One of the biggest mistakes that I made in over 30 years of marriage involved headship in a Christian marriage. The Bible declares that the husband is head of the wife. However, if that order is violated, then bad things can happen in the marriage and household. I was going through a time when I felt alienated, alone, and insignificant. I even thought that God stopped talking to me and just sat back and allowed my wife to be the head with regard to the direction we would take as a couple involving business. My wife would tell me what she heard from the Lord and I wondered why he wasn’t talking to me. After a while, I heard God say to me while I was praying one day, “You are the head.” That was it! That changed everything. I thank God for “slapping” me out of my emotional stupor.
So, what is headship in a Christian marriage? Consider the following passage of Scripture.
Ephesians 5:22–23 (NKJV) — 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
This passage of Scripture seems to say that the husband is the authority over his wife and that she should submit to him as one who is subordinate. This and other passages of Scripture is used by men to oppress women. I have even encountered women who bought into this worldview on women. I would like to make it clear in this article that women are not inferior or subordinate to men/husbands and that the Bible does not condone such. The above passage of Scripture is typically taken out of context as we shall soon see.
I hope to show in this article what headship really is and what the role of the husband and wife is in a marriage relationship. With that, I hope to liberate women from human-imposed bondage and men from responsibilities that some should not have.
What is Headship in the Bible?
Let’s look at the passage quoted above again, but this time in context.
Ephesians 5:21–23 (NKJV) — 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
We should notice that Paul first says to submit to one another and then qualifies that with regard to a husband and wife. The actual Greek in verse 22 reads like this: “Wives, to your own husbands, submit.” But what does submit mean? Before we can answer that question, I think it is important that we understand the cultural context, which is necessary for accurate interpretation. Also, consider that Paul was writing to the church and therefore, his words should not be construed as applying to all marriages, e.g., non-Christian marriages.
In Paul’s time (first century), the view of women was as follows.
- Women were seen as inferior and subordinate to men
- The male was dominant
- The wife existed to meet the needs and to serve her husband
- Women were not equal in value or worth compared to men. They were at most servants or property in most cultures at that time
- Wives were expected to serve their husbands
Note that the view of women described above is a pagan view of women since it does not come from God. The godly/Christian view of women is as follows.
- Women have equal value and worth as men
- Women are not inferior or subordinate to men
- Women are not designed to merely meet the needs of their husbands or to serve them.
Godly view of Women
To understand the contrast between the godly and pagan views of women, we only need to examine the creation and the fall as revealed in Genesis.
Genesis 1:26–28 (NKJV) — 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
There are some important things to notice here. First, God made them male and female in his image. The word “man” here comes from the Hebrew word, Adam, and it means rosy and refers to humans in general. I believe the feminist movement has robbed us of the proper interpretation of the Bible so that the feminist agenda is propagated. We also note that the male and female were given dominion over God’s creation on the earth. There was nothing from God’s original design that the male was superior to the female or that the woman was to serve the man (male). See also Genesis 5:1-2 to see how God created man as male and female. Let’s look at another very important passage in this regard.
Genesis 2:18 (NKJV) — 18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Genesis 2:24 (NKJV) — 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
We see in the passages above that first, God created the woman so that the man would not be alone. She would be a helper to him and be compatible with him. The second passage above is very important when we consider headship and the view of women. It reveals that the husband and wife are to be united and form one flesh. They were to be one. One cannot dominate oneself and surely a husband cannot dominate his wife if they are one.
Now, let us look at one more passage of Scripture that I believe will shed light on why men oppress women and the pagan view of women is so prevalent.
Genesis 3:16 (NKJV) — 16 To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
I want to focus on the phrase, “Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Husbands ruling over their wives is something that happened because of the fall, i.e., because of sin. It was not God’s design. God designed the male and female to have dominion over his earthly creation, but instead, they submitted themselves to another, thus introducing sin into the world. The result of sin entering the world caused the spiritual death of the man and woman, which also affected their relationship with each other as it did with God.
Galatians 3:28 tells us that gender is irrelevant to God. As truly spiritual beings (that have a body to live in a physical world), there is no gender. We never read in the Bible about a male or female angel. Again, the feminist and liberal agendas have clouded the understanding of words that we normally use to denote gender but are sometimes not used that way in Scripture. For example, we call God our father, but he is not male. The feminists and liberals don’t understand that the Hebrew/Greek word used in that context is referring to Gob being the source of all life, not male ancestry.
A major takeaway here is that women are not second-class citizens so to speak. They are the female version of a human being. They have abilities, talents, gifts, and therefore value. Therefore, wives can bring a lot to the table, so to speak, and contribute greatly in the marriage relationship.
Now let us look at Ephesians 5:23 given what we have learned about men and women from the above discussion. Paul said that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church. Therefore, our perspective of headship should come from Christ, not the world. I believe many people object to headship, especially women for good reason because they do not understand the Christian perspective of headship.
Luke 22:24–27 (NKJV) — 24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.
Jesus made the distinction between the way the world works and the way the kingdom of God works with regards to leadership and authority. In the world, leaders tend to look to have people serve them, whereas, in the kingdom of God, those in authority look to serve others. This is what Jesus did. He gave his life for us though he is lord of all.
The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church in a Christian marriage. The husband’s headship means that he actively loves his wife and serves her. The wife subsequently submits to her loving husband by putting herself under his headship. This in no way means that the husband is the boss or is superior to the wife. Headship is simply the order that God established as we saw in Genesis 1-3. You must keep in mind that headship here is defined in the context of the kingdom of God, not the world system. In the world system, headship is a matter of authority, whereas, in the kingdom of God, headship is a matter of service fueled by love.
Mutual Submission and Marriage
The interesting thing about headship in a Christian marriage is that it spawns mutual submission. The order of things is that the husband is the head of the wife, and the effect of this is that he submits to the needs of his wife and his wife submits to his needs. They both work together to fulfill their individual God-given dreams and to fulfill their purpose as a couple or family.
I think it is important to point out here that the love between a husband and wife must be greater than mere emotion or infatuation. Love is, therefore, a choice; else Paul couldn’t tell the husbands to love their wives. Love is expressed by serving. The husband loves his wife by serving her and the wife loves her husband by serving him. Remember that the context of headship is that of the kingdom of God, not the world.
God created the man (male) and then the woman so that the man would not be alone and have help. She was to be his compatible companion. Both were created in the image of God and he gave them dominion over his earthly creation. He did not give them dominion over each other. The husband and wife are to be one flesh.
The headship of the husband is the hierarchical order that God established at creation with regard to husband and wife relationships. Headship is in the context of the kingdom of God where the interest is not in oneself, but in the welfare of others. In this context, the headship of the husband means that he cares for the welfare of his wife and therefore, loves her. Likewise, she loves him and submits to his headship. This produces harmony within the marriage relationship.
The headship and mutual submission in a marriage will provide a framework for a fulfilling marriage. The husband and wife will be able to resolve issues because of the love between them. They will be able to meet their goals easier because of the harmony between them.
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