Headship Hoo Ha

I've gotten embroiled in discussions with Complementarians again. They are nice people. Most of them, anyway.

But I have a problem with the whole idea of of "male headship". Actually, I think it's a theological house of cards that comes tumbling down under a bit of scrutiny.

So let's look at the most-quoted passage about this in the context of marriage:

Ephesians 5:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.



The word Paul uses for "head" here is kephale. It means literally a physical head, but can also be used as a metaphor of life, a cornerstone, or a "source". Check out this link. This meaning still exists in English: the "headwaters" of a river. It is likely in this passage Paul is using a metaphor of interdependence: the husband and wife are made of the same substance, he gives life to her, so a man must love his wife as himself.

It seems to me that if Paul had used the "archon" word for "head" in Ephesians 5, you'd get out your highlighter pen and colour in "as the church submits to Christ, wives should submit to their husbands in everything". The unambiguous focus would be leadership and obedience, because "archon" is used in 1st century Koine Greek to denote a ruler.

But because Paul used the "kephale" word for "head", you should get out your highlighter pen and colour in "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church." His main focus is on oneness and interdependence.

I'm not suggesting we ignore submission; the whole passage begins with a call for all to submit to one another. It does seem to me though that suggesting this passage calls men to "leadership" of their wives significantly misinterprets this passage. Or at the very least, assigns an ambiguous word with an unambiguous meaning: Husbands MUST lead and wives MUST submit!

Why does this matter?

I have discussed some of the consequences of teaching that in effect takes power away from women here. Some research suggests that "traditional" marriages are less likely to be happy and far more likely to be violent than "egalitarian" marriages (see here). Experts claim unequal power is at the centre of domestic abuse. As such, this is more important than some academic reflection about Greek nouns. Healthy relationships involve equality: teaching that encourages leadership and submission based on gender stereotyping is inherently problematic in my view.

Not that I'm opinionated or anything...

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