For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:23-26)
Today we discuss a doctrine that is hotly contested in the Church. It is the matter of headship. Numerous books have been written on this subject, much internet “ink” has been spilled, and I wonder whether I have anything new to contribute.
The fact of the matter is that I don’t.
So, I am left with what I can do: interpret the text with the aid of Reformed men who have come before me and thought deeply on this passage of Scripture.
For the husband is the head of the wife. This is the reason assigned why wives should be obedient. Christ has appointed the same relation to exist between a husband and a wife, as between himself and his church. This comparison ought to produce a stronger impression on their minds, than the mere declaration that such is the appointment of God. Two things are here stated. God has given to the husband authority over the wife; and a resemblance of this authority is found in Christ, who is the head of the church, as the husband is of the wife.
And he is the savior of the body. The pronoun HE (autos) is supposed by some to refer to Christ; and, by others, to the husband. It applies more naturally, in my opinion, to Christ, but still with a view to the present subject. In this point, as well as in others, the resemblance ought to hold. As Christ rules over his church for her salvation, so nothing yields more advantage or comfort to the wife than to be subject to her husband. To refuse that subjection, by means of which they might be saved, is to choose destruction. – Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 5:23)
25. Husbands, love your wives. From husbands, on the other hand, the apostle requires that they cherish toward their wives no ordinary love; for to them, also, he holds out the example of Christ, — even as Christ also loved the church. If they are honored to bear his image, and to be, in some measure, his representatives, they ought to resemble him also in the discharge of duty.
And gave himself for it. This is intended to express the strong affection which husbands ought to have for their wives, though he takes occasion, immediately afterwards, to commend the grace of Christ. Let husbands imitate Christ in this respect, that he scrupled not to die for his church. One peculiar consequence, indeed, which resulted from his death, — that by it he redeemed his church, — is altogether beyond the power of men to imitate. (Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 5:25)
For the husband is the head of the wife; superior to her by God’s ordination in authority and dignity, as the head in the natural body, being the seat of reason, and the fountain of sense and motion, is more excellent than the rest of the body.
Even as Christ is the head of the church: see Ephesians 1:22 Colossians 1:18. The particle as notes not equality, but likeness, Christ being the Head of the church in a more excellent way than the husband is of the wife.
And he is the saviour of the body; i.e. Christ is the Saviour of his church, implying that so likewise the husband is given to the wife to be a saviour to her, in maintaining, protecting, and defending her; and therefore the wife, if she regard her own good, should not grudge to be subject to him. (Poole, Commentary on Ephesians 5:23)
For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom thou art already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave thyself toward thy wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon thee, and disdaining, and scorning thee, yet by thy great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, thou wilt be able to lay her at thy feet.For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper.For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though thou shouldest suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this. (Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians 5:25)
It is meet for a wife to submit her self to her husband, as for the Church to submit it self to Christ. This amplification is especially added for Christians. Heathens may be moved to subject themselves to their Governours, by the resemblance taken from a natural body. How much more ought Christians to be moved by the resemblance taken from the mystical body of Christ? These words [and he is is the Saviour of the body] as they do declare the office of Christ, and the benefit which the Church reapeth, so they note the end why an husband is appointed to be the head of his wife, namely that by his provident care he may be as a saviour to her. It is here noted rather to show the benefit which a wife reapeth by her husband, than the duty which he oweth: for that the Apostle declareth afterwards, verse 25, etc. The meaning then is, That as Christ was given to be an head of the Church which is his body, that he might protect it, and provide all needful things for it, and so be a Saviour to it, even so for that very end are husbands appointed to be head of their wives. Upon this ground the Apostle inferreth the conclusion in the next verse. 16. Of the resemblance betwixt: The Church to Christ. A wife to her husband. Ephesians 5:24. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything. This conclusion setteth forth not only the duty itself, but also another Reason, and another Rule to provoke and direct wives to perform their duty: and that under the pattern of the Church. The reason may be thus framed, That which the Church doth to Christ, a wife must do to her husband. But the Church is subject to Christ. Therefore a wife must be subject to her husband. The proposition is grounded on that resemblance which is betwixt the Church in relation to Christ, and a wife in relation to her husband: for an husband is that to his wife, which Christ is to the Church; therewith a wife must be so to her husband, as the Church is to Christ. – Of Domesticall Duties