Is Male Headship a Result of the Fall?

One of my favorite things about being married to a college pastor is building relationships with the girls in our group. Inevitably, there are two young people who fall in love, consider marriage, and decide they need marriage/relationship counsel from Chris and me. There is no greater joy than to see two young people who desire to bring God glory through their relationship and ultimately their marriage. During this time, Chris and I always have a session (whether formally or informally) on the roles of men and women in a marriage relationship.

In a society that has been influenced by the Feminist Movement of the 1960-70’s, we have discovered that much of what these couples consider a “fair marriage” does not line up with scripture. And, by the way, a “fair marriage” has nothing to do with who does the laundry or who mows the yard. Instead, the question has to do with leadership and submission. Is a husband’s leadership (headship) an outdated role or the result of the fall of man in Genesis 3? Is a wife’s submission close to slavery, and should it be overlooked in this era where everyone is “equal?” I hope we can wrestle with some of these questions today.

In order to understand what the Bible says about male headship, we must go all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

God created both men and women in His image. (Gen 1:27)

For headship and submission to make sense, we must begin here. The fact that we are made in God’s image denotes that men and women are both spiritually equal before God and valuable to Him. Man does not possess more access to God because he is male, nor does a woman possess more access to God because she is female. God deems us the same because we are made of the same “stuff.” Men and women were both made to reflect God and to bring Him glory.

God created men and women to share certain responsibilities. (Gen 1:28)

First, men and women are commanded to populate the earth. In Genesis 1:28a, God gives the man and the woman the responsibility to bear children. Man needs woman to bear children, and woman needs man to bear children. There is a section of American society that considers children a hindrance to the advancement of women in life and the workplace.  Organizations like Planned Parenthood spend millions of dollars each year in the murder of innocent lives through abortion. It is also considered “normal” to delay childbirth until one is “ready” to have children. I know there are certain situations that arise in each couple’s life where wisdom is needed to determine if it is physically or emotionally “safe” for a couple to have children. But, oftentimes, I see couples who delay having children because they want a bigger house, a better job, or because they just do not want them. Ladies, God has given married men and women the joy of bringing life into a family unit.  I encourage you to consider whether or not you are being obedient to this command. Are your children a hindrance/burden to you, or do you see them as a gift/blessing from God?

Second, God gave both men and women the responsibility to rule over all living things (Gen 1:28b).  This command is twofold. First, humans have the responsibility to make sure we take care of the earth. If you go to any major city or drive along the interstate, you see miles of trash littering the streets. God commanded humans to take care of the creation He made. Secondly, humans are to rule over creation and not allow creation to rule over them. We live in a society that has “Go Green” as its motto. While it is important and biblical to make sure we take care of the earth, God has also given plants and animals as food for us to eat.[i] We live in a society that is more concerned with saving trees than saving children. As Christians, we must be careful to be good stewards of God’s earth, but we must also be careful to not allow ourselves to worship the creation which God has given us authority over.

If the creation account stopped here, then I could understand someone making a case that God created both men and women with equal (same) roles and responsibilities. But, in the very next chapter, God continues the creation account and expands it to include details not found in Genesis 1.

God created man and woman to have responsibilities that would complement the other.

Man was given the command to work and keep the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). It is important to note that work is not a result of sin, but it was a responsibility given to man before the fall of man. Work was intended to bring fulfillment and joy to the man. God also gave man the responsibility to keep the garden. The Hebrew word used for “keep” means “to keep, watch, preserve.” Shamar can also be translated as “attend, defend, guard, [and] watchman.”[ii] This word is used to describe a shepherd taking care of his flock, which denotes protection.[iii] Men have a natural desire to protect the people they love. Society and the media tend to portray men as weak and women as strong. It is not uncommon to watch a movie in which the woman literally beats up or kills her adversaries. Even one of the newest Disney movies, Brave, depicts a little girl who wants to grow up to be a warrior instead of a woman who is married and allows a man to protect her. It is true that we live in a dangerous world where women need to learn self-defense, but women must be careful to not become so independent and self-reliant that they do not allow the men, especially their husband, protect them. Man’s desire to be the protector of his family is God-ordained and healthy in a marriage relationship.

The man was given the responsibility to name all living creatures (Gen 2:20). In the Old Testament, the naming of anything showed one’s authority over something or someone. Therefore, because God gave man the responsibility to name woman, that action shows his authority over her.[iv] I know this is not a popular teaching in mainstream America, but I pray you will see God’s heart in giving man this leadership role. This teaching does not mean a husband has the power to dominate his wife (that would be abuse) nor does it mean she is unequal to him. Instead, naming of woman implies that God had already given Adam the responsibility to be the head of or to lead his wife. Adam was given the responsibility to protect her (through his leadership), not dominate her.

God gave the man the responsibility to be the spiritual leader of his family. (Gen 2:16-17, 3:2-3) It is not emphatically stated in these chapters that a man is to be the spiritual leader of his family, but it is implied. The only way Eve could know the command God gave Adam regarding the tree of knowledge was for Adam to tell her. One of the greatest struggles most men face is learning to be the spiritual leader of their families.  A few years ago, Beth Moore asked several hundred men what their number one insecurity was in life. One of the top answers was they did not know if they could effectively lead their families like God asked of them.[v] Once again, let us remember that spiritual leadership has nothing to do with spiritual equality. Men and women are both spiritually equal and have the same access to God, but in a relationship, someone has to lead. In giving Adam the role to lead his family, God put upon the man a great responsibility of spiritually protecting his wife.

The woman was made to be man’s “helpmate.” (Gen 2:18, 20) Many times “helpmate” is misunderstood to mean inferior or insignificant, but that is far from the original meaning of the word. God did not form woman to be man’s servant or doormat, instead God formed woman to be a person who could rightly communicate and, in a sense, complete man. In Genesis 2:18, the phrase “a helper fit for him” has been the topic of much debate. In this verse, the word “helper” is the Hebrew word ēzer, which speaks to Eve’s role as Adam’s helpmate. The Greek for kenegdo means “corresponding to what is in front of him,” which speaks to the fact that both Adam and Eve are equal in their standing before God because they both bear His image.[vi] The animals could not be the type of helper and companion that Adam needed because they were not like him. He needed someone who was his equal. He needed someone he could adequately communicate with and who could be his companion and helper in life.

What do all of these points have in common? They all occur before the fall of man which indicate they were all part of God’s plan from the beginning of creation.

I know this article can be a little overwhelming, and I have only skimmed the surface of the meaning of headship. I wish I could sit with you over a cup of coffee (as I do the girls I disciple) and discuss these verses in depth, for there is much more to say. But I pray that you can see the beauty and freedom found in marriage when we allow our husbands to lead and protect us, and we come to him as the helper God created us to be. Marriage was not only created for our enjoyment, but it was created to display the Gospel of Christ (Eph 5:22-33). My prayer for each of us is that we would allow God to show Himself powerful in our marriages, and through our life’s example, people would come to salvation.

[i] In Genesis 1:29, God commands the man and woman to only eat from the plants and trees. Man did not have permission to eat of the animals until after the Fall. Look at Genesis 3:9 for a reference.

[ii] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publication, 1998). Word study of the Hebrew word shamar, Strong’s Hebrew #8104.

[iii] Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, 209-210.

[iv] Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 31. For a more thorough understanding of the authority that is found in naming an object or individual, refer to pages 31-33 of this volume.

[v] This was found on the Living Proof blog in the May 2009 archives. You can access it at

[vi] Patterson and Kelley, Woman’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament, 10.