A Question of Authority in God’s Household

  • Why is it that our society has decided that equal, consensual and respectful relationships are its ultimate benchmark? But ‘mainstream churchianity’ on the whole has decided on the authoritarian approach instead. It doesn’t make sense, does it?

In the previous post from this series: Women in God’s Household, we were in Ephesians 5. We looked at what mutual submission meant to Paul and how to express it in the New Testament church culture. In this post we want to draw your attention to another example of Patriarchal bias superimposed externally on the text in Ephesians 5.  But first let’s have a recap on the historical context through which we believe Paul’s words should be interpreted.


Paul Subverts The Culture He Lives In

Paul in Ephesians chpt 5 is describing a situation that already existed at the time he wrote his letter.

“But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything.” ~ Ephesians 5:24


Cynthia Long Westfall has pointed out that it’s the Greco Roman culture Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians, as he was living in a culture where wives “were subject” to husbands. It was all around him. But instead of affirming this patriarchal male role, Paul says something very different in Ephesians 5 …he transforms the cultural worldview into a Christlike view. It’s revolutionary and a reversal of the culture of HIS OWN day. 


But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. ~ Matthew 20:25


This is so important to grasp, Paul knew he could not change the culture he was living in, but the church was to create its own sub-culture within that culture.

Relationships were to be different in a Christian household. The husbands were not to take advantage of the patriarchal cultural mindset that permeated the Jewish and Greco Roman societies. So Paul urged the husbands to ‘give up’ on their ruler-ship and become more like Jesus.

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men ~  Philippians 2:7


Men, Don’t Use the Authority Society Grants You

Husbands were urged to empty themselves of the power and control that their society automatically handed down to them. Instead, they were to lay down that authority while raising up their wives.

Paul wanted marriage to be based on equality, love and unity rather than being authoritarian based. He recognised that men under the Greco Roman Household codes of his day were granted authority but he commanded the men not to use it. Instead Paul stressed that the husband should love his wife and give himself up for her, as Christ did for the church.


Source/Provider versus  Boss/Authority

Paul also said in verse 23, that the husband is the head of the wife.

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. ~ Ephesians 5: 23 NASB


Regrettably, Paul’s words get misapplied in churchianity to support the misogynistic bias that the husband is ‘the boss’ of the wife. (We will be looking at how the people in Paul’s day understood the role of ‘head’ in much more detail later, as opposed to how we understand the word ‘head’ today.)


Spiritual Headship?

Please note that Paul never ordered wives to obey their husbands.

Slaves and children were to obey – but wives were told to submit.

Paul’s Ephesus was a city under the heavy influence of two cults.

  • The cult of Dionysus, where followers were encouraged to get drunk when worshipping while expressing themselves with wild, frenzied, chaotic, hideous incoherent utterances.
  • The cult of Diana, where wives exercised authority over their husbands in all aspects of life.

Paul addresses both these cults when he wrote the following:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. ~ Ephesians 5: 15-24


It is our belief, based on our understanding of the cultural landscape that Paul is writing to the Church in Ephesus concerning the recent converts bringing their old practices into the church. They were not to follow the drunken, wild, out of control practices of the Cult of Dionysus. Moreover, Paul is reemphasising to wives that they were to submit to their husbands and not dominate them, unlike the wives in the cult of Diana. But please note that Paul is NOT telling wives to be obedient to their husbands and let them rule over them, but sets the precedence first that the church as a whole was to submit to one another in like manner in verse 21.

For those who want to argue that ‘to submit’ means ‘to be obedient’, they must first deal with verse 21.

What we believe Paul is saying is that the concept of mutual submission is demonstrated in the Godhead where all 3 persons of the trinity are equal in authority and one in purpose.

Next time we will be demonstrating how mutual submission is not the same as strict obedience and why it’s so ungodly.

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