“the apostles tell the churches that . . . the head . . . should be the husband.”
- John Piper (Desiring God 2012 Conference for Pastors)
Ahem. Actually, no they don’t . . . .
At a conference this week, John Piper was talking about masculine Christianity. And he made the above statement, which caused me to squint. Huh?
Now, I should probably qualify my thoughts by saying I love much of what John Piper has to say. I’m thinking specifically about his life-changing teaching about loving God.
But when it comes to his views on gender, he has made some statements that I must respectfully question. Why? Because he makes subtle changes when he quotes the Bible. The quote above is one of them.
We all know there’s a difference between a statement and an imperative, right? And there’s a difference between literal speech and a metaphor.
In the passage Dr. Piper is quoting, husband and wife form a head/body picture of oneness. They share the same blood and breath and life. The wife is the body; but she is not commanded to “be” the body. In the same way, the husband is the head, but he is not commanded to “be” the head. Jesus is the Door, but he doesn’t “become” the Door. In a metaphor, one thing stands for another. And in the marriage metaphor Paul lays out in Ephesians 5, he uses a beautiful metaphor of a head and a body.
Think of how interconnected a head is with a body—two shall become one. The phrase shows up in Genesis at the creation of marriage, and Paul refers back to that phrase after laying out his metaphor for marriage as a head/body interconnectedness.
Again, the husband is not, in fact, ever told to be the head. How can a human become a body part on a literal level? To do that, some make “head” a synonym for leader. But if we do that, we not only turn a unity picture into an org-chart picture, we also leave the word “body” without a synonym.
How does a wife demonstrate a corresponding bodyship to her husband? Paul actually uses an equative verb: X = Y. The head is something the husband is. It’s not what he does.
But that’s not to say Paul leaves out reference to what a husband should do. He does include an imperative—love. That’s it . . . he commands the husband to love. And Paul has in mind something different from feeling-oriented love. He does not, in fact, use the word for friendship love. He uses the word (root: agapeo) for self-sacrificing, lay-down-your-life love . . . the kind Jesus showed for His bride, the church. That’s not to say husband and wife aren’t best friends. They are in this ideal. They are one.
Paul never pairs head and submission in Ephesians. He pairs head and body; and he pairs sacrificial love and submission—because they are the actions that fit the head/body metaphor, especially in the Greek world. And they still have ramifications for us today.
The goal of marriage is not a well negotiated power structure; it’s oneness that leads to the upbuilding of the entire body in love. The thing the apostles taught that the husbands should “be” was (Paul:) full of sacrificial love, like Christ. And (Peter:) respectful and honor-granting, lest their prayers be hindered.
Originally posted on February 3, 2012.