Biblical Marriage and the Headship Debate
- Saturday, March 31, 2012
The following is part II of an excerpt from Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis' new book The Life Ready Woman (B&H Publishing Group, 2011). Read Part I, "The Wonderful Differences Between Men and Women," here.
Now that we can see a biblical definition of godly manhood and womanhood, let’s take a look at God’s design for marriage, a discussion that can help both those currently married and those single but looking ahead. Unlike our biblically generated definitions for manhood and womanhood that we can piece together by contrasting two archetypes, Scripture provides an explicit outline for marriage. It can be awkward to talk about because it is all too often misunderstood, and in a moment we’ll deal with some of those common concerns. But let’s just start with what the Scripture actually says:
- God the Father is the Lord of marriage, charging the husband and the wife with specific callings for their marriage (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:24).
- Husband and wife are to live together as coheirs of the gift of life, sharing equal honor and value as those made in God’s image and as one in Christ (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28-29; 1 Peter 3:7).
- Husband and wife are to strive for unity and oneness submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
- In the same way that Christ is the head of his bride (the church), the husband is charged by God to be the head of his wife (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Peter 3:1).
- The wife is specifically made equal in personhood to her husband but is also charged by God to be the helper of her husband (1 Pet. 3:7; Genesis 2:18; the Hebrew word for helper, Ezer Kenegdo, literally means “a helper who is corresponding to him” or “equal in power and ability to him”). 1
- The husband is to love his wife sacrificially, as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) and as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:28). He is to understand his wife and love her in ways that meet her deepest needs (1 Pet. 3:7) – for example, giving her security, valuing her as an equal partner, giving her conversational companionship, and being emotionally responsive to her.
- The wife is to love her husband in ways that meet his deepest needs: giving him admiration and respect, providing him personal support, joining him as his recreational companion, and being physically responsive to him (Proverbs 31:27-29; 1 Corinthians 7:3; Ephesians 5:33).
- Children are to be valued as gifts from God requiring time, sacrifice, personal attention, and training (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Psalms 127:3; Proverbs 22:6).
- Children are to be raised to embrace a vision of changing the world and advancing God’s kingdom with their unique gifts (Gen. 1: 28; Psalms 127:4-5; 1 Peter 4:10).
- The Holy Spirit is the conscience and the power that makes this kind of marriage possible (John 14:25-26; John 16:8-15).
This is the biblical outline for marriage. Today, however, parts of it have become controversial among some Christians, especially the titles of head and helper. Many modern marriages no longer embrace these biblical terms or use them in their wedding ceremonies. Now, I (Shaunti) completely understand the impetus behind that trend and know that it is often well-intentioned (trying to omit anything that might be perceived as degrading toward women). But it results in eliminating a vital piece of guidance that is, when rightly understood, absolutely life-giving and transformational to launching a couple into the loving, balanced, and equal partnership they are presumably longing for.
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