Monthly Archives: April 2012

Are Husbands the “Head of the Household”?*

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Complementarians often state that husbands are the “head of the household”, and therefore are responsible to make decisions and lead the family.  I want to show that this view is actually contrary to what the Bible teaches.

Scriptures do talk about husband being the “head” of his wife.   In Ephesians 5:23, it says that “the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is head of the church”.  For more on what I believe this means, see my post here.

1 Timothy 5:14 Paul instructs younger women to marry, bear children and guide the house.  This verse is normally used to teach women they are to be homemakers, that this is their “highest calling”.  The words guide in verse 14 is translated from the word oikodespoteo(meaning household(oiko)/despot(despoteo).  The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines despot as “a ruler with absolute power and authority”.  Click on the link and you will see the definition of oikodespoteo, and you will also see that the NASB translates oikidespoteo as “keep house”.  Oikodespoteo actually means home despot, or home authority.  The phrase “keep house” doesn’t hold the same sway as “master or ruler”, does it?  We can see from this that sometimes the English translation doesn’t do justice to what the Bible actually says.  It also begs the question, why was it translated this way?  I don’t know the answer to this question, because I can’t penetrate hearts and know people’s motives.  But what I do know is this: the Bible has been translated by men, not women, for hundreds of years.  The prevailing opinion throughout history has been that women were inferior to men.  Was prejudice involved in the watered-down translation of oikodespoteo, the prejudice of men who couldn’t imagine the concept of women being the masters and rulers of their homes?  It’s something to think about.

The word guide should have been translated ruler or authority.  Wives are to rule their households.  The fact is, “The only command to be found in scripture commanding men to bear rule in their homes comes from a pagan king with wicked, self-seeking counselors.” ~ (Esther 1:21-22)[ Jocelyn Andersen, Woman this is War!, 2010].  However, wives are told to rule the household, they are master of the house.  They are literally told to “rule the home with absolute authority“.  This idea is in stark contrast with the complementarian teachings that say a husband is the head of the household, is the authority and has the responsibility of making final decisions(none of which are taught in scripture).  It turns out they’re getting it backwards; the wife is the head of the household, the “despot of the home”.  Biblically speaking, it would be more accurate to say that the wife is the head of the household.

Honestly, I believe in shared leadership and shared submission in the home between a husband and wife.  I’m not advocating that a wife be “in charge” of her husband any more than I would advocate the opposite.   A “oneflesh” mentality lends itself to a husband and wife preferring the other above themselves, loving one another sacrificially, NOT in having one person permanently in charge of the other.  What is interesting, though, is the uncritical acceptance among complemenatarians that the husband is the “head of the household”, when this is clearly NOT what scripture teaches.

*(I owe many of the ideas in this post to Jocelyn Andersen’s book, Women this is War!, 2010.)

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Link Love

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I’ve been doing some reading online about women in ministry, particularly the issue of women teaching in the church.  I’ve come upon some interesting articles that are worth sharing.  My opinion is that the verses in the NT that prohibit women from teaching(being pastors) have been interpreted by people who were reading scripture through “patriarchy-colored glasses”.  The assumption throughout history, until very recently, was that women were inferior to men, were feeble-minded and unable to learn as well or as much as men.  Therefore, how could a woman possibly teach a man?  It’s reasonable to think that the interpretation of scripture has been done with prejudice against women(similar to how scripture was used to justify the practice of slavery).  Here are some links to articles on the subject:

Reimagining a Woman’s Role in the Church  by Frank Viola(thanks to Sallie Borrink for this link.)

Junia and the Esv by Marg at New Life

Paul’s Policy on Women:  Three Key Questions

Exploring the Meaning of “Head” in Ephesians 5:23

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I’ve been thinking about what it means for the husband to be the “head” of his wife(Eph5:23).  This verse is primarily read with the assumption that the word “head”  means “authority”, “the one in charge” or “the head of the house”.  It is taught that the husband is the leader, and is responsible for making decisions for the family in the interest of solving a power struggle within the marriage.  It seems that complementarians believe that there is a power struggle within all marriages, so it’s only natural that God needed to put someone in charge in order to solve this problem, and to make things run smoothly.  It’s my opinion that this is a false dilemma and a very dim view of marriage.  It’s also sad to me that comps think that the solution to this dilemma is placing one person in authority over the other. It’s like saying, “Let’s solve our future conflicts by having you be declared ‘right’ in every future disagreement we may have.  That way, we’ll never argue!”  So even if the wife is “right”, it makes no difference, because the husband can override her opinion whenever he wants.  This situation is demeaning to the woman, and no matter how many times complementarians shout, “women are equal!” it doesn’t matter, because they cancel out equality by making the wife permanently at the mercy of her husband’s good will for their entire married life.  Marriage is supposed to be a man and woman joined together as one flesh, NOT a hierarchy where one person is in permanent submission to the other. Using the husband’s false authority as a way to avoid conflict is a cop-out, and a very ineffectual way to solve problems in marriage.

In order to find out what is meant by the husband being the “head” of his wife, I think we need to go beyond the dispute between “head(kephale)” meaning “authority” or “source”.  I believe we can find what Paul meant by the husband being the “head” by seeing what the Bible itself has to say about it.  This is not to say that interpreting the New Testament in light of the original Greek isn’t important.  However, in this case I think Paul sheds light on what he meant by his description of what it means for Christ to be “Head of the Church” and then compares it to the husband/wife relationship.  What follows are several verses from Scripture that define what it means for Christ to be Head of the church.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” ~ Ephesians 4:15-16(emphasis mine)

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.“~ Ephesians 1:22-23(emphasis mine)

Submit to one another out of reverance for Christ.  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives must submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wife, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present to her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who love his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds it and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.” ~ Ephesians 5:21-30(emphasis mine)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy. ~ Colossians 1:15-18(emphasis mine)

So, what does it mean for Christ to be Head of the Church?

Christ’s headship has to do with the building, edifying, and unifying of His Church.  Ephesians 5:29 tells us that Christ’s Headship also includes nourishing the Church.” ~ Woman this is War! by Jocelyn Andersen(page 107)

Christ makes the church grow, feeds it and cares for it, gave himself up for it.  He is the Capstone(Matt. 21:42), He holds the church together, builds it up, edifies it.  He is also the one by whom “all things were created”, and this is the point where the metaphor cannot be completely perfect, since men didn’t create anything.  In the context of Ephesians, where the subject is marriage, Christ as Head in terms of authority or supremacy is never mentioned.  It is only in the context of Christ giving himself up for and nourishing the church that the husband is the head, as Christ.

Therefore, the husband is to love his wife by helping her grow, nourishing and edifying her while giving himself up for her, loving her as his own body.

The wife submits to her husband by being loyal only to him and no other man, and the husband loves his wife sacrificially by giving himself up for her.  He does not have authority over her.  He does not have the “burden” of making the final decision.  The Bible simply never tells husbands to lead or have authority over their wives.  The husband as head of the wife is a metaphor, not a model for hierarchy in marriage.  This is all very mysterious(Eph. 5:32), and cannot be understood completely in human terms.

It’s demeaning to the mysteriousness of the one flesh union between husband and wife to define it in terms of a hierarchy.  Wade Burleson points out, “Jesus explicitly forbids any one individual assuming authority over other adults in the Christian community(Matthew 20:20-28).” I agree.  No adult should ever have to permanently surrender their will to another person.  This is idolatry, as we should be surrendered to Christ and Christ alone.  He is the way, and we do not have to go through another person to get to him.

The husband is the head of his wife, as in the one who can lift her up, edify her, and help her grow.  He is not her authority.  Christ is her authority.

Do Women “Desire” to Dominate Men?

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I’d like to take a look at the word “desire”, and highlight what this word means in Genesis 3:16.  Complementarians use this verse to argue that women are at odds with men, that their “desire” for the man translates as her desire to dominate him and usurp his authority.  This word “desire” is translated from the Hebrew word, tshuwqah.

This word, tshuwqah, occurs three times in the Old Testament:

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” ~ Genesis 3:16

Should we interpret this to mean the woman will turn to her husband for love before God, or that the woman will want to dominate her husband?

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” ~ Genesis 4:7

Desire is portrayed here as the predator, lying in wait to destroy its prey.  Do wives seek to destroy their husbands?  Is this the same as wanting to dominate someone?  Does a predator want to dominate and take authority from its prey, or completely demolish its prey?  Can we honestly say that women have been, biblically or historically, seeking to destroy men?

I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.” ~ Song of Songs 7:10

This verse portrays desire in a straightforward way that requires no verbal gymnastics to get to the “real” meaning.  The man’s desire is for her.  Why should the word “desire” in Genesis 3:16 not be interpreted this way, in favor of the “crouching at the door” interpretation?

The only reason I can see for someone to want “desire” in Genesis 3:16 to mean “to dominate or take authority from” is because they believe that men have a unique authority given to them by God over women, therefore making it a temptation for the woman to sinfully attempt to “steal” that authority away.  Therefore, women should be forever cautious of this unique temptation they have to usurp authority from their husbands instead of submitting to their leadership.

Carolyn Mahaney, author and wife of C.J. Mahaney, writes that women will have a ‘sinful tendency to resist their husband’s authority, women will have an urge to manipulate, control or have the mastery over men.’” ~ Woman this is War!, Jocelyn Andersen.2010(bold mine)

One of the consequences of the Fall for women…is that their ‘desire shall be for their husbands’…because of the curse, we now have a sinful tendency to want our own way and to resist our husband’s authority.  This evil desire poses the greatest opposition to our submission…when a wife is not submissive; she is only caving in to her natural inclination to usurp authority and demand her own way.” ~ Carolyn Mahaney, Feminine Appeal. 2003, 2004(bold mine), footnote taken from Woman this is War!, Jocelyn Andersen.2010

The Bible never says that women are like predators “crouching at the door” to destroy men.  The Bible also never teaches that men have a God-given authority over women, or that they have a right to defend that authority.  Complementarians consistently teach that women are in enmity with their husbands, seeking for sinful ways to “usurp” their authority, but there is no scriptural basis for this.  In Genesis 3:15, the woman was told by God that there would be enmity between her and the serpent, not between her and the man.

As I proceed, I want to insert a disclaimer: I am not claiming we should never obey authorities in our lives; obviously there are appropriate circumstances for people to exercise their authority, as in law enforcement using their authority to keep peace and protect citizens.  It is appropriate for society to obey the law of the land – which has authority – unless it conflicts with following Christ, which means that no earthly authority is absolute.  For another view on authority in the church, look here.

However, the Bible consistently shows that believers do not have the right to have authority over other believers, and that authority of humans should never be absolute or surpass God’s authority.  In fact, the Bible is a consistent witness against obeying or being under authority apart from God’s authority:

Exodus 1:16,17,20: “‘When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’  The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.”  “So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became more numerous.” ~ The midwives disobey authority and get rewarded for it.

Joshua 2:3,4,6:  “So the kind of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy on the whole land.’  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.  She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.'”  “(But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid on the out on the roof.)” ~ Rahab lies and disobeys authority to save people.

Matthew 2:13-15:  “When they had gone, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.  And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.‘” ~ Jesus’ parents disobey authority to save their son’s life, and obey God instead.

Matthew 20:25-27: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (See also Mark:10:43-45, Luke 22:25-26) ~ Christians are called to serve one another, not to exercise authority over one another.

Matthew 23:8-12: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Another call for Christians to serve one another.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33:  “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.  But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” ~ Paul escaping the authorities that be, being disobedient to authority.

And finally,

Ephesians 5:25-28:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.” ~ The husband is described as a servant, giving himself up for his wife, and is never given permission to act as her authority.

Therefore, since husbands/men do not possess any God-given authority over their wives, or over anyone else for that matter, it cannot be said that a woman’s innate desire is to dominate and usurp her husband’s authority.  Rather, the temptation for women is to “desire” their husbands’ love and affection, so much so, they have been willing to do anything to get it and keep it.  I would call this “looking to men rather than God”; it is idolatry, and it doesn’t have anything to do with authority and submission.