Husbands, Wives, Headship, and Submission
by Pat Campbell
April 1999

The amendment to The Baptist Faith and Message on the family continues to draw fire both from the secular world and many within the Southern Baptist Convention. The controversy stems from the statement's reference to the husband's leadership role and the wife's submission to him. This part of the Amendment states:

A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.

The concepts of a husband's "servant leadership" and a wife's "gracious submission" come from the two Greek words: kephale and hupotasso. Cynics assert that this interpretation of these two words is a product of shrewd male chauvinism. To determine the validity of this claim, we must evaluate the biblical and theological data behind these words.


Kephale has been translated head in almost all translations of the Bible. According to the Greek-English Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, kephale means, "in the case of living beings, to denote superior rank . . . of the husband in relationship to his wife I Cor. 11:3b; Eph. 5:32a. Of Christ in relationship to the church Eph. 4:15; 5:23b."1 The word refers to one in "authority over." Of the New Testament lexicons surveyed, all but one gave the meanings for kephale as leader, ruler, or person in authority.

The only exception to this understanding is found in the Greek-English Lexicon edited by H.G. Liddell and Robert Scott, and revised by Henry Stuart Jones in 1968. In this lexicon, part of the entry for kephale reads as follows:

11. 1 of things, extremity
a. In botany
b. In anatomy
c. Generally, top, brim of vessel ... capital of a column
d. In plural, source of a river, Herodotus 4.91 (but singular, mouth); generally, source, origin, orphic fragments 21a; starting point (examples: the head of time; the head of a month).2

Berkeley Mickelsen, professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary, and his wife Alvera, assistant professor of Journalism at Bethel College, both in St. Paul, Minnesota, build a case upon this reference in their article "What Does Kephale Mean In The New Testament." They write:

"The belief of some Christians that the Bible teaches a hierarchy, with men in a role of authority over women (basically over all women and very specifically over their wives) is based largely on two references by Paul to males (or husbands) as the 'head' of women (or wives), I Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23.3

"We cannot legitimately read English or Hebrew meaning into the word 'head' in the New Testament when both context and secular Greek literature of the New Testament times indicate that meanings such as 'superior rank' or 'authority over' were not what Greeks usually associated with the word and probably were not what the apostle Paul had in mind. Our misunderstanding of these passages (especially I Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23) has been used to support the concept of male dominance that has ruled most pagan and secular societies since the beginning of recorded history."4

The Mickelson's both represent the Egalitarian position. Their article is committed to refuting the teaching that a man is to be head of his home, as well as arguing that the word kephale means source" rather than "superior in rank." Again they write, "Those who, like Bauer, insist that kephale means 'superior rank' say that since kephale is used with that meaning in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that meaning must have been familiar to Greek-speaking people in New Testament times. The facts do not support this assumption."5

In response to this article, Ruth A. Tucker, visiting Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at Deerfield, Illinois, wrote, "In conclusion, it is my impression that whatever the word kephale meant to the apostle Paul as he wrote I Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5, it was generally interpreted by the church fathers and by Calvin to mean authority, superior rank or pre-eminence. These findings bring into question some of the Mickelsen's assumptions - particularly that the 'superior rank' meaning of kephale is not 'one of the ordinary Greek meanings' but rather a 'meaning associated with the English word head.' More research needs to be done in this area, but it seems clear that the fathers used this so-called English meaning long before they could have in any way been influenced by the English language."6

Wayne Grudem has given a telling response to the teaching that kephale means "source." In his article "The Meaning Source 'Does Not Exist,' Liddell-Scott Editor Rejects Egalitarian Interpretation of 'Head'" (kephale ), he writes, "A recent letter from one of the world's leading Greek lexicographers, P.G.W. Glare, has undermined a foundational building block in the Egalitarian view of marriage. Glare denies that the word 'head' ever (emphasis added) had the meaning 'source' in ancient Greek literature. Yet this meaning is essential to Egalitarian interpretations of Scripture regarding marriage."7

The Egalitarians believe if they can assert kephale means "source" rather than "authority over" then they can invalidate the concept that male authority and leadership is taught in Ephesians 5:23 and I Corinthians 11:3. But their appeal to the only piece of evidence in the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon is now in jeopardy. Again Grudem writes:

"Even this entry did not prove the Equalitarian claim that a person could be called the 'source' of something by using kephale because the majority category for this Lexicon entry had to do with end-points of 'things', not with persons (persons are in view in Ephesians 5:23, with Christ and a husband being called head."8

Additionally, those who appealed to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon fail to realize the assertion that kephale meant source of a river only in the plural, whereas in the singular it meant "mouth" of a river. "Head" in the Ephesians passage is in the singular and not plural. Therefore consistency would require the translation "mouth" in this text, not "source." This would make for an interesting translation, "For the husband is the mouth of the wife as Christ is the mouth of the church!" As an average teenager might reply - NOT!

Add to this the letter from the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon editor written to Wayne Grudem in which he stated, "The supposed sense 'source' of course does not exist (emphasis added) and it was at least unwise of Liddell and Scott to mention the word. At the most they should have said 'applied to the source of a river in respect of its position in its (the river's) course.'"9

Max Turner, Director of Research and Senior Lecture in the New Testament at London Bible College, analyzed the texts where the meaning "source" were used. He concluded the other established senses were preferable in each case. He suggests the meaning "source," as claimed by some, "... is not recognized by the lexicons, and we should consider it linguistically unsound."10

In addition, if we apply the definition of "source" to kephale in I Corinthians 11:3 it would read, "Now I want you to realize that the source of every man is Christ, and the source of the woman is man, and the source of Christ is God." This is what the Mickelsens believe. They write, "This strongly suggests that Paul was using 'head' in verse 3 with the Greek meaning of 'source, origin, base, or derivation.' Man was the 'source or beginning' of woman in the sense that woman was made from the side of Adam. Christ was the one through whom all creation came, as Paul states in I Corinthians 8:6b, 'Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.' God is the source of Christ, as taught in John 8:42, 'I proceed and came forth from God.'"11

That suggested use of "source" implies Jesus had an origin or beginning. This denies the eternality of Christ and mirrors the ancient Arian heresy. Orthodox Christianity has been uncompromising in its commitment that Christ was not created by God, but that He has existed from all eternity.

In The Baptist Faith and Message, section two under the definition of God, the last part of the article reads: "The Eternal God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without divisions of nature, essence, or being." Southern Baptists and all orthodox Christians have been clear and unequivocal that all three persons of the Trinity have existed throughout all eternity. Even those who teach that the Son of God was not created but that He existed from all eternity, but who teach that He derives His Deity from the Father, still make Him inferior in His being and attributes. This is a form of ontological subordinationism which has been condemned by the church throughout history.

The idea that God was the "source" of Christ's existence is heresy. Christ has the source of life and self-existence within His own being from all eternity and He does not depend upon the Father for this reality. In other words, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, did not derive His deity from the Father but, concerning His Godness, was "God in Himself" (autotheos).12 In John 8:42 when Jesus said He proceeded (exelthon, John 4:30) and came forth from the Father, He was not implying His ontological Deity was derived from the Father, but that His commission and authority came from the Father.13

The evidence is overwhelming contextually, linguistically, and theologically that the only proper meaning of kephale (head) in Ephesians 5:23 as well as in I Corinthians 11:3 is "authority over" or "superior rank." Grudem concludes that the lexicon editor's letter, "... seems to indicate that there is no 'battle of the lexicons' over the meaning of kephale, but that the authors and editors of all (emphasis added) the lexicons for the ancient Greek now agree: (1) that the meaning 'Leader, chief, person in authority' clearly exists for kephale, and (2) that the meaning 'source' does not exist."14


The Greek-English Lexicon describes hupotasso in Ephesians 5:21 as, "Of submission in the sense of voluntary yielding in love."15 It carries with it the concept "to line up under." Because it is a present participle it refers to an activity that must be continuous, and because it is in the middle voice it must be voluntary - "to submit oneself."

A.T. Robertson wrote that this word is an old military word for "lining up under."16 James B. Hurley writes, "Paul uses the verb hupotasso to describe the relation of the church to Christ. The root meaning of tasso and its various forms is 'put in order,' 'arrange,' or 'put in place.' Hupotasso, the form Paul used, means 'put in order under,' or 'sub-ordinate' and is best translated by forms such as 'to make subject' or 'to subdue' in active uses and by forms such as 'to submit oneself' or 'to be obedient to' in passive or reflexive uses. Each of the more than forty New Testament uses of the verb carries an overtone of authority and subjection or submission to it. The use of the verb necessarily carries with it a concept of exercising or yielding to authority."17

Thus, the wife is instructed to graciously and voluntarily line up under the authority and leadership of her husband. It is important to note that submission is not yielding to the needs of another, rather it is yielding to the authority of another. The wife is to submit voluntarily to the authority of her husband as the church is to submit voluntarily to Christ's authority.

When one in authority is asked to meet the needs of one in submission commands such as "love," " be considerate," and "treat with respect" are given, not "submit." Thus Paul calls upon the husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church and the apostle Peter calls upon husbands to be "considerate" and "to treat their wives with 'respect'" (I Peter 3:7).

When we consider these two words and their concepts in the context of Ephesians 5:21-6:1-9, the obvious conclusion is that the husband is to be the one in authority over his wife. He is to be the spiritual leader of the home, following the model of Christ's relationship with the church. The wife is to submit voluntarily to her husband's authority. The husband's leadership is to be characterized by Christ-like love, and the wife is to submit to his leadership voluntarily and graciously.


Those who reject these commands have raised four objections against Article XVIII. One is that submission implies an inferiority of the individual who must submit. But the article clearly affirms the ontological equality and value of both man and woman when it states, "The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image." The theological understanding of the Trinity can help our understanding of this question. Within the Trinity there is both ontological equality of persons and functional subordination.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in Person, power, and glory, yet the Father sent His Son who comes to do the Father's will and not His own (John 4:34). The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit, and He comes in subordination to both of Them to speak not on His own but only what He hears and to bring glory to Christ (John 16:12-15).

In the Christian family, the husband is in the position of authority, and the wife is to submit to him in everything (Eph. 22-33). Yet they both are of equal worth and equally bear God's image as a person, though they have different and distinct role functions.

Another objection is that submission is a product of a patriarchal culture and, therefore, is not a permanent biblical teaching. This is refuted by Paul's appeal to the creation order of God as the basis for husband-wife relationship (Ephesians 5:31, Genesis 2:24). When Paul writes in I Corinthians that the man is the head of the woman, he also refers to the creation order as the basis for this position (I Corinthians 11:7-10).

When Paul commanded children to obey and honor their parents he appealed to the fifth of the Ten Commandments, which clearly transcends culture. It is only when he referred to slaves obeying their master that he neither appealed to the creation order nor the commandments of God. The reason is that he is only regulating this situation, not giving it divine authority.18 Those who appeal to slavery as evidence that headship of men and submission of wives is culturally determined and not a permanent principle fail to read the text carefully and theologically. If the text from Ephesians 5:22 to 6:9 is all culturally determined and not a pattern for today, the implication follows that children are no longer expected to obey and honor their parents. This would not only be disastrous to the family, it is certainly not what God intended.

A third objection to the wife's submission to her husband is that the command reflects our fall into sin, and the redemption in Christ restores man and woman to the pre-fall model of egalitarianism with no headship/submission order. However, one need only examine Ephesians 5:22-33, I Corinthians 11:1-16, and I Timothy 2:11-15 to see that Paul appeals to the situation before the fall, not after it. Sin has distorted the proper relationship between the husband and wife, and only redemption and the Spirit-filled life can restore God's proper design for this relationship (Ephesians 5:17-6:1-4). The husband who is redeemed and filled with God's Spirit is able to love his wife as Christ loves the church, and the wife is able to graciously submit to the leadership of her husband. Redemption in Christ removes the oppressive elements of this structure, not the structure itself, and brings it into proper harmony. The Holy Spirit is the resource by which we accomplish this.

Finally, some claim that Galatians 3:28 cancels out the role relationship of headship and submission. This passage states: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus." A close examination of this text in its context reveals that the apostle Paul is not dealing with role relationships of men and women, but justification by faith which makes all believers one (spiritually) in Christ giving them equal access to God. The passage addresses our spiritual status before God. This is clearly emphasized in the larger context of chapter 3 which teaches all the redeemed are equally children of God, they are all equally clothed with Christ, and they are all equally heirs of the promise. This passage has nothing to say about role relationships in the church or the home.

These challenges do not refute the teaching of Holy Scripture. Ontological equality of persons and role functional subordinationism are not two mutually exclusive principles, rather they exist side by side in balance and harmony.


Dr. George Alan Rekers is Professor of Neuro-psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and also serves as an adjunct Professor of Counseling at Tyndale Theological Seminary in the Netherlands.

In his book, Shaping Your Child's Sexual Identity , he gives practical counsel to parents on how they can promote normal sexual adjustment in children. He writes:

"We have seen how the mother's and father's child rearing practices have an important influence on their child's sexual-identity development. The sex-role examples of the parents provide a learning situation for the child. The father's active leadership in the home and his affectionate involvement with his sons and daughters has strong impact on promoting their normal sexual identification. At the same time, the mother's positive attitude toward men and her submission to the father's leadership in the home are important for normal sexual identification in both her sons and daughters."19

Were we to follow God's design for the family as He presents it in Scripture, Dr. Reker's concerns would be automatically addressed. Article XVIII faithfully addresses God's expectations of families. True wisdom is submitting to the authoritative Word of God and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, obeying its precepts. When we do this, we will live under the blessings of God and develop strong healthy homes.


1. Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. 431.

2. Liddell, Scott, and Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition, (Oxford: Glarenoon, 1968), p. 945.

3. Alvera Mickelsen, Editor, Women, Authority and The Bible, (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), p. 97.

4. Ibid., p. 110.

5. Ibid., p. 101.

6. Tucker, Ibid., p. 117.

7. Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, December 1997, Vol. 2, No. 5, p. 1.

8. Ibid., p. 7.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 8.

11. Mickelsen, Ibid., p. 107.

12. See Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Library of Christian Classics, Vol. XX, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press), p. 154.

13. See Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John , (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1971), pp. 462-463.

14. Grudem, Ibid., p. 8. For further confirmation that kephale (head) means "authority over" and not "source" read Grudem's article "The Meaning of Kephale ("head"): A Response to Recent Studies, Appendix, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), pp. 425-468.

15. Bauer, Arndt, & Gingrich, Ibid., p. 855.

16. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament , Vol. 4, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), p. 544.

17. James B. Hurley, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 142.

18. See George Knight III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women: New Testament Teaching, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), pp. 10-12.

19. George Alan Rekers, Shaping Your Child's Sexual Identity , (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), p. 53.

Dr. Pat Campbell is pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in St. Charles, Missouri.

This article reprinted by permission from SBCLife


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