A Defense of the Doctrine of Male Headship in the Church, Part 4

In the previous installment we discussed how sex roles were given by God at the Creation.  But my sense is that the concept of persons of equal worth and value nevertheless having different roles, with voluntary headship and submission, is a stumbling block to the contemporary Western mind.  In this part, we will go back over some of that territory adding in examples from the Godhead and the unfallen angels.

The Divine Principle of Role Differentiation Among Equals

           A.  In the Godhead

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not only equal, they are all one being (Deut. 6:4; John 10:30; 12:45; 14:9). God the Son has existed from eternity (Micah 5:2; John 1:1-3) along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Yet despite the inherent equality of all three members of the Godhead, God the Son has submitted to God the Father to do the Father's will. Christ stated that he sought not his own will “but the will of my Father who sent me” (John 5:30). “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me,” said Christ (John 8:28). Hence Paul can say, “The head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).

God the Son, although He was God, and equal with God the Father, “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-11). “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me. Nevertheless, not what I will but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). “Remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus' submission to the Father extends into eternity, even after the sin problem has been resolved:

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. . . . Now when it says that 'everything' has been put under Him [the Son], it is clear that this does not include God himself [the Father] who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to Him [the Father] who put everything under Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

Not only does the Son's submission to the father extend into the future, it has always existed. The plan of salvation was always in the mind of God. The Son is the Lamb of God who was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 14:8).

The plan for our redemption was not an afterthought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam. It was a revelation of “the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal.” Rom. 16:25. It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God's throne. GC 22

The Father's response to the Son's willing submission—even unto the death of the cross—is to exalt the Son: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

The principles revealed by the incarnation and death of God the Son—including the submission of the Son to the Father notwithstanding that both are God and both co-eternal—have always been “the foundation of God's throne” (GC 22).  Since Adam and Eve were made in the image of God, we would expect that these principles will be revealed in their relationship, as well.

           B.  In the Angelic Hosts

The angels are created beings that rank below the Godhead but higher than man (Heb. 2:7).  There are different orders of angels. We know that covering cherub is the highest order, because, “Satan was of the highest order of angels” (3SG 36). Though angels are equal in worth, they are not identical. We are told that some are taller (EW 168) and some excel in strength (AA 154.2; Psalm 103:20).

The angels have different roles and different posts of duty:

The very highest angels in the heavenly courts are appointed to work out the prayers which ascend to God for the advancement of the cause of God. Each angel has his particular post of duty, which he is not permitted to leave for any other place. Ellen White, SDA Bible Commentary 4:1173; Lift Him Up, 370.

The angels are organized somewhat like an army, with ranks and orders of angels, and a chain of command.  Each company of angels has “a tall commanding angel” as its leader:

Many companies of holy angels, each with a tall commanding angel at their head, were sent to witness the scene . . . . It was difficult for the angels to endure the sight [of the scourging of Jesus]. They would have delivered Jesus, but the commanding angels forbade them. . . . There was commotion among the angels [when Jesus was insulted at His trial]. They would have rescued Him instantly; but their commanding angels restrained them. Ellen White, Early Writings, 167-170.

There is no sin among the holy angels of God, and thus no need for force, compulsion, or punishment in the angelic host. But the angels submit to those in authority over them (the “commanding angels”) out of love for each other, for God, and for God's harmonious government. Their society reflects a voluntary headship and submission within the atmosphere of heaven, in a fellowship untainted by sin.  It is thus logical to expect that there would be voluntary headship and submission in the human race, even before sin.

           C.  In the Human Race

In God's creation of the human race, we see the same pattern of role differentiation among equals.

First, we see the ontological or created equality of Adam and Eve.  Both male and female are created in the image of God.  “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27).  That Eve was created from Adam's rib is significant in showing ontological or created equality: “Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him” (PP 46).

Second, we see role differentiation indicated by the different order and manner of their creation. Adam was created first from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). That Adam was created first is significant in inferring role differentiation (1 Tim. 2:13). Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden and told to tend and care for it (Gen. 2:8, 15). He was also told about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and instructed not to eat from it (Gen. 2:16-17). Because all of this happened before Eve was created, we infer that Adam had the primary responsibility for tending the garden and for avoiding sin and the temptation to sin.

Eve was created for Adam, to be his helper and companion: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). Eve was created as an ezer kenegdo, a helper “suitable” to Adam, meaning like him or comparable to him (Gen. 2:18). This phrase includes both equality (kenegdo = like him or comparable to him) and role differentiation (ezer = helper).  A helper does not have the primary responsibility for the task she is helping to perform; rather, the primary responsibility remains with the person being helped.

That Eve was created for Adam as his helper is significant in inferring role differentiation: “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:9). And that eve was created from Adam's rib is significant not only in inferring created equality, as Ellen White points out, but also in inferring role differentiation: “For man is not from woman, but woman from man.” (1 Cor. 11:8).

Paul states that these creational differences between men and women are why women should wear a symbol of being under authority: “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10).

But the Apostle is careful and quick to add that the woman’s submissive role does not undo or nullify the created equality of the sexes: “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12).

The creation narrative shows that Adam and Eve were created equal in value and worth, but with complementary roles. The leadership role of Adam, and the complementary submissive role of Eve, are indicated by the following facts: 1) Adam was created first; 2) Adam was given primary responsibility for the garden; 3) Adam was given primary responsibility for avoiding the tree of knowledge of good and evil; 4) Adam was given the task of naming the animals (Gen. 2:19-20); 5) Eve was created out of Adam; 6) Eve was created as a helper for Adam; and 7) Adam spoke first upon the creation of Eve and named Eve (Gen. 2:23).

The role differentiation between Adam and Eve in Eden, like the role differentiation in heaven, was part of the sinless created order.  Role differentiation is not a result of sin.

 D. The Fall

A role reversal between Adam and Eve, in which Eve was assertive and dominant while Adam was passive and submissive, led directly to the Fall. This reversal of roles can be seen in the narrative of Genesis 3. Eve left her husband's side, presuming that she had sufficient wisdom and strength on her own to discern and resist any evil (PP 53-54). Independent of Adam, Eve dialogued with the serpent, taking it upon herself to deal alone with this intruder into the garden. Then Eve, without consulting Adam, took the fruit and ate it (Gen. 3:1-6), later taking some to Adam and urging him to eat of it (Gen. 3:6; PP 56). In passive submission to Eve's enthusiastic directive, Adam ate the forbidden fruit.

Ellen White states that Eve overstepped her assigned sphere in those fateful actions leading up to the Fall of mankind:

Eve had been perfectly happy by her husband's side in her Eden home; but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her. In attempting to rise above her original position, she fell far below it. A similar result will be reached by all who are unwilling to take up cheerfully their life duties in accordance with God's plan (PP 59).

But Adam bore ultimate responsibility for allowing Eve to usurp his leadership role. Before Eve was even created, Adam had been warned of the forbidden fruit and charged to avoid eating it. Thus, it was clearly Adam's responsibility to exercise leadership regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He knew or should have known that he was not at liberty to yield to his wife on this matter. Accordingly, in pronouncing sentence upon him, God rebuked Adam for surrendering his leadership responsibility to Eve: “Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit from the tree . . .” (Gen. 3:17)

 E.      After the Fall

After the Fall, God pronounced a sentence of male “rulership,” something beyond leadership or headship, and more severe: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).

This explicit decree of rulership does not mean that there was no implicit headship and submission prior to the Fall. Adam and Eve had complementary roles before the Fall, roles that were part of the created order. But in the absence of sin, the role differentiation between Adam and Eve would have been like that seen in the Godhead or among the holy angels; it would have been willing, loving submission among equals, with no hint of disharmony, strife or compulsion. Before the entrance of sin, Adam was not called upon to “rule over” Eve; he was created to be her loving protector, as she was created to be a helper suitable for him.  

 Frequently Asked Questions:

 1.  Aren’t the three Persons of the Godhead mutually submissive to one another?

We do not read anywhere in the inspired writings about “mutual submission” among members of the Godhead. While Scripture describes the Father and the Son as equal (John 1:1-3; Phil. 2:5-8; Col. 2:9), the submission of the Son to the Father is clear, even from before the creation of the earth. The Father is declared to have created all things through His Son (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). It is the Father who has “chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). It is the Father who has predestined us “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). It is the Father who sends the Son into the world to make possible humanity’s salvation (John 3:16-17; 17:18).

Before returning from earth to His Father in heaven, Christ declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18); this authority was given by the Father because of the Son’s triumph over sin and death. The seating of Christ at His Father’s right hand following Christ’s ascension (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22) is also indicative of the Father’s supreme authority. To be seated at the right hand of a monarch in the ancient world meant that the one thus honored was second in authority. The Father entrusts judgment to the Son: “the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). In each of the above passages it is the Father who is giving authority to the Son and is acting through the Son. We never read that the Son acts through the Father.

The relationship of the Holy Spirit to Christ offers further evidence of order within the Godhead. While the Son is subject to the Father, the Spirit is subject to the Son. Just as the Father sends the Son into the world (John 3:16-17; 17:18), so the Son sends the Spirit into the world from the Father (John 14:26; 15:26). The Spirit “shall not speak of Himself” (John 16:13), but of Christ. While the Son’s mission was to reveal and glorify the Father (John 14:9; 17:4), the Spirit is to reveal and glorify the Son (John 15:26; 16:14).

Among the persons of the Godhead—who are co-eternal, equal in being, equal in personhood (and obviously sinless)—there nevertheless exists an order of authority and diversity of responsibility.


2.  In Gen. 2:18, Eve is called Adam's “ezer,” which is Hebrew for “helper” and is often used to describe God.  Does this mean that Eve was like God to Adam?

No. The passage says, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’.” (Gen 2:18).

The Hebrew term “ezer” suggests neither superiority nor inferiority; it simply means one who comes to the aid, help, or assistance of another when help is needed.  God often comes to our aid, and is often our helper when we need Him.  But although those who help us are acting in a godly manner, it obviously is not true that everyone who helps us is our head as God is our head. A helper can be in authority over the person helped, as when a father helps his son with his homework, or under the authority of the person helped, as when a son helps in his father's business. 

But while the helper may or may not be in authority over the helpee (so to speak), the term does indicate role differentiation, proving that Eve's role was not the same as Adam's role.  A helper is not the one primarily responsible for the task.  When a father helps his son with the son's homework, it remains the son's responsibility to complete his homework and turn it in; likewise, when a son helps his father in his father's business, the business remains the father's responsibility. 

In the case of Adam and Eve, Eve was created to be Adam's helper, implying that the task of being vice-regent of planet earth was Adam's responsibility, and Eve was to assist him.  In other words, Eve was created for Adam: “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”  1 Cor. 11:9.