Patriarchy in the Home
"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." - St. Paul
If you do a quick web search for paintings of the apostle Paul you will find that he is often accompanied by a book or pieces of parchment, and he is holding a sword. The book signifies his epistles (comprising a quarter of the New Testament), and the sword signifies his manner of death (tradition holds that he was beheaded). These are fitting characteristics because Paul was martyred for the things he said and wrote. In the Roman world of the 1st century, he was martyred because he said Jesus was Lord, garnering the hatred of the Jews and Romans alike. In the Western world of the 21st century, he would more likely be martyred because he said that a man is the head of his wife.
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
1 Cor. 11:3
In considering the meaning of Paul’s statement, it is important to have my prefatory remarks in mind, which you can find here:
Remember the Covenant
So what does Paul mean when he says that Christ is the head of a man, a man is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ? I contend that Paul is speaking covenantally, and he does so because he’s about to get into some issues of authority in the Corinthian church, and covenant relates to authority because it involves headship. We’ll look at his first and third statements, and then come to the middle statement about man as head of his wife.
Christ relates to man as his covenant head, meaning that he has authority and responsibility for man, and thus is able to represent man before the Father; to vouch for him, as it were, and to present him clean and unblemished in the presence of a holy God. I would suggest that man, in this instance, should be taken to mean mankind—male and female. No person can stand before God on his or her own merit. We either stand guilty under Adam, our old covenant head, or righteous under Christ, our new covenant head. This is what Paul means for Christ to be the head of man.
Similarly, God relates to Christ as his covenant head, meaning that he has authority and responsibility for Christ, that it is up to God to ensure the success of Christ. The Old Testament is full of language indicating God’s intention to accomplish his purposes in the world through his Anointed One (which is the meaning of “Christ”). See, for example, Isa. 42:1-9 and Ps. 89:20-37, where God personally guarantees the success of his Servant, the Offspring of David, who will fulfill his mission to redeem God’s people. Christians often misread the Gospels, thinking that Jesus was able to know and say and do the things he did because of his deity. But remember: he clothed his deity in humanity, accepting the limitations of man. Thus it was not by his deity that he was prescient or powerful. Rather, it was because God filled him with his Spirit.
And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.
You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
God had promised to redeem the world through Christ. Therefore, he was responsible to use his authority and power to ensure Jesus accomplished his mission, which he did by filling Jesus with his Spirit. And just as we submit to the authority of Christ our head, so too did Christ submit to the authority of God (cf. Luke 22:42, John 5:19).
In both these iterations of headship—Christ over mankind and God over Christ—the common thread has to do with authority and responsibility. Christ has authority over and is responsible for man, and God has authority over and is responsible for Christ. Therefore…
Husbands Have Authority Over and Are Responsible for Their Wives
When a man and a woman come together in marriage they become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). No longer does the Lord regard them merely as individuals; rather, they are joined by him into a covenantal union which is never to be separated (Matt. 19:6). And just as Adam did not come from Eve, but Eve came from Adam, so a wedded couple ought not to take on the name of the wife, but the name of the husband.
This is why, at the conclusion of my wedding ceremony, the pastor introduced us as “Mr. and Mrs. Lance Hancock.” To have said “Mr. and Mrs. Lance and Teresa Hancock” would have been to verbally erode the union that God was creating. To have said “Mr. and Mrs. Lance and Teresa Schellhause-Hancock” would have been to further resist the reality of what God was joining together. And worst of all, for us to have chosen for my wife to remain Teresa Schellhause would have been a flat-out contradiction of reality.
So a man has authority over his wife, and with that authority comes responsibility. Toward what end is he to exercise that authority? An evil patriarch would use it for his own ends. But Christian men are to use their authority in the same manner as Christ—to sacrificially love and nourish their wives toward the end that they become increasingly glorious over the course of their lives.
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one has ever hated his own body, but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.
Yes, a man has authority over his wife, and therefore “wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). But with that authority comes immense responsibility, for a man is no longer accountable before the Lord for himself alone, but also for his wife (and their children, who also receive his name). He is not only responsible for his own life, but for those over which he is head. If he is a good and wise man, his wife and children will blossom and flourish under his authority. If he is bent and foolish, they will wither. If he abuses his authority to serve himself, everyone will suffer. And if he abdicates his authority and tries to make his wife the head, everyone will suffer, but especially the woman, as she was not designed to bear the burden of responsibility for her husband and children.
Recovering Patriarchy in the Home
Most men I know were not raised under a good and wise father, which means that, while they were designed by God to bear authority and responsibility in the home, they don’t know how. Making matters worse, our culture has told men that any exercise of authority is a veiled abuse of power, and that there is nothing inherent to their design that makes them any more suitable for any task or role than a woman.
But let us consider for a moment the result of our culture embracing these messages for the last sixty years. Are households healthier? (check obesity rates) Are they happier? (check anti-depressant use) Are children growing up with stability? (check divorce rates) Or are they growing up into mentally unstable adults? (check mental illness rates)
Of course, correlation does not equal causation. But neither can one kick against the goads and not get bloody feet (Acts 26:14). God will not be mocked. As goes the head, so goes the body. As goes the man, so goes the household. It is imperative, then, that men assume their God-given authority and responsibility, for the good of their wives and children.
And it is imperative that women reject the spirit of the age which tells them that submission to their husbands is nothing but subjugation and misery. That, too, is a kicking of the goads, and its results have been disastrous.
The women in Corinth were trying to do this. They thought that, because they shared equal status with men in Christ (which is true enough) they could act as if they were independent of their husbands and, at least as it pertained to God and in the context of worship, outside of their husbands’ authority. But Paul thought otherwise. Stepping into church does not somehow separate what God has joined together. A husband remains the head of his wife in all things (remember Eph. 5:24?), and she is to honor and respect that reality at all times, even on that day of the week when they are especially reminded of their equal standing at the foot of the cross.
Not Whether, but Which
As I’ve said before, and no doubt will say again, it is not a question of whether we will have patriarchy in the home, but which patriarchy we will have. When a man and woman are joined together in marriage they become one flesh, and he is the head. He may abuse his headship, but he is still the head. He may abdicate his headship, but he is still the head. Or he may gladly assume his headship and seek to follow after Christ, in which event he and his family will taste and see the goodness of God.
And the same goes for patriarchy in the church… next time.
p.s. Find the next installment below.
Great exposition on this subject which is a difficult one. Many have not done well trying to interpret this passage. This particular piece is meant for our times. The momentum of Lance’s writing is felt as he drives home the point that the patriarchy exists whether people want it to or not. Like most true things it exists - either purely or otherwise.