The Bible is the inspired word of God and it was given to guide us in our lives today. Our first task is ‘exegesis’, which is where we ask what God’s Word meant back then in the culture and time in which it was given. There are considerable cultural gaps between us and world of the Bible that need to be bridged. Our next task is ‘hermeneutics’ which is where we ask what God’s Word means today in our time and culture, which is very different to the context in which it was first given. Unless this is done properly, we can misuse the Scriptures by ignoring matters of cultural context (e.g. forcing women to wear hats in church based on 1 Cor.11).
Today we no longer have household codes, we do not have slaves, and we would not group wives, children and slaves together as philosophers did in the ancient world. Unfortunately, we still live in a culture that is still somewhat patriarchal, even in the church world, where suppression and even abuse of women frequently occurs. Like Jesus, the Christian church needs to champion the value and dignity of women everywhere. There is no doubt that the trajectory of the Scriptures is toward women finding full freedom in Christ as equal heirs of the grace of life with men. Just as we applaud the abolition of slavery, so we should seek justice for women.
So what does this mean for marriage? It is important for us to realise that no Scriptural text represents all that is to be said on any given topic, including marriage. There is an important principle of ‘first mention’ that needs to be considered. Jesus regularly talked about the way things were ‘in the beginning’ as God initially intended (e.g. Matt.19:4, 8). A full study of God’s intention for marriage from the beginning shows that God desired marriage to be an equal and mutual partnership between the husband and the wife (Gen.2:18). Men and women were both created in the image of God and they were both given a dominion mandate and a reproduction mandate (Gen.1:26-28). God’s original intention was that men and women work together in harmony in a partnership of interdependency, taking their rightful place as joint-heirs and co-rulers of creation. Before sin entered there was no hierarchy, no domination and no control in human relationships, including marriage. These damaging relating patterns entered as a result of the fall (see Gen.3:16). Christ comes to redeem us from the curse of sin and to return us to God’s intentions at the beginning.
I believe that a healthy marriage involves a husband and a wife who see each other as equal partners, enjoying life together, making decisions together, and empowering each other to serve based on their unique gifts and abilities. There is mutual love and respect. Marriages of mutual empowerment do not come naturally or automatically because the human tendency is to dominate or manipulate in order to get your own way. Working out an equal partnership takes time, effort and energy. However, the very process of working it through creates character and personal growth. Most importantly, it can be a powerful witness to the watching world.
Part 3 - some discussion questions and some recommended reading