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Honey, Let’s Lead Together

By Barrington H. Brennen  2005



Question: Dear Sir: Isn’t marriage a joint partnership between two adults? Then why are husbands told to be leaders over their wives? Signed: Want to lead with my husband.

Answer: Dear Want-to-lead-with-my-husband wife, you are correct. Marriage is a joint partnership between two self-determined adults endowed equally with intelligence and reasoning ability. I also believe that we need both male and female leadership in government, church, community, and business. I do not agree with extreme modern feminism that teaches that women do not need men, thus they may choose to be lesbians. I also do not agree with men who say that women are not to lead, but that their role is to assist men only. We are made for each other and need each other. Remember Genesis 1:26 states that God gave both Eve and Adam authority and dominion "over the earth . . . fish of the sea, fowls of the air, and every creeping thing . . ." We were in partnership from the very beginning. The Creator destined males and females to live harmoniously, in full cooperation and collaboration, blending their unique skills and characteristics, that are equally important, in forming well-balanced characters and building healthy nations.


Sadly, equal partnership ended when Eve and Adam disobeyed God. Just as the relationship between the Creator and His creatures changed, so did the relationship between males and females. Alienation and the desire to dominate each other became the norm. Progressively, males proclaimed themselves sole leaders and have subordinated females to their leadership in all spheres of life, including the home. In the home, some men have become authoritarian military-dictator-husbands, while others have become passive, uncaring, absent fathers. Women, on the other hand, have become submissive, passive wives relying on the leadership of their husbands. This was God’s prediction (not prescription) of the curse of sin as described in Genesis 3:16: "And he shall rule over you." It is my humble opinion that feminism is an outgrowth of male dominance, insensitivity, and uncaring spirit. I’ve noted that many men use the Bible to support the notion that they are to be the person in charge in the male-female relationship. Here are a few of the traditional teachings regarding men as sole leaders:

  • God called husbands to be sole leaders over wives and children.
  • Man was created first; therefore, he has the most important responsibility in marriage.
  • If a husband is not main leader in the home, then there will be chaos and trouble.
  • Women are too emotional, illogical, and unable to lead effectively in times of crisis.

Where do these ideas originate? Over the years we have developed our concept of manhood and womanhood based on traditional interpretation of scripture. I am encouraging men and women to take a second look at these traditions and Biblical passages. Why? As stated in my previous article, "A Deadly Formula or Violence," history shows that when rigid traditional family values are combined with rigid religious beliefs, there is always abuse, whether it be slavery, incest, communism, sexism, rape, or physical and emotional abuse.

To understand better what a particular Bible text really says, we must first know methods and principles of Biblical interpretations. Without the following principles we will always develop erroneous teachings and practices:

  • Understand the context of the verses you are interpreting and the primary purpose of the text.
  • Understand the cultural setting under which the author wrote.
  • Understand the usage of the words in their original language.
  • Understand the passage in the broader meaning of the entire Bible.
  • Be open to the Holy Spirit.

Here are two examples. 1) In the Book of Philemon verses 8-25, there is a story of a runaway slave named Onesimus. Notwithstanding the evil nature of slavery, the Apostle Paul does something very strange. He sends Onesimus back to his slave master. Verses 12 and 17 say: "I am sending him–who is my very heart–back to you. . .welcome him as you would welcome me . . .If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me." Here are a few key questions. Why would Paul send the slave back to his slave master? Is Paul condoning slavery? Is this a text in support of slavery? Unless we understand the basic thrust of Paul and the traditions and culture of the day, we can misinterpret this text. Slavery was the norm in Roman culture. Paul at the time was not intending to deal with the issues of right and wrong of slavery, but while upholding the Roman law was admonishing the slave master to be kind to his runaway slave. Today, Christians do not use this passage to support slavery, because we take into consideration the cultural setting in which the passage was written and Paul’s intent in formulating the letter. This allows us to focus on the longitudinal meaning of the passage–exercising tolerance and fairness even in less-than-ideal situations.

2) Another text is 1 Corinthians 14: 34, a clear directive to women says: "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission." Most Christian churches, applying the five principles of Biblical interpretation to this passage, have concluded that Paul is not telling women they cannot preach or lead out in anyway in worship services. Today, there are many female evangelists, deacons, pastors, and leaders of church ministries. However, when applying these Biblical principles of interpretation, we discover that Paul was really talking about order in worship service. These ignorant (uneducated) women would shout out for clarification to their husbands sitting on the opposite side of the church for things being said in the service . They were noisy women, disrupting a church service.

This brings me to the key texts and words which deserve our second look: Ephesians 5:22 & 25: "Wives submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord," and " The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." The key words are "submit" and "head." If we found it so easy to take a second look at the previous verses and apply cultural interpretations, why can’t we do the same to these passages? Paul was speaking to people, who were under the legal requirement of the Roman three-part codes dealing with wives, children, and slaves (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, & Wives, 1992)One of these codes stipulated that the husband was the head of his household. These laws and practices originated from the erroneous teachings of women’s innate inferiority taught by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato.

Whenever pastors or Bible teachers describe the "role" of husbands and wives, they stress that the primary role of the wife is to "submit," while the main role of the husband is to be the "head." Unfortunately, mutual submission is never mentioned. This creates a hierarchy in marriage that is inherently corrupting because the balance of power is skewed on one side.

Let’s look at the meaning of submission in the Bible. Note that Paul reminds us that all believers are created equal before God in Christ regardless of gender, race, social status, or language (Eph. 2:11-22; 4:4-6; Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor 12:13). Ephesians 5:21 states: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Could it be that we are erring when we only stress the unilateral submission of a wife to a husband? The texts are clear that the husband should also submit himself to his wife.

We have narrowed the meaning of the verse when we make it appear that wives are to respect their husbands only and not to love them. Paul was speaking to women who were kept in the dark because of a lack of education, and who were not allowed to engage in public meeting, nor be seen with their husbands in public. We err greatly when we do not place this text in the setting of mutual submission and love. If the women were uneducated and unable to have gainful occupations like their Egyptian counterparts, then it is easy to deduce that men had to be "leaders" and responsible for their wives (who were of no more value than a man’s garden, slave, or house–sexual property) since it they were educated and "knew everything," and it was the law of the land.



Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragement.org   or write to P.O. Box CB-11045, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org  or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002 WhatsApp.






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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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