Household Leadership: According to the Bible, which gender should lead?

Jay Dee

Household Leadership: According to the Bible, which gender should lead?

Apr 16, 2014

Who should lead in the household? This is a question that is being seriously debated these days, and Christians are all over the map on this one. Some believe husbands should be, some the wives. Some believe there should be no leader, some believe it

According To The Bible Which Gender Should Lead

Who should lead in the household? This is a question that is being seriously debated these days, and Christians are all over the map on this one. Some believe husbands should be, some the wives. Some believe there should be no leader, some believe it doesn’t make a difference, and some believe they should lead together, which seems to mean no one is leading, or they’re fighting more than accomplishing anything.

So, what does the Bible say? After all, if we are Christians, and believe that God’s “word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105), then that should be our first stop for such guidance.

The New Testament On Household Leadership

Probably the most contended passage on this subject is in Ephesians 5

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).

Wives, be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your own husbands as [a service] to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, Himself the Savior of [His] body. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. – Ephesians 5:21-24

However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly]. Ephesians 5:33

Do you see the problem? In verse 21, we see “Be subject to one another” which sounds egalitarian (no roles). Then in the very next verse, it shifts to husbands being the leaders of the family. It doesn’t help that each translation of the Bible seems to choose for itself whether or not this first verse is part of this section, or part of the previous section. Is it talking about marriage, or not? After all, if this is the same writer (Paul) writing to the same audience (The church in Corinth), about the same topic (marriage), one sentence after the other, they should match. So, what do we do with this? Well, there are a lot of theories, but honestly, no one seems to have a definitive answer that everyone agrees on. For me, when in doubt, I go find more scripture, because the Bible should agree with itself.

So, when we check Paul’s other writings, we see his thoughts on the matter:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. – 1 Corinthians 11:3

For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man – 1 Corinthians 11:8-9

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. – Titus 2:3-5

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. – Colossians 3:18

But, maybe it’s just Paul. I’ve heard that Paul just really didn’t like women for some reason. We have another author, lets see what Peter has to say in 1 Peter 3:1,2

In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them], so that even if any do not obey the Word [of God], they may be won over not by discussion but by the [godly] lives of their wives,
When they observe the pure and modest way in which you conduct yourselves, together with your reverence [for your husband; you are to feel for him all that reverence includes: to respect, defer to, revere him—to honor, esteem, appreciate, prize, and, in the human sense, to adore him, that is, to admire, praise, be devoted to, deeply love, and enjoy your husband].
1 Peter 3:1-2

Alright, so it doesn’t look like Paul was alone. Maybe Paul and Peter were influenced by a Greco-Roman patriarchal society or they were trying to fit their message so as not to be too offensive to the culture of the time. Now, I always had a problem with this argument, because Paul didn’t seem interested in moderating his speeches enough to keep him out of prison, nor did Peter do so to keep from being killed, but let’s say this is cultural. This is a common argument because you can use “culture” to argue away just about every difficult statement in the Bible. People love to play the “culture” card when the Bible doesn’t suit their individual desires or philosophies. But, I say the Bible has an answer to this as well.

The Old Testament On Household Leadership

Let’s go back to Genesis. Back to creation, before there were people, before there was culture. Surely there can be no cultural interference if there is no culture yet in existence.

The creation story, particularly the creation of humans, is a very interesting story when you start looking for clues about gender roles.

Now, most of you know the story of creation, but for those who are a little rusty, or haven’t heard the Biblical account, a quick review:

“In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:1-2

So, basically God starts with a blank slate. First He creates light and separates light from dark on day 1. Day 2, he creates the separation we would call the atmosphere. Water above and water below. Day 3 He moves the water around and creates dry land, and fills it with plant life. Day 4 He creates the sun, the moon and the stars. Day 5 He creates fish and birds. Now Day 6 is where it gets interesting for our discussion.

God creates all the animals that walk on the ground, and then seems to confer with the other persons in the God-head and they say “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26) (emphasis mine)

It goes on to say

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

But that’s sort of a summary version of the actual events. Later on, Genesis 2 gives us far more detail. Genesis 2:7 starts off the detailed account of the creation of mankind.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7

Here we have the creation of the first person. He is male, and his name basically is “the man”. There is some confusion about what his name literally means, it could mean “ruddy” from the dirt he was created from, or it could be a play on the Hebrew word for earth, but his name comes to represent mankind. And so when God names him, He seems to name him “the man”.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:15-17

And here God gives “the man” his role. He is to work and protect (the Hebrew word we translate as “take care of” literally means to build a hedge of thorns around it. It has the idea of protection, of guarding). That was his job, from the beginning. Before the female gender was ever created.

 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” – Genesis 2:18

So God created “the man” gave him the job of working and protecting the garden and then He seems to think to himself or perhaps He discusses it in the God-Head “This isn’t done. We need something else.” What’s interesting is that He doesn’t tell “the man” this. He lets him continue on his merry way until he figures it out for himself.

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. 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 in the sky and all the wild animals. – Genesis 2:19-20a

So, God gives “the man” another task. And it may seem sort of silly, to go name all the animals, but this is fairly significant in Biblical terms. Naming something establishes dominion and authority over it. God the Father names the earth, He names “the man”, He renames Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah and Jacob to Israel. Jesus renames Simon to Peter, and names John and James “the sons of thunder”. After His death and resurrection, Jesus renames Saul to Paul. Then in Revelation, we see Jesus promising those who are victorious in the church of Ephesus that they will get a white stone, with a new name written on it.

We also see this occur with Daniel and his 3 friends when they are captured and taken to Babylon. [Who remembers Daniel’s friends names?] [What about their Hebrew names?] [And Daniel’s Babylonian name?] They are given new names by the Babylonian king to signify that the Babylonian gods had dominion over them now.

Daniel => Belteshazzar

Hananiah => Shadrach

Mishael => Meshach

Azariah => Abednego

Now people will argue that this dominion was given to mankind back in Genesis 1:26, but there was no mankind yet according to Genesis 2:19. It was just “the man”.

And so, “the man” names all the animals and comes to a disappointing realization.

“But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” – Genesis 2:20b

With all the animals, he can recognize pairings. He realizes they are gendered and they have mates, and yet he cannot find one for himself in everything he has named. Now it’s like God says “OK, he figured it out, time to continue creating.”

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 then 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. – Genesis 2:21-22

So Eve was made to help him, to be suitable for him, and complement him.

And look what happens next.

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.” – Genesis 2:23

Do you see it? Did you catch the significance of this. “The man” declares “She shall be called ‘woman’”! He names her…signifying his dominion, his authority, that she is under his protection. Have you ever noticed that before? Fascinating, isn’t it?

But we’re not done. Let’s fast forward to the Fall of mankind. This is another story that most people know the details of, but never really thought about it in terms of gender roles.

So, here’s the basic premise for those who are rusty or haven’t heard it. “the man” and “the woman”, because those are their names at this point in the story, are in the garden, and there is a tree in the garden that they are not to eat of. Do you remember that?

Who did God tell that they couldn’t eat from that tree?

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:15-17

He tells “the man”. At no point does God seem to breathe a word of this to “the woman”. It’s almost as if He assumes “the man” will tell her. This seems to imply, yet again, a hierarchy in the relationship.

Now, the story goes on. “the woman” meets “the serpent”, “the serpent” tempts “the woman” with “the fruit” (that one probably didn’t need quotes). “the woman” eats the fruit, and then gives some to “the man” who “was with her”. Now, I’m told the way Hebrew works, explicitly stating at this point that “the man” was with her means it was unlikely with her at the time of the temptation. I personally would lean towards this understanding of the verse, because of 1 Timothy 2:14 which tells us:

“And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” – 1 Timothy 2:14

This seems to indicate that “the man” (Adam) was not with “the woman” during the deception by “the serpent”. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t stand idly by and watch my wife as she’s being deceived.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. – Genesis 3:6-7

So, “the woman” is tempted, seems to consider it for some time, then takes and eats it. Later, when “the man” is with her, she shares it with him. But, notice “the fall” of mankind does not occur until after “the man” knowingly eats the fruit. Why? Well, I think it is because it was his job to protect creation. The fall is due to his failing, not “the woman”’s. After all, as 1 Timothy 2:14 said “”the woman” was deceived, but “the man” knew what he was doing, and it was his job to protect both the garden and the woman, and God specifically told him not to eat from the tree.

The very next thing we see in Genesis is God walking through the garden, and again, God points to his appointed authority over creation:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” – Genesis 3:8-9

God doesn’t ask them where they are. God specifically calls to “the man” and they have this short exchange:

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” – Genesis 3:10-11

Now, in English this doesn’t jump out as much as in Hebrew, but all the “you”’s here are masculine singular. God says “Have you (“the man”) eaten from the tree that I commanded you (“the man”) not to eat from?” God basically ignores “the woman” in this exchange, though they are both there. Why?

God only told “the man” not to eat from the tree. What if “the man” instead of telling “the woman” “don’t eat from the tree” instead said “don’t touch the tree”. Not as a corruption of God’s instructions, but as an extra layer of precaution. Of course, “the woman” would ask “why”, because we humans are curious. And “the man” might answer “because I don’t want you to die”. This would explain “the woman”’s telling the serpent she was told not even to touch the tree lest she die (in order to prevent her death).

In this is the case case, then God asks “the man” why he ate, and not “the woman”, because ultimately it was “the man’s” responsibility to ensure neither of them ate from the tree.

After that God then hands out the curses to all involved, kicks them out of Eden and then we see a re-naming take place:

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. – Genesis 3:20

Adam doesn’t really get a new name, because Adam means “the man”, but Adam now renames his wife, declaring that he still was responsible for her and had authority over her, regardless of what happened in the garden. I often wonder how he felt after the fall. He knew he had failed her, and yet he wants to give her a beautiful name, Mother of all living. It just shows that despite the fact that she gave him the fruit, and he failed to protect her, all is forgiven and he’s going to do whatever he can to protect her now, and show her he cares for and loves her by doing the best he can in his God given role as the leader.

Your Turn

So, this is what we found in the Bible about who should lead the household.   Have you ever looked at Genesis in this light?  We found it absolutely fascinating.  What are your thoughts?

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