What could Errol Naidoo, writer of JOY magazine’s Gender Hierarchy in the home article, say to Journey and the many women like her? Yes, we agree her husband is not supposed to be like that. But what should she do here, if the Bible commands her to submit to her head?
Of course, this is not the only way “the man should lead, the woman should submit” teachings influences marriages and families. Many a good, loving husband has a wife who learned at church or in Christian magazines about the husband’s role. He should be a “king, priest and prophet” of the home – although the Bible never call him any of that. He should lead family devotions. He should be the sole breadwinner. He should be more decisive.
Then the wife gets discontented with him: Why would my husband not do this? And she tries to subtly, “submissively” remodel him into the mold her church (she attend church more often than him) say he should fit into.
No wonder Dr. David H. Olson found that (81%) of equalitarian (egalitarian) couples were happily married, while (82%) of couples where both spouses perceived their relationship as traditional (hierarchical) were mainly unhappy.
I am not surprised by this statistic at all. After all, it is wise to follow God’s design for families and marriage, and God’s design is not the burden some modern-day Pharisees have bound onto people.
The problem, I think, why so many well-meaning souls have thought God’s plan for marriage mean man-in-authority-with-woman-below, is that they misunderstood one word in the Bible, and then used that as key to understanding the rest of scripture on man-woman relationships.
The man as head of woman – meaning
You probably know that the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The New Testament says:
“The man is the kephale of the woman” – Eph 5:23, 1 Cor 11:3, if we leave that problematic Greek word untranslated for now.
Kephale is a word that means, among others, the literal head above the neck. Other meanings held out by scholars include source, life, capstone, extremity, progenitor, beginning, crown, completion, and total. The Liddel, Scott and Jones’s Greek-English Lexicon is one of the most highly respected lexicons of ancient Greek. It does not give anything like authority or leader as possible meaning for kephale. With so many meanings to choose from, how do we know which was meant here?
Bible scholars of the earliest centuries, who actually spoke Bible Greek, already answered that one:
Athanasius (296-373) Bishop of Alexandria, stated in De Synodis Anathema:
“For the head (which is the source) of all things is the Son, but God is the head (which is the source) of Christ.”
Cyril (376-444) Archbishop of Alexandria, in De Recta Fide ad Pulcheriam et Eudociam wrote:
“Therefore of our race he [Adam] became first head, which is source, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through Him have been formed anew unto Him unto immortality through sanctification in the Spirit. Therefore he himself our source, which is head, has appeared as a human being. Yet he, though God by nature, has himself a generating head, the heavenly Father, and he himself, though God according to his nature, yet being the Word, was begotten of him.
Quite simply, 1 Cor 11:3 calls Adam the source of Eve – she comes from him. In Eph 5:23, love and care is in view. As Christ love and care for the church, being the source of good things for her (Eph 5:25-26), so should the husband feed and care for his wife (Eph 5:28-29), his body.
Now, sadly, kephale was translated to English as head. That is perfectly fine when a literal head is in view, but not when the word is to be taken figuratively. The figurative English meaning of head is leader. Now how could the Bible reader who doesn’t know Greek guess head don’t mean authority figure?
Well, if head meant authority figure, 1 Cor. 11:3 (Christ the head of man, man the head of woman) would have spoken of two-tier Christianity: Men could be Christians, but women should be man-ians. There would be two mediators between a woman and God: Christ and her husband. What could be more anti-gospel than that?
Submission -How a wife should submit
Once you understand that head mean source, the rest of the picture starts to fall into place!
You will no longer have to see submission through male authority glasses. Instead, you could understand submission in its real context:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ – Eph 5:21
Could everyone rank below one another in a hierarchy? No, it is impossible. So, when the Bible calls everyone to submit to one another, it cannot be ranking people into hierarchies. Could everyone follow and let all the others be his leaders? No. So, biblical submission cannot mean letting someone be the leader.
Submit, as the Bible use it, must mean something everyone could do for one another. Bible scholars say the same Greek word also means support, co-operation, taking your part of the responsibility, and identifying with. (1)
Should a wife submit to her husband? Oh yes! All believers should submit to one another, so her believing husband should submit to her too. But she should submit as the bible describes submission, not as the dictionary describes it. And biblical submission obviously, by the evidence of Eph 5:21, cannot mean hierarchy.
The creation plan
Where the gender hierarchists have to read all kinds of things into the Genesis text to show one-sided submission was God’s plan from the beginning, you can now read the creation accounts for what they are: Man and women were made in two different manners, but with no chain of command at creation. Eve being a helper does not mean she is beneath Adam – God is called the helper of Israel, and the helper of David, with the same Hebrew word. The word is used more often for God than for humans. Both are made to reach God’s purpose together.
Hierarchy is, however, predicted at the fall: He will rule over you – Gen 3:16. You will be able to read this at face value, and see this is a dire prediction that certainly came true, not a command. (2)
In an ideal world, interpretations like “God gave instructions to Adam before Eve was made, because He wants men to lead women and explain God’s word to them” would be as much a joke as “God made Adam first because men take twice as long to understand instructions. This way, he could tell her once and the man twice.” We don’t know who –God or Adam – taught Eve the command or why God did it the way he did, and it’s presumptuous to say we do.
Those who believe the husband is the leader (head) and the wife the follower, bind heavy burdens on both. Many men can be loving husbands, good fathers, pay the bills, protect their family – but they cannot, alone, “govern righteously in all matters concerning his marriage and family.” Or they hear they should be priests “interceding for their families” but they know their wives pray more, and cannot see what make their prayers for the family more special than hers. If he prays for the family less often than she does, should she intercede less, or he more, to make him the “priest”?
And those who believe submission mean doing as the man leads, bind an even heavier burden on wives. “But if the husband love like Christ love the church, it is easy to submit!” they say. Fine, but none of them claim wives should only submit when their men love the right way. Women like “Journey”, quoted at the start of this article, are among our body of believers.
I asked at the beginning of the article how “husbands are leaders, wives must submit” proponents could help a woman like Journey. Those who know head means source, and submission means support and sharing responsibility, not a chain of command, could tell her to stand beside, not below her man. She should not act as a slave, any more than he should be her slave. There is no chain of authority in marriage. The Bible uses ‘authority’ only once in relation to marriage. And that is to say they have equal authority in the bedroom. (1 Cor 7:4)
And when we understand what God really said about husbands and wives, marriages could become what God meant it to be. The results, as Dr. David H. Olson found, speak for themselves.
(1) When you know that “taking part of the responsibility” is part of the meaning, you would approach submission in almost the opposite way from someone who believes in letting her husband be “head of the home.”
(2) I believe gender hierarchy is one of the tragic consequences of the fall.