Hey, everybody!

Keith and I have been on vacation this week, just camping and hanging out and doing a whole lot of nothing. He had something on his mind yesterday and wrote up this post that he wanted to share!

So here’s what he’s thinking about when he has time to write and he’s not at work.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

One of my favorite movie lines of all time is from the Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya turns to Vizzini and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

For those of you who have been living under a rock since 1987 when this absolute gem of a movie was released, Inigo’s statement followed Vizzini’s constant use of the word “inconceivable” to describe almost every situation they were involved in.

I have come to regard the words “high view of Scripture” in the same light. Almost every time I hear those words spoken these days, the little voice in my head says, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Case in point: a recent online discussion I was in about how married couples should make decisions together. There were the typical comments about how the man should always have the final say or that he should be the tie breaker. This was being challenged by myself and others as unhealthy and that couples really should make decisions together. Then someone simply commented:

“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” (I Cor 11:3, ESV).

This “mic drop” was meant to silence anyone saying that the husband and wife should work together to glorify God in their relationship.

In this person’s mind, this Scripture clearly shows that the man is the boss in the marriage. In fact, it shows it so clearly that it does not need further commentary. As far as people like that are concerned, if you disagree with them, you “just don’t believe the Bible” or at the very least, you “don’t have a high view of Scripture”.

But for anybody with a semblance of an open mind, it is clear that a diversity of opinion exists about what Paul meant in this part of Scripture as well other areas where he refers to the husband as the head of the wife. Marg Mowczko has written some excellent articles on the topic and Cynthia Long Westfall’s “Paul and Gender” (Amazon has it 33% off!) gives an incredibly thorough treatment of this as well as several other key passages related to women and their role in marriage, the Church and society. I would recommend you read these resources if you are trying to understand what Paul actually meant here.

Unfortunately, sending people like this commenter to these resources is a lost cause, because they do not believe people who see these Scriptures differently than them are arguing in good faith.

In my experience, they inevitably believe that Westfall, Mowczko and others are simply twisting the Bible to say what they want it to say. They will not listen because they believe we are perverting the “clear reading” of Scripture for our “feminist agenda”. I have even heard people suggest that when someone honestly asks, “Did Paul really mean x, y or z?”” that they are in fact echoing the serpent in the garden saying, “Did God really say?….”

I not only acknowledge that I could have a bias, I have publicly stated that I come to the Bible with the idea that women are equal to men in dignity, value and significance and that God loves His daughters as much as He loves His sons.  I accept and embrace that this inevitably will influence how I read Scripture. In fact, if I see something in the Bible that seems to contradict this, I will wonder if I am interpreting the Bible incorrectly. I have no problem with this as I believe these ideas are self-evident and do not need Biblical proof texting.

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To give another example of the same phenomenon, when I read in Psalm 104:5He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.” (ESV) it does not convince me that science is in fact incorrect and the earth is not moving around the sun at 107,000 km/hr. The fact that this verse suggests that the earth is not moving is irrelevant as I know a priori that it is. My prior knowledge influences me to have a more accurate understanding of what the Scripture means while a literal one would leave me confused or – worse – believing nonsense.

Now certainly my ideas about equality do not have the same weight as the scientific proof behind our understanding of the solar system, but I am willing to stand on them nonetheless without apology or embarrassment.

What I don’t see on the other side, however, is any similar acknowledgement that they may have a bias.

They honestly believe they are seeing the “plain reading of Scripture” and that plain reading simply says men rule and women follow, like it or not. Full stop. They refuse to accept that maybe they have a predisposition to interpret verses through a more male-dominated lens. They believe they are immune to bias, a position which any intellectually honest person realizes can only be incredibly naïve or incredibly arrogant.

But whether or not the other side acknowledges their bias does not excuse me from checking my own.

So as a mental exercise, let’s look at 1 Cor 11:3 and give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s put aside ideas of justice, equality, fairness, etc. and assume they are correct in their assumption that head really does mean authority. (I will even use the incredibly biased translation of the ESV for all my Scripture quotes throughout this article.)

If head means authority, then what Paul is saying in summary is:

“Christ is in authority over every man, the man is in authority over his wife and God is in authority over Christ”.

But if the point of the passage is authority relationships, everything is mixed up and it makes no sense. It should read:

“I want you to know that the head of the wife is the man, the head of the man is Christ and the head of Christ is God”.

The fact that it doesn’t follow this order should suggest that maybe it is talking about something else.

But beyond that, what does the whole of Scripture say about these three relationships?

I’m not a theologian, but it seems to me that in Scripture the relationship between the Father and the Son is not marked by hierarchy, but by mutuality. The idea that the Father is in charge, with a Son who is totally subordinate “junior partner” in the Trinity has a name. It’s called “The Eternal Subordination of the Son” and despite its promotion by certain elements in the church, it is a heresy.

And what does the whole of Scripture say about authority itself? Time and again Scripture teaches us that authority is something that is meant to be laid down for others not appropriated for ourselves. When Jesus disciples bickered about who was to be the greatest, Jesus didn’t give them a pecking order so they would all know where they stand. He told them they were missing the point entirely. So why is it so important for people to make sure women know their place? Is it really a desire to be true to Scripture or is something else going on? We humans want to know who is in charge. That is our bias. Scripture consistently encourages us to see past that.

A high view of Scripture should take all of Scripture into account rather than using isolated verses to proof text our biased viewpoint.

Any verses that we think are about authority (just like every other verse) should be seen through the lens of the entirety of Scripture. And every time Paul talks about the husband being the head, it seems to me the point is not hierarchy but unity. The point is that the head and the body are connected to each other and dependent on each other. This is my plain reading of the text and I cannot see how anyone can see it otherwise.

Paul consistently uses the marriage relationship as a figure of what Jesus was trying to say in his high priestly prayer:

“that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”

(John 17:21 ESV).

To think Paul’s point is to establish a pecking order is an incredibly low view of Scripture, which is obvious to anyone who can lay down their biased assumption that “head” means authority for even one second. And to teach that the point of these verses is that women need to know their place and that it is under men? That does not reveal a “ high view of Scripture”; it shows you are missing the point of the Scripture entirely.

Inigo’s comedic puzzling through what “inconceivable” might actually mean is even funnier when you consider the irony that Vezzini styled himself a genius.

“Ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?” he asked. “Morons!” he declared. Yet all the ways that Wesley was foiling Vezzini’s clever plan were “inconceivable” only in the sense that Vezzini hadn’t thought of them. The most hilarious part of the joke is that it lays bare that Vezzini wasn’t as smart as he thought he was.

Maybe with a little humility we can avoid repeating his mistake.

What does 1 Corinthians 11:3 mean?

What do you think? Have we read our biases into Scripture? How can we get others to recognize their biases against women? Let’s talk in the comments!

Keith Gregoire

Keith Gregoire

Blog and Podcast Contributor, Co-Author with Sheila of two upcoming marriage books

Keith is the rock that supports Sheila, who runs this blog! Sheila and Keith married when Keith was attending Queen's University medical school in Kingston, Ontario. He later completed his residency in pediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children, and has since directed the pediatric undergraduate program at Queen's University, and been Chief of Pediatrics at a community hospital in Belleville, Ontario. He and Sheila speak at marriage conferences around the world, and together they've also done medical missions in Kenya. Next up: They're authoring The Guy's Guide to Great Sex together! Plus, of course, he's an avid birdwatcher.

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