Head of the House

This has been on my mind since the very first time I saw a meme about women fixing plates for their husbands but I never took the time to write it down. Now that I've seen this argument several times, I feel like it's time we sat down and discussed the Biblical order of a house and what that really means.
This has been on my mind since the very first time I saw a meme about women fixing plates for their husbands but I never took the time to write it down. Now that I've seen this argument several times, I feel like it's time we sat down and discussed the Biblical order of a house and what that really means.


Every couple of months or so, someone revives an asinine argument about women fixing a plate for their husband verses their child on social media. Some people argue that the child's plate should be fixed first, others argue that the husband's should be fixed first. Naturally those who argue in support of the husband's plate being fixed first try to cite the Biblical order of a house to validate their answer. Because I see so many spiritual flaws in the arguments floating around, I feel obligated to talk about this subject.

The first thing we need to do is establish what the Bible says about marriage and roles within a marriage, but then we need to talk about what that actually means. After we've set the Biblical precedence, I'll talk about the spiritual flaws presented in this particular scenario.

God's Design of a Marriage

Photocredit: Perez Moya
A lot of people believe that Eve was supposed to be submissive to Adam from the very beginning, even before the fall. One person argues that this design is obvious because Adam was created before Eve. Most cultures do dictate that the oldest is the person in charge. 1 Peter 5:8, which commands the young to submit to the old, and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 seems to support this interpretation, but I have my doubts.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.Genesis 3:16 KJV
When I started re-reading the Bible, something stood out to me when God punished Eve at the fall. If you look at Genesis 3:16, it seems that part of her punishment is that she should be ruled over by her husband. It seemed odd to me that God would punish Eve with something that was already in effect. That would be like your parents punishing you buy making you go to school, even though you already had to go to school... That's not a punishment, it's everyday life.

Even with 1 Peter 5:8 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13, there are questions to be asked. 1 Peter 5:8 is talking to us post-fall; it follows the order God established at the fall, but it doesn't actually confirm that things were this way before the fall. Further, in 1 Timothy 2:12-13, if you continue reading through 1 Timothy 2:14, you see that the husband was called to lead not just because he was created first, but because he was not deceived. In the garden Adam knew with 100% certainty that eating the fruit was wrong and would get them into trouble. Yet, instead of putting his foot down to stop Eve, calling out to God for help, or allowing Eve to fall alone, he went along with it. Then he had the nerve to blame it on Eve when he knew better the whole time!

Recently, I found an interesting interpretation of Genesis 3:16 that would explain my question of how someone could be punished with something that was already set in stone. This interpretations suggests that the second part of this verse is actually talking about the battle of the sexes that has been going on throughout time. They claim the Hebrew word translated to "desire" in the verse is the same as the one in Genesis 4:7. This word is said to mean control, and thus they interpret Genesis 3:16 to say the woman will try to control the man and the man will rule the woman. They relate this to the flawed interactions we have today in which men abuse their wives and try to rule with force instead of love; meanwhile women fight to be in charge and take said power from men.[1]

Naturally, I had to follow up their claim with some research. According to a couple references, תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ (teshuqah) is the Hebrew word translated to desire.[2][3] I looked up the word in Strong's lexicon (which defines Hebrew words of the Bible and shows their usage throughout the Bible). Although it is true that this word is used in Genesis 4:7 as well, the meaning of the word is given to be "longing" or "craving."[4] It doesn't appear to have anything to do with control.

Nonetheless, the interpretation does bring up a good point. It really doesn't matter what the roles of husband and wife were before the fall, because it's clear was the roles are after the fall and we live after the fall. The following verses all confirm man to be head of the house:
  • Genesis 3:16
  • 1 Peter 3:5
  • Ephesians 5:22-24
  • Colossians 3:18
  • 1 Corinthians 11:3
However, because we are fallen, the concept of leading and ruling has been greatly perverted. Genesis 3:16 may not be a reference to the abuse women have suffered at the hands of men or the subsequent fight for power by women, but this issue is deeply related to how we see the roles of husband and wife today.

What Does it Mean to Lead?

People are always referencing God's command that a man is to be the head of the household, usually by citing the verses above about women submitting to their husbands. However, I seldom see people go on to the next verses that describe how a man should lead. People should question what exactly it means to be the head of a home. Too many think being in charge, or being a leader, is about bossing people around and getting their say all the time. If you take the time to read all the verses on marriage and/or leadership in the Bible, the definition of leadership is clearly outlined.

For starters, let's read the what God has his servants to tell the husbands after they tell the wives to submit:
  • 1 Peter 3:7
  • Ephesians 5:25-33
  • Colossians 3:19

1 Peter 3:1-7

We know that 1 Peter 3:5-6 praises women who submit to their husbands as holy women, but let's look at the verses surrounding that verse (1 Peter 3:1-7). 1 Peter 3:1 addresses the issue of a woman whose husband is not obeying God. This man could be a believer that has become disobedient or could be a non-believer. Either way, Peter says that the women should be in "subjection" that the husbands may be won over "by the conversation of the wives." As Peter goes on, he reminds the husbands to give honor to the wives and deal with them in knowledge (1 Peter 3:7). Peter commands them to be protective of their wives as they would over anyone weaker than them. I point these two verses out because it illustrates fundamental points about leadership.

First, the fact that a woman can save her husband through conversation proves that the woman has the right to speak and engage in said conversation. Many quote 1 Timothy 2:12, which condemns women from teaching, but if a woman can never teach, how is that Peter expects a woman's conversation to change the heart of her husband? 1 Peter 3:1 proves that women were allowed to think independently from their husband and speak about their faith within the marriage. What makes this different from usurping power, or what happened in the garden of Eden is both how the man reacts and wether the woman is in tune with God or not. What I'm trying to say is that a good leader is not necessarily the person who comes up with all the ideas, rather a good leader is able to distinguish a good idea from a bad idea. So should it be be in a marriage; the wife may present ideas and suggestions, and the man should consider the possibility, not merely pull rank to enforce his own will. If he determines it is an ungodly idea, he will reject it (as Adam should have), but if it's a good idea he would follow up on it. In submitting, the wife would accept this.

Second, is the fact that a leader protects. A Godly man wants his wife and children to feel safe at all times and he wants to provide an environment that they can thrive in despite being physically weaker or shorter or whatever the case may be. A good leader is able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of those around him and leverage these for the benefit of the cause. For instance, during the winter, my dad chops wood for the fireplace; the woodpile is in our backyard not far from the house. Usually my dad would build the fire and keep it going. However, if my dad had to be away from the house for most of the day, he would make preparations so that my mother and I didn't have to worry about the fire. Sometimes this meant choosing a log that would burn until he got back, other times it meant bringing in a stack of wood and sitting it directly beside the fireplace so my mom wouldn't have to struggle across the yard with it. A good leader knows the limitations of his partner and does what he can to uplift them.

Ephesians 5:25-33

Ephesians 5:25-33 is powerful because it relates a husband's love and treatment of his wife to the Christ's love and treatment of the church. No pressure, right? Jesus loved the church so much that He was willing to come down to Earth and suffer for our sins so that we might appear spotless before the Father. Despite trying to put the blame off on Eve, Adam behaved similarly. Remember 1 Timothy 2:14 tells us that Adam wasn't deceived, he could have let Eve eat the fruit on her own and refused to eat of it himself. Adam had everything he could ask for in the garden and clear sight that his action would change that, just like Jesus knew His ministry would culminate in the crucifixion. Yet, Adam chose to follow Eve into spiritual death. Obviously, it would have been better for him to stop her so that there was no spiritual death, but the point is, he was willing to give up everything for his wife just as Christ was willing to give up things for us.

In these verses, Paul is also reminding us that the wife and husband are one flesh. As such, the husband should treat the wife the way he would treat himself because she is an extension of him. A Godly husband does not want his wife to be battered and bruised because he doesn't want himself to be battered and bruised. He doesn't want her in rags or starving because he does not want those things for himself. He wants her to have all that he has because he sees her as a part of himself. A good leader acknowledges that those around him have value and wishes to help them achieve the best they can.

Colossians 3:19

Colossians 3:19 instructs husbands to do two things: love their wives and not be bitter toward them. Neither of these suggest lording over the wife with an iron first. In fact, if you go back to the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 24:5 lays out a public law that a newly married man is supposed to stay home making his wife happy. The Israelites could not send him to war and they couldn't burden him with business. Perhaps this is where the modern honeymoon, albeit shorter, takes it's inspiration. The husband has a duty maintain his wife's happiness and that duty was crucial enough for God to tell Moses to write it in the law. A good leader knows that the morale and happiness of his supporters is important, so he concerns himself with their wellbeing.

Luke 22:24-27

Luke 22:24-27 isn't specifically about a man and a wife, but it is a picture of leadership given in the Bible that I think is particularly important when we discuss men as the leaders of our homes. So many men today talk about being "the king" and being treated like "the king" that I think this passage really should be quoted more often.

22And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 25And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.Luke 22:24-27 KJV
In this passage, Jesus tells His disciples not to be like the Gentile kings who rule with fear and force. Instead, He desires for them to lead by serving. Many of the men desiring to be treated like kings are talking about the behavior these Gentile kings were afforded due to the fear and force they exerted on their people. They have an expectation that they will be put upon a pedestal and served, but that isn't what Jesus taught.

Jesus, King of Kings, embodies servitude throughout the New Testament. A specific example is when He washes the feet of disciples before the last supper (Matthew 26:14-39; Luke 22:24-27; and John 13:1-7).

Back in September, the pastor at my church gave a phenomenal sermon about the concept of leading by serving. He talked about this very concept of Jesus coming down from Heaven and humbling himself to a human life to lead us out of sin.[6] Jesus did not sit on the throne commanding us to do this and do that; He came to Earth and walked the walk. He dealt with the Pharisees harassment, he struggled through His family not supporting Him (John 7:5), He was tempted, He was beaten and spat upon, He even died (and rose!)—He doesn't ask us to go through anything He wasn't willing to go through Himself. A true leader is willing to do all that he asks his followers to do.

Who Should the Wife Serve First?

So, back to this question about whom the wife should prepare a plate for first. I'm going to be honest and tell you I think it's a very flawed question. First, it makes the assumption that the husband should not be serving, and second, it lacks context. Are we talking about an infant child or a fifteen year old?! Clearly an older child can fix their own plate, and to be honest, so can a husband...

I never saw my grandmother fix a plate for my grandfather, and I never saw the women at my church fix plates for the husbands at church gatherings. My parents have been married for 35+ years, and in general, they both fix their own plates. When I was too young to fix a plate for myself, whichever parent I was closest to fixed my plate. So, if I was standing by my dad, he made me a plate. When we would sit around the house during non-meal times, whoever got up fixed plates. For example, if I got up to go to the bathroom, my mom may ask me to bring her some water when I came back. My dad, who has a sweet tooth, might get up to get some pie and offer pie for the rest of the family. If we accepted, he would fix pie for each person and serve it. Basically, the rule is, when you get up see if anyone wants anything.

I think it's nice to serve someone you love, but I think it's important to remember all the points I made above. It shouldn't be expected that a woman would always serve the man and the man never serve the woman. Both of my parents worked 8-5, which meant they were both tired when they got home. If the husband had a rough day at work (or just because), by all means I think the wife should cater to him, but I think the same should come from the husband. When my mom had a rough day or didn't feel well, my dad took care of me and cooked dinner. On mother's day, my dad made breakfast for my mom and served it to her. This doesn't make him less of leader, in fact it proves he is a leader.

In the recent conversation about this topic, someone suggested that by serving the child first the mother is teaching the child not to recognize the father as head of the house. However, being head of the house has nothing to do with who eats first. In fact, what kind of man expects to eat before making sure his wife and child are provided for?

When I was small, we would go to McDonalds and I ask for a cheeseburger with no pickles and no bread (yes, I've always been a picky eater), but my dad would order a normal cheeseburger, take the bread and the pickles and eat them while I ate what I wanted and my mom ate what she wanted. As I child, I thought my dad had an affinity for bread and pickles, but now that I'm older, I realize that he couldn't afford a meal for all three of us so he got food for me and my mom and ate what was left. Now that is the head of the house.


  1. Gregory Brown, PhD. "2. Foundation Two: Gender Roles In Marriage". July 7, 2015
  2. "Genesis 3:16". Bible Hub; visited February 2018
  3. "Genesis Chapter 3". Mechon Mamre; visited February 2018
  4. "Lexicon :: Strong's H8669 - tĕshuwqah". Blue Letter Bible; visited February 2018
  5. " 8669. teshuqah". Bible Hub; visited February 2018
  6. Pastor Joseph Salajan. Up the Down Staircase, or Down the Up Staircase?". Plantation Seventh Day Adventist Church Media Center. September 2, 2017

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