What Authority Does a Husband Have over His Wife?

What Authority Does a Husband Have over His Wife?

Authority of Counsel vs. Authority of Command

A husband’s authority is what I would characterize as an authority of counsel, not an authority of command. In both kinds of authority, there is the right to make commands, and the person under is called to submit. So wives are called to submit in the same way children are called to submit.

But the difference between authority of counsel and authority of command is that there’s no enforcement mechanism, no discipline mechanism for a husband.

So think about what the enforcement mechanism is for a parent. It’s the power of the rod. You need to go to bed because I’m your dad and I said you need to do it now.

Scan your mind’s eye through all the Scripture and ask yourself, Is there any place where husbands are given a discipline enforcement mechanism? Long, awkward silence. No! There’s not. You don’t get to force. You don’t get to demand and say, Now, or else.

It’s not a fear-driven form of authority. And a parent’s authority, if need be, on occasion, does allow for use of an enforcement mechanism and the threat of it to lead a child towards wisdom. But a husband’s authority works in a different way. Here’s why it’s important to distinguish those two kinds of authority: it dramatically impacts the nature and the how of such authority.

With a husband’s authority, I’m to live with my wife in an understanding way. What’s the goal of a husband’s authority? It’s to win her towards oneness.

What’s the goal of a husband’s authority? It’s to win her towards oneness.

Lead towards Oneness

Adam and Eve became one flesh. The very purpose of a husband’s authority is to lead his wife—in pursuing dominion—to lead her towards oneness. And so there’s a sense in which you might say that a husband’s authority is evangelistic. The evangelist says, You must repent and believe.

But the evangelist can’t then enforce what he’s calling the person to do. Instead, the evangelist is seeking to win and to woo and to draw the person towards faith in Christ. In the same way, the husband is trying to draw his wife towards oneness. He is seeking to do that in a compelling, loving, gentle, patient, understanding way.

In fact, Song of Solomon, of all books, is what gives us a picture of the compelling power of a husband’s authority. You are to win your wife with the compelling power of your love for her and care for her and tenderness for her as you seek to rule the earth together in dominion, as commanded in Genesis 1.

All of that to say, a husband’s authority is a different kind of authority—I call it the authority of counsel—than other kinds of authority that we are commonly familiar with, whether parents or the governments or the churches and so forth. And when done according to Scripture, it is beautiful.

And how tragic it is that so many husbands—myself included—sin and use our authority selfishly for our own gain. And so we present not pictures of our Savior but pictures of something much uglier. We’re called to repent of that and put our trust into Christ and rule like he rules—a beautiful, tender, gentle Savior.

Jonathan Leeman is the author of Authority: How Godly Rule Protects the Vulnerable, Strengthens Communities, and Promotes Human Flourishing.

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