What about Headship? From Hierarchy to Equality

Bibliographic information:

Philip B. Payne, “What about Headship? From Hierarchy to Equality,” in Mutual by Design: A Better Model of Christian Marriage (ed. Elizabeth Beyer; Minneapolis, MN: CBE International, 2017) 141-161, 226-232.



“What About Headship?” argues that the New Testament neither requires one-way submission in marriage nor does it give one partner supremacy in decision making. Paul’s most extensive passage about marriage, 1 Corinthians 7, affirms the equal standing of husband and wife in twelve areas. Paul’s statement, “wives to their own husbands as to the Lord” in Ephesians 5:22 depends for its verb on “submitting to one another.” The reciprocal pronoun “to one another” demands that the submission is reciprocal. It is explicitly in the context of mutual submission that Paul adds “wives to your own husbands.” Paul’s following commands to husbands to love, give themselves for, nourish, and cherish their wives express the reciprocity of mutual submission in marriage. Both husband and wife are to subordinate their desires in deference for the best for the other.

The “head” role of the husband is not one of authority, but self-giving love. Hardly any dictionaries of Greek usage up to the time of the New Testament list any instance where “head” means anything like “leader” or “authority,” but many include “source.” In Ephesians 5:23, Paul defines what he means by “head” as “savior”: “Christ head of the church, he savior of the body.” He then explains that as “head/savior” Christ is the church’s source of love and nourishment, just as husbands should be for their wives (5:25, 29). “Head” also means source in Ephesians 4:15–16 and makes good sense as the
meaning of nine of Paul’s eleven metaphorical uses of kephalē, whereas is it doubtful any mean “authority over.”

Paul consistently affirms the equal standing and mutual submission of wife and husband. Rather than feeling locked into roles because of their gender, husband and wife relate as equals who put each other’s needs first. Our focus changes from who’s in charge to how best to show love to each other. As Christ gave His life for us, so we live our lives for one another. In Christian marriage, the “head” submits, too.


CBE International (website: https://cbeinternational.christianbook.com/)

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