THE BIBLE AND THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP

Not everyone agrees on what the Bible teaches about the relationship between wife and husband in marriage. Before I make a couple of suggestions about what I think the Bible says, I want to make a general observation: husbands and wives function differently in every marriage.

The foundation of what I believe the Bible teaches about men and women is that they are equal, but not the same. That foundational premise, of course, comes from the creation account in Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Mankind includes both male and female, but both male and female tells us they are not the same. However, the affirmation both are created in the image of God tells us they are equal.

The passage that has been the most controversial and debated the last several years about the marriage relationship is the Apostle Paul’s instruction to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5. I see some significance in the non-specific instruction of verse 21 that precedes the specifics for wives and husbands in verses 22-33: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

While more is said, the core of Paul’s instructions in the passage is that wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives. I don’t think anyone would say that since Paul only tells husbands to love their wives that Paul does not expect wives to love their husbands. Even though Paul doesn’t say it, it goes without saying that wives are to love their husbands. Loving one’s spouse is not the exclusive responsibility of the husband.

If Paul’s instruction to husbands to love their wives is not restricted to husbands, and if it goes without saying that wives too are to love their husbands, then I think the same is true for submission in marriage. In the same way that wives are to love their husbands even though Paul does not specifically say so, so also husbands are to submit to their wives even though Paul does not specifically say so.

Some read these verses from Paul and agree that neither submission nor love is exclusive to a wife and husband, but that submission and love are the primary calls to each. I have heard some teach that the primary way a wife loves her husband is by submitting. If that’s true, couldn’t the same thing be said about a husband in terms of showing love to his wife by submitting?

I realize not everyone will agree with what I am suggesting, but I do think it is worth giving some consideration. No two marriages will be exactly alike, but the most fulfilling ones are filled with both love and submission, by both wife and husband.

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I DON’T KNOW

As the years have passed and I have gained experience I have come to realize I don’t know as much as I once thought I did. And it isn’t that my faith has eroded or I am any less committed as a Christian; it’s just that in some areas I am more flexible than I was in the past. It’s now easier for me to say “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”.

What brought this to mind was an article I recently read about the Bible’s teaching on the relationship and role of women and men in marriage and the church. Within the greater Bible believing community, there are two basic understandings: complementarianism and egalitarianism.

For readers to whom these terms are new, they represent a more “traditional” view and less “traditional” view. As the terms suggest, complementarianism stresses the complementary nature of men and women while the egalitarianism stresses the equality of both genders. The two basic understandings inform both the role of women in church leadership and a wife’s submission to her husband.

In my teaching from the creation account, I always stress that men and women are equal, but they are not the same. That doesn’t address the issues of submission in marriage and the role of women in church leadership, but I don’t see how anyone could disagree with my statement. The basic meaning of both complementarianism and egalitarianism are true.

In June I read an interesting book, the title of which got my attention. PARTNERS IN CHRIST: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism says a lot about the author, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Those who hold that all egalitarians are liberal and don’t believe the Bible may be interested in reading Stackhouse’s book.  I also like the primary title because I too see the creation account of male and female in marriage as a partnership.

Paul’s instruction to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5 is challenging. Wives are instructed to submit to their husbands and husbands are instructed to love their wives. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that since Paul does not tell the wives to love their husbands, they don’t need to love them. Of course wives are to love their husbands. It seems to me that in the same way there is to be mutual love in marriage, there also will be mutual submission. Love is not limited to husbands, nor is submission limited to wives.

I am familiar with a variety of Bible passages that speak to the role of women in ministry and leadership in the church, but none similar to Ephesians on marriage. I continue to read those passages, as well as what other informed and committed believers say about them. When it comes to the issue of women and men in church leadership and the role of men and women in marriage, there is a lot I don’t know. I am, however, more flexible than I was in the past.

It is something to keep on thinking and talking about, isn’t it?

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