In an an article at the CBE website, Gilbert Bilezikian says that whenever the word head is used in the New Testament to refer to Christ, it means "provider of life" or "source" (in the way that the head of a river is its source, its place of origin) and does not mean "authority, boss or leader." Using this definition he makes the following comment on Eph 5:23:
As head of the church, Christ is its Savior. If head had meant authority, the appropriate designation for Christ would have been "Lord" instead of "Savior" which is consistently a self-sacrificing, life-giving servant role in the New Testament.His point is that, given his definition of head, Eph 5:23 has nothing to do with authority and everything to do with mutual submission (mentioned two verses earlier, in 5:21). Therefore, according to Dr. Bilezikian, Eph 5:23 does not teach male leadership and female submission.
A bit earlier in the article he mentions that, "A basic rule of sound hermeneutics requires that no biblical term or concept be infused with meanings foreign to it." Of course. And another rule is that every verse should be read in its context. I would suggest that Dr. Bilezikian's interpretation of the present verse does not fit the context in which the verse is situated:
15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.From the verses above it seems clear, even if we grant Dr. Bilezikian's definition of head (which I am not sure I do), that authority is indeed in view in this passage. Whatever Paul means by head he means it as the ground or reason for the command in verse 22 that wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. He repeats this command in verse 24, adding that a wife's submission to her husband is to be like the church's submission to Christ. Therefore, we must reject Dr. Bilezikian's interpretation that Christ is portrayed in this passage merely as a "servant provider." Whatever head means here, the thrust of the passage is that the church owes obedience to Christ and wives owe the same kind of obedience to their husbands.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
I would also suggest that verse 24 might explain what Paul means by head in verse 23.
But what should we do with verse 21 ("submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ")? This much is clear. Paul can't mean "all submit to all," for immediately after saying "submit to one another" he goes on to explain at length precisely what he means: Wives are to submit to husbands (verses 22-33), children to parents (6:1-4) and servants to masters (6:5-9). Rather than "all submit to all," Paul seems to mean something like, "Submit to one another in the following relationships."
When Dr. Bilezikian concludes from Eph 5:21 that "Christ makes of husbands servants to their wives in their relationship of mutual submission," he comes close to making a great blunder. It is this. If Eph 5:21ff teaches that husbands and wives should submit to one another, it must also teach that Christ and the church should submit to one another, since that is what the husband-wife relationship is compared to. But this is unthinkable (and perhaps blasphemous). Christ, as Lord of the church, deserves her obedience and owes her none. The book of Ephesians itself teaches us this in numerous places (see for example 1:2, 3, 15, 17; 2:21, 3:11, 4:1, 5; 6:23, 24). Has any of us, in time of prayer, ever commanded Christ to submit to us? I think not.
In conclusion, it seems clear that Eph 5:21-33 teaches us that husbands are to exercise loving and humble leadership over their wives, and that wives are to graciously and gladly submit to their husbands' leadership, even as the church gladly submits to Christ. Every believer knows that personal obedience to Christ is part of the Christian life. We don't think it demeaning to submit to our Lord. Quite the opposite in fact. Don't we all admire those Christians whose lives are marked by humble and unswerving obedience? We see Christ in them - Christ who himself submits to the Father (see John 5:30ff, 8:28). In this connection Dr. Bruce Ware has noted that, "if Christ, who is equal with the Father in essence and glory, submits to the Father, then it is as God-like to submit as to lead." Eph 5:21-33 would have us believe that the wife's submission to her husband is appropriate and beautiful and praiseworthy.