Is My Husband My Priest?

Sandra Glahn's picture

 
One so-called feminist idea that we might think came out of the Enlightenment actually came right out of the Reformation: The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This teaching opened new ways for men and women to think of women not as intrinsically inferior to men, but as partners called to lead the world to Christ.
 
In Peter’s first epistle we read, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood (italics added), a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9). Peter was writing to the whole church, not to men only, when he described all his readers as priests. His phrasing harkens back to God’s desire for Israel that they would “be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exo. 19:6). God was speaking to men and women there, too.
 
Meanwhile, in the apostle Paul’s first private correspondence with his protégé, Timothy, he wrote this: “For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human.” Some translations say “one intermediary between God and man…” but the word translated “man” here is “anthropon,” a form of the word from which we get “anthropology”—the study of humans. And in this context Paul had in mind humans, not males only. Humans have direct access to God through Jesus Christ. No human other than the man Christ serves as an intermediary. We can be priests, leading people to God. But we do not stand between the people and God. And that includes husbands standing between God and their wives.
 
So how might that look in the home? Let’s say, for example, a godly husband thinks that he and his wife should abstain from intimate relations for a time so they can devote themselves to prayer. If he were her priest, he might initiate the conversation and guide her, listening to her input, but then informing her of his benevolent final decision. But if we look at how Paul counseled the Corinthians, we read that such a picture is less than ideal. Because the wife has authority (1 Cor 7:7, root: exousia) over her husband’s body just as much as he has authority over hers—a radical idea in those days, and a serious challenge to Roman views of masculinity (and perhaps of contemporary ones, too). Paul writes, “Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement…” (italics added). So in our example, which happens to match the one example we have in the New Testament of a couple making a decision related to spiritual things, we see the husband and wife are partners. Equals. Sharing authority in spiritual decision-making. And like friends deciding where to eat dinner, neither needs 51 percent of the vote. Paul assumes a spiritually mature couple can decide mutually what is best. No one takes on the role of priest in the sense of mediating. If the two come to an impasse, the husband does not say, “I am charged with guiding you spiritually, so here is my decision.”
 
Yet sometimes people read that the husband is head of the wife, his body, and they see in such language a picture of an intermediary. Some even describe the husband as the priest in the home. I once interviewed Eugene Peterson, best known for The Message, and he confided, “At a pastor’s conference I told those in attendance that at noon on Mondays, our Sabbath/hiking day, [my wife] prayed for lunch. In fact I think I said, ‘I pray all day Sunday. I’m tired of it. She can do it on Monday.’ There was one woman there who was really irate. She said I should be praying and Jan should not be praying because I’m the priest in the family and she’s not the priest. That’s silliness. You are brother, sister, man, wife, friends in Christ. You work out the kind of relationship before the Lord that is intimate. And no, I don’t think there’s any kind of picture you have to fit into, that you have to produce. That’s oppressive isn’t it? After all, this is freedom in the Lord.”
 
For some of us, it’s time to “woman up” and take responsibility for our own spiritual lives. Sometimes a wife will shirk responsibility for her walk with Christ and blame it on her husband’s failure to initiate as a spiritual leader. But every woman who is “in Christ” is a priest who will stand before God and give account for herself. And that idea is not coming out of feminism. It’s right out of the holy Word of God. 

Comments

Well said! Amazing to think of God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, as  the first feminist! He created us to be partners, not master and servant. If we hadn't messed it all up in the Garden, we wouldn't have to have these discussions or confusions. My freedom in Christ is to be the best ezer and priest I can be, working hard to His Kingdom. His slave, but not man's. Very freeing!

Though I believe Scripture teaches equality between men and women as priests concerning the Gospel. , I believe 1 Cor. 7:7 was taken out of context to make a point in the blog: "Is My Husband My Priest". Paul is speaking in the Corinthians passage about the place of marriage in a society run amuck in sexual sin, and the value and function of marriage as an experience of holiness and a safeguard for sexual purity for those who had not been given, by God, Paul's gift, which was his ability to abstain from sexual sin while a single man. While equal in nature and position before God as believers in the atoning work of Christ, there are too many passages that speak of God's systematic design for leadership roles in both marriage, as well as the structure of His church. Elders, pastors, are charged with a higher degree of accountability to God for their leadership. Teachers are held to a higher degree of accountability before God for what they teach, more so than those taught by them. When Scripture speaks of the husband as the head over the wife, in comparison to Christ as head over His church, the implication is quite direct, husbands are to lead their wives by taking a responsibility for them through servant leadership that is higher in degree of accountability before God than the wife. Is the wife accountable to God? But of course! The difference is the providential assignment of leadership. The Lord has proven Himself time and again throughout both the Old Testament(Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, etc.,), as well as the New Testament(The Apostles, in particular Peter, John and Paul, and their assignments of leadership toTimothy, etc.,) as having assigned leadership roles to carry out His divine plan in bringing the testimony of Himself, and the commissioning of His church to proclaim the Gospel of His Son. An honest exegesis cannot avoid the clear descriptive leadership plan for both God's church, and His design for marriage. There is a heirarchy of position for leadership biblically well defined for both. This in no way shape or form teaches a difference of equality between men and women, or husbands and wives before God. We all, whether male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, are all on the same level ground before the Cross: sinners saved by grace. I believe it is important to remember that pre-suppositions about God, as well as our own identities, lurk deep within believers as saved, but yet corrupted beings. My "modern/post-modern" exposure to my culture including all of the voices that have influenced me since birth, as well as the sin that is still so present with me(Rom 7), often mitigate against clear biblical teaching. But still, by faith I am called to accept those teachings of scripture that, though they wound my pride, are nevertheless the doctrines laid down by God who has by divine right, given a prescribed order to His people for both marriage and His church. In the words of the previous blog respondant, Alice Prucha, it may seem "freeing" to hear a culturally influenced slant on the teaching of scripture concerning roles for husbands and wives, that interprets the biblical doctrine of marriage as devoid of leadership, and this may seem to support one's hope that "God ... is the first feminist!", the fact still remains that a proper literal, historical, grammatical interpretive method will always depict the husband as charged by God, with a servant/leadership role in marriage, and the wife charged by God to revere the model of God's design for His Bride, the Church, by submitting unto her husband, as all believers are called to submit unto Christ as Head over His church for whom He died. Also, though not the only determing factor, this teaching has been the predominant, historical, orthodox interpretation. I believe you will also find, that a comparison of a believer's biblical interpretation of this doctrine to available, conservative, evangelical commentaries will show that most of the authors will support the view I have put forth.

Sandra Glahn's picture

Our discussion about other aspects of marriage belongs in another post. This post was specifically about the woman having responsibility for herself before God without having a man as mediator between herself and God. So to answer concerning the specific topic at hand, I will address the parts of the conversation that have to do with my post:
 
You write:
 
>>Paul is speaking in the Corinthians passage about the place of marriage in a society run amuck in sexual sin, and the value and function of marriage as an experience of holiness and a safeguard for sexual purity for those who had not been given, by God, Paul's gift, which was his ability to abstain from sexual sin while a single man.
 
I totally agree with you on context. Isn’t it interesting how much of that fits our own? We live in a society run amuck in sexual sin. According to the model you prescribe, one might expect Paul to instruct husbands to “man up” and take spiritual initiative for how they will model sexual purity with their wives as a witness to a sick world. But Paul does not. He calls for mutual decision-making and he uses a strong word, “authority” over each other’s bodies. 
 
I agree that leaders in the church are warned that they will be held accountable. But you seem to assume the only leaders and teachers in the church will be men. According to Paul, the Spirit gives gifts without regard to gender. Thus, women have gifts of shepherding and teaching with which to serve the body. Those who have more social power and influence are always held to a higher standard than those who have less. But never are we told that husbands will give account for their wives in a way that wives will not also give account. We all give account for our personal lives in Christ and areas of influence. That does not make us mediators. Nor does it make husbands the priests over their wives or mediators between their wives and God.
 
>>When Scripture speaks of the husband as the head over the wife
 
Actually, it never does so. Paul refers to the husband as the head OF the wife (Eph. 5:23), not head OVER the wife. And the word “body” is involved, as in head OF a body. Christ is indeed head OVER the church where preeminence is in view (1:10). But that is a different metaphor. The husband is like Christ not in his preeminence in the marriage, but in his sacrifice of agape love (25, 28) in the marriage. That is a huge difference.
 
>> in comparison to Christ as head over His church, the implication is quite direct, husbands are to lead their wives
 
You have changed the verb. The command is to love (5:25), not to lead wives. The head is something he “is” in Paul’s metaphor, never something he is to pursue or be or become. What he is to pursue is sacrificial love.
 
>>by taking a responsibility for them through servant leadership that is higher in degree of accountability before God than the wife.
 
Where are you getting this idea?
 
>> There is a heirarchy of position for leadership biblically well defined for both.
 
So in your view not only does such a hierarchy exist, but it means the wife is not a priest to her husband? So all believers are priests to each other and to the world—except the godly wife? She would never speak in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and serve/lead her man to the throne of grace? I am saying the wife stands before God without a mediator just as the man does.
 
>>This in no way shape or form teaches a difference of equality between men and women, or husbands and wives before God.
 
I don’t for a minute doubt that you believe the wife is equal to her husband “before God.” I do wonder if you believe she is equal to her husband “before her husband” and “before other humans.” What if I said, “Jews are equal to Gentiles—before God”? Does not that equality before God have social applications/ramifications?
 
>>My "modern/post-modern" exposure to my culture including all of the voices that have influenced me since birth, as well as the sin that is still so present with me (Rom 7), often mitigate against clear biblical teaching.
 
And your implication is that my sin nature and my culture have also influenced me to be blinded as to what the Word really says. Of course that is a risk for all of us. But your assumption about what may be motivating me is, I think, keeping you from addressing the scriptures in view about priesthood. One could also argue that Augustine’s view that women were not fully in God’s image and years of such influence in the church have created a Christian subculture that makes it difficult to see women as the priests God calls them to be.  If we are to use church history to argue a point, let’s look at all of church history. How are we to understand the Reformation in light of church history? Misogyny has been present for centuries. We need to stick to the scriptures about priesthood. 
 
I do not believe a husband is a priest OVER his wife in the sense of being a mediator. I do believe a husband is a priest TO his wife. But I also believe, based on the Word of God, that a wife is a priest TO her husband, as well. All believers are priests and accountable directly to God as being in Christ. As Dr. Peterson said, they are brother and sister in addition to being man and wife. I can think of no better service of sacrifice on the wife’s part than to be a partner who points him to God.
 
You appeal to commentaries. Conservative commentaries. But you have not addressed my statements with arguments from scripture about priesthood and its ramifications for wives. As a woman and a wife am I, or am I not, part of the kingdom of priests? Or are you suggesting that the one place where I am not to fulfill that priestly role is in my marriage? Revelation 5:10 refers to a kingdom and priests, redeemed from every tribe and nation. Do you think he had only husbands in view?

Sandra,
Of course we as believers are all as priests one to another, and to the world, in the sense of portraying the message of the Gospel to the world, as well as being enabled by the Holy Spirit to share the gifts of love, compassion, patience, kindness, etc., husbands to wives, wives to husbands, parents, children, brothers and sisters in the Lord, believers to unbelievers and so forth. And this is not by any means as priests OVER anyone as MEDIATORS. Only Christ alone is mediator between God and man, as well as God and woman. No problem, agreed ... 100% !!
But what does that have to do with leadership? These are two different issues and you seem to be mixing them together. Should a church have no leadership? Should all members simply, and organically move toward God together without structure?
The question of leadership, true leadership, not LORDING OVER AS A PRIESTLY MEDIATOR, is actually a question of Divine decree. So I would ask you:
1) Does Scripture teach that there is to be leadership in the church? If so, WHO has God designated to be leaders? Are they pastors(elders)?
2) Does Scripture teach leadership in the home? If so, WHO has God designated to be the leaders? Is it children? Both parents? One parent or the other?
3) Does Scripture teach leadership in marriage? If so, WHO has God designated to lead? Is it both spouses? Or is it the man or the wife?
Your answers to these questions I believe will indicate whether or not you are mixing together the two issues of 1) The kingdom priesthood of ALL believers whether male, female, Jew or Gentile, with 2) Divinely decreed leadership roles in the church, marriage, and the family.
If there is no leadership in the church, such as the elders prescribed by Scripture, then every member's opinion reigns concerning every conceivable issue and challenge. We all know that only chaos, faction and division will result.
If there is no leadership in the family, then every member's opinion reigns, both child and adult. We all know that only chaos, faction and division will result.
It follows, not only biblically, but experientially, that If there is no leadership in a christian marriage, and each spouse's opinion reigns concerning the closure of every important and urgent decision made concerning the well being, protection and provision of not only the marriage, but very often the family contained within that marriage, that not only chaos and division can ensue, but there can develop dead-lock in decision making during crisis moments. Leadership exists for the purpose of moving the body(church, marriage, family) ahead rather than to become overwhelmed and debilitated when circumstances are serious and the pressure is high. Troops in battle cannot survive under fire if there is no one charged with the authority and responsibility of decision making in crisis.
Of course the opinion of the wife in all matters is EQUAL in value to the husband's. To not confer with a wife or husband in regard to all matters concerning important decisions for marriage and family would not only be foolish and reckless but unbiblical, just as it would be foolish, reckless and unbiblical for a pastor not to take counsel with his elders or other trusted members of his congregation before taking the responsibility for a serious decision amidst crisis. There must be leadership, why? Because the Lord prescribes it in scripture historically for the nation of Israel (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, etc.), for His church (Christ, the Apostles, the elders appointed in every local congregation), for the family (children obey your parents), and in marriage(see the supporting verses at the end of my response).
When it comes to leadership in all it's offices and dimensions, the Bible is clear, leadership is designed by God, and to honor His design for leadership is simply obedience. Below you will find the supporting scriptures that put forth clearly God's design for leadership in marriage and the family. Only hermeneutical gymnastics, a deviation from the proper Literal Historical Grammatical interpretation can wrest anything else from these verses other than the view I have put forth.
Here are the verses, I have added the bold and italic type for emphasis:
Ephesians 5:22-24 (NASB)
22  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
24  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
1 Peter 3:1-2 (NASB)
1  In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
2  as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
Colossians 3:18-20 (NASB)
18  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19  Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
20  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.
I challenge you Sandra, to find any verses that command the husband in relation to his wife in the exact same way that these verses command the wife in relation to her husband. You simply cannot find them.
Once again, you are confusing two issues for the sake of a point. Yes, I agree,  NO ONE is given in Scripture the role of PRIESTLY MEDIATOR between God and His people other than Jesus Christ alone! However this is not the same as the issue of leadership. Leadership consists of position and offices instituted by God, clearly laid out in Scripture by decree with a call to obedience. Biblical leadership structure is well defined historically for the nation of Israel, currently for Christ's church, and without exception, for marriage and the family. To deny this is to be, although I am sure not intentionally, dishonest with one's interpretation of the sacred text.
Though this message is long, I do hope Sandra you will list it on your blog, for I am interested to see what other opinions might come forth after the reading of my reply.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful investment into these issues, as well as your well thought out and gracious response.
God bless you,
Phil
 
 

Sandra Glahn's picture

 
Phil,
 
You ask, “But what does that have to do with leadership? These are two different issues and you seem to be mixing them together.”
 
It is not I who mix them, but those whose teaching I seek to correct. They make the husband the priest, which they define as the spiritual leader, and then say a husband has this job, but not vice versa. I am calling an end to such teaching. I have laid out what the scriptures say about priesthood and made the case that husbands and wives, as well as all Christians, have this role. While the priesthood was limited to males in some eras of God’s economy, that was not God’s original intention, nor is it the model we see in the NT.
 
You ask, “Should a church have no leadership? Should all members simply, and organically move toward God together without structure?”
 
Of course a church should have leadership. And I think it instructive to note that the terms for “leader” that NT writers use are “deacon” (servant) and “elder” (older person) and widow (without-a-man woman) rather than ruler, master, lord. But we can’t even seem to use the word “servant” without hyphenating it to “servant-leader.” Can you imagine Paul writing, “Paul, a servant-leader of Christ to the church at…”?  
 
These questions feel a bit off-topic to me, so I will keep my answers brief:
 
1)   Does Scripture teach that there is to be leadership in the church? If so, WHO has God designated to be leaders? Are they pastors(elders)?
 
Pastor is a spiritual gift, not an office. Both men and women are given this gift. (See Hoehner, JETS article.) I would argue that elders, widows, and deacons are the offices Paul lays out in 1 Timothy. 
 
2)   Does Scripture teach leadership in the home? If so, WHO has God designated to be the leaders? Is it children? Both parents? One parent or the other?
 
God has designed for fathers and mothers to partner as leaders of the home.  God made male and female to procreate and do His work. Male and female are made in the image of God, and both are needed to reflect that image. 
 
3)   Does Scripture teach leadership in marriage? If so, WHO has God designated to lead? Is it both spouses? Or is it the man or the wife?
 
The model in scripture never seems to talk about power or authority. The husband is told not to lead but to sacrificially love. He is the head of the body, “as Christ is Savior of the body.” The head analogy in Eph 5 is a sacrifice picture, not a power picture. For a fuller look at these verses, see my previous posts.
 
 >>It follows, not only biblically, but experientially, that If there is no leadership in a Christian marriage, and each spouse's opinion reigns concerning the closure of every important and urgent decision made concerning the well being, protection and provision of not only the marriage, but very often the family contained within that marriage, that not only chaos and division can ensue, but there can develop dead-lock in decision making during crisis moments.
 
I would respectfully disagree. Do we operate our friendships this way, insisting that one has to have at least a 51% vote to keep chaos from reigning? Paul assumes a mature couple has the goal of oneness, of mutuality. I attend a church where we have no senior pastor, but a group of elders. And none of our elders has to have more say than another. And they seem to do a fine job of making decisions in a crisis. And no, I am not attending an egalitarian church. The only time a partner would have “more say” would be in a realm where he or she has more gifting. My friend who is married to a Christian CPA, for example, looks to his wife for the “final say” when it comes to major purchases for their business. But he, who is more gifted in gardening, has final say about their plan for the yard. If a mom has been home all day with a child, she might have “final say” about discipline that evening, based on whether the child has acted up all day or whether he or she commits a first offense.
 
You list the verses on wifely submission. I agree. Wives are to submit. But to what are they to submit? Not to their husbands’ leadership, but to the husband himself. All of him. His entire person. Not a subset of him, such as his leadership. They are ONE. In total. Conversely, however, the husband is not told to lead. He is told to sacrifice. Is that not a kind of submission? Laying down his life is not just taking a bullet on the battlefield. It is the daily dying to self. Both sacrifice for the good of the ONE. Two become one. The goal of marriage is oneness, not “proper separation of powers.”  
 
>>I challenge you Sandra, to find any verses that command the husband in relation to his wife in the exact same way that these verses command the wife in relation to her husband. You simply cannot find them.
 
I completely agree. But if you were to lay out the verses of command to the husband, you would also find he is never called to BE the head. He IS the head in a metaphor that shows two as one—a head and body. His commands are to love, love, love. Agape. Like Christ. The wife submits as Christ submitted to the Father. But the husband loves as Christ loved the church—dying for her. (See my previous posts on this, too.)
 
Phil, we agree on this point: Both of us are committed to the historical, grammatical approach to Scripture. Both of us love the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him and His Word. In this we stand together in a dark world in need of solid food. 

First time to this blog.  Loved this post.  Well-reasoned, scriptural and beautifully written.
 
The husband-as-priest tradition has been so widely held that we no longer recognize it as tradition.  Not only is it unbiblical, but I believe it perpetuates family dysfunctions as the wife is seen as "rebellious" for questioning the "priest."  The corollary error is that he "will bear" the responsibility for the decisions he's made for the family and that the wife's submission will absolve her from any guilt in the matter.  
 
Anyway, do you know of a Marriage Retreat Ministry (like "Family Life's "Weekend to Remember") which does NOT promote the idea of husband as priest?  
 
I'm all for cheerleading for husbands to become spiritually involved, but not in guilting them for not being "priests."  
 
Thank you again.
Mom in California

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.
Blog Category: