In some Christian traditions there is a hierarchy within the family structure. The man is responsible for the decisions, with the wife’s input of course, and is the spiritual head of the household, and for all intents and purposes more than just the breadwinner. Hierarchically he would be at the apex and the woman would be below…somewhere. This chapter is often used as ammunition to enforce this approach to the family structure. Let’s look at these verses and try to see what exactly Paul is saying.
Let’s start at vs.21, yes, we can’t skip that verse, but most commentators who carry a hierarchical view prefer to skip vs.21. While those of us who embrace a mutuality view, where husband and wife work at that whole family thing together, we love this verse. It tells us to be subject to one another. Husband be subject to your wife, wife be subject to your husband. Don’t allow pride to enter the picture which demands that our view be followed and that of our spouse is expendable. When we are subject to one another then no one can lord anything over anyone else. What a great verse to focus on, we don’t need any of the others. Okay, there are other verses, and let’s look at them, but we can’t forget that Paul says that we should be subject to one another.
Paul goes on to give some details of what that family structure can look like. He falls very quickly into the first century mentality that women do not have the same rights as men do, and so, as a result, men are “head” of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church. It is hard to get around that, but we do understand that a family structure in the 1st century was not one based upon being subject to one another. Paul already broke that glass ceiling.
Paul does speak about the husband’s responsibility to love his wife. Does that mean that the wife does not need to love the husband? Of course not! But for some reason when we read that the husband is head of the wife we don’t want to say that under Paul’s approach of mutuality that the wife is the head of the husband. Yes, she is! This is part of being subject to one another. We can’t understand this chapter nor Christian family dynamics without this basic principle to guide our thoughts.