January 14, 2007

Biblical Mandate: Wife Must Give Head

Posted in church, culture, marriage, philosophy of religion, politics, scripture, theology at 4:22 am by Jerry

More and more my Canadian pride grows, when I hear about stories like this one below. A man in California is suing his government for the extensive/expensive bureaucracy surrounding the procedure of taking his wife’s maiden name for his own.

Only six states — Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota — have statutes establishing equal name-change processes for men and women when they marry. In California and other states, men cannot choose a different last name while filing a marriage license.

In California, a man who wants to take his wife’s name must file a petition, pay more than $300, place a public notice for weeks in a local newspaper and then appear before a judge.

[…] At one point, the couple tried the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a name change. But Buday said he was told by a woman behind the counter: “Men just don’t do that type of thing.”

Earlier, in this same article

Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU in Southern California, said it is the first federal lawsuit of its kind in the country. “It’s the perfect marriage application for the 17th century,” Rosenbaum said. “It belongs in the same trash can as dowries.”

Even here in liberal Canada (though led by a Conservative government) I received some opposition to the idea of taking my wife’s name. Why?

A name can have a long heritage attributed to it, but it doesn’t define who we are (even though I try to take meanings in consideration when naming my unborn child). And changing my last name doesn’t mean I’m disassociating myself from my own family any more than it has done for women when they get married and take their husbands’ name. So why all the fuss?

Apparently, “That’s just the way things are done,” or “The woman takes the man’s name because the man is the head of the home.”

Marriage Like Christ and the Church

22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.24But as the church IS SUBJECT to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands IN EVERTHING.25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,30because we are members of His body.

Ephesians 5 (NASB)

MY WIFE’S HEAD IS ME!

I know analogies shouldn’t be taken literally, and I know we should recognize the literary elements like similies and metaphors in the text, but even so – the figurative language used above is sending a strong contradictory message. God and humans are, biblically, far from being understood as equals.

To me, it seems some couples have decided that the task of recognizing whose mental skills are stronger in the myriad of situations they face is just too difficult. So to ease the burden, they’ve decided only one within the relationship should be considered an authority in all skills. And most of these couples have chosen the traditional, patriarchical option. Which is a shame, in my mind.

I think this traditional approach has a greater chance of overlooking valuable insights from the so-called weaker minded one. Wherever there’s a relationship, two heads are better than one. So, my wife better claim her head as her own, because, contrary to what others may perceive of me, I DON’T think I know everything!

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14 Comments »

  1. Nathan said,

    Search engines must be buzzin’ with a title like that. (heh)
    Good stuff, dude.

  2. Jerry said,

    Thanks, Nathan. I was in a goofy mood that day.

  3. Shuana said,

    Heeeheee, love the picture! I was just reading Northrop Frye (again) on myths. He said the early mythologies were maternal–life was given birth to, not made. I think of the asherah poles and high places which celebrated the goddess of fertility–an abomination to the myth of Judaism which says–we were made, not born. (Who knew the “chicken or the egg” question was about gender and power!) I find the patriarchal male-dominated metaphors of the bible distasteful, only because of the imbalance–the age-old battle of the sexes! Yet, in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free. The wrongs have been righted, but our interpretations, and the culturally situated metaphors of the new testament undermine the message of Christ–don’t you think?

    Yet, when baby comes along–it might cause some re-thinking. For myself, I gave up adult independence/status/earning power to serve the needs of my family–a choice I made. So, in a sense, the head, which nourishes and cares for the body, is a role that is important if one parent decides to sacrifice their power and independence to serve the needs of the group. (Typically, the mom–needs to be nurtured and cared for by her husband as she sacrifices so much to raise children.) Sometimes, and ideally, it would be great if both parents could sacrifice to raise children, but our society isn’t set up that way, which makes it quite difficult. Either way, we ought to be doing our own thinking. Conventional roles are difficult to escape, so embedded in a male-dominated society, with women biologically ‘giving birth” which goes farther than just bringing the little one into the family, but extends to ‘giving birth’ to the child, equipping them to enter the world.

    Just some thoughts…sorry to blog here 🙂

  4. Jerry said,

    Hey Shauna! Great to hear from you again. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I’ve been a little preoccupied with easing my child’s introduction into the world outside her mother.

    I loved your comment. I’ve been reading some of Frye’s essays (on and off). I consider him to be a genius. There seems to be books and books of thought on every page he has written.

    When you mentioned ‘head’ in your comment — “So, in a sense, the head, which nourishes and cares for the body, is a role that is important if one parent decides to sacrifice their power and independence to serve the needs of the group. (Typically, the mom–needs to be nurtured and cared for by her husband as she sacrifices so much to raise children.)” — I got the impression that we are thinking of two different understandings.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you used “head” in the provider sense. My use of “head” differs because I was emphasizing the sense of an authoritative responsibility over one’s possessions (including the wife as one of those possessions) from the Ephesians passage, which seems to contradict with the Galatians passage. Unless, “slave nor free,” “male nor female,” being “all one in Christ Jesus” means that a wife can still be a husband’s possession (even a slave) and still be equal before God in the sense that neither of them have mediators between them and God. If that’s the case, then I was wrong and there’s no contradiction in the Ephesians passage.

    If you visit this post and its comments again I’d like us to clarify an understanding of these passages together.

  5. Shuana said,

    Hi Jerry,

    Yes, I think we are using the word “head” in two different ways. I think that all of the metaphors used in the NT must be thought of as culturally embedded,(metaphors that sometimes undermine the message of Christ) and must be interpreted through the principle (logos) of Christ–which is servant leadership, and the principle of self-transcendence.

    Even the use of the word “authority” is a derivative of the word “author” and to author your spouse is to expand, grow, nurture…So, I guess I’m purposefully misreading you, wanting to redeem something that has been so sorely abused and misused to maintain oppresive patriarchal values in the church. The ephesians passage is prefaced by submission to one another-and in the greek there isn’t even a period between that sentence and the next one, where our translations have a big heading separating these two parts. Submission and love–same thing–and done to serve the other. Equality is the message of Galatians, and the message of Christ. Early ancient mythologies emphasized the feminine, and later mythologies emphasized the masculine, but Christ, a man, is born of a woman, and in him all of the power inequities are brought into balance, and the message, it seems to me, is equality. Does this clear things up?

  6. Shuana said,

    Just to clarify, I think we are making the same point in two different ways.

  7. Jerry said,

    Hey Shauna, I really appreciate your responses to this post. I’ve had a desire to talk with someone about these biblical passages (Eph.5 and Gal.3) for sometime now.

    I’m sorry to say, your last response didn’t clear things up. In fact, I’m really confused by what you said. At first, I thought, “I don’t really know how to respond to this without dissecting it.” I love dissecting any written word, but sometimes it can color the tone of the conversation into an uncomfortable manner. What I mean, is, it seems to take a conversation into a debate-like discussion… which is not always welcomed with open arms.

    However, I’m presently caring a strong desire to get to the bottom of the relationship between Equalitarianism and Biblical Ideologies. So, forgive me if the following comments sound cold and sterile. I don’t mean to be clinical. I just want to be thorough.

    So, without further adieu…
    You said, “I think that all of the metaphors used in the NT must be thought of as culturally embedded,(metaphors that sometimes undermine the message of Christ) and must be interpreted through the principle (logos) of Christ–which is servant leadership, and the principle of self-transcendence.” I bolded the word ‘interpreted’ because I’m confused by it. Did you mean ‘forgiven’?

    You said, “Even the use of the word “authority” is a derivative of the word “author” and to author your spouse is to expand, grow, nurture…” Yes, ‘author’ can be used that way, but not in reference to authority.

    You said, “So, I guess I’m purposefully misreading you, wanting to redeem something that has been so sorely abused and misused to maintain oppresive patriarchal values in the church.” Maybe we should be concentrating on redeeming the actions of our society than this text at the expense of its integrity.

    You said, “The ephesians passage is prefaced by submission to one another-and in the greek there isn’t even a period between that sentence and the next one, where our translations have a big heading separating these two parts.” But we also know that throughout any book there are changes of contexts.

    You said, “Equality is the message of Galatians, and the message of Christ.” But how do we know the writer of Galatians wasn’t just talking about equality before God and not about equality among the people?

    Whew! Alot to go through. Sorry if it seems at bit much. Hope to hear from you soon!

  8. shuana said,

    Hi Jerry,
    I don’t tend to take things personally, and enjoy an imperson, sterile conversation.

    Umm, well I won’t respond to everything just yet, as much of this I need to give some reflection to.

    But the verse in I Cor 7:4 about authority actually comes from the greek word: I’ve looked at the greek for this passage in I Cor 7:4

    *exousiazo—root word –exousia—which literally means “out-being” So there is this sense of author which means to “bring into existence” as in create. )OED.

    So if I may, I don’t think the integrity of text is being destroyed at all. I think it gives clearer insight into what our sexual relations ought to be, and mean.

    I understand the idea of “power over” is actually something that the word started to carry later on. It also has the sense of “making lawful” and this is a legitmizing word.

    The words of scripture are just that–words. How we interpret them and apply them–that is up for debate.

  9. Shuana said,

    But I must say I am no expert on hermeneutics or greek. I just have the belief that there must be a principle by which we understand scripture, and that principle (logos) is the life of Christ–the living breathing word–who demonstrated in his relationships, so far as we can tell, egalitarian qualities.

    What I hear you saying is that we ought to leave the bible behind, or adopt it has been made known to us. My expertise is language, and I know that it is pretty much impossible to understand what was intended by the authors of scripture since it is written in a language (that has since gone out of existence) and we know that language is culturally embedded, in fact language is shaped by culture. So what can we really know about what was written? I think that is why we have four perspectives on the life of Christ (actually more, through apocrapha and gnostic scriptures) and we can see the demonstrated utterance of God.

  10. Shuana said,

    Here is a quote of Sister Lois Eckes, who explains authority in much the same way using Benedict’s Rule:
    “Steeped in the wisdom of Benedict’s Rule, we are reminded that the purpose of authority is to author life and that in order to be life-bringing it must listen to the wisdom of the whole community. Obedience, which means listening with the ear of one’s heart, is the responsibility of everyone. For Benedict, genuine obedience honors diversity, individual conscience, and the personal dignity of each member of the community.”

  11. Jerry said,

    I’m back!

    I’m thinkin’ we should concentrate on the actual text in Ephesians 5 above in my post (since the word ‘authority’ isn’t used in it). The greek equivalent of “head” is “kefale” from the primary “kapto” (in the sense of seizing).

    “22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

    And according to the rest of the bible, we are “subject to Christ” because he created us, and therefore, owns us. We are considered by him to be his possessions.

    You said, “My expertise is language, and I know that it is pretty much impossible to understand what was intended by the authors of scripture since it is written in a language (that has since gone out of existence) and we know that language is culturally embedded, in fact language is shaped by culture. So what can we really know about what was written? I think that is why we have four perspectives on the life of Christ (actually more, through apocrapha and gnostic scriptures) and we can see the demonstrated utterance of God.”

    How is a culture’s immoral acts justified through the process of aging for two to four thousand years? And what proof do we have of an utterance of God demonstrated in our bible? And if God was inspiring the biblical writers to adapt God’s truths to their immediate audience on a spiritual learning curve, can our current culture consider THE WHOLE BIBLICAL TEXT to be divine truths for us? And if cherry picking for timeless truths in the bible is in fact the only realistic response to the biblical text (which everyone already does), how are those timeless truths any better than the timeless truths we cherry pick out of other ancient literature?

    • Andrew said,

      You are both misunderstanding the use of the word head in Ephesians. The problem lies not in your understanding of the English metaphor for head meaning leader or authority. But in the fact that the letter to Ephesus was originally written in Greek and the word translated head is “kefale.” In the Greek this word does mean head, but it can have multiple metaphoric meanings. One of which is “source.” Paul later in the passage references Genesis 2:24. So Paul has creation and Genesis in mind as he is writing. If you back up a bit from Gen 2:24 you see that woman was created from man. So when Paul says that man is the head of woman he is speaking about a source relationship not an authority relationship. There is a created order that Paul is lifting out of the created history and if you look at Genesis 3:9 and following you will see that even though Eve is the one that was tempted and fell first it is Adam (the first creation) that is held responsible first. So while I do believe that wives are being told to submit here, men are not being told to rule… instead they are reminded about their grave responsibility which is in keeping with the rest of the Ephesians passage.

      You can understand the language and the meaning of difficult passages if you are willing to become a student of the language and the Bible as a whole. Hope this helps.

      It is also important to note that v. 22 can’t work in the original lanuage without v. 21. The word for submit doesn’t exist in the Greek in v. 22. It borrows it from v. 21 and therefore the call for the wife to submit to the husband is in the context of the call for mutual submission out of reverence for Christ.

      • Jerry said,

        Ooops! Better late than never, right?

        “Paul later in the passage references Genesis 2:24. So Paul has creation and Genesis in mind as he is writing. If you back up a bit from Gen 2:24 you see that woman was created from man.”

        And if you back up just a bit more, you’ll find a different creation story where God created woman just as God created man.

        “..and if you look at Genesis 3:9 and following you will see that even though Eve is the one that was tempted and fell first it is Adam (the first creation) that is held responsible first.”

        Yes, it would be far too modern for Eve to be held responsible first, as if she was her own person.

        “So while I do believe that wives are being told to submit here, men are not being told to rule…”

        And yet, it is ONLY the wives who are being told to submit to their husbands “in everything”. The husbands may be very compassionate rulers, but a ruler is a ruler. And the wives? They are not rulers.

        “You can understand the language and the meaning of difficult passages if you are willing to become a student of the language and the Bible as a whole.”

        Though we do have words to play with, a student of the language and the bible as a whole can not transport themselves back in time two millenniums ago to ask the writer’s (a writer who knows little to nothing of what we now call common sense) intentions behind the first copy (which no one has) of the writer’s words.

        “It is also important to note that v. 22 can’t work in the original lanuage without v. 21. The word for submit doesn’t exist in the Greek in v. 22. It borrows it from v. 21 and therefore the call for the wife to submit to the husband is in the context of the call for mutual submission out of reverence for Christ.”

        And it wouldn’t have made any logical sense to say the call for mutual submission was in every sense. Nevertheless, verse 24 can pick up from where they are not in mutual submission to include the wife’s complete submission.

  12. Laurie Wilson said,

    Andrew,
    Do you have any recommendations for supplemental readings for what you have just said about submission and headship?
    I’m trying to understand this and would like to dig a little deeper.

    Thank you


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