In chps 12-13 of Sarah Sumner’s book Men and Women in Ministry Sumner begins a four-chapter study of “head” in the Bible and esp in Paul’s letters. We will not be done with “headship” issues today, but we need to get a start. Sarah Sumner begins with 1 Cor 11:3, and I want to provide the text before I summarize what she argues:
“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
In your community of faith, what does “headship” mean and how is that meaning manifested? Who — husband or wife — is the one called to sacrifice for the other? Sumner contends that the headship debate gets things mixed up for it reduces to authority lines and her contention suggests there is a better way. For complementarians, “head” refers to authority over: as Christ is authority over “men,” so man is authority over woman, and God is authority over Christ. For egalitarians, “head” sometimes means “source of”: As Christ is the source of men, so men are the source of women, and God is the source of Christ.
Sumner suggests there is a major, major issue here: the order of these names is not a hierarchical order. It is not God, Christ, man, woman, but Christ, man, woman, God. That is odd. So, she sketches the view that this is the historical order of creation. As Christ is the creational prototype/creator of Adam (as male), so the male’s rib was used to create Eve (woman), and then God (in the womb of Mary) becomes incarnate in Christ.
Sumner’s thesis is that focusing on authority and source misses something important. Grudem’s famous lexical study of 2,336 instances of “head” (Greek kephale) turned up very few instances where the term means “source” and only 2% meaning “authority over.” Sumner says the normal meaning of the term is “head.” It’s an image. And it all begins with a metaphor. We’re almost there.
Chp 13 is about Eph 5:22 where the famous passage is about wives submitting to husbands. She contends that nowhere in the Bible is the husband told to submit to this wife (she knows of Eph 5:21 but is talking about explicit commands to men) and nowhere does it say that men are to “lead” their wives. Instead, folks ought to focus on what Eph 5:21-33 does say — and this can be seen in couplets for couples:
1. There is a submit/sacrifice for wives/husbands.
2. There is a body/head for wives/husbands.
3. There is a respect/love for wives/husbands.
These are the relational dynamics of wives and husbands.
Her thesis: the head/body image is a metaphor for organic connection for the sake of unity. Unity is what is in mind for headship. God gives an image, not of authority or source, but of unity. The mystery of marriage is about becoming “one” flesh — unity.
Husbands “are” the head; wives “are” the body. The wife submits and the husband sacrifices. Coercion is never the relationship. These are full-time relational postures to one another, not occasional acts. The irony is that within the Christian community, because “submission” is often misunderstood, the wife is expected to “sacrifice” for her husband — the Bible says there is a dynamic of submission and sacrifice.
Before I sign off today, I want to emphasize something. I do not define my relationship to Kris or to women in church (or anywhere for that matter) as either complementarian or egalitarian. I believe defining my relationship in such terms messes things up and focuses on the wrong thing. Instead, I focus on love: my relationship to Kris is one of love, not one of either complementarianism or egalitarianism. My responsibility is to love her. To focus on the other terms reduces love to a role. Bad idea.