29 January 2013

Marriage: a tale of paired assertions

by Dan Phillips

First: "Husbands should not force their wives to submit to their lawful authority."

Second: "Wives should not force their husbands to be sexually faithful to them."

Let's try two more, slightly different:

Third: "Husbands should not demand that their wives respect them."

Fourth: "Wives should not demand that their husbands love them."


Fifth: "The Bible says that wives should subordinate themselves to and respect their husbands, but..."

Sixth: "The Bible says that husbands should love their wives as themselves, but..."

Then finally:

Seventh: "A husband's authority should never be exercised in an arbitrary or abusive way."

Eighth: "A wife's expectation of love should never be shrewish, excessively demanding, or insatiable."

Now, discuss.

Suggested questions:
  • Is each pair of statements equally Biblical? If not, how not?
  • Is each element within each pair of statements heard equally frequently? If not, why not?
  • Are answers to any of the previous questions diagnostically helpful as to the spirit of the age?
Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Chantry said...

The closing questions are a little confusing, because there are four pairs of assertions, not two pairs. Still, walking through the pairs, I think I see what you're after.

1 & 2 are truisms; if both commands are of God, neither should require force. 3 & 4, on the other hand, suggest that because force is out, so is expectation. It is a subtly antinomian statement which suggests that if there is no wrath, there is no moral requirement. Even though husbands and wives are not to compel proper behavior from one another, they still have every right to expect proper behavior.

Conversely, 5 & 6 are terrible - an awful way of expressing things. Every biblically unjustified divorce I have seen began with one of these assertions. "I know that I am required to do X, but..." It's a sort of a "note-from-God" thing. 7 & 8, on the other hand, get it right. There is a check on the authority of a husband and on the righteous expectation of a wife, but neither check amounts to undoing the command of God.

In other words, to build off of last week, 1 & 3 and 7 & 8 are balanced in the sense that they are seeking to be more biblical, while 3 & 4 and 5 & 6 achieve a false balance by being less biblical.

Tom Chantry said...

...or to put it another way:

1 & 2 are simply true,
While 3 & 4 are rather poor.
5 & 6 leave you in a fix,
But 7 & 8 are really great.

Carl C. said...


I agree with your take on this, and love the rhyme!

My only gripe is with the 3/4 pair. What put me off there was 'demand', causing me to agree with those two assertions. It seems you've interpreted 'demand' as 'expectation', in which case I'd agree with you and reject that pair. But is that a fair interpretation? To demand can have that meaning, for sure, but at least for me it conjures up a much stronger sense, one that goes way beyond expectation into the realm of compel[ling] proper behavior as you put it. I stand ready for correction.

Curiously, #8 includes "excessively demanding". Dan intends in some way to qualify that word, whatever he means by it.

JackW said...

Nothing left to say,
Have a great day.

DJP said...

A lot left to muse on in the post.

Robert said...

this might be more than you're looking form but here goes...

Are both pairs equally Biblical?

1-2: The Bible never describes the marriage relationship as "forcing" anything upon your spouse. There is washing of the wife with Scripture, but that isn't by force.

3-4: These are things that we shouldn't demand of each other, but that Scripture commands us to do regardless of whether the husband is respected or the wife is loved. There are no conditions on the Biblical commands to husband and wife.

5-6: There is no room for a but there unless the husband asks the wife to do something that is clearly against God's Word (i.e. murder)

7-8: Those are true, but have to be judged in objective fashion. Would be best applied by the wife to herself and the husband to himself while taking the spouse into consideration and bringing all things to Scripture.

Are the heard equally frequently?

1-2: I'd say the first is heard much more frequently than the second. Nobody thinks that a wife can force her husband to be sexually faithful. And sadly, adultery doesn't seem to be as big of a deal in the eyes of people these days for some reason. Heck, pastors are allowed back into the pulpit after having committed adultery. Meanwhile, the church has also fallen into both ditches with husbands handling their responsibility as leaders in the house. And the church at large hasn't called anybody to account for the messes in the marriages because of 1)men not stepping up to lead and 2)men being arbitrary instead of loving (and leading) wives as Christ loves the Church.

3-4: I'd say the third is probably heard more often. This goes back to the notion that respect must be earned...the Bible doesn't say that anywhere, though. And because there are so many men who don't fit the mold of Biblcal manhood, it is even harder to respect them. Again, the church at large hasn't handled this well, either.

5-6: I'd probably again say that the first of these two is said more often. And I'd go back to what I said for 3-4.

7-8: These might be closer, but still going to say the first one is said more often.

I would say that these are definitely helpful as to diagnosing the spirit of the age. The church at large has failed to uphold the standard of Biblical manhood and also the specific Biblical roles and commands for husbands and wives. This has lead to many divorces, adulterous affairs, and families being ripped apart. It has also brought a massive amount of support to the egalitarian position because women are thrust into positions of authority because men are not being called to be Biblical men.

And to see the worldly spirit of the day, all one has to do is turn on the television and see how husband/wife relationships are portrayed. It is now just assumed that men are dumb, lazy, adulterous, and easily manipulated.

May we all be called to stand out as lights in this age of darkness and follow the Biblical standard.

Robert said...

One additional comment I have is that we should be raising our children to know their roles and what type of person they should be looking for...and I think GWiP is a great resource to help people ask the right questions with regards to these relationships. We've been through it with our boys once already and I pln to go through it again when they are teenagers. Then I'll give them each a copy when the head out to school/work.

This is another area where the church at large has failed. If we are not teaching our children this when they are young, we are setting them up for failure.

DJP said...

Robert gets a LOT of it, most on-target for my intent so far.

For newbies: "GWiP" is this book, which Robert has used for group studies, and which in Twitter is #ProvDJP.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing is tricky isn't it?

Because what I cannot demand that another do for me, I can demand that another do for another. That is, I mustn't demand submission and respect from my wife, but I ought to demand that my brother love his wife, or that my sister respect her husband.

The second pair highlight for me the bodiness of the church. We can't even do marriage alone because what we can't demand from our spouse, someone ought to be demanding (or insisting) of them on our behalf, no?

At least I hope someone demands of me that I love my wife better, when they see my failure.

Demand is a tough word. But sometimes necessary.

Carl C. said...


I think you finished my thought well. It's not the word that gets me, it's the who. Is it God or I that can demand godliness of my husband/wife (possibly in light of 1 Peter 3:1-9)? By the same token, I do expect them to be called to account for continued sin, and primarily I as a spouse and secondarily the church are to seek that end.

Sorry this wasn't what you're getting at Dan, but it is an area I struggle with especially as a husband: in what practical ways does Christ love the church (per Eph 5:25-33) so I may seek conformity to that model?

DJP said...

Oh no, all the comments are good. It's just that no one has quite caught part of my point. But it's all-good, and the day's young.

Robert said...


I'd just add that the leaders of the Church should be practicing/modeling that attitude of accountability (in both directions). But that cuts both ways and the modern church has failed on both ends...pastors, elders, and deacons aren't held to the Biblical standards by the church and they also don't hold the church to be accountable to the Biblical standards. It's a vicious cycle that has fed the easy believism that is prevalent in the modern church.

Frank Turk said...

The fourth pair wins by a long-shot, with the other 3 simply missing the whole target.

If one has to ask why, one doesn't know any human beings, and one has no idea what the Gospel is.

Frank Turk said...

For the record:

1 & 2 miss the point of love entirely.

3 & 4 miss the point of sacrifice entirely

5 & 6 miss the point of the creaturelyness of people entirely

7 & 8 get love, sacrifice and creatureliness right.

Frank Turk said...

BTW, Dan: this is why you're a genius. You can express nuance better than anyone I've read since Nathaniel Hawthorne.

DJP said...

Whew! One-star hater finally showed up! Starting to worry.

Robert said...

Whew! One-star hater finally showed up! Starting to worry.

He/she was waiting for Frank to comment. After all, OSH is Frank's nemesis.

Tom Chantry said...


You think so? I'm not sure one-star-hater knows the difference between Frank and Dan. I don't think he reads all that closely.

He probably thinks they're both Phil.

Robert said...


You're probably right...didn't you get some of the one star hate when you posted on here?

Although I remember there being a good bit of lively discussion with that post as well...

Anonymous said...

By using 7&8, one can re-word the first 3 pairs so that they work rightly.

Which is to say, all of them express something fairly nearly true. But without 7&8, they all go wrong.

7&8 allows the other pairs to work the way the need to, rather than the way they're put.

DJP said...

Well, the consensus is favorable for the fourth pair, thus far.

Now: apply the last set of questions to it.

Tom Chantry said...

Well I still like the first one, also. Perhaps it shouldn't need to be said, but it's true, as far as I can see. I suppose that means I don't know any human beings, which, given how some Arminians view my family and my church...

...but I digress.

Perhaps the most interesting of the questions is, "Is each pair of statements heard equally frequently?" I can safely say that the pair I hear most frequently is 5 & 6. As for what it says about the spirit of the age, I think it suggests that we want an "out" for every commandment of God.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you replace "demand" and "force", with "expect", in those first two.

And if you remove the "but" from the 3rd pair.

Then you have those three now said rightly, because of the impact of the 4th pair.

I think.

DJP said...

Thanks, I have reworded my question: is each element within each pair of statements heard equally frequently?

Anonymous said...

Now that IS different...

To the first, it is generally said "of course not"

To the second it is generally said "yes they should"

To the third it is generally said "of course not"

To the fourth it is generally said "yes they should"

To the fifth, it is generally said just that say, the "but" being the caveat that he be loving her well in order for this to apply.

To the sixth it is generally said "no but's allowed. Period."

To the seventh and 8th, it is generally said "Yes on both counts".

Anonymous said...

Interesting, isn't it. That even among those who deny male headship in the home, they still hold men to the standards of headship...

Fascinating I think.

Tom Chantry said...

Ah. That's an entirely distinct question, and it does indeed open up a whole new path of inquiry.

Obviously, 1, 3, 5 & 7 are heard more often than 2, 4, 6 & 8. This reflects the spirit of our age in that moderns want to divide humanity up into the oppressors and the oppressed, or - to put it another way - the guilty and the innocent.

It's very dangerous for Christians to be drawn into that sort of debate, because in doing so we are likely to focus our attention on the wickedness of the other rather than on our own culpability.

Frank Turk said...

" Are answers to any of the previous questions diagnostically helpful as to the spirit of the age?"


Frank Turk said...

In reverse order:

7&8 - The method of expressing these maxims is, simply, outside the vocabulary of our culture. That there are fixed points of authority or proper expectations (other than self-fulfillment and self-reference) is utterly outside of the popular epistemology.

5&6 - Referencing the Bible? You must be kidding. That's why we gave to hang our "buts" on the end of the idea: the Bible might be a reference book, -but- it's not a book with authority.

3&4 - This is actually the way the world thinks of gender roles: there aren't any, or at best whatever they appear to be ought not to be demonstrated too vividly. And for the record: our culture would never say #4, but it is utterly the basis for the cultural view of marriage (as it trickles through to divorce).

1&2 - See 3&4. Authority, fidelity, love, respect -- these words have somehow become vile to us. The expectation that they ought to be, let alone be anything specific, is absurd.

David Regier said...

I have not heard much about #8 from pulpits, blogs or devotions. Granted, I'm not the target.

But I expect it says something about the spirit of the age.

Cathy said...

The second statement is totally hanging me up. I don't even know what that means, nor have I heard a variation of that statement taught. How could a wife force her husband to be sexually faithful? Since it makes no sense to command someone to not do something they aren't capable of doing anyway, then that statement is totally unnecessary. Since it is paired with the first statement- then that calls into question the idea of a husband's ability to force his wife to submit- because then it would not even be true submission.
As far as 7 and 8 - these days 7 is probably stressed more than 8. Because feminism is so prevalent and the issue is touchy, pastors maybe don't stress #8 as much as #7. Therefore- it's helpful, because it indicates we might be more sensitive to the culture than to the Lord.

trogdor said...

Taking the last pair, #7 is declared approximately eleventy billion times as frequently as #8. Whole ministries seemingly are devoted to explaining what God-ordained gender roles (i.e. complementarianism) don't mean, at least as far as the man is concerned.

You will hear/read multitudes of apologies for male headship and hardly ever come across anything describing female submission (and I mean 'apology' in the "we're sorry we're complementarian, we'd really like to not be but we can't find any way around scripture, we're really nice people anyway so please like us, mmmkay" way, not in the apologetics staunch defense sense).

I've heard it said - and to be honest, probably expressed the thought myself - that it would be easier if the order in Ephesians 5 was reversed. It would be so much easier to talk about wifely submission after showing what husbandly leadership should be, but that's not the order God chose to write it in. Who wouldn't find it more palatable to talk about submission after clearly defining the leadership they would be submitting to - and the spirit of the age, of course, would want that leadership to be blunted beyond Biblical recognition. But God put the command to wives first. Do we have the faith to speak to that issue with the same emphasis?

Robert said...

The spirit of the age (in my mind the world) is working to attack the family. That is the best place to attack because God has established the proper structure fo the family.

Jim Pemberton said...

Is each pair of statements equally Biblical? If not, how not?

I believe so.

Is each pair of statements heard equally frequently? If not, why not?

Heard by whom? Take 5 and 6 for example. I might hear more of 5 from guys in the locker room at the gym, but my wife might hear 6 when she gets with her old HS pals, most of whom have gone through divorces.

Are answers to any of the previous questions diagnostically helpful as to the spirit of the age?

Perhaps. It depends on what the diagnosis is directed at. Counseling a young Christian couple looking to get married might have a different answer than debating an atheist in the matter because the diagnosis plays a different function.

I find the following rhetorical question more helpful: “What is your goal in marriage?” If they were honest, many men would have to answer, “Get my wife to have sex with me.” That’s not a biblical answer, but it’s a common goal among husbands, and perhaps it’s similar to some of the eight statements. If we find out what our biblical goals are supposed to be and realize that our real goals are radically different than those, then we find out that we need to change and be more intentional on pursuing biblical goals in marriage. In my own marriage, this has paid off in spades. I have been rewarded with not only what I have biblically pursued, but also what is supposed to be of lesser importance. For example, one comment I have heard some people make is, “Well, God just wants me to be happy.” My response is, “God doesn’t want you to be happy and disobedient. God wants you to be obedient. Then you will be happy in him.”

Carl C. said...

Man there are a lotta wise comments here and much smarter minds than mine. From here on, I'm getting some popcorn and observing, at the very least try to absorb some. Thank you all!

Cathy said...

Our ladies Bible study is going through Ephesians 5:22-33 right now and have been for several weeks. I think often our instinct with this passage is to jump right in to the responsibilities of wives and husbands. What has overwhelmed me is how much this passage is about Christ. The more you see Him in that passage, the more you just love Him. He is so amazing. Studying Him more (and me less) has really changed the way I view submission and my husband's headship. Which is kind of the point of that passage. So now, when I look at the above paired statements, they all just seem so - well, so empty.

Anonymous said...

I'll give it a shot. I thought the point was to show that if you want to make limitations or exceptions on commandments from God that you find difficult, see how these "limitations" sound when you make them on commandments that you agree with.

I'll add a pair of my own:

1. As a general rule, wives should submit themselves to their husbands.
2. As a general rule, husbands should only have sexual relations with their wife.

So in #1 we have a commandment that is hard for people to accept, so they qualify it with a weakening "as a general rule". But then see how it sounds in #2 when it is applied to a commandment they agree with.

(sorry if this got double-posted--I didn't see it come up..)

DJP said...

Very good, Paul. Thanks, you caught more of what I'm saying.

I like your additions, too. The only problem (and I struggled with this in my wording) is that there are in fact some situations in which submission is inappropriate ("Kneel before Zod, woman!"), while there is no exception to your #2.

Your application is also slightly different from mine, but I like the point you're making all the same.

DJP said...

That's really lovely, Cathy. Thanks, that helped me.

Robert said...

This reminds me a lot of something our pastor tells us about marital counseling. He says he will never have anybody come in and say that they are the problem. No husband has ever come in and started off saying, "The problem is that I don't love my wife like Christ loves the Church" or "The problem is that I do not fully submit to my husband as leader in our family".

Andrea said...

I love how this blog makes me think,and this post is particularly meaty. I had to open up two windows so that I could look back and forth from the comments to the post to make sure that I understood what everyone was saying. It is kinda making my head ache... but in a good way!

Now I'm going to take a shot at it, and if I repeat without attributing something that someone else already said, please forgive me because I had a hard time keeping it all straight.

The first pair are both correct biblically in the same way. That is, the Bible never says that it is my husband's job to force my submission, just as it never says that it is my job to force his faithfulness.

God addresses the commands about submission to me as the wife, and that is my responsibility. My husband is never told in any scripture to use physical force or any other non-scriptural means to impose submission upon me.

God address the commands about sexual fidelity to both parties, although it is commonly assumed (arguably without just cause) that this is harder for husbands than for wives. Regardless, the responsibility for maintaining sexual faithfulness belongs to the individual, not to his (or her) spouse.

I have heard the notion that men should not force their spouses into submission so often that as a young woman I assumed that Christian men, as a rule, tended to be bullies in that way and that was why they had to be reminded so often not to be too harsh. I don't know how I could believe that in spite of the evidence of the Christian husbands that I actually knew. Probably it was my desperately wicked heart wanting a reason to look outside the Christian community for a husband. But I digress.

And I have to shorten this, so I hope you don't mind if I put it in two posts.

Andrea said...

On the other hand, the idea that a woman should not *allow* her husband to cheat is very commonly held in our culture, although seldomly explicitly stated in those words. As a woman, I hear things like this from other women, even in public forums: "I'd never let a man treat *me* like that." I would say that this idea has worked its way into the church. A woman has a certain amount of pride tied up in her husband being faithful, to the point that a deviation is in many minds immediate grounds for divorce. Biblically, it *is* grounds for divorce. But it may say something interesting about our culture that it allows, even encourages a woman to use force (the threat of abandonment) when her marital "rights" are violated, but frowns on the slightest attempt of a husband to seek the respect that scripture says is his due.

Again, the second pair is true biblically in that we are made responsible for our own part in the marriage, not for our spouse's part. But our culture would laugh to scorn anyone who said that men should demand respect. On the other hand, women are taught to expect men to show love to them in certain ways. A man who asked for a divorce because his wife did not respect him would be considered a dinosaur. A woman who asked for a divorce because her husband did not show love to her (according to her own subjective definition) would be applauded for showing appropriate self-respect. Unfortunately, even some in the church have this mind-set.

Both five and six are "note from God" excuses, acknowledging what scripture says but refusing responsibility for one's own obedience, making it conditional on something else, such as his or her spouse's obedience to the scriptural commands placed upon them. Scripture nowhere allows us to dodge its direct commands in this way.

Again, our culture, and even professing Christians, tend to have more sympathy with the woman's excuse, and hardly any with the man's. God's word allows no excuse to either.

As to the last two statements, both are very clearly in line with scripture, but once more you hear more about the male not being unreasonable in his expectations than about the woman. But as a woman, I know that it is a struggle to keep my longing for affection in proper proportion with my longing to be the kind of wife that God wants me to be. Especially with culture screaming in my ear that I "deserve" to be loved, and am selling myself short if I settle for anything less than constant romance.

So all in all, it seems to me that culture is demanding far more of men than it is of women, and in fact tends to aggravate the same selfish tendancies in women that it so abhors in males. Alas, the church tends to echo the culture in these matters far more than it does the Scriptures.

If it was any part of Dan's point to say that both husbands and wives ought to hold themselves (not their spouses) accountable to scripture, and that the church should do the same (for our sin-soaked culture certainly won't) then I am in whole-hearted agreement.

DJP said...

Really excellent, Andrea. Thank you. Value-added.

And every time anyone says "Note from God," two things happen: an RPBer spills his tea, and I smile.

Dave .... said...

Late to the party with time on my hands ...

“Suggested questions:
• Is each pair of statements equally Biblical? If not, how not?
• Is each element within each pair of statements heard equally frequently? If not, why not?
• Are answers to any of the previous questions diagnostically helpful as to the spirit of the age?”

In view of “evil days” (16), “foolish[ness]” (17), and the need to understand God’s will (Ch 1-3!), we avoid deleterious affect of worldly behavior (18a) and favor of a Spirit-centered life (18a). It will transform our relationship to the BoC (Bride of Christ, 19), our understand of Providence (20), bring forth a God-honoring exercise of the gifts He has supplied to the church (21).

Each of the couplets is lacking Christ-centered perspective. To assert that they are “bibley” at some level is semi-true. In 1/2 the fallacy is in the issue of “force”. In 3/4 the fallacy is in the issue of “demand”. In 5/6 it’s in the “but”. In 7/8 it’s in the relativism and subjective appraisal, but it's closest.

To the last question, we’ve become unmoored and adrift in the world, its system and its affections. We romanticize marriage rather than treat it like the church in microcosm. Even in the church. Every struggle a husband and wife experience is a reminder that God’s will is for unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The absence of peace and unity is a call to humble repentance, each to His Lord and to his fellow, be it churchman, spouse, parent, child, employer or employee. We seldom see settling “disputes” as an opportunity to honor God – more often as a chance to put down disorder. We do what’s right in our own eyes because there is no “king”. Another abrupt call to repent, no?

donsands said...

Another challenging post for us to think deep and get out of the shallow water.

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ,,,,, be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, SUBMITTING to One Another out of reverence for Christ."-Paul

Robert said...

Part of me wonders how much of this goes back to God's words to Eve in Genesis 3 about woman's desire for man and man having authority over woman.

pentamom said...

Am I viewing this too simply, or is the point that the first of each pair is a commonly-heard warning, but the second almost never is -- though both are equally valid? Equally in the sense that their validity is limited, but not wholly absent.

This would seem to be because we reflexively fear men abusing the scriptures in a patriarchal manner, but for some reason we don't have an equivalent fear that women will abuse scripture for their own purposes.

DJP said...

MomX5 — rockin'.

David J. said...

Dan: I thought I knew exactly where you were going when I read the first pair of questions, became more convinced as I read the rest, and was close to certain when I read your "suggested questions" at the end, especially the last one (about diagnosing the spirit of the age). But then I started reading the comments and had to decide whether (1) I had completely missed the point or (2) the majority of even your discerning readers have been blinded by our culture's subtle and unsubtle rejection of biblical complementarianism. Finally came trogdor, Paul Reed, Andrea, and pentamom to reassure me that I had understood you correctly -- but also to depress me that so many others had missed your point either entirely or mostly.

To put it another way, your post and the various responses to it demonstrate that Andrea was entirely too charitable in saying, "Unfortunately, even some in the church have this mind-set." The truth seems to be that unfortunately, ALMOST ALL in the church have this mind-set.

I'm simultaneously thrilled that you see it and bummed that so many of your readers didn't/don't. And there are real-world consequences to the double standard you are highlighting here -- my wife of 29 years (and 4 kids) divorced me 16 months ago, and it is not an oversimplification to say that her "grounds" were that I did not love her sufficiently like Christ loves the church, while on the other hand there was no need for her to respect me (e.g., to have sex with me or to share "her" earnings with me) because I was not sufficiently righteous to have earned her respect. While she did not find official local church sanction of her mind-set, she did find a dismaying amount of endorsement from Christian women friends.

In general, the people in our pews are in a mess on this issue. Thank you for taking a shot at a corrective.