Dear One, thank you for being here. I hope that these posts are life-giving to you, a breath of fresh air for your weary soul.
In the first part of this series, we discussed the importance of holding Paul’s declaration of submission against how Jesus treated women. We looked into the cultural context of the letters Paul wrote and finally asked- “why are we telling women to submit to anything other than God?”
Part I can be found here
This second installment continues with two reasons my husband and I find no place for female submission in our marriage. Expanding on translation issues and the imbalance of power that can be harmful to men as well as women.
Part III will continue with the revolutionary way Jesus loved women, and provide you with a few words to hold onto when you feel that your femaleness is not enough.
Part II – Freedom in Christ / Submission in Marriage: Why I don’t submit to my husband
V. Lost in Translation: We are missing the point
But I want you to understand that the head (kephalē) of every man is Christ, the head (kephalē) of woman is man, and the head (kephalē) of Christ is God. Corinthians 11:3
For the man is the head (kephalē) of the woman even as Christ is the head (kephalē) of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Ephesians 5:23
As a married female, I often hear these verses referenced while discussing “biblical gender roles” in marriage, and I can’t help but be confused. My first post unpacked the direction Paul gave for submission (to wives and slaves…), but there is a misinterpretation here too which has led to thousands of years of patriarchal domination in the name of Christ.
Paul is the only person in the Bible to write that a man is the head of a woman, and only in these two verses. Believing that head denotes authority or leadership, Christians have used this as evidence of God’s plan for marriage– where man is the head of the household and a woman is called to submission.
However, the Greek word for head, kephalē, carries no authoritative or leadership meaning. Kephalē translates literally to a physical head. Like the thing atop your shoulders. Had Paul intended to unambiguously establish submission in marriage, he could have easily used the Greek word archōn which means ruler, leader, or chief. But these verses are not about submission or authority.
Paul chose kephalē to describe the connection between men and women, and Christ and the church. He is trying to make a point. You see, Kephalē can also be translated as source or origin.
As in the head of a river.
As in where something comes from.
As at the beginning of something.
And here is where things start to get interesting.
Paul is establishing the legitimacy of Jesus Christ in the Jewish tradition.
But I want you to understand that the (source) of every man is Christ, the (source) of woman is man, and the (source) of Christ is God. Corinthians 11:3
He is referencing the creation story found in Genesis, where God creates Eve from the rib of Adam. Where Adam is the literal source of Eve.
I think Paul is a genius here. He is connecting this foundational story in Judaism with the recently ascended Christ. He is pointing backward in Jewish history and drawing a direct line right to Jesus. It’s kind of brilliant.
The point is not to give marriage advice but to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God, and the source of the church. Paul is using an idea his readers are familiar with to help them understand something entirely new. He is comforting his readers who are unsure of all the changes happening around them- the inclusion of the gentiles, the holy spirit, and even Jesus as the promised Messiah. He is shouting, “this new way we’re doing things, it comes from Christ, and its okay because Christ comes from God!”
When read with this in mind, these verses become a beautiful way of establishing the lineage of Jesus, the church, and all humanity. I think Paul would be heartbroken to see how Christianity has used his words to keep women in a place of inferiority.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord in a manner that is worthy of saints, and assist her in whatever way she may need your help, for she has certainly been a helper for many people, including me. Romans 16:1&2
I think Paul would be heartbroken to see how Christianity has used his words to keep women in a place of inferiority. Click To Tweet
VI. The Theology of Submission hurts men too
I was 14 years old when I heard a girlfriend say “I’m totally cool with submission. I don’t want that pressure anyway!” Lord only knows how we got there, but put some Southern youth group kids together, and we’re gonna talk shop.
I may not say this enough (ever), but religiously sanctioned patriarchy wounds men as well as women. There is an unfair assumption that all men will stoically shoulder every burden. Furthermore, it’s assumed that men will want this responsibility.
Even if we take all the verses we’ve looked at with traditional interpretations, none of them task the husband with being the “spiritual head of the household” or “spiritual leader.” Sure when the Bible was written, women couldn’t have jobs, own land, etc. so men had to work and pay the bills. But the Bible never actually tasks men with this “spiritual leadership” responsibility.
Men are not God. Men don’t magically become divine the moment they say “I do.” There isn’t a light switch for holy decision-making that flips on after cutting the wedding cake. Just as much divine guidance is available to me as my husband. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that more of the Holy Spirit is offered to men than women.
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Act 2:17
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that more of the Holy Spirit is offered to men than women. Click To Tweet
Before we got married, my husband and I went to pre-marital counseling. He didn’t receive an extra training session to prepare him to be the “spiritual head of our household.” I’ve been married for nearly 10 years. And the adage is true- marriage is a partnership. Marriage is a shared responsibility and gift. It is challenging one another spiritually and supporting each other’s faith building. Marriage is putting your spouse first in everything, knowing that they are doing the same for you. It is submitting to the Divine, together, as one flesh.
Marriage was never intended to be hierarchical.
When God creates humanity in God’s own image- both male and female, God gave them both dominion over the earth.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:27 & 28
When Adam first meets Eve, his response reverent, void of any authority. He does not see her as different from himself but rather part of his very being. (Not unlike our notion of the Trinity, but that’s for another day…)
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:23 & 24
God didn’t create you in God’s own image only to require your submission to your husband.
I am here to tell you that you are not lacking, you were not created to be second class, you are perfection personified.
And just like God, in the beginning, Jesus exalted woman. Part III will continue with the revolutionary, feminist, and wildly subversive way Jesus loved women. There is hope, stay tuned, sister.
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