The Headship Hubbub: Part 2

I was sitting with a friend recently talking about life, family, work, and leadership. I have a good deal of respect for this guy. We are in a similar place in our lives. We were born two months apart a little over 36 years ago. We both have four daughters. In our work life, we lead within complex organizations, overseeing a number of different entities and personnel. The topic of our conversation flowed freely, jumping seamlessly and without notice from parenting to work budgets to minor prophets from the Old Testament to the weight we feel as husbands and fathers when we read Ephesians 5.

I don’t know if my friend could tell from across the table, because I’ve learned to hide this part of me. I’m an emotional dude. I blame my Dad. I began to notice this part of my Dad when I became an adult. Then I began to see him in the mirror. My Dad has a perpetual twinkle in his eye. Light glistens off his eyes because there is moisture there. Not all the time, but more often than not. When things that matter—family, Jesus, caring for loved ones, legacy, the Holy Spirit, responsibility, self-sacrifice, new life, honor, faith in God, loyalty, character—you can see the glimmer. Emotions come. They don’t rule, but they’re real. My eyes do it too. When I laugh, when I pray, when I sing, when I think and express concepts that mean something, my eyes well up and my voice shakes. It’s an occupational hazard for me these days, but it is what it is.

When my friend and I were discussing Ephesians 5, I held it back. Always holding back. We were sitting outside at Starbucks for crying out loud. It was 4:22 in the afternoon. A couple of burly 36-year-old dudes with more estrogen on the home front than either of us know what to do with, and I’m sitting there measuring my words so that I don’t speak with that awkward raised tone that comes when you’re not a professional crier/preacher who has learned to adapt to your Italian roots.

What were we talking about? Headship.

My friend, who oversees 3 dozen employees in the business world and 5 precious ladies on the home front, spoke when I couldn’t:

“People don’t understand leadership. Everyone feels this weird attraction to it, until you’re in it. Once you bear the weight of that responsibility for serving and caring for others you realize it’s not what everyone presumes. Leadership sucks.”

We both laughed, shaking our heads in tandem and shifting in our chairs. Laughter is a good point in the dialogue to compose yourself, to wipe your eyes and change the subject, to switch gears to work budgets or March Madness or anything that hits less close to home. But I didn’t. We continued to discuss headship, how our culture jeers at it, misunderstands it, and misapplies it, and how it is our responsibility as gospel-believing husbands and fathers to live out headship redeemed.

If you’re a husband, you are the head of your wife. This is a fixed reality in marriage. The Scriptures explicitly state this (1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23). It is impossible to spin, shirk, or sidestep. It just is. It is not captive to a cultural moment or a certain tradition. It is not revocable through revision or reinvention. Headship is grounded in God’s creation as it awaits His consummation.

Headship is grounded in God’s creation as it awaits His consummation. Click To Tweet

There is a sect of confessing Christians who want none of this. They are channeling Western feminist ideology, speaking ‘truth’ to power and ready to storm the gates. They are crying for freedom as they harness themselves in a straightjacket branded with the spirit of the age. The only way for them to claim faithfulness to the Bible and their ideals is to redefine words. The key word in question here: “Head.”

They cry for freedom while harnessing in a straightjacket branded with the spirit of the age. Click To Tweet

What does the Bible really mean by “the husband is the head of the wife?”

If you’re familiar with studying the Bible, you know it wasn’t originally written in English. The two texts in question were originally written in Greek, a couple of thousand years ago. Since the Internet allows people to say stupid things they have no business saying out loud, it is important for Christians to practice discernment here. As a general rule, I try to encourage people I care about not to trust bloggers or blowhards who have no background in studying Greek when they say, “What this Greek word actually means is…”

Since the Internet allows people to say stupid things, Christians need to practice discernment. Click To Tweet

The rumors floating around about the Greek word kephale (translated “head” in English) are that it means “origin” or “source.” The major issue with that interpretation of the word kephale is that it doesn’t mean that. Kephale in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23 means “the leader, one in a position of authority in a given relationship.”[1]

Wayne Grudem confirms this with actual language study:

“I once looked up over 2,300 examples of the word ‘head’ (kephale) in ancient Greek. In these texts, the word kephale is applied to many people in authority, but to none without governing authority. In the Greek-speaking world, to be the head of a group of people always meant to have authority over those people…if someone claims the word head means “source” or “origin” without the sense of authority, ask the person the following question: ‘You claim that the Greek word for ‘head’ means ‘source without the idea of authority.’ Will you please show me one example in all of ancient Greek where this word (kephale) is used to refer to a person and means what you claim, namely, ‘non-authoritative source’?”[2]

Right away I hear the voice of feminist bloggers everywhere: “What, so you’re saying women are inferior to men and they can’t lead!?”

No, I’m not saying that. The biblical text isn’t saying that either. I have dialogued with dozens of feminists whose tactic on this is to mischaracterize an idea and then shout about how oppressive the made-up reality they are perpetuating is until people finally surrender and say, “Yeah, I guess that means what you say it means.” This text doesn’t say anything about women being inferior or women being incapable of leading, but it says everything about a wife leading. Kephale is prescribing a reality in the marriage relationship. The husband is the head of the wife. The husband is the leader of the marriage. He is the God-ordained authority in that covenant relationship, and that fact is rooted in God’s creation.

As my friend and I were discussing this concept over coffee I was paraphrasing what I had read from Douglas Wilson recently when I began to feel the weight of emotion pressing in. I’ll leave you with Wilson’s words:

“Because the husband is the head of the wife, he finds himself in a position of inescapable authority. He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly. But no matter what he does or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife. This is how God designed marriage. He has created us male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord—Dominus—at the cross. If a husband tries to run away from his headship, that abdication will dominate the home. If he catches a plane to the other side of the country and stays there, he will dominate in and by his absence. How many children have grown up in a home dominated by the empty chair at the end of the table? If the marriage is one in which the wife “wears the pants,” the wimpiness of the husband is the most obvious thing about the marriage, creating a miserable marriage and home. His abdication dominates.”[3]

 

[1] BDAG.

[2] Wayne Grudem, “The Meaning of ‘Head’ in the Bible: A Simple Question No Egalitarian Can Answer.” CBMW News 1:3 (June, 1996), 8. Quoted in Alexander Strauch, Equal Yet Different, p. 56.

[3] Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage: Gospel Living for Couples, pp. 24-25.