Exposing the Unbiblical Notion of Husband-Priests

Among other toxic and unbiblical notions that evangelicals advocate is included the patriarchal theory that husbands are called of God to be priests in their homes (see meme below). Does the fact that nowhere in the New Testament are husbands called upon by any author to be the "priest of the home" matter to these evangelicals? No. All that matters to these individuals is a predominance of male headship, viewed through the lens of patriarchy or complementarianism, which is a tragic result of the fall and not a redeemed perspective in Christ.

One believing male Christian, noted in J. Lee Grady's book, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, decided to live out the teachings of this patriarchal worldview, and he maintained the belief that his wife was never to assume any semblance of leadership in the home, nor voice her opinion in order to sway her husband from making all the decisions, thinking otherwise that "Satan would be given a license to attack his family."1 Where is that stated in Scripture? Nowhere.

In this distorted, fallen, complementarian perspective, the role of the husband is "to lead and protect his wife, while her role is to trust him and submit to his authority at all times without question."2 Mind you, most complementarian Christian couples live their daily lives as functional egalitarians, but they will inform their church and others that they believe staunchly in the complementarian gender roles assigned to them by God their Creator. These men know full and well that, when mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy! These men may fool themselves and others into thinking that they are the spiritual leaders in their homes, the husband-priest who leads his family with the authority granted to him by Christ, but 'tis all a farce at best.

Tragically, this scenario is not a farce for some families, as women have been abused physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and even lost their lives within such a context. In order to free women, to educate deceived men, and to be faithful to the scriptures we speak, we write, we communicate a biblical perspective worthy of the redemption found only in Christ Jesus our King.

Patriarchs and complementarians assume their position of male headship and husband-priests from 1 Corinthians 11:2-10 and Ephesians 5:22-33. Space will not afford a full exegesis of those passages. But context will dictate a conclusion, complementarianism and the theory of husband-priests will be exposed as false, and further study on the part of the reader will be required.

Context, whether historical or intertextual, should always maintain primacy in any study. Prior to the fall of mortals, man and woman are considered equal (Gen. 1:26-27), and neither gender seeks to dominate the other nor perceive of so-called gender roles. Sin and a fallen context introduces division, a thirst for power, and controlling others. (See the post "Women in Ministry" for a fuller explanation.) In first-century Greco-Roman and Jewish culture, the era of all New Testament writings, women "had no rights in society and were viewed as the property of either their fathers or their husbands."3 Grady further explains:
In New Testament times, a man's idea of "ruling the family" was to keep his wife shut away in the house to do back-breaking chores, tend the family farm, provide sexual gratification, and bear as many children as he wanted so he could have plenty of laborers to harvest the crops. If she died in childbirth, he found another wife. If she didn't please him in bed, he paid a younger woman outside the home to meet his sexual needs. If his wife shamed him, he beat her. If she dared to run away, he found her and beat her again.4
Laws of Athens regarded women as children, property, and did not protect them from abuse.5 What did Christian authors teach men in this regard? From our cultural-egalitarian perspective we might miss the subtle hints of revolutionary thinking from Jesus to St Paul. That women are the first to witness the resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:1) is astounding given that the witness of women in the first century was counted as nothing. Women funded the ministry of Jesus. (Luke 8:1-3) No mention is made of men funding His ministry. St Peter proclaims that God is, in the redeemed context of Christianity, pouring out the Holy Spirit upon men and women and both will preach the Gospel. (Acts 2:17-18)

Moreover, though women were not allowed to be educated in the first century, St Paul commands the churches to let women learn and be educated as equals. (1 Tim. 2:11) Furthermore, rather than assume some sort of authoritarian position of men over women, St Paul commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and as the husband loves his own body. (Eph. 5:25, 28) Their wives were not to be treated as inferior, not as superior, but as equals. After all, women are counted in Christ as equally-warranted recipients of the grace, love, and redemption of God (Gal. 3:28), and to be treated not as property but as precious as the very body of the husband. Grady writes:
Paul was blatantly contradicting the worldly philosophy of the ancient world, which taught that men and women live on two different social strata. In the kingdom of God, Paul declared, marriage is different from marriage in the world. Men don't beat their wives; men don't rule their homes like despots; men don't threaten divorce as a means to manipulate or control. In God's kingdom, husbands treat their wives with respect -- yes, even as equals.6
What is the apostle teaching husbands regarding their wives? Christ reversed the curse of gender roles assumed in the context of the fall. Husbands are not "over" their wives as lords, as bosses, as priests of the home. Their mandate is to treat women as they treat their very selves. Odd, I think, how passages such as Ephesians 5:22-33 are read as supporting complementarianism when they actually defend egalitarianism: "In life-giving headship, the social privilege and power of maleness is shared by the husband with the wife, and utilized by him according to the terms of love rather than of male conquest and demand."7 Patriarchy is demolished by the Kingdom principles instituted by Christ and carried out by His disciples. Husbands are called to continue these principles:
By recognizing her personal and spiritual equality with him, and by putting all that he has and is at her disposal, a husband undoes the male rulership of the Fall and, by God's grace, saves his wife from its effects. In other words, true biblical headship in marriage can be seen only when the husband (1) recognizes that his wife is his equal, (2) loves her sacrificially, and (3) empowers his wife by allowing her to share his authority.8
Prior to the fall both man and woman, or husband and wife, ruled together. (Gen. 1:26-27) Subsequent to redemption, purchased by Christ, the man and the woman, the husband and the wife, are both restored in ruling and leading together. (Gal. 3:28) Otherwise, meaning if we assume a complementarian understanding of the New Testament, we promote blatant contradictions. For one cannot assume that St Paul means to convey a message that the husband is to rule the wife (1 Cor. 11:3) and, at the same time and in the same place, suggest a message of equality: "woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman" (1 Cor. 11:11; emphasis added); the apostle cannot be interpreted as insisting that husbands rule as priests in the home (Eph. 5:23) and, at the same time and in the same place, suggest that men love their wives as equals (Eph. 5:25, 28). Egalitarianism alone avoids these contradictions.


1 J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2000), 78.

2 Ibid., 80.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 81.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 82.

7 Ibid., 83.

8 Ibid.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.