Saturday, January 29, 2011

Marriage: Head = Authority?

 Until recently I have been satisfied with considering myself in the complimentarian camp.  Now, I'm not so sure.  I grew up in Baptist churches and later attended a Reformed Baptist church where I heard a lot of talk about the roles of men and women both in the home and in the church.  I have read numerous books and articles discussing the difference between the complimentarian and egalitarian views of men and women.

This post is not going to be in any way exhaustive.  There have been books written on this subject that are thicker than the Bible itself discussing what the Bible has to say about it.  I am only going to give some very brief definitions of each camp as it pertains to my thoughts in this particular post.  Mostly this post is about authority.  In that sphere of thought authority according to a complementarian rests fully in the hands of the husband and the egalitarians believe that it can be either the husband or the wife or even a mutuality in decision making between the two.

There is only one place I have found where the New Testament mentions authority in the marriage.  The passage reads as follows:
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 
(1 Corinthians 7:3-5 ESV)
This passage makes me think that authority is mutual, especially in the physical nature of the relationship.  So why would anyone contend that this mutual authority is granted only for physical matters?  Why wouldn't a man and wife devote themselves to prayer regarding every decision in their lives and then come to a consentual agreement?

Another place I found the same word for authority was in Luke.  It says:
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 
(Luke 22:25-26 ESV)
Now this really makes me think about authority differently.  Leadership is not about authority but rather about serving one another.  How would this understanding apply to the marriage relationship?

Then there are the scriptures that compare man and wife to Christ and the Church.  Surely Christ has authority over the Church and so a man has authority over his wife, right?  I'm not so sure.  Again, Christ demonstrated what leadership is by giving his life for the Church.  This can be seen also as he washed the disciples feet at the last supper.  Well we have scriptures that say that Christ is the head of the Church and man is the head of his wife like this one:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 
(1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV)

Doesn't this assume authority?  Yes, it does seem to.   But if headship meant authority wouldn't that skew the Godhead?  But...if head doesn't mean authority, what does it mean?

I don't know what to think right now.  I'm really confused.  The whole issue seems to be a paradox.  I'll keep reading.

Challenging traditional teaching is good for building up our understanding but...  my, my, my ... it is sometimes quite burdensome.  Have you thought about these things?  What has helped shape your understanding the most?


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  2. maybe not directly related, but you may like this very good article by Jon Zens:

    Are the sisters free to function?

    I guess he develops the same ideas in his book: What's with Paul and Women

    about women in church, a good first step is to realize that the question is not really about knowing if yes or no women can be pastors,... it's rather: should there be pastors (in the sens people generally understand it)?

  3. Yes this can become an interesting topic. My wife read a book once that motivated her to treat me like the king. It was sort of great. But I knew that I had to treat her like a queen or it wouldn't last long.

    When we look to Jesus as an example of leadership, there has got to be a good balance of submitting to one another, serving each other, giving and loving sacrificially. Who makes the final decision in scenario X? I don't know if the Bible is clear on that. I know I don't want to make all the decisions. There are even times when it is best for my children to make some of the decisions.

    Is leadership ever lording over others? I hope this is more a debate on paper than it is in practice in most household.

  4. Tommy,

    I have read that article. A similar article on is what got me thinking about this. It was a response to one of John Piper's books. Very interesting for me since I respect both men very much.

  5. Jon,

    It is an interesting topic. I can relate to your story. it never goes well in our household if any of us take some stand of authority. Decisions only work well if we listen to one another and come to them together. Me dictating what we should do never works, even if my wife tries her best to submit.


As in a biblical church gathering, my word is not complete or final. Participation is allowed, encouraged and expected. Please, don't leave without adding something.