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“What is the ‘Headship Principle’?”


Pastors Answer Frequently-Asked Questions

If I started by telling you what it is, you might not read anything that follows. So let’s start by explaining its purpose and place in God’s plan.

Near the end of Genesis 1, Moses writes, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”
(v. 27). The last phrase makes one thing perfectly clear: men are not women. Or, if you prefer, women are not men. Adam did not marry a carbon copy of himself. Eve was like him in some ways, but she was very much unlike him in others. This was by design. When he awoke from his sleep, Adam could praise God that she was “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). He could also praise God that she was much, much different than he. Husband and wife not only complemented one another, they completed each other. They were the perfect match, courtesy of God’s brilliant design.

Both were equal before God. After the Fall, both stood under the condemnation of God’s Law for their sin. Both were included in the promise of a Savior. They were each responsible for their own sins. But who was responsible for them together? If the two became one flesh, then one is responsible, not as a matter of rank but as a matter of order. That one, as you can see from Genesis 3:9-11, was Adam.

After the Fall, Adam and Eve were still equal before God. The Bible says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Men and women are equally loved, equally redeemed, and equally saved.

And yet, the differences from Eden remain. Only now, they are distorted by sin. So far have we fallen, that no baby—boy or girl—enters this life with a clear understanding of the opposite sex, or of the God-pleasing roles in marriage. Thankfully, the Lord not only resolves the problem of our sin, He also reveals His will in Scripture. See for yourself in Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:17-19, and 1 Peter 3:1-7. God’s plan? Men are commanded to love their wives. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.

The word “submit” is the lightning rod for modern critics, but in Scripture it is both common and good. It is a military term that means to follow the lead of another. This does not mean that husbands bark out commands and their wives fall in line. It can’t mean that, because husbands are commanded to love their wives, “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). To eliminate all doubts, the Spirit adds, “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephesians 5:28-29).

The love of Christ is the game-changer, as always. This is the husband’s motive for leading his wife in love. This is her motive for submitting to his lead. It is still a brilliant plan that recognizes the important differences between them.

The headship principle is also the submission principle. It is not about rank or inequality, but about roles and responsibilities. It is the way that redeemed husbands and wives function as God originally intended. The world bristles and objects, but that’s what the world does with our Savior, as well.

If you have further questions on this topic, please talk to your pastor. He’s called as your spiritual shepherd and will be happy to study and apply Scripture with you.

James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.