CTBHHM: “He will be your head, and you will follow him”

Created To Need His Help Meet, pp. 229—231

We now begin Debi’s chapter on being obedient to one’s husband. In this first section, Debi mainly just quotes Bible verses, and then interprets them for her readers. In this post I’ll touch on some issues of interpretation, but I’ll also bring out some other pieces that come up, including a passage that sheds light on Debi’s view of the role of daughters, and more on Michael’s view of church authority.

Debi begins with a definition:

Obedient: Yielding, willing and eager to accomplish injunctions or desires, abstaining from that which is forbidden.

She then launches into her review of scripture:

By now you should be fully aware of what the text means when it says that aged women should “teach the young women to be obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” However, a quick review of some of these Scriptures is in order.

“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16).

According to God’s very words, apart from any cultural context, it is a woman’s nature to place her full attention and interest on her husband and she is to be under her husband’s rule. That is the will of God, no matter what the woman preachers and the modern Greek and Hebrew scholars say to the contrary. 

I don’t know that I want to be suckered into a debate over what the Bible does and does not say on this subject. I’m of the opinion that the Bible is often vague, unclear, or contradictory, and can as a result be interpreted in a variety of different ways. This is why there are so many different sects of Christianity, and so much disagreement. I’m not a Christian myself, but Debi when Debi absolutely butchers something, or misquotes the Bible, or is unaware of alternative interpretations, I feel the need to step in.

In this section, Debi is quoting from the curse that followed what Christians call “the fall.” In other words, she’s not quoting from God’s perfect plan, she’s quoting from the curse. Further, what she’s quoting from not a prescription, it’s a description. In other words, God isn’t saying the things he’s describing are a good thing, he’s saying that, as a result of the fall, that’s how it will be. Debi doesn’t even attempt to explain this away, she simply ignores it.

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3).

There can be no cultural context that nullifies this verse, for it says that the basis of a man’s headship is rooted in the very essence of the woman’s created nature. Just as God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of man, so the man is the head of the woman (his wife). My husband does not lose any dignity by being in subjection to Christ, nor do I lose any dignity by being in subjection to my husband. And, just as my husband finds security and meaning in submission to his head, so I become the person God created me to be in submitting to my head—my husband.

When I see conservative evangelicals catch on and get that there is a problem with what Debi writes, it is this they generally latch onto. Debi sets man up as a mediator between God and woman, and removes woman from being directly under God’s authority. This, they argue, is unbiblical, and goes too far.

I’m not going to get into explaining the scripture one way or another except to point out that it’s a passage that has been tricky for Christians as a result of the predominant Christian view that the Trinity is made up of three equal parts. In other words, Christ is not generally considered to be in subjection to God the father. Interestingly, this is something the early church fathers fought over for hundreds of years—did Christ come out of God the Father, as a subordinate member, or is he equal to God the father? The debate came out on the side of three equal parts of the Trinity (adding the Holy Spirit), and that’s been that for Christianity (at least in the West) for hundreds of years now. So, if God and Christ are equal and there is no subordination going on, that makes understanding what this passage actually means rather tricky.

Some Christians argue that Christ came out of God (as I’ve heard argued), and Christ was involved in the creation of man (given the use of “we” in Genesis), and then woman was created out of man (a la Genesis). In making this explanation, they rightly point out that the same word translated “head” can also be translated “source.”

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the church, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing” (Ephesians 5:22—24).

Here again—a second witness in Scripture—we wives are informed that our submission to our husband should be viewed with the same love and fervency as our submission and love for Christ. The text says that we submit “as unto the Lord,” as if we were submitting to the Lord. Since my husband’s authority is delegated by God, when I submit to my husband, I am recognizing God’s authority, and I am indeed submitting to God.

I don’t know as much about varying interpretations of this verse, but I will say that I am today uncomfortable with the way evangelicals generally apply this Christ/the church = husband/wife analogy. I do know I’ve heard some Christians argue that that this passage is simply meant to illustrate how deep and sacrificially a husband should love his wife.

But do note Debi’s signature here—the idea that when women submit to their husbands, they are submitting to God. This is part of that putting man in the place of God thing we’ve talked about so much.

It also says that our submission is unto our own husbands. I do not submit to any other man as I submit to my husband. There is no pastor or minister higher than my husband. My husband is my head, in the same way that Christ is his head. 

I’ve had evangelicals insist to me that they’re totally not anti-woman because they only believe women are to be subject to their husbands, not to men in general. So how can they be sexist?! Sigh.

Many women have written, telling me that their pastor told them to tithe, to go to church, to put their children in the church school, to make their children part of the youth group, or a hundred other things, against the will of their husband. The pastor claims that he is the head of the local church and is, therefore, the highest religious power on earth. My husband’s response to a man’s claim to ecclesiastical authority over the family is to call him a liar and a deceiver. The Scripture clearly teaches that a woman is to obey her own husband.

Well now this is telling. Michael doesn’t like to have a pastor tell him what to do. Is anyone surprised?

Traditionally, church authority has often placed a check on the extent to which men are able to abuse their wives. Back when civil authorities were weak or when civil and church authorities were intertwined, the church could step in if a woman was in trouble, whether because her husband was beating her or whether he was not supporting her financially. I don’t like the intertwining of civil and religious authorities, obviously, but what Debi is doing here is removing men from an extra step of accountability, and putting absolutely all of the power and authority in the hands of each individual husband. That’s an extra ingredient in the Pearl recipe for abuse.

When our first daughter was just two months away from getting married, she asked her daddy a theological question. Remember now, she was a graduate of Bible college and had spent three years on the foreign field as a missionary. But, rather than answer her, as he had been doing for the previous 26 years, he told her, “I cannot answer your Bible questions, for you now believe what your husband believes. He will be your head, and you will follow him. It is time to get adjusted to your new role. Ask him what he believes about it.”

That is what it means when you “give your daughter in marriage.” It is the passing of the torch to a new one-flesh family unit.

Well, now we know. Michael isn’t just patriarchal in the sense that he believes wives must be subject to their husbands, he is also patriarchal in the sense that he believes daughters are to be subject to their fathers.

Coincidentally, when I was first asking questions and forming beliefs different from those of my parents, my mother told me I should ask my father my theological questions and then just believe what he told me. True story. I see now that she didn’t just get that from Vision Forum, she got it from the Pearls too.

Also, note that marriage is a property transfer, a handing off of a woman from father to husband. Coming from this background, I will always be glad that I walked myself down the aisle. I gave myself away, because I was my own to give.

Actually wait. I just realized I have a question. If the Pearls really believe that women should simply ask their husbands what they believe, and then believe that, why in the world has Debi written this book?! I mean, Debi tells women whose husbands want them to work to try to persuade them to their viewpoint using scripture, rather than to just accept that their husbands’ theology clearly allows for women working. I mean, if Debi really believes what she wrote here, this book should be very short: “Ask your husband.” 

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33).

As wives, we are to reverence our husbands as God’s divinely appointed head. In I Peter 3:6 we are told, ” . . . Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” If that is a shock to your religious system, take heart, because God thought it might be a shock to us. He went on to tell us wives “not [to be] afraid with any amazement.” Don’t be amazed at what God commands, and don’t be afraid to submit to your man as God commands.

By the way, Debi is twisting scriptures with her application of the “afraid with any amazement” bit. No surprise there. In the New International Version, the passage references Sarah and then states that “You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” That’s . . . not how Debi uses it.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).

The text says that a woman obeying her husband should do it as is becoming, or is fitting, in the Lord—the fitting thing for a Chrsitian to do! Think about it. This is not another culturally unique situation. It is timeless. From God’s perspective of marriage here on earth that he instituted, it is the fitting thing to do. It is the way His Son responds to Him.

You know what? I’m getting really tired of Debi’s selective use of scripture. She’s not wrong that these verses exist, but the Bible contains a wide range of verses, not all of which agree. In fact, sometimes they appear to disagree, probably because the Bible is in fact a collection of books written over hundreds of years and then stuck together.

For example, one thing that Debi has been ignoring this entire time is that there are quite a few verses in the New Testament that indicate that Christians should not marry. Yes yes, Christians in general ignore these verses, but they’re still there. This one for instance:

I Corinthians 7:32-35—A single man is concerned about the Lord’s matters. He wants to know how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the matters of this world. He wants to know how he can please his wife. His concerns pull him in two directions. A single woman or a virgin is concerned about the Lord’s matters. She wants to serve the Lord with both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the matters of this world. She wants to know how she can please her husband. I’m saying those things for your own good. I’m not trying to hold you back. I want you to be free to live in a way that is right. I want you to give yourselves completely to the Lord.

This is the problem with proof texting and the problem with reading the Bible outside of its cultural context and its time.

Here’s the final verse Debi quotes:

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives” (I Peter 3:1). 

This is the third time God has emphasized that our subjection to our own husbands is not rooted in the superiority of the male over the female. God is not setting up one gender to be superior to the other. It is only in the context of a marriage union that a woman is to be in subjection to her man. It is her God-appointed office that renders her second in command in the family.

This passage in I Peter 3:1—6 addresses another issue that comes up regularly. What if my husband is unsaved, and does not recognize Christ as his head? Am I still to obey a man who does not follow Christ? The following letter is typical of many I receive.

And this is where we’ll stop for this week. I hope you’re ready for next week’s passage, because it’s going to be good!

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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