What Does Headship In Marriage Really Mean?


In many lands wedding ceremonies traditionally include the exchanging of vows in which the bride promise to obey her husband. Still, many women chafe at the idea of male headship in marriage. Consider what the Bible teaches about this topic. You will find that its position is balanced and practical.

The Bible’s basic description of headship is found at Ephesians 5: 22-24: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation … In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” As the “head of his wife,” the husband is to take the lead in the family, with the wife following his lead and respecting his headship. Ephesians 5:33.

A husband’s authority is limited by his own subjection to God and Christ. He is not empowered to direct his wife to break God’s laws or to compromise her own Bible-trained conscience. Within these limitations, however, God has assigned him the responsibility of making important decisions for the family. – Romans 7: 2; 1 Corinth 11: 3.

The Bible commands the husband to exercise his headship unselfishly, putting his wife’s benefit ahead of his own. Ephensians 5: 25 says: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” A husband who follows Christ’s supreme example of love rejects a self-centred exercise of headship.

Further, the Bible instructs a man to dwell with his wife “according to knowledge”. (1 Peter 3:7) This involves more than a mere awareness of the physical and emotional differences between men and women. He should gain an understanding of his wife’s needs.

Does a wife’s subjection require her to be completely passive? Consider Sarah, cited in the Bible as an example of obedience to her husband, Abraham. (1 Peter 3:5,6). She subjected herself to him in matters large and small, from leaving a comfortable home for a nomadic life in tents to preparing a meal on short notice (Genesis 12:5-9; 18:6). In connection with a serious matter, however, she repeatedly expressed a view contrary to Abraham’s. This occurred when she wanted him to dismiss his concubine, Hagar, and his firstborn son, Ishmael, from the household. Instead of reproving Sarah, God told Abraham to “listen to her voice”. Meanwhile, Sarah continued to subject herself to Abraham by waiting for him to act instead of trying to drive out Hagar and Ishmael herself. – Genesis 21:8 – 14.

Sarah’s example shows that rather than merely living in her husband’s shadow, the wife is to be her husband’s “partner”, holding a place of honour. (Malachi 2:14) As his partner, she provides valuable input concerning family decisions and is given a measure of authority in the family, often managing many household and even some financial matters. Of course, as the family head, the husband is responsible for making final decisions. – Proverbs 31:10-31; I Timothy 5:14.

Jehovah God created man and woman, and he created marriage as a sacred union between them. (Genesis 2:18-24) He also specified roles for husband and wife that will bring them the greatest joy. – Deuteronomy 24:5; Proverbs 5:18.

As the Originator of marriage, Jehovah has both the right and the ability to set standards for the marital arrangement. Marriage mates who fulfill their respective roles and follow God’s headship arrangement, not just for its practicality but also out of respect for his divine authority, receive his favor and support.

A few years ago, Dutch politicians and environmentalists thought that they had found the key to sustainable energy running generators on biofuel, notably palm oil. Their hopes became “an environmental nightmare,” says The New York Times. “Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of chemical fertiliser there.” Plantations were created by draining and burning peat land, sending “huge amounts” of carbon gases into the atmosphere. As a result, says the Times, Indonesia fast became “the world’s third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists believe are responsible for global warming.”

The doomsday clock, conceived by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) to illustrate how close mankind is to nuclear disaster, has been advanced two minutes, to read five minutes before midnight – the “figurative end of civilization.” The clock has only been reset 18 times in its 60 – year history. The last change was in February 2002, after the World Trade Center attacks in New York. Continued development and presence of nuclear weapons as well as failure to make nuclear materials secure are “symptomatic of a failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth,” said a BAS statement. Moreover, it continued, “the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons”.

Stress experienced by a pregnant woman as a result of arguments with or violence by a partner can adversely affect her unborn child’s mental development, according to recent research. Professor Vivette Glover, of Imperial College, London, says: “We found that if the woman had a partner who was being emotionally cruel to (her) while (she was) pregnant it had a really significant effect on (her) baby’s future development. The father has a big part to play.” The state of the parents’ relationship “affects the hormonal and chemical balance in the mother’s body, which in turn affects the development of the child’s brain”, she explained.

Culled from Awake January 2008.