Roles of men and women in marriage


There is quite a bit of controversy in the church on the roles of men and women in marriage. Now I’m not a feminist exactly, I do believe that the bible has a definite distinction between men and women in marriage. I do believe that the man is the head of a marriage and that a wife is supposed to submit to her husband. For this blog post I don’t want to get into too much of what I actually believe, instead explain mainly something I don’t agree with. However I do think the bible paints a picture of marriage with the man at the head of the church, but he is head in such a way that is very different to how some bosses run their companies or kings ran their countries. I also think the bible’s description of marriage is one that is genuinly the best and desirable to men and women, even the more spirited women who’d never describe themselves as submissive.

Anyway, this is something I’ve heard on the matter that I don’t agree with. “Yeah its true that most of the time when a husband and wife disagree, they should argue it out and listen to each other. But sometimes there comes times when you just can’t agree and in those disputes, as the man of the house, the husband must get the final say. Someone needs to have final say“.

Now it’s the last bit in italics that I disagree with. I agree with the husband as the head of the household but I think this practical application of the principle is problematic. Back in Genesis the marriage of a man and women is described by a man leaving his father and mother and joining with his wife where the two become one flesh. Now, lets take this concept of one flesh a bit further. It is easy to understand one flesh because I spend most of my time being me, and even though I’m me and I’m not divided. Even then I have disagreements with myself. Sometimes I do things I don’t want to do, sometimes I get confused and can’t decide between two different I need to do. So lets spread this out, say I’m very confused… I seem to change my mind every other day. I need apply to my room a new lick of paint. On Monday I wake up and decide it should be white and then on tuesday I decide it should be black. Say I do this every other day for a year! I’m pretty indicisive. This is an example of me, being torn between two different mes. Jamie who likes white and Jamie who likes black, but they are both me. This is a conflict that needs to be resolved but it would make no sense to just pick Monday and say this is what we should do. Then make some kind of rule that says, “Whatever I think of on mondays, I’ll do, but I’ll ignore my oppinion on tuesday”. I’d be miserable, every tuesday which is half of my life! 

But then there is another concept people apply to marriage – compromise. If two people disagree, one shouldn’t be more right then the other so you should compromise between the two. In this example that would be like finally deciding to paint my room grey. Its kind of inbetween black and white so that works right? Well no, I never wanted my room grey… I’d be miserable EVERY day!

This is the thing, a husband and wife are one flesh. If one part hurts, the whole hurts. My left hand is no more important then my right hand. If either one is hurting, I want it to stop. And I think the same COULD (not necessarily should) apply to marriage. If there is a problem within the one flesh, whether its the wife or the husband. Then that is an issue that HAS to be resolved. This is different to every other relationship I ever enter into where I am not “one flesh”. If one of my friends didn’t like my career decision, I’d probably listen to their views but I wouldn’t change my life because of them. However in a marriage, with this mutual submission, I have to take that issue seriously simply because she does. It is a problem, an indicision that needs to be resolved.

Is this of any practical use? Well no… you can’t spend that much time deciding on paint colours. Sometimes you have to live a life that is less then perfect and just get on with other things even if you’ll never be fully happy about the colour of your room. BUT… the bible doesn’t talk like that. In the Sermon on the mount we are commanded to be perfect, we’re commanded so many things that just don’t seem to be practically reasonable. God hates decay, he hates sickness, he hates death and he hates imperfection. So as christians we realise that eternal life is our ideal, we’re striving to perfection, happiness, health. But not through our own ability, we’re striving there because we need it and because God has offered it to us.

So maybe, there are marriages that need to have the husband decide what to do in the case of those arguments. Personally I think it makes more sense that if the wife is staying home looking after the kids, she should have final words on which schools they go to, and if the husband is at work, then he should have final say on career choices (and visa versa). However, however you solve your issues within your marriage. It does not mean that the eternal universal principle of the husband’s headship over the marriage has to be solved in this manner. If you want to argue that your principle of “Husband always decides” is fully biblical then you need to show biblical support that this concept “Arguments need to be resolved by one party” is also biblical. 

I have an inkling (not full biblical support, its hard to say what is not in the bible) that this concept is not biblical. That the alternative, all disagreements in one flesh can eventually be fully resolved, is just as biblicall viable (though it feels not practically). Finally I think that if those people are right, then heaven might not be such a cool place. The model of husbands being the head of the marriage is used analogously to Christ being the head of the church. We are described as the bride of christ. I know there are times when I disagree with my head, and in this life I just dutifully submit. But really is that perfection? Is that what heaven is going to be like? Is heaven going to be an eternity of disagreeing with Jesus but simply forcing myself into submission? I really hope not

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