The basic principle of headship is set out at 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.”
The first part of this counsel on headship applied to the man; he is not independent and without need to recognize a “head.” Rather, he is obliged to follow the directions and pattern provided by his head Christ. (1 John 2:6) This is so, not only in regard to his religious activities (Matt. 28:19, 20), but also in his personal activities. For instance, if he is a family man, then out of respect for his own head, Christ, he should comply with the counsel to dwell with his wife according to knowledge, ‘assigning her honor as to a weaker vessel,’ and he should put forth an earnest effort to train his children properly. (1 Pet. 3:7; Eph. 6:4) This counsel was provided in the Bible for all in Christ’s congregation; so respect for headship is involved in a man’s heeding it.—Eph. 5:23.
As man had priority in human creation, he is given priority of position over the woman. (1 Tim. 2:12, 13) The woman was made from a rib taken from the man, and was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. (Gen. 2:22, 23) She was created for the sake of the man, not the man for her sake. (1 Cor. 11:9) Therefore, the woman, in God’s arrangement for the family, was always to be in subjection to her husband and was not to usurp his authority. (Eph. 5:22, 23; 1 Pet. 3:1) Also, in the Christian congregation the woman is not to teach other dedicated men nor to exercise authority over them.—l Tim. 2:12.
Among the Hebrews of ancient times the superior position occupied by the man in the family and in the tribal arrangement was recognized. Sarah was submissive, calling Abraham “lord,” and is favorably mentioned for this recognition of his headship. (Gen. 18:12; 1 Pet. 3:5, 6) Under the Law covenant the preferred position of the male was emphasized. Only the males were required by command to assemble for the three festivals of Jehovah at the place that God chose, although women also attended. (Deut. 16:16) The woman was ceremonially “unclean” twice as long after the birth of a baby girl as after that of a baby boy.—Lev. 12:2, 5.
In ancient times, there were circumstances under which a woman put on a head covering to denote subjection. (Gen. 24:65) Discussing the headship arrangement in the Christian congregation, the apostle Paul explained that, if a woman prays or prophesies in the congregation, occupying a position God has assigned to the man, she should have on a head covering. In temporarily doing these things because no dedicated male Christian is present to do them, even though she may have long hair, the woman should not argue that her long hair is sufficient to denote her subjection. Instead, she should let her own actions demonstrate her submissiveness and her acknowledgment of man’s headship. The Christian woman does this by wearing a head covering as a “sign of authority.” This should be done “because of the angels,” who observe the Christian’s actions and who are concerned with the Christian congregation as those ministering to it. By wearing a head covering when necessary for spiritual reasons, the Christian woman acknowledges God’s headship arrangement.—1 Cor. 11:5-16; Heb. 1:14.
This proper theocratic order in the congregation and in the family arrangement does not hinder the woman in serving God nor restrict or trammel her efforts in carrying out her family activities and responsibilities. It allows her full and Scriptural freedom to serve in her place, while still being pleasing to God in harmony with the principle: “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased.” (1 Cor. 12:18) Many women of ancient times had fine privileges while recognizing the headship of the man and enjoyed happy and satisfying lives, among these being Sarah, Rebekah, Abigail, and Christian women such as Priscilla and Phoebe.
The exercise of authorized headship grants certain rights, but it also involves duties or obligations. ‘Christ is head of the congregation’ and so has the right to make decisions involving it and demonstrate authority over it. (Eph. 5:23) But his headship also obliges him to accept the duty of caring for the congregation and bearing responsibility for his decisions. In a similar manner a husband in exercising his headship has certain rights as far as making final decisions and providing oversight. In addition, though, he has the duty to accept responsibility for his family. He has the primary obligation to provide materially and spiritually for his household.—1 Tim. 5:8.
The Christian man is to exercise his headship wisely, loving his wife as himself. (Eph. 5:33) Jesus Christ exercises his headship over the Christian congregation in this manner. (Eph. 5:28, 29) As head over his children, a father is not to irritate them, but is to bring them up “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) And as shepherds of the flock of God, “older men” in the Christian congregation are not to lord it over God’s “sheep,” but are to remember their subjection to Jesus Christ and Jehovah God. (1 Pet. 5:2-4) Jesus Christ has always acted in accord with the headship principle, manifesting full recognition of his Father’s headship in word and deed. Even after ruling the earth for a thousand years, he will acknowledge Jehovah’s universal headship by handing the Kingdom over to Jehovah, subjecting “himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.” (1 Cor. 15:24-28; John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 14:28; Phil. 2:5-8) Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, also acknowledge Jehovah’s supreme headship, addressing their prayers to him and recognizing him as Father and God Almighty.—Matt. 6:9; Rev. 1:8; 11:16, 17; see FAMILY; HUSBAND.