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  Headship In The HomeSunday, December 10th, 2023  
by Norman Bales - © John Mark Ministries

The Bible uses the term "head" in relation to men and women in two different contexts.

In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul wrote, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ and the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." Taken in an authoritative sense, this statement offends the sensibilities of many modern day readers. Some have charged that Paul revealed an anti-feminine bias in placing man over woman in the "chain of command." Some writers believe making man "the source" of woman can lessen the impact of Paul's language. According to Genesis 2, woman was created from the rib of Adam. Following the "source" theory, the word "head" (_kephale_ in Greek) would be the equivalent of the beginning waters of a significant stream. Since Eve originated from Adam, the term head in 1 Corinthians 11:3, simply means that she owes her beginning to him. That seems to be the prevailing theory among some Christian feminists.

If one decides to buy into the "origin" theory, numerous difficulties present themselves. The word "head" occurs three times in 1 Corinthians 11:3. The last time it occurs, the text says ". . . the head of Christ is God." If we take that to mean origin, then God becomes the origin of Christ, which makes Christ a created being. According to John 1:14, Christ is an eternal being, whose existence is outside the creation process. Warren Wiersbe commented "In his redemptive ministry, the Son was subject to the Father even though He is equal to the Father (John 10:30; 14:28)." _The Bible Exposition Commentary_. Volume 1 page 603). Jesus was in submission to the Father (John 5:19), even though he is "in very nature God" (Philippians 2:6).

The problem is compounded by the fact that the term "head" clearly refers to authority in 1:22, Christ has been "appointed to be head over everything for the church." In Colossians 1:18, Jesus is described as "head" of the church, a position in which he exercises supremacy. In Colossians 2:10, he is " . . . head over every power and authority."

Until recent times, the weight of scholarly opinion has been nearly unanimous in the conclusion that "head" implies a "chain of command." For an in-depth, scholarly discussion of "headship," see Wayne Gruden's article, "The Meaning of Kephale (Head)"

The troublesome part, for many of us, lies in the fact that the passage in question has been construed by some to imply the inferiority of women. Some have assumed that because men are larger and more aggressive by nature (as the result of testosterone), they enjoy the right to control, dominate, intimidate and run the whole show. Paul had nothing of the sort in mind. It must be remembered that even though Jesus possesses a "chain-of-command" kind of "headship," in his earthly ministry, he exercised that role as a servant. "For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Mark 10:45). Furthermore, Paul, who is often accused of being a male chauvinist, clearly saw men and women occupying an equal playing field in terms of their standing before God. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ" (Galatians 3:28). Paul did indeed anticipate the leadership of men. You really have to engage in some linguistic gymnastics to come up with any other conclusion, but it is not a headship in which males make decisions without consulting females. It is a headship in which a male accepts responsibility, provides protection, selflessly serves, and makes sacrifices. Above all, he is yielded to the headship of Jesus.

"Wives submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." There is no way to get around the fact that the husband's role, as head of the wife is parallel to Christ's role as head of the church. We have already seen that Paul unmistakably identified Christ as the head "over" the church in Ephesians 1:22-23. It would be logical to assume that he did not change the meaning of "head" in 5:22-23. William Hendriksen observed, " . . . he placed ultimate responsibility with respect to the household upon the shoulders of the husband in keeping with the latter's creational endowment." (_New Testament Commentary - Exposition of Ephesians_ p. 248). Hendriksen's conclusion that headship is assigned on the basis of "creational endowment" fits with Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-13 "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was first formed then Eve." There's something about the order of creation that determines headship. We will discuss the nature of submission at a later time. At this point, we are simply noting that Paul's rationale for headship involves the order of creation. Again, Paul's remarks about headship must be viewed against the background of servant-leadership, which we will also discuss at another time. Within the context of Paul's assertion of the headship of husbands, he instructed them to "love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her"(Ephesians 5:25) and to "love their wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:28). The concept of headship does not work apart from submission to Christ. Many men who never consult a Bible otherwise are sometimes fond of citing Ephesians 5:22-23. If they ever bothered to read the rest of the context, they wouldn't be so eager to quote Paul.

A family cannot function without leadership. God has assigned the task of leadership to husbands. Our problems lie more in the realm of the abuse of authority and the misunderstanding of authority than the concept of authority itself. C. S. Lewis once said, "If there must be a head, why the man? Well, firstly, is there any serious wish that it should be a woman? . . . as far as I can see, even a woman who wants to be head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door. She is much more likely to say, 'Poor Mr. X! Why he allows that appalling woman to boss him about the way she does is more than I can imagine.' I do not think she is even very flattered if anyone mentions the fact of her own 'headship.' There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule." (_Mere Christianity. pp. 102-103_)

Apparently, there are two avenues of reason open to those who attempt to reconcile feminism with Christianity. The first (and most honorable) is to attempt to re-study the text in the light of current social realities. I find it very difficult to treat the text objectively and reach the conclusion that the Bible teaches the contemporary concept of egalitarianism. The second approach is to view the Bible as a sort of "work in progress," a message that constantly shifts to line up with the most recent social trends. Such a view challenges the authoritative message of Scripture, which is our source of knowledge about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. If the Bible is "the Supreme Court" in these matters, husbands are not to be little "Hitlers" in their homes, but they do have a God given leadership assignment.

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