God designed marriage. Equality is in its essence.
My argument is as follows.
At marriage’s core is intimacy. If God-designed marriage’s nucleus is the one-flesh relationship, then God designed marriage to be a relationship of equals. Here is the proof-text:
…Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.
The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband.
In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I Cor 7: 2-5:
Here we see total equality. Both people are equally accountable to render to the other (nothing less than) his/her body, and it is to be done freely and consensually. Both benefit equally. But even that doesn’t say enough. What we give freely and eagerly is the whole self, body, mind, and spirit. (If we’re doing it right.)
And please notice: here the roles are exactly the same.
What else do we see? Suggestions of ownership. Like this:
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Solomon 8: 6-7
Yes please, that kind of ownership. I am claimed and marked. Your seal on my heart means my heart is yours, and only you may break that seal to enter. Your seal on my arm is a sign to the world that I belong to you.
This ownership is irrevocable. This love is absolute. This love is not measured in quantity, as in how much do you love? Do you love enough? This love either is or is not. It is as absolute as death and the grave, as inevitable, as unyielding, as eternal.
In the Corinthians passage above we see words like authority and duty. But the authority is mutual; don’t we owe one another something real in such a relationship?
What does our culture’s wisdom tell us? Lies, especially here. That even here, especially here in traditional or Biblical marriage, is a negotiation of an intrinsically unequal relationship. Man: patriarch/oppressor; woman: victim/subservient. That we must resign ourselves to an inevitable power struggle. That God invented patriarchy and subservience!
All nonsense. The Corinthians passage was written to first-century A.D. believers in Jesus Christ, long after the fall of man. It echoes the givens of the Garden. It reaffirms God’s original intent for marriage and tells us that we may still possess that graceful, perfect union that He made for us. In the midst of a fallen and broken world we can live in real equality and true harmony.
What do we make, then, of these seemingly unequal passages?
…and you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.
The husband is the head of the wife. Ephesians 5:23
Let’s look. From Ephesians 5:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Not a comprehensive examination but a couple of points. This passage which contains “For the husband is the head of the wife” begins with “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The first may appear to be an expression of inequality and submission, but the topic sentence is an expectation of equal submission, mutual deference, mutual humility. There is no contradiction, only context.
In Genesis 3, we see God the Father explaining to Adam and Eve that their choice to sin will result in a chronic power struggle as each one contends for his own interest instead of living for the other. This was not a command; it was a prediction. God’s predictions: men will raise crops successfully but they will have to sweat and strive for the increase. Women will bear babies in joy, but first will come pain and anguish. The spiritual death you have chosen must manifest in physical death, else humans’ destructiveness to one another will be endless.
I’ve invented for you a mutually loving, mysteriously interdependent, incomparably intimate relationship, but instead you will choose to strive, alone, against one another. Women will selfishly try to control their husbands, and men will selfishly assert their power over their wives. Each will contend against the other for his and her own desires at the other’s expense, instead of living in the sublime harmony He planned for them.
We always, always do exactly what God predicts.
More testaments in the Word of God suggest that mutuality and equity are His ideal. Wouldn’t these general commands to his Church necessarily apply to marriages within that church?
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15: 12-13
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Romans 12:8
Here we see equality once again.
Do we in the Church sometimes buy into our culture’s misinterpretation? We substitute media-marketed counsel for true personal guidance and we find no end of this sort of stuff: Look at the dopey man; he just doesn’t “get” it. He’s just like clueless Adam, am I right? Adam ‘s sin was obeying Eve like a doormat. Husbands, you’ll be glad you took out the trash in the bedroom tonight! Wives, tryyyy and respect him, even though he’s an idiot. Fake it tonight even though of course you can’t feel like it because you’re chronically underappreciated.
These “Christian” marriage seminars, courses and books repeat snd trade on the shallow lie that marriage is a constant struggle for compromise between two people who can never understand each other. They offer a band-aid, a self-help guide for navigation through the unequal status quo, an eternal negotiation between doomed competitors.
Rather than two creatures of the same flesh, one created out of the other, who find their fulfillment in belonging together.
Grace upon grace! Even though the world is fallen, even though we are fallen, we still have access to that ideal that God designed.