The head and submission poll has been posted on this blog for several months. There have been 583 responses so far, which is a good number. I’d like to discuss the results of this poll and give my own thoughts on which of the statements are explicitly taught in the Bible. Some of you may disagree with me on some points. Feel free to disagree in the comments to this post if you wish.
The directions for this poll are: “Click on any of the following that the Bible explicitly teaches.” The critical words here are “explicitly teaches.” The poll is not intended to measure logical inferences from biblical teaching, applications of biblical statements, or teachings from Bible-based theological systems, but, rather, teachings which are directly and explicitly stated in the Bible. My comments will focus on what the Bible actually says, not on what systems of teachings have developed, by application or inference, based on what the Bible says.
Please note that my conservative focus on explicit teachings of the Bible is NOT intended to imply that other statements which are not explicitly taught in the Bible are necessarily untrue or unbiblical in spirit. An application of an explicit teaching is a matter for further discussion. Also, the lack of an explicit teaching may (or may not) be significant.
Here are the results of the poll so far:
As you can see, the statement which received the most number of votes was: “Christ is the head of the church.” This is a direct quote from Eph. 5: 23 in several English Bible versions. This teaching is also found in other passages. Respondents seemed comfortable affirming this as an explicit biblical statement.
The statement with the next number of votes is: “A woman should submit to her husband.” Almost 100 fewer respondents voted that this is an explicit teaching of the Bible. These 100 probably had a variety of reasons for not voting for this statement. Perhaps they feel there is lack of clarity in what the English word “submit” means when it comes to wives and husbands. If that is the case, however, one would think that the same lack of clarity would exist for the church submitting to Christ. Some may feel that the teaching about a wife’s submission to her husband is culturally conditioned, something which was appropriate in Paul’s day but not in our day. Those who know something about the Greek of Eph. 5:22 may not have voted for this statement because the Greek word for ‘submit’ does not explicitly occur in this verse, even though it occurs in English translations of this verse. It can, however, be linguistically inferred that the verb ‘submit” of Eph. 5:21 is semantically present but grammatically ellipsized in 5:22.
More than half of respondents (assuming that all voted for “Christ is the head of the church”) voted that the statement “A wife should obey her husband” is explicitly taught in the Bible. Many people do believe that this is explicitly taught in the Bible, but I am unable to find any such explicit teaching in the Bible. The Greek word for ‘obey’ is hupakouo. The word for ‘submit’ is hupotasso. Some people may believe that these words are synonyms. They may not be true synonyms. I suspect that Paul deliberately used one word or the other whenever he used these words.
Children are explicitly told to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20). Slaves are explicitly told to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22). Interestingly, slaves are also told to submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18). Wives are told to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; 1 Peter 3:5). The church is told to submit to Christ (Eph. 5:24). We are told to submit to earthly authorities (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13, 14).
Some might suggest that Peter tells women to obey their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham (1 Peter 3:6). But note that even though Peter explicitly states that Sarah obeyed her husband, and mentions Sarah as an example of submission to follow, he does not state that wives are to follow Sarah’s example in obeying their husbands. There may or may not be something significant in the lack of any explicit biblical statements that wives are to obey their husbands. Personally, what the difference in the words does is motivate me to try to learn what the difference between biblical submission and obedience is. At this point I lean toward thinking that one difference is that within the Body of Christ we are to submit to one other (Eph. 5:21; ), but we are not told to obey one another. Mutual submission is a beautiful thing within the church. I do not know what mutual obedience would look like.
Most respondents voted that “A woman should obey Christ” is explicitly taught in the Bible. I cannot think of any Bible passage that specifically says this, but we all know that any woman, as well as any man, should obey Christ. There are some passages that come close enough to saying that anyone should obey Christ. And since women are half of the population, they would be included among those who should obey Christ. Here are some passages which speak about obeying Christ. Jesus told his disciples: “If you love me you will keep (Greek tereo) my commandments” (John 14:15; several versions translate tereo here as “obey”). In Acts 5:29 Peter responds to the high priest: “We ought to obey (Greek peitharcheo) God rather than people (anthropoi).” Col. 3:24 tells the Colossians: “You are serving the Lord Christ.” The Greek word for ‘serve’ is douleuo, not hupakouo ‘obey.’ In the Old Testament there are a number of statements explicitly telling people to obey God, e.g. Deut. 27:10; Jer. 26:13.
Nearly as many respondents voted for the next statement: “A man is the head of his wife.” If we take the original Greek text literally, including for its word for the body part for head, kephale, then this statement is explicitly taught in the Bible. Eph. 5:23 explicitly states: “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”. And 1 Cor. 11:3 states: “the head of a wife [lit. a woman] is her husband [lit. the man]” (ESV). I would vote for this statement in the poll. Some may have hesitated to vote for it because of debate over what the Greek word kephale means in these passages that address the relationship of a husband to his wife. My own view is that we need to let the Bible say what it says. It explicitly says that the husband is the “head” of his wife.
We can then discuss what “head” might mean. Does it refer to the English figure of speech where someone can be the head (boss; leader) of a company? Does it refer to the metaphor where head is a source, such as where a river begins. Did the Greek word kephale have a different figurative meaning from that of the English word “head”? These are all legitimate questions. Some feel that the answers in the debate over the meaning of kephale are clear. Others feel they are not.
At this time I lean toward the view that Paul was not using kephale as a figure of speech for ‘boss’, ‘leader’, ‘authority,’ or ‘source.” Rather, Paul was referring to the organic relationship of a head to its body. It is a relationship of unity (Eph. 5:31). The head of a person has a unique relationship to that person’s body. The two cannot be separated without loss of life. They each need each other. Nearly always when Paul refers to headship, he indicates that the head is related to a body (e.g. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:15, 16; 5:23).
So what does it mean for a man to be the head of his wife? Here is what the Bible explicitly says about this matter. In the Ephesians (chapter 5) context of teaching about the husband as head of his wife, the husband head is to love his wife. The husband head is to love his wife sacrificially, “giving himself for her” as Christ gave himself (died) for the church. As far as I know, this is all that the Bible explicitly teaches about what the husband head does for his wife. Everything else which is said on the matter is, I suggest, application or theological extrapolation. Is the husband to lead his wife? Perhaps, but the Bible does not explicitly say so. Does he have authority over her? Perhaps, but the Bible does not explicitly say so, other than when it refers to authority of one kind, mentioned in one passage which we will discuss below, concerning the statement “A husband has authority over his wife”. Is the husband a priest for his wife? The Bible does not teach this. Does a husband mediate between his wife and God. The Bible does not teach this either.
(To be continued in my next post)