Yesterday I began a series dealing with leadership in the home. Today I want to continue the series by providing a brief (and undoubtedly inadequate) defense of male headship.
Few Christian beliefs are less popular than that of male headship. As Christians we believe that God has called husbands to lead and wives to submit. This is an audacious claim in a society like ours that so values autonomy and independence. There may have been a time when such an idea came more naturally to people–a time when hierarchy and inequality in role were assumed. In that kind of social situation submission may have seemed more natural. But today, when we acknowledge that all men (and women) are created equal and when there are few things we value higher than a kind of absolute equality, submission seems like a relic of the ancient past. Leadership we like, submission we hate. Even Christians shy away from it.
And yet perhaps submission is not quite so foreign. The Bible is clear that submission is a duty we all share. If we look closely we find that society believes this as well and that it is necessary for any well-ordered society. After all, students are to obey their teachers; employees are to submit to the commands of their employers; soldiers receive orders from their superiors; all of us obey the police officer who stands in the middle of the busy intersection and holds up his hand in the “stop” position. We are accustomed to submitting to authority outside the home, but react with shock that such authority could exist within the home, between a husband and wife. We accept inequality in role in some contexts but not others.
Not a Punishment
Before we proceed with this series about the godly leader, we would do well to pause and to consider what the Bible says about male headship. There is much we could say, as evidenced by the vast quantity of very thick books dealing with the topic (most of which are written by Wayne Grudem or John Piper or Wayne Grudem and John Piper). I could, literally, write an entire series on this one point. But I am going to pursue it from only one angle. I will seek to show that the kind of headship prescribed by the Bible is inherent in God’s created order. In other words, the fact that husbands are to lead and wives are to submit to their husbands (not to all men–only to their husbands) is not merely the product of the fall of the human race into sin, but is a product of God’s creation. Even if sin had never entered the world, a husband would be expected to lead his wife and a wife would still be expected to submit to her husband. The headship of the husband is not rooted in a punishment, and perhaps even an unfair punishment in which woman was given the harsher penalty of having to submit. Instead, it is rooted in the very purpose and creation of mankind.
Strange though it may seem, submission is a good and beautiful and godly thing. The most perfect relationship in the world, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, displays a perfect example of submission. The Son submits Himself to the Father. They are, to echo the Shorter Catechism, “the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” Yet the Father demonstrates headship. We speak of Jesus’ mission to the earth in two ways. We speak of Jesus being sent by the Father. And this is true. From eternity it was decided by the Father that man would have to be ransomed by a perfect substitute. The Father tasked the Son with this responsibility. But we also speak of the Son willingly giving up his life. This is equally true. The Son’s perfect submission to the Father’s will meant that a command of the Father was indistinguishable from a decision of the Son. Christ was perfectly willing to submit to His Father’s will. This relationship within the Trinity provides us many clues as to the nature of the relationship between husband and wife.
All of this to say that submission and headship are not bad things. They have existed eternally and have existed in the most perfect relationship. How can we then dare to say that they are somehow rooted in sin? If we understand this, we have a solid foundation for understanding how and why a husband must lead.
It Is Good
Here are nine proofs that headship and submission precede man’s fall into sin. Thus they are nine proofs that headship and submission are aspects of God’s natural order and not a consequence or necessary reaction to sin. (These follow the structure aptly outlined by Wayne Grudem in his thorough study on the subject, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth).
The order of creation: Adam was created before Eve. This may seem to be weak grounds for an argument yet it was significant enough for Paul to mention in 1 Timothy 2:12-13 where he does not “permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Inherent in the order of creation, where Adam was formed before Eve, is the foundation for the order of human relationships.
The representation of the human race: It was Adam who had a special role in representing the human race. Though Eve was the first to be tempted to sin, it was Adam who was considered most responsible for their combined disobedience. In Corinthians we read that, “as in Adam all men die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ is the second Adam, not the second Eve as we might expect if the Bible held Adam and Eve as being equal in representation and headship.
The naming of woman: Adam was given the honor and responsibility of naming his wife. “She shall be called woman,” he said, “because she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). Within the Scriptures we see that the person who names something is always the one who has authority over it. This parallels the account of creation where God named the night and the day, the expanse, the earth and the waters. By naming them he showed his authority. And in naming Eve, Adam proved his headship.
The naming of the human race: The human race is named after Adam, not Eve. Neither is it named after both Adam and Eve. God named the human race “man.” “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created” (Genesis 5:1-2). While in and of itself this does not provide a cut-and-dry case, it points again to the headship and leadership of the man in the created order.
The primary accountability: God held Adam primarily accountable for the Fall. While Adam and Eve hid from God, God called “to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). God did not call to both Adam and Eve, but called to Adam alone. Dr. Grudem draws an analogy of a parent who, upon entering a room where several children have been misbehaving, will summon the oldest and demand answers. It is the oldest who bears greatest responsibility. In the same way God summoned Adam and demanded an account of both his sin and that of his wife. Notice that Satan reversed this order, approaching Eve before Adam in an obvious (and successful) attempt to disrupt the God-given pattern.
The purpose of women: Eve was created as a helper for Adam, not Adam as a helper for Eve. While feminists have made much of the term “helper,” the fact remains that in any given situation, the person doing the helping necessarily places himself in a subordinate role to the person who needs help (like a secretary to her boss or a Vice President to a President). Yet helping does not remove accountability. While I may help my son with a paper route, the ultimate responsibility is still his. Eve’s role, from the beginning of creation, was to be a helper for Adam. This does not by any means indicate an inferiority, but a helper who was Adam’s equal in worth and dignity. She differed in ways that would complement Adam.
The conflict: A dire consequence of the Fall is the conflict it has introduced into the relationships of husbands and wives. In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This desire is to interfere with or distort the role of her husband. The roles God gave to the husband and wife have been distorted through the Fall. Eve would now rebel against the God-given authority of her husband and he would abuse the authority to rule poorly, forcefully, and even harshly.
The restoration: When creation is restored through the work of Christ we do not find an undoing of the marriage order. Were submission a consequence of the Fall we would expect Christ to “make all things new” in this area. Instead we find that Christ provides power to overcome the sinful impulses of a wife against her husband and the husband’s response of ruling harshly over her. But Christ does not remove the order of a husband being in authority over his wife.
The mystery: When the Apostle Paul wrote of a “mystery” he was describing something that was understood only faintly in the Old Testament but became clear in the New. In Ephesians 5:31-32 Paul shows that the ultimate purpose in marriage is to mirror the relationship between Christ and the church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Dr. Grudem says, “Although Adam and Eve did not know it, their relationship represented the relationship between Christ and the church. They were created to represent that relationship, and that is what all marriages are supposed to do. In that relationship, Adam represents Christ and Eve represents the church…”
The ultimate reason a husband is to exercise headship over his wife may not have been clear to Adam and Eve. It was not clear to God’s people until after the writing of the New Testament. The ultimate reason the husband is to be head is that the marriage relationship is to mirror that of Christ and his church. Just as Christ is head of the church and we submit to him, in the same way man is the head of the family and the wife should submit to him. A husband is to lead in the same was as Christ: lovingly, tenderly and always seeking the greatest good for his wife. A wife is to mirror her relationship with Christ in her relationship with her husband. She is to trust him, be loyal to him and help him. This can only be done in a relationship of humble, loving, godly submission.
Headship and submission may be unpopular and counter-cultural, but we can have confidence that they have been ordained before the foundations of the world and that they have been ordained for our good and so we can bring glory to our Creator. They have existed for all of eternity and will endure through all ages. Headship, leadership in the home, is both a privilege and a responsibility.