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There was a time when this question was not a major issue, the gender roles were clearer. Husbands were the bread-winners, while the wives stayed home to keep the house and raise the children. With the ever-increasing pressure of feminism, the lines have become blurred and the question of who should be the head of the home has become a more thorny debate. The result is that any hint of the Biblical model of the husband being the head of the home, could be viewed with some suspicion by women, as a male contrived conspiracy to put the women ‘in their place’.

Against this backdrop, Paul’s statement in Ephesians is very clear:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” (Eph 5:22–23)

I have been surprised, given the current pressure on women to assert themselves, to hear from most of the wives at numerous Marriage Seminars, that they preferred their husbands to take the lead and be the head of the home. If there were any complaints about this subject, the majority of the wives wished their husbands would play more of a leading role and take on greater family responsibility.

Taking a closer look at this subject I think there are two important questions that need to be answered.

  1. Is the subservient position of the wife a form of punishment resulting from the Fall?
  2. Does submission suggest inferiority in any respect?

To answer the first question let us take a closer look at God’s pronouncement to the woman after she had sinned. “To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”(Ge 3:16). Notice that God did not curse the woman, but rather, He explained the consequences of her actions, because both she and Adam had allowed the devil to become the third person in their marriage union. It was no longer the earthly ‘Trinity’ of God, the man and the woman, but it had become Satan, the man and the woman. Their offspring would not be God’s children spreading His attributes across the earth, but rather their offspring would be a reflection of ‘their father the devil’. For more detail on this point have a look at Part 2. In this respect her conception would produce children, who would do the deeds of their spiritual father the devil, bringing sorrow to her and her husband. Her conception would also be multiplied. Although speculative, there is some hint that if man had not fallen into sin, God would have played an active role in opening the womb of women at the appropriate time and producing children that would fit into His great purpose. Consider Sarah, Rebekah, Rachael, Manoah’s wife and Elizabeth in this regard. They were all barren, but when the Lord chose to open their wombs, they produced important children. It seems that one of the consequences of Eve’s sin was that conceptions would be multiplied and they would be indiscriminate.

Regarding the second part of verse 16 “Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you”, in the ESV there is a note saying that ‘for’ could also be translated: ‘against’. The verse would then read: “Your desire shall be against your husband.. “. This second translation is supported by the fact that the same author (Moses) uses very similar language in chapter 4, where his meaning is a lot clearer. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Ge 4:7) In this verse it is clear that sin has a desire to pressurize Cain to go its way, but Cain would need to exert his will and try to dominate it. It is this same idea presented in verse 16 regarding the Husband/wife relationship. She would try to pressurize him to go her way and he would have to dominate her (in an un-Christlike way) to exert his will.

In other words, in the woman’s primary function as child-bearer, she would have pain and sorrow and in her most intimate relationship, there would be a power-struggle and strife.

To answer the second question we must note that God made mankind in His own image, “male and female made He them”, which clearly tells us that women are as much in the image of God as are men. If we look at the Godhead, we find that each person of the Trinity is equally God. Jesus, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,” (Php 2:6) nevertheless He was subservient to His Father. The Father sent the Son and the Father also sent the Holy Spirit, the Father clearly is the authority in the Godhead. Therefore we could say that the Godhood of each person in the Trinity is equal, but their roles are different. Neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit died on the cross, it was only Jesus because their roles are different. Similarly we can say that in their personhood, men and women are equal, but in their roles, they differ.

It is also important to note that God made Adam first and then He made the woman to be Adam’s Helper, not the other way around and this was before the Fall. When someone comes alongside to help; the responsibility for the task still remains with the person being helped. Therefore Adam remained accountable, even though his helper had misled him. God called for Adam first to give account for his actions. In the New Testament we are told that the Holy Spirit has been sent to be our Helper. He does not take over our responsibilities, but He helps us to fulfil God’s requirement of us. Even though the Holy Spirit is our Helper, He remains God and therefore far superior to us.

We can conclude from this that women are equal to men and may even be superior in some respects, but their role is different to the man’s role.

Equality of men and women on a spiritual level is spelled out in this verse: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Ga 3:28)

God’s order illustrating the differing roles is spelled out in this verse: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Co 11:3)

Husbands need to take their responsibility as head of their homes, valuing their wives as spiritual equals and appreciating them as their God-given helper.

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