Male headship, polygamy, and slavery
have something in common–
they have Biblical models and they empower
one man to use his power over others.
One of the biggest arguments fundamentalist Christians use to support the false doctrine of male headship is the example of the patriarchs in the Bible, but they also practiced polygamy and slavery too.
The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God, yet he practiced all three, so does God condone these practices? It’s important to remember the Bible is not a code book, but a casebook of stories. These stories all have beginnings and endings. Many times they start without God and reveal God’s leading humans to a better and more compassionate way to live. If Abraham’s fathers worshiped false gods (Joshua 24:2), then surely Abraham had a lot to learn. God was calling Abraham out of a culture that was abusive to women and children. Child sacrifice and selling wives were common in that day. God led Abraham by asking him to separate from his family and move out in faith. Even after he moved far away, Abraham’s life was a journey with God leading and teaching him lessons throughout his lifetime.
Some people say God never changes and what God allows in one period is okay in another. While God’s character of love never changes, it doesn’t take much reading of the Bible to notice God’s methods of dealing with the human race have changed over and over. The big picture shows us how God stoops down to earth so he can meet people wherever they are in their journeys. Never was this made more clear than when God became human and lived among us in the form of Jesus.
Jesus is our example of how to treat others. Abraham might have fathered a nation but he was merely another human on this planet. Jesus stood up in church one day to make his mission known; he came to set ALL captives free and that includes removing the curses of polygamy, slavery, and patriarchy.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the prisoners and
recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.
Despite the words and life example of Jesus, some fundamentalist Christians continue to endorse the false doctrine of male headship by claiming Paul endorsed it. At first glance, it seems this could be true–but only if we single out certain texts without reading them in context. Paul was writing to people in societies where male headship and feminine cults were the norm, but if we read through all of his writings, we discover he was trying to set people free from any mindset where someone uses power over another. This is why he wrote:
There is neither Jew nor Greek;
there is neither slave nor free;
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul contributed to the understanding that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. No hierarchies there–especially since Jesus gave up everything to become the lowest of the low and the servant of all. Male headship is the opposite of what Jesus did because it puts one person above another. Yet some people still claim Jesus is subservient to the Father. They say this because they are not reading the entire Bible.
While Jesus did submit to the Father, the Father also GLORIFIED Jesus. The Spirit LED Jesus into the wilderness, but Jesus SENDS the Spirit to us today. Jesus says, “The Spirit will only tell you what I tell the Spirit to tell you.” Why would Jesus need to say this? Because he wanted us to know The Spirit will never contradict His teachings. The members of the Godhead serve each other with other-centered love, always putting each other first.
The Trinity is our example for marriage, the church and in all relationships. The scripture says male and female were both created in God’s image. By designing Eve from Adam’s rib, God was making them one. It wasn’t until Adam had someone to love, that he even could bear God’s image because he bears only one part of God’s image and the Godhead lives in other-centered love. Eve is the other half of God’s image in the human race and she and Adam both provide someone for the other to love. Without love, there is no image of God, because God is love.
As for the Father being the head, Paul used such an illustration as an example of the church submitting to Jesus because while Jesus was living here on earth He submitted to the Father in all things. But this is only one half of the equation because Jesus Himself said:
“The Father and I are one.”
“If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
When Jesus prayed in John 17, He prayed that His followers might be one like He and the Father are one.
Even the Hebrew Shema states, “The Lord Our God is One.”
I am not a theologian, but I will use the words of one to say it better than I can:
“I prefer to argue that we have misunderstood what the Bible means when it says that the husband is head as Christ is head (Eph 5:23). From my study, the head-body relationship in the Bible does not indicate unilateral authority. Rather it indicates mutual submission and shared authority.
“God is the head of Christ who is the head of the husband who is the head of his wife (1 Cor 11:3). What does this mean? I think it means that God is embodied in Christ; Christ is embodied in the church; and the husband is embodied in the wife–as his own body (Eph 5:29-30). Jesus as the embodiment of God says all power is given to me in heaven and earth (Mt 28:18). Therefore the Father has no authority that is not shared by the Son. So it should be with the family. The husband has no authority that is not shared by his wife.”
“The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). On the one hand, in chronological order, “man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (11:8-9). On the other hand, in Christological order, “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (11:11-12).
We see how after sin entered this world, God gave Adam responsibility for the family because two sinful people vying for control could create constant fighting and chaos. If you don’t believe this, just listen to a few divorce stories. But this was never God’s original plan. Jesus came to teach us God’s ideal of loving each other with equality and other-centered love just like the members of the Godhead treat each other.
Paul agrees with this by teaching wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives like they love their own bodies. The Spirit of the Godhead teaches that we are both to submit to each other and to love each other as we love ourselves. Any form of using power over each other goes directly against the golden rule to do unto others as we would want to be treated and destroys love.
Slavery, polygamy and male headship have never reflected the Godhead intentions for any human life whether in a marriage or not. If a religion teaches this, it’s only because they are using the example of Abraham over Jesus and taking human cultural traditions over God’s law of other-centered love.
* For greater understanding of why true Christianity doesn’t use power over, compare The Steps of Jesus vs. The Steps of Satan.
For more information on Male Headship within the denomination I grew up in read: Andrews University on the Unique Headship of Christ Statement