Mars, Venus ... and John Wayne?

The Church in America has had some interesting ideas about what roles within the marriage ought to look like. Some good. Some bad. Some … are just weird. We looked at the wife’s responsibilities in the last article. Now, we turn to the husbands. 

What the Apostle Paul actually says about this topic is not nearly as complicated as we’ve made it. Like so many things in the eternal struggle between Christianity, culture and tradition, Paul’s remarks here aren’t complicated at all – but they’ve become complicated by the baggage we each bring to the table.

Let’s see what Paul says. Again, the translation here is my own.

Eph 5:25-27: You husbands, always love1 [your] wives—just as even2 the Messiah loved the Church and gave Himself up for her so that He would purify the Church, cleansing [her] with3 the washing of4 water by5 the message of the Gospel.6 He did this so7 to8 render the church pure and holy9 for10 Himself—not having stain or imperfection or anything like that—but, to be holy and blameless.

For husbands, “love” means you must have the same depth of love for your wives that Christ has for the church. Paul isn’t saying husbands make their wives holy; he’s describing what Christ’s kind of love looks like—a love that values the other more Himself, and personifies selflessness.

How does Jesus love the Church? Enough to do what He did.

What should my love for my wife look like? It should look like that.

Paul’s analogy vaporizes crude stereotypes from outsiders about the Church’s teaching on marriage, and it should put a bullet in the head of the bad teaching about marriage from within the Church.  

Eph 5:28: So, you husbands11 must love your own wives like you love yourselves. The one who loves his own wife loves himself.

Paul draws this parallel with Christ because husbands and wife are supposed to be one unit, one team, one union. Husbands and wives are literally one person—in a similar way to the Divine Persons being one God. There is no figurative “space” between husband and wife—you and your wife together are one constellation, one union.  

Eph 5:29-30: For nobody ever hates himself but nourishes and takes care of12 himself— just as Christ also [does for]13 the Church, because we are the different parts of His body.

Paul keeps hammering away at this because … Genesis 3:16 is real.

It explains our fights in marriage.

It explains our disagreements.

It explains our tensions.

It explains the confusion about gender roles in our society and in the Church.

It explains why men fail at their role. Why some are cruel tyrants to their wives, and why others psychologically manipulate and brutalize their wives. It explains why the only skills some other men seem to possess are smoking marijuana, playing video games, and producing children.

 Paul says, for Christian men, this must not happen! He says:

  • you’ll always nourish and take care of yourself,
  • so don’t you dare do less for your wife
  • because she’s part of you, and you’re part of her!

This means that, just as Christ has no self-interest when it comes to His relationship with Father and Spirit, neither is there any self-interest in your relationship with your wife—your wife is yourself!

To make his point again, Paul turns to Genesis:

Eph 5:31: “Because of this, a man will leave father and mother and will be joined to his wife and the two will become one person.” This is the great mystery!14 But, I’m [really] speaking about Christ and about the Church.

This “mystery” is the metaphysical bond of a husband and a wife. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t take a photo of it. But, it’s there. It’s real. It’s marrow deep. It’s not an illusion. It’s a picture of the union Christ has with His church.

And that picture itself is nothing but a dim reflection of Father, Son and Spirit and their union with one another, and their desire to reach out beyond themselves to draw men, women, boys and girls into their love and into their family.15

Eph 5:33: In any case, each of you husbands16 must love his own wife as [you love] yourself, so that17 the wife would reverence [her] husband.

This is me boldly going where no English translations dare to go. I believe Paul says husbands must love their wives so that wives would, in turn, reverence their husbands. This is not a command (“let the wife see that she respects her husband”). It is an explanation. We love God because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19). So, wives will reverence their husbands when they know their husbands, in turn, love them too.

It’s a picture of an eternal cycle:

  1. The husband loves the wife like Christ loves the Church
  2. So, the wife therefore reverences her husband because she knows he loves her and cares for her.
  3. This leads the husband to love his wife more.
  4. Which leads the wife to reverence her husband
  5. So, their bond as a couple and their joint union with Christ grows ever stronger.
  6. The cycle repeats.

Ephesians 5:21-33 does not paint a picture of a crude hierarchy. Instead, it shows us a complementary relationship based on mutual love and mutual submission—different roles working together.

Men and women, husbands and wives are not interchangeable, sexually androgenous beings—we’re not generic USB charging cords! We’re a complementary, harmonious pair that only works when both parties are submitting to and loving one other.

If your inkjet printer is missing the blue cartridge, the printer is dead. It doesn’t matter that the black, the cyan and yellow cartridges are full. If you’re missing the key, then your car is dead, too. In our passage, Paul is saying that, if both parties aren’t submitting to one another, then the marriage will not and cannot work as He intended.

There is no call for men to pretend to be John Wayne; to mimic the worst impulses of a particular cultural stereotype of “manhood.” Tim and Kathy Keller go so far as to suggest that, beyond the general guidelines such as those Paul explained here:

the Bible gives almost no details about how that is expressed in concrete behavior. Should wives never work outside the home? Should wives never create culture or be scientists? Should husbands never wash clothes or clean the house? Should women take primary responsibility for daily child care while men oversee the finances? Traditionally minded people are tempted to nod yes to these questions until it is pointed out that nowhere does the Bible say such things. The Scripture does not give us a list of things men and women must and must not do. It gives no specific directions at all.18

As Yosemite Sam would say, “them’s fightin’ words!” But, are they really? I leave you to decide. Perhaps, like the Grinch before us, we should puzzle and think on this one ‘till our puzzlers are sore. Then maybe we’ll think of something we haven’t before.

I will say the most subversive, most counter-cultural, most revolutionary thing you can do as a Christian in this culture is to actually believe and practice what Paul says here:

  • You wives, [submit yourselves] to your own husbands, like you do to the Lord.
  • You husbands must love your own wives like you love yourselves. The one who loves his own wife loves himself.
  • submitting to one another because of reverence for Christ.

As for the practical details of what that looks like in your marriage … I leave that to you.

Notes

1 I’m translating ἀγαπᾶτε as an iterative present.   

2] This is ascensive (“even”), not adjunctive (“also”). 

3 καθαρίσας is an adverbial participle of means.  

4 This is a genitive of means. 

5 Agency. 

6 This is my interpretive gloss for ῥήματι, which doesn’t have to mean a literal “word.” It can also mean “message” (Jn 3:34, 5:47). What message cleanses the Church? The Gospel, of course.

7 The infinitive clause expresses purpose. 

8 I interpret the pronoun αὐτὸς as redundant, here. It could signify emphasis, but the translation result (“so that He Himself would present the Church to Himself …”) is awkward and unsatisfactory.  

9 ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν are double accusatives, with “glorious” acting as a predicate. I took the word to refer to a quality that isn’t ordinary (BDAG, s.v. “ἔνδοξον,” 2; p. 332). In this context, especially with the reference to cleansing and purifying by the Spirit by the Gospel, that quality is purity and holiness.

10 This is a dative of indirect object, expressing benefaction. 

11 This is a nominative of address. 

12 ἐκτρέφει καὶ θάλπει seem to be near synonyms, here.  

13 The accusative τὴν ἐκκλησίαν is a predicate.   

14 τὸ μυστήριον is the subject, and μέγα the predicate. The article in τὸ μυστήριον is diectic.   

15 Jurgen Moltmann writes, “When we say `God is love’, then we mean that he is in eternity this process of self-differentiation differentiation and self-identification; a process which contains the whole pain of the negative in itself. God loves the world with the very same love which he himself is in eternity. God affirms the world with the energy of his self-affirmation. Because he not only loves but is himself love, he has to be understood as the triune God. Love cannot be consummated by a solitary subject. An individuality cannot communicate itself: individuality is ineffable, unutterable. If God is love he is at once the lover, the beloved and the love itself. Love is the goodness that communicates itself from all eternity,” (The Trinity and the Kingdom [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993; Kindle ed.], KL 924-928). See also all of ch. 2, §8.

16 This is a crazy sentence. I can only assume an implied plural male subject in ὑμεῖς οἱ καθʼ ἕνα (the husbands), which then changes to singular (husband) in ἀγαπάτω, with τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα as the direct object.  

17 I think the best way to take ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα is as indicating purpose, rather than an implied imperative. However, BDAG notes the conjunction does occur with the subjunctive and can carry an imperatival flavor (BDAG, s.v. “ἵνα,” 2.g.; p. 476). However, I still disagree. The mutuality implied with the Christ analogy (Christ loves us = we therefore love him) argues in favor of purpose; the husband loves his wife so she will, in turn, reverence him. This is a cycle.

This interpretation means δὲ could indicate explanation, and so disappear in translation as redundant. Or, it could be a simple conjunction that’s left untranslated.   

18 Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Penguin, 2011), pp. 209-210.  

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There are 17 Comments

T Howard's picture

Tyler,

Do you think Scripture provides a basis for the husband to be the one who provides, protects, and presides over his family? Or, is this cultural baggage?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, the husband is the leader.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

Well, then, if the husband is to fulfill these biblical roles, the question then becomes how does he do so? That is where the "interesting ideas" come into play. Does the Bible give either a prescriptive or descriptive understanding of how a husband is to provide for his family, protect his family, and preside over his family? Or, are all these roles open to whatever is right in one's own family context?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Good questions. That's why I left it open at the end with Keller's quote for discussion. My opinion is the marriage context (personalities, etc.) will determine the specific shape these roles take. In other words, I largely (not totally) agree with Keller. I think caring for children is more naturally the role of the woman, and providing is more properly the role of the husband. I just am hesitant to go further than that in setting down commandments for what that must look like.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

Can a husband fulfill the "provide" role for his family if he's a stay-at-home dad while his wife works a F/T job? If his wife brings home the bacon, I would think this also has implications for who leads the financial discussions.

In situations like this, I've always seen the wife taking the leadership of the family. I'm sure there are exceptions, but usually the one making the money in the family gets the say on how it's spent.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I would say "no." In theory it could work. In reality, I am skeptical. My inclination is to frown severely at this kind of arrangement. I've never had to deal with it as a pastor. Generally, if a man decides to leave his wife to work while he takes care of the kids, then I feel he is abdicating his responsibilities. Of course, there may be circumstances when this is necessary. I am uncomfortable with this being a permanent arrangement.

However, off the cuff, I am not sure if I can find any didactic scripture passage to support that position. This is why I am wary of stating what the concrete expression of the scriptural guidelines must look like.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

pvawter's picture

We had a new family join the church last year with this arrangement. It seems to me to produce some conflicts and issues that are not easily resolved. I asked why they did it this way and was told that when they married the wife already had a good paying job, better than the husband would be able to earn with his background and education. I am still unsure whether this can really work over time.

Andrew K's picture

The Duke has come in for a real drubbing lately. Think they'd care to try while he was alive? 

"That'll be the day!"

TylerR's picture

Editor

Well, he was convenient, so I decided to use the poor guy ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

We don't know if Lydia was married, but if she was, she'd have been in this situation.  For that matter, the Proverbs 31 wife seems to be earning her keep as well, and if we assume that the husband would do the more physical work in the fields while the wife tended the garden, dairy, weaving, and vineyards, we'd have to assume that a lot of ancient wives were providing a hefty chunk of the family finances.  Closer to today, if you read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, it's clear that Almanzo's mother was, in making butter and other things sold towards New York City, significantly responsible for the bank account balance the family had.  Moreover, when Almanzo himself took sick after a bout of diptheria, Laura carried the family finances.  My sister-in-law does the same in my brother's family, and yet he still leads significantly there--even though they're not Christians.

My take for years has been that the "father must earn the wages" mood so often found in the church is really a 1950s view among Caucasians, not a reality that we've got to preserve for all time.  If you want to get an earful, discuss the matter with some of our black brothers and sisters--for all but a blessed few, the notion that Mom would get to stay home with the kids while dad worked a good job was a fairy tale!

And John Wayne?  Yeah, we should take the example of a guy with four marriages and God knows how many affairs as a model for manhood.  I like some of his movies, but I've got better examples of Biblical manhood!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

"If you want to get an earful, discuss the matter with some of our black brothers and sisters--for all but a blessed few, the notion that Mom would get to stay home with the kids while dad worked a good job was a fairy tale!"

 

That was more out of necessity than choosing the best option though right? And, while we are generalizing, it is often the case that black families are fairly matriarchal.

 

Bert Perry's picture

....but remember that this "matter of necessity" appears to have been the case in Bible times, and also was the case in western European society until very, very recently.  

Also remember that black families did not become effectively matriarchal until marriage rates plunged starting around 1950, with accompanying skyrocketing rates of unwed parenting.  Walter Williams wrote about this a lot.

Since we have strong indications that, outside of aristocracies and the wealthy, wives did generally work outside the home and often supported families, even back in Bible times, I think that our theology ought to reflect this--we should not be arguing strenuously for a way of life that has, historically speaking, only been available to the middle class and up.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....but remember that this "matter of necessity" appears to have been the case in Bible times, and also was the case in western European society until very, very recently.  

Also remember that black families did not become effectively matriarchal until marriage rates plunged starting around 1950, with accompanying skyrocketing rates of unwed parenting.  Walter Williams wrote about this a lot.

Since we have strong indications that, outside of aristocracies and the wealthy, wives did generally work outside the home and often supported families, even back in Bible times, I think that our theology ought to reflect this--we should not be arguing strenuously for a way of life that has, historically speaking, only been available to the middle class and up.

In most of civilized history, society has been pretty much agrarian. It wasn't until the late 18th Century that industrialization moved people into the cities en masse. In the agrarian societies, most of the family's wealth consisted of property and harvesting crops. Who did most of that work? The men of the family or slaves. Women mostly worked at home or did other jobs that supplemented the household income, but the primary financial earnings came from farming.

I find it fascinating that even Paul addressed the issue of lazy men in 1 Tim 5:8, and the expectation was that men provide for the needs of their family (even extended family).

Bert Perry's picture

Yes, Scripture addresses lazy men, but given that starvation was always pretty close to the door for most of history, I don't think it's fair or accurate to say that men "did most of the work".  Any woman who was foolish enough to let her man carry most of the load would be signing up for a miserable death that winter.  We need to read Scripture in that light.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....but remember that this "matter of necessity" appears to have been the case in Bible times, and also was the case in western European society until very, very recently.  

Also remember that black families did not become effectively matriarchal until marriage rates plunged starting around 1950, with accompanying skyrocketing rates of unwed parenting.  Walter Williams wrote about this a lot.

Since we have strong indications that, outside of aristocracies and the wealthy, wives did generally work outside the home and often supported families, even back in Bible times, I think that our theology ought to reflect this--we should not be arguing strenuously for a way of life that has, historically speaking, only been available to the middle class and up.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you but I think it's important to put together a biblical theology of the issue and rely less heavily on "how it's been done". In other words, even if scripture records (descriptive) women helping to support or supporting the family it's not necessarily recommending it (prescription). It's certainly the case the the American church can fall into an idealization of certain periods in our history and making that the biblical ideal.

I would say that a woman working is not a sin but it's also not the best. If a man has accepted his wife supporting the family as a permanent arrangement, I believe he needs to be taught. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

The difficult thing here, of course, is to unshell scripture from the cultural milieu to ensure we don't impose foreign, concrete applications beyond what scriptural principles teach us. This is why, again, I am very reluctant to use permanent ink to chart out what these roles MUST look like, as long as the basic principles are in place.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Understood, Josh.  My point in pointing to the example of former times is that it will tell us whether our preferred application would have made any sense to the original readers of the Bible.  And in that light, the specter of starvation never being far off--clearly mentioned in the books of history, as well as the curses for disobedience at the end of Deuteronomy--would make the notion that men were doing most of the work ludicrous to our ancestors in the faith.  

And if that application would make no sense to the original readers of the Bible, then by and large it must be discarded.  I would suggest that our better application would be that if any adult in the church is not doing some work--"six days you shall work" and "if a man will not work, neither shall he eat" and all--that is sufficient to argue there is a problem.  We can define it loosely--it would include childcare, homeschooling, and the like--but I think that's at least a reasonable application of the Scriptures that would have made sense in light of ancient societies.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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