Marriage, and Headship

God has a design for marriage, which is explicitly described in Ephesians 5:22-33.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should also submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Embedded in this design is a strong and purposeful hierarchy. This is clearly shown in Paul’s language of headship for husbands, and submission for wives. Hierarchy is a dirty word in our equalitarian culture, so Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians grate our modern ears. How can we properly understand this teaching? I believe that a helpful way to frame it is to think in terms of ‘offices’.

An office is a position, with duties attached to it. Both the husband and the wife have an office. Verse 23 describes the husband’s office, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” Verse 24 describes the wife’s office, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” There is no sense in which God places the husband at the head of the wife because he is somehow better, or more capable. The point is not that the husband is a better human being, and the wife is inferior to him. The husband is the Head, because this is his assigned office. The wife submits to the head because that is her assigned office.

Paul, the writer of the letter to the Ephesian church, goes on to show in verse 31 that this design stretches back to the beginning of creation, when God joined Adam and Eve in marriage. The design is embedded in creation, and is permanent – it has always been, and will always be, a reference to Christ and the church (verse 32).

Husbands and Wives; God has given us offices to fulfil. Our job is to act out these roles in a way which is faithful to his design for marriage. We should do this, not only because he commands it, but because it shows our reverence for Christ (verse 21), and because it better displays the eternal drama of Christ and his bride, the Church. (verse 32).

Photo Credit: © Yuri Arcurs – Fotolia.com

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4 responses to “Marriage, and Headship

  1. Very much agree Simon! The egalitarian interpretation seems to focus on v21 and pushes a mutual submission. How that can possibly make sense of what follows I have no idea. Clearly the submission to one another is in the three relationships that follow: wives to husbands, children to fathers, slaves to masters.

  2. Very true, Martin. They have to perform some serious exegetical backflips to flatten out submission in the the rest of the passage.

  3. Just in time for Thanksgiving Day, I read this article that enourages Dads to lead the day.
    http://www.danieldarling.com/2011/11/dads-should-lead-on-thanksgiving/

    The egalitarian distortion of this passage has also sought to confuse the issue with the false claim that kephale means ‘source.’ See here:
    http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-2-No-5/The-Meaning-Source-Does-Not-Exist

    • Hi Michael. Thanks for that. Yes, from Pastor Martin’s seminar on 1 Timothy 2 some months ago, I learnt that kephale virtually never means ‘source’ in any ancient literature. Thanks for the link! Wayne Grudem is very solid on this subject, isn’t he?

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