Rule Versus Lead

I’m just thinking out loud here. But the more I ponder this Biblically, the more strongly I feel. I stumbled across a blog article that started as a positive shout out to something John Piper said and descended into a complementarian v. egalitarian debate. And the sides weren’t clear. It got all mixed up. One particular comment on the husband’s rule as outlined in the curse of Genesis 3:16 stuck out to me and made me think. Is the husband supposed to RULE the wife?

Huh? Why is that even a question? Why would anyone even ATTEMPT to use that language positively? It’s the CURSE. Didn’t Christ come to redeem us from the curse?! Isn’t oppressive rule by a man a sign of the curse and not redemption? I thought, even as a complementarian, that was obvious.

But that thought when voiced on that particular comment thread was quickly followed with a diminishing of any role in the church and home for men/women and husbands/wives. So can you believe the man is not supposed to RULE his wife (and how can you NOT Biblically?!) and still be a complementarian? I think so. In fact, I have great confidence the more I look at the precise way Scripture talks about husbands and wives IN CHRIST in the New Covenant that we can and must hold to both.

Obviously, in the New Covenant, there remain issues of role and authority. There are limitations on women, if you want to think of them that way. If you can indeed call the limitations placed on Christ or Paul in ministry limitations, then I guess you can call those on women limitations as well. But really, it’s just a call to be like Christ in a specific manifestation of His humility. All are called to love, but the husband is called to give a particular example of love. All are called to submit, but the wife is called to give a particular example of submission. Furthermore, the husband is clearly called the head of the wife as Christ is of the church. So there is definitely still in the New Covenant issues of role and authority. But it must be viewed distinctly different than the curse. In fact, I think it is DEAD WRONG to positively use the terminology of husbands “ruling over” their wives today.

I found it very helpful to simply look up the definition of rule and lead in English dictionaries. Scripture doesn’t use the term LEAD, but when you put together the individual instructions to husbands in the New Covenant, I think this term best sums it up for today’s English speakers.

Rule: to control or direct; exercise dominating power, authority, or influence over; to decide or declare judicially or authoritatively; decree:

Folks, that is clearly in Scripture the CURSE.

Lead: to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort:

And THAT is the picture Paul paints of marriage in the image of God, particularly in Ephesians 5.

Some may call this semantics, but even so, if semantics was ever important, it is on this point. God calls us through headship and submission in marriage to reflect beautiful, important things about He and His Church. Things about the New Covenantal, redemptive relationship between Christ and His Body. And it is DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT than the curse. May we always note that clearly in our writing. And may we, as complementarians, correct this among ourselves whenever we hear it emphasized incorrectly.

23 Responses to Rule Versus Lead

  1. birthinukraine July 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    one insight that really helped me properly view and understand the complementarian application in life, is that the husband and wife must both be head in humility and submit in humility. it works beautifully when both parties have Christ's humility.

    then, egals emphasize mutual submission. but i think comps are better to emphasize mutual service. The husband and wife serve each other.

    and susan hunts says that when couples are walking in unity, the headship/submission question really is pretty imperceptible, in a healthy way.

  2. Liz July 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    It's so similar to the clear description of the role of pastor/shepherd/elder in the NT. (and I think one could argue that the husband is the elder of his house, in a sense) Clearly, they are given leadership- but hardly the ability to “rule over.” Quite the opposite. By being in leadership, one is subjected to the needs of the person they are leading. Humble servitude is sometimes the best leadership, yes?

  3. Wendy July 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    “Humble servitude is sometimes the best leadership, yes?” It certainly is in terms of how Christ describes it! 🙂

  4. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    Wait…We're not under the curse anymore?? Why is working the land still so hard and why is child birth still so painful???

  5. Saralyn July 21, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    I think a lot of this gets tangled up in the practical aspect of things. Does the Bible delineate who should clean the toilets and who should pay the bills? Or even who should go to work and who should train the kids? We have defined submission (or allowed it to be defined for us) outside of what Scripture says and now have a plethera of books, seminars, and organizations telling us what to “do” to be “biblical” wives rather than to Whom we should cling.

  6. Saralyn July 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    Anonymous–Scripture is full of now and not yet's: the kingdom has come/the kingdom is coming, we are saved/are being saved/ and will be saved, we are adopted/we will be adopted. The curse is the same way. We've been redeemed by Christ from the curse but are still bound by its physical aspects. We are “growning together” with all the earth. We've been set free from the law of sin and death, and yet unless Jesus returns beforehand, we will all physically succumb to it. So, yes, we are no longer living under the curse, but yes, we are.

  7. Wendy July 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    “Wait…We're not under the curse anymore?? Why is working the land still so hard and why is child birth still so painful???”

    I agree with Saralyn's response. We have to contrast what IS verses what WILL BE. And we live in light of what WILL BE. Redemption defines us, not the curse. Yes, work is hard, childbirth is painful, women obsess over men, and husbands rule their wives. But we don't have to fatalistically embrace it. In Christ, we are on a different trajectory. We don't seek out painful births or bad jobs. We don't promote the curse. We don't accept it as just the ways things are destined to be.

    But more importantly, I have read patriarchal literature that actually PRESCRIBES it. “Husbands rule over their wives.” And I just want to point out that that language is not acceptable in the New Covenant. There is a big difference in describing what is and prescribing what should be. And the word “rule” should not be prescribed in the marriage relationship. That's just really bad theology.

  8. narbhflaith July 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    I would have to agree Wendy and you encouraged me to write this post.

    http://narbhflaith.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/why-are-we-still-fighting-for-feminism-and-chauvinism-in-the-christian-community/

    It's a soapbox issue for me… bad theology … based on pride and selfishness… humility and confession is what's needed most.

    Hugz, Luvz, Grace and Peace!

  9. Bina July 22, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    Wendy, I totally agree with this post. Whether our bent is complimentarian or egalitarian, our default is to add to or take away from the Word in such a way that we completely miss the point, the heart of the gospel–sacrificial, sincere, humble, pursuing, scandalous, gospel love–the very love of God! The result is hard-heartedness in the liberties we take or in our forced attempts to walk through the motions. Both are loveless. How we (I!!) need Him to correct this failing in us (me!!), moment by moment!

  10. Anonymous July 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    [quote]Wait…We're not under the curse anymore?? Why is working the land still so hard and why is child birth still so painful???”

    I agree with Saralyn's response. We have to contrast what IS verses what WILL BE. And we live in light of what WILL BE. Redemption defines us, not the curse. Yes, work is hard, childbirth is painful, women obsess over men, and husbands rule their wives. But we don't have to fatalistically embrace it. In Christ, we are on a different trajectory. We don't seek out painful births or bad jobs. We don't promote the curse. We don't accept it as just the ways things are destined to be.

    But more importantly, I have read patriarchal literature that actually PRESCRIBES it. “Husbands rule over their wives.” And I just want to point out that that language is not acceptable in the New Covenant. There is a big difference in describing what is and prescribing what should be. And the word “rule” should not be prescribed in the marriage relationship. That's just really bad theology[quote]

    I totally agree with you Wendy. God gave the woman a description of what the future held for her. Not a prescription of what it takes to have a Godly marriage. To many women have 'drank the kool-aid' if you like, of a continual and perpetual curse on women that they can never fully be absolved from. Therefore, women feel compeled to keep working and pleasing and serving etc. It is a never ending cycle that women enter trying to make up for Eve's partication in the fall (which by male standards they never can.)

    Terri Tippins

  11. Anonymous July 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    “Furthermore, the husband is clearly called the head of the wife as Christ is of the church. So there is definitely still in the New Covenant issues of role and authority.”

    Very much agree with entire post – and with regard to this particular quote it's important to remember exactly how Christ defined the role of being at the head of the Church by turning the world's view of leadership on it's head. How did Christ exercise His leadership? He didn't lead and gain victory through harshly aggressive, worldly power mongering. Rather, as we all know, He humbled Himself and gave up His power when on the cross – in order to gain power. And this is the model to which the husband is supposed to follow – this depth of sacrifice which is not humanly possible but only made possible with the power of the Holy Spirit.

    LDT

  12. Anonymous July 22, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    Thanks Saralyn and Wendy!!

  13. justachristianinla July 23, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    “But really, it’s just a call to be like Christ in a specific manifestation of His humility.” I love the simplicity surrounding this statement. Christ submitted to the Father in the garden of gethsemane, and that did not make Him better or worse or superior or inferior to the Father, it was Jesus's role in the salvation of humanity. I want to be like Christ, and Christ was not above submission.

  14. Anonymous July 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    Post: “All are called to love, but the husband is called to give a particular example of love.”

    Does the absence of a specific instruction to wives to love like Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, nourishing and cherishing her, exempt wives from loving their husbands in the same Christ-like, self-sacrificing, nourishing, cherishing way?

    Post: “All are called to submit, but the wife is called to give a particular example of submission.”

    Are husbands exempt from displaying the same or similar example of submission because wives in real time and circumstances are called to give a particular example of submission?

    Answers in the affirmative to these questions seem to me to be assumptions.

    Post: “Furthermore, the husband is clearly called the head of the wife as Christ is of the church.”

    Yes, the head-body metaphor described in Ephesians 5 is a beautiful picture of a symbiotic relationship. Husbands in the first century church, in which there was no cultural pressure to do so, are instructed to love their wives in a self-sacrificing way—like Christ loved His body for whom He nourishes and cherishes.

    Post: “So there is definitely still in the New Covenant issues of role and authority.”

    I recall from reading, that the era of the beginnings of the New Testament church (not the New Covenant) were definitely concerned with issues of role and authority. The Greco-Roman culture was consumed with prominence and status. Among others things, male authority and privilege were assumed. Female submission and obedience were assumed. The influence of the gospel was of paramount importance. The instructions in the epistles to real people in real time in a culture devoted to prominence, status, authority, and obedience structures gives a new Christian ethic so that the gospel not be maligned or its influence subverted. As I understand it, the epistles reveal how the gospel informed the early Christians of how they should live given their stations and circumstances.

    Post: “But it must be viewed distinctly different than the curse. In fact, I think it is DEAD WRONG to positively use the terminology of husbands “ruling over” their wives today. “

    Agreed. To be consumed with the acquisition of power, status, and authority is the inclination of a fallen nature.

    SM

  15. Anonymous July 25, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Post: “Lead: to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort:

    And THAT is the picture Paul paints of marriage in the image of God, particularly in Ephesians 5.”

    Where specifically in Ephesians 5 does Paul address that husbands are to go before or with, show the way, or escort? I only see that he specifically addresses the manner and degree to which husbands are to love their wives. To see that Paul is describing a way in which husbands are to lead their wives is to see what I cannot see.

    SM

  16. Wendy July 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    Thanks for interacting, SM.

    I think I can answer several of these at once by looking at the term, “head.” Head is kefale, and is translated several other places in the NT as chief. We have to deny both the Greek and English meaning of the term head to suggest this means only a symbiotic connection without indicating leadership or authority. The head of the company. The head of the class. Head indicates a position of leadership. It did in the Greek then. It does still in the English now.

  17. Anonymous July 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Wendy, this discussion is usually puzzling to me. My perception is that often one thing is said that is explained away in the next breath. The original post here objects to the word/idea of ruling and prefers the word/idea of leading. The original post explictly says that the Bible does not instruct husbands to lead and mentions Ephesians 5 where the husbands are explictly instructed to love. (The idea of either ruling or leading must come from instructions to the wife to submit, not the instructions to the husband to love. If we use the Christ/husband analogy, how far do we go? Surely Christ has the authority to rule and judge the church. Do husbands have the same authority over wives?)

    When SM takes this idea of not ruling further, she is told that the description of the husband as head indicates leadership or authority. In the definitions given in the original post, the word authority is only used as a definition for rule, not lead. So….. What's the deal?

    I guess the questions are – does leadership contain the idea of authority? (Normally, I would say so, but that term is noticeably lacking in the definition given for “lead” for the purposes of this discussion). Where does the authority of the husband begin and end? Does the wife have any authority in a marriage that is hers, or does she only have authority that is granted by the husband?

    I've honestly seen any clear answers on what constitutes the authority of a husband in marriage, except from the crowd that clearly sees husbands as rulers.

    Dana

  18. Wendy July 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Yes, there is authority. But it's clearly authority with restraint. The restraints aren't laid out in descending order. This only works as the outflow of an organic union with Christ, and I think the clarity of the answers I can give won't satisfy you.

  19. Anonymous July 27, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    Paul's use of the head-body metaphor is interesting to say the least. If Paul intended to teach or uphold male authority and rule as a divine institution, couldn’t he have easily said, “the husband is the archon of his wife”? Or, even with its range of meanings, “the husband is the kephale of his wife” without the head-body metaphor? With the former his meaning would have been incontrovertible, right? With the latter assumed? But, Paul used kepahle within an extended head-body metaphor which has to have significance, right? Paul seems to be very judicious with his words. If he intended to convey ruler/leader would it not have been more clear to say, “Christ is the head of the church of which he is the ruler/leader” rather than “Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the savior” within an extended head-body metaphor?

    Would it not be surprising to the original audience for Paul to be silent within the household codes about the husband/father/master's authority?

    It does appear he is giving a Christian ethic, informing the new believers of how they should live within their station rather than upholding a hierarchical structure for the preservation of social order which was the general purpose of household codes.

    The employment of an extended head-body metaphor; his diction and phrasing(nourish, cherish, sacrifice for the body, cleansing, washing, giving up for the body, love as their own bodies, no one hated his own body, members of his body); the reference to Genesis to leave and unite and two becoming one seem to paint a clear picture of a symbiotic relationship of husband and wife in the same way that Christ is kephale of his own body–the church.

    SM

  20. Wendy July 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    If he intended to convey ruler/leader would it not have been more clear to say, “Christ is the head of the church of which he is the ruler/leader” rather than “Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the savior” within an extended head-body metaphor?

    There is no need for clearer language. Anything more than what he said would be redundant. Your premise only works if “head” doesn't indicate authority, but it inherently does.

  21. Anonymous July 28, 2010 at 5:04 am #

    “Anything more than what he said would be redundant.”

    Was it not then redundant even patronizing to state the obvious–husbands WERE the ruler over their wives and households including children & slaves?

    Unless, of course he was using kephale within a head-body metaphor and peppering it with carefully constructed phrases and purposeful wording that do not convey in the least the exercise of authority and ruling which would have been expected, but gave an entirely new ethic to the household codes?

    Your premise only works if the extended metaphor is ignored along with the purposeful diction and phrasing i.e. nourish, cherish, sacrifice for the body, cleansing, washing, giving up for the body, no one hated his own body, members of his body; the reference to Genesis to leave and unite and two becoming one; and the specific instruction to not lead, rule, or exercise authority but love his wife as his own body.

    Peace.

    SM

  22. Wendy July 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Your premise only works if the extended metaphor is ignored …

    Not at all. The extended metaphor along with his purposeful phrasing informs exactly what this looks like.

    Thanks for interacting, SM. This is my last comment, and I'll give you the last word.

  23. Loraena August 2, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    Not sure I've ever commented before, though I love reading your posts. Many of your recent topics are almost uncannily relevant to my life right now, too.

    I think this is a valuable discussion because there is so much confusion around this topic. I did some study on submission/headship in scripture (related specifically to wives) about two years ago and found a chapter in Susan Hunt's book “The True Woman” helpful. Also, John Piper preached a sermon called “The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood” that was very helpful and brought out the fact that headship & submission is meant to be a reflection of the relationships within the Trinity and is not a result of the fall. Another thing I thought was significant (can't remember exactly where I read it) pointed out that scripture doesn't instruct husbands to force or require their wives to submit. The very definition of submission means something like “to voluntarily place yourself under the authority”. So if the wife isn't choosing to do it, it isn't true submission. With that in mind, I don't see how it could be right for a husband to “rule” the wife. Rather they are to lead through self-sacrificing love. Just my two cents… =)