Dear Liz, Help me out of the trap of unfaithful thoughts…

Q. What do you do, how do you repair your feelings for your spouse, when you  have been unfaithful in your thoughts with another person?

A.  This is a valuable question and a not uncommon situation for many of us.

Where do you start ?

  1. Ask God for forgiveness – seems obvious but often not actually done.
  2. Accept that he will forgive us unconditionally and give a fresh start.
  3. Don’t go visiting that situation in your mind from time to time. You will need to ask God for help with this (many times perhaps) and to ask God to erase the memory completely.
  4. Ask God to give you feelings for your spouse again and believe that God will do just that……you will have to be part of this process. If you believe there are issues between you then resolve to deal with those and not just expect it will all go away. You may need help with this from a good counsellor.
  5. Consciously  build up your good feelings towards your spouse. This can be done by remembering the early days of your being together when hopefully things were happier and more compatible.
  6. Write a list of his/her admirable points then tell him/her what you like about him/her and his/her behaviour (not all at once!) There must be some nice things about your spouse! Most people respond to genuine love and praise…not flattery.  Speak the truth in love.

It’s a matter of putting your attention and affection where it belongs. It’s about “taking every thought captive” – guarding your mind and thinking of things which are good, wholesome and conducive to pleasing God. Reading the Psalms will help as you discover how others coped with their own failures and how God helped them as they cried out to him.

NOTE: In answering all these questions, I am coming from the perspective of marriage being the blending of two people into one – where each prefers the other over themselves and puts the other’s welfare before their own. In other words, it is the highest form of being “one in Christ” which we can witness.

However….in our experience of church life, very few married people experience true one-ness and resort to role-playing and accomodating each other’s sinfulness rather than working at “provoking one another to love and good works”

If only one person in the marriage is a Christian then obviously one-ness cannot apply in spiritual issues but it is still something which can be achieved.

Posted in Liz Sykes, Overcoming Unfaithfulness, Practical Living | Leave a comment

The Message of God’s Kingdom: Foundational Equality

Luke 3:4-6 tells of how the ministry of Jesus began with the appearance of John the Baptist, preaching a message from Isaiah 40:4:

A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’


This passage speaks in terms of land, roads and paths as a metaphor for God’s salvation. God will fill up the low places and bring down the high places, straighten the crooked and smooth the rough. It envisions the coming God’s salvation (the coming of the Messiah which John was proclaiming) in terms of a great leveling. Applying the metaphor to humanity, then:  the message is that human differences in status, one higher and one lower, will no longer matter. Paul speaks of the same sort of thing in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

And this isn’t just about everyone being the same in what we call “spiritual salvation” — being saved by grace through faith. Joel prophesied this in Joel 2:28-29 (which Peter then preached in Acts 2:16-21 as having been fulfilled):

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.


Not just in salvation, but in the pouring out of the Spirit, God promises to bless all His people.  “There is no favoritism with God,” says Ephesians 6:9 (which, as Retha over at Biblical Personhood so beautifully points out, is the concluding sentence of Paul’s household codes in Ephesians, showing us that Paul was teaching his readers how to work within a human system of favoritism, not God’s).

In the Old Covenant, God set aside one people, then one family out of one tribe of those people for priesthood, and another family out of another tribe of those people for kingship.  But now we are in the New Covenant.  Members of every tribe and language and people and nation are made into “a kingdom and priests to serve our God.”  Revelation 5:9-10.  Peter said in Acts 10:34, after God had poured out His Spirit on Gentiles, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

Paul states this as a foundational truth of the Kingdom of God in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view [other translations say, “according to the flesh”].  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old is gone, the new is here!”  Paul tells the Galatians that he “opposed [Peter] to his face. . . for before certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles. . . .” (Galatians 2:11-12).  Peter was regarding both the Gentiles and himself from a worldly point of view, or according to the flesh.

But Paul explains later in the same letter, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. . . . [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”  Galatians 3:28-4:5  A footnote in my Bible adds, “The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture.”  Paul is saying that all who are in Christ Jesus– Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female– have received the same promise of the adoption to sonship.  No one who has faith in Christ has any lesser legal standing, powers or privileges than anyone else. 

This is why Paul counsels the believers in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Jesus had taught in Matthew 18:2-4, Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:7 that everyone who wants to enter the Kingdom of God must do it as a little child.  Little children had no status, powers or privileges in that day, so Jesus’ words amounted to a statement that we all must lay down our earthly status, powers and privileges in order to enter the new creation Kingdom.

The essence of the Kingdom message is this:  “Stop looking at yourself in terms of status, or lack thereof.  Stop regarding others in terms of their power or position.  Stop expecting to be treated with respect based on your status in the world, and learn to treat all others with respect– regardless of their status in the world.” Paul made it especially clear that he understood this when he refused to have followers who said, “I am of Paul,” stating that those who insisted on distinguishing leaders or having jealousy of place or position were “mere infants” and “still worldly.”  This idea is so pervasive throughout the entire New Testament that it must be regarded as one of its foundational teachings.

But many Christians believe that God, universally and timelessly, has chosen men to have leadership authority in the church and home, and women to be followers under that authority.   Some even consider it an essential tenet of Christianity that men are meant to lead and women are meant to follow– so much so that they question whether those who disagree are truly committed to biblical Christianity.  They base this doctrine on a few short texts: 1 Timothy 2:12-15, 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-6.  They believe these seven texts create an exception to the Kingdom message of no favoritism: that in this one area, we are to view certain believers according to the flesh.   They say that Galatians 3:28 refers only to spiritual salvation.  They say that Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:16-21 restrict the outpouring of the Spirit to only what is mentioned in those verses: prophecy, visions and dreams.  They say that God does not and will not pour out any spiritual leadership gifts upon women, except so that they may lead other women.

Apparently the idea is that though we must become as little children to enter the Kingdom, the Kingdom itself then confers upon men, based on their maleness alone, new powers, privileges and status that women cannot have.

What we tend to forget is that we’re in a completely different situation than the original readers of the New Testament.  We live in a society where men no longer are considered to have primacy and power, and where women are no longer relegated to the home and children.   It’s easy, therefore, to read these verses as if they were against the mutuality of our culture: as if they were counter-cultural statements about God’s divine plan for the Kingdom– statements that place male authority firmly within the Kingdom, to be held against all modern cultural changes.

But how would these passages read if you had always lived in a society where women were required to be not just submissive, but obedient to their husbands?  Where freeborn little boys grew up knowing they would one day become masters of their homes, wives, children and slaves?  Where women were not only forbidden to teach (except in the temples of their goddesses), but viewed as less than fully virtuous if they spoke in public at all?

I think if we lived in those days, it would be much clearer that in light of the Kingdom principle that all believers have the same status before God, the New Testament writers were teaching believers to make necessary concessions for the sake of the church’s reputation in the cultures they lived in, and yet without compromising new-creation mutuality.   If you were a new believer in the early 1st century, might you not be saying, “My husband/master has become a believer and has laid down his earthly status.  Does this mean I still have to follow the Emperor’s law and obey him?”  Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:12-13 encapsulate the New Testament response: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds. . . Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.”  

As I look back upon history, it seems to me that the Kingdom principle of the equality of believers has had a profound effect, over time, on the notion of the equality of all human beings.  It is not that our modern culture, by insisting on the full, functional equality of women, has somehow corrupted the Kingdom message as it should be understood in the church.  On the contrary– the church, ever since the passing of the first Apostles, has been finding ways to exclude women from Kingdom equality.  But our Western cultures today, having imbibed deeply of the Kingdom teaching of equality and applied it to all humanity, are now calling out the church on her hypocrisy.

Maybe it’s time we listened.

Posted in Galatians 3, Kristen Rosser | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dear Liz, Can I say “no”?

Q.      My husband sometimes wants me to engage in sexual activities with which I’m not comfortable. Do I have some control over what things we do together or should I just go along with his desires?

A.      In thinking about this question, I imagined what would be the answer if the guy had written and asked the same question. I’m sure all counsellors would say “No, you don’t have to agree to whatever your wife asks of you – just politely and graciously refuse and explain why”

One wonders then, why so many wives believe, or are told, that they should do whatever is suggested sexually. This imbalance causes much heartache and lack of one-ness within marriage where our sexual encounters are meant to be for mutual pleasure. By refusing any activity which is not attractive to you (and explaining why in the best way you know) you will be helping to address other issues of consideration and mutual respect.

Note:  In answering all these questions, I am coming from the perspective of marriage being the blending of two people into one – where each prefers the other over themselves and puts the other’s welfare before their own. In other words, it is the highest form of being “one in Christ” which we can witness.

 However….in our experience of church life, very few married people experience true one-ness and resort to role-playing and accommodating each other’s sinfulness rather than working at “provoking one another to love and good works”

If only one person in the marriage is a Christian then obviously one-ness cannot apply in spiritual issues but it is still something which can be achieved.

Posted in Authors, Liz Sykes, Practical Living, Sex | 1 Comment

Does the Bible Teach Male Headship? Conclusion

We have looked at the question of male headship in light of the Bible’s overarching Great Story, and we have examined Ephesians Chapter 5 in light of ancient cultural understandings and original word meanings. Now we turn to some of the other passages and the questions they raise.

For instance, 1 Peter 3 says that Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord, and that Christian women are to imitate her.  But what are they really being asked to imitate, and why?

Let’s look more closely at this Scripture in light of its context in 1 Peter. The First Epistle of Peter was written to scattered believers living in pagan societies in northern Asia Minor. The main subject of the letter is how these Christians are to live in these societies, enduring persecution when necessary, but also doing their best to present themselves as good citizens in a surrounding culture which viewed them with suspicion. To this end, Peter tells them in Chapter 2, verse 12 to be “having your conversation [behavior] honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God . . .” With this in mind, Peter goes on in verse 13 to tell them to “Submit yourselves to every ordinance [institution] of man for the Lord’s sake,: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors. . .” Immediately following this, Peter goes into his own household code.

The difference to keep in mind between Peter’s household code and Paul’s code in Ephesians, is that while Paul’s code delineates how believers are to relate to one another “in Christ,” this code in Peter’s Epistle focuses primarily on how believers are to relate to non-Christians. Peter’s overarching premise is that Christians are to submit to every human institution of authority. He goes directly from talking about how to relate to kings and governors, to talking about how Christian slaves relate to masters (particularly non-Christian ones) and then to how Christian wives relate to husbands (particularly non-Christian ones), and so on. What Peter is actually implying, therefore, is that the authority of masters in slavery, and the authority of husbands (especially of the pater familias in the pagan household structure) are human institutions. Marriage, as marriage, was instituted by God in Genesis 2:23-24, but the patriarchal family structure in which men had authority over wives and slaves, was a human institution. Male government of the household, just like slavery, is not divinely ordained, but is human and therefore cultural and temporal. Peter was dealing with life as it had to be lived then and there. Neither he nor Paul spoke about the ancient household structures as if they were part of a divine, timeless order that was never to pass away.

Sarah’s obedience to Abraham, then, must be viewed in light of this understanding. In 1 Pet. 3:1 Peter speaks to the wives in his intended audience with the word “hupotasso” (“submit,“ here translated “be in subjection”), which we examined in Part 2, and not “hupakouo“ (“obey”). He then speaks in verse 5 of how “in the old time” women of God would trust Him as they lived within the social constraints of their time. Sarah is held up an example of this in verse 6. Does it say, “and you are her children if you obey your husbands and call them lord”?  No.  It says, “And you are her children if you do what is right, without being frightened by any fear.”  (Emphasis added.)

Christian women in the situation of being married to non-believing husbands in a society where husbands have the power, are to imitate Sarah’s trust in God and quietness of spirit in not fearing for the future. For Sarah, that meant obeying Abraham and calling him lord, as was appropriate in her culture.  Peter is certainly not advocating that the women of his own day return to the cultural structures of Abraham’s time! But he knows they have to live within the culture structures that surround them.  He approaches all of this under the umbrella of Christian submission to temporal human institutions, with the understanding (1 Pet. 2:15-16) “that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” Peter is telling his readers that the true divine order is freedom– in Christ they are free, but that it is important that they curtail their freedom as necessary to not give offense to the world in which they live.

Another passage is 1 Corinthians 11.  It does say that the man is the “head of” the woman.  Many translations go on to say that she should wear “a sign of authority on her head” to indicate her husband’s headship.  Again, we have to look at the original language and the context of these verses, within the historical setting and within the letter itself, to be sure we aren’t misunderstanding them.

 In The Bible and the Nature of Woman I spoke about how the context of this passage is how the church at Corinth was to deal with the human tradition of head-coverings, in an honor-shame culture where what each person did reflected positively or negatively on those the culture associated them with. Looking at the verses as they hold together contextually, then, we see that this opening: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. . .” (1 Cor. 11:3) is followed by a discussion of how what men and women do with the physical heads on their bodies, affects the reputation (dishonor vs. glory) of the one Paul refers to as their “head” in verse 3. He then continues:

“For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for [the sake of] the woman, but the woman for [the sake of] the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (1 Cor. 11:8-12.)

All of this discussion is in terms of where men and women come from; i.e., their source or origin. “The man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man” means “the man is not from the woman, but the woman from the man.” This is clearly a reference back to Genesis, in which the woman was brought forth from the man’s side. But Paul balances this is verses 11-12 by saying that neither man nor woman is independent of the other. Just as the woman came from the man (in creation), now the man comes from the woman (in childbirth). The pivotal statement is “But all things of God.” God is the ultimate Source of both man and woman. This context leads to understanding the word “head” (“kephale”) in verse 3 as carrying its metaphorical meaning “source or origin.”

It is quite theologically sound, and logical in this context, for Paul to be saying, “The source/origin of every man is Christ [Paul’s theology, as expressed in Colossians 1:16-18, is that all things were made by Christ, who is “the head of the body, the church.”], and the source/origin of the woman is the man [Eve being taken out of Adam’s side], and the source/origin of Christ is God [Christ being the Messiah, sent by God, and also the “image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15].”

The head covering, or lack thereof, of the man or the woman is seen as a reflection on his or her “source.” In Jewish culture a man wore a covering on his head while praying as a sign of humility. The head covering showed that because of sin, he needed a barrier between himself and the presence of God. But in the Greek city of Corinth, men did not wear head coverings in worship and probably viewed the Jewish custom as strange. Paul, therefore, needed to address this issue in the church at Corinth, which would have had both Jewish and Gentile members. (John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women pp. 80-83.)

Paul’s response was as follows. The purpose of the Jewish head covering was to show awareness of sin. But Christ has atoned for sin, and there is no need for any barrier between a man and God. Therefore (v. 4), for a man to wear a covering on his head while in public prayer or prophesying, was a dishonor to Christ, his “head.” But since bareheadedness was viewed as promiscuity in a woman, for a woman not to wear a covering was a dishonor to the man in her life (either her husband or her father) as representatives of “man” in general– woman’s “head” (v. 5). But Paul adds one additional statement here. The woman is the “glory” — the source of good reputation– for the man. She also is saved by Christ; she is no more subject to a barrier between herself and God than the man is. Further, it was for the man’s sake– because of his need– that she was created. Because of all this, Paul says, a woman “ought” to have “power on her head.” He also adds that this is “because of the angels.”

Many translations add the words “a sign of,” here, translating the verse “The woman ought to have a sign of authority [meaning a man’s authority] on her head, because of the angels.” But the purpose of a head covering was to show modesty and thus preserve a woman’s husband or father’s honor. Paul is not saying that the head covering was also a sign of her husband or father’s authority, for it was not. The words “a sign of” are simply not present in the original text– and the King James Version rightly omits them. The word “power” there is the Greek word “exousia,” which (as was stated in The Bible and the Nature of Woman) means personal authority. Whenever it is used, it refers to the authority of the person being spoken of– not to some second person under whose authority he or she is. What the original Greek actually says is, “A woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.”

It is not completely certain what the reference to angels means here, but earlier in the same letter (1 Cor. 6:3) Paul does say, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” He is speaking of all believers, male and female, being given the right to judge the world one day. A female believer, just as much as a male, will one day be given judging authority even over angels. In light of this, should a woman not have authority over her own head? The word “exousia” — “authority”– included personal power and the right to do as one pleased. Women, as Paul set the situation up, were in a sort of dilemma. If they covered their heads, they could have been seen as indicating the necessity of a barrier because of sin, between themselves and God, thus dishonoring Christ. But if they didn’t cover their heads, they could be seen as dishonoring their husbands or fathers. In light of this, Paul says, a woman “ought to” be able to choose for herself.

Paul then turns to the whole congregation in verse 13. “Judge for yourselves,” he says. “Is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” After speaking of what would seem “natural” in the culture in the area of long vs. short hair for men and women, he concludes, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Paul may be saying that the apostles, and the other churches, have no specific, universal custom regarding head coverings, so there is no point in being “contentious“ about it. Or he may be saying that the apostles and the other churches have no custom of women going uncovered, so since the Corinthian congregation is likely to view it as unseemly for a woman to pray uncovered, it would be best for her to cover– but with the understanding that ideally, she “ought” to have the power to decide for herself.

In any event, this passage is not about male authority over females, but about how, in an honor-shame culture, head-coverings were a way to convey either honor or dishonor to those viewed as one’s origins. And Paul makes it clear that the most important origin is God, Who is the Source of men and women alike.

In conclusion, what we see in the New Testament is a set of Jewish, Greek and Roman patriarchal cultures into which the Kingdom of God is dropped like a stone into a pond, causing ripples that would eventually reshape the pond entirely. The church has had a tendency to mistake the cultures for the Kingdom– but the Kingdom is, as Jesus put it, “not of this world.” The social structure of the family of God is not like those of the world. It is characterized by mutuality rather than hierarchy, by service rather than by rule– and all of those who are redeemed to God out of every kindred, tongue and people and nation are “kings and priests.” (Rev. 4:9-10). The man of the house has no special priesthood, kingship or authority in God’s kingdom, but rather, if he wants to enter therein, he must become as a little child (Matthew 18:3-4).

And as for being “head of the house”? “Kephale,” the word for “head,” was simply not a word used in conjunction with houses– but Jesus used the word “oikodespotes,” “master of the house,” to connote this idea in, for example, Matthew 10:35 and Luke 13:25. However, Paul uses it in verb form in 1 Timothy 5:14, as a command to women. Younger widows, he says, are to marry and “oikodespoteo,” or “rule the house.” Being head of the house, it seems, is not exclusively a man’s job– and it certainly wasn’t in those cultures, where, as I have indicated earlier, the home was considered the woman’s special domain.

Therefore, let us not, in the name of being “biblical,” continue to perpetuate ancient authority structures that are not part of God’s Kingdom and are unbecoming to brothers and sisters in His family. Male authority was a human institution, and now that male authority has passed away as an institution in our modern society, Christians are under no further obligation to live under it. As Peter and Paul both said, in God’s family we are free.

Posted in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Peter 3, Kristen Rosser | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Does the Bible Teach Male Headship? Part 2

Part 1 of this series showed how the covenant community of the church fits into the Bible’s Great Story as a redeemed spiritual family– a family in which all Christians are brothers and sisters and God is our Father– let’s begin now to examine some of the passages that refer to men as “head.” Now I want to look at the cultural assumptions that would have been shared between a writer of a New Testament Epistle and the original audience, in order to see how the message might have been heard differently by them than it sounds to us today. Hand-in-hand with this, we must look carefully at what the original audience would have understood the Greek word translated as “head” to actually mean.

Beginning, then, with the most frequently cited “headship” passage, Ephesians 5:21-22:

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.”

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul’s big theme is who the church is “in Christ.” The first three chapters are about the church’s salvation, adoption, spiritual position and unity. In the fourth and fifth chapters he goes on to speak of how unity is to be maintained in the way individual members relate to one another. It is into this context that he places the section on how members of individual households are to relate to one another. This type of teaching has come to be known as a “household code.” The passage on husbands and wives is part of this code. (See Michael Kruse, “Household of God” online series, “Household: The Household Code.”)

What we may not understand, reading this from our own cultural understanding, is that the original Greco-Roman audience would already have been very familiar with household codes. Household codes were very common at the time, and were based on the first household code of its kind, set forth by Arisotle in the 4th century BC. Selections from Aristotle’s household code read as follows:

“And now that it is clear what are the component parts of the state, we have first of all to discuss household management; for every state is composed of households. Household management falls into departments corresponding to the parts of which the household in its turn is composed; and the household in its perfect form consists of slaves and freemen. The investigation of everything should begin with its smallest parts, and the primary and smallest parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children; we ought therefore to examine the proper constitution and character of each of these three relationships, I mean that of mastership, that of marriage, and thirdly the progenitive relationship.” (Aristotle, Politics, 1253b)

“Further, the relation of male to female is one of superior to inferior, and ruler to ruled. And it must be the same way for all human beings” (Politics, 1254a32-b16).

“For the male, unless, I suppose, he is constituted contrary to nature, is fitter to command than the female, and the elder and mature is fitter to command than the younger and immature” (Politics, 1259b1-4).

“. . . By nature most things are ruling and ruled. The free person rules the slave, the male the female, the man the child, but they do so differently. All have the parts of the soul, but they have them differently: the slave is wholly lacking in the capacity to deliberate; the female has it, but it lacks authority; the child has it, but it is incomplete.” (Politics, 1260a5-14)

This, then, is the kind of household code Paul’s audience was expecting to hear. The code was expressed in terms of the rulership of the male head of household. Slaves, females and children were spoken of only in terms of being ruled; they were not addressed personally. The pater familias himself was Aristotle’s intended audience, and the pater familias was the intended audience of later Greek and Roman household codes based on Aristotle‘s originals. Men were told how to manage their wives, children, slaves and wealth for the good of society. Slaves, women and children were simply to be ruled.

Further, as John Temple Bristow points out in his book What Paul Really Said About Women“Aristotle laid a lasting philosophical foundation for the notion that females are inferior to males. . . . Centuries later, church leaders who themselves were a product of Greek culture and education, interpreted Paul’s writings from the perspective of Aristotelian philosophy, even to the point of assuming that when Paul spoke of the husband as being head of the wife, he was simply restating Aristotle. . . .” (pp. 6-7).

But was Paul actually simply restating Aristotelian ideas? Looking at what Paul’s code actually says in Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9, what he says would actually have been startling for his original readers to hear. Paul never tells husbands, masters and fathers to “rule” their households. Instead, he uses words like “love . . . as Christ gave himself,” “nourish and cherish” to husbands. To fathers he uses words like “provoke not to wrath.“ And he tells masters to “forbear threatening, knowing that your Master also is in heaven.” Then servants, children and wives are addressed directly, and are asked to give respect and submission to the master, husband and father “as unto the Lord,” — in other words, that they understand that they are not simply the objects of rule, but are being asked to make a choice to serve, as a service to Christ. Further, though Paul uses the word “obey” to both slaves and children, he never tells wives to obey their husbands. (The Greek word for “obey” is “hupakouo,” which is a word never used in the New Testament as a command to wives. Even in Titus 2:5, the word “obedient” there is actually the Greek word “hupotasso,” which is the same word translated “submit” in Ephesians 5:21-22, and which means voluntary yielding. “Hupotasso,” according to Ephesians 5:21, is something all believers are to do to one another.)

In short, what Paul is really doing is standing the Aristotelian household codes on their heads. He is deliberately undermining the authority structure where the pater familias ruled all, by telling him to act in an entirely different manner. And he is treating wives, slaves and even children as individuals able to make choices and determinations of their own (note that “children” here would have been understood by the original audience to mean grown children as well as minors).

Paul does not seek to overthrow the authority structures of the culture in which the Ephesian church found itself. But what he does do is teach those in the family of God, a new way of relating to one another “in Christ.” The expected rule of the pater familias over his wife, children and slaves is reset within a paradigm of mutual submission and is re-focused on Christlike humility, love and nurturing rather than control, and on laying down his life rather than taking charge. God’s family is a new kind of family in which we are all brothers and sisters. The highest in society must change the way they relate to the lowest, while the lowest must not take advantage of their new status and disrespect those who are socially higher. All are to voluntarily yield and defer to one another as servants, just as Jesus also said in John 13:12-14.

So what did Paul mean, exactly, when he said the husband was the “head of” the wife? Notice that Paul says the husband is “head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church.” Therefore, the husband cannot be “head” of the wife in any way that goes beyond the way in which Christ is “head” of the church.

Notice that Christ as “head” of the church is used within a metaphor where the church is also the “body” of Christ. What Paul is talking about, then, is a metaphorical picture of a head and a body, which together are one being. It is how Christ and the church relate to one another as “head and body” that must inform us as to how husbands and wives are intended to one another within that same metaphor. The question, then, is “How is the head-body relationship between Christ and the church defined in the Epistle to the Ephesians?”

One mistake that is easy to make is to impose metaphorical meanings of “head” as we use it in English onto the original Greek metaphor. We think of the “head” as the house of the brain, which is the control center of the body. To us, “head” often means “authority” or “leader.” But in the ancient Hebrew and Greek way of thinking, it was the heart that housed the intellect, will and emotions, and “head” had a different connotation. The main metaphorical meanings given to the word “head” (“kephale” in ancient Greek) were: 1) that which is prominent or in a pre-eminent position; and 2) source or origin. The physical head’s relation to the physical body was seen as the source of energy and growth. Authority or leadership, while commonly associated with people who were “heads” in terms of pre-eminence or prominence of social position, was not actually a primary meaning of the word “head” as it was used in Paul’s day. (See Michael Kruse, “Household of God” online series, “Synopsis of the Head Metaphor in the New Testament.” )

“Head” of the church, therefore, would simply not have been seen by the original Ephesians readers as synonymous with “Lord” of the church. Neither would “head” of the wife have meant “lord” of the wife. Though Christ certainly is Lord of the church, He is also Savior, redeemer, sanctifier, recipient of worship, and Master of the church. But Paul deliberately limits husband’s role towards the wife, to being the “head.” Husbands are not to appropriate to themselves any of Christ’s other roles, or seek to become as Christ to their wives. This would be idolatry, and to the extent churches today encourage married couples in such a practice, they are teaching idolatry.

But if you look closely at how Christ and the church are shown in that “head-body” description, there is not one place in Ephesians where this metaphor includes Christ exercising authority over the church. Instead, Christ as “head” is shown in two functions.

First, in Ephesians 1, we see Christ as the catalyst for our adoption as “sons.” Paul speaks of how Christ was raised from the dead and placed “far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion” with “all things under his feet.“ Christ is here said to be “head over all things to (or “for the sake of”) the church, which is his body.” (Eph. 1:21-22). But an important distinction is being made. The church is NOT among the things named as being under Christ’s feet. Instead she is spoken of as being raised up with Christ and “seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6.) Christ is seated in the heavenly realms “above” all rule and principality and authority and power– and the church is seated up there with Him. The Greek word “kephale” (head) here seems to have its Greek metaphorical meaning of “prominent/preeminent one.” But the church as Christ’s body is pictured, not under that preeminence, but in an organic oneness withChrist in His preeminence. Christ’s relationship to the church as “head” to “body” is here shown not as a relationship where the high position of Christ is exercised over the church, but one where the high position of Christ is exercised on behalf of the church while she sits with Him on high.

pater familias, accustomed to a high and prominent position, and keeping Chapter 1 in mind as he read on through Chapter 5, would have understood that as “head” in Chapter 5, he was expected to “give himself” for his wife as Christ did for the church, with the result that the church was raised up to be glorious (Eph 5:25-27). Laying down his prominence of place in regards to his wife, and raising his wife up to be beside him in oneness, and exercising his social position on her behalf and for her good, is part of what it meant for a husband to be “head” to his wife as ‘body” in Ephesians 5.

The other place where the head-body metaphor is used for Christ and the church is in Chapter 4. Here Paul says, “But speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together. . . maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Here the “head” is clearly seen as the source of growth and energy for the “body.” A pater familias, keeping this in mind as he read Chapter 5, would understand that as “head” in this sense, he was to “nourish and cherish” his wife as his own body (Eph 5:29).

But nothing about “leading” or “having authority over” the church or the wife is mentioned as part of the “head to body” relationship anywhere in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Nowhere is Christ as “head“ spoken of in terms of “leading” or “ruling” the church. Nowhere is the husband told to “lead” his wife or “rule” his household. And to the original audience, which was expecting to hear such words, the absence of any such words would have shouted.

What is the result? Paul was trying to grow an infant religious movement, which meant not fighting existing authority structures– but if within the body of Christ, Christians in positions of authority did not act on that authority, but laid down their privilege and served, and where those in subordinate positions did not passively resist or actively rebel, but willingly gave their best and served, it would all end up in a kind of functional equality, existing in Christian households in an age where the concept of “equal rights” as we now know them, did not yet exist. Paul’s teachings on Christian relationships would, if followed, undermine ancient societal norms from within, eventually resulting in more just, equitable social structures in cultures influenced by these teachings.

Christians reading the Scriptures this way in the last century began to crusade against the institution of slavery, understanding that Paul’s intent was never to perpetuate social injustice in the name of being “biblical.” Why, then, does the church perpetrate male dominance over females in the name of being “biblical”? Isn’t what we are actually perpetuating, the results of the Fall and not the power of the Resurrection?

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Does the Bible Teach Male Headship? Part 1

Many Christians say the Bible teaches that the man is the head of the woman and that the husband is the head of the house, the instrument of God for directing the family, and God’s designated final authority for decision-making on behalf of the couple and their children.  I believe that these ideas come from a combination of tradition and proof-texting, which is a method of Bible interpretation that lifts certain verses out of their literal and historical context, reading them as if they were a memo from the Boss left on our desks yesterday rather than part of the Great Story of creation, fall and redemption– which was meant to be read according to the original human writer’s God-inspired, intended message, as it would have been understood by the original audience.  (Please note that by using the word “story,” I am in no way implying that it is fiction– rather, that the Bible is a book with a plot!)

But if we look at male headship in the Bible according to good principles of interpretation, how well does it stand up?  In my post on , we saw how the male and female humans were equal at Creation, and what the Fall did to their relationship.  What does the redemption that comes through Jesus Christ do to the relationship between males and females, husbands and wives?

Galatians 3:26-4:7 is one of Paul’s great statements about the nature of the New Covenant community brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection.

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Now I say: That the heir,, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. . . Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. . . Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

As I discussed recently on my own blog, many Christians say Paul was only talking about spiritual salvation– that he meant only that people of all races and both sexes can become part of God’s family, but that men still are to have the roles of authority in the church and home. But look again at the last part of this section of Scripture: “that ye might receive the adoption of sons. . . and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” That phrase, “adoption of sons,” was a special legal term in the original Greek, referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir.. Adopted male heirs had the same status as freeborn male sons, with all the privileges and benefits that sons enjoyed in that culture.

Paul is saying that “in Christ” Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, males and females, all have full and equal status as adopted freeborn “sons” in the family of God. It was not Paul’s intention that a freeborn Jew, after reading this passage, would feel able to tell a Gentile or a slave, “There, you get to be saved just like us; now be content with that, because positions of leadership in God’s family belong only to freeborn Jews.” Such flesh-based distinctions are part of the “elements of the world,” (Gal. 4:3), and these “elements” are not part of God’s covenant community in Christ. And according to the same passage, this applies to “male and female” distinctions too.

Now there is no doubt that in the cultures and times in which the New Testament was written, the man was certainly the head of his household and in authority over his wife, children and slaves. The Romans had a special term for that, “pater familias,” which referred to the patriarchal powers of a free, adult male over his household. The question that has to be asked is whether that “pater familias” household structure was God’s plan and will for all Christian households for all time, or whether it was simply a product of those ancient cultures. Remember that the apostles, in their writing of the Epistles, did not consider it the mission of the infant church to try to change the established authority structures of those times and cultures. Instead, the young church was to work within those structures to spread a spiritual message that changed believers from within, resulting in their being “in the world, but not of it.” (John 17:15-16.) Therefore, it is a mistake to read a passage that advises Christians to live within certain social structures, as a divine endorsement of those structures–unless the Scriptures clearly and explicitly refer to a particular social structure as part of God’s divine plan.

In analyzing any passage in the Bible, the important thing to keep in mind is this. Every passage fits somewhere into the Great Story encapsulated in the Scriptures.  The passage we just looked at, Galatians 3:26-4:7, fits in as a statement of the fundamental nature of the covenant community which was born through Christ’s redemption. The passages we will examine next, fit into the Story as instructions or advice for practical living for that community.

Statements about the practical living of a group of people must be read in light of statements about the fundamental nature of that people– not the other way around. If the fundamental nature of the church is that there is no Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for we are all adopted sons in God’s family, then we must look at the practical-living passages through the lenses of that understanding. Biblical instructions for practical Christian living, if read in ways that deny or contradict what it means to be God’s redeemed community in Christ, are probably misunderstandings of what the New Testament writers intended to say.

Unfortunately, in the case of male-female relations, these misunderstandings are so long-standing that they have come to considered the normative way to read these passages, with other readings automatically suspect. “We must not capitulate to feminist modern culture and re-interpret Scripture against 2000 years of church history!” is the cry. But what if the traditional understanding of biblical texts regarding male-female relations is in fact a long-standing “capitulation” to ancient cultures that became mixed into Christian understandings of the New Testament writings?

In other words, do the Scriptures say that it’s God’s divine plan for men to have authority over women, or husbands over wives– or did the original audience share the assumption with the writer that males were over females, and husbands over wives, as part of the culture? And did that cultural understanding then somehow become mistaken for God’s will for all time?

In light of Galatians 3:26-4:7, it certainly looks as if God’s plan for His kingdom was not about hierarchy and male rule, but about all believers having equal status in one great spiritual family in which God alone has the power of the “pater familias.” In fact, Jesus Himself spoke in these terms when He was told His earthly mother and brothers wanted to speak to him, and He said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

The Book of Romans also sets forth the principle that we are all siblings in one big spiritual family: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. . . ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ’Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:14-15). In fact, this kind of terminology appears everywhere throughout the New Testament, and “brethren” (which is a gender-inclusive word in the original Greek meaning “brothers and sisters”) is the most common way the authors of the Epistles addressed the churches.

[Note: another series on my blog, “The Bible and Human Authority,” which begins here, addresses these issues in more detail].

In light of the New Creation Kingdom and our equality within it as brothers and sisters, then– the upcoming Parts 2 and 3 will examine some of the passages that refer to what is commonly called “male headship.”

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A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)

By Margaret Mowczko

This Christmas one of my gifts was a copy of the Septuagint – the (approximately) 200BC Greek translation of the Old Testament.[1]  Thanks Mum!  So far I’ve skimmed through the book of Daniel, and I’ve read Psalm 49, (for no other reason than the book fell open at Psalm 49.)

This morning I decided to begin at the beginning, with the book of Genesis.  In my reading I came across the phrase in Genesis 2:18 & 20 that is often translated into English as: “a suitable helper for him”.  In the Septuagint, this phrase literally says, “a helper corresponding to (kata) him” in Genesis 2:18; and “a helper similar (homoios) to him” in Genesis 2:20.  While much can be said about the use and meaning of kata[2] and homoios here, I am particularly interested in the Greek word translated as “helper” in these verses: boēthos.

There is the same sense of “strength” and “rescue” in this Greek word, boēthos, as there is with the Hebrew word for “helper”, ezer, used in the Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20.   (I have written about ezer in my first article on A Suitable Helper.)

Boēthos is a noun made up of two words which mean (i) “cry out” or “intense exclamation” and (ii) “run”.  The verb of this word boētheō means “come to the rescue” or “supply urgently needed help”. (From HELPS word-studies.)  Perschbacher gives the meaning of boētheō as “to run to the aid of those who cry out for help . . . “[3]

The following is every verse in the New Testament where boēthos (and its cognates) appear[4]:

In Matthew 15:25 and Mark 9:22-24 the word is used where people were crying out to Jesus for help.  In Acts 16:9, 21:28, 27:17 and Revelation 12:16 it is used where strong help and support were required. In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 2:18, 4:16 and 13:6 it is used in the context of receiving divine help.

There is nothing in these New Testament verses that imply servitude or domestic help.[5]  Rather, all these verses refer to a strong, rescuing – even a divine – help.

God is our helper, our ezer and boēthos, but he is not subservient to those he helps.  Still, Genesis 2:18 & 20 has been almost universally used to teach that women were designed to help their husbands in a subservient manner.  And it is important to note that the Bible does not teach that a woman is to provide unilateral help and support to her husband without receiving mutual help and support.[6]

There is nothing in the Genesis creation accounts that identifies specific roles of men and women;[7] neither do these passages suggest that women were (or are) in any way inferior to men.  The pre-fall creation accounts actually contain some beautiful expressions of mutuality, equality and unity between the first man and woman (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:21-24, and 5:1-2).

Moreover, contrary to the views of some Christians (Complementarians), there is nothing in the pre-fall Creation accounts which states that Adam was the leader[8] and authority figure and Eve the passive, submissive follower and domestic help.  There is nothing passive, submissive, or domestic implied in the word boēthos.  Both the Greek and Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20 relate that the first woman was designed by God to provide valuable and vital strength and assistance to her husband within a relationship of unity and mutuality.


[1] The Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX) is a Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew Scriptures.  It also contains Apocryphal books, not contained in the Hebrew Bible.  The Septuagint is thought to have been translated in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime (roughly) around 200BC.  It was highly regarded and used widely by the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman (formerly Greek) empire.  It was most likely used by the Hellenised Jews in Israel also.

[2] Kata is with the accusative auton.

[3] Perschbacher, Wesley J., (Ed) The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990.

[4] These are all the New Testament verses that contain boēthos and its cognates that I could find.  Please let me know if I’ve missed any.  Here is an exhaustive list of every verse in the Greek Old Testament that contains the word boēthos.  Note that the word is only used in the context of rescue, might and divine help.

[5] There are plenty of other Greek words in the New Testament with the meaning of “help” or “assistance” that have a less lofty, urgent or strong sense.

[6] I have heard even young Christian men and women quote 1 Corinthians 11:9 with a mistaken view that women were made by God for men, for the express purpose of helping men, and not vice versa.  Many Christians read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 about men and women, but fail to take into consideration Paul’s more complete and correct statement in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.

[7] The Bible simply does not command that women, and not men, should cook dinner, wash the dishes, do the laundry or clean the house, etc.  The expectation that women should be homemakers is a cultural one.  The closest thing to a biblical directive for women to keep house is Paul’s instruction for the Ephesian widows to lead/manage (oikodespotēs) their homes (1 Tim 5:14).  Paul wrote this instruction primarily to keep the idle widows out of trouble.

[8] The concept of a ruling husband came as a consequence of sin, and should not be regarded as the norm.

© 28th of December, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

This article first appeared at here.

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