This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.
I have written extensively on topics related to patriarchal headship and submission. Given the sheer volume of writings on the topic, it is necessary to condense the findings into an easier-to-access format for future reference. One cannot expect readers to sift through the sheer volume of material. Rarely will anyone need to look up the sources for these claims.
NOTE: I may update this page as I do additional study on these topics.
Headship views split on whether women have moral agency. I believe it is obviously incorrect to say women have no moral agency. Engaging with this view is not worth my time. While the views herein probably refute that position, nevertheless all the arguments presume women have agency.
The Bible often uses the term ‘head’ (Greek kephalē), for example, in “The Head-Body Metaphor“, which includes Christ’s relationship to the church and a husband’s relationship to his wife. A traditional explanation is that ‘head’ means ‘leader’ or ‘authority’. We found that ‘head’ did not mean ‘leader’ or ‘authority’ anywhere until the 4th century, when the meaning began changing. Eventually it became established and has carried over into modern language.
While the word ‘head’ (kephalē) could be applied to a master or lord, it could just as easily apply to a commoner. The word does not, itself, convey a sense of authority. Consider “Kephalē in the New Testament: The Meaning“:
Referring to preeminence, priority, authority or superiority in some broad sense encompassing shades of these meanings.
“Broad shades of meaning” is a good way to put it. Contexts that use the word ‘head’ often involve leaders (broadly speaking, many heads will be leaders), but the word itself does not convey the meaning or mantle of authority or leadership either directly or implicitly. This is particularly notable in “The Meaning of Head in Colossians 2:9-10.”
The claimants of headship cannot say that ‘head’ by itself means ‘leader’ or ‘authority’. For a ‘head’ to have authority requires another word denoting authority (e.g. Matthew 28:18) or a particular authoritarian context.
The Bible uses the term ‘authority’ (Greek exousia) when it wants to describe the authority one person has over another. Jesus used the word to describe himself.
“All authority [exousia] in heaven and on earth has been given to me” — Matthew 28:18 (NIV)
Nowhere in the Bible does it ever explicitly grant authority to a husband over his wife, with one exception regarding mutual authority:
The wife does not have authority [exousia] over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority [exousia] over his own body, but the wife does. — 1 Corinthians 7:4 (REV)
And that’s it. The only time a husband is granted authority over his wife, the wife is granted the same authority over her husband. This is far from establishing headship rule of a husband over his wife (or for that matter, the feminist view of a wife over her husband), which nothing and no one in the Bible ever commands.
The only other time ‘authority’ is used in the context of male-female relationships is the use of the Greek word authentein. In “exousia vs authentein“, we make it clear that authentein does not mean “exercising authority over” or “to lead”.
In attempting to prove that a husband should be in authority over his wife, it cannot be found in the word authority itself.
Nowhere in passages of scripture used to defend a patriarchal headship view is a husband ever told to lead his wife or called a leader over his wife. If a husband is supposed to be a leader over his wife, then it must be because of a particular context, not because he is told to lead or called a leader.
The Bible uses the term ‘obey’ (Greek hupakouo).
The Bible never tells husbands to obey their wives or wives to obey their husbands. It isn’t because it lacked the opportunity either. Immediately after telling wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives, Paul instructs children to obey their parents (Ephesians 5:20-6:1). Paul demonstrated that he was perfectly willing to tell children to obey their parents, and so he had the perfect opportunity to tell wives to obey their husbands. But he didn’t.
In 1 Peter 3, Peter notes that Sarah obeyed her husband Abraham. “Aha!”, you say, “Surely, this must mean that wives should obey their husbands.” The problem is that the Greek Septuagint translated Abraham’s obedience to Sarah (in Genesis 16:2) using the exact same word. And so we are left with a conundrum. If ‘obey’ necessarily implies authority, then the implication is that Sarah had authority over Abraham. If the word does not imply authority, then we must again rely on context to tell if obedience involves authority. As with ‘head’, the word itself is insufficient to establish that obedience to authority is being described.
Proponents of headship are thus forced to state that ‘obey’ does not necessarily imply authority, undermining their own evidence in the process. Absent some other contextual evidence, headship cannot be established on obedience.
Now we reach the most complicated term, ‘submit’ (Greek hupotasso). Unlike the words examined above, submit can contextually convey implied authority (like ‘obey’ and ‘authority’) and it is used in the husband/wife relationship (like ‘head’). Because it satisfies both conditions, it is the most plausible direct evidence of authority in marriage. The implication of authority is also extremely context dependent. For example:
[Hupotasso is a] Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.
We can immediately see the problem. The relationship between a husband and a wife is not used in the military context. A voluntary attitude of cooperation sounds like a helper (see the Genesis 2 discussion below), a relationship that does not necessarily implies any authority at all. Moreover, when the word is used in the context of a husband and wife, it is not active, but in the middle voice. The following definition of headship correctly captures this sense of the Greek word for ‘submission’ in the middle voice.
“Headship — submission — this the relationship between the Church and Christ, and husbands and wives. In this relationship, unlike authority-submission Christ and husband has no ability to compel obedience from Church and the wife. The husband heads/leads of the marriage ideally as commanded through love, but the wife must choose to submit to this headship.”
— Deep Strength, “Authority, submission, obedience, and servanthood“
Even though headship itself is not a biblical concept, submission is. This submission is not compelled, but is voluntary. Both Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 state that submission is mutual, applying to both male and female. This is especially apparent when one examines the grammar (e.g. elided verbs; participles; punctuation) closely.
Mutual submission does not quite rule out all authority. While it is unclear if headship is even possible in the context of mutual submission, mutual submission is not necessarily absolute nor sex-neutral: authority is still possible. The language of Paul and Peter allows for a marriage model that includes variable levels and priorities of submission for different status-differentiated and/or sex-differentiated roles according to each individual. The Bible instructing husbands and wives to submit to each other does not directly nor exclusively support headship. Thus, some other contextual evidence is required.
A central theme of this summary so far has been that when the patriarchal proof-texts are examined, we find that they lack any direct evidence to establish headship relationship between a husband and wife. While these texts are frequently cited as direct evidence supporting the claims, as we’ve shown below, none of them can be interpreted as supporting headship without citing context.
To avoid circular reasoning when arguing, you cannot argue the following at the same time:
- Evidence A should be interpreted as X because of Evidence B
- Evidence B should be interpreted as X because of Evidence A
This is obviously circular and it happens all the time. For example, if Ephesians 5 is challenged, someone may cite 1 Peter 3. If 1 Peter 3 is challenged, they may cite Ephesians 5. That is a fallacious argument because it is circular. In order to engage in logically sound proof-texting, one must establish baseline evidence and build upon it. That is not being done.
One cannot assume that the Bible wants husbands to lead their wives—to have authority over them—and then use that assumption as the context to say that ‘head’, ‘obey’, and ‘submit’ involve authority in these particular instances. It is not enough context. Indeed, it is a circular argument.
Adam and Eve
Because so many of the words (‘head’, ‘obey’, and ‘submit’) require context to determine if they involve authority, proponents of the patriarchal view of headship will usually cite the case of Adam and Eve as direct evidence of headship. There are a number of arguments:
- Adam came first
- Eve was made from Adam
- Eve was made to help Adam
An astute observer will note that none of these state explicitly that this means Adam should have authority over Eve. For example, when Paul uses Adam and Eve as examples (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:13), he uses Adam’s position to imply ‘firstness’ or ‘preeminence’, precisely the way he used ‘head’ instead of ‘authority’ in discussing the husband and wife relationship. He states that Adam came first, and then Eve, emphasizing their order. To say this implies authority just begs-the-question (i.e. circular reasoning).
It is a false equivalence to cite the firstness of Adam and Eve to justify an authority structure. For example, does an older wife gain authority over her younger husband because she is first? Recall in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, John the Baptist had to argue that Jesus was first because John was older in age than Jesus. Again, preeminence is what matters, not authority. John had to contextualize their authority in order to override the relevance of firstness (in that case, age).
Missing from these arguments is the simple counterargument: that after their order (or priority) was established, the first thing Adam and Eve did was cleave together and became one flesh, a unity.
The Fall of Man
Proponents of headship will often cite Adam’s role in the fall of man as proof that he had authority over Eve.
Adam’s sin was not giving up his authority by listening to his wife, it was going against the Word of God when he listened to his wife. His sin was disobedience, not egalitarianism. The irony is that a number of headship arguments (usually involving 1 Peter 3) state that a woman should obey her husband even if it goes against the Word of God. This form of the argument is not sustainable.
Instead, proponents will cite Romans 5, which holds Adam accountable for his sin (and its consequence for all of humankind), making no mention of Eve. Part of the issue is that in 1 Tomothy 2:14, Paul states that Eve’s sin was being deceived, while Adam’s sin was that he was not deceived: he chose to sin willfully. The nature of their offenses was not equivalent, with Adam’s offence being the greater of the two. Adam also represented the ‘head’ of humankind, Eve did not. As with the meaning of ‘head’, this means he was first or preeminent. It didn’t imply authority (over Eve).
If Paul wanted to say that Adam was in authority, he wouldn’t have had to compare the nature of their sins: that one was deceived and one was not. All he would have had to say is that Adam was first, so he is in charge, end of story. But God heaped upon him the primary responsibility due to his preeminent, primary status. As with ‘head’, the Bible is not concerned with authority, but it is very concerned with firstness and status. In this way, Genesis 2 and Romans 5 serve as direct confirmatory evidence against headship and for the meaning of head as a matter of status.
It is simply not the case that being first is equivalent to being in charge, that is, being given or exercising authority. To say firstness implies authority, rather than priority, just begs-the-question (i.e. circular reasoning).
The Effects of the Fall
After the fall, God cursed mankind. Part of the curse was that husbands would rule over their wives. Some proponents of headship will claim that this is normative, that is, the curse is mandatory and there can be no redemption from it. By this argument, wives must submit because it is part of their curse, which in some arguments is supposed to be for their benefit as much as punishment. This completely obliterates the redemptive power of Christ to end the punishment of sin once and for all.
For more information on the nuances of these arguments, see Sigma Frame, “What is a woman’s desire for her husband according to Genesis 3:16?”, including the extensive discussion in the comments section.
Women Rule Them
“Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.”
—Isaiah 3:12 (NIV)
This is a popular passage intended to show that women should not be permitted to have authority. There are many problems with this, and it is worth an entire post that has not yet been written. Here are the main points:
- Isaiah 3:1-3 says that the Lord will take away all the qualified men, so a literal paraphrase of the curse is “God will take away all the men, leaving only youths and women to rule”. This is a mundane statement of fact reflecting the fulfillment of the curse. It’s not a commentary on women so much as it is a description of the result of the curse.
- The reference to Isaiah 3:12 is normally understood by most commentators to mean that the rulers are men who are being insulted by being called a woman. There are about half a dozen similar insults scattered throughout the Old Testament.
- The Septuagint says in Isaiah 3:1-2 that men and women judges and prophets will be taken away.
The bottom line is that hardly anyone takes this to mean that women should not have authority over men. This would be especially strange considering Deborah was a judge.
Another popular argument is that because patriarchy exists in the Bible, that it is the equivalent of God’s law. But there are many traditions (especially those of the Old Testament) that are not followed for a variety of reasons. Simply being described or practiced in the Bible is insufficient to raise it to the level of law.
Proof is Missing
Once we exclude circular arguments, we find that the patriarchal passages are not themselves proof, or in some cases even evidence at all, of the headship view. Other external evidence outside the patriarchal passages must be shown to establish their patriarchal context. But no such Biblical evidence exists. It all requires a contextual view that is assumed, but not demonstrated. All that is left is extra-biblical evidence.
There is no clear biblical evidence that the context of any of the patriarchal passages are indeed patriarchal. All we have are opinions, which are not good enough to establish doctrine. Consequently, the patriarchal passages themselves cannot be used as proof because they require other proof to support them. Evidence cannot both require proof and be used to establish proof. It is one or the other.
With a few exceptions, this summary is mostly just a refutation (i.e. negative evidence for headship), rather than counter-evidence (i.e. affirmative evidence for another position). Even so, the evidence for headship—wives obeying their husband more-or-less unconditionally—is weak. Much of the evidences for headship (not shown here) are extra-biblical, mostly found in historical traditions and non-biblical, non-authoritative, writings (such as those of the later church writers). The irony of this is not lost on me.
I will conclude by noting that Headship is very likely a false doctrine and so too are Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. These are extra-biblical terms that do not reflect scriptural commands regarding love, submission, and unity. They import concepts foreign to the Bible.
My arguments are based on what the Bible says and are not driven by a preconceived ideological position, except to the extent that my personal experience influences my perspective. Strictly speaking, I am not Patriarchal, Complementarian, nor Egalitarian.
“The Red Pill, and the lived experiences of many men here, clearly prove that men submitting to their wives does not bring about Unity, but rather the opposite. So instead of arguing against the presumed error of men having authority over their wives, it might suit your position better to explore how Unity is described and encouraged in scripture, and then explain the proper context for the mutual submission that you say can create this Unity. You should also explain how this is fundamentally different from “men giving in to their wives’ demands just to keep the peace”.”
— comment by Jack @ Sigma Frame under “5 Years with Σ Frame”
Clearly the idea of headship will not cease, despite it being an untenable anachronism. Consequently, I plan to write a future post explaining the role of unity in submission as part of God’s plan for husbands and wives, and how authority is made largely obsolete by unity. This will be somewhat challenging, as the Bible tells us what we must do, but it isn’t formulaic on how to accomplish it.
 The patriarchal passages in the New Testament include: Genesis 1-3, 1 Corinthians 11:1-15, 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15; Titus 2:3-5; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1; Colossians 3:18-19. By far, the most common passages used in the Old Testament are in Genesis 1-4. A small few may cite Esther, Abigail, Michal, or some other historically described examples.
 Even a leader in authority had to respect their elders. Firstness is the reason why a father and mother must be honored.