Who is Head of the Home?

by Roger Barrier


My best friend and I were talking recently and he said to me during a discussion about God that, “the Bible was written for people who lived a long-time ago and its word does not pertain to us today.” He was referring to our conversation about the man as head of the household and him needing to lead as head of the household. His spouse is very liberal and a feminist and he was telling me in so many words that the word of God saying that men were the head of household is no longer pertinent today because times have changed. I know this thinking is wrong but how might I explain that the God of Adam is still the same today and that you can’t just pick and choose what you follow from the Bible as a Christian?

Sincerely, S

Dear S,

It sounds as if you had a rather difficult conversation with your friend. The overriding issue you both discussed has to do with what parts of the Bible may still be valid in today’s more “enlightened” culture and which parts are old, outdated and not relevant nor authoritative for today. The subset issue has to do with determining who is in charge in a marriage—the husband or wife? Maybe both? Or perhaps neither?

Let me divide my answer into two parts. First, I will deal with the leadership in marriage issue. Then I will answer the biblical relevancy question next week under the heading, “Is the Bible old-fashioned and out of date?”

Your friend is obviously concerned about his role as a husband in today’s confused set of misunderstandings and misguided values concerning marriage. The idea of a husband leading his family is somewhat of a struggle for him and a seemingly incomprehensible idea to his “feminist” wife.

Let’s see if we can clear this up to everyone’s satisfaction.

The primary Biblical purpose regarding marriage is companionship. God said to Adam in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a ‘partner’ for him.” The Hebrew word for “partner” is hard to translate with only one English word. The idea is one of completion. Adam was incomplete and alone. Eve, the wife God created for him, brought fulfilled completion to both of them in their marriage relationship.

The most significant issue of marriage is not who will lead or who will be in control. The issue is removing aloneness. A mature marriage is one where husband and wife become intimate friends. We are blessed if we have two or three intimate friends in a lifetime. Most people go through life and never have even one.

I often tell people, “You ought to marry your best friend!” Close friends make the best marriage partners.

The passage about the “husband being the head of the household” occurs in Ephesians chapter five. A superficial understanding of Paul’s teaching has led to much abuse. A husband who thinks things like, “I am the head of this household; everyone must answer to me; I am responsible to oversee and control everyone’s life; I am the ultimate authority;” will often bring untold harm to his wife and children. They are open to his mistreatment and emotional dysfunction. The role God has designed for husbands is not at all anything like this.

Husbands are to lead with love—not with power, authority and “divine right.”

In Ephesians 5:21 Paul enunciated the overall attitude for husbands and wives in marriage: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Who is designated to be in charge here? Neither. Mutual submission is the principle attitude behind a successful marriage. Husbands and wives are concerned first about the emotional health and well being of their partners—even before themselves. Also, notice that a healthy marriage is lived out in a relationship context with Jesus Christ. He provides the humility and the power behind a blessed and maturing marriage relationship (See Philippians 2: 1-11.).

Paul continued describing the roles of husband and wife in Ephesians 5:22-33. First, he addressed the women and then he turned to the men.

In Ephesians 5:22-23 Paul advised wives to submit to their husbands in the same way as they submit to Christ who is the head of the church: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Paul adds one more injunction for wives in verse 33: “… and the wife must respect her husband.”

This passage assumes that the wife knows what submitting to Christ looks like. Paul put marriage in a Christian context. Many marriages without Christ tend to fail eventually  as a result of confusion, disunity and disappointment. These failures also occur all too often to Christians who are not experiencing the true life of Christ.

Paul’s instructions are intriguing for what he didn’t say. Paul never instructed wives to love their husbands. I find this a rather glaring omission and want to know why.

In Ephesians 5:25-33 Paul instructed husbands on their roles: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body…. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself.”

The loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ in dying on the cross for His church is the model for how husbands are to love their wives. Husbands are to lay down their lives in sacrifice for their wives in the same way Jesus laid down His life in sacrifice for His church.

Could you imagine that submitting to a husband who always had your best interests at heart might be a rather lovely and enjoyable thing to do!

I often think of the husband as being like the sun and the wife being like the moon. The sun gives off the light and the moon reflects it back. Whatever the husband gives to his wife she will often reflect right back to him. Show me a husband who is pouring anger, resentment, disapproval, disappointment and hurt into his marriage and I will show you a wife who is soon reflecting anger, resentment, disapproval, disappointment and hurt right back to her husband.

On the other hand, show me a husband who is pouring in love, acceptance, forgiveness, approval and compassion and I will show you a wife who is soon reflecting love, acceptance, forgiveness, approval and compassion right back to her husband.

I often use these instructions when I perform wedding ceremonies. I say to the bride, “If he were to love you like Christ loved the church, if he were to lay down his life in sacrifice for you, if he were always to put you and your needs first and if he were defer his own needs in order that your needs were met at all costs, wouldn’t you find it easy to love a man like that?”

I wish you could see the sparkle in her eyes as looks over at the man of her dreams—could she love a man like that! You bet she could! Could she respect a man like that! You bet she could! Could she submit to a man like that—one who always had her best interests at heart—you bet she could!

When husbands love as Christ loved Paul has no need to instruct wives to love them in return—the love of the wives comes automatically.

By the way, remember that wives are to respect their husbands? Respect is a “big deal” for men. Unfortunately, respect does not come automatically. Respect is cultivated over time by the husband’s careful loving and caring for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of his wife. A wife who expresses respect for her husband goes a long way toward meeting one of the deepest needs in his life.

I hope you will be able to share this perspective on a husband being the “head” of the wife. Perhaps your friend and his wife will find that when the Bible is properly understood, it is relevant for every generation and culture.

I hope this helps.


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