Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Are Men Accountable for their Wives’ Actions?

Or, The Accountability of Eve and Sapphira

The Old Testament Law contains a few regulations where husbands can be liable for the actions of their wives (e.g. Numbers chapter 30, esp. Num. 30:15 NIV). Conversely, there are Old Testament narratives where whole families are punished for the sins of their fathers (e.g. Achan’s and Korah’s families). These laws and narratives reflect the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel. God’s prediction in Genesis 3:16, that man would rule woman, was being fulfilled, but patriarchy was not God’s original or best intention for his people.

In Genesis 1 we read that God gave men and women an equal status and authority (Gen. 1:26ff). In Genesis 2 we see that the first man and woman experienced a profound mutuality and affinity in their relationship. This mutuality, however, would deteriorate after the Fall.

But, immediately after the Fall and before patriarchy took hold, God spoke to the man and to the woman individually and held each accountable for their own disobedient actions of eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:9-19). The text nowhere indicates that the man was held responsible for his wife’s actions. They would experience the consequences for their own sins: each would die, and each would experience “painful, sorrowful toil” (itstsabon עִצָּבוֹן) in life (Gen. 3:16, 17). The man did not receive a greater penalty because he had a greater responsibility.

Does God hold men accountable for their wives' actions?Fast forward to the days after Pentecost. Jesus had paid the penalty for all sin—including Eve’s and Adam’s sins—with his death on the cross. Jesus had risen from death and returned to his glorious place with the Father, and they had sent the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ powerful replacement on earth. A new era had begun, and a new Spirit-led community formed. This community, the church, endeavoured to embody a new culture of equality and mutuality, irrespective of the ethnicity, gender, or social status of individuals (Gal. 3:28).

Patriarchy had no place in the ethos of Jesus’ followers, and husbands were no longer answerable or liable for the conduct or misdeeds of their wives, and vice versa.[1] The accountability of women is demonstrated in the example of Ananias and Sapphira. You can read their story in Acts 5:1-11 here.

Rachael Starke discusses the text in Acts 5:1-11 in a recent blog post entitled When Submission becomes Sinful.

The decision to sell the property was Ananias’ and Sapphira’s together. But the decision to keep back some of the profit was his, albeit a decision Sapphira knew he had made. Ananias chose his course, and Sapphira submitted to his choice.

Had Peter viewed Sapphira as simply a woman under her husband’s authority, he may not have felt it even necessary to ask after her involvement in her husband’s decision. But instead, in an interesting moment of pastoral acuity, after Ananias’ duplicity has been exposed, Peter actively inquires after Sapphira’s role in the matter. When Sapphira hides behind her husband’s lie, she discovers that, rather than being covered by her husband, she has become complicit with him.

Both Ananias and Sapphira were individually held accountable and responsible for their own parts in the deception, and they each received an equally severe punishment.

While we all have a responsibility for the welfare of others, especially of our families, capable men and women are answerable and liable for their own actions, actions that should reflect and promote the values and principles of Jesus’ kingdom.[2]


[1] Part of a mistaken understanding of “male headship” is that husbands are held to a higher degree of accountability than wives, despite no mention of this accountability in the New Testament.

[2] One day each of us will give an account to God for our own actions about how we lived our lives and used the talents he has given us (Rom. 14:12; 1 Pet. 4:5-6; and Matt. 25:19; Luke 19:15). Hopefully we will be rewarded and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Image: The Death of Sapphira, Sebastien Leclerc (1676–1763) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Articles 

The Responsibilities of Husbands in Ephesians 5
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable of similar to the man?
The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel

Posted October 8th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Gender in Genesis 1-3, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

22 comments on “Are Men Accountable for their Wives’ Actions?

  1. Sandy says:

    Very well written. Fascinating stuff. I think it’s vitally important to see that patriarchy is NOT part of the New Covenant. I’m learning so much.

    • Marg says:

      I’m having a couple of online discussions on facebook at the moment with Christian men and women who are insistent that men have an authority and rule over women.

      They think I am twisting the biblical texts. I’m not. I am trying to straighten out the kinks of their convoluted and baseless interpretations.

  2. TL says:

    Keeping all this in mind and that it is Peter God used, we need to reread 1 Peter 3. Too many read into 1 Peter 3 the idea that women are being admonished to fall under this kind of husbandly rule. But actually that is not the point of 1 Peter 3. And Peter could not have been involved in what happened in Acts and turn around to teach the opposite in his epistle.

    • Marg says:

      That is an interesting connection. Peter did see husband and wife – in Christian marriages – as being equal partners, rather than one having more authority or accountability that the other (1 Peter 3:7 NLT).

  3. Cassandra Wright says:

    I am always perplexed with people that try to show that God went to the man first because he was being held responsible for what the woman did. There is no evidence of that at all, it has to be read into the text from the assumption that the man was responsible. I find it just as likely that it is yet another chiasm. God simply traces the sin from its end point to its beginning. Everyone blames the one before them. When will others see that there it is not good to place blame. We need to admit to our own responsibilities.

    • Jan says:

      Dear Marg thank you so much for the thorough work you’ ve been doing so far about the woman and her position in the ministry society and the family. I had never seen this case of this couple in the book of Acts in the way that each one paid the penalty according their individual decision. I will share it to my prayer group. There is a prophesy that there will be a day that each one would give an account to
      God for their sins and not that the fathers would be accountable for the sins of the of the members of their family. I think the prophecy is in the O.T. and has started taking place with this first event in the book of Acts with Ananias and Sapphira. You have helped me in my ministry a lot. God bless you.

      • Marg says:

        Yes, “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them” (Ezekiel 18:20 NIV)


    • Marg says:

      The obsession that some Christians have with who has and who hasn’t got authority is so misguided and the antithesis of what Jesus taught.

      I wish we could all just get on with using our gifts and talents for the kingdom, and living in mutual submission. So much easier and more practical.

  4. Ashley says:

    I agree with you that husband’s are not accountable for their wives actions but I don’t see how the story of Sapphira shows this. It could be used to show women aren’t responsible for the sinful actions of their husbands unless they go along with them, but I think most believers would agree with that. I guess I was hoping for a stronger argument from the New Testament because I hear this argument all the time.

    • Marg says:

      Yes, you’re quite right, it doesn’t show that Ananias was not held accountable for Sapphira’s sin, but it does show us that we are each answerable for our own actions. Your concern is valid and is the reason I included as part of the main heading “The Accountability of Eve and Sapphira”.

      I have just now changed the blurb, and tweaked a couple of lines, to more closely focus on what I was intending to say: that men and women are answerable for their own actions.

      I appreciate your constructive feedback.

  5. Unfortunately, some ultra conservative Christians actually hold on to the mentality that the man is responsible for his wife’s behavior and actions as part of his headship and that he would be held accountable under God. I always thought this was not only patronizing and stifling to women, but it also puts unfair burdens on men. I agree we’re all responsible for our actions under God and He would hold us all accountable.

    • Marg says:

      I don’t think it’s just ultra conservative Christians who think this way.

      But I agree, it puts an unnecessary burden on men, and it stifles capable women whom God will hold responsible and accountable for their own actions, as he did with Eve and Sapphira.

  6. Jamie tinecheff says:

    I think it’s sad that so much effort is going to prove the Word of God wrong. God is not the author of confusion. Let us all be answerable for our own actions and treat our own salvation with fear and trembling. I suggest listening to Dereck prince on women ,a very humble man of God that studied Greek for 15 years and taught at a university level a biblical scholar that was raised by the Lord to teach and preachthe the word. This life is just a vapour , we are to save souls not confuse them and focus on Jesus repentance,the cross and salvation. I pray for a daily death and more of Jesus. God is the head of Jesus,Jesus is the head of man and man the head of women. This is the way God made it. Or is this not so? If you have a problem with this you have a problem with God. I love women of God who live for him in fullness. Women have been and are greatly used by God and I find are more sensitive to the Holy Spirit as is my wife. But she finds Gods ways natural. She runs her own business walks in power ,and hears from God a lot easier and more often than I do. But dosent find it necessary to search the scriptures to find if by some chance a women was a apostle or not Jesus made it simple. If a women was to be a apostle she would have been one of the twelve so there would be no confusion.Jesus loves women and tells us to love our wives as he loved the church he appeared to women first at the tomb and there were more women at the cross. Us men need to think about that. Women were persecuted and gave there lives. Paul loved them and made mention of that and respected them a lot and all they did. Let’s show love to one another no separate each other and Gods word. Give credit that God had some say in the doctrine that we have been given in centuries past. Get back to what we are to focus on and that is Jesus and spreading the gospel. And maybe we will see revival and desperation for Jesus. Men if you treat women with disrespect and use the word to do so you will be held accountable. If you love God you will love his ways. In poor countries there are miracles every day they don’t have time to sit around debating scriptures they are desperate for Jesus and there lives, they spend there time praising and worshipping Him and in fear of their lives and where their next meal is coming from. In China they pray that we face persecution so we will cry out to God so sad. May the Lord be with you all

    • Marg says:

      Hi Jamie, It sounds as though we have a similar heart to spread the good news of Jesus, but I don’t see where my article says that God’s word is wrong. I uphold the unique authority and inspiration of the Bible. Which Bible verse do I say is wrong?

      You mention that if men disrespect women they will be held accountable for their own actions. The main message of my post is that each of us will be held accountable for our own actions, so we are not in disagreement here.

      “Let’s show love to one another not separate each other . . .” I completely agree.

    • Cassandra Wright says:

      So. by your logic, the only people that should be leaders in ministry should be Jewish men who were fishers, or tax collectors?

      NO one is trying to say that the Word of God is wrong. Mens’ interpretations are not the same. If anything, I believe that Marg, et al., have a higher view of Scripture and desire to understand it more completely. Too often, people want to go by the most simplest of English words used to translate, which is not the same as God’s words.

      Our goal is to enable as many of the family possible to use their gifts fully for the preaching of salvation and glory to God. We aren’t trying to prove the Bible wrong, men evil, or any such thing.

  7. Tim says:

    Each person in their own relationship with God and responsible to him as a beloved child? It’s crazy talk to those who insist on hierarchy, but blessedly true to the gospel.

  8. JLK2707 says:

    Excuse me, but I believe that Adam was responsible for listening to his wife, which implies that he never tried to halt or correct her when she was tempted!

    • Cassandra Wright says:

      Could you please give your scriptural backing for this? Also, the backing for how this may now apply to all husbands and wives? Thank you.

    • Marg says:

      Hi JLK2707,

      God did say to the first man, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’ Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” (Gen. 3:17a)

      This may indicate that Adam listened to his wife and complied with what she wanted without stopping or correcting her, as you suggest, but Adam was still responsible and held accountable for his own actions, and Eve was responsible and held accountable for her own actions.

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