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What Does Headship in Marriage Really Mean?

What Does Headship in Marriage Really Mean?

 The Bible’s Viewpoint

What Does Headship in Marriage Really Mean?

IN MANY lands wedding ceremonies traditionally include the exchanging of vows in which the bride promises to obey her husband. Still, many women chafe at the idea of male headship in marriage. Consider what the Bible teaches about this topic. You will find that its position is balanced and practical.

Headship as Defined by God

The Bible’s basic description of headship is found at Ephesians 5:22-24: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation  . . . In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” As the “head of his wife,” the husband is to take the lead in the family, with the wife following his lead and respecting his headship.​—Ephesians 5:33.

A husband’s authority is limited by his own subjection to God and Christ. He is not empowered to direct his wife to break God’s laws or to compromise her own Bible-trained conscience. Within these limitations, however, God has assigned him the responsibility of making important decisions for the family.​—Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 11:3.

The Bible commands the husband to exercise his headship unselfishly, putting his wife’s benefit ahead of his own. Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” A husband who follows Christ’s supreme example of love rejects a self-centered exercise of headship.

Further, the Bible instructs a man to dwell with his wife “according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) This involves more than a mere awareness of the physical and emotional differences between men and women. He should gain an understanding of his wife’s needs.

“She Is Your Partner”

Does a wife’s subjection require her to be completely passive? Consider Sarah, cited in the Bible as an example of obedience to her husband, Abraham. (1 Peter 3:5, 6) She subjected herself to him in matters large and small, from leaving a comfortable home for a nomadic life in tents to preparing a meal on short notice. (Genesis 12:5-9; 18:6) In connection with a serious matter, however, she repeatedly expressed a view contrary to Abraham’s. This occurred when she wanted him to dismiss his concubine, Hagar, and his firstborn son, Ishmael, from the household. Instead of reproving Sarah, God told Abraham to “listen to her voice.” Meanwhile, Sarah continued to subject herself to Abraham by waiting for him to act instead of trying to drive out Hagar and Ishmael herself.​—Genesis 21:8-14.

Sarah’s example shows that rather than merely living in her husband’s shadow, the wife is to be her husband’s “partner,” holding a place of honor. (Malachi 2:14) As his partner, she provides valuable input concerning family decisions and is given a measure of authority in the family, often managing many household and even some financial matters. Of course, as the family head, the husband is responsible for making final decisions.​—Proverbs 31:10-31; 1 Timothy 5:14.

Respect for the Author

Jehovah God created man and woman, and he created marriage as a sacred union between them. (Genesis 2:18-24) He also specified roles for husband and wife that will bring them the greatest joy.​—Deuteronomy 24:5; Proverbs 5:18.

As the Originator of marriage, Jehovah has both the right and the ability to set standards for the marital arrangement. Marriage mates who fulfill their respective roles and follow God’s headship arrangement, not just for its practicality but also out of respect for his divine authority, receive his favor and support.


▪ Who set the perfect example of headship?​—Ephesians 5:25.

▪ Does God limit a husband’s authority?​—1 Corinthians 11:3.

▪ What is the purpose of marriage and the headship arrangement?​—Proverbs 5:18.

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Headship exercised according to Christ’s example leads to joy and satisfaction for both partners