Wives and Husbands

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:22–25).

- Ephesians 5:22-33

Paul’s profound statement regarding our adoption as sons of God in Galatians 3:28 is hotly debated in our day. Liberals often promote radical feminism and perversion with this verse. Some conservatives who embrace biblical sexuality and the deity of Christ believe this verse allows female headship in the home and in the church while other orthodox Christians do not read Paul in this way.

We must always distinguish between the faithful who believe the Bible endorses female headship from those who hate our Lord. Many who love Scripture believe male headship results from the fall and is overturned by the cross. But is this interpretation tenable?

The presence of the tree of life in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 22:1–5) makes it plain that Eden’s restoration is the final goal of salvation. In many ways, life in glory will be greater than Eden, for unlike Adam, we will be non posse peccare — not able to sin (Heb. 12:23). Nevertheless, the life described in Genesis 1–2 is normative for all believers.

These chapters clearly affirm male headship prior to the fall into sin. As we have seen, Adam’s naming of the woman demonstrates his authority over Eve (2:23). Moreover, Adam’s greater culpability for the fall (God spoke to Him first, 3:9) and his being made first (2:7) both suggest men have authority in their homes and in the church.

Yet men are not more important than women. Like the persons of the Trinity, men and women are fully equal but have distinct roles (John 1:1; 5:19). Furthermore, while women may not be elders (Titus 1:5–9), they are not prohibited from occupying many positions of leadership. And though women must submit to godly church elders, believing men must do the same (1 Peter 5:1–5).

Today’s passage reminds us that under the new covenant, husbands have authority over their wives. This is a loving authority (Eph. 5:25), and therefore any emotional, verbal, or physical violence toward women is strictly forbidden (Mal. 2:16). Moreover, wives are not called to submit to all men, but only to their husbands who must be willing to lay down their very lives for the sake of their brides — just as Christ “gave himself up” for the church (Eph. 5:22–27).

Coram Deo

The husband who uses his authority to run roughshod over his wife’s opinions or feelings is sinning against God. Likewise, the wife who manipulates her husband or undermines him with backbiting gossip is being disobedient to her call. If you are married, are you guilty of either of these sins? Study some biblical resources or attend a marriage conference so that you might better understand how to obey the Lord in your relationships.

Passages for Further Study

Ruth 4:1–12
Prov. 12:4
1 Cor. 7
Col. 3:18–19
1 Tim. 3

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343