Marriage as It Was Meant to Be Seen: Headship, Submission, and the Gospel -- By: Jason Hall

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 15:1 (Spring 2010)
Article: Marriage as It Was Meant to Be Seen: Headship, Submission, and the Gospel
Author: Jason Hall


Marriage as It Was Meant to Be Seen:
Headship, Submission, and the Gospel

Jason Hall

Director of Communications
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina

Peter R. Schemm, Jr.

Associate Professor of Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina

The debate among Christians about the interpretation of Eph 5:21-33 is often presented as one of secondary, not primary, importance. Belief in the gospel itself is what is of first importance (1 Cor 15:3-4). That’s true as far as it goes, inasmuch as the gospel itself does not require one to believe in male headship in one’s confession of faith in Jesus as Lord.

However, the more we reflect on what the apostle is arguing in Ephesians the more we realize that even though the gospel itself may not appear to be at stake, the right and true display of the gospel certainly is. This discussion, then, belongs front and center in evangelical churches, because evangelical churches are those that affirm the centrality of the Word of God for doctrine and practice in Christian community (if the adjective evangelical does not mean at least this, it means nothing). So, what follows is a brief reflection on Paul’s connection between headship, submission, and the gospel in Ephesians 5. We propose three related observations.

Observation #1: The submission of wives to husbands is not forced, coerced, or even cajoled; it is given freely. To us this is the implication of vv. 22-24, when the wives’ submission is said to be of a kind offered “to the Lord” and is analogous to the submission the church owes its bridegroom, Christ. The submission of Christians to God is not one of domination or involuntary enslavement, and a wife’s submission to her husband is also not one of domination or involuntary enslavement. The proper motivation for any act of submission in the Christian faith is “reverence for Christ” (v. 21).

Observation #2: The husband’s headship should be of a kind that invites voluntary submission, not discourages it. Husbands are exhorted to love their wives sacrificially and in a self-emptying way; the point is obvious enough in the text and we will not take the time here to develop it much further. What seems to be missing, though, from so many expressions of male headship is a winsome and inspiring invitation to follow. There is something incredibly inspiring about following someone who has demonstrated a willingness t...

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