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What About Submission and Headship?
Chapter 6 from her book................

by Joanne Krupp

Ephesians 5:21-33

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 drastic changes.

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 masters.

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 government.

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 believers.

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 fear.

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 in spirit.”

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 “obedience.”

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 (my master).”

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 and love.

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.

Mutual Submission

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 is.

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 followed.

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 “domain.”

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 immediately.

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 choice;

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; and

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 tenderness.

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.

Understanding “Headship”

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 life.”

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 all.

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 His throne.”

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 this meaning.10


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 life possible.

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 served.

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, MN 55404-2451.
10.  Alvera Mickelsen, ed., Women, Authority & the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1986), 102-04.
11.  Ibid., 104-05.

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