Bible Answer

Should a woman always submit to her husband?

Is it always the right thing for a wife to submit to her husband? What if submitting to him means violating God's law? Should not a woman with a husband who is abusive to her or her children stand in opposition to his behavior?  Should she submit to her husband if it means participating in his ungodly behavior? 

The Bible teaches that the man is the head of the woman in terms of spiritual authority, as Paul writes:

1Cor. 11:3  But I want you to understand that  Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of  Christ.

Therefore, scripture teaches that a woman is under the spiritual authority of her husband (or her father prior to marriage). The Bible uses Sarah, the wife of Abraham, as an example to all women for how a woman may display godliness and submission to a husband even when he is imperfect and prone to sinful mistakes.

Peter writes:

1Pet. 3:1  In the same way, you wives,  be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be  won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
1Pet. 3:2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
1Pet. 3:3  Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
1Pet. 3:4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
1Pet. 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also,  who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;
1Pet. 3:6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham,  calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Peter's main point is that a woman should remain obedient to her husband's authority even when he disobeys the word of the Lord. She does so in the hope that her obedience might win her husband over to the truth. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, we learn that she was asked (twice) to conceal her true identity to support her husband's wishes. In the first occasion, we read:

Gen. 12:10  Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.
Gen. 12:11 It came about when he  came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a   beautiful woman;
Gen. 12:12  and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.
Gen. 12:13 “Please say that you are  my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that   I may live on account of you.”

Abraham's plan was sinful, yet Sarah submitted to his authority without ever sinning herself, but neither did she object to her husband's request. Instead, she trusted in the Lord and waited for Him to resolve the problem on her behalf. As Peter noted, Sarah never spoke a word (v.1), and therefore she never participated in Abraham's sin, but nevertheless, she still submitted to Abraham's authority in the best way possible.

Sarah's example is a reminder to women that God is capable of rescuing a righteous woman from her husband's misdeeds. On the other hand, the Bible never requires that a woman live in a state of "slavery" to her husband or tolerate physical abuse, nor does it demand that a woman violate the word of God to support her husband (nor does Pastor Armstrong teach that such things are required).

Therefore, should a woman be asked by her husband to do the wrong thing, she must seek the best possible way to submit to his authority without participating in his sin. If a husband demands his wife commit sin, she is right to refuse such a request to the extent necessary to avoid the sin. Furthermore, if a woman is subject to physical abuse, she has a right to seek protection and relief. Similarly, if a husband is abusing children, a wife is within her rights to protect the innocent.

In the end, the woman's decisions must be guided first by love for God, followed by love for her husband. Still, having an imperfect husband is never reason for a wife to withhold her submission (as Sarah demonstrated), but a wife may refuse to comply when her husband's requests come into conflict with the Lord's word.