Should Men Be "the Head" in
the Home and the Church?
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
- Summary: Modern Feminism has attempted to blur the lines of gender differences. But the bible draws some clear distinctions between men's and women's roles, especially leadership roles in the home and the church.
The ages-old topic of headship in the home and in the church has, in recent decades, come to the point where the majority of Christians seem to fall into one of two differing schools of thought.
1. Christian Egalitarianism endorses a broad-based gender equality in roles in both the home and the church. In this view neither men nor women are distinctly designated by God for the primary leadership role in the home or church. Either or both can function in those roles. Those holding Christian Egalitarian views are usually in favor of the ordination of women to the ministry and generally oppose the teaching that husbands specifically are intended by God to be the head of the home. Egalitarians typically see no restrictions on women in leadership roles.
2. Complementarianism sees some God-defined differentiation of roles for men and women in the home and in the church. While agreeing with Egalitarians that God values men and women equally, the typical Complementarian believes that God has some specifically different roles for men and women in the home and in the church, particularly in the realm of leadership. Complementarians generally believe that the bible does not teach the ordination of women to ministry, and they normally approve of the headship of the husband in the home.
- •• These two schools of thought by no means identify the beliefs of all Christians. Some may hold a combination of the two. For example, some Pentecostals hold an Egalitarian view in favor of women’s ordination, but a Complementarian view in favor of the husband’s headship in the home.
•• As we now proceed to reviewing the Scriptures, I will do you the courtesy of identifying myself as one who holds the Complementarian view in favor of male leadership of the church and the home. I invite you to review the following Scriptures with me, in the hope that I can offer the reader a Scripturally sound defense of male headship at home and in the Lord’s Church.
I. God’s Initial Creation
Genesis 1:27-29 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
- •• God created the man and the woman and made them husband and wife (Genesis 2:25). And He gave them dominion over the plant (1:29) and animal kingdoms (1:28).
•• Egalitarians often allude to Genesis 1 and find in it, to their satisfaction, an establishment of an "egalitarian" gender equality. That is an error, though, that is dispelled by the much more detailed creation account of Genesis 2. Chapter 1 gives an overall summary of the creation; chapter 2 goes into much greater detail and establishes a differentiation of gender roles. And it is to this God-ordained differentiation that the apostle Paul, in writing inspired Scripture, appeals to in order to validate his strong positions on male leadership in the church and in the home.
- • In the later sections II. and III. we will look at Paul’s use of the creation account to teach this male headship. But first let’s look at Genesis 2 in order to understand what it was in God’s creation sovereignty that established the man as the leader of the home and the church, as Paul would later teach under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.
Genesis 2:18-24 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.  Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.  The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
- •• As we will see shortly, the inspired apostle Paul (writing infallible Scripture) referred to this specific Genesis 2 account to support his clear teaching that (1) the husband is the head of the wife and (2) men are to occupy the spiritual leadership roles in the church. So before we turn to Paul’s New Testament teaching on this, let’s examine key elements of this detailed Creation account.
- • The man Adam was “alone” (18), indicating clearly that the man was created first. The apostle Paul will later consider the creation of the man first to be a crucially important act by God in establishing male headship in the church (1 Timothy 2:12-13).
• To remedy Adam’s aloneness, God decided to “make a helper suitable for him” (18). The fact that God created Eve “for him” (for Adam) likewise became an action of God quoted to support the apostle Paul’s teaching that the husband is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-9).
• In verse 19 we see the man Adam categorizing (naming) all the animals. He was already exercising the dominion that God gave him over the plants and animals before Eve existed. This fact too was used by Paul in support of male headship in 1 Timothy 2:12-13.
• Now let us turn to the New Testament’s teaching of the headship of the husband in the marriage relationship.
II. The Husband Is the Head of the Wife.
This statement has strong biblical support and has recently come to be considered “controversial” only because the modern Feminist Movement has worked relentlessly to undermine the biblical position. Sad to say, in this and many other areas, our secular culture is shaping the Church, rather than the Church being the culture-shaper, the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth”, as Jesus intended (Matthew 5:13-14). Let’s look at a sampling of the bible’s teaching about male leadership in the home.
Titus 2:4-5 ...train the younger women ... to be subject to their husbands...
1 Peter 3:1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands...
1 Peter 3:5-6a For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,  like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.
Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Ephesians 5:22-23 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church...
Ephesians 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Ephesians 5:33, KJV ...and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-9 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God....  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;  neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
- •• Paul is certainly not making a blanket statement that every man is the head of every woman. Nothing in the bible teaches that. The context from which he clearly draws to substantiate verses 8-9 is the Creation account and the establishment of marriage between the first husband (Adam) and his wife (Eve).
•• In that husband-wife context, the apostle’s account in this inspired Scripture portion clearly asserts the headship role of the husband. In proof of that, Paul goes back to the pre-fall creation account in Genesis 2, which declares that God made “a helper suitable for him ... and brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:18, 22). Paul paraphrases this in 1 Corinthians 11:9 and reminds his readers that God “created ... woman for man”.
- • This thought might be vociferously rejected by secular feminists, but will be graciously accepted by bible-adhering believers, even if it requires a change in thinking. One mark of a true believer is that his or her world view is shaped by the bible, not by culture or other changing ideologies.
- •• Some who hold the Egalitarian position quickly bring our attention to the account of Genesis 3, which records the fall into sin (Gen. 3:1-7) of Adam and Eve. They then quote verse 16, where God says to fallen Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This is offered as alleged proof that male headship in the home is a curse from God, a result of the fall.
- • However, it is crucially important to note that the apostle Paul, in support of the husband’s headship (1 Cor. 11:3,8,9) draws his support from BEFORE THE FALL (Genesis 2:18,22). The husband’s leadership role in the home and marriage originated in God’s deliberate creative design (Gen. 2), not as a result of the fall (Gen. 3).
III. Men Are to Lead and Be the Preachers and Teachers in the Church.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 As in all the congregations of the saints,  women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
- •• “In the churches” women are “not...to speak”. At the very least this means that they are not to be what we sometimes call “the speaker” — that is, the preacher or bible teacher to the congregation. And note that this was not simply a local situation or a local cultural issue that Paul was dealing with, but rather the teaching that Paul insisted on “in all the congregations of the saints”.
1 Timothy 2:11-14 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
- •• Paul wrote to Timothy about male leadership in the church. And again, remember that this is inspired Scripture, not just Paul’s opinions. And the context of Paul’s instructions here was specifically “how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15).
•• His inspired apostolic declaration for conduct in “the church of the living God” was: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”
- • Women are not to teach men in the church.
• Women are not to have authority over men in the church — a clear statement that church leadership is entrusted by God to men.
- •• As with male leadership in the home, so also in the church — Paul appeals to God’s design in the Creation account. He refers to Genesis 2:18,22 and says, “...FOR Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). As we have already seen in the Genesis 2 account, Adam had a priority in dominion, having exercised his God-given headship (Gen. 2:19f) before Eve had been created. Paul refers to this God-established priority in headship to declare his prohibition of women being the preachers-teachers-leaders over men in the church.
- • And again, as in the issue of the husband's headship in the home, to validate God's desire for male headship in the church Paul appeals to Genesis 2, which occurred before the fall of Adam and Eve. The Egalitarians' attempt to link male leadership to Genesis 3 as a curse due to sin is in error. The apostle Paul drew his clear position from God's original creative design before the fall.
IV. In Conclusion
I believe that the Complementarian position best describes the biblical position. That is, God holds men and women (and boys and girls) as of equal value in His sight. But that being said, there are distinct, God-given roles that differ between men and women. Two of these differences that we have looked at in this bible study are:
- •• the headship of the husband in the home and marriage
•• the headship of men as preachers, teachers, and leaders in the church.
I have the highest regard for women and their God-given capabilities. My wife is a highly gifted woman. She led me to the Lord 40 years ago. She is an exceptional “Titus 2” teacher of younger women. She has gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in her life. She has held elementary teacher certificates in two states. And yet she is totally, 100% in accord with the teaching that I have outlined above. For more than three-and-a-half decades of marriage and ministry, she has been fully supportive of and submitted to my roles as leader both in the home and in the church. I could not have fulfilled my callings without this godly, gifted, submitted woman! In closing, please permit me to recommend several related bible studies that I have published:
•• A Virtuous Woman in the Eyes of God
•• Christian Women’s Ministry in the New Testament
•• The Ordination Issue | Should Women Be Ordained?
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