The lengthy discussion that followed my weekend post on “The Bible and Marital Submission” shows what a difficult problem this is for those of us who share a deep and conservative commitment to the Bible as the Word of God.
I posted on the subject again because I’ve seen how often churchmen claim and misuse authority. I’ve seen churches (often unknowingly) stand behind such men. And while readily admitting that, as fallen men and women, we all contribute to normal marital conflict, the misuse of authority/hierarchy to silence and harm women has put the name of Christ in bad light, not only among abuse shelter workers, but also before a watching world.
Have also seen how some churches unintentionally reinforce abusive marriages (1) by misunderstanding the abuse cycle, (2) by making marital permanence more important than the purpose and covenant of marriage; (3) by insisting that wives forgive and reconcile with men who say they are sorry– as part of the abuse cycle, and (4) by removing from membership wives who, after seeking counsel, say that they are going to divorce their husbands to protect themselves and their children.
For these reasons and others I want to once again suggest the following summary to show why I believe that those of us who have a conservative and high view of the Scripture may need to take another look at what we have been saying:
1. The Bible does not say anything about marital submission, until after the fall. The word for “help-meet” that God used for woman is used over 15 times in the OT referring to God “our helper.”
2. God’s words to Eve that, although she would desire her husband, he would rule over her, were part of the curse, not the remedy.
3. The Old Testament cultural pattern of male-dominance, polygamy, and hard-hearted divorce show how the curse of sin came true.
4. The Old Testament says far more about divorce than that “God hates it.” It also says that God hates violence and allows divorce for hard-hearted persons (hard-hearted can refer to one or both).
5. Jesus did not relate to women like other religious men of his day, and, most importantly, made it clear that, in his kingdom, those who rule will be as those who serve.
6. Paul followed Jesus’ lead and, while wisely accepting the husband-wife social order of his day, gave husbands and wives a Christ-like motive and way of relating to one another.
7. Paul’s counsel would have sounded much different to his first century readers than it does to us today. The culture of his day allowed husbands to rule their wives and regard them as property.
8. As in the case of master-slave relationships, Paul’s counsel to husbands and wives did not call for over throwing the social order, but planted seeds of mutual love and respect.
9. The range of meanings for words like “submission” and “head” must be considered in light of the whole story and counsel of Scripture. In addition to the fact that lexicons show that there is a difference between “submission” and “obedience”, marriage is not a military-order, so using the military meaning of “submit” isn’t necessary. In other contexts the word for submit involved “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (Thayer and Smith).
10. Paul doesn’t say he is using the analogy of marital “head and body” to make the point of a husband’s authority over his wife. (The only place he mentions “authority over” is when he says in 1Corinthians 7 that husbands and wives have mutual authority over the one-anothers’ bodies.
11. Paul uses the head-body relationship of husbands and wives to encourage husbands to care for their wives as they care for their own bodies, and to love their wives as Christ suffered and sacrificed for the Church. He encouraged wives, in turn, to cooperate and submit to the good of their husbands-both for Christ’s sake.
12. When Paul says that a husband is the head of his wife, he does not say anything that would give a husband the right to lord it over his wife (Just as Peter makes it clear that church Elders have no right to lord it over the church (1Peter 5:1-3).
Having said this, I deeply respect those men and women who use an “authority and submission” arrangement of marriage as a way of showing mutual respect and sacrificial love for one another. I’m convinced that when the attitudes of Christ (and the fruit of his Spirit) are the dominant marks of relationships in the home or church, those attitudes will give a new heart and meaning to our relationships regardless of whether we believe there is a God-given authority and chain-of-command, or not.
Let me say it again. If attitudes are right, almost any way of arranging ourselves in the home or church will work. Those same attitudes will help us organize ourselves according to what God has given us for the good of one-another.