Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Why I am a Complementarian (pt5) - The Marriage Mystery

Moving away from the overarching topic of creation, I now turn to the topic of marriage in the Bible. In my last post I quoted Col 3:18-19 and 1 Pet 3:1-2. Just those two passages I think would be enough to show that Christians are asked (some would say commanded) to live out their marriage with different roles based on gender. I don't know how you can say "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them" (Col 3:18-19) means "the role of a husband is the same as the role of a wife". Hopefully that isn't too offensive. Remember, I still say both males and females are in the image of God, but within the marriage relationship there seems to be some structure. In the same way that in an organisation everyone is still valuable as a human being; in a true democracy each vote counts as much as everyone else; all who are living under the same countries should be held to the same laws etc... but there is still some structure in an organisation and government. Why not in marriage? It's hard to have a democracy with just two people.

You may protest: "But, why?" Now, sometimes "why" questions are never answered in the Bible, but thankfully in this case it is. Have a look at Ephesians 5:18-6:9. I start back at 5:18 as verses 18-21 in Greek is one sentence. Some try to point out that verse 21 ("submitting to one another") shows an egalitarian position right up front for this passage. This is Jed Bartlet's point about this passage. This fails to note that this occurs in one long sentence about how Christians are to practically that is then expanded and explained in detail in the proceeding bit. As the dorky saying go: "a text without a context is just a con".

For all those uni students out there that want to know what God's will for their life is, should turn to this passages (and also 1 Thess 4:3-8) for that is what Ephesians 5:17-21 is about. It is set up in Ephesians 5:17 and then explained in 18-21. So, according to Ephesians 5, God's will for your life is that you don't get drunk on wine, but are filled with the spirit, address everyone with songs of praise with melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks to God in Jesus and submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ. Now this passage doesn't say what the exact tune that melody you are to have, nor does it say exactly which hymns or psalms to sing, but it does go on the say what submitting to one another looks like in two specific contexts of the home (Eph 5:22-6:4) and in work (Eph 6:5-8).

In the following three relationship examples, I think the egalitarian's position falls apart if they take the first example of husband and wife to mean one thing and the other two of parent and child and master and slaves to mean something else. The wife is to submit (Eph 5:22) and respect (Eph 5:33) her husband (note, not all husbands, not all men, just their own); children are to obey (Eph 6:1) and honor (Eph 6:2) their parents and bondservants/salves are to obey (Eph 6:5) their masters. Husbands are to love (Eph 5:25, 28, 33) their wives; fathers are not to provoke (Eph 6:4) their children and masters are to remember they will be judges for there actions and to not threaten their bondservants/salves (Eph 6:8-9).

In a master/servant relationship it is clear one is leading the way and one is helping to achieve that. In a parent/child relationship it should be clear that one is leading the way and one is being acted upon. In marriage, based on these other two examples and the proceeding verse about submitting to one another out of love, I can see no other meaning than that one is to be sacrificially loving the other while one accepting and respecting to be loved.

On the topic of submitting, it should be made clear that the husband is not to make or force his wife into submitting to him. The text (kinda) says it, but it is lost in translation because English doesn't have what is called a "middle voice". Middle voice is used when the subject acts upon itself. Now in Ephesians 5:22 the Greek word for submit isn't even there, in English it is borrowed from Ephesians 5:21 as the idea of submission in verse 21 is directly continued into verse 22. In verse 21 Paul uses the word ὑποτασσόμενοι which is either in the middle or passive voice. So there is an option to pick. To help stack the odds against just a 50/50 choice, in Colossians 3:18, when Paul is talking about the exact same thing, the Greek word used is ὑποτάσσεσθε which is only in the middle voice. So all this paragraph is saying that according to the Greek Paul does not command, make, ask, motivate or suggested to the husband in any way that they are to get their wife to submit to them. The wife is to do it on her own, voluntarily. Besides, how loving is it to say to your wife "you have to submit to me"...? I don't think that would really win her over again like when you were dating.

Now back to the "why" issue. Why must this role do one thing and the other do another. Hopefully by this point you have actually read Ephesians 5:22-33 and have seen the main point for yourself. If this passage is only used to talk about roles in marriage, then the big idea of it is lost. In fact I would go so far to say that this passage is not primarily about marriage roles, even though it does mention them. It is primarily about Christ and the Church. It is these two relationships that serve as a model to husband and wives. Have a look.

Christ is the head of the Church (Eph 5:23) and the Church is to submit to Christ (Eph 5:24). Christ gave himself up for the Church (Eph 5:25). Christ nourishes and cherishes the Church (Eph 5:28-29). And the biggest bombshell for me is that Christ and the Church are one flesh (Eph 5:31-32). Paul quotes that little aside about marriage way back in Genesis 2:24-25 and directly applies that to be the relationship that Christ has with the Church. The relationship that Adam and Eve had before the Fall represented the relationship Christ has with the Church. I think that is kinda big deal.

So, the reason why one is to be the head and another is to submit is grounded in the relationship between Christ and the Church, which also points back to the first couple before the Fall. It is inherit in the design. Now of cause we are talking about a model, a benchmark, an ideal. The model works, and gives a good picture of Christ and the Church, only when both are playing their roles. I would hope, ideally, any Christian marriage would ultimately seek to bring about giving a picture of God and His plan, and here it is explicitly laid out for married couples to follow, not in terms of some sort of moral standard they have to perform, but in terms of living a greater story than their own marriage. In terms of living how God has willed it (Eph 5:17).

I could go on (and on) and have decided to scrap some more paragraphs as this is getting a bit long, but hopefully you get my point. Marriage points to a bigger mystery/story/world view. One that involves sacrificial love and headship with voluntarily submission and respect. Of cause in practice this might look different from one married couple to another, but you also see a great variance between different churches when you look around today and throughout history. I think Jesus is still the head of all faithful churches (and marriages), even if they look and act a bit different. Variance in practice doesn't negate the principle.


Post a Comment