Since our last discussion on men and women I’ve spent a lot more time thinking, studying, talking to co-workers, and trying to make progress with a problem that I believe creates confusion among ourselves and misunderstanding in those who are not yet followers of Christ.
I realize that by coming back to the subject of marital submission so soon, I may be testing your patience. But I also need your feed-back and counsel… especially on anything that you do not believe is true to the words and intent of the Bible.
But, if you’ve had your fill of the subject, here’s what some of my co-workers are saying on other issues :-)…
So, now… for those of you who are willing to do some more thinking with me on why the Bible asks women to submit, here’s another attempt to net out the issues. Again, please let me know if you don’t understand or agree with my conclusions and how I’m getting there. As I’ve indicated a few times before,
Over the years I’ve wrestled with the fact that, when it comes to marriage, followers of Christ have different ideas about what the Bible asks of husbands and wives.
Even though the Apostles Paul and Peter wrote letters urging husbands to love their wives, and wives to submit to their husbands, many of us have different ideas about what their counsel should look like today.
One thing we know is that the Apostle’s words would have sounded different to readers in first century Roman and Jewish worlds than they sound to many of us today. In Paul’s day, men ruled their homes and women were regarded as property.
One of the first rules of Bible interpretation and application is to consider what a text meant to its author and first readers. The historical and grammatical context of a Bible passage is foundational to the way it needs to be understood and applied to our own day.
So let’s review what we know first about marriage in light of the whole Bible and then look at what the Apostles’ words would have sounded like in their own day.
In the beginning, Genesis shows us that God made man and woman, in his own likeness. While being distinctly male and female, they were to reflect the oneness and unity of God in marriage (2:24).
First, he created Adam from the dust of the earth. Then, from one of Adam’s ribs (2:18), he created Eve as a “helper.” The term “helper” represents the same Hebrew word that the Bible uses in more than 15 other places for God our “helper” (Psalm 70:5).
Genesis gives us no reason to think of Eve as inferior to Adam. She was made of his own flesh, not as a mere assistant, but as a mysteriously created counterpart and complement. Together Adam and Eve were made to trust and rely on God their “helper.” Together they were made to have dominion over all he had entrusted to them, and together they were asked to multiply his likeness in the earth.
After the Fall, this perfect union was damaged. From the moment the first couple stepped away from God, Adam and Eve were not the man or woman they used to be. They had lost their nothing- to-hide relationship with God and one another.
Immediately they began to make excuses for their own mistakes. Seeing what they had done to themselves, the Lord said to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16).
From the way “desire” and “rule” show up again in the next chapter (4:17), we have an indication of what the fall had done to the couple. Because of their loss of innocence, the woman would now desire to control the husband for her own interests, but he would misuse his strength to rule over and dominate her.
Down through history many have seen this introduction of husband-rule as God’s remedy for a broken relationship. But a closer look shows that it was God’s prediction rather than his prescription.
The anticipation that a man would become the master of woman comes with the consequence of weeds in the garden, multiplied pain in childbirth, and the eventual certainty of death (3:16-19). All of these consequences, including marital struggle and the misuse of strength would now require work to resist.
Together the story of the creation and fall help us answer an important question. If the ideal is that, together, men and women reflect the unity and Oneness of the Godhead, and if the misuse of strength is to be regarded like weeds, extreme pain in childbirth, and death, then why does the New Testament later urge wives to submit to their husbands, and husbands to see themselves as the head of the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5)?
The wisdom of God: As Jewish men, Paul and Peter understood the facts of the creation and fall. As followers of Jesus they knew what Jesus had said about relationships. In his kingdom we are all to give one another the consideration that we would want for ourselves (Matt 22:39). In addition, those who rule are to be as those who serve (Luke 22:25-27).
Paul and Peter approached relationships just as Jesus had. Instead of trying to overthrow the social order, they planted seeds of change that would work from the inside out.
Since it was the social responsibility of first century husbands to rule their homes, Paul gave them a new way of thinking about what it means to be a head. He described how Christ as head of the church had sacrificed his own interest for his “bride and body.” Using the attitudes of Jesus as his example, Paul challenged husbands to care for their wives as they naturally cared for and protected their own bodies.
In his words to wives, Paul took a similar approach. He started with the social order they understood. Then he gave it a new heart and purpose. Instead of submitting to their husbands to avoid being divorced or beaten, he urged them to submit themselves in a way that would enable them to cooperate and help their husbands, while showing the difference Christ was making in them.
The word Paul used for “submit” was sometimes used for soldiers who were required “to arrange themselves in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” But marriage is not a military relationship. In other contexts the word for submit involved “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (Thayer and Smith Greek Lexicon). That meaning better expresses the relationship of mutual love and respect where both husband and wife voluntarily use what God has given them for the good of the other… and so that, even more importantly, their relationships would enhance rather than detract from the name and reputation of Christ (Titus 2:5; 1Tim 5:14; 1Tim 6:1).