4 Ways God Established a Husband’s Headship at Creation

Twice the apostle Paul stated the headship of a husband:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:3—But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
  • Ephesians 5:23—For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

Although these verses are found in the New Testament, a husband’s headship didn’t have its beginning under the New Covenant. Neither does male headship have its beginning in the Old Testament under the Old Covenant. It doesn’t even have its beginning at the fall.

Male headship began at creation itself

Understanding this is important, because if we think headship began after the fall, then it becomes part of sin’s curse. If we see headship beginning at creation, we understand it is part of God’s natural, healthy, divine plan for husbands and wives.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and the rest of Genesis 1 gives an overview of all six days of creation. God created man and woman on the sixth day. Then, in Genesis 2:7–25, God zooms in on the creation of Adam and Eve since mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation. It is in this account that God established man’s headship.

1. God established Adam’s headship by creating him first

We are so familiar with the verses that it is easy to miss the significance of some of the details. Imagine reading the passage for the first time. Since God created the animals in pairs, male and female, what would we expect Him to do with the creation of humankind? We would expect Him to create the first man and woman at the same time—as a pair, male and female—but that’s not what He did. According to Paul, this is one of the main reasons women shouldn’t have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12–13).

2. God established Adam’s headship by giving him the first command

Creating Adam before Eve allowed God to give His first command to Adam alone. Genesis 2:16–17 says:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God gave the command to Adam as he stood there alone. When Eve was fashioned, Adam had the responsibility of passing along to her the command he had learned from God. Then Eve had the responsibility of trusting her husband. God did not have to do it this way. He could have given the command to both of them after Eve was created, but in doing it this way, God established Adam’s headship in the relationship.

3. God established Adam’s headship by having him name the animals and Eve

God wanted Adam to have authority over all creation. In Genesis 1:26, He said:

Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

God wanted man to have authority over creation, and He established that authority by directing Adam to name the animals. Genesis 2:19–20 records:

Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.

Again, God did something with Adam that He could have had Adam and Eve do together. Instead, He had Adam name the animals alone, and in doing it established his authority over the animals. After God fashioned Eve from Adam’s side, parts of Genesis 2:22–23 record: “He brought her to the man. And Adam said, “She shall be called Woman.”

4. God established Adam’s headship by having only him “leave father and mother”

Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Why doesn’t the command mention a woman leaving her father and mother? The man is moving out from under his parents’ authority and establishing his own headship—or authority—over his family. But the woman is not doing the same. She is simply moving from being under her father to being under her husband.

This is why 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not say, “The head of every man and woman is Christ.” Instead, it states, “The head of every man is Christ [and] the head of woman is man.” Women remain under a man’s authority, first her father’s and then her husband’s, and these men are under Christ. This biblical principle is played out at weddings symbolically when the father walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her to the man who is about to become her husband. The image is of a transfer of headship from father to husband.

Discussion Questions

  • What evidence shows that God established male headship at creation?
  • Why is it important to recognize God established male headship before the fall?
  • What is the significance of God:
    • Creating Adam first and then Eve, instead of creating them as a pair as He did with the animals?
    • Bringing Eve to Adam so he could name her?
    • Commanding man to leave father and mother without giving the same command to woman?

22 thoughts on “4 Ways God Established a Husband’s Headship at Creation

  1. I have never read or heard that God created man to leave and cleave and not the woman? That is all new to me so I will have to dig deeper on this as I was just teaching on it last night. Thanks for giving me something to ponder

  2. I am really interested in the foundational information you have put into these newer posts. The biblical foundation is so important, I can’t wait to read a bit more.

  3. Scott – I can appreciate your point here about the order of God and the hierarchy that establishes His authority over creation. And, even though this might surprise you, I am a firm believer that husbands are the head of their household… however, I am not sure this exact line of reasoning works, as I am not clear on when Adam and Eve were actually married… God said He created Eve as a helpmate for Adam… one could see that as a coworker, or even a friend… so are you saying that men have headship over women in all circumstances?

    1. Hi Marissa,
      Those are good questions. Thanks for asking!

      First, as far as when they were married, if I had to choose one verse to identify the moment I would go with Genesis 2:24—Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. This is the verse used in the New Testament by Jesus and Paul when discussing marriage (Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31).

      Second, no, men do not have authority (they are not the head over) women that are not their wives. There’s a section in my book titled, “Submission Does Not Mean That Wives Submit to Other Men.” Here’s part of it that answers your question:

      While Scripture is clear that God commands wives to submit to their husbands, it is equally clear that wives are commanded to submit only to their husbands. Each command in Scripture for wives to submit makes this clear:
      • Ephesians 5:22a—Wives, submit to your own husbands.
      • Ephesians 5:24—Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
      • Colossians 3:18a—Wives, submit to your own husbands.
      • Titus 2:3—5 Older women likewise . . . admonish the young women . . . to be obedient to their own husbands.
      • 1 Peter 3:1a—Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands.
      Wives should see themselves under their own husbands’ authority, but not under the authority of other husbands. Even in the church, a wife is under the authority of her husband, and her husband is under the authority of the leadership of the church: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
      In Genesis 2:18 when God spoke of creating the first woman, He did not say, “I will make men [plural] helpers.” He said: “I will make him [singular] a helper.”

      You said, “…in all circumstances.” Here are some acceptable circumstances as an example that show men being subordinate to a woman:
      • A male orderly serving a male nurse
      • A male aide or janitor serving a female teacher. When I was an elementary school teacher I served female principals
      • We have Christmas and Easter plays in our church that can be directed by women who are in charge of male actors

      Good questions. Please let me know if you have any others.

  4. I don’t think I ever thought about God establishing marriage at creation — even to Adam naming “woman.” It re-enforces the importance God places on the correct placement of our roles in marriage and the trust we place in our husbands. My daughter told me, “Why don’t women want to submit to their husband’s authority? It’s sure easier not to be the one making the final decisions.” Made me laugh, but when we are following God’s order, we do find it easy to be submissive.

    1. Hi Pamela,
      Yes, that’s a good way to think of it. God’s establishment of headship at creation is a reflection of Him being a “God of order” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

      Your daughter sounds like a wise young lady :). When submission is viewed that way, the large responsibility placed on husbands’ shoulders can be better appreciated.

  5. “God gave the command to Adam as he stood there alone. When Eve was fashioned, Adam had the responsibility of passing along to her the command he had learned from God. Then Eve had the responsibility of trusting her husband. ” And yet, when God was in the garden with Adam and Eve after the fruit was eaten, it was Eve who spoke up and took responsibility for her actions, while Adam kept quiet, then proceeded to blame Eve for his mistake. The other issue with your statement, is that if Adam and Eve are created in God’s image, and the Trinity is equal, then Adam having headship OVER Eve would then hint that the Trinity isn’t equal and that there is a hierarchy within it.

    1. Hi Nicole,
      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Yes, you’re right that Adam definitely made excuses. He blamed his wife, and he blamed God for giving him that wife. But I’m not sure your point in mentioning that? I do agree with you though that he blamed Eve!

      Actually, the equality between each Person in the Trinity and the submission, authority, and headship that still exists is powerful evidence that there can be submission, authority, headship in marriage and there can still be equality! A common criticism of submission goes like this: “If wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, then wives are not equal to their husbands. Since God made men and women equal, wives do not have to submit.” Consider these verses demonstrating Jesus’s submission:
      • In John 5:30, Jesus stated: “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”
      • In John 6:38, Jesus said: “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
      • In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prayed only a few hours before His crucifixion, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
      Does the Son’s submission to the Father indicate that the Son is inferior to the Father? Absolutely not. Those who believe submission means women are not equal to men must also believe the Son is not equal to the Father. If we believe the Son can be both submissive to the Father and equal with Him, we must also believe that wives can be submissive to their husbands while still being equal with them.

  6. I’ve never thought about it in regards to Creation. Thank you! I’m going to re-read Genesis about this!
    Visiting from Christian Bloggers Facebook group

  7. I had never noticed before that God gave Adam the first command before Eve was around. Very interesting! And we are to trust our husbands on these things. I trust my husband, but sometimes charge ahead. I have to keep myself in check and let him lead. He is very wise and perfectly capable!

    1. Hi Tara,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think what you described (trusting your husband but sometimes charging ahead) is the case with most wives. Glad to hear you think so highly of your husband!

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