The Bible’s Viewpoint
What Does It Mean to Be the Head of the House?
ACCORDING to the Bible, “the head of a woman is the man.” (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23) But many who profess respect for the Bible feel that this principle of husbandly headship is not only outdated but also dangerous. “The doctrine that women should ‘submit graciously’ [to their husbands], taken to an extreme, can lead to abuse, both physical and emotional,” commented one couple. Sadly, abuse of headship is widespread and rampant. “Wife-beating,” says one author, “is considered part of the natural order in many countries—a masculine prerogative celebrated in songs, proverbs and wedding ceremonies.”
Some suggest that the Bible principle of headship has led to these brutalities. Does the Bible’s concept of headship demean women and encourage domestic violence? What does it really mean to be the head of the house?*
Headship Is Not Tyranny
Biblical headship is a loving arrangement and is by no means synonymous with tyranny. It was disregard for divinely constituted authority that resulted in man’s often brutal domination of women. (Genesis 3:16) Since the garden of Eden, men have frequently abused their power, viciously exploiting others, including women and children.
However, that was never part of God’s purpose. Jehovah abhors those who abuse their authority. He condemned Israelite men who “dealt treacherously” with their wives. (Malachi 2:13-16) Furthermore, God says that “anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.” (Psalm 11:5) So wife beaters and other abusers cannot in any way use the Bible to justify their violent actions.
What Does Proper Headship Involve?
Headship is a fundamental arrangement that God uses to maintain universal order. Everyone other than God himself is accountable to someone. Men are subject to Christ, children are subject to their parents, and all Christians are subject to governments. Even Jesus is subject to God.—Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:28; Ephesians 6:1.
Subjection to leadership is necessary for an orderly, stable society. Likewise, subjection to a family head is essential to building a solid, happy, peaceful family. The lack of a husband or a father in the family does not change this fact. In such families the mother assumes headship. When both parents are missing, the oldest child or another relative may take on the role of head of the house. In all cases, family members benefit when they show proper respect to the one authorized to take the lead.
The key, then, is not to reject the headship principle but, rather, to learn to exercise and view headship properly. The apostle Paul exhorts Christian husbands to be the head of their household “as the Christ also is head of the congregation.” (Ephesians 5:21-23) Paul thus points to the way Christ dealt with the congregation as the perfect standard of headship. What example did Christ set?
Although as Messiah and future King, Jesus had authority from God himself and was far more intelligent and experienced in life than his disciples, he was loving, warm, and compassionate. He was never harsh, unyielding, or overly demanding. He did not throw his weight around and constantly remind everyone that he was the Son of God. Jesus was humble, lowly in heart. As a result, ‘his yoke was kindly and his load was light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30) Therefore, he was approachable and open to reason. In fact, Paul says that Jesus loved the congregation so much that he “delivered up himself for it.”—Ephesians 5:25.
How Can One Imitate Jesus’ Headship?
How can family heads imitate Christ’s qualities? A responsible head shows concern for his family’s physical and spiritual welfare. He puts himself out by giving appropriate time and attention to their individual and collective needs. The interests of his mate and children come before his own.* (1 Corinthians 10:24; Philippians 2:4) By applying Bible principles and teachings in his daily life, the husband wins the respect and support of his wife and children. Under his loving headship, their joint efforts in coping with any problems can be successful. By thus exercising his headship in a Scriptural way, the husband is building a happy family, one that functions to God’s glory and praise.
A wise head is also humble. When necessary, he will freely apologize, even though he may find it difficult to admit that he was wrong. The Bible says that there is salvation “in the multitude of counselors.” (Proverbs 24:6) Yes, humility will also motivate a family head to listen to and actively seek the opinion of his wife and children when appropriate. By imitating Jesus, a Christian head will ensure that his headship not only brings happiness and security to his family but also honors and glorifies the Originator of families, Jehovah God.—Ephesians 3:14, 15.
Although this article primarily discusses the role of a husband and father in the family, single mothers and orphans who must care for their siblings may also benefit from the principles given to family heads.
The book The Secret of Family Happiness, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, provides practical suggestions on how to care lovingly for the family.
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A husband who is reasonable takes into account the opinions of his wife and children