Ephesians | roles of the husband in family

Ephesians | roles of the husband in family March 9, 2023

Ephesians | roles of the husband in family

2 Disclaimers:

  1. Judging by how I understand the terms, there is a fine line between gender equality and egalitarianism. Under my present means of interpretation, I personally do not believe the latter is Scriptural.
  2. Leaving roles out of the family can be difficult, unless one wants to ignore Biblical teaching. I certainly agree, slavery cuts against the grain of any modern belief. Even so, Paul is granting rights to women, children, and slaves in this Passage. Holy inspiration compels Paul to restore a little dignity to everyone in a time when the normal household code grants all authority to the male head of household. Out of the box, this is where women’s rights begin. Leaning in, Paul’s Word is that powerful for that era.

the Classic Greek philosopher Aristotle says:

“The first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”[1]

Leading in all 3 parts of the ancient family, the role falls on the man. And this is the understanding of the man in the ancient Near East (aNE). New Testament (NT) roles will be examined in Paul’s unique household code: husband, head, and savior.

i. husband

During ancient Greece and Rome the man is considered the leader.

This is the common view of men in Aristotle’s day, and in the time of our Lord. This is also the foundation of the Greco-Roman household code.

In the aNE, a household code exists to form a leadership order in the home and in society: men in charge, then women, children, and slaves.[2]

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5.22-24, ESV)

Paul uses the Greek term for husband 6 times from verses 22-33.

the NT seems to assume that we know what a good husband is

Today, in some ways we seem to know what a good husband is too.

“The number one complaint I’ve encountered from women in marriage counseling is My husband won’t lead.’ Wives don’t want to be dominated, but they do want their husbands to take initiative, especially when it comes to spiritual matters, children, and romance.”[3]

We know what the husband should be, but do we connect it with church? Paul’s NT household code comes under the Spirit-filled community (Eph 5.18-21).

The aNE household code utilizes husbands to support the society.

The NT household code points to a greater Kingdom, and husbands play a key role.

ii. the husband as head or kephale

“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Eph 5.23)

You’ll find “head” or kephale many times in the NT and in Paul’s writings. I’m not chauvinist, sexist, etc., but I cannot ignore God’s Word either. I don’t claim to have the clearest definition of this term.

Head or the Greek word kephale is a misunderstood word, sometimes thought to mean “the source.” The word kephale is thought to mean headwaters, source of a spring or river. So the assumed conclusion is that like water, grace in the family flows from the head (husband).

this sounds good, but kephale is never used as “the source” or headwaters in the NT

In fact, the word kephale is rarely used as “the source” or headwaters in all of Classic Greek Literature.

So to understand kephale, we need to think of family systems in the aNE. The household includes family, extended family, and also servants.[4]

The term kephale refers to the father, perhaps the oldest male, the patriarch. This term kephale can be translated as tribal chief. The term kephale can be translated as head, chief, and first, i.e. first leader.[5]

In Ephesians, Paul only uses the term kephale 3 times. However, in all of Paul’s other Epistles he uses kephale the same way.

For Paul, kephale applies to 1) Jesus Christ’s Lordship, 2) the God-given role of the husband, and 3) sometimes other themes of honor.

In the NT Paul adds something unique to kephale – God-given honor, like a family calling.

iii. the husband as Savior!?!?!? is this possible?

“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Eph 5.23)

Saviors are common in the aNE. Think of lower case “-s” saviors, great heroes.

Savior is a common term in the aNE. Saviors help cities. They may financially help the city get started, or defend the city in a major battle, etc. Usually each town in ancient Greece and Rome has a savior, a hero, someone like a founding father.[6]

The savior does something for the city, that the city can’t do for itself. To pay the savior back, the city submits, honors, spreads his fame, etc. This is probably the best backdrop to consider Paul’s use of the term savior.

savior is only used 24 times in the NT, and Paul is possibly the earliest author

As our Savior, Jesus Christ does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. In return, we make His name glorious, spread His fame, etc. Paul says the husband holds a savior-esque role with his wife and family.

I’ll share a simple story showing how husbands still want to be the savior, the hero of the home:

The husband and wife finally get a chance to talk after dinner.

The wife presents the husband with some type of “problem” from her day.

At least he hears the term “problem,” even if she never says it. So the loving husband straps on his relational utility belt with all of his tools and begins working away at her “issues.”

After awhile, the wife gets frustrated, but the husband has no idea why. After all, he’s just solved a relational problem for his wife.

The only problem is, his wife doesn’t have a problem! She just wants to talk to him.

This may not happen to all couples, but it’s happened to me countless times . . . and I have a seminary degree in counseling.

I still want to fix it.

I want to do something for my wife she cannot do

It’s still means something that I want her to be proud of me.

I want her to be my cheerleader.

I may not be her savior, but can I at least be her knight in shining armor?

There is something inside of me that wants to call to her, to call her up a little higher to see God’s wonders.

I believe my thoughts are natural for husbands, and accurate for Greco-Roman heroes or saviors. It’s what Paul teaches about our Savior and about husbands.

I’ve heard women say they wish their husbands would lead the home

I’ve got some questions for you if you’re that wife;

  1. Do you want your husband to be the husband, the man of the home?
  2. Are you comfortable with your husband as the head or leader, like a patriarch?
  3. Do you want a knight in shining armor, a savior of sorts?
  4. Even if your husband does not want these roles, are you willing to help him find leadership roles in the home?
  5. Do you truly believe God has a calling for the husband in the home?


pic credit: Hannah Busing | girl wearing floral dress reading bible alone in grass | 04.13.22 | unsplash

  1. David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 173.
  2. Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament: It’s Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 387.
  3. Robert Morris, “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” in the New Living Translation Fresh Start Bible: Direction for Every Day, ed. John Andersen (Southlake, TX: Gateway Press, 2019), 1046.
  4. Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson, 47.
  5. deSilva, 231.
  6. Frederick J. Long, OneBook Daily-Weekly: The Letter to the Ephesians (Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishing, 2017), 114.

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