For longtime readers of my blog, you know that I blog from time to time on women in the church. See my category section entitled: “Gender Equality/Roles of Women and Men” for a variety of posts from the more personal to academic.
Here is a brief paper I wrote for a class entitled: What women can and cannot do relative to teaching the Bible.
I’ve not blogged much on the roles of women and men in the home/marriage. Partly because this is a more private realm. We can handle our marriage however we want to and no one can force us to do differently, but the church setting is public.
But lately I’ve encountered what to me is a strange phenomenon – but apparently more common than I thought – Christians who are egalitarian in regards to women in the church setting, but complementarian in the home setting. By complementarian in the home setting, I am referring to the man being considered the leader or responsible one or head of the home. Where does this teaching come from? Essentially Ephesians 5. In this post I will share brief (not exhaustive) thoughts on this issue. Here goes…
We need to first go back to the beginning. In Genesis 1 and 2 (pre-Fall) there are only 2 authority structures: God over all creation, and man and woman’s joint authority over the earth/creation (Gen 1:26-28). They/them. They were to co-rule the earth as God’s representatives. Their dominion was directed towards creation, and not toward each other.
In Gen 3: 8-13 (immediately after the Fall), God addressed Adam as an individual, and then God went to Eve separately and questioned her as an individual. God did not hold Adam accountable for what they did, but for what he did. Eve did not need a spokesman. Adam was not responsible for her.
In the judgments and curses that followed, the clear implication of conferring rulership to Adam (he shall rule over you) is that he was not Eve’s ruler prior to the Fall. While man indeed emerges as ruler in Genesis 3, this is the sad result of their sin and their ensuing judgments. It is certainly not an ideal to be followed or emulated. In Christ, men and women are to move beyond the curse and be an example of relationships that have been redeemed.
In regards to Ephesians 5. The verse in Ephesians (5:23) about man being the “head” is not as clear cut as it may seem. In modern English the word head infers authority or in charge. But not necessarily in ancient Greek, where the word can instead refer to something being the “source” of something else. Adam was indeed the source of Eve. But regardless of debate over what “head” implies or means, there are other key observations to consider:
Since when are Christians supposed to be concerned with who is “in charge”?
Jesus repeatedly emphasized to his disciples (Mark 10:42-45) that greatness in his kingdom was for those who serve. Christians should not be focused on having authority over others. Rather we should imitate Jesus who relinquished power, and humbly served humanity, even submitting himself.
The passage in Ephesians on Christian households actually begins with the statement (vs 21) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” which sheds light on the whole passage. It is also important to understand the “Greco-Roman Household codes” that were the norm in ancient Rome. Paul was making these work with Christianity.
Essentially in Ephesians 5 Paul explains that Christianity is the religion of submission. We are all to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Then he goes on to explain what this would be like for Christians living in a time where the Greco-Roman household codes were the norm. What would it look like for a man at this time and a woman at this time to submit? For the man, the emphasis would be on loving his wife in a sacrificial way. For the woman, the emphasis would be on submitting to and respecting her husband.
But we are not in ancient Rome. Christianity will look a bit different in different settings and times.
A great thing about Christianity is that it is a flexible faith, whose basic tenants can be made to work in a variety of nations and cultures – unlike some other religions which are more culturally bound. (By “flexible” I am of course not referring to orthodox teachings such as the deity of Christ, Trinity, etc.) Yet, sadly, some Christians fail to take the original context into consideration and turn Christianity into a rigid faith.
In our marriage our view is that: “two heads are better than one.” (I didn’t come up with that phrase but recently read it somewhere.)
We make decisions mutually and together. If we disagree on something (not often), one of us is typically willing to concede and let the one with more wisdom/experience regarding the issue decide. Sometimes I am more knowledgeable on a particular issue, other times it is my husband. So sometimes I submit to him, and other times he submits to me. But most of the time we are on the same page.
Who’s in charge in the marriage relationship?
Neither of us is in charge of the other, but we attempt to walk hand-in-hand or side-by-side. We don’t want to model our marriage relationship on fallen humanity, but on the redemption of all things that comes through Jesus.
In this past post I interact with Gilbert Bilezikian’s book “Beyond Sex Roles” . He offers helpful ideas for deadlock resolution in marriage, and I think these ideas can apply to a variety of adult relationships.