One of the several mistakes that gender hierarchalists today make in reading about marriage is to assume a 21st century understanding of the use of ‘head’. The facts are that Paul and Christ spoke to correct the very Aristotelianism that had pervaded Judeo-Islamic philosophical and theological thinking in the middle ages before Christ. Such views still pervade our churches today, simply because men in general like power. While Aristotle viewed it important that the wife be happy, he thought it was the husband’s job to govern the accomplishment of such and that women needed governing as the weaker element. In Aristotle’s view only men were made suitable to govern. In Aristotle's thinking the very frame of women showed that they were only suitable to bear and raise children. All his teachings were pretty much based on those two paradigms.
Within a more contextual reading of Ephesians 5, there is the fact that in Eph. 5:1-2 ALL believers are told to love sacrificially as Christ did toward us. Add the closing admonition to this section in Eph. 5:21 where ALL believers are admonished to submit to one another in the fear of God and we have mutuality by both men and women. Then stepping into the relationship of marriage wives are admonished to carry that mutuality toward their husbands. For wives that was a step up and away from obedience that the culture taught. And that mutuality was to be in everything.
Husbands are then reminded that the sacrificial love spoken of in Eph. 5:1-2 is to be extended toward their wives. Nothing is said about leading the wives, or disciplining,or discipling, teaching or any such thing. Rather the husband is told that like Christ he is to nurture and cherish (provide and protect) his wife.
Eph.5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and GAVE himself for it;”
The Greek word translated GAVE is PARADIDOMI, defined by the Blue Letter Bible dictionary as: ‘to give into the hands (of another)’ ‘to give over into (one’s) power or use’ ‘to deliver to another something to keep, use, take care of, manage’, also give oneself up, present oneself. Just as Christ gave Himself completely up for the salvation benefit of those who would believe on Him, so husbands are to lay down their lives for the benefit, the welfare, the promotion of the life of their wives.
Add in that Paul painted an interestingly profound picture of deep attachment to one another by telling the wife (not the husband) to view the husband as her physical head (nothing to do with leadership). Then Paul tells the husband (not the wife) to view the wife as his physical body (not a slave or servant). I say “view” because each has their own head and body. The metaphorical purpose I see in Eph. 5:21-33
is to show them they are to come together as one flesh, as perfectly united in deep harmonious attachment so that they are like one unit. The head needs the body to live and the body needs the head to live. Life, true spiritual life together is what is being promoted. This is found in submissive mutuality, honor, and deep love.
The popular ideas of gender hierarchy that applaud men as superior, in control, and such cannot promote the end result that Paul paints a picture of in Ephesians 5. And the ending in verse 31 points us back to Genesis where we see that this harmonious unity is supposed to produce one whole unit, two become as one. And this is the profound unity that Christ prayed the Father for (John 17:6-19) when He said that everything He had belongs to the Father and everything that the Father has belongs to Him, indicating those believers who would believe in Him. He prayed the Father to keep them safe so that they may be one just as He and the Father are one. This is the mystery of Christ and the church. This is the mystery and glory of our relationship with God, we in Him and Him in us. And this only happens when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice to Him, as He has already done so for eternity for us. Then, and only then are we able to do the same for one another, including within the blessings of marriage.