Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Eph 5:22-24)
Ask any six couples what they think these verses mean and you’ll likely get fourteen opinions. Like anything else involving gender rolls, mindsets regarding terms like “headship” and “submission” usually has a more to do with cultural biases and personal experience (or tragedy) than it does reality as defined by the Bible. I think most people tend to approach the question of headship in one of three ways. The first one will emotionally strangle your wife; the second will emasculate your husband; the third is dangerously risky but ultimately rewarding.
The male chauvinist view of headship looks at and thinks about women in a certain way, and uses these verses to justify it. Male chauvinism in the western world has its roots in Greek philosophy. Almost all of the most notable Greek philosophers were chauvinists.
Perhaps the most telling example of the mindset of the ancient Greeks regarding women is their myth regarding the origin of sin and misery in the world. Whereas in the Biblical account, woman is created as a completion of man and the finishing masterpiece of God’s creation (since man by himself was the only thing that God had made that He said was “not good”), the Greek myth has her given to man as a curse.
Originally, the Greeks believed, the earth was populated only by men (that is, males), who lived in perfect bliss and harmony before angering the gods. As part of his punishment, Zeus, king of the gods, orders woman to be created. The first woman – Pandora – is then given “seductive gifts” by the gods. Pandora of course goes on to open an urn or a jar (“Pandora’s Box”) and unleashing upon the world all of the evils from which it now suffers.
The implications of this story are clear: women are a burden. They are a curse. Less severely, they are inherently inferior to the original, superior creation of men and exist to serve and please them. While this sort of thinking is directly contrary to the teachings of Scripture, like so many other elements of Greek philosophy it made its way into the church.
Using verses, like these in Ephesians, there have always been men who seek to justify biblically what is ultimately a pagan view of women. I call these men “Christian Chauvinists.” The Christian Chauvinist is easy to identify since his attitude toward women is that they ultimately exist to serve and please him.
- He will often have close emotional or even physical relationships with several girls. The girls will always be young and naive, and preferably without a watchful father. He will assume the role of “spiritual leader” in these girls’ lives and warn them away from anyone – specifically other men – whom he considers to be a threat to his control, usually under the guise of “looking out for them” or “being an older brother.”
- He has a lust problem. He usually has a pornography problem. Male chauvinism is at the heart of male use of pornography. It’s the idea that those women are there to perform for you and serve you.
- If he has been married for any length of time, his wife and often his daughters will be brow-beaten. They will not be joyful, will not be flourishing, and will not be giving of themselves for ministry.
- He is often threatened by the idea of the educated or opinionated mature young lady. He will discourage or forbid the women in his life from seeking higher education, and usually lacks the courage and maturity to engage in lasting and meaningful relationships with women who are more mature or accomplished than himself. As a result, the Christian Chauvinist almost exclusively seeks out relationships with young ladies significantly younger than himself.
- Other men know him when they see him. Thus, the Christian Chauvinist will only be close to men who are too passive to call him out.
At the heart of this kind of chauvinism is a deep-seated selfishness that, when he gets married, results in a brow-beaten unhappy wife who is unable to flourish and thrive within her marriage. She will bend over backwards to please her husband, often being willing be accepting or even embracing of his sin in order to be “submissive” and please him. Submission in this home is a one-way street.
In the next post in this series we’ll swing the opposite direction and look at the second incorrect view of headship: the cultural view.