Breaking Down Bad Teaching–Men Are The Leaders?

holy spirit mother, woman image of the holy spirit

The book of Genesis describes the control and domination issues between men and women as arising from the fall of both Adam and Eve. After Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God said to her:

“To the woman he [God] said: I shall give you intense pain in childbearing, you will give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (The New Jerusalem Bible, Ge 3:16)

Before this scenario, however, men and women–together–walked in “dominion.”

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion….’” (NRSV Gen 1:27-28).

Men and women once ruled together–they had dominion. After the fall…things changed. Men dominated (ruled, led) their wives. But when Jesus came upon the scene, sin was forgiven and woman–supposedly–were no longer “ruled” by their husbands. However, many argue that the new testament teaches that husbands should “lead” their wives because they are considered the “heads”

“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.”(1 Cor 11:3 NRSV)

This is the key verse that many pastors teach “male leadership” from. Men are to be “the heads of their wives.” In fact, in the past, I’ve been called “a neck” numerous times by different pastors during Sunday morning services. This designation of the wife being the neck is supposed to be a funny and gentle reminder that my husband is the true leader and I am one rung below him–I can, therefore, persuade my husband, but I certainly cannot lead him.

But notice in the above scripture that “Christ is the head of man.” What does it mean to “be the head of man”? Does Christ lead men but not women? Obviously not, since Jesus showed us in the Bible that he is willing to teach both men and women.  A husband and wife team simply does not wait for the husband to communicate with Jesus in order to receive direction and teaching–both husband and wife seek God’s Holy Spirit for direction. So if Christ isn’t just the leader of only men, what is this verse really saying? Actually, this verse doesn’t speak about leadership at all–it speaks about “source.”

Being the “head” does not mean being in authority

Let me say that again, Being the “head” does not mean being in authority. After all, in the Bible the phrase “under the feet” means subjugated under authority[1]). Nor does “head” signify the place where decisions are made (in the Bible the “heart” makes all decisions[2]). Rather, the Bible uses the image of head as being “the source of life.”

Being the “head” means you are the “source of life”

In the Bible, when you want someone dead you take their head. OR, if you want to kill a whole army, you take the leader’s head—you go straight to the “source of life.” This action guarantees the death of the whole army. See Dan. 1:10 for another example of “head” referring to “life.” Likewise to “lift up the head” (see Gen. 40:13) means to grant life and to “bow the head” means to give up your life:

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (NRSV Jn 19:30)

Therefore, in reference to our key verse in 1 Cor. 11:3: “I want you to understand that (1) Christ is the head of every man, and (2) the husband is the head of his wife, and (3) God is the head of Christ” we see clearly that (1) Jesus is the “source of life” for every man simply because Jesus was the one who originally created Adam from dirt in the garden of Eden…and (2) the husband is the “source of life” of his wife simply because Eve came directly from the body of Adam… and (3) God is the “source of life” of Jesus because Jesus was the Light that came from God: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).

1 Corinthians 11:3 is not speaking about who should lead. It is describing the process of birth…”For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God” (1 Co 11:12).

God does not operate in hierarchy; He operates in a relationship based on mutual love and respect. And so should we.

[1] See Ps 8:6, Ps 18:9, 2 Sam 22:10, Mal 4:3, Heb 2:5-8 for the use of the term “under the feet.”

[2] See Gen 8:21, Gen 34:8,  Mt 9:4, Acts 5:4 for the heart making decisions.

 

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3 Comments

  • This is life-changing! People need to hear this teaching!!! This could have changed the course of my life understanding this properly!

  • This came up last night in home group. It was exasperating to be continually told that mutual submission is perfectly fine as long as the woman submitted to the man as the ultimate leader in the home!
    I’m sure we will remain the only egalitarian couple in our overwhelmingly complementarian church… but a girl can dream.

    • It is exasperating, especially since the true teaching of “head” is not that difficult to figure out. I am with you in Spirit, Ally, as you continue along your journey as a woman stepping into her rightful place of dominion!

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