Coheadship in Marriage
Exposing a Modern Heresy
The following is a critique of the best-selling and one of the most popular marriage-in-distress rescue books on the market by Joel & Kathy Davisson entitled The Man of Her Dreams - The Woman of His which claims a high success rate in restoring marriage. The book can be ordered at www.joelandkathy.com but before you buy it, you may wish to download free extracts which give you a gist of what the book is about. You can do that here. But beware - this book is not what it seems to be.
With so many marriages on the rocks these days and divorce rates in the West ranging between 50% and 75%, Christian couples are desperate for solutions. Enter the Davisson book promising miracles if certain basic proceedures are followed. On the surface it looks marvellous and the statistics of marriage rescues are impressive. But are the solutions spiritual or psychic? Is the result a happy Christian marriage or something else?
This brief commentary is only on the extracts and is limited to theology and doctrine. I am in agreement with 95% of its content but there are a couple of items that give me grave cause for concern because they are doctrinally, and therefore spiritually, false. Undergirding the doctrinal premise of the writers, from which they derive their key for guaranteed marriage success and 'outrageous happiness' as they call it, is the claim that husband and wife are co-heads in the marriage relationship. This conclusion is arrived from a couple of subtle, and not so subtle twists of scripture which it is the purpose of this review to examine more closely. We will look at these in turn.
1 Timothy 5:14
In the chapter entitled, Leading as a Team, the Davissons claim that in this passage Paul is stating that the wife is the head of the house, household or family. The wife is the family head! By this they do not mean that this is an assignment from her husband as the overall head, like a manager appointed by the owner of a company, but a designation directly from Yahweh over which the husband has no authority whatsoever except to move upon her by the power of his love and devotion for her. They claim that the more the husband loves his wife, the more she will want to submit and yield to him as some sort of other 'head'. In the absence of this love, he has no authority over the family. In essence she must be wooed in order to obtain it. How is this conclusion reached?
This doctrine, which is entirely disjunctive with all other headship teachings in the Bible, they derive from a singule Greek word, oikodespoteo which is translated with uncertainty, and therefore in many different ways, by Bible linguists. The passage in question reads:
"So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage* (Gk. oikodespoteo) their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander" (1 Tim.5:14, NIV). (*KJV, RSTNE - "guide"; ISRV, NKJV "manage"; NAS "keep house"; HRV, "direct", etc.)
The first thing we need to note is that this counsel is given to young widows and within the context of potential abuse by these women making claims on the church's Widows' Fund because of their sensuality (v.11). The contrast here is with the mismanagement of their own lives as irresponsible widows and with the need for them to learn to discipline themselves and run a household instead of being idle gossippers (v.13).
The Davissons claim that this scripture is a licence for a wife to be head of, and rule a family because the same Greek word is used of men in the context of their undisputed headship elsewhere in Scripture as "master of the house" (e.g. Mt.20:1), a title they also ascribe to the wife here. In order to do this, they claim, mutual submission is required which they call "mutual adaptation". They justify this mutual submission and joint headship on the basis of the second passage of scripture I alluded to.
Here is their second key passage:
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord (Master)" (Eph.5:22, NIV).
This, the Davissons point out, cannot be correct because the word "submit" is not in the original Greek text. And they're right. It isn't. Moreover, they argue that it contradicts the preceeding verse which reads:
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph.5:21, NIV).
How, they argue, can husband and wife submit to one another in the v.21 and then in the next verse the wife is commanded to submit to the husband but not vice versa?! The answer, they claim, must be found in the fact that the word 'submit' is absent in v.22. So they 'retranslate' (in fact, mutilate) the verse and claim it should read:
"Let the wife be private and separate to the husband as she is to the Lord" (Eph.5:22, Davisson).
Which sounds all very 'nice' and feministic, but is it true? What is the actual relationship between vv.21 and 22? Are they even connected? Remember, that the versification and chapter divisions that exist in our New Testament were inserted by men for reference purposes and scriptural navigation. The original writers did not versify their gospels or letters.
But that aside, what we need to do is to read the context and look at the scripture material before and after vv.21 & 22. When we do that, what do we discover? We discover not only that two entirely different matters are being discussed - v.21 is at the tail end of one discourse, and v.22 begins a new one - but that in the original Aramaic, which was subsequently translated into Greek (since Aramaic was the receptor tongue, not Greek), the word 'submission' is not absent at all. It's there! The Greek translator presumably left it out because he assumed that vv.21 & 22 were part of the same subject matter or for grammatical reasons. If we look at the Peshitta, the Aramaic version of the New Testament, we will see that in actual fact there was a CHAPTER DIVISION between v.21 and v.22 that pre-dates the modern division we have, confirming that these were two different topics:
(End part of Chapter IX, starting at 5:3)
"See then that you walk vigilantly, not as fools, but as the wise who redeem their opportunity, because the days are evil. On account of this, be not wanting in mind, but understand what is the will of Aloha. And be not drunk with wine, in which is intemperance, but be filled with the Spirit. And discourse with yourselves with psalms and with hymns and with songs of the Spirit, singing with your hearts unto the Lord. And give thanks always on behalf of every man in the name of our Lord Jeshu Meshiha unto Aloha the Father. And be subject one to another in the love of the Meshiha.
"WIVES, be subject to your husbands as to our Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as the Meshiha is the head of the church, and he himself is the Saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Meshiha, so also (should) wives be unto their husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, as also the Meshiha loved his church, and gave himself for her, that he might sanctify her and purify her in the laver of waters and by the word, and that he might constitute her a church unto himself, being glorified, and not having blemish or wrinkle or any thing like these; but to be holy and spotless. So it becometh husbands to love their wives, as their own bodies. For he who his wife loveth, himself he loveth. For no man ever hated his own body, but nourisheth it, and taketh care of it; so also the Meshiha (taketh care) of the church" (Eph.5:15-30, Aramaic Peshitta, Etheridge Translation)
What exactly are we being told here by Paul? Paul is telling us, in the first chapter (Chapter IX in the Peshitta - the Peshitta was not originally versified either) that believers in Christ are to mutually submit to one another in the truth. This is about their spiritual walk with Messiah (Aramaic Mishiha) as parts of the Messianic Bride. This describes the relationship between the Body of Believers as Yah'shua's (Jesus') uniplural 'wife'.
In the second chapter (Chapter X in the Peshitta) the theme changes to another topic - the relationship of the Bride to the Bridegroom, and specifically of a wife to her husband, of which our submission to Yah'shua as our spiritual Husband is an allegory. We do not need to twist the words and meanings around as the Davissons have done in order to make the Word of Elohim fit in with a pre-conceived doctrine to bolster their book. This is the sort of things the Jehovah's Witnesses do, moving punctuation marks around to change the meaning of key doctrinal issues. Similar issues exist in Isaiah where arbitrary division into chapters, effected by Catholic monks, changes the meaning substantially.
The Davissons have tried to merge the two sections together and obscure the original meaning of Paul. In this matter they have tampered with Scripture and need to repent. Husband and wife are not co-heads and the wife is not the master of the family - she has the stewardship of the household under her husband as the overall head. The husband is, and remains so, whether he loves her or not. The wife's obligation to submit to, and obey, him is no more a function of her husband's obligation to love her legally than Eve was supposedly not required to submit and obey Adam if he did not provide for her. By the same absurd token, Adam (a husband) cannot refuse to provide for his wife's physical needs if she refuses to submit to him. He's not allowed to starve her until she is obedient (though see 2 Thess.3:19). The obligations are NOT quid pro quo - they are required of Yahweh no matter what the other party does. Our obedience or repentance is not contingent upon someone else's. That this is true is confirmed in numerous places where, for example, Paul reminds believing husbands and wives to continue loving and submitting to unbelieving wives and husband's respectively, even if their behaviour is not in accordance with Torah (1 Cor.7:12-17).
The Proper Perspective
There are, in scripture, legal and spiritual obligations as far as relationships are concerned. Citizens are supposed to be subject to kings as wives are to husbands whether the king or husband is righteous or not. That's why we are told to be subject to governments and magistrates provided they do not force us to disobey the commandments (Rom.13:1; Ac.5:29). That is the de jure aspect of Torah.
However, anyone with any intelligence knows that unrighteous behaviour on the part of a king or husband is foolish in the extreme because everyone is miserable when they behave that way by virtue of their position of authority, so nobody ultimately wins. The spiritual aspect of Torah, which is underlined, does not replace the de jure aspect (otherwise there would be lawlessness and anarchy, making for ever greater unhappiness), demands that kings and husbands set the example by taking the initiative to love their subjects and wives sacrificially. The message that the Davissons get across in this respect - the necessity of the husband to be the prime mover in the cultivation of the relationship, and not to blame-shift his own inadequacies and lack of love onto his wife when he fails to imitate the sacrificial love of Messiah towards the Messianic Community (Church) - is absolutely correct. Their message is: Husbands, wake up! If you want a fantastic marriage, then go and love your wives sacrifically and they will then respond to that with fervent devotion and happy submission from the depths of their heart that will not require the restraining or compelling hand of the written Torah! This message is important and its effect has been to save numerous marriages and lift them to high peaks of ecstatic joy (read the Testimonies on his website).
Now I do not know if the Davissons have twisted scripture in ignorance or deliberately - only they can answer that. What I do absolutely know is that their mutilated interpretations are setting a precident for lawlessness and idolatry. Yahweh has a proper order, and it must be respected - always - something that antinomian Christians often miss because of their failure to be obedient to the commandments. Getting our hearts right includes not only coming alive in the Ruach haQodesh but also loyally and faithfully obeying and guarding all the commandments, inner and outer.
There is no doubt that marriage is a partnership or teamwork, and should be, but it can only be a true partnership and team if it is built upon a foundation of truth and not lawlessness. If you extrapolate the Davissons' doctrine into other areas of Gospel life, there is the potential for great harm in terms of minimising the whole biblical concepts of submission and obedience. Yahweh ultimately becomes reduced to a 'pal' rather than being our awesome Elohim to be feared and adored. Obedience would then be contingent upon fickle and deceptive subjective feelings, which it is not.
There is more that could be said about the overspill from these new Davisson doctrines but as the main elements have been examined thoroughly here I will not go into that now.
I, for one, want to read the rest of the book - and its sequel - but I shall be treading warily in some areas of his teaching and by no means embracing them all. With the information shared here clearly stated, I would recommend others get the book too and to read with wisdom and care.
UPDATE (21 February 2010)
For an updated review of the work of Joel and Kathy Davisson, please see this important article, Bread, Butter and Jelly: How to Fake a Christian Marriage, which exposes the authors' religious humanism.
This page was created on 29 February 2008
Last updated on 21 February 2010
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