Can a Wife Ever be a Spiritual Covering?

Pastor John Gray was recently interviewed on Sister Circle Live concerning hardships in his marriage and how his wife was the one to see him through. His comments have since gone viral and have garnered the following questions: Is the man always a spiritual covering for his wife? What happens when he is not? Can a woman biblically act as a covering for her husband? People have called into question his sense of biblical manhood, the role of a husband and the church’s view of the archetypical “Strong Women-” the good wife, that patiently endures the hardships of her husband while from a posture of prayer.

Grey is quoted as saying: “I married a woman two sizes too big. I have to grow into Aventer (John’s wife). She’s a coat. I still can’t fit her. She’s bigger than me and she’s had to cover me while I grow up. I gotta grow into her. She’s a covering, not a lid. Because if a man marries a lid she’ll stop your dream. But if you marry a covering, she’ll push you to your destiny. Let me tell you something, my wife has endured more pain birthing me than both of our children. She has sacrificed these last eight years, uncovering the painful areas of my manhood and covering the areas that could have exposed me. She deserves anything I can give her. I will live the rest of my life to honor her because she gave me what I couldn’t give myself a chance to heal while still seeing the God in me.”  You can view John Grey’s full interview at the link below. Please note that the subject matter and statements made in the following interview do not necessarily represent my own views or that of Engage blog. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGsFhmDzPQ0a)

My first reaction was similar to that of my sisters raising the red flags across Twitter and Facebook. The concept of a wife having to birth her husband seemed crude and unbiblical.  However, after viewing Gray’s comments within the context it seems clear that Gray was speaking about his immaturity and brokenness that he brought into the marriage. He clearly esteemed his wife as more mature than he was and he recognized the pain that his brokenness caused her. He specifically cited that her “covering” shielded him from exposure as coat shields you from the elements. In short, she loved him through his mess, and he was a better man for it.

While his word choice may have been misleading, it would be difficult to find a couple that didn’t share this testimony at some time in their marriage.  We (men and women) love each other through our “mess” on a regular basis. Women especially tend to enter marriage more prepared to settle down and therefore find themselves to be more mature sometimes both spiritually and emotionally. But does that mean that the marriage itself is not operating biblically?  If a wife acts as a covering for her husband is she then not operating in her God-given role?

In order to answer this question, we must review the concept of covering within marriage.  The term covering in the context of marriage is associated with  1 Corinthians 11:1-16 where Paul describes a practice where women wore a head covering as a sign of submission under the male headship of their husbands. In the first two verses, Paul reveals the theology behind head coverings by describing God’s natural order of headship.  Christ is the head of all men, man is the head of women, and God is the head of Christ. (1 Cor 11: 1-3) The term head (kephalē) means chief, prominent, master or lord and points to a role of leadership.  Biblical headship entails God’s given example of self-sacrificial love demonstrated by Christ himself. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church having given himself up for her. (Ephesians 5: 25) Headship is not a concept that demands slave like subjugation, rather the honor of leading someone well comes with the responsibility to care for them as their own body (Ephesians 5:28). The husband must mindfully consider the vulnerability of the one who is being led, bestowing upon the wife honor and recognizing that she is the husband’s equal before God. (1 Peter 3:7) Paul goes on to describe the practice of wearing a head covering that was more than likely a type of veil worn by married women. While this passage is debated among scholars it seems that the general understanding concerning was this: The covering was a symbol of biblical authority, it was unanimously practiced among all the early churches, and to not do so was a dishonor.

It is important to note that the term covering, in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, doesn’t signify the husband.  In fact, the term covering in this text should be taken a literal piece of clothing that carried with it a symbolic meaning. While the husband was not referred to as a covering he is referred to as the head of the wife with all the responsibilities that follow. In this passage the idea of a covering and headship are interrelated, but they are not the same.

Why is this important?  It seems there has been an evolution of understanding concerning the term covering and its relation to marriage within Christian culture. Generally speaking, the term covering is now rendered as the responsibility to care for, protect and lead a wife well. You may have heard the term spiritual covering used to describe a relationship between a husband and wife or even that of church elders and membership. While it is normative for words to gain meaning related to biblical truths within Christian culture, I believe that the concept of a male covering may have ventured further than it should have from its biblical roots.  Recall the backlash to the John Gray statement above; one of the major upsets was that it seemed that Gray’s wife was acting as his covering-he refers to her as a coat.  If this meant that his wife was operating as his head or authority, then this may be grounds to call into question his view of biblical marriage.  However, I do not see any evidence that the term headship can be replaced by covering based on 1 Corinthians 11: 1-16.

There is a deeper cultural issue at stake here that can be detrimental to any marriage. That is the misconception that the husband, as the biblical head of the family, will always operate as a good covering. Meaning that he will always provide a level of spiritual protection with wisdom, fairness, and kindness.  These attributes above should, in fact, be the goal of the head of his family, however, I believe we can do more harm than good when we do not view the role of biblical headship through a practical lens. An accurate view of our husbands as fallible humans who are being transformed into the image of God (2 Corinthians 3:18) would strengthen our marriages, allowing women to act with grace while giving us permission to actively pursue godliness for our families no matter the spiritual state of our husbands at any given moment.

A wise woman once told me that every husband including one who loves Jesus will hurt and/or disappoint you either consciously or subconsciously. If we are real with ourselves as wives, we too will end up doing the same- this is a part of the human condition.  Her wisdom helped me enter my marriage with the healthy expectation that my husband could be my head while also being a flawed human battling a sin nature.  Even more so, it prepared me for instances in which I was the spouse who was more spiritually grounded. As a Christian wife who wants to see my husband lead well, it prepared me to support him through the mess so that he and I both could reach our potential.  Dare I say, there are times even in my own marriage where I play the role of the “coat” that covers him and there are times when he plays this role for me. At the end of the day, we are two people striving to be like Christ while submitting one to another. (Ephesians 5:21)

It is important to note that the Bible contains examples of godly wives acting as covering for their husband when needed.  In Exodus 4:24-26 we are met with an odd episode in the life of Moses where for some reason the Lord sought to end Moses’ life. We assume that this is based on some sort of disobedience concerning the circumcision of his sons. Zipporah, Moses’ wife, stepped in and performed the circumcision herself, chapter 26 states that after this act the “Lord let him alone.”  1 Samuel 25: 2-44 recounts Abigail’s story. When her husband Nabal did not act in wisdom to help David, Abigail on her own account sought out to help the young king and avoided disaster for her household.

In response to John Gray’s comments, many have stated that it is not the job of the wife to help mature her husband. However, this concept is not biblical. Although we may operate in different roles within marriage, are not the husband and wife first and foremost fellow heirs of God’s grace (1 Peter 3:7)?  Therefore, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to bear one another’s burdens, gently restoring one another when we fall into sin (Galatians 6:1-2). The concept of sharpening each other as iron sharpens iron is not lost in the husband/wife relationship (Proverbs 27:17).  Mutual encouragement to become better people is one the most beautiful things about marriage. To care for someone enough to love them when they are most unlovable, demonstrating to them the very grace that God gives us is the cornerstone of marriage.  Or as John Gray put it, his wife “gave [him] the chance to heal while still seeing the God in [him].” What greater picture of the gospel do we have than loving someone even while they are yet still sinners?

This understanding of grace and forbearance, while we love each other through the mess, must not propagate abuse. I firmly believe that the church has often called for women to remain in mentally and verbally abusive situations while not offering proper counseling and discipline to their husbands.  This is a serious sin issue that church leaders should and must address. However, outside of an extreme case, the type of forbearance that John Gray’s wife extended to her husband is really what keeps marriages going. I shudder to think what their family would be like or the impact of his ministry would be like if his wife hadn’t acted as a covering for him during that difficult time. I am reminded again of another conversation I had with a dear sister in Christ.  What she told me that day has helped me to shape my understanding of protecting my husband when needed. “Never let your husband fall.”  This may not be a popular sentiment in secular marriages, but the concept reverberates the scriptures cited above and our duty to our husbands as their help.  According to my friend when we see our husband about to walk over dangerous terrain, we have two options: we can either throw up our hands and say, “Well, he’s supposed to be the head, let God deal with him.” Or we can operate as a sister in Christ would and love our husbands enough to warn him and ensure that he does not slip.  I would venture to say that a woman is operating as a covering of sort when she helps to direct her husband around dangerous pot holes of life. However, as demonstrated above this type of covering should be mutual. If one partner if left to operate in this role too long without reciprocity fatigue is sure to follow.

More from Christen on marriage, and submission:
Marriage Jumping in With Both Feet
How I Almost Ruined My Marriage
Submission: The Truth About Ephesians Chapter 5
Related Engage article:
Other articles on bible.org concerning head covering:

Christen Jacobs is a wife and mother of 3. She earned her Masters in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2014. She has served as the youth coordinator and small groups coordinator at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas Texas. She has a passion for exegetical teaching and has had the pleasure of speaking at various conferences and teaching Bible classes. Christen and her husband are inner-city missionaries who work to equip every member to sow seeds for the kingdom through helping individuals and churches respond to the great commission. Christen’s ministry passion is empowering women to be curious readers of the word of God. She also has a strong emphasis in engaging generational and cultural differences, as she has a background in missions traveling extensively in Asia, and Latin America. She enjoys writing her blog, cooking, dancing and cuddling up with her family and Netflix.