On Male Headship and Female Submission

Sam Storms’ remarkable taxonomic heterogeneity (Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian) may be taken as evidence of a confused mind, but his writings is a model of depth in simplicity which indicates a mind of firm and clear conviction. Given below are some excerpts taken from his four recent posts related to “10-things on male headship and female submission.”

On Male Headship
Among the many misconceptions about male headship in Scripture I mention these. First, husbands are never commanded to rule their wives, but to love them. The Bible never says, “Husbands, take steps to insure that your wives submit to you.” Nor does it say, “Husbands, exercise headship and authority over your wives.” Rather, the principle of male headship is either asserted or assumed and men are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church…Headship is never portrayed in Scripture as a means for self-satisfaction or self-exaltation. Headship is always other-oriented. I can’t think of a more horrendous sin than exploiting the God-given responsibility to lovingly lead by perverting it into justification for using one’s wife and family to satisfy one’s lusts and thirst for power.

Headship is not the power of a superior over an inferior. Human nature is sinfully inclined to distort the submission of the wife into the superiority of the husband. That some, in the name of male headship, have done precisely this cannot be denied, but it must certainly be denounced. We must also remember that the abuse of headship is not sufficient justification for abandoning it. Rather, we must strive, in God’s grace, to redeem it and purify it in a way that honors both Christ and one’s spouse.

Headship is the authority to serve. John Stott explains that “If headship means ‘power’ in any sense, then it is power to care, not to crush; power to serve, not to dominate; power to facilitate self-fulfillment, not to frustrate or destroy it. And in all this the standard of the husband’s love is to be the cross of Christ, on which he surrendered himself even to death in his selfless love for his bride”

Headship means loving and caring for one’s wife as much as Christ loves and cares for us. See Eph. 5:25-27. Christ’s love for us has several characteristics. It is unconditional (Rom. 5:8), eternal (Rom. 8:39), unselfish (Phil. 2:6-7), purposeful (Eph. 5:26-27), sacrificial (Eph. 5:25), and demonstrative (Rom. 5:6-8). These characteristics are best summed up by John Stott:

Christ ‘loved’ the church and ‘gave himself’ for her, in order to ‘cleanse’ her, ‘sanctify’ her, and ultimately ‘present’ her to himself in full splendour and without any defect. In other words, his love and self-sacrifice were not an idle display, but purposive. And his purpose was not to impose an alien identity upon the church, but to free her from the spots and wrinkles which mar her beauty and to display her in her true glory. The Christian husband is to have a similar concern. His headship will never be used to suppress his wife. He longs to see her liberated from everything which spoils her true feminine identity and growing towards that ‘glory’, that perfection of fulfilled personhood which will be the final destiny of all those whom Christ redeems. To this end Christ gave himself. To this end, too, the husband gives himself in love” (Stott).

 

On Female Submission
Submission (Gk., hupotasso) carries the implication of voluntary yieldedness to a recognized authority. Biblical submission is appropriate in several relational spheres: the wife to her husband (Eph. 5:22-24); children to their parents (Eph. 6:1); believers to the elders of the church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12); citizens to the state (Rom. 13); servants (employees) to their masters (employers) (1 Pt. 2:18); and each believer to every other believer in humble service (Eph. 5:21).

Submission is not grounded in any supposed superiority of the husband or inferiority of the wife (see Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:7). The concept of the wife being the “helper” (Gen. 2:18-22) of the husband in no way implies her inferiority. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “helper” is often used in the OT to refer to God as the “helper” of mankind. Surely he is not inferior to us! Rather, this passage means that the husband, even before the fall into sin, was incomplete without his wife and that the husband will never reach his full potential apart from the input of his wife.

Submission does not mean a wife is obligated to follow should her husband lead her into sin. The biblical principle that we owe obedience to God first and foremost applies to Christian wives as well. If there must be a choice between obedience to God and obedience to the state, God is to be obeyed (Acts 5:29). The same would apply in a marriage.

Submission does not entail silence. Many mistakenly think a wife is unsubmissive if (a) she ever criticizes her husband (constructive criticism that is lovingly motivated and corrective in nature is not inconsistent with godly submission), (b) makes requests of him (in particular, that her husband and family act responsibly in private and public; submission of the wife is not an excuse for sin or sloth or sloppiness in the husband), or (c) teaches her husband (cf. Prov. 31:26; Acts 18:26). It is not inconsistent with godly submission that a wife be more intelligent or more articulate than her husband. On a personal note, I’ve probably learned more from my wife than from any other living soul.

 

You should read his four posts on the subject and lovingly discuss the issue with your spouse.

10 Things You Should Know About Male Headship

10 Things You should Know about Female Submission

10 Things You should Know about Ephesians 5 and Mutual Submission

10 Things You should Know about 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and the Relationship between Men and Women in the Local Church