All of these terms are interconnected but denote separate relationships. I want to clarify because there are some slight differences between “authority” and “headship” given further study into the Greek.
First, let me define each of the terms.
- Authority (exousia G1849, G1850) is the power to independently lead. However, as exemplified by God and Christ perfect authority is the responsibility to love others.
G1849 — ἐξουσία — exousia — ex-oo-see’-ah
From G1832 (in the sense of ability); privilege, that is, (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence: – authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.
- Head (kephale G2776) used in the context of the Scriptures is synonymous with headship — or determining/directing action — but, like the body, there is interdependence between the head and the body: or Christ:Church and husband:wife.
Probably from the primary wordκάπτω kaptō (in the sense of seizing); the head (as the part most readily taken hold of), literally or figuratively: – head.
- Submission (hupotasso G5293) — a voluntary act either (1) under authority/headship or (2) not under authority/headship.
G5293 — ὑποτάσσω — hupotassō — hoop-ot-as’-so
From G5259 and G5021; to subordinate; reflexively to obey: – be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.
- Obedience (hupakouo G5219 & peitharcheo G3980) — an involuntary act under authority.
G5219 — ὑπακούω — hupakouō — hoop-ak-oo’-o
From G5259 and G191; to hear under (as a subordinate), that is, to listen attentively; by implication to heed or conform to a command or authority: – hearken, be obedient to, obey.
G3980 — πειθαρχέω — peitharcheō — pi-tharkh-eh’-o
From a compound of G3982 and G757; to be persuaded by a ruler, that is, (generally) to submit to authority; by analogy to conform to advice: – hearken, obey (magistrates).
- Slave/servant (doulos G1401) — is under the authority of his master.
G1401 — δοῦλος — doulos — doo’-los
From G1210; a slave (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency): – bond (-man), servant.
- Minster/servant (diakonos G1247, G1249) — synonymous with the English word deacon. Jesus uses this word in terms of serving/ministering (washing His disciples feet).
G1249 — διάκονος — diakonos — dee-ak’-on-os
Probably from διάκω diakō (obsolete, to run on errands; compare G1377); an attendant, that is, (generally) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess): – deacon, minister, servant.
- Pastor/shepherd (Poimen G4166)
G4166 — ποιμήν — poimēn — poy-mane’
Of uncertain affinity; a shepherd (literally or figuratively): – shepherd, pastor.
- Overseer/bishop (episcopos G1985)
G1985 — ἐπίσκοπος — episkopos — ep-is’-kop-os
From G1909 and G4649 (in the sense of G1983); a superintendent, that is, Christian officer in general charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively): – bishop, overseer.
Now, there are relationships between all of these, so let’s look at them in order. The different meanings of words will denote different aspects of relationships.
Authority (exousia) — obedience (hupokouo/peitharcheo) — Jesus has this authority over heaven and earth given His statement at the Great Commission. This is the authority over another which is involuntary and must be obeyed. For example, Jesus calming the storm. This is also the relationship between parents and children. If there are instances in which authority is disobeyed, then the authority has the right to punish those under it in the physical world aside from the consequences of spiritual disobedience if any. Disobedience is sin.
Authority (exousia) — submission (hupotasso) — This is the relationship between Father-Christians, government-Christians, masters-slaves. In this relationship it is exactly the same as authority-obedience, but those under authority have the voluntary choice whether or not to obey. Thus, this is authority over another which is voluntary and must be obeyed. If there are instances in which authority is disobeyed, then the authority has the right to punish those under it in the physical world aside from the consequences of spiritual disobedience if any. Disobedience is sin.
This is also where doulos falls under in terms of we are slaves to Christ. Like the NT authors state, they are slaves (or bond servants) to Christ voluntarily submitted in order that they do His will which is to make disciples, baptize, and teach them what Jesus had commanded.
Headship — submission — this the relationship between the Church and Christ, and husbands and wives. In this relationship, unlike authority-submission Christ and husband has no ability to compel obedience from Church and the wife. The husband heads/leads of the marriage ideally as commanded through love, but the wife must choose to submit to this headship. In general, the Scriptures tell the wife to submit to the husband so the relationship operates in unity. But is the wife does not submit to the husband’s headship she disrupts unity which is rebellion which is sin, but the husbands as the head has no right to punish in the physical world aside from the consequences of spiritual disobedience if any. Disobedience is sin. Though God/Jesus can override the physical world punishment with their authority over all but they don’t because of free will.
Headship — minister — essentially, Jesus is to the Church, as husbands are to wives, as deacons, pastors, and overseers are to the Church.
Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (diakonos), 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave (doulos); 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served (diakoneō), but to serve (diakoneō), and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Luke 22:25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant (diakoneō). 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves (diakoneō)? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves (diakoneō).
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd (poimēn); the good shepherd (poimēn) lays down His life for the sheep.
Acts 20:28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock (poimnion), among which the Holy Spirit has made you [a]overseers (episkopos), to shepherd (poimainō) the church of God which He [b]purchased [c]with His own blood.
In marriage, neither the husband is more important than the wife, or the wife more important than the husband, though both more than the children. But the meaning of to serve is to take into account the two as one. Put the needs of unity above that of the self. A husband that runs himself down caring for the wife is in error just as a husband who takes care of only himself: the husband treats his wife as himself (Eph 5).
However, in the context of deacons, pastors, and overseers to the Church, there is no submission of the Church to these positions. This is where the “mutual submission” verse also comes into context:
Ephesians 5:15 Therefore [j]be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 [k]making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, [l]for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to [m]one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to [n]God, even the Father; 21 [o]and be subject (hupotasso) to one another (allēlōn) in the [p]fear of Christ.
Note that allēlōn is primarily used in reference to “one another” in context of the Church. As both husbands and wives are part of the body of Christ as well as being married, both roles and responsibilities apply as I explored in Is there mutual submission or not:
If a believer is caught is in sin and a brother or sister points it out then we should “be subject” to their correction or rebuke in fear of Christ/God [in order to root out sin] so as to be imitators of God.
This aligns clearly with Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 on how to treat believers in sin.
If a Christian husband is in sin a wife should point it out **respectfully** so as to honor the roles and responsibilities in marriage. If he is indeed sin then he should “submit” to that correction in fear of Christ. In this a wife is her husband’s helpmeet as to the Lord, and she is acting as a fellow believer in Christ to her husband.
If an unbelieving husband is in sin, then the passage from 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 7 applies. I discussed this thoroughly in Wives will never win their husbands with words.
Thus, the only exceptions to headship are defined clearly through the Scriptures. A husband is to submit to the wife is in the context of if he is in clear sin (via Eph 5:21, Matt 18, 1 Cor 5) or if he refuses to have sex with her (1 Corinthians 7).
edit: I forgot to look up elders (Presbuteros) and there is submission involved with that:
1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders (Presbuteros); and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
Submission of the younger to the older, because they are typically more wise and knowledgable.
In conclusion, there are different levels of hierarchies which I was mistakenly grouping together in some of my previous articles. In particular, the main 4 are as follows:
Who: Jesus-heavens and earth, Parents-Children
What: Authority may involuntarily (no free will) compel those underneath to do something, The authority may punish disobedience. Disobedience is sin.
- Authority-Submission — This is Father-Christians, Government-Christians, Masters-Slaves, and even things such as Boss-Employee.
Who: Father/God-Christians, Government-Christians, Masters-Slaves, and even things such as Boss-Employee. Christ-Church too (although Jesus chooses to exercise headship “If you love me you you will follow my commands” over compelling obedience).
What: Authority may compel those underneath to do something, and those under have a voluntary (free will) choice to submit to it. The authority may punish disobedience. Disobedience is sin.
- Headship-Submission — This is God-Jesus, Christ-Church and husband-wives
Who: God-Jesus, Christ-man, men-women, Christ-Church, husband-wives
What: The head leads through love and has no authority to compel obedience, and those underneath have a voluntary (free will) choice to submit. The head has no right to punish non-submission in the physical world, but non-submission breaks unity which is sin. (Though God/Jesus can override the non-physical punishment with their authority over all but they don’t because of free will).
Exceptions: A husband is to submit to the wife is in the context of if he is in clear sin (via Eph 5:21, Matt 18, 1 Cor 5) or if he refuses to have sex with her (1 Corinthians 7).
- Headship/Mutual Submission — This is pastors/deacons/overseers/bishops and the flock/congregation.
Who: Pastors/deacons/overseers/bishops and the flock/congregation
What: The head leads through love and has no authority to compel, and those all of those involved have a voluntary (free will) choice to submit to each other.
edit: submission of younger to the older (presbuteros) is present in the Scriptures 1 Peter 5:5.
I found this study pretty informative to say the least. I realized how many structures were present, but I didn’t consider the different roles, responsibilities, and consequences until I looked closer at the Scriptures. This slightly changes the way I’m looking at marriage currently.
However, I still don’t agree with the Gabriella that a husband is to ever submit to the wife except if he is in sin or if he is denying her conjugal rights. Also, if the wife goes against the headship of the husband she is in rebellion and thus sin just as if the husband’s headship is not born out of love he is in sin.
There is no “equality” present in any of these structures. Just different roles, responsibilities, and consequences. Even in mutual submission there is nothing about equality but rather maintaining unity through building each other up (one another) or helping others (one another) away from sin.