Is the husband the head of the household?

Now, here is a fine question often leveled against the Christian. Of course we know the answer. After all, Paul makes it explicitly clear in Ephesians 5. Yes, the Bible does, in fact, claim that the man is the head of the household.

What kind of pig-headed, chauvinistic, misogynistic God would make that kind of rule? It's just this sort of thing that allows men to be abusive dictators in their homes as they brow-beat their wives in the name of "submission." It's a formula for spousal abuse. Right?

Well...no. Not really.

First of all, God is a God of order. Not chaos. As such, God likes to have some sort of order. One form of order is hierarchical order. Even among the God-head, there is an order. While, as a matter of intrinsic value, the three members of the Trinity are equal (in power, worth, knowledge, wisdom, goodness, etc.), there is an established hierarchy nonetheless. The Father is the "head" of the Trinity, as evidenced by the fact that He sends the son (John 20:21). The Son, then, sends the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).

One mistake that many people make today is an equivocating on the word "equal." If someone were to imply some sort of hierarchy, they immediately assume some sort of bigotry as they see this as a violation of "equality." This is not the case. There is a difference between intrinsic equality and functional equality. If there were not, there would never be employees and employers. Military units would not have anyone in charge.

A child is not more valuable than his/her parent, but the parent is clearly meant to be in charge (I had to say "meant to be" given the way things are going nowadays...don't get me started). So, different beings can be "equal" in one sense even though one may submit to the other.

Now that we have that clear, let's move on...

When God created humankind, He created Adam first. Once He created Adam, He gave him various instructions. He told Adam what his job was and He told him about the foods he could eat and the forbidden tree. Adam received what was, at that time, the Law of God first-hand.

When God created Eve, she did not get the Law from God Himself. It was told to her by Adam. So what, you say? This is a very important thing. Adam was responsible. Just like the parent is responsible for the child. It is because of such responsibility that the parent is in charge. After all, if the child does wrong, the parent must pay the price. Perhaps you, like me, had  parents who had to pay for a neighbor's broken window after you hit a baseball a bit too far.

Many people have asked, "Where was Adam when Eve was tempted by the serpent?" Well, just look at the passage. He was right there. He was standing there when the serpent denied God's very Word about their death if they were to eat the fruit. What's more, when Eve gets God's Word wrong (God never said not to touch it), He just stands there, silent. He didn't step in and correct her and get her away from the serpent when it was obvious that the serpent was lying.

How do we know that Adam was the one held responsible? Well, not only did God tell Adam (not Eve) what His rule was, but when God confronted them, who did He go to first? He didn't ask Eve what happened. He asked Adam. He knew Adam was there. He knew Adam did nothing. That is, when he should have done something. God held Adam responsible.

And what about in the New Testament? What about this verse about the husband being the head of the wife? Unfortunately, many people stop there. If you keep reading, you'll see that the husband is, indeed, the head of the wife. But, as is the popular saying from the Stand to Reason staff, "never read a Bible verse." The whole context makes it a bit more interesting.

     22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
      25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
Ephesians 5:22-29

Does that sound like it is teaching that the husband can be an abusive jerk? Certainly, it must. What with all this idea of giving himself up for her, presenting her without spot or wrinkle, make her holy and blameless, love her as his own body. Yeah, that sounds highly misogynistic. How terrible for a husband to love his wife as his own body.

But, even here, we see in verse 26 that Paul is again indicating that the husband is accountable. His wife's holiness is his responsibility. When he stands before God, he will be held accountable for not only himself, but his wife! If he has young children who are not yet adults, I imagine he will be held accountable of them, as well.

Just as a parent is the head of the children (again, an increasingly meaningless analogy today) due to the fact that he is held accountable for their actions, so the husband is the head of the wife for the same reason. He is accountable for her faith and holiness.

Now, you might be asking, "So, does that mean that the wife has no say and the husband is just supposed to be the big boss man and she has to do everything he says?" No, it doesn't say that. In fact, there are times when the Bible suggests that wives can help their husbands return to God.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
1 Peter 3:1-2

So, the wife does not have to be disrespectful to her husband if he is disobedient, but she can remain obedient and win him over. What it basically comes down to is, the husband should exemplify Christ with his wife. If he does not, his wife should be well-versed enough to know what is right and wrong and continue to do right in order to help her husband.

The husband is not a tyrant. The scriptures refer to mutual submission. What it all comes down to is that the husband is responsible for the family and makes the final decision in matters of faith and practice. That used to mean an all-encompassing way of life as one's faith was related to one's entire being. But a wise husband remembers that Eve was created to help Adam. That implies that Adam needed help.

A wise husband knows that his wife has skills and abilities that he does not have. She may be more in tune with personal relationships, better able to tell if someone is troubled or in need. She is better at teaching their children compassion. There are a number of things that give the wife a voice within the marriage. Only a stupid husband doesn't listen to his wife's wisdom and council.

Here is a prayer that I have been trying (not necessarily succeeding) to say at least once per day. It comes from Patrick Morley. I heard him teach it in his podcast, Man in the Mirror.

Father, I said, "Till death do us part"-- I want to mean it. Help me to love You more than her, and her more than anyone or anything else. Help me bring her into Your presence today. Make us one, like You are three-in-one. I want to hear her, cherish her, and serve her -- So she would love You more and we can bring You glory. Amen.

For more resources:

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The God of the Bible is a self-absorbed, narcissistic egomaniac. That's what some accuse Him of. I suppose I can see why. He wants us to worship nothing but Him. He says He's a jealous God. He gets very angry when people put anything in a higher place than Him.
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