• Does a husband have the authority to take his wife’s phone away, preventing her from making calls?
  • Does a husband have the authority to take his wife’s car keys? House keys?
  • Does a husband have the authority to physically prevent his wife from leaving the home?
  • Does a husband have the authority to physically force his wife to accompany him when he leaves the home?
  • Does a husband have the authority to lock his wife out of the house?
  • Does a husband have the authority to keep financial documents away from his wife?
  • Does a husband have the authority to take the wife’s personal property without consent?

These are not theoretical questions. They were posed to me by Ruth Tucker, a woman whose ex-husband claimed the Bible gave him the right to do these things. I share them here with her permission.

All of Ruth’s questions pertain to the issue of whether a husband has a right to force his wife to do something against her will. I believe that the Bible teaches that a husband’s position as head of the home does not give him the right to rule, but rather the responsibility to provide loving oversight. A husband is not imparted with privilege; he is entrusted with obligation—the obligation to love, cherish and shepherd, in emulation of Christ.

Though complementarians have consistently upheld this view, this truth deserves to be stated and restated with clarity: It is not the husband’s right to force or coerce his wife to submit. Submission is voluntary on a wife’s part, and her choice entirely.

A Radically Different View of Authority

Culture upholds authority as the right to rule and lord it over others, but Scripture paints a radically different picture about the true nature of authority. It teaches that:

  • Authority is not self-appointed; it’s delegated by God.
  • Authority is not personally owned; it merely stewards and manages that which belongs to God.
  • Authority is not about rights; it’s about responsibility.
  • Authority is not about seeking prominence; it’s about giving prominence.
  • Authority is not domineering and dictatorial; it’s humble and gentle.
  • Authority is not about getting; it’s about giving.
  • Authority is not about selfish gain; it’s about selfless sacrifice.
  • Every authority is accountable to a higher authority, and all are accountable to God the Father, who is the ultimate authority.

Godly authority is motivated by love and commitment. Godly authority builds up; it doesn’t tear down. Godly authority serves as a channel of God’s protection and blessing. Godly authority watches over the well-being of others. Godly authority works with them, and for their joy. Godly authority doesn’t glorify self; it glorifies God. It puts His character on display.

It Must Not Be Like That Among Us

So my answer to Ruth’s questions—and the answer I would expect from all my fellow complementarians—is a clear and resounding “no.”

  • No. A husband does not have the right to take his wife’s phone away, preventing her from making calls.
  • No. A husband does not have the right to take his wife’s car keys or house keys.
  • No. A husband does not have the right to physically prevent his wife from leaving the home.
  • No. A husband does not have the right to physically force his wife to accompany him when he leaves the home.
  • No. A husband does not have the right to lock his wife out of the house.

Jesus condemned a personal-power view of authority. He condemned men who exercised authority in a selfish, domineering manner. He said, “It must not be like that among you!” (Mark 10:43-45)

The misuse/abuse of authority is an abomination to God. He wants leaders to be shepherds after His own heart. (Jeremiah 23:2; Ezekiel 34:1-4; Zechariah 11:17). Some of the Bible’s most scathing condemnations are directed toward leaders who fail to exercise authority in a godly manner. The Lord’s anger burns hot against them (Zechariah 10:3).

According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband does not have the right to force or coerce her to do things against her will. He does not have the right to domineer. He does not have the right to pull rank and use strong-arm tactics. He does not have the right to make his wife submit. No. According to the author of our faith, it must not be like that among us!