Marriage is very much a partnership of equals in which the partners have different roles.
Part 4 of “What I Believe About Marriage”
The topic of gender-based “roles” in marriage is often a contentious one, even among believers.
On one side are the “egalitarians,” who reject the idea of different God-ordained roles for husbands and wives, emphasizing Scriptures that speak of equality, but eschewing those that speak of gender-based differences in function.
On the other side are the “complementarians,” who support equality of husbands and wives in personhood and value, but who interpret Scripture as supporting differentiation in roles for husbands and wives.
Of course, the arguments on both sides are much more involved than the simple definitions I have presented here, but a deeper dive would not add anything to the discussion here.
A Distinction Without a Difference
I’ve studied the topic of roles in marriage extensively for at least ten years, reading many strong and detailed arguments on both sides. While I would say I lean more toward the complementarian side, I’ve concluded that for the most part, the two sides are not as far apart as would appear on the surface. At least I don’t think they need to be.
I believe that egalitarianism has arisen in the past 50 years primarily due to a lack of understanding and grounding of most complementarians in The Bridal Paradigm, the notion of marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church and a failure to fully grasp our identity as the Bride of Christ. This picture is painted most vividly in Ephesians 5, but the marriage metaphor is found throughout Scripture.
Understandably, egalitarians seek to protect women from the subjugation, domination, and suppression of selfish husbands, who use their authority as a means of control and to constrain their wives. These abuses of biblical headship are all too commonplace, and so I understand the desire to put in place some “protective theology” for wives, a form of Gap Theology.
The best solution, without the need of either side to twist what the Bible has to say about roles for husbands and wives, is to examine marital roles in the light of the Bridal Paradigm.
Though it is very difficult to describe my view of God’s ordained order for marriage in just a few words that cannot be quickly misconstrued, I would best describe it as an ordered partnership based solely on the Bridal Paradigm.
One reason people get hung up on the way the Bible describes marriage roles is that they try to substitute human models: captain/first mate, pilot/copilot, president/vice-president and others. None of these actually work. None of them convey the heart of God for marriage except for one: Christ and the church.
Let me be emphatically clear on this point: the ordered partnership of a bridal paradigm marriage is not about who is more and who is less, who is better or worse, smarter or dumber, stronger or weaker. It’s not even about who makes the decisions or who has control. It’s about having a God-ordained order in place in your marriage that reflects His design, as portrayed for us in the relationship between Jesus and the church.
According to the bridal paradigm described in the Bible, a husband is the head of his wife (“as Christ is head of the church” Ephesians 5:22) and therefore the one who provides physical, spiritual and relational covering for his wife, and correspondingly, his family. His sacrificial love looks out for her interests and sees to her needs and desires, even above his own. It means that the husband’s priority is to cherish, nurture, protect and lead his wife in a selfless and loving manner (”as Christ loved the church”), leading with strength and integrity. It means balancing authority with absolute love and acting with genuine servant leadership. Ultimately, it means doing everything in his power to see his wife walks in her full identity and her calling in Christ.
Now for sure, the “ordered” part does mean that I believe that God places unique authority and responsibility on husbands. However, the implications of the bridal paradigm for the way in which this authority gets exercised stands in rather drastic contrast to what many understand about authority. Please check out this essential reading regarding a Husband’s biblical role:
In response to such a love, a wife gives her husband the voluntary gift of her submission (“as the church submits to Christ” Eph5:24), choosing to place herself under his loving leadership, and trusting him to care for and protect her as Jesus does. She honors him by surrendering herself to him, not because she is incapable of caring for herself, not because she is less than, but because she chooses to live in an ordered partnership with her husband that is free of the struggle for control and power. The wife makes it a priority to support, respect, and submit to her husband, remaining under his covering being attentive to his needs and desires, just as he is to hers. Ultimately, it means aligning herself with him in a way that encourages him to walk in his full identity and his calling in Christ.
I understand that submission is one of those inflammatory words that usually gets misinterpreted. For a more thorough examination, please check out this essential reading regarding a wife’s biblical role: