Husbands, Crucify Your Privilege: Ephesians 5 & How Men Take the Lead

Husbands, Crucify Your Privilege: Ephesians 5 & How Men Take the Lead March 30, 2015

crucify privilege title

21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. 26 He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word. 27 He did this to present himself with a splendid church, one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless.28 That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body. 32 Marriage is a significant allegory, and I’m applying it to Christ and the church. 33 In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands. Ephesians 5.21-33 CEB

This passage is perhaps the most controversial text regarding Christian approaches to love and marriage. There are three broad categories for how this section of Ephesians, and other texts, lead to theological concepts of the so-called “role of women.”

  • Patriarchy: Men are on top–always. They rule with an iron fist and women are there for the sole purpose of serving the masculine ego.
  • Complementarianism: Men and women are equals in regards to their basic image-bearing quality–thus, equally valued in the sight of God. However, in the church, women do not serve in positions of leadership such as Bishop or Pastor/Elder (thus, many churches change the title to director if a job is offered to a woman–as if that’s somehow consistent… but I digress). In the home, women are to submit to their husband’s spiritual leadership. The buck stops with the man’s decision making, as long as it doesn’t violate the wife’s humanity.
  • Egalitarianism/Mutuality: This position, which I endorse, advocates “for the inclusion of women in leadership in the Christian church and for mutuality in marriage. …[W]hen interpreted correctly, the Bible teaches that both men and women are called to serve at all levels of the Church, and that leadership should be based primarily on gifting and not on gender.” [This is a quote from the Junia Project website]

The third perspective does the best to deal with the relevant biblical texts and the culture of first century Roman antiquity. We cannot understand the New Testament teachings on gender unless we understand the world to which they were written. For this, we move now into some brief observations about gender in the era of the early Jesus movement.

Sex and Gender in the Roman World

Any time we talk about a hot topic like gender, we need to make sure that we are discussing the same thing. Here’s a definition of gender to work with that comes from Joan Scott:

Gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes, and gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power…. It might be better to say, gender is a primary field within which or by means of which power is articulated. Gender is not the only field, but it seems to have been a persistent and recurrent way of enabling the signification of power in the West, in Judeo-Christian as well as Islamic traditions…. For concepts of power, though they may build on gender, are not always literally about gender itself.[1]

Gender and power go together. In the New Testament period this was quite true. When it came to sex, for instance, Roman men had specific roles they could play and still remain “manly.” Any passive role in sexual expression, whether that of being on the receiving end of penetration or (even worse) performing oral sex on a woman (considered being ‘penetrated’ by a woman), meant that one was embracing an effeminate identity. For women, prostitutes, slaves, and young men (teens), feminine qualities were assumed. Women were derogated by modern standards. Receiving penetration of any kind was a sign of weakness/softness (in regards to status).

A concept that made an upstanding man considered manly was virtus. Virtus (virtue) in Latin comes from the word for “man,” vir. The idea is that masculine men are those possessing valor and virtue like the heroes of old. Virtus is possible for a woman to achieve at times, but only insofar that she acts like a man. Being morally weak equates to being “soft” (the Latin word mollis): implicitly “soft” like a woman.

Now add to this connection between sex/gender roles and morality the reforms of Caesar Augustus. A wife was deemed an adulteress if she was found to have had sex with any other man. However, a man only committed adultery if his sex-act was performed with another man’s wife, reminding us that women were still seen as the property of men in many ways. That same husband could have sex with “slaves, prostitutes and other unmarried persons with impunity.”[2] Yet, from the perspective of the Augustan program, women’s roles were being elevated because “their good behavior was partly responsible for the health of the state.”[3]

In some ways, highlighting the importance of women to the welfare of the empire is a liberating move. However, women were usually still considered weak. Self-mastery is a goal of virtus and to fail to live up to such a “morality” is to be woman-like or slave-like.

From this perspective Cicero wrote: “Thus everything comes down to this: that you rule yourself… But we must see to the same thing especially in pain: not to do anything in a base, timid, ignoble, slavelike, or womanish way” (Cic. Tusc. 2.53, 55).[4]

Something should be clear by now: women were second-class citizens in the Greco-Roman world, regarded as useful for utilitarian purposes and as morally soft.

Gender Roles in Ephesians

Now let’s go back to our passage in Ephesians for just a moment. If we know the context of the Roman world and if we read that with regard to Ephesians–something becomes abundantly clear.

First, the passage starts by saying: “…and submit to each other out of respect for Christ.” This should signal for us that the section to follow is about submitting to each other. This is two directional submission! Husbands, submission looks like… Wives, submission looks like…

Next, whereas women are called (in the text) to submit and respect their husbands, husbands are called to love their wives. Love! This word if loaded with way more intensity than submission and respect: love is sacrificial. Love seeks the well-being and status of the other. Love dies for others. Christ modeled this sort of love. A love so intense that he gave up the full rights of the Divine to take on human flesh and bones–only to be crucified!

What does this mean? Some take it to justify male dominance. In other words, if we are loving our wives as we lead as the head of the house, then we are doing so sacrificially like Christ. I know many people in complementation marriages who are happy and find joy in life. This approach can work. However, I don’t think this is what the writer of Ephesians had in mind.

If you are a husband, Ephesians 5 invites you to model your relational role after Christ himself: by crucifying your privilege. Yes–take your Roman virtue and nail it to the cross!

The primary message of Ephesians 5 to husbands isn’t–“you’re the spiritual head/leader… so love and lead like Christ. Be the head of the home, but do so sacrificially [insert here: get a job to provide, make the major decisions, allow the wife to stay home to deal with the domestic sphere, etc.].”

Rather, Ephesians 5 has a different point: “Husbands, in this Roman culture men have all the privilege, but in submission out of reverence for Christ, you are invited to take the lead in crucifying your privilege. In doing so, you look like Jesus and can be part of a marriage of mutual image-bearing and kingdom co-leadership.”

Gender Roles Today

Patriarchy was never the goal of the Scriptures. It was there for a time, but the New Testament sets the pace a different direction: mutuality. Complementarianism, although better than patriarchy, doesn’t move with the trajectory of Scripture. There are women who are gifted to love and lead. They must be free to be wonderful mothers, loving wives, dynamic professionals outside of the home, powerful preachers within the church, and spiritual guides for husbands and children.

In this day, where the evidence of Scripture and the experience of the Spirit demonstrates time and time again that women have leadership abilities to offer the home and the church, it’s time for husbands to crucify their privilege. Co-leadership (supporting one another as each is gifted) is God’s gift to both households: of faith and of family.


[1]. Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, rev. ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 42, 44–45.

[2]. Laurence, Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome, 76.

[3]. Ramsby and Severy, “Gender, Sex, and the Domestication of the Empire in Art of the Augustan Age,” 44.

[4]. Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 148.


Resources to Go Deeper

Rachel Held Evans Mutuality Series

Junia Project

Liberating Women for Ministry (my series)

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  • Rick20033

    The primary question being answered here isn’t “What does Paul teach in Ephesians 5 about the husband’s relationship to the wife?”…where the meaning of the words “the husband is the head of the wife” would be as plain as the meaning of “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you”…but rather “How can we alter what Paul says so that it is consistent with modern egalitarian ideas that were developed outside the faith in the relatively recent past?” A person unaware of those egalitarian preferences, reading only the Bible for instruction, would not find them there…which is why you don’t find Ephesians 5 being interpreted as you have done in almost two millennia of church history. It is the same approach to the scriptures that will lead to the “Church’s” embrace of homosexuality in the near future. It’s actually a very old approach: “Did God really say…”

    • A person in the Roman world would not find your ideas–



      • Rick20033

        According to almost 2000 years of church teaching, he would if he studied the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. That’s where we find the truth (2 Tim 3:16), not in a cultural survey (whether in Ancient Rome or the modern West; Col. 2:8).

        • Michael Sei Davis

          Interestingly, your argument (as I read it) is an appeal to tradition rather than scripture.

          • Rick20033

            Then you have misread it. My argument is that the clear words of the Bible contradict the position taken in the article. The COMMENT you are replying to addresses the question of what a person would find if he read the Bible. I said that the church, since its inception, has seen something other than what the article presents. Mine is not an argument for tradition. It is an argument for the clarity of the scriptures on this topic. It wasn’t until the non-Christian feminist movement arrived to “lead us into all truth” (since, apparently the Holy Spirit had not yet done so on this topic) that this egalitarian eisegesis became necessary.

          • Rick– do u read Greek? I only ask because even the English words involve context specific scholarship. Without the kind of historical work I advocate here and elsewhere–u wouldn’t have access to the plain words of scripture.

            KURT WILLEMS

          • Rick20033

            No, I don’t read Greek. But, again, the overwhelming majority of Christian teachers in the last 2000 years, who did read Greek, have taken my position, not yours. Unfortunately, knowing Greek is no protection against eisegesis. Surely the early Gnostics knew Greek better than you do, right? And, even in this age where so many in the church look to the surrounding culture for moral guidance and then “find” that the Bible agrees, there is no shortage of experts in Greek and history who agree with the church’s position down through history. In other words, your familiarity with the Greek doesn’t address anything I have said.
            You seem to have assumed that I am anti-scholarship. You couldn’t be more wrong.

          • My point wasn’t about greek per se, but about the historical method…

            KURT WILLEMS

          • Rick20033

            I absolutely aee the value of the historical method, as have the other teachers and scholars over the last 2000 years.
            I’m curious, do you believe it is a coincidence that you reached the conclusion you did, a conclusion at odds with what has been held by the church, at a time and in a place where the culture you live in holds (and preaches incessantly) that position?

          • gwally

            Again, I beg to differ with you. I read the bible and find that when the whole of scripture is considered Paul’s theology and practice and the life and teachings of Jesus contradict any kind of gender hierarchy in the church. And Christian egalitarian theology was around long before second wave feminism, for example, see the writings of Margaret and George Fox (Quaker movement) or the work of William and Catherine Booth (Salvation Army). The newest position related to women in the church in the complementarian position, which was developed in the 1990s.

          • Rick20033

            “The newest position related to women in the church in the complementarian position, which was developed in the 1990s.”

            I’ve already spent more time here than is warranted, but I’ll respond to this and see my way out. I consider the following men to be entirely consistent with my position, and they were found at random as the result of a two minute internet search:

            Then after saying, “The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is of the Church,” he further adds, “and He is the Saviour of the body.” For indeed the head is the saving health of the body. He had already laid down beforehand for man and wife, the ground and provision of their love, assigning to each their proper place, to the one that of authority and forethought, to the other that of submission. As then “the Church,” that is, both husbands and wives, “is subject unto Christ, so also ye wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as unto God.”
            – Chrysostom

            I answer that, Equality is twofold, of quantity and of proportion. Equality of quantity is that which is observed between two quantities of the same measure, for instance a thing two cubits long and another two cubits in length. But equality of proportion is that which is observed between two proportions of the same kind as double to double. Accordingly, speaking of the first equality, husband and wife are not equal in marriage; neither as regards the marriage act, wherein the more noble part is due to the husband, nor as regards the household management, wherein the wife is ruled and the husband rules.
            – Aquinas

        • “You don’t find Ephesians 5 being interpreted as you have done in almost two millennia of church history” … “according to almost 2000 years of church teaching”…

          Since you claim to know how Eph 5 have been interpreted all through church history, can you please give us:

          > 1 quote from the 1st – 4th century, on how they interpreted Eph 5.
          > 1 quote from the 5th – 8th century, on how they interpreted Eph 5.
          > 1 quote from the 9th – 12th century, on how they interpreted Eph 5.
          > 1 quote from the 13th – 16th century, on how they interpreted Eph 5.
          > 1 quote from the 17th – 20th century, on how they interpreted Eph 5.

          If you want us to believe Eph 5 have been interpreted in a certain way all through church history, prove it.

          • Rick20033

            Sure. My employer pays me $33 per hour, so I suppose that’s what you plan to pay me as well?

            You can save some money and really feel good about yourself by doing your own homework and proving that what I said was wrong. Find the church luminary who held the position of this article and not the position that I have said was the position of the church through the millennia.

    • Guest

      “You don’t find Ephesians 5 being interpreted as you have done in almost two millennia of church history”

      Since you claim to know how Eph 5 have been interpreted all through church history, can you please give us:

      > 1 quote from the 1st – 4th century, on how they interpret Eph 5.
      > 1 quote from the 5th – 8th century, on how they interpret Eph 5.
      > 1 quote from the 9th – 12th century, on how they interpret Eph 5.
      > 1 quote from the 13th – 16th century, on how they interpret Eph 5.
      > 1 quote from the 17th – 20th century, on how they interpret Eph 5.

      If you want us to believe Eph 5 have been interpreted in a certain way all through church history, prove it.

      • Rick20033

        I’m afraid you dramatically overestimate my level of concern about whether you believe me or not.

        • Your whole argument throughout this thread is based on the assumption that Christians have allegedly always believed a certain way about this. Yet you cannot or will not give evidence for your view.

          • Rick20033

            Will not.

        • No. When I asked the question, I already knew you would not be able to answer: Partly because you certainly have not studied this (you admitted to not studying it in Greek), and partly because some actual Bible commenters of the early centuries who did, had ideas that correspond to the views on Eph. 5 expressed by mutual submission supporters, for example Athanasius (296-373) Bishop of Alexandria, and Cyril (376-444) Archbishop of Alexandria, stated “head” means source, not leader:

          (A popular confession of faith is named after Athanasius.)

          I can also show that some other Christians had views
          that even today’s gender role supporters will find sexist, but that also proves today’s gender role views is not what Christians always believed.

          I asked this question to expose that you don’t know what
          you are talking about.

          • Rick20033

            No, I think it’s obvious that you “asked” this “question” to dodge the issue that the egalitarian position is built on relatively recent eisegesis and prompted by an embrace of current cultural preferences. Rather than deal with that, you required me to spend a lot of time gathering quotes for you. If I refused, you could declare victory despite having proven nothing but the fact that I am not your servant. I have no intention of wasting my time trying to convince someone who looks to the Bible for support for pre-existing positions. So, you pump your fist in the air and declare victory if it makes you feel better. As I said elsewhere, I have wasted enough time here.

          • The third to 5th centuries, when the statements was made that I linked to, is not “relatively recent.” Neither is the age when God wrote in Genesis 1 that he makes man and woman and tells both to rule the earth.

            This is not about me feeling better, it is about the heart of a Christ who said that believers should not be like the worldly who lord it and exercise authority. Pumping a fist and declaring victory would be like that world. Challenging your way of thinking, so readers can see that the Christ-like way of serving and not lording it over one another is really nothing new, is to encourage people to understand and follow Christ on this issue.

          • Rick20033

            I know you’re desperate to make some point here. That’s been clear from the start. But, at this point you should just stop. I said that the position of the church throughout the first 1900 years was that the husband held a leadership position over the wife just as Christ holds a leadership position over the church. It was easy for them to come to this conclusion because Paul says it outright.

            You replied, “[S]ome actual Bible commenters of the early centuries who did, HAD IDEAS THAT CORRESPOND TO THE VIEWS ON EPH. 5 EXPRESSED BY MUTUAL SUBMISSION SUPPORTERS, for example Athanasius (296-373) Bishop of Alexandria, and Cyril (376-444) Archbishop of Alexandria…”

            However, after promising to prove that Athanasius held to the mutual submission view, you simply show that he thought that the word translated “head” CAN mean SOMETIMES “source.”

            First, the context in which he said that was a discussion of Christ’s deity and the Trinity. He isn’t talking about Ephesians 5 or husbands and wives at all.

            Second, he does not say that the word can’t also mean “person in authority.”

            Next you reference Cyril. He, like Athanasius, is not addressing the role of husbands, but Christ in a context entirely removed from Ephesians 5.

            So, you rip these writers words completely out of context in a vain attempt to have their support. Or you found a website that had already done so and you uncritically took them at their word because they were saying something you liked.

            Do you really want to know what “head” means in the letter to the Ephesians? Paul tells us in the letter itself:

            “And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as HEAD over all things.” (1:22)

            THAT is the context of Paul’s use of “head” in Ephesians, and there is no reason whatsoever to believe he means anything else when he later writes

            “Wives, SUBMIT to your husbands AS to the Lord [how do wives submit to the Lord? As an equal?], BECAUSE the husband is the HEAD of the wife AS ALSO [in other words, “just like”] Christ is the head of the church—he himself being the savior of the body. But AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, SO ALSO WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS in ***everything***.”

            There is nothing remotely ambiguous about any of that. The only way to miss what it is saying is to try desperately to do so, which is what you are doing.

            As amazing as your eisegesis and false quotes were, though, I confess they weren’t the highlight (lowlight?) of your “argument.” This was:

            “Neither is the age when God wrote in Genesis 1 that he makes man and woman and tells both to rule the earth.”

            Are you familiar with the Fall of Man? If so, you’ve heard about what God said the woman’s punishment would be:

            “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, AND HE WILL RULE OVER YOU.’”

            Do women still suffer in childbirth? Yes. Likewise, husbands are still in authority over their wives, as Paul says in Ephesians. And men still work by the sweat of their brows. All of the things God told the man and woman are still in effect. Paul makes that clear in the NT, as well.

            Your entirely argument is a bluff.

            Now, with that, I am going to try once more to leave. I just couldn’t let your last two comments go because they were so full of false bravado while also being so easy to refute. I wouldn’t want anyone reading our exchange to think you had REALLY proven anything.

            I honestly pray that God will help you handle His Word with more reverence and care.

          • If you are into a plain reading of Scripture, are you a believer in the plain words of Jesus that teach absolute nonviolence? If not– I’d venture to say you “pick and choose.”

            KURT WILLEMS

          • Rick20033

            Ha! I have no intention of getting dragged into another discussion. I’ll simply say that one has to pick and choose to come to YOUR position. You take a couple of verses that deal with a certain type of personal interaction and expand it far beyond that context in order to hold a position that is so obviously in contradiction to the Bible that it beggars belief. We’re talking about the Jesus who claimed to be the I Am of the OT, a God who called for an enormous amount of bloodshed. We’re talking about the Jesus who “in righteousness he judges and makes war.” We’re talking about the Jesus who will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. Jesus is God, and God has never taught absolute non-violence. In fact, He tells us that government is His servant, that it bears the sword, and that it does not do so in vain. Swords are used for violence.

            That’s the end of my part of this discussion.

          • Waneta Dawn

            Rick, the problem with concluding husband authority from Eph. 5, because Jesus is God and has absolute authority, is that Eph 5 does NOT tell husbands that Jesus’ authority is what husbands are to copy. Instead, husbands are told to copy Jesus’ love and sacrifice. Because of the command to husbands, the directive to wives to submit ends up meaning
            that wives are to submit to their sacrificial, non-ruling,
            laying-down-their-rights husbands.

            This makes perfect sense. In a culture where wives are like slaves, it would be seen as wimpy and shameful for a husband to be self-sacrificial and serve his wife instead of being served. A wife would tend to not submit to her husband’s self-sacrifice, but rather recoil from it. Paul is setting a new standard: wives, let your husbands serve you. Husbands, love and serve your wives as Christ loved and served the church.

          • Oh, proof texting! No mention of the “all believers should submit to each other” context of the verse, and you want to perpetuate “he will rule” that was not God’s ideal while Jesus want to abolish all of the curse -even death – eventually; and while you will never say that labour-saving devices (decreasing the curse of sweat) or hard-working woman (putting the curse of sweat on both genders) is wrong. Proof texting that quotes the one verse on headship that may make your point, emphasising the word “over” that is badly translated from the Greek by capitalization, while texts like Colossians 2:19 and Ephesians 4:15–16 maintains that the head not only causes growth but also causes the body to build itself up.

            I HAVE A WHOLE BLOG handling the issues you SHOUT ABOUT IN CAPITALS, handling them with care looking at the whole Bible.

            But you can gladly pray that I handle the word with even more care. I will pray that for the man-in-the lead proof texters too.

    • gwally

      I would disagree about church history. It wasn’t until the 4th century when the church was institutionalized that women began to be shut out of leadership roles. Women continued to have significant influence (Abbesses, women mystics, women in the Reformation) picking up steam from the 1600s on through today. Those of us from the Wesleyan/Holiness streams have supported the egalitarian position for decades, disproving the slippery slope argument. For more on women in church history see this 4 part series, More Than Footnotes

  • Jason

    Kurt, I always appreciate what you have to say, and I agree with you about egalitarianism….but I find your argument here weak. As Rick says, it’s hard to ignore the very clear language in this letter about a woman’s role. If this was written by Paul, why not talk about the fact that he was as much a product of his culture as everyone else? Lest we assume when Paul opens his mouth Jesus is speaking (as plenty of people do…), he didn’t always echo what Jesus might have had to say about socio-political situations. Maybe contrast what is here with the mentions of women as church leaders elsewhere in his writings? Or just say that Paul wasn’t the last authority on social roles, because as he himself has said, we are all equal in Christ. That is much more convincing.

    It seems to me that the author is just upholding the status quo, but injecting into it an idea about how men need to act towards those who are beneath them: with love. It’s the best we can expect from anyone writing during this time.

    • I was just touching on this text with other texts in the background. My earlier series, linked at the end of the post, deals with details more so.


    • gwally

      I find it interesting that Paul is also very clear in this passage (and others that parallel it) on the role of slaves, yet we clearly recognize that this was a concession to culture. We don’t endorse slavery today, yet many branches of the church endorse patriarchy. Why the inconsistency?

    • Crucifying of male privilege to enable co-leadership is one of the best interpretations of Eph. 5 because it takes the context of Paul’s message earlier in the letter to Ephesians into account. Co-leadership is a theme of Ephesians– I am thinking especially of Ephesians 2:6 and the surrounding passages that highlight what the church has received from Christ. Paul teaches in the earlier portions of his letter to the Ephesians that Jesus has created the church to be his co-leaders. Paul’s prayer is for our eyes to be opened to the amazing power that has been granted to the church through Jesus’s sacrifice.

      Traditional/complementarian approaches to authority and even servant-leadership and generic “love” tend to not take into account that the reason Jesus humbled himself and died was to exalt the church to share his throne (see Eph. 2:6, Rev. 2:26-28, Rev. 3:21). Exegetes tend to pass over the “saving” of the wife, but if husbands are to be like Christ, it follows that the husband sacrifices to share authority with his wife. Whether the authority of the husband in Ephesians is merely cultural, ordained pre-fall, or the result of sin post-fall, Paul is clearly advocating the husband use his authority in a manner similar to Christ, which is empowering the wife to become co-leader.

      Kurt, thank you, for your article. I enjoyed how you highlighted the
      Greco-Roman cultural bias against women as inferior and morally weak. It
      underscores Paul’s radical teaching to husbands.

      Can you or
      another reader suggest books/articles/blogs that also talk about
      crucifying privilege and co-leadership between Christ and the church and
      between husband and wife? The material I have found so far tends to
      have other (also important) emphases. Thanks!

  • Thegoodsamaritan

    I don’t understand those who are against mutuality. We obviously don’t know what Paul meant. For every time he says a woman can’t do something, there are examples of a woman doing just that and HE’S THRILLED WITH IT. The kingdom is growing, isn’t that something to celebrate? You can’t use the Bible to say women can’t pastor because there weren’t “pastors” in the Bible. There were only men and women who stepped up to the plate and got things done. There were women who taught, told prophecies, and lead. And the apostles encouraged it. Maybe instead of knocking down women who want to give the kingdom everything they have, we could devote ourselves to lifting each other up. The more we submit to each other, men and women alike, the more the kingdom grows. Women who want nothing more than to point people to Jesus aren’t the stumbling blocks, it’s the men and women who are limiting them and who are demanding that they stop.

  • Great article Kurt, though I would take exception to the Scott definition of gender you quoted. While gender has historically been conflated with power and power dynamics, I’d argue that gender and power are really two completely orthogonal concepts that have been wrongly associated.

    As to the meat of what you write, it ought to be obvious that the context of Eph. 5:21 completely destroys any sense of seizing authority. So your point about us men crucifying our privilege is, I think, completely correct. My perspective is that submission is something one does (and as a Christ-follower, male or female, MUST do) but never something one ought to demand of another.

    You’re also quite right that love–the command to husbands in Eph. 5–was a revolutionary concept in Paul’s day and remains so in ours. That kind of love simply cannot behave in the authoritarian, top-down way so many complementarians and others imagine.

    • Politicalmom

      Complementarianism, done right, is not “authoritarian”. I am not a doormat. I CHOOSE to give my husband the responsibility to make the final decisions for our family, because the Bible clearly states that this is the way it should be, with marriage being a picture of the relationship of Christ’s relationship with the Church. When he makes a decision, I will not make him “pay for it”, either. A ship with two captains will eventually run aground. Our ship has one captain, and I am absolutely happy with being first mate. I will share my views with my husband, knowing that he is a Godly man, who loves me and wants the best for me. I know he is capable of choosing my way over his way if he knows my way is better. I know he is very concerned that he refrain from stifling me or being overbearing, because he’s proven it to me. Bottom line is, I trust that he will choose my welfare over his, if necessary. I would do the same, of course, but HE bears the responsibility of protecting and leading our home. I think that’s harder than my job.

      • And I quote… “I know many people in complementation marriages who are happy and find joy in life. This approach can work. However, I don’t think this is what the writer of Ephesians had in mind.”


      • Rick20033

        I think you have described the husband and wife roles and responsibilities perfectly, Politicalmom. The article above says, “it’s time for husbands to crucify their privilege. Co-leadership (supporting one another as each is gifted) is God’s gift to both households: of faith and of family.” One will search the Bible in vain for that teaching, but it can be found on Oprah or any number of sitcoms. It isn’t really a call for husbands to “crucify their privilege.” It is a call for them to abdicate their responsibility as head of the household. Co-leadership isn’t God’s gift, it is a rejection of God’s structure and a radical alteration of His clear words “head of the wife AS Christ is head of the Church.” Christ has authority over the church AS husbands have authority over their wives.

        • This isn’t an u common or “new” approach FYI. It is – in its modern form- well over one hundred years old.

          KURT WILLEMS

          • Politicalmom

            I’ll stick with the clear words of the Bible. I’m unwilling to start picking and choosing which teachings I will obey depending on whether they are politically correct. The Bible is God-breathed, and therefore Paul’s words are, too. Until someone shows me a properly translated verse which says “Husbands obey your wives.”, I’m sticking with thousands of years of belief over a measly hundred years of made-up leftist propaganda. Look at what that has done to our society in such a short time.

          • Rick20033

            When speaking of 2000 years of church history, 100 years is pretty close to brand spankin’ new. Electromagnets are older than that. Dishwashers are older than that. Internal combustion engines are older than that. Telephones and motorcycles and radar and escalators and vacuum cleaners are older than that.
            When Paul wrote, door knobs hadn’t even been invented. I have relatives who are 100 years old. 😉

          • gwally

            I think there are some holes in your church history. Maybe start with Ordained Women in the Early Church by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek.

          • Rick20033

            I’ll respond to all three of your replies to me right here. You’re confusing roles of women in the church with the roles of husband and wife. Even today there are people who recognize that “the husband is the head of the wife AS Christ is the head of the church” but think women can hold positions of authority in the church.

          • In my study of Church History, Clement of Alexandria was among the first to conclude that women were equal with men and that they should have a leadership role in the Church – he wrote this in the Paedagogus in circa 198 A.D. There have always been a running thread pointing toward egalitarianism in the tapestry of the Church since the very beginning, lest we forget Junia, Phoebe, and all the other women of the New Testament. There were many church movements -isms that also tended toward promoting women as leaders at various times: Montanism promoted female presbytrs and bishops, Catharism gave women the title ‘Perfect’ and gave them equal authority with the men; admittedly, both were considered heretical belief systems by the orthodox church. Then again, so is basically every other church that has existed apart from them.

          • Rick20033

            I appreciate your comment, but my point was about the role of husband as head of the wife, and the wife’s requirement to submit to her husband as she submits to the Lord (Eph 5).

      • Can you tell me what complementarianism looks like for the Christian wife of the unreasonable husband? Read the quote at the end of this article, and tell me what your advice to Journey would have been if you knew her:
        She was, like you, a complementarian woman. She just had a different husband.

      • gwally

        The very definition of complementarianism is that men lead and women submit. How is that not authoritarian?

      • Kurt doesn’t touch on it, but one can argue, that the Bible clearly defines mutuality in creation, and sin brought on patriarchy and even “complementarianism”. God created men and women as co-rulers and images of Him here on earth. Sin temporarily ruined that. Christ permanently redeems it and set things as they should.

        Careful biblical study reveals that God created women fully equal with men. The Genesis narrative contains no statement supporting male superiority, male dominance or needed leadership, nor female
        subordination and submission. In the beginning, in God’s creation that was good, in His eyes before the fall, man and women were fully equal in rank, without any functional hierarchy, and lived in full equality and mutuality. Sin ruined this, and Christ redeems it.

        This helps us to see how God sees all his children – we are fully
        equal partners together as men and women, who together reflect His glory as we serve God and together perfectly reflect His glory, image, power, and authority.

    • Chip M Anderson

      Interestingly, when the local gathering (i.e., a church) moved from “house” to “building” (which was supported by the State bytheway, i.e., the Empire), there was a social construct move from a domestic venue where women had a central role to a building where men developed their more dominant role. This changed everything and how texts like Ephesians 5 were heard. Meals into symbolic symbols and meal/domestic leadership into leadership roles designed for and maintain by men.

  • Chip M Anderson

    Yes, great essay. Good insight. I am preparing a paper (and hopeful chapter in my next book) on Eph 5:18-6:9 and found your insight to be what I am learning (thanks for some great quotable lines and some more resources, bytheway!). Modern Christians read the marriage section as if its there to explain the role of women in a marriage. Yet, what is true of the first set–Wives-Husbands–must have some parallel significance to the remaining two sets–children-fathers and slaves-masters. I will be contending that all three must be heard, it is all three that we are build “interpretation” and application, and that the (fuller) text has more to do with personhood that simple marriage, parenting, and slave owning (oops, we are against that–so we wrongly turn the slaves-masters into employee-employer–heavens, we need to stop that!). Again thanks. See @wastedevanglsm for volume one.

  • Charles Mark

    “Patriarchy was never the goal of the Scriptures. It was there for a time, but the New Testament sets the pace a different direction: mutuality. ”

    Great point. I used to co-facilitate a domestic violence class for batterers. It was at a faith based rehab center, so some times Scripture such as Eph. 5 and 1 Tim./1 Cor. would come up and they would talk about how “biblical” it was for their partner to listen to them. With every new class that came through, there would always be a few who would bring this up. Out of love for those guys, and for their partners, I would try to help them see their male privilege and how it impacted their mindsets and relationships. Being “in charge” isn’t the same as being a leader. Leaders lead by example. If they claim that their example is Jesus, then they should emulate love and self-sacrifice, which means putting to death the privilege that comes with being a male in today’s society.

    • Thanks Charles! Hope u are doing well!



    • parishioner

      thanks for this. “being ‘in charge’ isn’t the same as being a leader.” excellent.

      sometimes I feel like only those familiar with abuse actually have a proper understanding of what Paul was actually pointing to. rick and politicalmom have a definition of male headship which seems to be about female concession in decisions that will affect the couple. at one point rick quoted the curse god pronounced upon Adam and eve, without seeming to remember it was a curse, not a blessing. jesus’ blood is the antidote to that curse, and eph 5 is the application. eph 5 is not direction for how to proudly flesh out the curse and then congratulate yourself on obedience.

      when god said “eye for an eye”, he meant it. when god said, “you have heard it said ‘eye for an eye,’ but I tell you love your enemies..” he also meant it. his incarnation and the coming of the holy spirit has meant revolutionary change in what is possible for us to perceive in his character and obey in response. eph 5 needs to be viewed in the same context. Kurt is right to point rick to the greek–tripping up over personal interpretations of “submit” and “obey” leads to cultural misapplication, which I think is what rick and politicalmom are doing. mindless obedience and obedience with inward defiance are both possible in the complimentarian model they both seem to hold dear. what they seem to miss are the inner attitudes and motivations that eph 5 is actually exhorting us to examine and follow, which is what I think Kurt and Charles are pointing to.

      we know what it is to submit and obey hypocritical, sinful parents and other headship without choice. submission in the godhead never deals with that perversity, nor doles out that perversity. “jesus as head of the church” must be viewed in that context, not just be a phrase uttered without contemplation or comprehension. a man who truly understands what he is being called to should quiver with fear over the responsibility, and cry out for help. walking after Jesus to model such selfless headship for his wife is impossible without the holy spirit. humility or pride in the male reader determines the interpretation of eph 5 as much as, or perhaps more than, anything else.

      as a woman who looooooooves Jesus, I can tell you there is nothing more attractive to me than a man who resembles him. resemblance has to do with character, not posturing and demands. we women know the difference. it is hoped that the blowhards and the arrogantly selfish who try to use scripture to justify their agenda will someday recognize that god knows the difference too, and their wives’ unhappiness might end up being the least they answer for. fear god when you read eph 5.

  • Rust Cohle

    Since christianity is a rather privileged religion, can we crucify it, and be done with it?

  • Loved everything you shared, brother. I think adding in the creation narrative of how God created things to be before sin entered into the world could perhaps make your already sound “argument” stronger. Imago Dei and ‘Ezer Kenegdo, Boom, and boom. That is all. 🙂

  • Very well written, Kurt! You have established great foundations on how to view submission and leadership. I love that you pointed out how context is everything and that the audience at the time that received Paul’s letters is different to us today. A lot of Christians misconstrue this issue.
    Keep posting! I like your content.