What To Say When Someone Says Wives Are To Submit

Jesus Creed | 3/4/2019 | Staff
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Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on difficult Bible passages entitled “What to Say When…”

“The Bible says wives should submit to husbands, because men are the head of women.”

Sigh - Convenient - Interpretation - Paul - Words

Sigh. Some of us have heard this overly simplistic and frankly convenient interpretation of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:18-32. But are we taking the “household codes” seriously enough in their own context? Is there more to this passage than meets the eye?

The Greek word for head is kephale. When Greeks used “head” in an idiomatic sense, it was rarely about authority. Instead, they understood the “head” as the cause of life, source of sustenance, and expression of identity. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 (written before Ephesians), man is the head of woman. But it’s clear he is talking about who comes from who. Eve was created fromAdam, so man is woman’s “head.” But Paul also wants the Corinthians to be careful about making too much of this. Men are born from women, so all humans are interdependent.

Christ - Father - God - Head - Christ

Furthermore, Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, not subordinate to him. If that’s what it means for God to be the head of Christ, the same meaning probably carries through in Paul’s other uses of the word.

In Ephesians and Colossians (which share language and themes), Christ is called the kephale of the church five times. Ephesians 1 speaks of Christ as “the kephale for the church, the fullness of him who fills everything.” Colossians 1 says Christ is the kephale of the church, the beginning and firstborn from the dead. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 2, Christ is the “kephale from whom the whole body grows.” While Christ is certainly the supreme authority over all things, this word—head—doesn’t express that truth. This metaphor is about Christ as the source of...
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