Article by Pastor Tom DrionElder at GraceLife London
Three words that may make you choke
Lack of equality has been cited as the second biggest reason for divorce behind lack of intimacy. Equality is the modern standard of marriage, and a constant pursuit for couples today. Spain has even enshrined in law that upon marriage, men agree to do 50% of the household chores. Differing roles for men and women are now seen as unacceptable. Perhaps that is why three words from the traditional marriage ceremony have quietly been removed. The three words are “and to obey”. They just make too many modern women choke. In the 21st century, those words capture an archaic view of gender roles for some and typify the very essence of inequality, but getting rid of those three words hasn’t solved the problem.
Striving to regain paradise lost
The quest for equality within marriage is an attempt to redress the balance and create a marital utopia. The world equates equality with paradise. This is the myth addressed here in this article. By examining God’s word, we can see that gender equality was not a foundational cornerstone God used to create paradise.
Genesis 2 depicts God’s utopia. Everything was as God initially intended it to be in the garden of Eden. It was a paradise before the fall. However, in contrast to our 21st century ideals, God did not make men and women equal.
Perhaps these are more words to choke on. It is certainly a bitter pill to swallow for many.
The myth busted
Genesis 2:18 “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
This verse reveals three details about God’s intentions for marriage. The verse contains details regarding order, specific purposes, and defined roles for men and women. The verse has a continuous flow which God uses to reveal his framework for biblical marriage: “I will make (the order) for him (the purpose) a helper (the role).”
Men and women were not created at the same time. Man was made first. This does not represent a disparity in honour or dignity. But there is a significance in the order of creation. Paul picks up on this fact in the New Testament and draws divinely inspired implications from it, which can’t be ignored as will be seen below.
Examining the Hebrew of “I will make him a helper”, we can’t afford to ignore the presence of the Hebrew letter 'Lāmed (ל) which in its essence means “to” or “toward”. It could be woodenly translated as “I will make to him” but the sense is clearly one of advantage, and so the obvious meaning is—as it is in our English translations: “I will make for him”. This one letter tells us that the woman was made to the advantage of the man. Eve was made for Adam. That was part of her purpose.
Eve’s role in her marriage was to be Adam’s helper. She was to help him carry out his will. Adam’s role was to carry out God’s will. God gave Adam a great command – go and enjoy my creation!
To help anyone complete a task, we must submit ourselves to sit under the authority of the one who was commissioned to do the job. We must allow ourselves to be guided by the person who is leading the task. The helper places themselves under the leader’s control and headship and implicitly or explicitly agrees to help them finish the assignment.
21st Century ideas on marriage reject God’s design. The only role acceptable for some women is the head role. Using words such as “control” and “headship” are abhorrent to a feminist. Any admission that a husband is the leader within a marriage is repugnant. Let us explore why Genesis 2:18 should cause the Christian to have a different response.
God’s Divine Design
God commanded Adam to go and enjoy creation. It was all for his pleasure. He was also commanded to freely eat. Eve’s God given role was to help him.
It is unquestionable that Eve had other tasks. She also was given the command to have dominion over creation. Notice who was addressed in Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” In paradise, however, Eve clearly sat under Adam’s authority to fulfil his mission. She submitted to him to help him carry out his role.
A Christian should not balk at the notion of a husband’s headship-role within a marriage, knowing this obviously does not mean a wife is inferior. A helper role cannot imply inferiority since all three persons of the Trinity are identified as helpers in the bible. For example, in Psalm 54:4 David declares “Behold, God is my helper”. The fact that God takes the role of helper to David, does not make Him inferior to him.
In John 14:26 it reads,” But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus is promising the presence, power and the help of the Holy Spirit who is equally God. By taking the role, God is not weakening Himself in any way.
Jesus also took the role of a helper when He washed His disciples’ feet in John 13. They had a need and He submitted himself to their needs. He took the place of the lowest servant.
A note to husbands: While this does prove that there is nothing demeaning or degrading about a woman accepting the role of “helper”—it also should remind husbands that the activity of helping is not exclusively the domain of wives! Husbands: are you (like Christ with his disciples) actively looking to place your wife’s needs above your own? How can you help meet her needs? Jesus’ example was not the demonstration of a failing head but an example of a successful servant leader. Jesus never failed in his headship, but he did not hesitate to help his disciples when it was needed.
Complementarianism versus Egalitarianism
In Genesis 2:18 God ordained two different roles for men and women in marriage that are complementary, not strictly equal. Our struggle to accept this is reflected in our persistence in attempting to force gender equality (egalitarianism) to fit marriage when this was not God’s design. The notion that complementarianism is a vestigial old testament relic that has no relevance to us today is misplaced, and references to Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” do not prove the egalitarian position on marriage. For the sake of space in this article it’s enough to say that the New Testament does not contradict or override the complementary roles in the creation design set forth in Genesis 2:18. Complementary roles are not a function of the fall to be fought, but a good part of God’s design to be desired.
The New Testament and Complementarianism
1 Timothy 2:11-13 “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve”
Paul wrote these words to urge the church at Ephesus to behave in a manner that is God-honouring. Crucially, Paul grounds his argument in scripture, specifically Genesis 2:18. Using this biblical hermeneutic of scripture interpreting scripture, he encourages women to learn quietly with all submissiveness, since Adam was formed first. It ought to be enough for every Bible-believing Christian to simply read this and understand that Paul uses Genesis 2:18 as his authority to reaffirm that order matters, and has implications for the way we must behave in our roles today.
1 Corinthians 11:7-9 “7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (emphasis added). But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church regarding head-coverings cannot be adequately discussed in this brief article, but we do clearly see another example of Paul using the same biblical hermeneutic to illustrate different purposes that God-ordained for a husband and wife. The New Testament does not nullify the fact that woman was created for man. Their purpose is not an equal one.
1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
The role of the wife as a helper has been set out above. Here, we have further explanation of the role of a husband. His role is bound up in submitting to Christ as his head. A wife should voluntarily submit to her husband’s headship. This may not be palatable to some, but this is God’s design for marriage as outlined in scripture. Obviously, this should not be used as an excuse for husbands to abuse, oppress and dominate their wives. The humble, servant-hearted attitude Jesus had when leading his disciples should illustrate how abusive, domineering behaviour is unacceptable to God. Genesis chapter 3 will be explored in a future article, but it is worth mentioning here that it is in the Curse that we find the origins of sinful male domination and oppression of women.
God’s divine design for marriage is one of complementary roles, where a wife voluntarily submits to her husband’s headship and a husband submits himself to Christ’s Lordship at every point. The idea that equality is the key to unlocking matrimonial harmony is a destructive myth. By pursuing this impossible dream, we are trying to create something that God never intended to exist. In Genesis 2:18, God has provided us with the framework for what is right. When done with the power of the Spirit, it is the closest we get to a truly heavenly marriage here on Earth.
Edited by Sarah O'Sullivan
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