by Kristen Rosser cross posted from her blog Wordgazer’s Words
The teaching that a man is the “prophet, priest and king” of his home isn’t new. I’ve certainly heard it before. In fact, the fundamentalist website National Center for Family-Integrated Churches recently reprinted a piece written in the 1600s by a Puritan named William Gurnall. Here’s a sample:
Every father hath the care of souls upon him. He is prophet, king, and priest in his own house, and from these will appear his duty. . . How comes it to pass that many…children, when they come to be themselves heads of families, are so unable to be their relations’ mouth to God in prayer, but because they have in their [childhood] lived in prayerless families and were kept in ignorance of this duty…?
In those times, of course, it was simply assumed by society at large that men were to be in authority over their wives and families, so Gurnall quotes a number of Old Testament passages about the Biblical authority roles of prophet, king and priest, and applies them to husbands and fathers. I disagree, of course, with Gurnall’s interpretation, but it isn’t a particularly surprising one. The ancient authority positions of prophet, priest and king were held in the Bible by numerous human beings. Since male heads of families were also in authority positions, Bible passages about the roles and duties of such authorities would naturally be applied to them. However, I might point out that Elizabeth I was Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, and Gurnall lived from 1616 to 1679. He would not have been unfamiliar with the concept of women sometimes fulfilling authority positions, and he would probably have admitted that some of the Old Testament prophets were in fact female, and that at least one, Huldah, was treated as a voice of authority by an Old Testament king.
In fact, Gurnall’s quote above uses the word “children” and not “sons” as those who can come to be heads of families, probably recognizing that in his time (the 17th century), some women were indeed heads of their households. Gurnall does, however, focus on fathers as “prophets, priests and kings,” and though I think Jesus actually taught something quite different about Christians and cultural authority, Gurnall’s words are at least understandable in his social context.
Recently, though, I learned that a disturbing new trend is placing a very troubling contemporary twist on this notion. A Sampling of Prophet/Priest/King Teaching by the Christian Patriarchal Watch List provides a number of links and quotes exposing this new trend.
Here’s an example from Charisma Magazine:
Some men think Christ is Jesus’ last name. Of course, Christ is not a name but a title for Jesus that means “Messiah” or “anointed one.” Jesus loved the church—His family—as its Christ, or anointed one. Since husbands are to love their wives in the same way as the anointed one loves His family, they need to know exactly what Jesus was anointed to do. In the New Testament, as we shall see, husbands become anointed ones.[Emphasis added.]
In theology, Christ occupies the classic threefold office of prophet, priest and king. Let’s explore how this relates to you.
Notice what is happening here. The authority positions of prophet, priest and king, as held by various individuals in the Old Testament, are indeed brought together spiritually in the Person of Christ in the New Testament. But before Christ, no two of these positions were held in the Bible by the same human being. Certain men of the Levite tribe were priests, but there is no record of one of them ever becoming a prophet. The line of anointed kings came from David, of the tribe of Judah, so the kings were not priests and the priests were not kings. Prophets came from various tribes but were not priests or kings.
God apparently thought it best not to concentrate too much authority or power in the hands of one person– except in the Person of His divine Son. Christ is the “anointed one” or “Messiah” precisely because He is not merely human, but “the Word become flesh” (John 1:14). However, this concept of separation of powers did not carry through into the Christendom of the 17th-century West, where kings ruled by divine right and the monarch of England was also the ruler of England’s Church. Gurnall thus sees no reason not to combine all three authoritative roles in the person of a male head of household. However, as I have understood this traditional teaching, it has not gone so far as to equate male headship authority with the divine anointing of Jesus Christ.
Here’s an excerpt from Rob Flood over at Family Life:
It has been widely accepted that Christ’s activity on behalf of the church can be summarized in these three functional titles: Prophet, Priest and King. A brief look at each will give us keen insight into our role as husbands.
Christ as Prophet: A prophet is someone who brings forth the Word of God to mankind. He is responsible for accurately discerning what God is saying and communicating that to others. Christ performed this prophetic role perfectly in two ways. First, He accurately spoke and taught the Word and words of God to others. Second, He was the actual expression of God and the Word made flesh.
The Husband as Prophet: We have the amazing privilege of bringing forth the Word of God to our wives. While this might involve some actual Bible-teaching time, we need to see the various other forms this should take. We can proclaim His Word and His will as we counsel our wives, as we make family decisions and as we plan for our family’s future. The common ingredient in all of its forms is God’s Word. Without the Word of God, a prophet has nothing to say; his words are empty and meaningless.
In addition to bringing forth the Word in our actions, we too must personify the Word made flesh in us. We must model the truth we are teaching. We must personify what we desire our wives and our marriages to become. Without personally living the truth we proclaim, we can expect no higher praise from Christ than the Pharisees received. (Matthew 23:2-4)
Christ as Priest: A priest is an intercessor: someone who seeks God on behalf of someone else. As Priest, Jesus is constantly seeking God on our behalf. Through Him, we are made holy, righteous, and acceptable to God. Yet, this Priest is different from all others in that He did not sacrifice a lamb, dove, or bull. This Priest sacrificed Himself on our behalf.
The Husband as Priest: As we love our wives, we must serve as priest. Our wives and marriages need prayer. We have the privilege and duty of petitioning God on their behalf. We should pray for their purity, their protection, their joy, their faith, and their burdens. We should pray for their success as a wife, as a mother, and as a woman of God.
We must again follow Christ’s example and allow our priestly sacrifice to be our very selves. Hebrews 12 tells us that Jesus looked past His own sacrifice to the joy that would occur on the other side. With that in mind, look at all that your wife could become. Consider what God might want to do with her, in her, and through her. And, for that joy set before you, willingly endure when you are called to sacrifice yourself. In so doing, you will love your wife as Christ loves His church.
Christ as King: A king is someone who is supreme or preeminent. As our King, Christ deserves our honor, our praise, our obedience, and our servitude. He is in charge … the undisputed leader of the church. Paul speaks many times of Jesus as the head of the church. Yet, while this King rules and reigns, He also serves and ministers to His people. His rule is peculiar in that He models leadership by serving. He says that the greatest among His people will be those who serve. He also is an accessible King. In many courts throughout history, subjects were never permitted to be in the presence of their king. King Jesus invites us in; He leaves open the door to His throne room.
The Husband as King: Ephesians 5:23 makes it clear; the husband is the head of the wife. In essence, kingship undeniably belongs to the husband. As we embrace that, we as husbands must lead. We must lead clearly and boldly. We must be out there on the edge looking to the provision and the protection of our kingdom. To do less is to fall short of our calling to headship. The privilege is ours to rule our home.
However, we are not called simply to take our crowns and dominate our wives. We must rule as Christ rules … with humility. He modeled precisely how He wants us to love our wives. As our King, Christ knelt and washed the feet of His disciples. We must follow His example and serve. Lead boldly, yet serve. Never let the brawn of your leadership outweigh the sacrifice of your leadership. Christ kept them in perfect balance; that is our calling as well.
I applaud the article’s insistence that husbands should serve and not dominate their wives– but what this article is doing is turning husbands into little Christs in their homes. Men are essentially being told to stand in the place of Jesus to their wives and children, setting themselves between them and God as an intermediary, exercising Christ’s spiritual authority over them, and “personifying the Word made flesh” to them.
I believe the New Testament does teach that followers of Jesus are a “kingdom of priests” (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 5:10), but that applies to women and men alike, and there is no New Testament passage that says one group of Christ’s followers has the right to claim Christ’s own anointing to take authority over others of Christ’s followers. There is a real problem with taking one verse out of Ephesians 5, “The husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church,” and reading that as if it meant, “the husband is everything to the wife that Christ is to the church.” As K. Bonikowsky’s blog The Happy Surprise points out:
I think we all agree that husbands do not literally become Christ. Husbands do not literally atone for their wives’ sin. Husbands are not the voice of God to their wives. Husbands do not have absolute authority over their wives’ lives. How do we know this? Because of clear passages elsewhere.
Since Acts 4:12 shows Peter and John proclaiming, “Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved,” orthodox Christianity does not allow that husbands can be the saviors of their wives, even though Ephesians 5:23 actually says “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 [emphasis added].” So the very wording of the passage itself shows that we cannot read it as meaning “the husband is everything to the wife that Christ is to the church.”
As I have shown in detail elsewhere, I believe that Christ’s role as “head” of the church would have been understood by the original biblical audience as a limited and very specific relationship, not a generalized statement of power and authority (for though Christ does have power and authority over the church, Christ’s role as “head” is not about that):
“Head” of the church, therefore, would simply not have been seen by the original Ephesians readers as synonymous with “Lord” of the church. Neither would “head” of the wife have meant “lord” of the wife. Though Christ certainly is Lord of the church, He is also Savior, redeemer, sanctifier, recipient of worship, and Master of the church. But Paul deliberately limits husband’s role towards the wife, to being the “head.” Husbands are not to appropriate to themselves any of Christ’s other roles, or seek to become as Christ to their wives. This would be idolatry, and to the extent churches today encourage married couples in such a practice, they are teaching idolatry. . .
A pater familias, accustomed to a high and prominent position, and keeping Chapter 1 in mind as he read on through Chapter 5, would have understood that as “head” in Chapter 5, he was expected to “give himself” for his wife as Christ did for the church, with the result that the church was raised up to be glorious (Eph 5:25-27). Laying down his prominence of place in regards to his wife, and raising his wife up to be beside him in oneness, and exercising his social position on her behalf and for her good, is part of what it meant for a husband to be “head” to his wife as ‘body” in Ephesians 5.
The other place where the head-body metaphor is used for Christ and the church is in Chapter 4. Here Paul says, “But speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together. . . maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Here the “head” is clearly seen as the source of growth and energy for the “body.” A pater familias, keeping this in mind as he read Chapter 5, would understand that as “head” in this sense, he was to “nourish and cherish” his wife as his own body (Eph 5:29).
But nothing about “leading” or “having authority over” the church or the wife is mentioned as part of the “head to body” relationship anywhere in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Nowhere is Christ as “head“ spoken of in terms of “leading” or “ruling” the church. Nowhere is the husband told to “lead” his wife or “rule” his household. And to the original audience, which was expecting to hear such words, the absence of any such words would have shouted.
The fact is that even though Christ is in a position of divine authority over the church, and even though husbands in ancient Ephesus were also in a position of earthly authority over their wives, the Ephesians 5 passage is primarily about husbands imitating Christ in laying down power and authority, not in stepping into Christ’s own anointing and using that to exercise even greater power. Jesus told His followers in Luke 22:25-27 and Matthew 20:25-27 that following Him simply wasn’t about who got to be in charge. Though Jesus did in fact have the right to claim ultimate authority, He instead laid it down and took the place of a servant, and that is what we are to imitate.
And yet looking at the “husband as prophet, priest and king” teachings being promulgated today, very little attention is paid to Christ’s teachings, in the scramble to grab Christ’s power:
Jesus was a prophet who spoke the Word of God to the people and was, in fact, the Word incarnate. A prophet speaks for God.
A husband is to be the family prophet. He represents God to his wife (and, by extension, his family, the fruit of their union). When his wife reacts emotionally, he calms her with God’s wisdom. He proclaims the gospel of faith to his family. He provides biblical instruction and training to his wife and children without becoming legalistic. He prepares family devotions and encourages private devotions. He is the arbiter of family values. He insists on regular church attendance. He is a messenger from God to his family.
Husbands are to be the anointed spiritual leaders of their wives. God has anointed you to lead your wife as her prophet, priest and king. Because of the fall, your wife, according to Genesis 3:16, has a desire for you that is best rendered “a desire that borders on disease.”
A husband can stand on the shoulders of others as he fulfills his prophetic responsibility to declare the truth of the Scriptures to his wife. He confronts sin and calls his wife to repentance . . . First, confronting sin and calling a wife to repentance may rock the domestic boat. A husband may decide he doesn’t want to incur his wife’s wrath. But he needs to obey God’s call regardless of how his wife will respond. He may also fail to confront his wife ‘ s sin because he has a soft view of what it means to love her. Pointing out sin seems harsh and judgmental, not loving. But our example here is Christ, who loves us too much to overlook our sin. The same Prophet who wept over Jerusalem, pronouncing judgment on Israel, comes to us today by His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and to lead us to righteousness. If we begin to understand the consequences of sin for ourselves and for future generations, we will not think it loving to ignore or overlook our wives ‘ ongoing patterns of sinful behavior.
Dennis Rainey, “Building Strong Families,” quoted on the Patriarchal Watch List
Notice the complete lack of reciprocity here. The husband is the sole arbiter of family values, and he alone is treated as capable of teaching, training or proclaiming the gospel, while his wife (who, we would hope, is an adult with some understanding of her own faith) is mentioned only in terms of receiving his teaching and being “calmed” when she gets “emotional.” She needs her husband to represent her before God, raising the question of whether she is allowed her own access to God through Christ, despite 2 Timothy 2:5. Her “desire for her husband” according to Genesis 3:16 is interpreted in the most demeaning way possible, from a 19th-century male-written commentary.
And even though Matthew 18:15 shows that any Christian can take a Christian brother aside and point out sin to them, husbands are here given a special dispensation to point out sin in their wives in the same way Christ pronounced judgment on Jerusalem, while themselves appearing to need no such admonition.
The Patriarchal Watch List also has on the same page a screen shot of this illuminating list:
A Man as Intercessor in Prayer
A Man as Director of Religious Worship
A Man as Mediator of Divine Blessing
A Man as Instructor in Sacred Scripture
A Man as Judge in Holy Things
Hmm. Apparently a scrotum is a miraculous organ which renders its bearer nearly divine, while lacking it turns his fellow human being into a creature nearly incapable of grasping spiritual things or approaching God.
Look. I don’t like to have to say something as harsh as this, but sometimes the truth has to be presented unvarnished. While degrading the image of God in female humanity, this pernicious teaching essentially removes Jesus from the lives of a woman and her children and replaces Him with the husband-father as Christ to them. Put bluntly, it is nothing short of blasphemy, and needs to be addressed as such.
On its home page the Christian PatriarchalWatch List asks these highly pertinent questions:
Many of the ideas espoused by these groups are in fact “Biblical”, i.e. verses can be strung together without regard to cultural context or the larger trajectory of Scripture to advocate a return to the highly patriarchal, highly stratified, master/subject social norms of the ancient world that Jesus transcended and began to transform. Is this really the timeless, universal ideal, the highest and the best way to read our Bibles? In a world where religious extremism is using women’s bodies and souls as its battleground, is this really what we want to be the face of Christ in our world? Is this hierarchical vision of how we are to relate across the gender line what we want for our daughters and our sons? WWJD? What would Jesus Do? That is a good spell test. Would he re-create a hierarchical social structure from the Old Testament? Would he advocate raising boys to grow up to have such an exalted status as kings/priests with such unilateral authority and power and girls to serve them? Or would he chide us, as he did his disciples who jockeyed for a place of preeminence at his right and left hand? [Emphasis in original]
Husbands and fathers are not divinely anointed with Christ’s threefold authority as Prophet, Priest and King! Husbands and fathers are our fellow human beings, made in the image of God but finite and fallen. In Matthew 23:9-11, Jesus said this:
Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Brothers, please– stop exalting yourselves. Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think (Romans 12:3). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said,
“Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”
In the long run this human appropriation of what belongs only to Christ cannot stand, but is destined to fail. I suggest we all get back on shore before the ship sinks.
Kristen is a wife, mother and works as a paralegal in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She’s also written many of the FAQ pages here at NLQ. Kristen blogs from the perspective of a Christian who still believes even after leaving a spiritually abusive environment behind.