Some people might claim that a wife must do what her husband says in every situation and they will site the Bible as it being the Divine order of things.

It does seem that the Bible gives authority to fathers over their wives and children but to what extent? What does the Bible say about the father's authority over the wife and the children?

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    @ConsernedAndConfused First, this is not a place for pastoral advice, but my pastoral heart cries out to you. What you express, if true, in your original edit, is a seriously warped understanding of Ephesians 5. Please, seek out a priest or pastor and talk to him. Random advice from random people on the Internet cannot substitute for a godly man who can pray with you directly. Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 2:33

2 Answers 2


Typically, the most prominent example of how "men should have authority over women" stems from Ephesians 5:22, in which Paul admonishes wives to submit to their husbands.

That said, a contextual reading will bear much fruit:

21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

In a nutshell, a few facts are pretty plain:

  1. Husbands are to love their wives

  2. Verse 21 & 22 can be read separately or independently

  3. If one is going to base a headship claim in 5:23, then one cannot ignore 5:24 - 25 without being seriously inconsistent.

Traditionally, 5:22 is often read "Wives, submit to your husbands." Note, this is not a blanket invitation to tyranny, however, as there is clearly an equal and separate obligation to the husband to love and care for his wife.

This has, especially as society at large has changed, led many theologians to read verse 21, not as a separate sentence, but as an introductory clause. In the Greek, as there is no punctuation, it is this equally possible that the text reads as follows:

Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

This concept of mutual submission in love also squares well with the general concept of all being equal before a sovereign God.

Note, however, that an understanding of "headship" is by no means universal across denominations. Even within the Catholic Church, there is a wide spectrum of understanding what exactly the rights and responsibilities of authority entail.

Regardless of the exact nature of authority, however, it is also important to understand that any right of authority is, by definition to be tempered with love. While it would be easy to point out that Ephesians 6 picks up the theme saying, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children," I'd suggest rather that there is more fruit to be had in looking at what love means.

Love, in 1 Corinthians 13, is pretty straightforward:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Even if one chooses to equate headship with authority, the fact that it is to be exercised in love should naturally proscribed certain abuses inconsistent with love in any event.

  • That was very helpful, reasonable, and insightful. Thank you. Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:51
  • Your explanation should also include Eph 6 about children.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 3:52

The Bible indicates that a father has responsibility for his household (in the sense that he will be held responsible for the good or ill that comes from how the household is run.) The Bible also contends that women should submit to their husbands, since the husband will be held responsible. The thing is that it doesn't stop there and give husbands blanket access to do whatever they want. It goes on to indicate that husbands should put themselves last and their wives and families first as their responsibility.

Thus, in a healthy household, it should be the goal of the husband to do whatever is in the best interest of their wife and family, even if it is not in his best interest. If they honestly feel that it is what is in the best interest of their family, then the Biblical expectation is that the wife will support her husband's choice since he will be held responsible for it.

It in no way indicates that a husband has free reign to lord over their spouse or that their spouse must serve their whims.

Ultimately, the purpose is a mirror of our relationship with Christ. We follow Christ because he leads us in love and seeks what is best for us. We give up our authority not because it is demanded, but because we trust Him to do what is best for us.

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