There exists today much controversy with regard to Paulâ€™s teaching on male headship and female submission within the context of marriage. Â But what does the Bible teach regarding headship?
What The Bible Does Not Teach About Male Headship In Marriage:
Some hold a view of male headship that is better defined as â€œmale domination.â€Â Harsh, unloving, controlling domination, however, is not the biblical model of submission.Â Rather, all believers, including husbands, are commanded to â€œsubmit to one another out of reverence for Christâ€ (Ephesians 5:21), which relates to Paulâ€™s command to, â€œcount others more significant than yourselves.Â Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of othersâ€ (Phil. 2:3b-4). Â Furthermore, while God the Son and God the Father were clearly in an authority/submission relationship (Lk. 22:42), there also existed a wonderfully deep love between them (Jn. 5:18-24). Â The Father is no tyrant in His treatment of His Son. Â Rather, He is the model of genuine, sincere love. Â Additionally, Paul demands that husbands have the same love for their wives that Christ had for the church when He gave Himself up for her. Â This level of sacrifice reveals Jesus as a loving, servant-leader rather than aÂ tyrannical, power-hungry monster.Â Â It is clear, therefore, that male domination is not at all what Paul has in mind regarding male headship.
In an effort to clarify that the Ephesians 5 concept of male headship is not one of male domination, some have bought into what is sometimes called “evangelical feminism,” which seeks to separate the concepts of headship and authority, saying that male headship refers to the husband as being the “source” of his wife, not the authoritative leader of his wife. Â They argue, for example, that passages like Galatians 3:28 reveals that the equality of men and women eliminate all distinctions in their roles. Â The result is that most who hold to the “evangelical feminist” believe the instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:23-33 should be culturally interpreted. Â In other words, Paul’s instructions are rooted more in culture than in creation (God’s design), but, for reasons that will be discussed in the following section, this is not the biblical teaching and, therefore, must be rejected.
1) The first reason the feminist view of headship is unbiblical is because it is based on an faulty interpretation of Galatians 3:28 and similar passages (seeÂ 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).Â Â Paulâ€™s point in Galatians 3:28 is that nothing about being Jewish makes you more or less significant than being Greek, nothing about being a slave makes you no more or less significant than being free, and that nothing about being male makes you any more or less significant than being female.Â To put it in terms of husbands and wives, one could argue that husbands are in neither superior nor inferior to wives in terms of their value/worth/standing before God, but, as Paul points out in Ephesians 5:23-24, they do have different roles.
2) The next reason the feminist view of headship is unbiblical is because it is based on a faulty understanding of the meaning of the word “head” in Ephesians 5. Â Gilbert Bilezikian writes:
Head is used figuratively in relation to the body . . . always with the meaning of servant provider, never with that of authority. When the New Testament metaphor of headship is understood generically and is protected from corruption by meanings foreign to the text, it describes perfectly the relation of Christ to the church and of husband to wife as servant life-givers. (ClickÂ here to read the entire article)
While I do agree that Christ’s headship included the idea of “servant life-giving” (although the terminology is a little weird to me), there are a number of reasons why we must reject the assertion that headship refers only (or even mainly) to the idea of “servant life-giving,” rather than authoritative leadership.
a) Though not always, “head” is sometimes used to denote authority.
Paul clearly uses the word “head” to describe Jesusâ€™ headship, or leadership, over the church. Â Perhaps the most notable is found just a few chapters earlier in Ephesians 1, where Paul explains that God, â€œraised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand (the position of authority) in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.Â And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the churchâ€ (Ephesians 1:20b-22, italics mine). Â The context of the explanation of Jesus’ headship in Ephesians 1 is undoubtedly one of authoritative leadership.
b) The instructions given to wives implies male headship.
The word “submit” used in Ephesians 5:22-24 literally means, “be subject to,” or “rank under.” Â Interestingly, the submission Jesus modeled toward His Father revealed the Father as the authoritative leader (Lk. 22:42), despite the fact that both the Father and the Son are equal in essence and worth.
c) Headship in Ephesians 5 includes, but is not limited to, service.
The fair treatment of the Ephesians 5 discussion on male headship requires one to admit that while the idea of “servant life-giving” is present, it is not the only implication of the word. Â Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:23 that, “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
d) Â Authoritative headship is undoubtedly the nature of the other relationships Paul addresses in Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (i.e., parent (specifically fathers)/child and employer (master)/employee (slave)).
NOTE: The fourth argument is not definitive evidence by itself, and is not intended to be. Â The fourth argument is given merely to further solidify the other arguments from the immediate context in Ephesians 5 and 6.
What The Bible Does Teach About Male Headship In Marriage:
Ray Ortlund, Jr. gives a fantastic definition of male headship:
In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.
God has designed marriage such that husbands, who represent Christ, are to love their wivesÂ sacrificially, which affirms Bilezidian’s assertion that husbands must be servants, but they are also to love their wivesÂ decisively andÂ purposefully, which undoubtedly affirm the leadership role husbands must play.
Resources Used For This Study:
- Duncan, Ligon. Â “Love Your Wife (3)”
- Hughes, R. Kent.Â Ephesians.
- Jones, D. Martyn.Â An Exposition or Ephesians 5:18-6:9.
- Piper, John and Wayne Grudem.Â Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
- Piper, John.Â Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head, Part 1.
- Piper, John.Â Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head, Part 2.
- Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.
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