PODCAST EXTRAS: Headship, Ephesians 5 Explained, Real Masculinity–Oh, and Elderly Parents

by | Aug 29, 2019 | Podcasts | 32 comments

Head of the Wife in Ephesians 5 Explained

What does it mean that the husband is the “head of the household”?

It’s time for a new episode of the Bare Marriage podcast! And today I thought I’d take on something a little bit controversial, and give it the attention it needs. So this one ROCKS!

I hope you all will listen, but if you don’t have time, I’ll have some links and rabbit trails below so you can read all you want as well!

And consider this podcast “extras”. If you want to go deeper into what I talked about in the podcast, here are some more things to help you.

But first, here’s the podcast:

Main Segment: Ephesians 5 Explained–What is “Head of the Wife”?

We start in by talking about how head of the house isn’t actually in Scripture, and why we should stop using the term. And then I talk about what headship really means, and what it DOESN’T mean. It’s a bit of a jaunt through two different Greek words for head (and why Paul chose the one he did), why his word choice DOESN’T mean “chain of command” or authority (though the other word he deliberately DIDN’T choose does mean that), a bit of Hebrew, and some Roman history.

Then we talk about what headship does mean, and how the idea of taking initiative and doing something when something needs to be done is a much better translation both for the Greek and for the logic of the context of several passages we’re looking at. If you’ve ever been confused by Ephesians 5, or by other passages about husbands and wives, you may really enjoy this!

When I was 16 years old, I was really struggling with my faith, because I believed that God didn’t like me as much as he liked boys. I thought, “why would God have made me smart if he didn’t want me speaking up, if he only wanted me to listen to men?” Then someone gave me some heavy duty academic books about Greek and the New Testament and women, and they literally changed my life and reinvigorated my faith and made me understand that I am precious to God, too. So I’m crystallizing all of that in just 20 minutes in this podcast to make it accessible, and I hope you like it!

If you want to read more on this, Marg Mowczo is a great resource:

Kephale and Male Headship in Paul’s Letters

By the way, I so appreciate Marg’s scholarly work, and so when I knew i was going to be in Australia, I sent her a message on Twitter and asked if we could meet up, and we did!


I’ve also written other posts about this subject through different lenses, but I encourage you to take a look at the series I did on submission last September, starting at the first post about Sarah and Abraham, and whether we’re really supposed to obey our husbands. It’s an in-depth series leading up to what God is calling women to do in marriage.

Your Weekly Challenge: Ask Your Spouse, “Have I Ever Said Something About Sex that Hurt You?”

We’ve got our second weekly challenge this week! And this one is based on two posts from earlier in the week–the first when I asked you all about this newlywed whose husband wants her to be sexier; and the second when I asked you all what things we shouldn’t tell our spouses about sex.

I couldn’t answer that question well myself because I couldn’t type. My hand was all bandaged up from a bad cut on the weekend. But I’ve got the big wrap off now and it’s much easier! So this is what I wanted to say (and what I said in the podcast):

When sharing something that may be hurtful about sex, ask yourself: Is this something that either of us can change? Will sharing this help us be able to work towards greater intimacy? Or will it just be hurtful? Am I sharing it in a constructive way and a kind way, or am I sharing it in a biting way?

There may be a reason, for instance, to tell your spouse that you’ve been faking orgasm and you really want to work on not doing that and on learning how to feel pleasure. That WILL hurt, but you have to have that conversation if you’re ever going to move towards real intimacy. Sharing that you think his penis is too small, or her breasts are too small, though, is NEVER  helpful because neither can change that. 

So do our challenge! And, if you find that you need a way to have more conversations about this, and figure out how to make sex mutual and feel intimate, work through 31 Days to Great Sex.

Do you find it hard to talk about SEX?

Want to try new things–but don’t know how to start?

No more wondering how to talk about what feels good or what you’d like to try. This fun challenge will get you talking and trying new things without the awkward.

Reader Question: How Do I Set Boundaries with My Elderly Mom?

And now for something completely different! A woman writes:


My husband and I recently moved to another state to help our kids with their new baby. My mother lived in the state that we came from. She was living independently and able to drive still and took care of herself and had people who could help her when she needed it. 

I lived a short car ride away and only saw her once a week for a few hours when we lived in the previous state. I was the last of my siblings to move away from my mom. 

When we moved, my mom decided to move with us. I wasn’t 100% on board with this but she told me “she would die if she had to stay there alone” Last month, I flew home and moved her here. She has her own condo but now she can’t find her way around (even though I have taken her places and I wrote directions for her too) She also will not reach out to people and make any connections to meet people. ( She also did this back at home) So my question is, What is the healthy way to deal with this and not let her make me feel guilty. How can I put healthy boundaries on this situation? I also want to mention she refuses to get someone to come in and help her 1-2 days a week. I also work part time and and helping my daughter with my grandbaby. She doesn’t like it where we moved to because it is different than we where we lived for 50 years. I told her it would be hard but she insisted on coming.

It’s funny, because  a few years ago I wrote a post that went really big about how senior parents owe their adult children a life, and if they need their adult children to eventually look after them, they owe it to those children to move closer to those children. So this older mom is doing exactly what I said she should do!

Yes, the mom does need to make friends, and I’d recommend this letter writer take her to some aquafit classes and seniors’ groups at churches until she feels comfortable. And yes, it’s okay to say, “I won’t be your housekeeper, Mom, so I need you to hire someone, or else realize you’ll be doing it yourself.”

But at the same time, I think you can spend some time with your mom. And she will need her daughter more as the mom gets older. She moved to care for a grandbaby who had two parents who are married. Her mom has nobody, and needs her, too. That’s valid. Involve the mom with the baby! Have the mom in for dinner. And if Mom is difficult, tell her for sure. But I think we can spend some time caring for parents who need us, and not just grandbabies who are cuter.

And get the siblings involved, too! But overall, be grateful your mom moved, because in the long run, this will be much easier.

That’s it for the podcast this week! Listen in, because it’s full of some pretty important stuff. And let me know:

Have you ever been told about the significance of the different Greek words for head? And what do you think this woman owes her mom? Let’s talk in the comments!

Podcast: What does headship in marriage really mean? A look at the Greek.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


Recent Posts

Want to support our work? You can donate to support our work here:

Good Fruit Faith is an initiative of the Bosko nonprofit. Bosko will provide tax receipts for U.S. donations as the law allows.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

PODCAST: The Sex Talk You Never Got feat. Sam Jolman

What if purity culture didn’t just steal sexual health from women, but stole it from men too? What does it mean for a man to have healthy sexuality? Today licensed counselor Sam Jolman joins us for The Sex Talk You Never Got. He's got an amazing new book out that...


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. Jane Eyre

    I can’t wait to listen to this podcast!

    One of my big issues surrounding people who get reeaally wound up about headship is: why would a man marry a woman and need her to submit?

    One of the many reasons I married my husband is because he has outstanding judgement. (That doesn’t mean we agree on everything.) If something happens to me and I’m not able to make decisions, he’s the one doing so for our family, and I’m okay with that.

    The flip side is that my decision-making affects our family, too, and if something happens to him, I’m the one running the show. Even now, I’m the one who is pregnant and who makes decisions every single day that affect the health and development of our son. (It’s a boy!) Some of those decisions are ones I run by my husband, but he’s let me take the lead on everything from researching hospitals to setting up appointments.

    Which gets me back to: if you don’t trust her judgement, and don’t admire the gifts and skills she brings to the marriage, why are you marrying her? And if you do, deep down, trust her judgement and respect her, why do you *need* to overrule her every time you don’t want to give in?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great questions, Jane! And I asked something similar in the podcast. Why do people think that a marriage–which has only two people–needs someone to make the final decision? What kind of marriage is that if you can’t agree on stuff? We’ve been married 28 years, and we’ve never had to say, “you make the decision then.” Most non-Christian marriages consult each other and respect each other, and they would find it bizarre if Christians try to explain that a marriage needs someone to make the final decision, because that’s completely not true in their experience. So it makes me wonder: how are these marriages functioning if they really do think that someone needs to break the impasse all the time? Do they have that many impasses? Or is it simply that when they disagree, they don’t even realize they should actually work it out? I don’t get it. I really don’t. It’s almost like it’s two different worlds (and that’s something I’m working on for my next book, too).

      • Becky

        My husband and I have wondered this too! We’ve seen many good examples of healthy Christian marriages, and a few not great ones. We all *say* wives should submit and husband’s should lead when we’re in Bible studies because that’s what good evangelicals say. But then every healthy marriage we know is more egalitarian. It’s just the bubble! Man have I grown to resent that bubble the last few years.

        Enjoyed your podcast- no need to keep apologizing for the Greek and Hebrew though. You explained the source article clearly (thanks for linking BTW, loved it) and its refreshing to actually be offered something substantive after many soul-crushing years of biblical womanhood studies.

  2. Nathan

    My church’s official position is that marriage is a union of equals, although not identical. Sometimes the husband might lead on some things, and other times the wife. The only exception they hold is that the husband is the SPIRITUAL leader of the household, kind of like the family pastor.

    My wife and I never had an issue with this, since neither one of us came from a household that held that the husband is in charge.

    Now I have to be completely honest with myself. Let’s say that Mrs. Nathan DID come from such a place, and agreed with it. What if she told me that she firmly believes that the husband is the final and absolute authority in a marriage, and she was duty bound by God to obey me in everything?

    Honestly, at first I’d probably love. it. I’m the king of the castle! Lord of the manor! The absolute and unquestioned maximum leader! That is, to say, at first. Over time, I would feel unfulfilled and not very happy. I want a PARTNER in my marriage, not a servant or employee.

    This has been mentioned before here and there, but the “husband is the master” theory has an unspoken assumption underneath: That men are the only TRUE children of God, and women were created to serve them. This might sound great for guys at first, but ultimately goes to a bad place.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Nathan. That’s very wise.

  3. Steph

    Sheila, Ive been following your blog for years, but I iust recently started listening to your podcast and btw, I love it! Thank you for what you do! Your blog has changed the way I think about sex and marriage in such a positive way!
    So, I grew up in strict southern Baptist family and it was no big deal to hear the man is the head of household and women need to fall in line…so sad to me now that I look back. So now, as I’ve been researching for myself, I found an article that went into depth of the context of the time and culture of whom Paul was writing and he explained that because of the context of the culture, that “headship” doesn’t apply to how we live today. It’s rather long, but if you had a chance i would love to know your thoughts about it. https://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/cultural-context-ephesians-518%E2%80%9369

    Which brings me to another question…should we be looking into the culture and context and language for all scripture? Would that mean some of those concepts like that of headship and others that have been taught for many years now wouldn’t even apply to us today? How do we reconcile that with everything being taught in the church and with how we live our lives as Christians? I hope my questions make sense.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Steph! I’ll take a look at that article.

      I believe that context is crucial. We can’t know what was actually meant unless we know how it would have been understood by those reading it. We also have to look at all of Scripture. Too often people create huge doctrines out of one verse, reading all of Scripture through one verse, when really we should be reading each verse through the lens of all of Scripture. God does not deceive, and God does not lie, so all of Scripture must tell the same story. If, for instance, Acts has women teaching, and Paul sending women to teach and Romans has Paul praising them when they do, then we have to see Paul’s prohibition of a woman teaching through that lens. Obviously Paul did not mean that women can’t teach men, since he praised his female co-workers who did. So what DID Paul mean? We must be consistent.

      And I think understanding the total aim of Scripture helps us to do that. We know that God wants us to look more and more like Christ (Romans 8:29). We know that He wants that balance of both mercy & justice, which can only be found by walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). And as we grow to look more and more like Christ, and understand that the aim of Scripture is to have God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, it helps us interpret the problematic passages. Does that make sense?

      • Steph

        Yes, it does definitely make sense! Thank you so much. Maybe this sounds wierd, but when I hear or read something that is contrary to what I was taught all of my life and even what our churches teach still today, so many alarms go off in my head. I want to be open to what God intends and says to me through His word, but WOW it is such a big adjustment to change my thought patterns when it is so different from how I was raised! I’m working on that now. It’s been a part of the process of me working out my faith..what I believe and why. The point you made about women in ministry, YES YES YES, that is what I was just talking about with my husband yesterday. But not only am I working my faith out for me personally, but I’ve got 2 teenagers that we are trying to teach and help work thru on their faith journey as well. Thank you for your focus on Jesus and healthy marriages and families.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          The work is worth it, Steph! That’s awesome. And allowing your kids to have questions is so important, too.

      • Lee Broom

        Sheila, do you offer a transcript version of your podcast, because I’m hearing-impaired and miss some of what is said in the podcast about headship…

        Thanks for what you do. I wish I would have discovered your work even sooner– I thoroughly enjoy your blog and videos, and all of it gives me much insight into my relationship and help with my marriage.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I don’t right now; I’m sorry. It’s a big cost. I would direct you to Marg Mowczko, though, because she has a ton on it!

          • Lee Broom

            Okay, thanks!

  4. Nathan

    A visiting pastor once told us that the “Women be silent in church” verse was directed at a specific church where the women would often yell out of turn, disrupt, interrupt others, etc., so that Paul was specifically telling only them to be quiet, at least when others were speaking. Not necessarily a command for women to be silent on all matters at all times

  5. Nathan

    Sheila, as an aside, I’ve been meaning to ask. Where do you get the pictures for some of your images? Are they stock pictures, or do you do your own photography? Some of the facial expressions are HILARIOUS!

  6. Keeba

    Hi Shelia! I love reading your blog (Even though at 22 years old, I may not be the target audience!) and listening to the podcast. I was so excited to see the podcast topic for this week because literally just 2 days ago I was reading through Ephesians 5, and getting confused and concerned. I prayed that God would help give me a better understanding of what is meant in these verses, and He delivered! This podcast could not have come at a better time, and I’m grateful for the wonderful explanation you gave of these complex verses. Thank you for all the wisdom and knowledge you share. I’m not married yet, but I love reading your posts to help me prepare for when I am!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I love that, Keeba! That’s cool. Thanks for letting me know and encouraging me.

  7. Meg

    Regarding the last reader question about her mum moving… It could be early onset dementia, triggered by the upheaval of the move. Especially if she’s now struggling with things she was doing normally before.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Such a good point, Meg, that definitely needs to be considered.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, absolutely. Sometimes, though, that can be temporary. Depression and anxiety can appear as dementia in older people, can’t it? And then if that is alleviated, often some of it lifts, I think. So perhaps it may be something that looks differently in a few weeks.

  8. Praying 4 Better Days

    I feel like titles can be used to abuse power. When you have a King rule over your home you automatically become his peasant…if he’s not submitting to the Lord.

    I don’t remember the exact chapter/scripture in the Bible where Samuel asks the Lord not to give the people a King to rule for them. Samuel knew as the Lord did that when you appoint a King to rule over you…he & his wants will come first. There can come an abuse of power when the King only respects himself. This isn’t a true head of household if there’s no equality there because everyone is his footstool.

    I don’t mind if a man leads.
    I don’t mind submitting to my father or husband…but it has to be for the right thing.

    But I question if the man is willing to submit to the same things he demands of his wife? If the Bible says to “Love thy neighbor as thyself & not to treat your neighbor as your footstool”…why would a man, husband or father treat the women & girls under his care like footstools. If the man of the house behaves as a king…he will see his family as servants & peasants.

    Personally I never dealt with this because my dad treated everybody the same…there was no women’s or men’s work, to him it was all just work that anybody’s hands could do. So my mom & I never felt like we had to submit to anything. My dad was our other half so he never requested or put us through things that he wasn’t willing to go thru himself.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s lovely!

  9. Madeline

    You make such a good point that its really kind’ve odd to set couples up with the assumption that you’ll frequently have such intense disagreements that you’ll essentially have to strong arm each other into decisions!

    The first big decision my husband and I had to make together was who would get to go to grad school first. We both wanted to be the one to go first! We took some time to think and pray about the decision and I realized that financially and for other reasons, it really made more sense for him to go first. My own reasons were more shallow and self-centered. I realized I was afraid of being labeled less accomplished or less intelligent somehow if I didn’t prove myself first. I know that’s a really immature motivation, but I’m afraid that’s really where my heart was.

    After I told him my own realization, I thanked him for not just pulling the “I’m the husband, I’m the leader!” card on me (I grew up with some of that). If he had made that move, I may have resented him and on top of that, I’m not sure if I had come to the self-awareness that I did. He told me that he was actually preparing to back down and let me go first because he was thinking it was his job as the husband to lay down his life for me! I honestly didn’t even think of it from that perspective.

    I think this experience showed me on a deeper level that simple answers like “you’re the wife, just submit” or “you’re the husband, just sacrifice!” don’t really help without prayer and involvement from the Spirit. In this case (and I suspect in other cases) the wife submitting and the husband sacrificing don’t actually look very different anyway!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Madeline! And it did work out so much better that you had to wrestle through it. That’s beautiful!

  10. Nathan

    Praying for better days writes
    > > there was no women’s or men’s work, to him it was all just work that anybody’s hands could do

    In one of my favorite childhood stories, a young man was going on a journey of self discovery. He met a lot of different people and engaged in their work to see what it was like. An old woman offered to teach him how to weave cloth.

    “Weaving?”, he said. “That’s WOMEN’S work!”

    Her response: ‘I’ve heard men complain about doing women’s work, and women complain about doing men’s work, but I never heard the WORK complain about who did it, as long as it got done”

  11. Misty S.

    The submission thing is a bit touchy for me. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet but I fully plan on it. I just thought I would share my story. My now ex-husband used the wives submit thing frequently. I knew if there was ever something we couldn’t come to an agreement on he had the final say. I hated it, I can be fairly strong-willed but I “submitted” because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. And when a ministry opportunity (yes he was a pastor) over seas presented itself he immediately wanted to go. I didn’t. I prayed and begged and cried. We had mentors in our lives tell us that I wasn’t wired for international ministry. We had friends tell him if I wasn’t 110% on board we shouldn’t go. Ultimately he said he got a word from the Lord that we should go. What was I supposed to do with that other than submit? I trusted him to hear from the Lord. Anyway we moved to Southeast Asia. Did God bless it? Yes. Did I get the opportunity to do some really cool things? Yes. Was I miserable the whole time? Yes, but I made the best of it because I was submitting and I refused to be miserable person. I got the chance to minister to people from all over the world. But that is also the place my ex-husband found his mistress and cheated on me for over year. It’s the place he decided what he wanted in the moment was more important than his children’s well-being and our family. It’s the place he decided to leave us. I was right, we never should have gone. Would that and happened if we never went? I don’t know, but if it did at least we would have been home with the support of family and friends when the world came crashing down around.

    God has given me my beauty for ashes, though. In July I married and wonderful man. He has plainly told me if we don’t agree that a sure sign we shouldn’t do something because he trusts my judgement more than his own. He treats me so well that I literally thought just today that I hope my daughter finds someone that treats as well as he treats me, that’s the highest praise I can imagine. God worked it all for my good just as He promises He will do. I went through a lot of pain, stress and confusion, but I’m on the other side now, happier and healthier than I have ever been.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Misty, that’s a wonderful story! I hope you listen to the podcast. I think you’ll really enjoy it!

  12. Susanna

    So is Paul only speaking of the order of creation when he invokes “man as head of woman” and “man was created first”?
    What does the one have to do with the other, if it is not the symbolism of a complementarian argument?
    I’m not trying to argue; I’m like 75% of the way to egalitarianism. But if I’m honest, the complementarians in some ways do a better job and building what seems to be an integrated theology. (Though it’s not without holes and questions, as you point out.)
    Why does Paul so often speak of “man created first,” “woman deceived, not man” if he isn’t invoking some kind of authority structure?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Susanna!

      You’re talking about a couple of different passages here that would be handled differently. The “woman was deceived” quote is from 1 Timothy 2, where it’s clear that the focus of the whole book is on false teaching. At the time that Paul was writing to Timothy, there was a lot going on regarding temple worship in Ephesus, and many of the new Christians had come out of that background. It looks like what he was attacking was an actual belief system stemming from that the said that since Eve ate the fruit, she was “above” Adam. That’s why men would have sex with temple prostitutes–because the prostitutes were closer to God. So it looks like Paul was speaking directly against that teaching. We know that he doesn’t mean that women can’t teach men at all because Priscilla taught Apollos, and Paul mentions this repeatedly in his letters. He also calls Junia an apostle, so he had women in authority in the church. All of that has to be taken in conjunction with each other.

      As for the 1 Corinthians 11 passage, again, the focus was on propriety in worship and not ruining the witness with the outside world. Marg Mowczko does a stellar job taking on that right here. Hope that helps!

  13. Tina

    I’m the Tina you Tweeted with earlier today. Thank you for taking time out to engage with me. As you could tell, I’m one of those who is extremely frustrated with the whole debate on women’s roles. I’m also an abusive church survivor. I have felt for years that everyone believes they’re right and can “prove” it by Scripture, but what do you do when people are diametrically opposed? I don’t know, it’s impossible to figure it out, and not only am I afraid of getting it wrong, I’m afraid of losing friends specifically over the issue of women’s roles.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Tina, I have lost many friends and churches over this. But you know what I’ve found? Jesus. The real Jesus. The one who loves women and laughs over us and delights in us. I’ve found the God who gifts us and values us and does not say that we exist only to live under the authority of men, but that we are free to serve Him wholeheartedly, ourselves, without a mediator.

      That is a gift that is worth everything. Keep asking the questions! I’m glad you’re here.

  14. Morgan

    Hi there, thanks for this helpful podcast and for the way you carefully work through Scripture to come to these conclusions. I did have one question regarding your interpretation of the Greek word kephale. Where do you find that it can be interpreted as “source?” Most of the other uses in the New Testament seem to be translated as “head,” as in the physical head of a person’s body, even when used metaphorically like as in Colossians 2:19. In several other instances it is translated as “chief” as in “chief cornerstone” (Mark 12:10). I’m open to the idea that it could also be translated as “source” as in the source of a river, or as an “initiator.” I am just curious where that interpretation can be found (which Greek Lexicon or other Ancient Greek sources have you found that use the word in that way?) Thank you.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *