WHO'S THE BOSS?
THREE REASONS WHY EPHESIANS 5:21-33 IS NOT
ABOUT AUTHORITY IN MARRIAGE.
By Drs. Eddie L. Hyatt & Susan C. Hyatt
(This article is a brief summation of the arguments presented
in the Hyatt's new book by the same name.
Eddie's bio - Sue's bio
WHO'S THE BOSS? is probably the most commonly asked question among
Christians concerning marriage. The idea that the wife is to submit
graciously to the leadership of the husband has become a sacred cow in
Spirit-filled and Evangelical Christianity. The favorite passage for
advocates is Ephesians 5:21-33.
But is this position Biblically correct? The answer to this important
question is NO.
REASON #1 - A MATTER OF CULTURE THE KIND OF MARRIAGE PRACTICED BY THE
EPHESIANS INDICATES THAT THIS PASSAGE IS NOT ABOUT AUTHORITY
The form of marriage practiced by the Ephesians was known as "marriage without
hand," meaning "marriage without commitment." In this pagan model, the wife
remained under the authority of her father or the oldest male in her birth
family. Since the wife's family could remove her at any time, uncertainty
destabilized the marriage relationship.
Furthermore, a father-in-law could pressure the husband to do his bidding by
threatening to "recall" the wife. This could be especially trying for
Christian couples since a pagan father-in-law could threaten to remove his
daughter unless she and her husband renounced their faith.
Important in this discussion is the meaning of the Greek word hupotasso,
translated by the English word "submit" in this passage. An informed study
of the meaning, as opposed to a biased, cursory rendering, clearly reveals
Paul's intended meaning as being "to identify with." It has nothing to do with
"being put under." The Ephesians' readers understood what Paul really meant: A
married woman was no longer to identify with her birth family but was, instead,
to identify completely with her husband; and the two were to be one.
REASON #2 - A GRAMMATICAL ISSUE PAUL BEGINS THIS DISCUSSION OF MARRIAGE WITH
A CALL FOR MUTUAL SUBMISSION.
That "submit" in this passage has nothing to do with subordination to authority
is further clarified by the fact that Paul begins this discussion in vs. 21 with
a call for Christians to identify with one another. It reads, "Submitting
yourselves [all believers} to one another in the fear of Christ." It is a
call to solidarity, loyalty, and all that such intimate commitment demands.
And it works in both directions equally; it is unilateral. It is mutual;
it is not male-dominated.
In vs. 22, most of our English translations have Paul saying, Wives, submit to (hupotasso)
your own husbands as to the Lord (NKJV). But the word “submit” is not
found in the Greek! It was inserted by translators. The passage literally
reads, wives to your own husbands. This means that the verb for vs. 22 is
found in vs. 21. This means that disposition of "submission" expected in
vs. 22 must be the same as that required among all believers in vs. 21.
This model of mutual identification fits with Paul's other teaching about
marriage found in 1 Corinthians 7, which is actually his most extensive teaching
on marriage. In this chapter, Paul addresses husbands and wives
separately; and in each instance, he gives exactly the same responsibility and
"authority" to each. There is perfect mutuality throughout the chapter.
Neither is to exercise authority over the other. In fact, Paul alternates
between men and women twelve different times in this passage; and, as Gordon D.
Fee points out, "In every case there is complete mutuality between the two
sexes." [Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 270]. Why haven't we heard teaching on marriage
from 1 Cor. 7?
REASON #3 - A SIGNIFICANT WORD PAUL'S CHOICE OF THE GREEK WORD KEPHALE
("HEAD") INDICATES THAT THIS IS NOT ABOUT RULERSHIP
The meaning of this passage has been distorted because of the assumption that
kephale means "ruler," "leader," or "boss" in the same way that the English
"head" can carry this figurative meaning. We now know that this assumption
is wrong. Unbiased research reveals that had Paul wanted to convey the
idea of "authority," he would have chosen the word archon. This word,
archon conveys the idea of authority, rulership, or leadership.
Kephale means "source." This is important because it teaches the
Ephesians that women were created from the same substance as men. It
refutes the pagan idea that women were made of an inferior substance between
that of man and animal. Paul, therefore, undermines this pagan notion by
referring to the man as the kephale ("source") of the woman in creation
and exhorts husbands to love their wives as their own bodies (vs. 23). She
is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, (Gen. 2:23)--a fitting and equal
This rendering is neither bizarre nor fringe but is, in fact, confirmed by the
best research in the field. For example, one of the most complete Greek
lexicons, Liddell, Scott, Jones and McKenzie, list various meanings for
kephale, but it does not list "authority over, " "ruler," "boss" or anything
similar as a definition. Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, in their study of
headship in the Septuagint discovered that when the word ro'sh ("head") was used
figuratively to mean "source" or "beginning," the translators used kephale.
However, when ro'sh was used figuratively to mean "ruler" or "boss"
(e.g., the head of the tribe of Judah), the translators used archon meaning
"ruler." Many other Evangelical scholars, including F. F. Bruce, Catherine Kroeger, and David Scholer, concur. Some disagree, not because of lack of
evidence, but because of a prior commitment to "male headship."
SO WHO'S THE BOSS?
The idea that Eph.5:21-33 teaches that man is the boss is incorrect and harmful.
It does not harmonize with Biblical teaching as a whole. Nor is it true to
the literary or cultural contexts in which it was written. As with all
error, it has caused untold damage, in this case, to individuals and to
Christian marriage. Further, it quenches the gifts and abilities of women
by telling them that they must always fill a subservient role. And it puts
ungodly pressure on men by demanding that they function in areas for which God
may not have gifted them. Also, studies show that this model has
contributed to rampant domestic abuse in the Church. So, WHO's THE BOSS?
For a truly successful marriage, there can be only one--the Lord Jesus Christ.
For a thorough discussion, see WHO'S THE BOSS? by Eddie & Susan Hyatt.
It can be ordered by sending an e-mail to
snail mail address is Drs. Eddie & Susan Hyatt, P. O. Box 3877, Grapevine, TX 76099-3877, USA