On one hand, the Bible predicts that along with the curse of weeds, burdensome work, multiplied pain in childbirth, and death– husbands will dominate their wives (Gen 3:15).
The same Bible acknowledges that under the fallen conditions of “a man’s world” where the strong go to war, make slaves of the weak, and lord it over one another, God encourages his people to live with honor within a social order that is always less than ideal.
Even under difficult conditions, citizens are urged to keep the laws of pagan Caesars unless doing so would put them at odds with their God. Slaves (i.e. economic or prisoners of war) are told to obey their masters– if freedom is not an option. And, unless husbands refuse to honor their basic marital responsibilities (see God’s Protection of Women), wives are encouraged to submit rather than to divorce.
Ironically, over the years, many of us have assumed that God wanted men to “rule” their wives as a solution to the confusion that human rebellion brought into the world. But that overlooks the fact that Genesis 3:15 predicts consequences rather than solutions.
So, then, can we avoid what the Bible says about a husband being the head of his wife? Over the years I’ve wanted to– because I’ve seen this idea turned so often into an authority-based sense of entitlement– that has ruined so many marriages.
But maybe we need take another look. Are the problems we have with “headship” really in the text, or only in our perception of what the Bible says, and why?
(1) In 1 Corinthians 11:3 the Apostle Paul lists three relationships where one person is said to be the head of another. He says, “The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (2) In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he adds that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church, and also that, as “the head,” a husband is to relate to his wife as the human head relates to the human body (Ephesians 5:23).
It’s important to see what Paul didn’t say. He did not indicate that he is using the head-body word picture to say that husbands have been given a God-given right to rule over their wives. He didn’t say that a husband’s role is to think and a woman’s role is to respond. Neither did Paul say that he was talking about an authority-based relationship.
Paul didn’t even say that husbands are to lead their wives, or that husbands are to be the initiators and women the responders. Even though he could have talked about many other implications drawn from the relationship between Christ and the church, and the relationship between the human head and the human body, Paul didn’t develop those ideas.
What the Apostle does say is that, as we use our heads to care for our bodies, and as Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church, so husbands are to love and sacrifice themselves for their wives.
Paul is just as clear that wives are not to try and rule over or control their husbands, but are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” The ideal picture described in Ephesians 5 is not of wives submitting to abusive, demanding husbands, but rather of cooperating with men who, with the attitudes of Christ, are loving, caring, and sacrificing for them.
I’m convinced that if we really listen to the text, the right question is not, “who’s in charge?”, but “who cares?” (i.e. who cares for one another as a head and body care for and cooperate with one another?)
In another post I want to give some specific examples that illustrate that the issue is not who has what authority– but rather what God has given husbands and wives that they can use for the good of one another, and for the honor of their God.
But for now, do you agree that, for too long, too many husbands have used the head-body word picture to justify treating their wives in a way that they would never treat their own bodies?
Does it make sense that the only other question that may be more important is, “Is Christ in charge?”