Apostolic Proof Texts
When providing the basis for his statements with regard to the male-female authority relationship, the writer of the God-inspired text almost always appeals to an eternal principle, outside the realm of sin and never once does he appeal to the secular culture of his day.[i]
In 1 Cor. 11 Paul makes it clear that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (v 3). The Greek kephalē (“head”) has always referred—without exception—to one who has authority over the other. While many egalitarians have attempted to make kephalē mean “source”, this meaning is absolutely without precedent and cannot even be verified as a legitimate possible meaning for the word (and that is without even dealing with the context which clearly shows that an authority in relationship is within the purview). [See this article, originally published in JETS, for more.] Paul’s point is clear: Inasmuch as the relationship of Christ to God, or man to Christ cannot be altered by time or culture, so it is clear that the relationship between husband and wife cannot be altered by time or culture.
In Eph. 5 Paul draws the parallel of husband and wife to Christ and the church. In no uncertain terms, he states this repeatedly. “For the husband is the head (kephalē) of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its saviour” (v 23). So Christ is the head of the church and the church (his bride) is his body. Thus the command in v 28, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies,” because Christ’s bride is his body. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (v 24). Again, the wife is to submit to the husband every bit as much and in every way as the church submits to Christ (hence, Christ is the Lord of the church, vis-à-vis the command in v 22 to submit to the husband “as to the Lord”). Continuing on, the apostle draws out in great detail how the husband is to love his wife sacrificially “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v 25). As if it were not enough in this instance to refer to the relationship of Christ and the church, Paul relates the marriage of Christians (after the redemptive work of Christ) to the marriage of Adam and Eve before the fall and quotes Gen. 2:24! He, by inference, is saying that by maintaining this order, the Christian marriage will uphold God’s plan for marriage as it was before the entering of sin into the world as well as modelling Christ’s relationship to his church to a sinful world.
In 1 Tim. 2:13-14 Paul refers to creation (before the fall) as the reason why the women in the family of God are to be characterized by good works and a quiet and submissive spirit (vv 10-12). As noted above, the creation order is significant to Paul, the inspired OT commentator, who says “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v 13).
This reasoning is true even beyond the scope of Paul’s writing. Peter, too, when he commands the continual observance of the authority relationship between husband and wife (1 Pet. 3:1-7) cites God’s desires, and the approved tradition and pattern of holy women. Women are exhorted to let their “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (v 4). Indeed it is precious, because it is what Eve was created to be! This is the reversal of the effects of the fall whereby the woman’s desire is against her husband, to usurp his authority. In the tradition of the “holy women who hoped in God” (v 5), the NT wife is to submit to her husband. The husband is to honour his wife and live with her in an understanding way (not rule over her harshly, as in the curse), but he is to remember that she is a fellow heir with him of the grace of life.
Thus it can be seen that the repeated pattern of the NT authors was to not rely on the realities of their own sinful, transitory and shifting culture for the pattern of a God-honouring husband-wife relationship, but to refer back to either an eternal relationship which cannot change (viz., Christ and the church, Christ and God, man and Christ) or else to refer to God’s original creation before the effects of sin (viz., creation order, purpose in creation), or both. Never did an apostle base his argument for the authority relationship of husband and wife on culture—not even once.
[i] The example of 1 Cor. 7 might be cited as an exception. In that case, however, the authority over each other’s bodies is contextually limited to the sexual relationship within marriage. Moreover, the only actual concession to culture in that instance is that men and women should indeed marry rather than remain single, because it is better to marry engage in God-pleasing expressions of sexuality than to be “aflame with passion.