Why The Military Explanation of Biblical Male Headship Doesn’t Work.

Often times when someone asks questions about headship for which there are no clear or concrete Biblical answers the military analogy is used to explain the necessity of hierarchy or headship in Christian homes and the church but as we will see in the coming paragraphs this explanation falls short of the mark.  

If you have not heard it before here is what the military analogy sounds like in a nutshell:
The wife is to submit to the husband but submission does not mean inferiority. Men and Women are created equal in worth but different in function. The word “submit” is a military word meaning to arrange under rank. It means to come up under. A sergeant is not inferior to a captain. They are equal in personhood but different in rank. To have order in the military authority must exist in relationships otherwise there will be chaos. It is the same in the husband/wife relationship. Both husband and wife are equal in personhood but different in function. Someone must be in authority and someone must submit to that authority.

Right off the bat it must be addressed that the dangerous thing about much of our religious language or analogies is that they contain just enough truth to pass for legitimate Biblical explanations.

For instance, it is true that both husband and wife; man and woman are indeed equal in personhood. It is also true that both husband and wife; man and woman are created different in function. Let me go on further to state that this difference in function but sameness in personhood should not be attached to gender. It is true that the male and female of the species serve different functions in regard to gender but it should not be understood that one gender’s function is to serve the other gender’s function. In procreation you cannot accomplish the task without both parties. Even if all you have from one party is genetic material alone it is still from the other party. It is also true that the raising of children is the function of both and neither gender serves the other in this function. But in the spiritual realm gender is not a necessary component so things functioning of a being of a spiritual nature should not confined to the operations of the physical. If it is then there will be a huge crisis of identity when we get to Heaven.

Each divinely created human being is equal in personhood and different in function. 
There is no BUT!

We are all created uniquely. We all possess and reflect the image of God. We all have a specific God ordained purpose for our lives. So it necessarily follows that each person while maintaining equality in personhood possesses a different function in the body of Christ because each purpose is unique to the individual. We can accomplish different function and still have equality. We can also accomplish the same roles differently according our functioning.

We are like snowflakes.

Each one created uniquely and beautifully by our Awesome Creator God. Each one simply a configuration of frozen water molecules and each one awe inspiring and serving its God ordained purpose. One falls here while another falls there to accomplish the same function but each accomplishes it uniquely and differently according to their design. Have I mentioned that I love snowflakes!

Each one has the purpose or function of reflecting the image of God in their flakiness and glorifying Him yet each is unique because no other snowflake has the ability to do those things like another snowflake. Each reflection of the Creator is distinct and each act of glorifying Him is also distinct since each is unique.

People are the same; each one unique yet people are different from snowflakes because only human beings reflect the image of the Creator God.

I have often joked with others that I don’t want to change the world someday…I already have.
The day I was born my presence changed the world forever. Before my birth the world had no one else like me but after I was born the world was different simply because I was now a part of it. There was never anyone else like me before me. This may seem like a simplistic viewpoint but there is truth in the joke. I am unique and wonderfully made and the same is true for each of us. The day you entered the world you changed it too!

The military (and I might also add complementarian) explanation falls short when it uses the word “BUT” in the analogy when referring to the differences in men and women.  You see we each have the function of procreation yet men and women accomplish it differently, uniquely and neither accomplishes it without the other. The same is true in every realm of human existence; the home, the church, the world. We were meant to work together. One piece of a puzzle is not more authoritative than the other. No matter which piece is placed on the table first in completion of the puzzle all pieces are equal. The first piece laid down is not naturally in a position of authority over the other pieces simply because it was laid down first.  In contrast all puzzle pieces are equal in puzzlehood. They all represent the picture that the puzzle reflects and they all have a different function in the completion of that puzzle. Men and women are the same. If you have to use the word “but” to explain how a person is equal to you yet not equal to you then you have removed equality all together.

There are several phrases where the word “but” simply does not belong. 

                In an apology, “I am sorry…but.”
                In a declaration of love, “I love you…but.”
                Concerning a person’s honesty or validity of their statements, “I believe you…but.”
                And when speaking of the equality of mankind, “you are equal in personhood…but.” 

The “but” in each of the statements automatically negates the phrase previous to it. A more honest and direct way of presenting this information should read like this.

                In an apology, “I would be sorry…but.”
                In a declaration of love, “I would love you…but.”
                Concerning a person’s honesty or validity of their statements, “I would believe you…but.”
                When speaking of the equality of mankind, “you would be equal in personhood…but.” 

It is nothing more than a passive aggressive way of stating things so that the hearer only hears the positive words in the statement and hopefully overlooks the “but.”

You can’t be “equal…but” just like you can’t be “sorry …but.”

And if you think there’s nothing wrong with the phrase “I am sorry but” it’s probably because you are the one giving the statement instead of receiving it. Ask yourself if you are willing to accept an apology that contains a “but” or any of the above phrases that contain a “but” for that matter.
 If they aren’t acceptable to you then they shouldn’t be acceptable for anyone.

The second problem with the military hierarchy analogy seems to be the most obvious yet no one ever addresses it. In the military there is always the opportunity for promotion within the ranks. This promotion ability is based upon respect earned in exemplary service and self-sacrifice, dedication, ability, and education.

In this the analogy completely falls apart because in the male headship model the ability for promotion for the woman does not exist no matter how much respect she may be able to garner for herself as a woman in such a marriage or in religious institutions. Her abilities are limited because she is only allowed or encouraged to have abilities that pertain to her womanly rank. If she is encouraged to increase in ability she is only allowed to use whatever abilities she possesses in the same rank she already occupies. This as a natural course will inhibit or stunt her abilities because she will never be pushed beyond what she already knows, has experienced, or her “rank” in order to increase in understanding, ability, strength or stamina.

 Concerning education, she need only be educated in ways that will benefit her current rank. Since she is not to be a biblical source of teaching or authority in the church or home she need not desire to increase too much in her biblical ability. After all that is her husband’s responsibility. Such education may threaten the male headship of the home if she were to surpass her husband’s knowledge if indeed that is possible for a woman to accomplish.

If a woman gains too much Biblical education or training she may be tempted to threaten or question the male authority in the body of Christ. Her ignorance is for her protection. No, to be educated for a rank you cannot fulfill is simply a waste of your time and breeds discontentment.

Now of course in most circles this isn’t said outright. Instead phrases like “well now you’ve shot yourself in the foot” upon a woman’s gaining a religious degree are used to imply that your particular set of skills while they may surpass the male’s ability and may be desperately needed simply cannot be utilized past your “rank”. So in most religious settings unless the biblical knowledge you gained and the areas you excel in can be used within what is known as the God approved woman’s realm they really are a waste of time and effort.
Anyone remember the old joke of the man sitting on the roof of his house in a flood waiting to be rescued. A row boat comes by and the rescue worker in the boat asks if the man needs to be rescued. The man on the house yells out, “No thank you, God will provide.”
Perhaps we in the church have been saying no thank you to the means by which God desires to provide for his body…simply because it is a row boat.

In the Christian military hierarchy analogy for male headship promotion for women simply does not exist and to seek it is a sign of a rebellious heart. Meanwhile for a man to seek a higher rank is considered a sign of devotion to the body of Christ and self- sacrifice. It is to be commended and respected. The analogy falls short.
A third way this military analogy fails is in the description of duties for the ranks.

You see…there are none.

Nowhere in scripture are we told that the rank of wife fulfills such and such duty while the rank of husband fulfills this and that. There are no clear guidelines. Yet in the military the clear cut duty roster is unmistakable. Biblical headship as explained through the military hierarchy model leaves this description of duties up to…you guessed it… the husband as leader or the male church leader.

Now at this point many who hold the complementarian view would argue that the husband and wife should discuss such things mutually. The problem is that if the wife disagrees the decision rests solely within the husband’s discretion. She must submit or be in disobedience. There is no mutuality in such a scenario.  

What results is that each wife has a different description based upon the desire or understanding of her husband. Should her husband change his mind or desires her duties change as can her “rank”.

This is evidenced in the fact that of all of the literature that is available today both in print, and in electronic form, in all of the conversation you will have on this topic you will never see so much squirming or fence riding as you will when you ask someone to Biblically define the duties of each role or rank within the marriage and for scriptural proof to back it up without taking that scripture out of context.

If the military operated this way it would lead to confusion, chaos and defeat. God is the author of none of these yet He left out some very vital pieces of information with regard to this headship issue as we understand it.

Now at this point many will cite 1 Timothy 5:8 for an explanation of part of the husband’s responsibility. You know the one,
 “Men if you don’t provide for your family the Bible says you are worse than in infidel.”

The problem with this is that the focus of this passage in 1 Timothy is on taking care of widows. The “husband” is dead so the text cannot be addressing him. If we take a closer look at the text we see that it is addressed to the children of the widow. Not male children…all children.
“…if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.[1]
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.[2]

The male pronouns in this passage because English like Hebrew and Greek regularly use masculine forms when making general statements have been added for ease of reading in the English language but were not there in the Greek.

This is known as male representative case.

What does this mean for the English reader? This means that the Bible you are reading quite often has male pronouns added that are not there in the literal Greek. We add them in because Greek as a male representative case language has word endings like Spanish that are gendered.
For instance, in Spanish the object “paper” may be noted as male but that doesn’t mean that paper is actually male.

In Greek when a word refers to a group of people, unless that group is explicitly and exclusively female, it is noted as male even though females are included in the group.

The same is true in a passage that isn’t explicitly indicated as speaking only to females. The words in the Greek are male as a matter of course even though the passage is referring to females as well as males.

The mixed audience is always referred to as male.

So when the English translators translate words as male when they are a mixed group or add male pronouns for ease of reading and understanding it misleads the modern day English reader into thinking that the text is written to males or speaks specifically to or about males.

This simply is not true.

A reading of the literal Greek will show you that the pronouns are not there in 1 Timothy 5, that the text can and should be read without them and the point is that the immediate family of a widow is responsible to take care of her so the church will not have to bear that burden.

In this way the church can take care of the widows who truly have no one else to take care of them. Nowhere does the text state that this is the responsibility of the male alone. It is the responsibility of the entire family male or female.

If the widow has no children but has extended family of another sort then those members both male and female are required to take care of her.

                Anyone who does not take care of their family is worse than an infidel.

This text is not proof that men alone are ordained by God to be the providers for their family. Yet in statements of belief everywhere in various denominations you will find this verse tucked in amidst a myriad of other verses that have been plucked out of context and continuity to force a point that was never intended.  You will find this to be the case with every proof text used to support male/female gender roles.

So once again we are left with roles to fill but no gender specific or husband/wife marching orders to follow with respect to those roles or ranks. If you believe you know of such role descriptions in the Bible please be cautious to check context within context within context. Scripture was not meant to be plug and play. It must be read within the context of surrounding verse, surrounding chapters, and within the context and confines of the entire Bible.

Lastly, this military analogy leaves us with the understanding that God’s kingdom is one of a military government or regime but human military control leaves us severely wanting.

Since in scripture we are told that men as the husbands are the head of the wife and we interpret this to mean a military rank and order we are left to discover what this military looks like and how it acts.
Military regimes tend to portray themselves as non-partisan, as a "neutral" party that can provide interim leadership in times of turmoil, and also tend to portray civilian politicians as corrupt and ineffective.
There are two basic types of institutional military regimes: Bureaucratic (conservative) authoritarian regimes and revolutionary military regimes.
Military bureaucratic regimes tend to build one-party rule, though all citizens of the state are involved. A result of such a strategy would be a close cooperation with the institutions of civil society. During time, the military regimes are able to control the civil society (especially the labor unions). Like all authoritarian regimes, military bureaucratic regimes are repressive, and they attempt to eliminate all possible rivals.
In Revolutionary military regimes, the power belongs to a selected elite group. The rest of the population does not have many chances to promote their interests if they have any at all, or to participate in the political processes of the state. 
Truth is that God’s kingdom is not a military regime. It is not a human government of any kind. It is a Theocracy meaning that God alone is in control; above all.

Notice in the parable of the good steward it was their work and return on that good work or lack of it that promoted or demoted each steward. Their promotion/demotion was not once based upon their physical nature, marital status, socio-economic status, nationality or any such human activity. No, their promotion was based solely upon their ability and this was seen through the proof of their good work.

But we instinctively read the story of the good steward as though each one of the stewards were male. The text however never provides such information. It is an inference that we draw from our own experiences and understanding which are based upon our teaching and culture. Now if you are inclined to argue with this point I just want you to take a good honest look at your imagination for a second when recalling this story of the good steward and tell me quickly…is the steward a male or a female?  

Scripture calls each of God’s children a steward. Scripture calls each of God’s children a son. We each have the opportunity to gain promotion, rank, position, and opportunity in the Heavenly kingdom equally without the “but” just as we gain inheritance.

So then if the home is a picture of the church and the church is a picture of Heaven (as I have been taught) or if marriage is the picture of the relationship between Christ and the church then how are we lining up with the Biblical text we have been given about the nature and environment of our home, Heaven or of Christ’s relationship to the church?

Christ was given “to” the church not put “over” the church. Christ empowers the church with the authority and power that He has been empowered with by God so that the church could accomplish the same things Christ did on earth and greater.

If husbands and wives reflect Christ and the church are wives being empowered by the husband’s authority and power given to him by Christ so that she is able to do the same as things as her husband in this world and greater like Christ and the church?

If we are currently citizens of Heaven yet some citizens are being instructed to live as though they were citizens of this world in the body of Christ how does this line up with our Biblical text?  Does the phrase polar opposites come to mind at all?

Folks, this military analogy has been used for ages and because it contains bits and pieces of truth while distorting the truth it is easily swallowed. In reality this analogy is a danger to the body of Christ. It promotes a regime mentality; one of oppression not one of freedom or healthy relationships.
God created us for relationship not business, not war, not government. He desired someone to love Him. He desires intimacy with us His Creation. He wants us to know Him and He to know us unhindered. God created Adam and said it wasn’t good for him to be alone; that word literally means isolated.

God never said it wasn’t good for Adam not to be in charge He said it wasn’t good for him to be isolated.

We are designed for relationships; intimacy with God and each other.

True intimacy doesn’t require someone to be in charge.
But someone being in charge in intimacy negates freedom and true intimacy itself.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Ti 5:4). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Ti 5:8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Ti 5:4). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (1 Ti 5:8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.