Does the Bible Say a Husband is the Head of the Wife?

Over the course of many years of using inductive logic to explain difficult Biblical concepts, the most frequent concern voiced by wives is their husband’s use of a couple of Bible verses. The men use them in an attempt to take control of the family and be the ultimate authority having the deciding votes on every contested issue.  Those verses are:

  1. Gen 3:16: To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your grief and suffering in pregnancy and the pangs of child-bearing; with spasms of distress you shall bring forth children; yet your desire and craving shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Amp Bible).
  2. 1 Peter 3:1: “In like manner married women, be submissive to your own husbands – subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them …” (Amp Bible).
  3. Eph 5 :22-24: “Wives, be subject – be submissive and adapt yourselves – to your own husbands as a service to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, Himself Savior of His body. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.” (Amp Bible)
  4. 1 Cor 11: 3, 8-10: “But I want you to know and realize that Christ is the head of every man, the head of the woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” … “For man was not created from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created on account of and for the benefit of woman, but woman on account of and for the benefit of man. Therefore, she should have a covering on her head as a token to authority       …”. (Amp Bible)


But is this what the Bible is really saying? How can those verses be true and the following ones be true at the same time.

  1. God created men and women equally (Gen 1:27).
  2. God is the Father of all; there is one body and one Spirit for all (husbands and wives). (Eph 4:1-7)
  3. In God’s sight, there is no difference between males and females (husbands and wives) when they become Christians (Gal 3: 27-29)
  4. All men (and women) are free. (John 8:36)
  5. All (including men and women) are equal in one body. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

So, what explanation harmonizes all the above verses allowing them to be simultaneously true? The answer comes by understanding what is meant by the word “head”, the word “submit”, and God’s Genesis decree.


Let’s examine “head” first. Since looking up definitions in a dictionary has succumbed to Google, for fun, I copied the definition of “head” from a Webster’s dictionary:




Note, there are 39 different definitions for “head”. The problem with the English language is we often must understand the context in which a word is being used to know the correct definition. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help in this case.  Consequently, most men arbitrarily pick definition 14 and 15 above; the leader.  After all, they conclude, when there is disagreement between a husband and wife, someone must make the final decision.

Those folks miss the fact people in successful marriages understand if a husband and wife can’t agree, then the decision is not made. Or better yet, it is changed in a way both partners can “buy-into” the final outcome, even if neither prefer it.

But, which definition does the Bible really mean? The Greek word used by Paul, “kaphale”, helps little with this dilemma, for it only has one definition; not leader, but “the top part of the body of mankind”. Fortunately, we know a husband is not the top part of a woman (sitting on her shoulders).  So what other definition fits the entire context.  The only sensible one is definition 11 above; “head-waters or source”.  Paul is saying a husband is to be the source or headwaters of his wife.  He is to be the origin of faith, love, financial stability, protection, encouragement, inspiration, and every other important aspect of a marriage.


Now consider what was being meant by the word “submission”.

Understand, at the time of Paul and Peter’s writing, the law of the Roman Empire gave a husband absolute authority over his wife. His word was law, so he could make any decision concerning her.  He even had the legal right to kill her.  It was not murder … she obviously deserved it.

If a wife already was required to submit to her husband, what was Paul trying to teach? The key is in the Greek word Paul uses “hupotassomeni”.  It means to mutually be obligated to one another, as a reciprocal duty.  It does not mean the presence of some external pressure (such as a husband’s demands), but an internal prompting.

Paul was NOT trying to make a woman submit to her husband; submission was already required. He was trying to make men submit to their wives.  His point was that these husbands who had complete authority over their wives should now enter into a mutual agreement where they would love their wives as Christ loved the church and died for her, while their wives would return a reciprocal love.  Both should do this through the internal prompting of the Holy Spirit.


The last concept to be addressed is Gen 3:16. This verse describes a sentence (punishment) for a sin committed, not a God given directive for the hierarchy of a family.

With the understanding of these three concepts, the explanation is complete.

Husbands are to be the source or head-waters in the marital union (not the leader or ultimate authority). And, BOTH husbands and wives are to mutually submit to each other prompted by the Holy Spirit. When wives have accepted Christ (are born again), they are no longer under God’s curse (the original sin has been forgiven) and the penalty (punishment) of having a husband rule over her is removed.

Understanding the definition of the word “head”, knowing what “submission” means, and realizing the removal of God’s punishment for Eve’s sin changes everything. The once troubling Bible verses about a man’s relation to his mate and the clear teaching God sees no difference between men and women can now be perfectly harmonized.

God’s flawless plan changes the common belief about marriage hierarchy.  The true Biblical, spousal order is the husband is to be the originator of all significant aspects of their union, while both husband and wife are to yield to each other as the Holy Spirit prompts them.