Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

In 1998, The New York Times reported that the Southern Baptist Convention had voted to amend its statement of beliefs to include a declaration that wives should submit.

…”that a woman should ‘submit herself graciously’ to her husband’s leadership and that a husband should ‘provide for, protect, and lead his family.’ …The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, and an effort to soften the language was soundly turned back…The amendment relies on biblical passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, which compares the husband-wife relationship to that of Christ ruling the church…” The New York Times by Gustav Neibuhr, June 10, 1998

Gibraltar June 10, 1998

The same day the Southern Baptists (SBC) were making a stand on women, I was honeymooning in¬†Spain. Little did we know the impact this pronouncement would make on our lives. Because of the specific attention on gender roles being taught in seminaries and churches, our early years of marriage were not focused on love or unity, but on making sure the other spouse was doing the proper “role.” His was to lead, mine was to submit, and never the two should cross. Sadly, the Southern Baptists and the Bonikowskys got Ephesians 5:21-33 all wrong.

A submissive, unified and loving church of men and women is the nuance of Ephesians 5:21-33  that we missed and that the SBC  obscured because commands were thrown into verses where they do not belong.

Back to the Greek

In Ephesians 5, Paul uses a few imperative verbs. Imperatives are verbal commands. ¬†He tells them to carefully watch or to “Take heed! (NIV)” to live wisely; ¬†and to “Understand!” God’s will. “Do not get drunk!” Instead, “Be filled” with the Spirit! Then, he lists a few things after his command to “be filled” using verbal nouns, or participles. Participles are¬†tricky in Greek because they¬†are nuanced and used extensively as nouns, adjectives, adverbs or verbs. When used adverbially, the participle is reliant on the main verb to explain its usage. It can explain when the verb occurred; how it happened and why; and it can even describe the result of the main verb.¬†Its purpose¬†is usually evident in the context, but there are ambiguous examples. Naturally, Ephesians 5, specifically verse 21-22, falls into the ambiguous category.

Commands and Results in Ephesians 5:18-24

Here are the verbs. Imperatives with a ! Participles with a  __ing.

18 Do not get drunk! Be filled with the Spirit!

19 Speaking in psalms… singingmaking melodies

20 Giving thanks…

21 Submitting yourselves to one another…

22 (no verb)

23 is

24 is submissive

25 Love!

First, you’ll note that there is no verb in verse 22. Open your Bible and you’ll see that your English translators supplied one for you. Note as well, that the added verb¬†is most likely an imperative. Now understand that translators add verbs all the time to clarify meaning, but does¬†this addition clarify what Paul intended? Does Paul command wives to submit to their husbands in verse 22?

Submitting is the result of being filled with the Spirit.

To get an idea of Paul’s intention, let us look at the role these participles play in regard to their main verb, which is “be filled” in verse 18. Are these actions the indicators of when a Christian is filled with the Spirit?¬†Is Paul stressing the time a believer is filled? We are filled only when¬†we are speaking, singing, giving and submitting? Or is he giving us a list of how to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit by means of speaking, singing, giving and submitting? My 1984 NIV’s translators thought this was Paul’s point, and they wrote all these participles as commands, stretching the manner of action into a command/imperative. But doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching elsewhere that all Christians already have the Spirit? Can we get more of the Spirit by means of doing these actions? More likely, these actions are the result of being filled with the Spirit. Daniel B. Wallace, the author of Greek Grammar, agrees on page 639.

…it would be almost inconceivable to see this text suggesting that the way in which one is to be Spirit-filled is by a five-step, partially mechanical formula! … the idea of result here would suggest that the way in which one measures his/her success in fulfilling the command of 5:18 is by the participles that follow. Wallace, p. 639 [underlining mine]

Speaking, singing, giving thanks and submitting to each other will follow being filled with the Spirit. The ESV does a good job of retaining this inflection in 5:18-21.  Paul does not command Christians to submit to each other (vs 21), he is explaining what will be the result of Christians being filled with the spirit. There is no command to submit in verse 21.

To view any of these participles as imperatival is to view the passage from the English point of view only, ignoring the Greek. Wallace, p 651

There is no command to submit in verse 22 either. Verse 22 does not have a verb, it simply says “wives to their own husbands as to the Lord.” We must look backward¬†to supply the verb from the previous section. English Bibles put a header break between 21 and 22, but this is not consistent to the Greek sentences. Verse 22 is a continuation of 21 and a bridge to 23. It is a ¬†result participle of submitting from being filled with the Spirit.

A more correct translation is:

From verse 18: Be filled with the Spirit…

(21) With the result of submitting yourselves to one another in fear¬†of Christ, (22) wives (submitting) to their own husbands as to Christ, (23) because…

The context of wives submitting to husbands is from the larger result of Christians everywhere submitting to each other as they are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

As the church, so the wives

But even as the church is submissive to Christ, so also wives (are submissive) to their husbands in everything. 5:24

The church is¬†marked with submissive men and women, because it is this submissive spirit that enabled our inclusion into¬†Christ’s inheritance. Christ did the redeeming work and we have accepted; submitting to his washing and cleansing as the means of our unification with Him. The church (both men and women) is submissive to Christ, because an unsubmissive church would be no church at all. The refusal to join with Christ in faith, to deny¬†his spiritual work through¬†unbelief, and to separate from all things “christian” is the¬†mark of an unbeliever. We all submit because we are all one body, joined by Christ who is¬†the reason we are united.

The submission of wives is compared to the submission of the church. Some English versions take the middle/passive verb Paul uses (is submissive) and make it imperative. Like this:

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)

Sadly, this rendering takes the focus off the submissive church who is joining together into Christ who is our head, and puts it on the actions of an obedient wife. Submission no longer marks the church, but women.¬†A submissive church of men and women¬†is the nuance of the context that is missed when we throw imperatives into verses where they do not belong. It is easy to tell people what to do with commands, but Paul doesn’t do that here. Neither should the English translators.


An unsubmissive church is no church at all, likewise the wives. The Bonikowskys survived the role-war. Because of submission. Not mine, but ours.

Be filled with the Spirit, submitting yourselves to one another.


Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Ephesians 5:23 says,

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.


This verse is the beginning of a descriptive metaphor Paul employs to describe Jesus Christ’s relationship with his body, the church. It is foundational to understanding the relationship a husband and wife are to enjoy.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Much of the controversy in this verse spills into the following verses, so I will condense a few of those into three main points for this post.

  1. What does head (kephale)¬†mean? The word head can be literal, as in that thing on top of your neck, or it can be a metaphor for something. Paul is using head metaphorically in this verse. Complementarians believe it means¬†leader or authority, as in head of state. Egalitarians believe it means either source, as in the head of a river; or a symbol of the whole body, as in “counting the heads of cattle.”
  2. Is the husband the head of the marriage in today’s culture? Or was Paul using a Roman-Ephesian phenomenon to illustrate an eternal truth about Christ and the church? Complementarians believe¬†Paul’s teaching on marriage is God’s eternal truth, and culture should not play a part in the interpretation of this verse. Egals believe understanding ancient Roman marriage unlocks the truth of what Paul is teaching about the relationship between Jesus and His body.
  3. How should we interpret the analogy of Jesus and the church to husbands and their wives? Complementarians believe Jesus leads his church and as Savior, he displays loving authority over all aspects of the church. Hence, husbands should exhibit loving leadership of their wives. Egalitarians believe Jesus originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work, he gave life to his body. Likewise, Roman husbands were the source of life for their wives. Comparatively, they should then treat their wives as Jesus treats his body.

Complementarian Interpretation

All complementarians agree that head metaphorically means leader. Their main argument for this is found in verse 22: wives [submit] to your own husbands. (See my explanation of that verse, here.) Because comps define submission as requiring some authority to submit to, they find that authority in the word head in verse 23. Ephesians 1:22 also uses the word head in conjunction with submission.

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

Using these two verses together, comps maintain that submission, or being under, requires a leader to be over.¬†A major goal for complementarian marriages is for the husbands to behave as a leader. As a member of the church, men are asked to submit to each other, but since the husband‚Äôs role is to ‚Äúplay‚ÄĚ Christ in the marriage, men – as husbands-¬†have a different script to follow. Their job isn’t submission, but leadership. Husbands are to lead their wives like Jesus leads the church.

Leadership¬†encompasses a right of privilege, authority to rule, and responsibility for outcome. Comps believe that the husband is not only responsible for his wife, but a good husband must keep his whole house in subjection (1 Tim 2:11-13).¬†¬†It is the husband‚Äôs responsibility to ensure his family honors the Lord and is properly cared for. Comps impress the importance of the husband’s stepping up into their role of being their family’s spiritual leader.¬†The husband, not the wife, should instigate church attendance, prayer and devotions. The husband will be held accountable for how he leads his house.

Since comps believe Christ‚Äôs authority in the home is centered on the husband, a husband should lead like Christ.¬†As Jesus leads the church¬†for the¬†body’s good, honor and glory; a husband’s headship is exercised for the wife‚Äôs good, her honor, and¬†her glory. His leadership is one of love. Comps often refer to this as¬†“servant leadership” or “loving leadership.”

‚ÄúPaul tells us how to control our wives when he says to ‚Äėlove them.‚Äô Love them. That is how you control a woman. You must love her. She is built that way. When she is fully loved, she is fully under control. Love her.‚ÄĚ ¬†Jay Adams, Christian Living in the Home. Page 101.

Complementarians believe the husband‚Äôs role is harder than the wife’s role, because¬†husbands are called to reflect Christ‚Äôs role¬†as Savior. Their role-model was¬†perfect!¬† Even though it is an impossible job, the husband must¬†actively lead¬†because he represents Jesus‚Äô relationship to the church. When he fails to lead his wife and family, he damages the name of Jesus.

All complementarians agree that God gave husbands (men) and wives (women) distinct roles. Comps believe these roles are rooted in God’s creation of gender, and are an eternal “script” that men and women are called to play. Because Paul’s writing was inspired by God, it vitally important we hold to its teachings. Many complementarians will point¬†to the history¬†of male authority throughout the Old Testament and church history as evidence of God’s plan for men to lead. Complementarians, though they admit that¬†studying¬† culture enhances our understanding of this text, do not believe it should influence our interpretation of gender roles.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Egalitarians all agree that the metaphorical meaning of  head  is not always leader. In this context, its meaning is either source (head of a river) or a singular symbol for the whole body (heads of cattle). Egalitarians take the cue from they way Paul uses head in the previous chapter.

…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,¬†from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.¬†Eph 4:15-16.

Egalitarians understand Eph 5:23 in a similar fashion. The significance of the husband being the head of his wife is that they are joined together. It would be absurd to have a head that holds itself separate from the body. They are one. The husband and wife are both made from the same stuff. There is no fundamental difference between the two genders both made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ (Gen 1:26, Gal 3:3). Just as Christ, as the source of salvation and the First of many, gives the church fully of his inheritance and righteousness; so a Roman husband, as the source of income, property, sustenance and legitimacy in Roman culture, is to join 100% of those goods with his wife. Love is the connecting agent.

Egals believe a proper understanding of this passage cannot be divorced from the original culture. That the husband is the head of the wife was¬†a fact in Roman society. Whichever meaning is chosen for head – leader, source or singular symbol – a case could be made that meaning existed in Roman law. ¬†Women were the property of men. No one thought about equality or the absurdity of human property.¬†The shocker for the Ephesian husbands was not that they were the ‚Äúheads,‚Ä̬† but that they were to love.¬† Christians husbands are a head AS Christ is a head. The following verses describe how Christ heads the church (love). Egalitarians find no hint of authority or leadership in this context.

Egalitarians believe¬†Jesus, as Savior, originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.¬†¬†Through this work as head, he gave life to his body. Christ saves the church¬†to share the privilege of heaven with those he loves. He transforms the church as a gift of eternal life. Everything Jesus enjoys, he makes available to his body. It is through the head, the body is equipped for true life. ¬† The responsibility of a head is to share privilege and life with the body. Those with the elevated position bring up those in¬†the subjected role to a place of equilibrium by virtue of joining together in unity. And ultimately that is the heart of Paul’s message and Egalitarian marriage.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Eph 5:31)

Further Reading:

An Exhaustive Study on the Meaning of “Head:” Are Women Really Free To Function Freely?¬†by Wade Burleson quoting¬†Lauren Fasullo

Household: Household Code in Ephesians (Part 3) by Michael W. Kruse

Christ as husband is about love not leadership by Retha

Ephesians 5:23

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
For the husband is the head of the wife Head means chief or leader. The husband is responsible for his wife. His goal is to behave as a loving leader. Head means origin or source. A Roman husband was the key to life for his wife  in that ancient culture. This was a fact, not a goal.
as Christ is the head of the church, his body, Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of authority and leadership. Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of pre-eminence. He is the first of many.
of which he is the Savior. Jesus earned the right to lead his church by His death and resurrection. Jesus’ role as savior is to transform us into His image.



Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:22

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:22

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Ephesians 5:22 says,

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.


This verse introduces what is often called the “Household Code of Conduct” for Christians. Paul, who is writing to 1st century Christians in Ephesus, spends the first part of chapter 5 describing how a Christian should live a life of love. In verse 18, he begins to define¬†how a person¬†filled with the Spirit behaves. This description segues into commentary on wives and husbands, children and parents,¬†masters and slaves.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Who should submit in a Christian marriage? Complemetarians believe wives should submit. Egalitarians, as well, believe wives should submit, but so should husbands.


Complementarian Interpretation

This verse is the mother of complementarianism. (The father comes a verse later.) It establishes their core belief that God wants marriage to follow a pattern based on gender. The wife’s role is to submit to her husband. The husband’s role is to lead his wife. They believe this verse proves that godly marriages must be based on a structure of authority. Unless the wife is following her husband‚Äôs leadership, they have become like the world (following the feminist influence) and are not pleasing God in their marriage.

Mark Driscoll, a vocal complementarian, recently questioned the¬†motivation of some Christians who wanted to understand the original language of the Bible. He said that only ‚Äúrebellious‚ÄĚ Christians do word studies. I‚Äôm sure he said this tongue in cheek. The verse he wants Christians to accept the English-translation without question? This one. Wives submit to your husbands.

And this is the complementarian argument on its¬†simplistic level. Many comps don’t need to interpret this verse, or understand its cultural significance. They are willing to take it at face value. Even though verse 21 states that all Christians are in submission to each other, wives have a¬†gendered duty¬†to submit to their own husbands. There is no reason to question the plain, English words of this verse.

God made women to submit to men in each¬†marriage. (This understanding comes from the following verses in this chapter, which I’ll cover in time.)

…biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband‚Äôs leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. – John Piper

Comps teach that this wifely submission comes with two caveats.¬†“To your own husband” and¬†“As unto the Lord.” Most comps do not believe all women are to submit to all men. They also admit that gender-based authority in marriage can lead to abuse, and so they caution husbands to lead in a servant-like manner. They also caution wives that they do not need to submit to a husband who is disobeying God’s will because of the phrase, “as unto the Lord.”¬†(Well-¬†sort of. Some well known Comp advocates have been known to say some outlandish things regarding women staying in an abusive relationship.) Comps teach that a wife should not follow her husband into sin. What this practically looks like varies by teacher.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Submission is the state of living by the Spirit. The Egalitarian believes it is how all Christians, regardless of gender, should behave, wives and husbands.

‚ÄúHow desperately we need to see¬† that mutual submission in marriage and the family is not subtraction of wifely¬† submission, but the addition of husbandly submission. Only that is the¬† perfect biblical equation. In decision making within marriage, the ‚Äėone‚Äô who¬† makes the decisions should be the ‚Äėtwo become one.‚Äô‚ÄĚ Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Equal to Serve, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1998), p. 200

A commonly used Egalitarian argument for non-gender based submission is based on the earliest Greek manuscripts of Ephesians. The verb submit (hupotasso) is not found in verse 22. Instead, it is implied from verse 21, like this:

(21)…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ ; (22) wives to your¬†husbands, as to the Lord.

Egalitarians argue that inserting the word submit into verse 22 and separating the two verses (which were written as one sentence)¬†into distinct thoughts, is inadequate and incorrect. Hupatasso, the verb in verse 21-22, ¬†is written in the middle voice which implies passivity, not activity. Submission is a state a Christian is already in because¬†of the Spirit inside (vs 18). Even more so ‚Äď especially in a Roman patriarchy setting- submission is a state a wife is already in. (On the passive voice of Hupatasso¬†by Charis R. Hart) Many times, a wife naturally looks to please her husband, even in a sinful way, as a result of the fall. (Genesis 3:16)

Culture plays a large part in an Egalitarian’s understanding of Ephesians 5:22. Some argue Paul was enforcing the Roman law of marriage. Others argue for understanding the influence of the¬†Ephesian cult religion of Artemis, which demands the superiority of women over men, into Paul’s instructions for Christian marriages. Regardless of which historical perspective the Egalitarians believes, they agree that historical perspective is key to understanding Paul’s teaching of gender in marriage.

Egalitarians are wary of separating Christians into authoritative categories based on gender, race or social positions.¬† Egalitarians believe the question of gender-based hierarchy has no place in a marriage whose goal is a unified partnership. “Who has authority?” is never the question a Christian should ask. The disciples asked that question of Jesus, and he told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.¬†¬†Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,¬†¬†and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” A Christian marriage should be marked by service to each other. In decision making times, gifting and talents are a better factor than gender.

Further Reading:

Submission in Marriage by Marg Mowczko

Authority vs submission ‚Äď a biblical view of Ephesians 5:22¬†by¬†Cheryl Schatz

Ephesians 5:22

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
Wives Wives alone must submit because she is woman. Husband and wives submit to each other.
submit Submit means to arrange yourself under an authority. Submit means yeilding to another.
to your own husbands Husbands are the authority in marriage. Paul is exemplifying a cultural phenomenon of patriarchy.
as to the Lord. God is the ultimate authority, and a wife should never submit to doing evil. Christian wives are now “in the Lord,” living by the Spirit. This position¬†will influence their marriage.

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:21 (Repost)

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:21 (Repost)

I am re-posting this article on Ephesians 5:21 to refresh my thoughts preceding Ephesians 5:22. It introduces the basic principles the two gender camps argue over in Ephesians 5:22.

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Ephesians 5:21 says,

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Summary of Disagreements

Ephesians 5:21 is a general call for all Christians to live a submissive life as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit (5:18). This verse introduces a section instructing the Ephesians how to behave in their homes. Complementarians and Egalitarians differ in their interpretation of this verse in three ways.

  1. How to define submission?*
  2. Who is exempt?
  3. What ramifications does this verse create for the following passage?

Please understand this article is a brief summary of the arguments. This verse has birthed volumes of commentary.

*The definition of submission is from the Greek word hupatasso: hypo (under or after) tasso (arrange or align).  In noun form, it is not found outside the New Testament. The verb is used rarely in classical Greek literature. The scarcity of the word leaves a void that Comps and Egals bury with translation debate.

Complementarian Understanding

Most Comps define submission by its military sense, to arrange yourself under the command of¬†a leader.¬†They¬†soften the word from its strict cousin, Obedience, by including¬†submission’s¬†voluntary aspect. (This voluntary aspect is derived from the Greek word’s middle, passive voice as¬†opposed to active.)¬†Submission is a one-way, willing ordering of yourself under another.

Mutual, or reciprocal,¬†submission is an oxymoron to most Comps. It is a contradiction of terms. Comps emphasize there cannot be a person submitting unless there is another person to submit to. This argument is bolstered by the Greek pronoun used for “one another” which is not always fully reciprocal. Most Comps would rather interpret this word as “some to others.”¬†Submission separates people into leaders and followers. Those under do not tell those over¬†what to do.¬†Back to their favorite military analogy: it would be unheard of for a general to submit to privates! There would be¬† chaos. Submission requires someone in command.

So, people in authority are exempt from submitting to those who are under them.

Comps believe this verse (21) must be interpreted in light of verse 22. Because wives are specifically asked to submit to their husband, Comps believe husbands have the burden of command.¬†Husbands are never asked to submit to wives. Comps believe a husband’s role is to lead.¬†Verse 21 takes a back seat to the implied implications of verse 22.

Comps believe verse 21 is clarified by verse 22. Whereas Egals believe verse 22 can only be properly understood in light of verse 21.

Further Reading

The Myth of “Mutual Submission”¬† by Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Understanding

Ephesians 5:21 is the bedrock of an Egalitarian marriage. Each submits to the other. Submission is not the wife’s job alone.¬†Egals¬†define submission like this:

“The true sense of the word describes the Christian grace of yielding one’s preferences to another, where principle is not involved, rather than asserting one’s rights.” Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, para 293.

Egals¬†expand the definition of submission away from its military sense, arguing¬† it confuses the meaning. An Egal¬†might argue, “Can a soldier ever say “no” to his commander? Not without strict punishment! Does that make the soldier’s requirement submission or obedience?” An Egal would say, obedience. A militant definition of submission shackles the volunteerism of submission, and makes a one-way duty or requirement out of it.

Hupatasso means “I arrange myself¬†under” or “being under.” Instead of flipping the action of submission to emphasize who is over, Egals stress the importance of “being under.”¬†¬†Hupatasso¬†is written in the middle voice which implies passivity, not activity. Submission is a state a Christian is already in becuase¬†of the Spirit inside. Even more so – especially in a Roman patriarchy setting- submission is a state a wife is already in. (On the passive voice of Hupatasso¬†by Charis R. Hart) Some Egals point to alternative meanings:¬†such as,¬†the Hebrew equivalent of hupatasso is translated as a quiet waiting or rest. (Ps 62:1, 5; Ps 37:7)

Egalitarians¬†argue against a strict hierarchical¬†meaning of “each other” and for its reciprocity. Egals¬†believe submission does not require staid leadership. It¬†can be fluid. It is flexible. It goes many directions. 1 Peter 5:5 repeats the exhortation¬†to submit to each other and links this act with humility. Egals ask us to remember the context of Ephesian culture which emphasized male authority, to understand how radical this verse sounded to the original readers. Paul asks women to come after men, and men to come after women!

Ephesians 5:21 clarifies the life¬†in the Spirit, and introduces the spirit of Christian marriage found in the following verses. Christians should not argue over who is in charge (Jesus said, “Not so among you!”), but¬†exhibit a¬†yielding of wills to one another.

Further Reading:

What Does Subjection Mean? Lesson 38 by Katharine Bushnell

I know who’s the boss! by Wade Burleson

Ephesians 5:21

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
Submit Submit means to arrange yourself under an authority. Submit means yeilding to another.
yourself Submission is voluntary. Submission is voluntary.
to one another. “One another” should be translated as “some to others.” Submission is mutual.

Does Someone Have to be in Charge? (Part 5)

This is a continuation of the outline series exploring the roots of the chain of authority. The original articles by Kristen Rosser are at No Longer Qivering. Please browse the outline, then if your spirit it so led, go over to the full articles to read her extended insights. Posted with permission.

Jesus was quite accurate when He said that hierarchies of authority and rule were of the ‚ÄúGentiles‚ÄĚ in Matthew 20:25, because the concept known as the ‚ÄúGreat Chain of Being‚ÄĚ was formed in Greek thought and was never taught by our Savior. We are Gentiles also, and we have taken hierarchy for granted, missing the impact of Christ‚Äôs words that it is to be ‚Äúnot so among you,‚ÄĚ for too long. KR

This section looks at authority in marriage. The following quote sums up one Complementarian argument for husband authority in marriage.

‚ÄúWhat your husband wants is your acknowledgement that he is the leader, the one in authority. This is not to grind you under or treat you as inferior. It is only to say that because God has made your husband responsible (review Eph. 5:22-33), he needs the authority to carry out that responsibility. No smoothly running organization can have two heads. To set up a marriage with two equals at the head is to set it up for failure. That is one of the big reasons that people are divorcing today.‚ÄĚ Eggerichs, Love and Respect, Thomas Nelson (2004), page 221.

The following outline argues against the presumptions established in the above quote.

1. The husband might be called to lead, but it is not required of him simply because he is the male.

a. Eggerichs (from the quote above) equates husband leadership with the right or power of authority in marriage.

b. This argues Aristotle’s for¬†“Great Chain of Command.”

c. It places males and females in a hierarchy under God.

d. This viewpoint from Ephesians 5:22-23 leaves out the context of Ephesians 5:21.

2. Marriage should not be defined as an organization.

a. The Bible defines marriage in the organic terms of close friendship.

i. One flesh. Mat 9:6

ii. Covenant. Mal 2:14

iii. Companionship. Mal 2:14

b. “Best friends do no need one of them to be a leader. In that case they wouldn‚Äôt be best friends‚ÄĒ they‚Äôd be hero and sidekick.”KR

i. Establishing friendship based on a business model destroys the relationship.

ii. Boss and employee are cautioned not to become more than acquaintances for that reason.

c. Oneness does not concern itself with who is in charge, but with blending its parts into the whole.

3. A family might run closer to a business model than marriage, but it is a partnership business model, not a sole proprietorship.

a. Some successful businesses are partnerships; especially in a small business model similar to a family.

i. Both partners share equal risk and contribute equally to the success of the venture.

ii. Neither partner is in charge of the other.

ii. Consensus is the desired goal.

b. Children need leadership and guidance.

i. The mother and father share in leading the children.

ii. One does not have to lead the other.

In a family where the wife is better with figures and the husband better at planning events, for instance, she might defer to him on when and where to throw a party, and he might defer to her on how much to spend on it.¬† There would be no need for either one to try to squeeze into rigid ‚Äúroles‚ÄĚ that neither is suited for. KR

c. A marriage is especially suited to be a partnership since the goal is “oneness” and close companionship.

4. The example of the Proverbs 31 marriage reflects a partnership model.

a. The wife works independently of husband.

b. Her husband trusts her to buy land, run a business and manange the servants.

c. She does not seek his leadership in any of these things.

d. The husband meets his own duties, and lets her work speak for itself.

I believe in male headship.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (Ephesians 5:23)

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)


The Greek word kephale is pivotal to understanding gender roles in Scripture. It is simply translated into English as head. Yet, it can refer to two things:

  • Literal, physical head, or a
  • Metaphorical symbol.

The meaning of the metaphorical symbol is what has caused the controversy. There are huge volumes of explanations on kephale meanings, and much debate. I can only re-write what I’ve read in my own words, in my own way. Its a humble attempt, I realize. ūüôā

Intimate Sharing

I believe head (kephale) in the relevant gender passages means source. If something is a source, it fills what comes after it with its own essence. The source of a river is the same as the river, it just comes before and is the vehicle by which the river is.

In this manner, God is the head/source of Christ (Jesus).  We know the Word (pre-incarnate Jesus) was with God from the beginning in perfect union, but when the Word became flesh as Christ, He emptied His divinity to take on human form. Yet, even in His humanity, He was God. Why? Because He took the same essence as His source… God. God is the head of Christ.

In the same way, Christ is the source of spiritual man. We are filled with His Essence, His Spirit, and become children of God. What Christ is, He shares with us. And of course, Christ is the source of spiritual women too! Men do not save women. Jesus does. Men do not provide women spiritual life, Jesus does. Christ is the head of men and women.


Women have two heads, two sources. Eve was pulled from Adam. She was Adam’s flesh and bone. He was her source. They were of the same stuff. Because of this shared essence, man is not superior. He is the same as her. Head and body, one.

We [modern English speakers] use the term [head] often for a person in authority (cf. ‚ÄėHeads of State‚Äô), but this usage was unknown in antiquity (except for a few passages in LXX). LSJ note usages of kephale for the whole person, for life, extremity, top (of wall or column), source, etc., but never for the leader of a group. S. Bedale reminds us that the functions of the central nervous system were not known to the ancients, who held that we think with the midriff, the phren. The head was thus not the controlling factor; we must seek its significance elsewhere. ¬†‚ÄėHead‚Äô was used of the ‚Äėsource‚Äô (as ‚Äėhead‚Äô of a river)‚Ķ Paul is saying that the woman derives her being from man, as man does from Christ and Christ from God. (Morris, Leon. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1 Corinthians. Inter-Varsity Press, England. p.149)

Not leader, Head.

The husband is the head of the wife. Its a fact. It is not something the husband becomes. It is not something the husband can NOT be. He is her head, regardless of action. No where does Paul instruct the husband to learn to be a better head. Paul instructs the husband on loving his wife, and states he is her head.

Beware the teaching that takes one interpretation of head and builds a vast structure of tradition on a debated meaning. Nowhere does Paul say the husband is the leader of the wife. He is her head.

Search for yourself how you will interpret kephale.

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