“The Head of A Woman is the Man” – Study 2021/06
“The head of a woman is the man.” 1 Corinthians 11:3.
[Study 6 from ws 2/21 p.8, April 12 – April 18, 2021]
For all the many years the author was a Witness, he understood this scripture to be referring to headship in the congregation and in the marriage. But is that the correct understanding? That is the important issue that needs examining here, as that is the teaching the Organization perpetuates here.
The Status Quo, and Whose Fault is it?
Paragraph 4 really highlights an issue that God warned would be a future problem among imperfect humans. He said that women’s cravings would be for their husbands and that husbands would dominate their wives. But this was not God’s doing, it was the result of the sinful course that Adam and Eve took. (Genesis 3:16b).
The result is that for example in the United States, “women were constantly told that they must be equal to men in everything.”. By contrast, in parts of South America ““men eat first and women second. Little girls are expected to cook and clean, but little boys are served by their mother and sisters, and they are told that they are ‘king of the house.’”. While in Asia “language there is a saying that implies that women do not need to be intelligent or to have abilities. Their role is to do all the housework, but they are not allowed to express any opinions to their husband.”. (paragraph 4)
In the author’s personal experience the attitudes in these various cultures have penetrated the Organization only too readily. Its effect can be found in how wives (and women in general) are treated by husbands (and men in general).
The issue at the heart of the matter for many of these countries is the twisting of the teaching of the scriptures. We need to reinvestigate as to what God and in particular Christ and the Apostles teach about the relationship between men and women and in particular within the marriage arrangement. With that in mind, let us take a closer look at some of the teachings from the Watchtower Study article.
A Closer look at 1 Timothy 5:8
Paragraph 6 states “As mentioned in the preceding article, Jehovah expects Christian husbands to care for the spiritual, emotional, and material needs of their family. (1 Tim. 5:8)”.
When we examine the actual Greek of this text of 1 Timothy 5:8[i] we find this scripture has been taken completely out of context by the Organization, although the principle does still apply albeit qualified.
Why do we say this?
For a start, husbands are not mentioned in the context. Let us look at the text with bold added [ours] to keywords. “If now anyone [someone] does not provide for one’s own[ii] [belongings, one’s own people, one’s own family, home, property], and especially their own household, that one has denied the faith and that one is worse than an unbeliever.” [Author’s translation][iii]. Compare with New Living Translation “But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.”. See also New International Version, Contemporary English Version, Good News Translation.
This scripture is therefore applying family neglect to all members of the family. We need to remember it was written in the context of the need to look after widows. 1 Timothy 5:4 mentions that the children or grandchildren of the widow should look after their mother or grandmother. If the woman was a widow and destitute and no offspring alive, then the congregation would step in and look after her. However, the Apostle Paul was emphasizing that those family members who had a widowed elderly parent or grandparent should be looking after these ones themselves rather than expecting the congregation to pick up the burden. Those needing to look after the elderly widows\widowers or grandparents could be either male or female. The one being looked after could be male or female. It is a misapplication of scripture to suggest that the Apostle Paul was specifically referring to a husband looking after his family. However, the principle does still apply. In fact, the principle also applies to wives as they would also equally need to look after their own family. Additionally, it would also extend to adult grandchildren looking after grandparents and adults looking after their elderly parents.
If you ask most Witnesses husbands, you will probably find that on the basis of their understanding of this scripture (1 Timothy 5:8) as taught by the Organization, that most believe they are personally responsible for teaching spiritual things to their children. Indeed, they, especially if elders, will be of the view that for the wife instead of the husband to study with the children would be a shirking of their responsibility and headship. This is dangerous because in doing so the Organization has taken away the authority of the husband and wife to decide what is best and most practical for their family.
You will see what this viewpoint leads to in the examination of paragraph 21 below.
A Closer look at Ephesians 5:22-24
Paragraph 8 claims “A Christian wife chooses to be in subjection to her husband because that is what Jehovah asks of her. (Read Ephesians 5:22-24.)”. But what kind of subjection does Jehovah ask of a Christian wife? Furthermore, is it exactly the kind of subjection indicated by the Organization? Let us examine the context and the Greek text a little more closely.
A key verse is omitted in the read section, the verse immediately prior. That is Ephesians 5:21 which reads: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” [NIV, NLT, BSB, BLB, NKJV, NASB]. Therefore, we cannot read Ephesians 5:22-23 in isolation and be sure of drawing the correct conclusions. Like so many verses of the Bible, any section needs to be understood in its context first. Here the whole section of Ephesians 5:22-33 should be understood in the context of verse 21. Verse 21 is stating that everyone should submit to everyone else. In doing so they will show respect and reverence for Christ. Therefore, this would naturally include suggesting that husbands should also be in subjection to their wives, just as much as the often-repeated verse 22 that suggests that wives be in subjection to their husbands.
Furthermore, a closer examination of the text of Ephesians 5:22 reveals that “[likewise] the wives to their own husbands, in the manner [they are] to the Lord”. That means that a wife would show the submission she has to Christ to her husband as well. Not, as suggested by the Organization and other Christian religions teach, the other way round, that is, being in subjection to their husbands, because Christ specifically tells the wives to be in submission.
Whether the Greek word “kephale” translated as head, here means head, or metaphorically, the source of life, in the verses that follow does not matter. What is certain is that it does not mean authority or ruler. So, when the Apostle Paul goes on to say that “for the husband is “kephale” of the wife as also Christ is “kephale” of the congregation, He himself being Saviour of the body”, this passage of scripture does not give evidence of headship as practiced by the world. It also does not give support for what is taught in most Christian religions, nor what is taught and expected among Jehovah’s Witnesses. How is Christ the head of the congregation? Ephesians 5:23 makes it clear because Christ is the savior of the Congregation, the carer of it, its life-giver. That is an act of giving and protecting, not ruling, and having the last word in everything. That caring Christ-like attitude is far from the principle of headship as taught by the Organization.
Light from Examining the actions of the Originator of Marriage.
Back in the Garden of Eden, how did God, the one who instituted marriage, speak to Eve? God did not speak to Eve through Adam. Neither did he ask Adam’s permission to speak directly to Eve. Rather God asked Eve directly and she replied directly. He treated her respectfully and as an individual responsible for her own actions. God treated her no differently from Adam. (see Genesis 3:13 and context).
Remember Genesis 2:18 records Jehovah God as saying, “I am going to make a helper for him [Adam] as a complement of him”. The word helper does not indicate subjection, and a complement (or suitable,) means in front of, in sight of, opposite to, (i.e. separate, different). It does not mean she was subject or inferior to Adam.
Yet today, in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the wife is still effectively viewed as under the control of the husband in a Victorian, verging on Medieval attitude at times.
How then are we to understand what the Apostle Paul wrote in this passage in Ephesians 5:21-24? Based on the above findings, it makes more sense that the husband takes the lead, just as Christ leads the congregation, by setting the example. The wife then willingly co-operates. It should not be the husband exercising control and authority that the wife has to be subject too.
A Capable Wife, who can find her?
Bluntly stating the truth of the matter, for certain, no true Jehovah’s Witnesses husband will have a capable Wife, Why. because a husband who follows exactly the Organizations teachings on husband-wife relationships will not allow his wife to be capable in the way described in Proverbs.
We can see that in the suggestion that “a wise husband will entrust his wife with a measure of authority” (paragraph 14). In the context and sense given in the Watchtower study article, this teaching is not a Biblical viewpoint. How can we be sure it is not? The study article continues on and suggests that “Describing the role of a capable wife, God’s Word says that she can oversee a household, buy and manage property, and negotiate financial transactions. (Read Proverbs 31:15, 16, 18.)”. This is such a subtle, but wrong twist of the meaning of Proverbs 31. In the context of the paragraph, “she can” is suggesting the husband can choose whether or not to give her permission to do so. Yet, the passage in Proverbs suggests nothing of the kind.
In fact, it clearly says in Proverbs 31:11 that “In her the heart of the husband safely trusts …” and that “A capable wife who can find?” A wife does not become capable and trusted by being under the thumb of her husband, subject to his every whim. She cannot learn and practice management of property and how to negotiate financial transactions and have the trust of her husband if she has to ask her husband to as a minimum, rubber-stamp every suggestion she may make on these matters. Rather the very question raised in Proverbs 31:11, “A capable wife who can find?” in fact suggests the wife is capable before he marries her, and the husband benefits from such a marriage, and she can continue acting as such a capable person after her marriage. There is no suggestion made in this chapter of Proverbs of any control by her husband. On the contrary, Proverbs 31:16 tells us “She has considered a field and proceeded to obtain it”. This suggests an autonomous action on the part of the wife. In fact, Proverbs 31:23 appears to infer that such a wife is so capable that the Israelite husband is able to leave her to her own devices, confident she will care for responsibilities so well. That enables him to spend much time assisting the community by sitting down with the older men at the city gates.
How would Abigail fare today?
Paragraph 16 mentions the example of Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Long before the author awoke to the truth about the truth, it was clear to him that a modern-day Abigail would not be tolerated in most congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Looking at the account particularly in 1 Samuel 25:14-19, she clearly went against what she knew would be her husband’s wishes. The servants were too afraid to do that themselves although they felt they should. Abigail did not ask her husband’s permission for her actions. She knew she had to act immediately for the welfare of herself and her servants, and she did so. She had a mind and a conscience of her own, and she acted. How many Witness wives today would have the courage of their own convictions and listen to their own conscience to do this today? The author would posit that only a very few would.
Decisions between husband and wife
Paragraph 17 suggests that “Similarly, a wise husband will carefully consider his wife’s views when important decisions are to be made.”. Why should not important decisions be made jointly? Important decisions would likely affect both husband and wife, both living with the consequences. So, why should they not be able to come to an agreement and both be responsible for that decision? The author is not aware of any Bible verse that states or suggests that the husband should have the final say, overruling his wife’s opinions.
Paragraph 19 is laughable. It states “A submissive Christian wife, however, will not support her husband if he asks her to violate Bible laws or principles. Suppose, for example, that a sister’s unbelieving mate tells her to lie, to steal, or to engage in some other unscriptural conduct. All Christians, including married sisters, owe their first allegiance to Jehovah God. If a sister is asked to violate Bible principles, she should refuse, explaining in a kind but firm way why she cannot do what he is asking. Acts 5:29.”.
Why is the example of an unbelieving husband always the one given? Is it only an unbelieving husband that would ask a Christian wife to lie, or steal or engage in some other unscriptural conduct? Why does it include the word “unbelieving” as if only a non-Witness husband would ask such a thing? What if it is a Witness husband who does so? Should she not disobey her Witness husband in the same situation as well?
In the author’s experience, the unbelieving husbands of Witness sisters he knew, all had good morals and were unlikely to tell them to lie or steal, etc. However, the same cannot be said of a number of Witness husbands the author knows who actually have deliberately slandered, lied, stolen. Furthermore these Witness husbands have then obliged or tried to oblige their Witness wives to take the same actions.
The final issue to highlight (although there are still others which could be highlighted) is Paragraph 21 which claims “Of course, even if the wife is better educated than her husband, it is his responsibility to take the lead in family worship and in other theocratic activities.—Ephesians 6:4”.
Once again, this is another scripture taken out of context and interpreted in the light of the Organization’s non-Biblical view of the husband-wife relationship. Based on a correct understanding of 1 Timothy 5:8 and Ephesians 5:21-24, this decision should be decided by the couple themselves. They know who is best fitted to teach the children and perhaps who has the more time available to teach the children. Any team, worth its salt, would agree and choose the best team member for any particular task. Why should the marriage of two complements be any different? A thorough search of the Bible reveals it does not prescribe the roles of husband and wife in the manner that the Organization would have us believe.
All-in-all a sadly misguided study article that will cause untold damage to families if put into practice. Do not let yourself be one of those families because you are not prepared to study the Bible for yourselves and start to discern God’s true requirements for the relationship between husband and wife.
[iii] It is the author’s opinion here, based on context, that while most Bible scholars translate this verse with “he”, “his”, there is no male mentioned to fill the reference to “he” or “his”. Therefore, it must be referring to all mankind as a “he” in the generic sense, rather than to a man\men in the male sense. It should therefore be better translated “anyone”, or “one’s”. At least four Modern English translations on Biblehub.com agree with the author’s understanding.