SPECIAL TOPIC: MALE HEADSHIP (from commentary notes on Eph. 5:23)

Christ is depicted as the husband and the church as the bride (cf. Hosea 1-3; Eph. 5:23-27; Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9). Husbands need to act in their God-given leadership position just as Christ did. He gave Himself for the church. It is not a control issue, but a giving-of-self issue.

Male headship is a very controversial issue in our modern western society. This is for several reasons:

1. we do not understand servant leadership

2. we do not like patriarchal societies because of our modern egalitarian emphasis on the worth of the individual

3. we are confused by the Bible's paradoxical way of asserting male headship in some passages and equality in others

In my opinion the answer lies in the example set by Jesus of true headship in relationship to the church and true servanthood (submission) to God the Father. This submission in no way expresses inequality, but administrative functional design. Male headship addresses a kind of leadership which serves the needs of others in a self-giving way. Our modern society rejects authority, yet seeks power!

I can personally accept male headship as a result of the fall (cf. Gen. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:12-14). I can also affirm it as a biblical concept in light of Jesus' leadership of the church (cf. Eph. 5:22-33). But what I find difficult to accept is a patriarchal mandate (i.e., male dominated societies) as God's revealed plan for every age and society (cf. Rom. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:7, 13; Gal. 3:28-29; Col. 3:11). Does the mutuality so obvious in Gen. 1:27; 2:18, which was lost in Adam and Eve's rebellion (cf. Gen. 3:16), return in salvation? Is the curse of both sin and subservience dealt with in Jesus' redemption? As the new age breaks into the lives of believers now, does also the restoration of complete fellowship with God as in Eden also begin now?

I would also like to make a hermeneutical point. As an interpreter of what I believe to be the self-revelation of the one true God and His Christ, I am surprised by the cultural aspect of Scripture. We see it obviously in the OT (circumcision, food laws, leprosy laws, etc.) but it is much more difficult for us as modern Christians to see it in the NT. I am sure this is (1) because of our love and respect for the Bible and (2) our tendency toward propositional literalism.

The two issues which stand out to me to have obvious cultural aspects: (1) male dominated societies (patriarchy) and (2) slavery. The NT never attempts to address the unfairness of these cultural pillars of the ancient world. Possibly because to do so would have meant the destruction of Christianity. Yet the gospel through time is abolishing both! God's truth never changes but societies do change. It is a grave mistake for us to attempt to turn first century Greco-Roman culture into God's will for all people in all places and of course the same is true for Israelite culture. Into each of them God revealed Himself in powerful and permanent ways. The real task is how to get the eternal absolutes out of its cultural husk. A good book which discusses this very issue is Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth.

One way to try to determine what is eternal and, therefore, binding on all believers in all periods and what is cultural or personal preference, is to see if the Bible (OT & NT) gives a uniform message or if it records a variety of opinions.

My fear is that I might let my denominational training, personality, culture and personal preferences silence or diminish a revealed truth! My ultimate authority is God and His revelation (i.e., in His Son and in a written record, the Bible). But I realize He revealed Himself to a specific period of history, to a particular culture and everything in that culture was not His will. Yet, God had to speak to people of that culture in terms and categories they could understand. The Bible then is a historical document. I dare not ignore its supernatural aspect or its cultural aspect.

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