Headship and Submission, The Roles of Marriage

Recently, I read an article entitled “6 Things Egalitarian Marriage is Not“, which was posted by The Junia Project. If you haven’t been exposed to what “Egalitarianism” is, it is simply, one way of describing spousal roles and their relation to each other. The term comes from the French word “egal” meaning equal. The Egalitarian describes the husband and wife to be equal in their value as individual people and equal in the roles they perform. I don’t agree with this understanding, but there are a couple of things to commend The Junia Project for. First, they confess to believe in a high view of Scripture: the Bible is God’s Word, perfect and authoritative for our life. Second, they believe in the triune nature of God: God is three persons, Father, Spirit, and Son. Lastly, they believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and salvation is through repentance and faith in him.

I hold to the view of “Complementarianism”, which affirms that men and women are equal before God, equal in the image they bear, equal in worth and dignity, but have separate and distinct roles that complement each other. In reading Robin Rhine’s article that I mentioned above, I found places of agreement and places of disagreement. Some of these disagreements don’t make me think she isn’t a Christian, but it does persuade me to think she hasn’t grasped the correct view of gender roles and marriage the way the Bible describes it. Here are some points of disagreement:

  1. The Male Headship Role as a Post-Fall Reality. Rhine doesn’t make this point in her article, but The Junia Project believes this to be true. This point directs our attention to Genesis, which is a great place to get a foundation for understanding gender roles and marriage. Genesis 2:19-20 describes that God gave the command to man to name all the animals. The job of naming is something that in Hebrew literature is a sign of authority, leadership, and, as I would like to call it, headship. God named Adam to show God’s headship over Adam. So the created order of headship follows as God, to man, to woman and then to living creatures. All of this is from Genesis 2. The headship order is in effect before the fall of Genesis 3. God rules over man and man rules over women, but this isn’t at the expense of treating women as unequal in the worth that they have or the image they bear. Paul appeals to the created order in 1 Timothy 2:13, which shows the leadership role of man over woman because man was created first.
  2. Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: There is no doubt about that this passage is difficult to interpret. Rhine establishes her interpretation of this passage by saying, “Egalitarian marriage is not the removal of a covering, but the affirmation of Jesus Christ as the ‘covering’ and the Lord of all those who have chosen to follow Him.” It’s bad to allegorize the covering that Paul is speaking about as Jesus. You should interpret this covering to be a literal covering that the people, who Paul was addressing, would have worn in that day. I don’t support an interpretation that says we should practice the cultural custom of which Paul is speaking to, but the principle should be practiced. The principle is that women should be subject to their husbands headship (v. 3) by showing even outwardly that they are in submission to their husbands, who is the head. Christ represents the head of the Church, just as the husband is the head and leader of his wife  (Ephesians 5:23).
  3. Egalitarianism Promotes Kingdom Work. Rhine seems to make the point that Egalitarianism and/or Egalitarian marriage is something that is meant for the Kingdom. Rhine puts it this way saying, “Egalitarian marriage is not a way of living that’s meant to be feared. It is a way to live that is meant for the Kingdom.” My understanding of marriage, which I believe to be Paul’s and Jesus’ understanding, is that husbands are to represent Christ in their marriages as way of portraying the gospel. Women aren’t excluded from this work of picturing the gospel, but their contribution to it isn’t the same as the way the husband contributes to it. Woman are to submit (Ephesians 5:22) and in submitting they contribute to the picture of the gospel; this idea of marriage is presented when the Kingdom actually comes. Revelation 19:6-10 pictures the Kingdom coming and the consummation of this Kingdom by the marriage supper of the Lamb. Christ, who is the head and leader, marries his Bride, the submissive Church. What better way to be apart of Kingdom work by picturing marriage the way God has intended marriage to be! The husband lovingly leads his wife, who graciously submits to him because of his great leadership. This is why we serve Jesus, because he is a great head who we can trust his leadership. Jesus is worthy to submit to because of the great sacrifice he has shown for us on the cross!

More (free!) resources about the view I hold can be found here.


12 thoughts on “Headship and Submission, The Roles of Marriage

  1. Boluwade Kujero says:

    I came across this page by following a link on the article this post is responding to.

    I was actually looking to post a comment there but now I think you’ve fairly responded according to my understanding of the Scriptures pertaining to this subject matter.

    I would however like to add a bit more on the hierarchy thing, especially in response to Andrew’s objections. I’m quite aware that I’m 2 years late but I suppose it could yet be of help to someone later.

    The superiority of a man over a woman is only within the context of a marriage. Notice that this is always emphasized, not in mere discussions about genders but more specifically discussions about genders in a marriage institution. It is a superiority of rank not of gender, even though the ranks are gender-specific and not interchangeable.

    The husband is the head of his wife JUST AS Christ is the head of the Church. If there is no debating the headship of Christ and its being superior to the Church, I wonder why we debate the headship of a husband over his wife.

    The husband has authority over his wife in a way that is not matched or back reflected in the wife. Because of this authority the wife is commanded to be “subject to” him just as the Church is subject to Christ. No where in the Christian body of instructions is something similar stated of the wife for which the husband is commanded to be subject to his wife.

    The injunction of Eph. 5:21 is not a marriage-specific injunction but a Christian-specific one. The discussion up to this point was Christian wide and not limited to marriage. Believers are to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” This is submission out of regard for Christ, who is in each of us and works through each member of his body. It is a considerate submission borne out of respect for the Christ as expressed in each believer. It is not out of obligation to any authority the other believer has over one. So a believer mother would submit to her believer daughter in this reverence and vice versa as much as a believer father would do same to his believer son and vice versa. Even a king who is a believer would submit in this same way to his subjects who are believers. It is not a divestiture of his authority as king or an equalization of it with those of his kingdom subjects, it is an expression of sound Christian humility. It is also not just one of different roles, which it is, but as well of roles invested with hierarchy, hierarchy that does not void base equality.

    The submission enjoined of wives is however expressly connected to the authority their husbands have over them; it is not a considerate submission. It is not even flat submission to every husband. It is very narrow and limited to a wife and HER OWN husband. It also didn’t matter if the husband was a believer or not. So the argument cannot be put forth that he does not have Christ in him so the wife can avoid submitting. Christ in him or not, he is the head and bears authority over his wife. So even if the relationship that recommends the submission of vs 21 does not exist, the marriage relationship compels the submission of vs 22.

    “Wives, submit to your OWN husbands, as to the Lord. FOR the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. THEREFORE, JUST AS the church is SUBJECT TO Christ, SO LET the wives BE to THEIR OWN husbands in everything.
    Ephesians 5:22‭-‬24 NKJV

    So, to use the broader Christian submission of verse 21 to nullify or neutralize the narrower submission of a wife to her husband in a marriage is to turn the Scripture on its head. It’s comparable to nullifying the authority of, say, parents over their children, or that of employers over their employees by the same token. No sound Christian person would teach that in the name of Christian submission. Children are subject to their parents in a way that is not interchangeable, even if both are submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Similarly, employees are subject to their employers non-interchangeably.

    The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal as to nature but vary in rank. The Father is greater than Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Son calls the Father his God not the other way. The Son is subject to the Father not the other way. The Holy Spirit receives from both the Father and Son, not the other way. This is hierarchy and order. Hierarchy is not necessarily against equality. They can exist in different spheres concurrently amongst individuals without conflict because we can be related to one to another in different ways at the same time without varying in ourselves except in our roles.

    Finally, in response to Andrew’s question about hierarchy in heaven, yes it will still exist. Our faithfulness here is building for us varying weights of glory and authority for the age to come.

    But let us even assume that there will not be hierarchy hereafter, what has that got to do with this issue? Does the fact that marriage will no longer exist in heaven mean that it has no place here on earth now? So even if hierarchy were to disappear in heaven amongst believers it does not mean it has no place here and now.


  2. Andrew (@caldwa) says:

    “The authority of man over woman in heaven is not relevant.”

    But it is! If there is no hierarchy of men over women in heaven, then why should there be that hierarchy now? Hasn’t Jesus already ushered in the new Kingdom? Shouldn’t we be living into new ways of being human in there here and now that will ultimately be fully realized in the future?

    “You can disagree with the exegesis of Genesis 2, but there is no other to read that text without saying something that the text isn’t saying.”

    So there’s only one way to read the text and it’s yours? That’s a big claim 🙂

    Since you don’t think that my reading of 1 Timothy 2 is “valid”, here is a link to an essay by NT Wright (who is an expert on Pauline studies). You’ll find he says basically what I just posted in my last comment.


    He’s certainly a more credible source than either of us! As far as Moo goes, yes I’m familiar with his exegesis, and I would disagree with him (based on NT Wright and others exegesis).

    Even Moo himself hasn’t been consistent on the exegesis of this passage

    “[1980] It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul cites Eve’s failure as exemplary and perhaps causative of the nature of women in general and that this susceptibility to deception bars them from engaging n public teaching..
    [2006] It may be that Paul wants to imply that all women are, like Eve, more susceptible to being deceived than are men, and that this is why they should not be teaching men! While this interpretation is not impossible, we think it unlikely.”


    Here’s what I will say: take away 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5:22-24, Complementarians would have a tall order to argue hierarchy of men over women, because the whole view comes from a few verses, and contested interpretation of those few verses. I think that there is better exegesis than Complementarians offer on those verses, and I’ve yet to hear a compelling defense *without* using those verses.


    1. Kyle Gross says:

      It seems that Wright agrees with me on what I was saying about the Galatians passage and not using it for the roles of men and women. I would still argue to disagree with Wright in how he understands 1 Timothy 2, though Wright makes a lot of good points about Paul and his works, I disagree with him on a lot of things (New Perspective on Paul).

      It isn’t valid to argue that Moo can’t be trusted because he changed his interpretation on a particular passage, especially within a 26 year frame! I’m sure you and I have changed interpretations on things within a shorter time frame. I would still argue him to be trustworthy source for the 1 Timothy passage. At least many of the authors that were cited in your link give such time to looking at these texts. Yet, they still have more evidence for complementarianism than egalitarianism.

      You can take away those texts and still have 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14:33-36, Colossians 3:18-18, and 1 Peter 3: 1-7 which support complementarianism.

      We can go back and forth on these points. In all, if we both believe in essentials of the Trinity, salvation through Christ alone through faith alone, and the innerancy and authority of the Scripture, then we can share the gospel together. However, we may not be able to do family and marriage ministry together.

      Thanks for all your input.


  3. Andrew (@caldwa) says:

    Also – Paul says we are to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ – does that mean all submission is submission to an authority? How, then, are husbands to submit to the authority of their wives (which they must if all submission is to authority as you suggest, and Paul exhorts husbands to submit to their wives) in a hierarchical framework?

    Secondly – if in Galatians 3:28 as you say does not describe a dismantling of the hierarchy of men over women, then wouldn’t that also be the case for slaves and slaves masters in the passage? Would you then suggest that Paul is saying slaves should continue on being slaves for eternity, despite their new standing in Christ?


    1. Kyle Gross says:


      If you mean hierarchy as in the wife’s role is to submit and man’s role is to lead then yes I believe in a hierarchy. Of course there will be a hierarchy in Heaven because Christ will still be the head of his people, the Church, in heaven.

      When Paul says to submit to one another he then explains what the submission looks like when describing husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters. That’s obvious of the text. Mutual submission takes place but that submission looks different depending on who is submitting, which is what Paul does by continuing to the certain types of people and how they are to submit. With Galatians, the slaves and masters doesn’t apply today because we don’t have slaves and masters anymore. That relationship existed in Paul’s time. He had to address how that relationship works within the gospel.

      If you say Adam isn’t the namer of the animals and woman then you disagree with the text itself. He does that and it’s a obvious sign of authority. God names Adam since God is the head. Adam names animals and woman because he is head over them. I don’t argue that based on the gender of the woman but on when she was created, which Paul does the same thing. She isn’t to submit because she is a woman, but rather because she was created after Adam (1 Timothy 2:13).


      1. Andrew (@caldwa) says:

        No, I mean will men have authority over women in heaven?

        Slaves and masters applied at one time. Yes of course this whole passage is contextual, but how is some of it contextual and some of it not contextual? Would you say that Paul is saying that there is no slave or free in the context of his culture? Paul could be speaking about how men and women are ordered (hierarchy in that culture) just as he is speaking about slaves and slave masters (hierarchy in that culture). I think he is deconstructing both.

        I don’t disagree that Adam names the animals and Eve – I disagree that it is “clear” that the text demands that men have authority over women because of that. I disagree with that exegesis, and I’m not the only one.

        1 Timothy 2:13 is about women learning under their teachers for a time. Certainly women who have become new Christians need to learn and study under their tutors for a time, like any student must learn under their tutor. To say that this verse means that women must always be under men is reading the text out of its context and doing a disservice to what Paul is saying. It would be similar preposterous to suggest that you or I must be under the authority of our childhood Sunday school teacher for the rest of our lives in all aspects of our lives because we needed to learn under them when we were young Christians. As my college professor used to say, “A text read outside its context is a pretext to use it as a prooftext.”


      2. Kyle Gross says:

        The authority of man over woman in heaven is not relevant.

        Your understanding of Gal. 3 isn’t valid. Paul’s argument is clear if you read the book and the specific chapter. Paul is saying that anyone who trusts in Jesus by faith alone is included. Paul is fighting against Jews saying gentile Christians have to be circumcised in order to be a Christian. He makes his point and says that anyone whether it be a Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female, they are all on in Christ through faith alone. You cannot draw meaning from the text that the author didn’t mean to say. Many scholars say that he is showing the exclusivity of all kinds of people into Jesus by faith alone.

        You can disagree with the exegesis of Genesis 2, but there is no other to read that text without saying something that the text isn’t saying.

        Again, your understanding of 1 Timothy 2:13 isn’t valid. I have never read a credible source on that chapter that what Paul is referring to is woman who need to be in submission to the authority which is man. Now sure, woman don’t have to have the same teacher for the rest of their life. Paul is most likely, as Douglas Moo says, ” that
        women at Ephesus (the false teaching Paul is addressing) were expressing their “liberation” from their husbands, or from other men in the church, by criticizing and speaking out against male leaders. (The basic issue may, then, be roughly the same as in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36.) This tendency Paul encourages Timothy to counter by enforcing the principle of submission of the women to
        the appropriate male leadership.”


  4. Andrew (@caldwa) says:

    To your first point – I think that you reading into Genesis 2 this hierarchy of men over women. I see Adam and Eve working together to tend the garden, carrying out the same role which you have a problem with (not that this is prescriptive of how marriages should work, in terms of the same role being carried out by husbands and wives). The curse that comes in Genesis 3 is a part of sin – and thus this hierarchical ordering of men and women (which is played out in disastrous ways in the OT not as directions of how men and women should be ordered, but as a story of how sin can live on in dehumanizing ways) is a part of the fall, and not to be lived out in our new lives in Christ.

    If we are truly to be the people that Paul describes in Gal 3:28, then we must do away with the hierarchical ordering of men and women that you allude to in Gen 3.

    Let me ask you this – do you believe that men will have authority over women throughout eternity? If yes, than I would contend that you are ignoring Gal 3:28 along with the rest of the NT. If no, then we as the Church should be living into the new reality of humanity that God is calling us to and start by living that out today.


    1. Kyle Gross says:


      Genesis 2 establishes man’s authority over women through naming. Paul many times in Scripture (1 Timothy 2:13, 1 Cor. 11:8-9) appeals to the created order, which assumes male headship over woman. Naming is used to denote authority as well as identifying (this is self-evident by “naming”), but authority is a reality in naming. God names Adam, Adam names the animals and woman. I do agree that men who act in sinful domination over their wives is a result of the fall. Paul doesn’t appeal to the fall but rather to the created order of Genesis 2 in NT passages. You can’t read Genesis 2 with the rest of Scripture without an understanding that men and woman are created equal and yet are in submission to some authority (wives to husbands, children to parents, slaves to masters).

      It is wrong of you to suggest that the egalitarian view is upheld by quoting Gal. 3:28 because it says that since we are all one in Christ that there is no distinction of roles or even submission to authority. Paul isn’t even talking about that at all! He never makes those points, especially saying since we are all in Christ that there is no role distinction or submission to authority. Paul is clearly saying that we are all one in Christ in response to circumcision heresy of the Galatian Church. If whether you are a Jew or Gentile, Male or Female if you believe in Jesus you are included in God’s people through faith alone. Role distinctions and submission to authority is still a reality for God’s people even after salvation in Christ. I would contend that your the one who is ignoring plain and obvious texts of the NT that teach role distinctions and submission to authority (wives to husbands).


      1. Andrew (@caldwa) says:

        Nah, I just don’t agree with Adam’s role as “namer” means that he has a hierarchy over Eve, or that that becomes prescriptive of how men and women are ordered.

        You didn’t answer my question of whether there will be a hierarchy in heaven 🙂

        As far as Gal 3:28, I don’t think it’s a stretch to read it that way. I think it’s a bit disingenuous of Complementarians to argue for a “plain” reading scripture but then ignore the “plain” reading when it comes to Gal 3:28.

        Also, we’re not arguing about roles – we are arguing about hierarchy. Sure, men and women have different roles in a marriage – Egalitarians aren’t arguing that all should be androgynous. It’s an issue of hierarchy, and I still have never heard a competent or convincing argument from any Complementarian (as if Egalitarians don’t believe in the complementarity of men and women – we do!) how men can have authority over women on the basis of gender, and women are excluded from bearing Christ-likeness in certain aspects on the basis of their gender, but still be equal in their standing before God and co-eikons to the world. Hierarchy and equality are at odds with each other.


  5. Andrew (@caldwa) says:


    I would disagree with your description of “Egalitarianism” when you say that, “The Egalitarian describes the husband and wife to be equal in their value as individual people and equal in the roles they perform.” Yes, people that ascribe to some form of what you call “Egalitarianism” do believe that “men and women are equal before God, equal in the image they bear, equal in worth and dignity” (which you claim for Complementarians but don’t describe how their can be a hierarchy of men over women but equal in dignity/image-bearing), however I wouldn’t say that it centers on the belief that men and women in marriage are equal in the roles that they perform. I would say that it is based on *gifts*, not *gender*, that husbands and wives carry out their roles in marriage. This carries out to ministry as well. Not all men are called to be pastors, but some women are called by the Holy Spirit to be pastors, and we believe that they should follow this calling based on their gifts and talents, not their gender.


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