husbands and wives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not only made up of wards and stakes but also of families. In fact, the family is the basic unit of the Church and, just as in business, each family unit in the church does not work independently of the church over which Christ presides. Instead, each husband is considered as being the managing director of a small portion of the church and has been given the responsibility by God to ensure they help the church succeed in its goal of saving souls.
The most important souls husbands are responsible for saving are their wife and children. As such, husbands are held accountable by Christ for how well they have succeeded in helping those within their care achieve exaltation. To accomplish that goal, the husband is responsible for raising children who have a love for the Lord and a desire to keep His commandments. He has the duty to help his children go on missions and become faithful, active members of the Church. More importantly, he must set the example for his children so they can raise families of their own based on what they have observed and learned at home. While the wife certainly assists in this work, it is the husband whom Christ will hold accountable for making sure all of this happens.
But husbands are not left to decide for themselves how to accomplish this task. As the president of His Father’s business, Christ has not only set the example for us on how to lead and govern, but has also given us written instructions to follow. We refer to these SOP’s as the scriptures. In section 121 of the SOP known as the Doctrine and Covenants we are told that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41,42). These are the Standard Operation Procedures that husbands are to follow in carrying out their responsibilities as managing directors of their home. Those who physically or emotionally abuse their wives or children, who are dictatorial, impatient, intolerant, quick to anger, selfish, and deceitful with their family are violating company policy and are working against the designs of God. As such, they stand in jeopardy of being reprimanded or perhaps even fired by God for their mismanagement.
It is the job of the husband to insure that their wife and children grow spiritually stronger and are progressing towards exaltation, but that cannot happen when family members are treated in a non-Christ-like manner. Fathers are under command to see to it “that there is no iniquity in the [home], neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking” (see D&C 20:54). They are to “teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:28) and “teach them to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, [or their] sin [shall] be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:25). Any husband who fails to govern his family as God expects will fail at fulfilling his God-given responsibility.
In regard to this, Joseph Smith taught, “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:40).
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that marriage is eternal but only upon certain conditions. Only those who obey the law of the Lord and keep His commandments are entitled to the promised blessings of eternal marriage. Hence, many are called to be sealed together as husband and wife but in the end there may be relatively few who will actually be chosen in the resurrection to receive this blessing. And the reason why is because many will not harkened unto the voice of the Lord and keep His commandments as they have covenanted at the time of their baptism. And nowhere is this covenant to obey the law of the Lord more important than within the family unit and the covenant of marriage. Those husbands who use their authority to exercise unrighteous dominion over their family will not be among those chosen to remain eternally sealed.
But what is true of husbands is just as true for wives. They too have a responsibility to the marriage but it is not the same as that of their husband.
When Adam was first created he was given dominion over all that was on the earth (Gen. 1:26). The Lord then placed him in a garden and commanded him to dress and keep it. But in time, God realized that it was not good for the man to be alone so He said, “I will make an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:20). Some people interpret this as saying that God gave Adam a helpmate or a servant who was to do the menial work for him. But a closer examination of this verse reveals just the opposite. What this scripture actually says is that God gave man a helper who was “meet” for him, or, as other versions translate it, someone who was suitable or qualified or capable of helping Adam fulfill his duties and responsibilities. In other words, women possess all the qualities, attributes, and abilities that man possesses. And it is in this sense that women are equal to men in every way.
However, God did not place the woman in authority over the garden. Instead, she was given to man to assist him in that duty. That is to say, they were to work together as a team, but it was the man who was given the authority to have dominion over the earth, not the woman. Thus, it is man who is accountable to God for performing his duty while the wife is accountable to her husband for helping him fulfill his responsibilities. That is why God told Eve, “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16, emphasis added).
The Hebrew word that is translates as “rule” in this verse is “marshall” (pronounced mar-shaw) and means to rule, reign, have dominion over, or govern. (Strongs Concordance). God gave man the right to govern the entire earth and all things on it, including the woman whom he had been given as a suitable helper. But man was required to be a wise and kind ruler whose duty it was to care and provide for all that was within his domain. It was his responsibility to dress the garden and keep it. It was his responsibility to give names to the animals. It was his responsibility to till the earth and provide himself and those under his care with food, clothing, and shelter. The woman’s responsibility was to assist him in carrying out his duties.
However, throughout the scriptures, the Lord has made it plain that man was to rule over his domain under the direction and instruction of God. Thus, from the very beginning the pattern we see is that the woman was to harken to the counsel and direction of her husband while the man was required to harken to and obey the counsel of the Lord. This was the order God Himself instituted and which both Peter and Paul affirmed in their writings.
But does that mean the wife is to do everything and anything her husband demands of her? Some will say that is what Paul said in Ephesians 5:24, but Paul clarified his comment in the two verses just prior to that. He wrote, “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.”
While the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head of the church, the husband is also required to submit himself to Christ’s rule. A careful examination of Paul’s words show that when he says wives should submit themselves to their husbands “as unto the Lord” this is understood to mean that the wife is required to submit herself to Christ as well. Since Christ is the head of the man, therefore whatever Christ says takes precedence over what her husband says. That means wives are to obey their husbands and follow their direction as long as their husband is harkening unto and obeying the law of Christ. If what a husband asks of her is not in keeping with the law of Christ, then she is not under obligation to do as he asks of her.
However, before a wife too easily dismisses her husband’s request, she must remember that the law of Christ also requires servants to be obedient to their masters. While wives are not “servants” in the traditional sense of the word, Paul nonetheless counseled the saints of his day by saying, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Peter likewise wrote, “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Peter 2:20). This counsel applies just as much to the duty and obligation wives have to their husbands as it does to anyone else who must obey those who have rule over them. And this is the same rule that members of the LDS church are expected to follow in regards to their priesthood leaders
But the question that can be asked is, why did God institute this order, and is it meant to last eternally or is this pattern meant only as a temporary measure during our time in mortality?
In the book of Revelation we get a glimpse of what God has in store for those who remain faithful to the end. We read, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21). “And has made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10).
The scriptures are replete with references to believers in Christ inheriting the “kingdom of God” and receiving “a crown.” A kingdom is ruled over by a king and kings wear crowns and sit on thrones. The scriptures plainly teach that those who inherit the kingdom of God will wear a crown, sit with Christ on His throne, and rule with Christ on the earth. That means, in the resurrection we have the opportunity to become kings and rulers within the kingdom of God throughout all eternity. But in that day we will still not be equal in authority to Christ the King but will forever remain as servants of the Most High. Therefore, even though we will be kings, Jesus will be the supreme King and ruler over all other kings within the kingdom of heaven. Hence, in the resurrection He will literally be the King of kings.
However, when the scriptures speak of believers becoming kings and priests they are specifically referring to men, not women because women cannot become kings or priests. They can only become queens and priestesses. Then what is to become of women in the resurrection? The scriptures state that faithful men who inherit the kingdom of God will become kings and priest “unto our God.” In other words, they will rule under the authority and jurisdiction of God. Therefore, even though they are kings, they must still eternally obey and harken unto the counsel of Christ, who is their King. This is no different than what God expects husbands to do here on earth.
Then what about women? Although it is not specifically stated in the scriptures, if marriage is eternal then it appears that those who are faithful in obtaining the kingdom of heaven will become queens and priestesses, not unto God as the men are, but unto their husbands, which order of rule is consistent with the pattern that God has given husbands and wives here on earth.
But why would women not be accorded the same privilege as men, especially if they have been just as faithful as men? There are a number of reasons for this. Since there can only be one supreme ruler within a kingdom, that duty falls upon the shoulders of the king. The only time when a queen rules is when there is no king. However, in the resurrection, such a condition is not possible. Furthermore, the title of “king” is not an empty position. It is one of eternal responsibility. Thus, he will have the duty of overseeing the accomplishment of that responsibility.
From latter-day revelation, we know that the work done by exalted beings will center around the family. Since marriage is eternal, that means each husband will have the right to preside and rule over his household throughout all generations of time and throughout all of eternity. From the very beginning, God gave man dominion over all things, including the care, protection, and custody of his wife and children. If, in the eternities he will still have claim on his wife and children, then there is no reason to think that he will lose his right of dominion over what God has given him and what he has faithfully preserved. If God gave man a woman to be his suitable helper, to assist him in all that he does, and if the marriage relationship endures throughout eternity, then it is certain that she will continue to assist her husband in fulfilling his eternal responsibilities. Therefore, as a king he continues to rule and as a queen she continues to stand by his side and be his worthy helper.
But if she were to become a queen and a priestess unto God, then she would no longer belong to her husband and he would no longer have claim on her because she would belong to God. If she were to become a queen unto both God and her husband, then she would have two masters. Since God is a god of order, such a situation is not consistent with the way He does things. Therefore, it is only just and reasonable that she remain a queen unto her husband.
What we see then is that the order God instituted in the days of Adam and Eve is an eternal order. More, than that, in this life it is a preparatory order meant to prepare us to fulfill our role as exalted husbands and wives. As such, the marriage covenant on earth is designed to help teach us how to properly serve as kings and queens in heaven after the resurrection. Just as men can lose that blessing for not properly fulfilling their role as the presiding head of their family, so too can women forfeit their eternal blessings for not properly fulfilling their role as a help meet for man.