Headship: Introduction (Part 1)
by Clive Barber
The Importance of Headship
I don’t have to educate any of my readers that we live in a distorted world where the flavour of the day is rebellion against God. Truly, in mainstream western society, “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18), and biblical principles that were once upheld are being cast out at an alarming pace. While Christians will acknowledge that the Bible is the Word of God, there is an increasing trend to ignore or even jettison certain parts of it that conflict with what society and culture may endorse. We see this with issues such as LGBTQ, women’s rights, abortion and the opposition to the discipline of children, to name a few. If we want to find answers to these pressing difficulties, it is important for us to understand the biblical doctrine of headship. A true appreciation of this subject would fortify us, like Peter and the apostles, to say, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Act 5:29).
There is no one-liner that will suffice when coming to an understanding of headship, but a simple starting point would be to see that headship is the distinct appointment of God-given roles. If we see headship as divine Roles, we may also understand lordship as divine Rule, fellowship as divine Relationship, discipleship as divine Regulation and worship as divine Reverence. We will perceive the importance of headship when we see that it touches every sphere of creation, every dispensation of men, and every part of our lives, reaching up to the very throne of God. Within the Godhead itself there are distinct roles performed by divine Persons.
The Institution of Headship
The institution of headship actually precedes the creation of the human race, taking us into heaven where we observe the distinction of roles given in the angelic realm. Ultimately, it takes its precedence from the very throne of God, where we find headship clearly displayed. The first chapter of the Bible immediately introduces us to the doctrine of headship. God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:26-27). God gave the role of dominion to man, placing a distinction not only between mankind and animals but also between the roles of male and female. Headship is not a doctrine to be scoffed at, nor does it introduce any thought to our minds of inferiority or inequality between persons. This will become increasingly clear as we progress through this subject, appreciating the wisdom of God in these distinctly different and divinely appointed responsibilities.
The Interception of Headship
So fundamental is this subject of headship to the heart of God that the devil knew if he could attack this first he would ruin the entire human race. His cunning attack was to lure the woman in the Garden of Eden through various means, tempting her to discard the role given to her as helpmeet and to take a place of leadership that had been divinely given to Adam. It clearly states in Genesis 3:6, “She took of the fruit thereof, and [she] did eat, and [she] gave also unto her husband with her.” Adam sadly surrendered his place as head as the woman took the reins of control.
The Bible teaches us that the enemy of our souls has nothing new in his attempts to lure people away from God (1Co 10:13). One only has to read secular history to find there have been numerous specific efforts, by both men and women, to attack headship and challenge the order that God set into creation.
In July 1848, a movement commenced in Seneca Falls, New York. Originally known as the “Seneca Falls Convention,” it was to discuss the political, social, cultural, financial and personal rights of women in society. Advancing into the modern feminist movement, it continues to this present moment with relentless passion, particularly in the developed world. To gain some idea of what lies behind this agenda one only has to observe the symbol that fronts the movement (see image below). Developed in the 1960s and inspired by the Roman goddess Venus, it is an upside-down cross, with an upstanding clenched fist, surrounded by a circle representing global unity.
Those upholding and promoting feminism have hidden behind a thin veil, believing that the movement will eliminate female suffering at the hands of abusive men. This thought has even permeated Christian thinking, influencing some to abandon the doctrine of headship, particularly in the local church. Feminism is not the answer to human sin – the glorious gospel of Christ (which feminism opposes) is. The Bible teaches (and Christ clearly taught) that women have an intrinsic value equal to that of men. Unlike feminism, the gospel does more than just attempt to liberate persons from perceived peripheral difficulties in this life. It deals with the root cause of our sin, enabling men and women to live in harmony as God intended for eternity!
The Imperativeness of Headship
In a world that is utterly hostile to the mind of God, we as believers have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Word of God. We must first recognise that although God requires nothing less than obedience, cold mechanicalism and form will reduce us to nothing more than robots in this life and rob us of reward in the next. Because of this prevailing attitude our Lord Himself gave a solemn warning to the assembly at Ephesus regarding the swift removal of their testimony (Rev 2:5). Has such coldness left many Christians without a true appreciation for the precious subject of headship?
We must have solid biblical answers ready as to why practices are being upheld in the local assembly, such as the distinct differences in the roles of men and women. Does what is being practiced in the assembly correspond to or conflict with my manner of life in the home, marriage and work place? It is the writer’s desire that in this present generation we recover a true understanding of this precious truth that will lead us in heartfelt willingness to practice and uphold all that our God desires.
Headship: The Trinity (Part 2)
by Clive Barber
But I would have you know … the head of Christ is God” (1Co 11:3).
It is with astonishment and reverential awe that we contemplate the display of headship within the triune Persons of the Godhead. As mentioned previously, the purpose of headship is not to teach inequality or inferiority between persons. Rather, God clearly illuminates the distinction and difference in divinely appointed responsibilities.
Headship in the Incarnation of Christ
The distinction of divinely appointed roles within the Godhead is beyond dispute as we look into the Word of God. That the Jews understood God as a Father is clear from many Old Testament Scriptures and verified by their statement in John 8:41: “We have one Father, even God” (cf. Mal 2:10). The Son of God was prepared to take a veiled place, allowing the spotlight to shine upon the Father. As we turn the pages of the New Testament, we discover the truth of Hebrews 1:2 that God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” In the present dispensation the Holy Spirit fulfils His ministry upon earth. There are distinct roles within the Godhead.
We’re not long turning the pages of Luke’s record when we arrive at the account of our Lord as a twelve-year-old boy tarrying behind in Jerusalem as Joseph and Mary unknowingly made their way back to Nazareth without Him. Upon seeking and finding Him in the temple, Mary, amazed and perplexed, asks Him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luk 2:48). Respectfully, yet in order to communicate vital truth, our Lord highlights two matters.
The statement “thy father” in relation to Joseph had to be corrected. Our Lord gently reminded her that God was His Father, and with the unique dignity of Sonship, He must be occupied in the things of His Father. Second, while equal within the Godhead, part of this great work was to demonstrate unique dependence in manhood to His God. The following statement bore testimony to that incredible truth, “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them …. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luk 2:51-52). The acceptance of headship is perfectly displayed in the life of Christ.
Likewise at Calvary, divinely appointed roles were perfectly executed in the great work of dealing with sin. Both Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) record Christ’s words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We take note that the cry was not “My Father.” Scripture is replete with teaching that this was God dealing with man. Jehovah laid the stroke of divine judgment upon Christ (Isa 53; Zec 13:7).
Note further, it is only the Synoptic writers who record Calvary’s impenetrable darkness. John, the writer who mentions the Father some 144 times in the New Testament, omits these details. Neither does John recount the transfiguration experience. In a record that highlights the deity of Christ, we recognise that God cannot be transfigured. This behoves us to be careful in our language while engaged in worship at the Lord’s Supper. It would be inappropriate to thank the Father for punishing Christ. We must display some measure of spiritual understanding in our language; these details may seem insignificant, but they perfectly uphold in its right place the doctrine of headship.
Headship in the Exaltation of Christ
We see the same spiritual intelligence manifested by the apostle Paul with his prayers in the Ephesians epistle. When we read “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it presents to us the humanity of Christ. Likewise, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” brings to our mind the uniqueness of His essential deity and equality within the Godhead. Paul states that Christ, having been raised out from among the dead and now in the place of exaltation, has been given to be Head over all things to the Church which is His body (see Eph 1:20-23). He then informs us that the Church actually complements Christ, teaching us that He will not be satisfied until He has His Bride by His side. Now we see the reason for the distinction. The Bride will never complement the Son in Godhead glory, but she does complement Christ in His Manhood. Further, Christ is exalted as Head over every sphere. Paul wrote to the Colossians that He is “the head of all principality and power” (2:10).
Headship in the Dominion of Christ
In the Bible, the first mention of the word “kingdom” is located in Genesis 10:10 and is in reference to the kingdom of Babylon, led by Nimrod, who rebelled against the will of God. This kingdom, along with all who follow in the footsteps of Nimrod, finds its ultimate end is destruction (Rev 18:2). What a contrast, when on the throne of this world there is seated a Man who will display total subjection to the will of God. For 1000 years this world will experience the peaceful rule of a theocracy. Christ’s sceptre will uphold perfect justice, angelic ministry will be veiled and Christ shall reign supreme (Heb 1). His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (Psa 145:13) and His throne is for ever and ever (Psa 45:6). No wonder we utter, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as in heaven.”
Finally, the end of time as we know it will arrive! The blessed and only Potentate will put down all rule, the King of kings will manifest all authority and the Lord of lords display all power (cf. 1Ti 6:15; 1Co 15:24). Through Christ’s subjection to God, every foe, including the devastating enemy of death, will be under His feet!
But there is one final act in the perfect execution of headship within the Trinity. Christ will not claim the kingdom for Himself. He surrenders all into the hands of God, even the Father, that the triune God may rule and the Godhead be known as supreme, by all and for all eternity. Let us bow and freshly thank God for the perfect demonstration of headship within the Trinity. Without it, we could never have been saved!
“His be the Victor’s name
Who fought the fight alone;
Triumphant saints no honour claim,
His conquest was their own.
By weakness and defeat,
He won the meed and crown;
Trod all our foes beneath His feet
By being trodden down.”
Headship: The Distinction of Headship in Humanity (Part 3)
by Clive Barber
It is with profound wonder that we reflect upon the great demonstration of creatorial wisdom in the early chapters of our Bible. Truly we agree with our God when He declared His creation to be “very good.” It is then with immense grief that we look upon the present conditions of our world. The degradation of moral values, disregard for matrimonial vows, and disintegration of biblical familial circles stem ultimately from a rejection of God and His Word. Promotion of same sex relationships, LGBTQ agendas, and confusion as to gender identity are only a few of the present difficulties facing the child of God. As the education system and workplace popularise the godless, secular ideas of mankind, sowing into the minds of young and old the seeds of doubt, it seems that even Christians are being affected by the original question posed by the devil, “Hath God said?” (Gen 3:1).
As we progress in our understanding of headship, it is the desire of the writer to clarify in our hearts and minds clear distinctions our God placed into creation, fortifying us to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Having already considered something of the stupendous display of headship in the trinity, we now note that this doctrine touches the sphere of creation. It’s interesting to observe the distinctions that God placed into the sphere of angelic beings. We cannot be sure when Lucifer sinned, but Colossians 1:16 informs us that in heaven, prior to his fall, God had already inaugurated rule, rank and regulation into the world of angelic hosts.
We turn our attention to the creation of the human race and see that from the beginning our God placed obvious differences between the man and the woman. When Paul outlined the submission of the woman in the local church, he explained, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1Ti 2:13). From this we learn the fundamental lesson that headship was not an afterthought or a result of sin.
Adam’s entrance into the Garden of Eden is nothing short of breathtaking! We stand in awe as we contemplate the omniscient genius of God. Having already made the entire animal kingdom, we hear the Creator say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Stooping to the dust of the ground, our God used those simple elements to construct the complex human body, utterly distinct from the animals.
Adam’s exercise as gardener and guardian of Eden was to have total dominion in the earth. Work is not a result of sin but was instituted as a basic duty from the beginning. Paul writes, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Th 3:10). In his place as head, Adam was given the responsibility to name the animals. Here we see Adam’s excellence – to name the entire animal kingdom without a word of advice from the Creator is simply awe-inspiring! Upon finding no companion among them, we hear the Lord’s voice, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18). Within a deep sleep, God wondrously brought from his side the woman to be his bride. With Ephesians 5:22-33 in mind, we understand why the man was brought in first as head and the woman in submission as his help meet. This was not a random act by God for He had Christ and His bride in mind!
Having noted the distinction between mankind and animals, we now view stark contrasts between male and female. In physical appearance, their bodies are unique. Reproductive organs, heart, lung size, brain shape, hormonal systems and skeletal structures are uniquely different. The face of the male is distinctive in his ability to grow a beard, and 1 Corinthians 11:14 states that by Creatorial design (“nature”) the man had short hair and the woman long.
There is distinction in physical apparel. The command of Deuteronomy 22:5 was that “the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth [apparatus = implements/weapons/tools] unto a man [warrior], neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment [to assimilate the shape]: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” A man purposing to appear as a woman or vice versa (transvestite/crossdresser) is abhorrent to our God. We see why it was never God’s mind for women to go to war in Israel, which leads us to distinction in physical activities. The rebuke given to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19 was in the context of work and the field. The rebuke for Eve was in context of the womb and the family. God’s mind was that the primary place for the man would be as bread winner and the primary place for the woman would be the family. The New Testament completely validates this; how sad when godless societies disregard it.
Following Adam’s wedding vows (Gen 3:23), we hear the celebrant (God) declare in verse 24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” As Adam had no earthly father or mother, we comprehend that the institution of marriage was not limited to this first couple but was to be upheld throughout the course of the human race. In order to preserve purity and uphold the mind of God, it was only after those vows and upon the grounds of matrimony that the Holy Spirit is careful to record that they were “both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (2:25).
In all this we see Adam’s example. With man and woman so exquisitely distinct from the animal kingdom and from each other, it is with bitter anguish we witness the arrival of Adam’s enemy. Into the garden entered the devil with desires to destroy the beautiful order of headship. We are now confronted with Adam’s error. Although the devil deceived the woman, Adam bore ultimate responsibility as head (cf. Rom 5:12). Adam gave his explanation (Gen 3:10-12), but the effects of abandoning his role as head and allowing the woman to usurp his authority were devastating – a world of confusion where theories of evolution are propagated, gender distinction is clouded, and mankind worships and serves the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever (Rom 1:25). May God give us a fresh appreciation for the distinction of headship in humanity.
Headship: In Matrimony (Part 4)
by Clive Barber
The Design of God
The design of God for marital headship is no afterthought. In the last article we understood that in chronological order, God, with purpose, formed the man before the woman (cf. 1Co 11:9) – headship is not a result of sin! We also noted the moral order of the creation, proving the clear superiority of mankind over the animal kingdom. With the benefit of the NT, we further observed the typical order, that in Genesis 2:18-25 God was painting a portrait to speak of Christ and His bride. Now we desire to focus on the scriptural order for headship within marriage.
The Delight of God
The delight of God for marital headship is not hidden in Scripture. With creation blossoming from His handiwork and the first couple in total harmony in His presence, we hear Him breathe out, “Very good.” With man placed as head, the woman was to be his “help meet” (Gen 2:18). The Hebrew word means to “aid” or “assist,” not a position to be despised. Of the 21 times it’s used in the OT, 16 refer to God Himself. For example, Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: whence shall my ‘help’ come? My ‘help’ [cometh] from Jehovah, who made the heavens and the earth” (JND). To every godly wife, as you take this dignified position, you are in good company! Within marriage, man and woman are not autonomous; rather, a mutual dependence is vital. We bless God that into the first marriage He firmly established the principle of headship, setting a foundation stone for every marriage thereafter.
The Dismay of God
The dismay of God in the disregard of marital headship is unmistakably discerned in Genesis 3:8-19. The man who introduced thousands of new words when he named the animals had remained silent when Eve partook from the tree and did eat. Spirituality is not based upon intellect. The woman who was to be a helper to Adam heeded the lie of the devil and stepped out of her God-given sphere, embracing the position of leadership and head. The first marriage was under attack, and the first principle that was assaulted was headship.
The Desire of God
The desire of God for marital headship to continue was not diminished. In the NT we have every instruction for headship to flourish within the marriage bond. Ephesians 5:22 teaches us that for the wellbeing of the marriage, wives are to “submit [them]selves unto [their] own husbands, as unto the Lord.” The Greek word translated “submit” is used 49 times in the NT and is constructed from 2 words meaning to voluntarily arrange oneself in an orderly manner within the sphere of authority – yielding to another’s control. The first mention of the word is in Luke 2:51: “He [Jesus] went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” People speak of going on missions for God, but the greatest mission is submission! Voluntarily placing oneself under divinely appointed authority and leadership shines the spotlight upon God’s creatorial wisdom. In doing so, the woman herself is magnified before God (cf. 1Pe 3:4).
Titus 2:3 makes it abundantly clear that the aged women are to teach the young women how to love their husbands, how to have a true maternal care for their children, how to be self-controlled and pure in their actions, maintaining and benefiting the home sphere by being in voluntary submission to the authority of the husband. Such responsibility to teach these things can only be accomplished by those who have lived after this manner themselves.
What about those who have an unsaved or erring husband, who wilfully disobeys the Word of God? 1 Peter 3:1-6 makes it clear that “living” before them will be more effective than “preaching” at them. It’s possible to win the erring party by a clean and holy life. They note your fear of God and desire to be right inwardly, as opposed to merely concentrating on material externals. It stands in contrast to this corruptible world, and your ability to exercise a mild and unobtrusive spirit not only speaks volumes to them but also is highly valued by God. Attraction to spiritual things is not based upon the flesh.
Placing oneself in submission is a vulnerable place to be. We only have to observe the life and sufferings of Christ to see this exemplified. In order to safeguard this place of the wife, our God is careful to give clear instructions to the man. In 1 Peter 3:7, the husband is taught to dwell with his wife “according to knowledge.” It is incumbent upon the man to get to know his wife, not be constantly off with friends or living separate lives. He is to give “honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel.” While this could mean weaker physically or emotionally, I suggest it also may be because of the place of submission she has voluntarily surrendered herself to, leaving herself vulnerable. Husbands, don’t abuse it or take it for granted, but value and promote her for it! Headship is founded upon authority and submission, not abuse and suppression.
In Ephesians 5:25-33, the husband is taught to be sacrificial in love to his wife, as Christ was in giving Himself for the Church. Likewise, as Christ is presently sanctifying and cleansing the Church with the water of the Word, the husband’s responsibility is to have a spiritual love for his wife, not one based upon satisfying his own desires. Let us remember that as the Church will be manifested and the work of Christ borne witness to, so, too, the actions of a husband for his wife will be scrutinised and seen at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The love of a husband for his wife is to be selfless – “so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” It is to be a sensitive love, one that will nourish, cherish and keep warm. Yes, husbands, there is nothing wrong with being a romantic! Let every one of you particularly in this way so love his wife, and the wife see that she respects her husband.
Finally, having considered the devastating effect that sin brought to marriage, it’s with joy that we witness headship within matrimony being upheld and enjoyed. Scripture is replete with marriages that brought pleasure to the heart of God. May Christians today experience the same.
Headship: The Display of Headship in the Local Assembly (Part 5)
by Clive Barber
Having looked at the Demonstration of Headship in the Trinity, the Distinction of Headship in Humanity, and the Delight of Headship in Matrimony, we now conclude with the Display of Headship in the Assembly.
Christ as Head Over All
As a conqueror returning from victory, the ascended Christ took His appropriate place at the right hand of the majesty on high. Peter informs us that He is “gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him” (1Pe 3:22). Paul likewise states that He is “head of allprincipality and power” (Col 2:10). Every knee, from every sphere, will bow before Him (Php 2:10).
Christ as Head Over the Church Which Is His Body
Without question, this dispensation is unique, and as Christians we find ourselves with the inestimable privilege of being included in the Church. A great mystery since the world began was kept in silence, concealed in the heart of God and looked for by the righteous of former dispensations. The apostle Paul was given the responsibility to expand on this subject, teaching us that Christ is, in a very unique sense, “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness [complement] of him that filleth all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). In Ephesians 5, he parallels this to the marriage bond, no doubt alluding to the great truth that the Church will one day take her place as the Bride of Christ (Rev 19).
The Display of Headship in the Local Church
During His earthly ministry, our Lord introduced, among many things, the truth of the local church, believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the writers of the NT took up their pens to expand on these subjects. In each, a physical symbol is employed to demonstrate particular truth. In baptism the symbol is water, depicting a grave into which the believer identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. At the Lord’s Supper, the physical loaf of bread and cup of wine represent His body given for us and the new covenant ratified by His shed blood. In like manner, the Scriptures are unequivocally clear that when the local church gathers together, there is to be a physical symbol used to display the truth of headship. In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, Paul details for us the practice and purpose of this magnificent truth.
First, he teaches us the divine order of headship in the assembly: God, Christ, man, woman (v3). As noted previously, this does not denote inferiority but rather that there are divinely appointed differences in responsibilities and distinction in roles. One of the ways to display this in the local church is for the man to leave his head uncovered and the woman to cover hers. The apostle elaborates that if the man were to cover his head he would actually disgrace Christ, a serious thing indeed (v4). Similarly, the woman who refuses to physically cover her head disgraces herself and shames every man in the assembly. He goes further, stating that without a covering, it’s as though she had a shorn or shaven head, like a man (vv5-6).
There is much being communicated by this simple observance. The man as “image” is the creatorial representative, so he must not cover his head (v7). The creatorial type is to be upheld; the woman is from the side of the man (v8), pointing forward to Christ and His Bride. The creatorial order is being displayed; man was appointed as head and the woman given to him as a helpmeet (v9). Creatorial wisdom is being observed by angelic hosts (v10); the woman must be covered.
This physical symbol is not the only feature observed for the display of headship in the assembly. 1 Corinthians 14:34-40 commands that the women keep silent. Note that it is men and women, not brothers and sisters, that are being distinguished. In verse 26 the apostle addresses the “brethren” (lit. “brothers”), yet in verse 34 he does not say “sisters” but rather “women.” The Spirit of God is careful to uphold this vital distinction, clarifying that headship is in view. Further, in 1 Corinthians 15 we find no mention of any women as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. Why? Mary definitely saw Him first (Joh 20). The answer lies in the context. The setting is the public preaching of the gospel (1Co 15:1-3,11-15). This responsibility falls to men who have been gifted to the body by the risen Head (Eph 4:11). Paul will not instruct the saints in one breath that the women should be silent in the church and contradict it in the next.
1 Timothy 2:8-15 endorses such teaching, adding that there is a dual reason for the silence of the women in the church. It’s not only the order of creation, but also because of the transgression of the woman. It was a sad day when, in Eden’s garden, the woman abandoned her God-given sphere as helper to take the place as head. God wants this precious order recovered and revealed in the church.
Just as in the Garden of Eden, the enemy of human souls is still seeking to undermine the wisdom of God, and, unsurprisingly, it seems that headship is one of the most misunderstood and disregarded truths of the NT. We live in a day of disorder and confusion in relation to basic Genesis truth. How vital that as Christians we appreciate and maintain this doctrine. In every aspect of our lives, let men be men and women be women. By doing so we will experience the blessing of God’s wisdom.
We close this subject in worship, with the doxology of Romans 11:33-36: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”