The Husband is the Head of the Wife

Ephesians 5:23 “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”

Most people are familiar with this verse and when issues of submission come up this is one of the quick draw verses brought out to defend certain patriarchal teachings within the modern church. There is a lot going on in the discussions of submission that go way beyond the scope of this article, but I want to discuss the Greek word kephale that is here translated “head”. And briefly, before I discuss kephale, I want to be clear that I believe in wifely submission. Where I disagree with traditional patriarchal ideas on submission is on the overall dynamic of the relationship in which I believe wifely submission is placed by God, and I believe that the verses used to support wifely submission ignore the instruction to men to submit as part of the all believers submitting to one another (a relationship that does not change after marriage if both spouses are believers in Messiah) and are taken out of context to create a doctrine that does not accurately express God’s heart for His children—male or female.

The way the traditional argument goes is that “we all know” that the head means the thinking, logical part of the person who is in charge. It’s on the top of the body so it must be the boss. And Jesus is the boss of the church so it makes sense that the man would be the boss of the woman. Interestingly, that does not fit with what this passage in Ephesians is saying.

There are several words in Greek that can be translated into English as “head”. Some actually do mean “boss” or “in charge” or “the top”. Kephale is not one of those words. Since Paul was a highly educated man who was writing in order to teach the believers in Ephesus I believe he used exactly the word he wanted to use to communicate exactly what he wanted to communicate. As it turns out, kephale means a literal head of a body, and is the only word for “head” that is used for the head of a river. In that context it would be best translated that, “the husband is the source of the woman even as Christ is the source of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Rather than boss and “in charge” this rendering opens up an incredibly rich theological fountain!

It is easy to agree that Jesus is the source of the Church—we exist because of Him and who He is and what He has done for us. His death is the source of our gaining access to life. From Him flow all blessings and teachings and Wisdom and love. He is the source of our gifts and the source of our callings to ministry—and our being equipped for those ministries.

Is the man similarly the source of the woman? In the beginning the man was put into a deep sleep and from his very body was taken the essence of woman. More specifically, though, the passage does not tell us that “man” is the head/source of “woman”. Rather, the husband is the source of the wife. According to tradition it is the man who generally extends an invitation to marry to the woman who, when she accepts the offer for marriage, becomes his wife. He brings her into his life and the home he has made for her – a home she would run and that she was admonished to run with him and his best in mind. He was here being told by Paul to teach his wife and bring her into his study of Scripture, what was in the Word of God. In this way he was to be, like Jesus to the church, the source of wisdom for his wife, the source of her understanding and being equipped for whatever calling the Lord had for her, and the source of bringing her into study of the Word.

When I’m studying Scripture I believe it’s important to always go to the Hebrew—even if what was written was written in Greek—because the authors of the New Testament were writing in an effort to communicate Hebraic ideas, properly understood in light of Jesus, to a mixed audience of Jewish and Greek believers. The Jewish audience would be familiar with the traditional Jewish teachings, and certainly familiar with what was in Scripture (the only Scriptures anyone had access to at that time!) and if there is a change to the original understanding there is much to be learned from it. Nothing in Scripture can contradict anything else in Scripture if it is being properly understood for God is the same yesterday, today and forever. So when going to the Hebrew I would expect to find help in clarifying Paul’s teaching and this is a wonderful illustration of how that works.

Hebrew for “head” is “rosh”. It means the literal head, it also means the “head of the month”, or of the year. Rosh Chodesh is the name for the “new moon” celebration. Yom Teruah is the name for the Feast of Trumpets but the holiday is also called Rosh Hashanah because it is the first Rosh Chodesh of the new year! It is from Rosh Chodesh that the month flows, Rosh Hoshanah that is the source of the year. And as the literal head, the Hebrew word rosh, is a perfect fit with kephale.

The husband is the head of the wife, the source of the wife, the rosh of the wife . . . just as Messiah is the head of the church, the source of the church, the rosh of the church. There is much in this teaching that challenges man and woman, husband and wife, to pursue a closer relationship to God and one another so that they can fulfill the previous command to submit to one another.

Speak Your Mind