What About Submission and Headship?
Chapter 6 from her book................
by Joanne Krupp
One of the most important and misunderstood New Testament passages
dealing with husbands and wives is Ephesians 5:21-33. It is a rare
occasion when one sees Ephesian 5:22-33 written in its proper context.
It is amazing to me that Bible teachers, who should know better, often
lift out and expound upon verses 22-33, while leaving behind the verse
just previous, verse 21, which is of utmost importance to the totality
of this portion of Scripture.
To be completely accurate one needs to go back to the beginning of
Ephesians 5 and get the full picture of what Paul is saying to the
Ephesians. In fact, this particular teaching does not stop at the
end of chapter 5, but goes on to the tenth verse of chapter 6 to
complete Paul’s thoughts.
In these chapters he is telling the Ephesian Christians how they are to
conduct their lives now that they are children of light and not children
of darkness. There were specific areas in which there needed to be
This crucial portion of Scripture, as it relates to the women’s issue,
actually begins with verse 18, where Paul says, “Do not get drunk with
wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” He then moves on, in verses 19-21,
to describe how one who is filled with the Spirit will respond.
They will speak to one another in psalms and hymns; they will sing and
make melody in their heart; they will give thanks for all things; and
they will be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Then in what follows, from verse 22 through 6:10, he deals with three
separate areas of society in which there has been gross inequity and
abuse of power: husbands and wives, fathers and sons, and slaves and
The pivotal verse is verse 21, the one that is so often omitted when
quoting the portion in Ephesians 5 having to do with the submission
issue. It says, “. . . be subject to one another in the fear of
Christ.” One simply can not single out one portion of society, that is,
one-half of the human race, and say that this Scripture tells them, and
them alone, to submit. Rather, Paul is saying there needs to be a
general spirit of submission to one another on every level: wives to
husbands, husbands to wives; children to parents, fathers to children;
and slaves to masters, masters to slaves.
To quote Ephesians 5:22-33 without including verse 21 is a gross
exegetical error (Rule #3, Rule of Context, p. 49). Furthermore,
to quote verse 22 in its original state would not make sense without
verse 21, because the verb in the Greek text was not included in verse
22. The original text of verse 22 actually reads, “wives to your
own husbands as to the Lord.” So when most of our translations say,
“Wives, (be subject) to your own husbands,” they’re having to insert
words that are not in the original in order to make a complete
sentence.1 When quoting this portion in Ephesians, verse 21 must be
included to give true integrity to the subject.
Marriage in the First Century
To understand the necessity for Paul’s Ephesians discourse here, one
needs to understand what marriage was like in the First Century.
Marriages in three nationalities were represented and addressed in this
chapter. There was the Jewish marriage, the Greek marriage, and
the Roman marriage.
Marriage was held in high regard among the Jewish people. It was
thought that everyone should be married. However, the Old
Testament laws to protect women had been ignored, or made ineffective,
making it very easy for a man to obtain a divorce. All the wife
had to do to constitute grounds for divorce was to burn his dinner, go
out with her head uncovered, or speak negatively about his parents.
Or, if a Jewish husband saw a prettier woman he wanted to marry, he was
free to do so. Women could not divorce, but if a wife chose to
leave her husband, she had to leave her children with him. In
general, women were considered inferior to men and held in very low
esteem.2 They were considered possessions on the level of animals and
had no voice whatsoever in the relationship.
Among the Greeks it was considered necessary to marry in order to
provide legitimate heirs to a man’s property, but marriage was not
considered particularly satisfying otherwise. Women were very
young, about 14, when they married. The men were much older, in
the neighborhood of thirty-seven years old. Since it was the
responsibility of a Greek wife to manage her husband’s household
affairs, it was considered prudent for a man to marry a very young girl
so he could teach her the way he wished his household to be managed.
Eroticism being part of Greek life, a husband did not need a wife for
companionship, love, or sexual fulfillment. It was not considered
immoral for husbands to have affairs. However, there were serious
penalties for an adulterous wife. The wife’s legal position to her
husband was much like a child or a slave. She actually went from
the rule of her father to the rule of her husband and, if her husband
died, to the rule of her son, if he was old enough. Consequently,
in the Greek marriage, there was little common ground between the
husband and the wife.3
The Roman marriage was much like the Greek, but Roman wives had more
freedom. They could own property, and a wife could obtain a
divorce. However, the power over the family clearly rested in the
hands of the husband and/or father. Some wives, especially among
the upper class, were able to find ways around both the law and their
husbands in order to do with their money and themselves as they wished.4
Many Roman women were well educated, and there is historical evidence
indicating that a number of them reached highly responsible positions in
Because of the general imbalance in the marriage relationships of that
day, one can readily see the necessity for Paul to instruct these
Ephesian believers as to how husbands and wives were to relate to each
other. Women had been forced to outward obedience. However,
Paul needed to exhort them to have an attitude of submission in their
hearts toward their husbands (their head) even as the Church is to have
a heart of submission to Christ (her Head).
Then Paul talked about the reversal, that is, how a husband was to
submit to his wife. He taught that a husband’s submission to his
wife involved loving her. That concept was totally foreign to that
age and society; husbands knew little or nothing about loving their
wives. Paul needed to deal in depth with the subject. He
proceeded to explain the kind of love a husband was to have for his
wife, that is, a sacrificial love that goes beyond what the word
“submission” alone denotes. He even went so far as to compare it
with the love Christ has for His Bride, the Church; a love that made Him
willing to die for Her.
The Meaning of Submission
Submission! What in the world does it really mean? The verb, “to be in
subjection,” is from the Greek word hupotasso and means “to place,
arrange, or rank under; to subject, to subordinate, to obey; to submit
to one’s control; to yield to one’s admonition or advice.”5 Although the
word includes a dimension of obedience, it is more a heart attitude of
yieldedness than a blind obedience.
One author has this interesting comment:
Two words are constantly confused in reference to woman’s
duties, “subjection” and “obedience.” . . . The noun “subjection” is not
found (in Classical Greek) outside the New Testament, and we are left to
infer that it was coined to describe a relation peculiar to believers.
Had the word merely meant “obedience,” such an invention would have been
needless. . . . 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.6
When submission between Christians is referred to in the New Testament,
it generally means an open attitude of mutual acceptance, sharing ideas,
and yielding to the desire of the other, not mindless obedience.
Never would one be expected to blindly obey every other Christian, yet,
Ephesians 5:21 says we are to submit ourselves to one another.
The apostles plainly taught “subjection” to the civil authorities or
powers that be,7 however, they were constantly disobeying those powers
when they conflicted with God’s commands in order to “obey God rather
than men” (Acts 5:29). They weren’t being inconsistent. They
simply understood “subjection” to mean an attitude of flowing, yielding,
and preferring, or respecting, the God-granted positions of civil
authority, not absolute obedience.
In 1 Corinthians 16:16, Paul says: “. . . be in subjection to such men
and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.” Now if this meant
blind obedience, this would also mean that the men in the church at
Corinth must obey women because those who helped in the work and labor
of the Gospel included Phoebe (Romans 16:1, 2); Priscilla (Romans 16:3);
Junias, whom many scholars agree was a woman (Romans 16:7); and
Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Romans 16:12). Those with a traditional
understanding would find this command difficult, to say the least.
One can not arbitrarily decide that when the word “subjection” or
“submission” is used referring to wives, it means absolute obedience,
unless one is ready to place that meaning upon every other similar
reference. And that would be both unbiblical and unthinkable.
The husband and wife, in “being subject to one another” (verse 21) are
to place themselves second to the other, they are to honor the desires
and advice of the other.
Ephesians 5:23 speaks of Christ as not only the Head of the Church but
also Her Savior. How deep our worship and submission should be to
Him. If the husband is truly laying down his life for his wife, as
verse 25 teaches, he will, in effect, be a “savior” in life to his wife,
exemplifying a deep level of submission to her. The response from
his wife should be one of deep honor and submission. I believe
Paul was explaining a deeper level of submission exchanged between
husbands and wives than that which should be between all other
However, Jesus Christ is the master of a believing wife just as He is of
the believing husband, and He meant what He said when He said, “No one
can serve two masters.” All believers are called upon to exercise
forbearance, yield one’s preferences, and respect one another’s opinions
and desires, but no one, except Jesus Christ Himself, should be master
over another human being!
1 Peter 3: 6 – Sarah and Abraham
Another Scripture often interpreted as meaning absolute obedience on the
part of a wife to her husband is 1 Peter 3:6,
Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have
become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any
This verse must be looked at in light of the context in which it is
found beginning with 1 Peter 2:12 and going through to 3:12.
The key verse is 2:13. Peter said, “Submit yourself for the Lord’s
sake to every human institution.” The Greek word for “institution” is
ktis’is and is used nineteen times in the New Testament. This is
the only time in the NASB it is translated institution. Every
other time it is translated “created thing,” “creation,” or “creature.”
To be consistent and correct in the context of this Scripture, I believe
ktis’is should be translated “creature” here as well.
Following verse 13, from 2:14 to 3:7, Peter dealt with several areas of
society where there was considerable inequity (much as Paul did in
Ephesians 5 and 6), but in spite of that inequity, they were admonished
to submit. They are to submit to kings (vss. 13, 17) and governors
(vs. 14). These were not human institutions, but God ordained.
“For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are
established by God” (Romans 13:1). However these places of
authority are held by human creatures. They were also to submit to
all men (vs. 17), the brotherhood (vs. 17), servants to masters (vs.
18), wives to husbands (3:1), and husbands to wives (3:7). I don’t
believe husbands and wives are part of a human institution as NASB says.
Marriage is ordained of God, but husbands and wives are human creatures.
Again, this submission spoken of in 1 Peter 2:13 can not mean abject
obedience. Remember, Peter was one of the apostles who said, “We
must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So even as he teaches
submission to civil authorities, Peter was one who recognized a higher
Authority Who must be obeyed.
When Peter begins his discourse to wives in 3:1, he prefaces it with “in
the same way.” In what same way? One must read the verses immediately
preceding this to get the flow of Peter’s thought. He has just
explained how Jesus was reviled and suffered yet did not retaliate, but,
sinless though He was, bore our sins in his body meekly and without
threats trusting “Him who judges righteously.” Peter is saying, “Wives,
this is the spirit and attitude with which you should submit to your
husbands.” Then he used the holy women in former times as an example.
These former times were times when women were held at an even lower
place in society than when this letter was written. Peter said
they, like Jesus, were reviled (remember our discussion of the treatment
of Old Testament women in Chapter 3) and suffered at the hands of men.
Then Peter used Sarah as an example. Even though Abraham told her
to place herself in two situations, first with Pharoah and then with
Abimelech, where she could very easily have been taken into their
harems, yet because her hope was in God, she submitted to the point of
obedience. As God protected Sarah of old when women had few, if
any, rights, so God will honor a woman whose attitude leads her to live
a submissive lifestyle.
Sarah was one who submitted to her husband’s directive, unjust as it
was, even as Christ had submitted to revilings and death, unjust as they
were. Sarah’s “gentle and quiet spirit” is given as an example of
what pleases God in a woman. But not in women only because in 3:8
and 9, where Peter sums up his comments, he admonishes all to be “humble
Sarah’s calling Abraham “lord” or “master” was indicative of the
authority men held over women (predicted in Genesis 3:16) at that time.
Remember, with Abraham, God was just beginning to establish His people,
a nation into which some semblance of godly order in this otherwise
pagan world could be established. That would prepare the way for
the coming Messiah Who would restore all things.
One can not deduct from this one verse that God’s plan for women was to
include blind obedience to her husband any more than one could say that
men should always obey their wives because God told Abraham one time to
do as Sarah had said (Genesis 21:12). I do not believe this verse
negates a woman’s personal accountability to God, or can be taken to
supplant the references to wifely “submission” with the word
In Matthew 23:8-12, we are told,
But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you
are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One
is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for
One is your Leader, that is Christ. But the greatest among you shall
be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and
whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
This was the New Testament humility Jesus was teaching and exemplifying.
It is intriguing to discover that all the Greek words for rabbi, master,
and teacher reflect the meaning of one word. They are all
synonymous with one another. Rabbi means master; master means
teacher. Those men who insist on being master, both in word and
action, are in direct disobedience to the command of Jesus.
In Hosea 2:16, God is speaking of the kind of relationship He longs to
have with the children of Israel,
“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord,
“That you will call Me Ishi (my husband) and will no longer call Me Baali
We can see from this Scripture that the husband/wife relationship is not
to be that of a master and his subordinate, but one of mutual intimacy
1 Peter 3:6 is an example of when the teachings of Jesus and the overall
biblical principles take precedence over what one might misconstrue one
single verse to say.
So how does submission work practically in a Christian marriage
relationship? Doesn’t someone have to be boss? Absolutely! Jesus Christ,
by the Holy Spirit! Paul made it very clear in Ephesians 5:18 that the
key to joyful, harmonious living is to be filled with the Spirit.
I am absolutely convinced that if a husband and wife are both filled
with the Spirit, walking closely with Him and listening to His voice,
there will be no need for an earthly “boss.” When a decision needs to be
made in a family, both the husband and wife need to make it together.
Both should go to the Lord and listen for His direction. If there
isn’t unity at first, they should continue to seek the Lord until there
You say, “Oh, brother, that will take forever!” I can assure you it
will, if the couple is not being controlled by the Holy Spirit or not
willing to “in honor prefer” the wisdom and understanding of each other.
Even when the Holy Spirit is in charge, important decisions should not
be made hastily, but only after the husband and wife have jointly or
separately sought the Lord. Many impulsive decisions made by
husbands without consulting their wives (and decisions made similarly by
wives) which have negatively affected the family (sometimes for many
years), could have been prevented if this form of decision making was
In family decision-making, a couple also needs to consider the matter of
“domain.” A husband and wife need to work out together, before the Lord,
the areas of responsibility each will shoulder. Each one’s
interests and giftings should figure into the dividing of these
responsibilities. Once they have been established, each of these
responsibilities is an area of “domain” and he or she is free to make
decisions relating to that segment of their lives. However, even
in each one’s area of domain, the other is at some time or another going
to be affected. Therefore, one should never be selfish in making
any decision, but always keep the husband/wife (and children) in mind.
However, each must release the other to manage that area of life as
he/she sees fit.
As the years go by, husbands and wives should take time to reassess and
make changes if necessary. Different periods of life have
different sets of responsibilities. For example, a mother who is
raising a family and is carrying the load for the children’s daily care
and other homemaking responsibilities might find that her “domain” would
change drastically when the children are grown, and she would decide
(prayerfully with her husband) that she should take a job outside of the
home. This new arrangement might call for a shifting of the
husband’s “domain” as well. He might need to help shoulder
housekeeping chores that up to this time had been in the wife’s
Nate and I do quite a lot of traveling in connection with our ministry.
Not long ago as we were preparing for another ministry trip that would
have us on the road for a considerable time, Nate came to me about some
detail of our itinerary to get my advice. He recognized that I
would be affected by the decision since I would be with him.
Although we had never actually sat down and spelled it out, it was at
this moment I acknowledged to him that our travels were largely centered
around his ministry. (I do some teaching at most locations where
we go, but he carries the greater responsibility.) Unless he
specifically felt he needed counsel or confirmation, the travel
decisions were his “domain.”
Conversely, things having to do with the running of the house are in my
“domain,” and I am free to make decisions and keep it running as I see
fit, always keeping in mind that many things around the house affect
him. I dare not be selfish in those areas. It is often
necessary to confer.
Now suppose there is a family decision that needs to be made and made
immediately. It affects everyone in the family so it must be made
by both husband and wife (and there are times when the children should
be included), but you are not in agreement. Let me hasten to say,
Satan is the master of haste and will do everything he can to convince
us a decision just has to be made now. Most of those decisions do
not have to be made immediately. If God is in the situation, He
will wait and give one time to pray about it. However, from time
to time, there are decisions that need to be made more or less
These are the times when each has to take his/her turn at submitting.
Some of these times the wife will have to yield to her husband something
like this: “Honey, I don’t really agree with that form of action, but it
doesn’t violate my principles. I could feel comfortable with our
proceeding your way since I recognize that you know more about the
matter than I do.” Likewise, the husband needs to be just as willing to
yield to his wife in just the same manner at times when she is more “in
tune” with the situation.
A few years ago, our finances were such that both Nate and I felt we
could not continue carrying health insurance. For many years,
while our children were growing up, we had been without health coverage,
trusting God for protection. Now we were at a place where we
needed to walk by faith again. About a year after dropping the
insurance, the Lord began strongly impressing upon me the need to get
coverage again and get it now. Nate never did feel as I did.
Nevertheless, because I felt so strongly about it and knowing I am often
more “in tune” with the practical things of life, he graciously
submitted to my “leading.”
Most insurance plans have a 3-month waiting period before your policy
becomes effective. Less than a year after our 3-month waiting
period was over, Nate had to spend over a week in the hospital and
receive care from two different specialists. With today’s
astronomical costs of medical care, his bill ran into the multiple
thousands. He would be the first one to acknowledge how grateful
he is that I pressed to get our insurance re-instated and that he
submitted to my urging.
However, the bigger decisions of life that greatly affect the whole
family such as “Do we go to the mission field?” or “Where do we go on
vacation this year?” or “How do we spend the income tax return?” need to
be made jointly under the leadership and direction of the Holy Spirit in
humility before one another.
I am saddened as I observe some husbands who seem to totally ignore
their part in Ephesians 5:25-31. They conduct themselves as if
life was made to revolve around them and their wishes. What does
it mean to love one’s wife so much that a husband would lay down his
life for her? Husband, when was the last time you did something for your
wife that cost you? I’m not just talking about bringing her a bottle of
perfume or a bouquet of flowers, although either would be nice
sometimes. I mean it cost you:
1. Time you wanted to spend in some activity of your
2. Energy you expended to give of yourself to her when
you were exhausted (knowing full well she was equally as exhausted and yet
on-going household demands forced her to keep going);
3. Sacrificing some gadget you had been wanting in
order that you could buy something for her instead knowing your budget
couldn’t afford both; or
4. Your comfort, in order to increase hers.
It is interesting to me that some husbands seem to think it was written
in their marriage vows that they be allowed time to “play,” that is,
participate in some activity just for the fun of it even though this
takes them away from the home and children for hours at a time. I
am not opposed to that (within reason). I think it is great when a
husband can have a good time “unwinding” at some sport or activity with
his friends. The question I have is, is he equally as concerned
that his wife have a comparable amount of time away from the
responsibility and pressure of home and children? This involves more
than just being there in body so that the children are not alone.
It involves stepping in and filling the “gap” left by mom’s absence,
such as getting dinner started (or finished as the case may be), helping
with homework, or lovingly tucking them in at bedtime. It seems to
me that if that didn’t fall into the category of mutual submission (or
if a husband couldn’t accept that scriptural understanding) that it
certainly would fall into the category of laying down his life for his
wife as taught in Ephesians 5:25.
Undoubtedly the underlying reasons for this one-sided thinking are:
1. The erroneous interpretation and translation of the
Scriptures as it relates to the woman and why God placed her on this earth;
2. The license the traditional teaching,
sub-consciously, gives men to insist on having their way.
I am afraid that many husbands don’t have the kind of love for their
wives that would lead them to lay down their lives for them.
As husbands allow God to reveal His will to them in this area of their
marriages, it will take real humility to acknowledge it and courage and
discipline to make the appropriate adjustments.
All of us, both husbands and wives, need to re-evaluate our reasons for
marriage. Was it just to get love, affection, sex, security,
companionship; or was it to give and share these, with a desire to see
one’s spouse become all God has called him/her to be?
The “Weaker Vessel”
In 1 Peter 3:7, speaking to husbands, Peter admonishes them to exercise
restraint, not authority, towards their wives, living with them “as with
a weaker vessel.” To what was he referring? He can not be speaking of
emotional weakness. Women are notorious for their emotional
strength. He surely isn’t referring to mental weakness.
There are too many female PhD’s to support that. Nor can he be
talking about spiritual weakness. To say a woman can not hear
God’s voice as well as her male counter-part or have as close a walk
with God is absurd.
Peter is either referring to the fact that she is physically weaker or
perhaps is referring to her legal weakness. Even though womanhood
had come a long way since “the days of old,” pagan influences upon
society still kept her in a weaker state legally. Peter may have
been saying husbands needed to live with their wives in a way that
indicated their understanding of her lot in life. He should grant
her honor since, even though society didn’t recognize her as a believer,
she was a fellow heir of the grace of life.
It is also possible that Peter is using the “weaker vessel” as an
example of how a husband is to treat his wife. Vessels were made
of clay in Peter’s time and although they had little monetary value,
they were guarded carefully because of their sentimental value.
“Orientals feel that the clay of the pot is analogous to the clay which
is our body; the water within the pot corresponds to God’s spirit within
us.”8 So it is possible Peter is comparing the way one would
handle a vessel that was cracked or for some other reason fragile and
“weak” with the way a husband should live with his wife – with care and
Verse 7 goes on to speak of the honor that a husband is to grant his
wife. How can that be done? It has been said that the greatest
gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. Make
sure your children know that you, father, love their mother. Show
affection to her in their presence. Our son Gerry remembers as a
boy coming in from playing and very often finding Nate and I in the
kitchen “huggin’ and kissin’.” He says this gave him a great sense
of security because it demonstrated to him that our marriage, and
therefore his family, was solid.
Speak well of her in public. Don’t keep your accolades just for
the privacy of your home or bedroom. The public touching of one
another, the arm around the shoulder, the holding around the waist, even
the holding of hands as you walk together down the street, all indicate
oneness. It is very lovely to see. The onlooker gets a warm
feeling of the joy and unity of marriage. Your demonstration
becomes a living witness of God’s intention for husband and wife.
(This would not be as applicable in some cultures as it is in the West.)
Show her honor by helping her with her chair as she is being seated at a
table. Open the door for her to a building as well as to a car.
Some may call that chauvinism; I call it honor. Ask God to show
you ways to honor your wife.
Whether or not a husband chooses to grant his wife honor does not seem
to be an option. Apparently God felt this was a message that badly
needed to penetrate the hearts of the early Christian husbands to whom
honoring wives was foreign. In fact, He attached a serious
consequence for those who failed to comply. Verse 7 ends with: “.
. . and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that
your prayers may not be hindered.” There seems to be a direct
connection between husbands receiving answers to prayer and the honoring
of their wives.
In far too many cases today, honoring wives is no less foreign than in
the early church. Husbands, examine your prayer life. Have
you been getting answers? If not, perhaps it’s because God has not
witnessed your honoring your wife as a fellow heir.
By now you are, no doubt, asking the question, “But isn’t the husband
the head of the wife?” Keep reading.
The answer to that question hinges on the translation of the Greek word
kephale translated “head” in Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3, and
whether it means “authority over” or “source of life.”
In the New Testament the word “head” (kephale) is used the same way as
the word “head” (ro’sh) is in the Old Testament. It stands for
“chief” in speaking of Christ as “head of the corner.” Matthew
21:42, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:7 are all
referring to Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected has
become the chief cornerstone.” To understand that verse one must
understand the significance of the “chief cornerstone” of a building
when the Psalmist penned those words.
In ancient times a huge stone was used as the headstone or cornerstone
to give support to the entire building. The walls of the building
were built in such a way that they wrapped around that chief
cornerstone, giving the building the support that it needed.
Christ is just that kind of support to the Church, binding its members
together. Ephesians 4:15, 16 says,
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects unto
Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted
and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the
proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body to
the building up of itself in love.
Colossians 1:16-18 reminds us,
For in Him all things were created (He gave life), both in
heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for
Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
There is that chief cornerstone, again, holding things together.
Then those verses go on to say that even as He is the One who holds
everything else together, “He is also head of the body, the Church.”
In other words, He gives life to the Church and holds it together.
This whole passage is not talking about “authority” but “source of
Colossians 2:18, 19 tells us to
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting
in self-abasement and the worship of angels, taking his stand on visions he
has seen inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to
the head from whom the entire body being supplied and held together by the
joints and ligaments grow with a growth which is from God.
Ephesians 1:20-23 speaking of Jesus, tells us that God
. . . seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that
is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He
put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all
things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in
But the Church is not there under His feet in this Headship of
government, but, rather, is at His side. As Ephesians 2:6 says we
are “seated with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.” Further
more, in Revelation 3:21, Jesus didn’t say, “This is My throne; keep
away.” He said, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down
with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on
All through these passages, Jesus is using the head/body metaphor and is
speaking of the “head” as that which gives life to the body. None
of these passages refer to Christ’s government. They represent Him
as the supporter, nourisher, and builder of the body, not Her ruler.
It is in this same way that man is the “head” of the wife.
Recent scholarship has increasingly concluded, after continued study of
ancient biblical, secular, and medical writings, that kephale means
“source of life” rather than “authority over.”9
There are about 180 times in the Old Testament when the Hebrew word
ro’sh clearly did mean “ruler,” “commander,” or “leader,” but the
Septuagint translators rarely used kephale in translating these
portions. They used other Greek words that more accurately defined
“chief” when meaning a person of authority.
Kephale would have been the natural word to use in all the 180 instances
if the word had been commonly understood to mean “leader or chief.” Its
rare usage indicates that translators knew that kephale did not carry
Examination of the seven passages where Paul used kephale in reference
to Christ indicates that, when they are read with common Greek meanings
of kephale, we see a more exalted Christ than when we read “head”
primarily with the meaning of “authority over”.11
Colossians 2:19 points to Christ as the source of life. Ephesians
4:15, 16 emphasize the unity of head and body and present Christ as the
nourisher and source of growth.
Just as Christ personally brings His Church to perfection (Ephesians
4:11-13) by means of the five-fold ministry (apostle, prophet,
evangelist, pastor, teacher) “for the equipping of the saints for the
work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” so the
husband’s desire should be to build up his wife until she becomes all
God intended her to be.
There is a certain energy a husband is to infuse into his wife.
Remember the last time you went to a party and there was one, or perhaps
two people, who brought “life” to the party, and without them it would
have been rather boring and dull? In fact, they were even referred to as
the “life of the party.” There was an influence they brought to the
party that sparked life and vibrancy and joy.
Life is not a party, certainly, but there is an energizing element that
the husband is to infuse into his wife that gives life to her and
results in her being joyfully fulfilled and released to become all God
intended for her to become as an individual. This is an extremely
vital ingredient in any marriage.
It has been said, and I believe rightly so, that the wife and mother
sets the tone or atmosphere for the home. After all, this is her
domain given her in Scripture (see pgs. 114-16), so she naturally will
exude who she is and how she feels which will strongly affect the
atmosphere of the home. However, the ingredient of “life” in the
form of love, encouragement, praise, and release from her husband is of
utmost importance in helping her be the relaxed and fulfilled wife and
mother that will set that tone.
This ingredient is missing in far too many Christian homes.
However, before some wife finds herself wallowing in self-pity while
reading these pages, let me remind you that even if this dimension is
missing in your husband, you can and must find your fulfillment in
Jesus. None of us can blame our husbands, or anyone else for that
matter, for our lack of joy. Jesus is our joy! It is possible to
give up that joy by choosing to walk in discouragement and unbelief, but
no one can take it away. Each of us must “abide in the vine” that
we might “bring forth fruit.”
Nevertheless, the relationship of a husband and wife who have become one
flesh must contain this “life-giving” dimension on the part of the
husband if the marriage is to fulfill God’s overall plan. There is
nothing in this that gives him the right to dominate, rule, or control,
but only to love, encourage, and release.
Whom Should We Obey?
Aren’t we supposed to obey Christ? Yes, absolutely, because He is God!
He is KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS! But that is not what these verses
are talking about. These verses aren’t dealing with His Lordship
as One Who should be obeyed, but with the headship of Jesus, the One Who
is the “Source of Life” for His Body.
The Greek word that clearly means authority is exousia, not kephale.
Christ’s authority over the Church and over the world is established in
other passages of Scripture which use this Greek word exousia.
Some examples are:
“But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has
authority on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic, “Rise,
take up your bed, and go home” (Matthew 9:6).
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority
has been given to Me in heaven and on earth “ (Matthew 28:18).
For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave
to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to
execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man (John 5:26, 27).
In all three of these passages, the Greek word used is exousia, a word
that does carry a clear meaning of authority.
However, a husband is not King of Kings and should not take Christ’s
position as lord of his wife. A woman must answer to her spiritual
Master in exactly the same way as a man must. A husband, as the
matrimonial head, is a fellow-servant of the King and the one to whom
God has given the responsibility of infusing into his wife the fullest
Jesus, in Matthew 20:25-28, made it very clear how fellow-disciples were
to relate to one another. He said the Gentiles exercised authority
over one another, but that it was not to be so among His followers.
Rather, “whoever would be first let him be your servant.” This is
the key to every relationship.
Philippians 2:3-8 admonishes,
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with
humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than
himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also
for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which
was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did
not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming
obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus is the perfect example of One Who came to serve mankind, unworthy
as we are. The problem with humanity, and even the Body of Christ
today, is that there is more interest in having authority over people —
that is, being “in charge” — than a desire to live in a position of
humility and servanthood.
Each of us, as Christians in general and husbands and wives in
particular, so desperately need to follow Jesus’ example and embrace the
brokenness of servanthood rather than revel in the selfishness of being
Chapter Six Notes________
1. Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 81-82.
For further reference: Charles Trombley, Who Said Women Can’t Teach?
(North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge Publishing, Inc., 1985), 151-52.
2. Patricia Gundry, Heirs Together (Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1980), 72-73.
3. Ibid., 73-75.
4. Ibid., 75-76.
5. Joseph H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), no. 5293.
6. Katherine C. Bushnell, God’s Word To Women (privately
reprinted by Ray B. Munson, North Collins, NY, 1923), 292.
7. Romans 13:1, 5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13.
8. Bishop K. C. Pillai, Light Through an Eastern Window
(NY: Robert Speller & Sons Publishers, 1963), 95-96.
9. Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld, op. cit., 455.
For further reference: “Does kephale (head) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority
Over’ in Greek Literature?: A Rebuttal.” This 19-page paper by Richard
S. Cervin, doctoral candidate for the degree in Linguistics from the
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is available from Christians
for Biblical Equality, 122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 218, Minneapolis,
10. Alvera Mickelsen, ed., Women, Authority & the Bible
(Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1986), 102-04.
11. Ibid., 104-05.