Marriage Is Not A Democracy

I’ve read much on marriage over the years. Some is wonderful, some is funny, some is heart-wrenching and some is just plain stupid.

Here’s one of the worst: In a marriage the husband and wife each have a say in making family decisions, but if they don’t agree then the husband has the final say. They both get to vote; the husband’s vote just counts more.

Marriage isn’t a lopsided democracy

The Bible says that in marriage the woman and man become one, and that means they act together. There’s no tie-breaking vote because there’s no vote taken in the first place. It’s about working together at all times, mutually submitting to one another at all times, and going through life together at all times.

Why is it so hard for men-get-the-deciding-vote people to see this is what the Bible really teaches? I hate to say this but I suspect it’s because they are more interested in power structures than in Jesus. Putting one person in charge takes less effort than the work involved in acting together as one.

I’ve wondered too why the people endorsing the man-in-charge view don’t focus instead on how the couple are to cleave together. That’s the emphasis Jesus puts on marriage:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6.)

When it comes to a marriage, the couple are not a corporation with a CEO and an underling but one single being with both together.

Making the right decisions

What does this mean for decision-making when the couple does not agree?

In healthy relationships, it means they need to talk about it more. In unhealthy relationships, it means they need to work on the relationship so they can get to where they can talk about it more.*

And as a colleague of mine told me years ago, more discussion is usually better than less. So if after talking things through you still can’t agree, perhaps that’s an indication that this decision isn’t ready to be made yet. Set it aside if possible and work on something else. Or stay at it and work through the issues.

These alternatives aren’t as easy as giving one spouse the ultimate decision-making authority in a marriage, but it sure is more biblically sound.

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*I realize there are some relationships where no matter how hard one person works on these issues the other person will continue to refuse to try to work on anything. This post is not meant to speak to those extremely broken marriages.

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101 Responses to Marriage Is Not A Democracy

  1. Tim , I beg to differ but marriage is a dictatorship. Having, been blessed to be part of building two successful teams, my kids are fond of reminding me tthat I should never get confused. As I am often told I’m like the queen of England, just a fiqurehead with no real power. 🙂

  2. “…I suspect it’s because they are more interested in power structures than in Jesus. Putting one person in charge takes less effort than the work involved in acting together as one.”

    Do you think this could apply to church too? ONE body, many parts…

  3. Very timely. I’ve been listening to Rachel Held Evans’ ‘Year of Biblical Womanhood’. This morning I listened to the chapter entitled ‘Submission’. I found it interesting when Rachel pointed out that Adam’s ‘ruling over’ his wife was a *result* of the Fall (i.e. not part of the original plan in the garden of Eden) and that the commonly-used instructions to women found in the NT are accompanied by instructions to slaves and masters. Rachel then went on to explain how these instructions echo the secular Romano-Greek household codes of the time (which would have been well known by the original readers), but actually subverted them by addressing those the culture deemed ‘less than’ as individuals, every one with something to offer. It would seem that, given this context, the words were intended to demonstrate equality In Christ, which would have been radical at the time. It’s that Upside Down Kingdom again.

    Also, I write as a wife and homemaker who tries her best to serve her family. I don’t consider this as of lesser value than paid employment, nor is it better than paid employment. It is my task, at this time in my life, to serve God best where He has put me, and He put me right here. So saying, I’d better get off the internet and back to work! Those stairs won’t vacuum themselves 🙂

  4. Jeannie says:

    So glad you wrote about this, Tim. I’ve been in groups where the “husband-has-the-last-word” teaching is promoted and I find it so bizarre. (I remember reading about a woman in the U.S. who said proudly, “He makes the big decisions like whether we vote Republican or Democrat and whether our country should invade Iraq, and I make the little decisions like where we go on vacation and what college Junior should attend.” :-D)

    I agree with the part about continuing to communicate until the decision becomes clearer. This came home to me when my mom was just days from death and I was not sure whether to stay at my parents’ until she died, or go home to be with my husband & kids. They needed me at home and I knew R wanted me to come home, yet it was important to be at my mom’s side. We couldn’t decide which was “right,” so we just kept phoning and emailing, discussing options, knowing that when it was time to decide, we’d know. Together we eventually concluded that I should go home, and although my mother died only 18 hours after I left my parents’ place, I was at peace, my dad agreed with the decision, and I had absolutely no regrets. If R had said “I’m the husband, I decide, you’re coming home now,” I think that would have led to a lot of resentment and guilt and anger down the road.

    • Tim says:

      You and R took the time and put in the effort to make a hard decision at a hard time, Jeannie. I know you miss your mother and love her still. I am so glad you and R worked through these things together instead of one of you telling the other what the answers would be.

  5. I cannot express how much I love this post. Brilliant.

  6. Laura Droege says:

    This makes a lot of sense, Tim. Our marriage feels like it’s moved from complementarian to egalitarian over the course of the last almost-15 years. When we got married, I was 22, had lived at home most of my life, and didn’t know much about how to handle finances, etc. In contrast, he was in his 30s, had lived on his own since he was 19 and had owned a house for years. It was easier for me to defer to him on certain decisions because I simply had no idea what was best; we talked about the issues, of course, but it took a long time for my body of practical life-skills knowledge to catch up to his! I had to educate myself on finances, figure out how to manage a household, how to grocery shop (seriously!) and how to do so many things. (Practical takeaway: I’m making certain our daughters know how to do all these things!!)

    There are still times when I let him decide. Those are the times when I’m not doing well in my mental illness and can’t think clearly and rationally, and usually can’t have a reasonable discussion on a topic, either. If a decision must be made immediately, he makes it. If not, we put off making the decision until I’m able to discuss the matter. I’ve often wondered how the wives-submit-to-husbands folks handle situations where the husband is severely mentally ill; is the wife to “submit” to his decisions when he’s psychotic or manic? Respect him, yes; love him, yes; submit to him? Um, no. Not wise.

    • Tim says:

      You have a lot of wisdom there, Laura. and your daughters are benefiting from it in more ways than one. When it comes to decisions, I think it’s great that couples can do it together and do it separately. Some things don’t require working it out together and some do.

    • amyrobertson says:

      What a good point, Laura. I’m so glad you both are so gracious and wise about mental illness.

      • Laura Droege says:

        Thanks, Amy. It’s been a tough road, and I’ll admit that I have many, many moments when I’m not gracious at all about my bipolar disorder. Still, I’m far more fortunate than many folks with similar illnesses.

  7. EricaM says:

    I feel like the only reason my husband makes more decisions than me is because I’m indecisive. (You should see me dilly-dally at the ice cream parlor!) This can make things easy, but it can also make things harder, because he likes to jump into things and I tend to dither. That’s where, as you say, good communication comes in handy. I think we’re starting to figure it out. 😉

  8. mkubo2013 says:

    A few thoughts that I have…

    During my early 20’s (that would be about two decades ago now…) as I was becoming more involved in a church, being relatively new parents with a couple of young children, wanting to be better parents — I read a number of books purchased through big, Christian retailers (brick-and-mortar and online) and attended some popular Christian trainings on marriage and family. Looking back I now recognize there was very much of the complementarianism and outright patriarchal teachings in those materials. When something is taught as “the Christian position” it is easy to accept unquestioned, especially by new and young Christians who are simply wanting to be better Christians. The subject is presented in a way that makes sense, and for those wanting security and stability in marriage and family, it appears as an appealing position.

    What initially turned me away from the headship, hierarchical teachings was not arguments from the opposing and alternative positions, but that it just didn’t feel right. It was another decade, at least, before I first encountered what I now know as the egalitarian position.

    What I find ironic and abhorrent about the “men decide” statement is that these very same people (men) joke and laugh about their wives “really run the home” and how the “wives have to be kept happy.”

    I wonder how much of the “headship” theology is merely Americanism (supposed democratic political ideas) “sanctified” into Christianity? My observation is that Americans prioritize decision making over dialog and relationships. Are the very same people and groups that say Christianity shouldn’t be influenced by culture being influenced at its core by it?

    • Tim says:

      You’ve raised some wonderful questions, Mark. Is the emphasis on decision making informed more by our culture than Scripture? I’d say so, because there’s not a whole lot in the Bible about who gets to make decisions for others (except perhaps when God tells the Israelites that when they get a king there will be a lot of decisions the king makes that the people won’t like).

  9. I’ve been divorced for just over 2 years, (his choice, not mine,) and this resonates with me.

    I tried being the dutiful wife, letting him decide on most major issues, even though the teaching has never sat quite right with me. I put his happiness first, thinking that if we both did that for one another, it would work. I followed the “submissive” teaching. It contributed to the disintegration of my marriage.

    Tim, this is a very wise insight. The idea of putting one partner over the other just creates resentment. A marriage must be a partnership, and arguments and discussions must be settled with mutual respect and kindness, not “authority.” Asserting “authority” in marriage, like in parenting, is often simple laziness. (The parallel only goes so far of course. In parenting, due to the nature of the relationship, sometimes authority is a necessary default.) Not so in marriage, a relationship which binds two adults.

    There are many things I would do differently if I could have the time over. I can’t know if the outcome would’ve been different. Only God knows my ex’s heart. I have, however, shared this with a young friend who is contemplating marriage and seeking out a healthier way of doing things than her own parents, in hopes that it will help guide her along the path God has for her and her young man. I’ll be sharing it with my own daughter as well. Marriage and a family is on her list of goals, if a few years out. 🙂

    Thank you, for writing this.
    Mary

    Thank you, so much, for this.

    • Tim says:

      Your point about marriage being between two adults ties your whole comment together, Mary. Each person in a marriage is grown up and able to take part in figuring out what is happening and what should be done.

  10. Thank you so much, Tim. I know many people who teach and accept the-husband-is-in-charge model of marriage. Funny, that these teachings of Jesus aren’t highlighted…

    • Tim says:

      The only things I remember Jesus saying about marriage are: a) Don’t take it lightly and b) Don’t expect it to last for eternity. (Mt. 19:1-12, 22:23-33.)

  11. Lisa says:

    Tim
    How do you and those who hold to your belief explain the verses about the wife submitting to her husband? And respecting her husband? I’m not disagreeing often there could be more balance but God did set the system up for a reason. Not saying there shouldn’t be mutual submission and respect both ways. Recently I observered a wife ordering her husband around and I have seen many women not honoring their husbands. That doesn’t set well with me at all.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t think the Bible says God set up that system at all, Lisa, so there’s no need to explain why we shouldn’t follow it. The Bible says both people in a marriage are to honor, submit to and respect each other. The Bible never says anywhere that husbands make decisions and wives obey those decisions.

    • Dee Parsons says:

      Lisa
      “You said: Recently I observered a wife ordering her husband around and I have seen many women not honoring their husbands. That doesn’t set well with me at all.”
      I have seen men bossing their wives around all of my life and that doesn’t set well with me.

    • Alana Childers says:

      A year late, but still felt compelled to share my insights. I was studying the book of Philemon, and was really shocked to think about Paul sending an escaped slave back to his master! This underscores what Paul wrote about slaves submitting to their masters. Does this mean that “God set up the system” of slavery? No! The Roman household codes were the law of the land, Paul encouraged new believers and fledgling churches to work as much as possible within the law of the land. Social justice was something to work for wherever they had opportunity (like Paul pleading for Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother instead of property), but it has never been the main mission of Christianity. That said, it is really ridiculous to me that churches promote pagan Roman household codes as “God’s system” – pater familias was the legally designated authority in the home, and the legal rights of every other person were subordinate to him. He was the judge, jury, and in some cases, executioner. The Romans did not allow women or slaves to have the same legal rights as men or free citizens. Even a woman whose husband divorced her was returned to her father or assigned a male guardian to be in charge of her financial and legal affairs.This is a pagan system. This system was NOT set up in the Old Testament, even among hundreds of recorded commands from Adam to the prophets – nowhere is hierarchy within a marriage commanded by God! Like slavery, God allowed believers to work within a sinful human society, but that does not at all mean this was or is a system set up by God. Read what God said to Israel when they demanded hierarchy, a king. To see how God set up marriage, we must look in Gen 1 and 2, prior to the fall, and compare it with the consequences of the fall. God set up the system of marriage for a reason – for Eve to be the Ezer Kenegdo for Adam – a strong rescuer corresponding to him – and commanded Adam and Eve to rule together, not one over another. I love ancient Roman culture, I admire their advancements in legal structures, but heaven forbid we claim pagan legal customs as a “system set up by God”!

  12. Kathi says:

    My husband and I are different. He’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert. He’s a dreamer and often doesn’t follow through on big ideas, I’m a realist and jokingly call myself the “dream squasher.” If it were up to him we would be purchasing homes for sale in our neighborhood and renting them out. I have no desire to be a landlord and deal with all of the issues that come with owning property. He would love to open up a small business. I would love that too, but I grew up in a family business and know how time consuming it is to run. We usually cancel each other’s votes because we vote differently.

    Given that, he respects that I’m not comfortable with owning property or a business. I respect that he has dreams. I encourage him to try out new projects, even if I have some reservations, and when he doesn’t follow through, I never tell him, “I told you so.”

    There are many things that we agree upon that most people find confusing about our marriage, but so far we have been quite successful with living together going on 23 years next month. At one point we talked about how some churches teach headship and submission. He said that he would never want that kind of relationship because it doesn’t feel real, but fake. And, he said that he’s glad that I’ve never asked for that type of relationship because it would have put so much added pressure on him.

    • Tim says:

      “He said that he would never want that kind of relationship because it doesn’t feel real, but fake.” Excatly. And I think the reason it feels fake is because it is. Jesus said the two become one for a reason.

  13. Becky says:

    I think the “decision making” thing is just one way of looking at the ideas of headship and submission talked about in the Bible. When my husband and I were first married (actually, before we got married) we decided together that we would decide things together except in the rare instance that we couldn’t agree and a decision had to be made. I don’t think this was or is necessarily wrong (or stupid) even though that’s not exactly what Paul meant when instructing us on marriage. I think in many cases it is just people trying to follow scripture the best they know how, and most of us learn and grow as the years go on.

    I don’t think it was an accident that Paul’s instruction to wives was to submit to their husbands and his instruction to husbands was to love their wives. Yes, we are one, but we are not both the head. I know that what my husband needs most from me is respect, and what I need most from him is love.

    Some who know us, but are not close to us, have assumed that this arrangement means that I somehow need permission from my husband before I make a decision. That is not at all what our relationship is like, even though I accept my husband’s role as the head. But really all it means is that we try our best to put each other before ourselves. To me, the Biblical view of marriage is for the husband to love and serve his wife as Christ loves and serves the church, and for a wife to love and honor her husband as she loves and honors Christ.

    • Tim says:

      Your marriage sounds like the relationship has grown into one that both of you are comfortable with, Becky. That’s a blessing for sure.

    • Pam says:

      That sounds so nice and tied up in a bow, but in reality, what does it look like? To be honest, if I feel disrespected, I do not feel loved. In essence, this belief says that men are wiser than women.What does the husband do to show you that you are loved? I would honestly appreciate specific examples of what this looks like when it plays out.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I also have a hard time accepting the whole Love and Respect lingo. We both need both, for goodness sake. The thought that all I get is a love that can be defined however he chooses, often meaning “I support you, don’t I?”, is not good enough for me. I need to know that my very person is respected as well as loved, and I am to do the same for him. I am not living in this kind of reciprocal marriage, so I know what it means to be without it. I apologize if I sound snarky…

        • Tim says:

          Elizabeth, I’ve also heard it explained away with “Well, you can’t love without respect, and vice versa, so it’s all really the same anyway. What’s the big deal?” The big deal is the patriarchal crowd says it’s not all the same anyway. It’s like talking in circles with them.

  14. Zoe says:

    The headship principle as often taught in churches is about making decisions, being the boss, being in charge. But here’s what the Bible *actually* says (Ephesians 5:23): “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church…”

    Then it immediately becomes important for us to see what aspects of Christ’s church headship we are supposed to emulate. Clearly we can’t exactly copy Christ’s headship, since no husband is Christ. So the imitation here will be limited. So how do we know what aspects of Christ’s headship to imitate?

    Fortunately, the Bible immediately tells husbands *exactly* what aspects of Christ’s headship to imitate: “…and he is the saviour of the body.” Husbands are to act toward their wives in ways that promote their wives’ salvation. People are not saved by being told what to do; people are saved through a relationship with Christ in which they both change for the better, and are forgiven when they do things that are wrong.

    This is consistent within the chapter as we also read Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it…” This is the clear biblical definition of the type of headship husbands are to exercise. This chapter goes on to repeat the salvific activities Christ performs for the church, corresponding beautifully with the concept we just read in Ephesians 5:23. It says husbands are to love their wives as they love themselves (the logical extension being that you would not treat yourself as a secondary partner in your own life and neither should you do so to your wife, since the two of you are one).

    The chapter ends by saying that husbands should see that they love their wives and wives should reverence their husbands. In that era, wives did not have free choice in whom they married, and even if they consented to a family decision on whom to marry, the decision wasn’t made based on which man she loved. It is likely that in a society of arranged marriages, women did not love their husbands (at least to begin with), and God knew it wasn’t reasonable to expect them to in that marriage economy. But they could still respect their husbands; and the husbands, for their part, had the actual obligation to love their wives, because the husbands had choice and freedom that their wives would never have. So husbands were to treat their wives in loving ways, and wives needed to treat their husbands with respect.

    Yet God was wise enough in saying husbands should love and wives should respect that He knew we would one day come to a time where marriages would be freely chosen by both partners. And in that case, wives would be equally called to love their husbands, and husbands would be equally called to respect their wives. This is in perfect harmony with biblical principles.

    Finally, the Bible contains a number of direct commands to husbands. “Husbands, do this.” “Husbands, do that.” In a patriarchal society, it is even more striking that not once in the entire Bible are husbands directly addressed to lead, boss, make decisions for, or otherwise be in charge of their wives. Not a single time. Instead, we see: “Husbands, love your wives.” “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). And other references are easy to look up.

    Verses that tell women to submit to their husbands are not a command to husbands to boss. They are a command to wives to partner supportively with their husbands — as unto the Lord. How do wives submit to the Lord? Freely, by choice. And the Lord for His part does not boss, dominate, coerce, or make decisions for wives. If God does not do that, surely no mere human should do it either — especially to his “one flesh” partner. The Bible is in harmony with itself on these points and in these teachings.

    • Tim says:

      Well said. The Bible nowhere says “Husbands – make decisions for your wives” nor “Wives – obey your husbands”. Love and esteem are not the same as lead and obey, and how some people make that their doctrine is just not based on the words the Bible actually uses.

  15. Zoe says:

    True that. Full disclosure and transparency, there is 1 Peter 3:6: “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” But the verse explains itself — the point is that wives are to emulate Sarah doing well and not being afraid with any amazement, not to emulate Sara’s obedience as is often claimed. The Bible has a beautiful internal consistency when it comes to men and women that shines through despite the culture of the ancient writers.

    (We usually spell Sara with an “h” but I went with the KJV spelling on Biblegateway.com this time.)

    • Tim says:

      Good insight on how that passage in 1 Peter can be understood, Zoe, thanks.

    • lisamcm says:

      Zoe

      I appreciated your long comment earlier. I wanted to say I have always understood the Sarah passage to refer to her obedience to her husband. I realize other verses need to be taken into account. To me it says if we follow her example here we will be doing right. I think you are suggesting a different interpretation. Just wanted to see if you might clarify how you came to this understanding. Your earlier long comment on Ephesians was good and I believe that is exactly the understanding I have had of that passage. Thanks!

      • Zoe says:

        Thanks Lisa. It looks like we agree that if we follow Sarah’s example we will be doing right. But what the Bible says we should follow in Sarah’s example, and what people always taught me when I was a child that we should follow, were two different things.

        I was always taught that that verse means we are to follow Sarah’s example in obeying her husband and calling him lord. However, the verse is actually very specific about what we are supposed to follow: “…whose daughters ye are [by emulation], as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”

        What it doesn’t say is: “…whose daughters ye are, as long as ye also obey your husbands, calling them lord.” Or perhaps “…whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do likewise.” Which is what you would expect if obedience were in fact the point of the verse. It’s a simple misreading of the verse which I didn’t note until I started studying for myself in adulthood — those childhood “tapes” can be difficult to see past.

        Of course, that also presents the difficulty (for some) that in the story of Abraham and Sarah, they obeyed each other at different points. Abraham was told by God at one point to do what his wife was telling him to do. (Biblically, I’ve always found it humorous that the only time in scripture that we see Sarah actually call Abraham her lord, he’s not even around — she’s talking to herself.)

        • lisamcm says:

          Zoe
          Thanks for your response. I am going to go back and study this myself some more. Maybe the meaning is lost in translation 😄
          However when we combine “wives are to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord” one still has to come to the conclusion there is submission involved in wives towards their own husbands. Do you see this another way? Not wanting to argue here. I do appreciate your views and am wanting to understand what you are believing about this area.

        • Zoe says:

          Hi Lisa, it doesn’t have a Reply button below your last response, so I hope this displays in a place that makes sense here in the comment thread.

          It looks to me like we agree on wives submitting to husbands. Where we may diverge (or no — I’m not sure yet, as we’re still exploring each other’s understandings) is in the Biblical concept of husbands also submitting to wives.

          This has been a big problem for some because they have assumed that wives submitting means that husbands tell wives what to do, and wives do it. They may discuss it ahead of time, and the husband may take his wife’s views into account. Or not. Regardless of how kind and benevolent the husband is or isn’t, the bottom line is that he is the decision-making adult, and she is not. We’ve already discussed aspects of that on this thread, of ways that idea is not biblically accurate.

          But for people who do believe that’s how wifely submission works, of course they’re going to resist it being mutual. Not only is it an unpleasant prospect to husbands who have never played that role, it is also logistically unworkable because two people can’t both be telling each other what to do, and both be following orders. Clearly that’s not how it works.

          However, the Bible writers were wise. Telling wives to submit was nothing new for wives. This was their daily life anyway. Telling husbands to love their wives, cherish them, treat them as their own bodies, live with them in an understanding way, promote salvation in their lives, and give themselves for their wives — this was the husbandly command to submit, to promote growth and well-being in his wife’s life. And for the Bible writers to say all that to husbands *without* also saying husbands are supposed to take charge made it completely counter-cultural for that time.

          However, it is clear that when husbands obey the biblical commands above, and wives also obey biblical commands, that there will be love, respect, and sacrifice going both ways. If anything, the Bible passages on this subject require more sacrifice to the other person’s needs and well-being from husbands than from wives — an unmistakable offset of the male-first cultural model of that time. Today that mandate still exists, in various degrees, in various places.

          It’s worth noting that Bible writers described the husbandly side of mutual submission in terms that not only allowed them to maintain the respectability of the newly formed Christian church at that time, but also flexes and allows us today to practice Bible principles of mutuality more completely even though we are in a different era with different understandings and different customs. The biblical principles don’t change. They are consistent and eternal. It is up to us to be a people of the Book regardless of the age and culture in which we live.

    • lisamcm says:

      Thank you Zoe. That does make sense. I also didn’t see a reply button where it should of been so hopefully this appears appropriately in the thread. You are a very good writer/ communicator. I would love to talk more about this but not necessarily continue in this thread. 😄 Are you anywhere else on social media?

      • Zoe says:

        I’m all over social media, but under a different name. Tim, is there a way we could exchange contact info privately through you here? We’ve got a good discussion going!

        • Tim says:

          You can each email me using the information on my contact page, and once I hear from each of you I will get you connected. Cheers to you both!

        • Elizabeth says:

          I am following this closely as well…. loving the exchange and the clarity with which Zoe communicates her thoughts. Thank you Zoe!

  16. Jeremy M. says:

    Yeah the whole man makes the final decision thing has never sat entirely well with me. As another commenter said, I do think the relationship would feel fake. I mean what is the point in talking about major decisions if I just had the final say and could do whatever I wanted.

    That said, I still make more decisions than my wife. One can only say “I don’t know. What do you think?” back and forth so many times before somebody has to make a decision. I guess you could say we both run a little on the indecisive side.

  17. Xian Atty says:

    This is really good. Nowhere does the Bible teach that marriages are supposed to be organized like a corporation with a CEO. People who argue the need for a “decider” like a CEO sometimes don’t remember that other corporate arrangements, like partnerships, not only exist but thrive. Two-person law firms or small businesses are just two examples. In these partnerships both people must work together and figure out how to divvy up the responsibilities. Decision-making requires communication and mutual consent. Each one has partners with a variety of gifts and talents and so each partnership works it out differently. Sure, some of these partnerships fail, but so do some corporations. If partnerships work in business relationships, how much more should the concept work with loving spouses.

    • Tim says:

      Partnerships are a good example, where the two people are seen as a single entity when it comes to how the partnership relates to the outside world.

  18. Pastor Bob says:

    Some truisms I have picked up over the years:
    – if two people agree on everything, someone is unnecessary
    – if we agreed on everything the world would be a dangerous place
    – if we agreed on everything, nothing would get done
    – different, separate, but (above all else) EQUAL
    – different perspectives are valuable
    – he and she are guaranteed to not think identical, that is God’s design
    – the husband is the head of the wife, not her life
    – he is not the leader of last resort, he is the primary support person
    – he is NOT the leader, final authority, but God has given him an awesome responsibility, that is he owns the responsibility for the decisions made. If it a good choice, all is good. If it is a bad choice, it is not “her fault.”
    – he indeed has an awesome responsibility, but the wise man listens to what his wife has to say
    – mutual submission means BOTH

    Add all of these together, add in experiences from real life, add in the Bible and its teachings, (your posting above fits about here…) add some wisdom from those who have been married for many years, add in the experiences of those who are comfortable describing their mistakes……

    You now a little bit more, for yours is unique and (AND!!) will change too.

    • Zoe says:

      There’s a lot of value in there. I am curious about the scriptural foundation for declaring that the husband owns responsibility for the decisions made. I haven’t seen that in the Bible — it appears to be a thing we’ve extrapolated. It doesn’t seem, biblically, that women are any less responsible for their choices than men are, whether those choices are made individually or with a husband.

      Heh — the members of the Trinity might object to being declared unnecessary. Although that is part of the mystery we simply won’t understand until eternity, and perhaps we’ll never fully understand it.

      • Pam says:

        This makes me think of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. The wife was held specially accountable for her own choice to go along with her husband.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Intriguing thought:

        Biblical basis? Extrapolation? Varying models and thoughts over the past twenty years of ministry – especially form others (it is entirely possible that NONE of them ahve direct biblical references). There are truisms in life that have NO direct biblical support, yet the Bible supports more than contradicts. Funny thing about this list, Very few people will agree that all are necessary. Some do accept these on a fluid. dynamic basis. They are not permanent fixtures in life, but models that have worked for some, guided many, and when reflected on, may form the basis for discussion leading to a plan or series of ides that will work for one couple.

        That was the purpose, food for thought, discussion, — these may work and/or evolve, on a couple by couple basis. (thus the comment with all of this, and wisdom gleaned from other sources “you [k]now a little bit more.
        -Anyone else?

      • Not arguing a point, but here are some scriptural references that have been used to support the idea of men having special responsibilities before God in a marriage:
        Gen. 3:9-11
        Num. 30:6-16 (v.15 especially interesting in view of this thread)
        John 4:16-18
        Eph. 5:23
        I Tim. 2:11-14 (ties back to Gen. 3)

        I hope this is helpful.

        • Tim says:

          I won’t go into all of them but just note, for example, that the Genesis 3 passage speaks of sin’s curse and how it affects marriage negatively. That’s certainly not a passage that prescribes a godly marriage relationship.

        • Tim, where’s your reply button?

          Like I said, I’m not arguing a point. I don’t necessarily agree that the passages listed here prove anything, only that others have used these to argue for a husband’s leadership role in marriage before God.

          However, Gen 3:9-11 does not deal with the effects of the fall in a marriage. That’s vv. 16-19 (or 14-19 if you want include the serpent & woman’s relationship). The verses I referenced simply recount that God approached Adam for an explanation first, knowing full-well that Eve was the first to sin. Not saying that proves anything, just setting the record straight.

          Also, all marriages are tainted by sin and its effects, so to claim that God’s handling of the situation in Gen 3 somehow doesn’t apply to Godly marriages doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Even the godliest of marriages are burdened with the effects of the fall. God, through His word, has no other types of marriages to speak into other than those polluted by sin; just like Adam & Eve’s.

          Oh, and I forgot maybe the most commonly used proof text for the belief in question:
          Rom. 5:12 & following

          Shalom

  19. JS says:

    Reblogged this on Living Life … Out Loud and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more.

  20. James says:

    SO what do you say to someone who wishes he’d had the courage not to marry his wife? And has regretted it every day for the last twenty years? Communication? At best, superficial.

    • Tim says:

      This post isn’t about marriages that are in that position (as I said in the footnote to the post above), but what I’d say is that I’m praying for them, James. And I am.

        • Elizabeth says:

          James, it seems as though we need a book titled: “What to do when you married the wrong person.” Much depends on the spiritual maturity of each spouse, but somewhat like you, I’m stuck with an old-school, leader/headship kind of man, which I didn’t see clearly until 20 years after the wedding (we are in year 30 now) and I am not sure how to proceed… other than discussions and more discussions and prayer and living out 1 Cor. 13 in the Holy Spirit’s power. God help us, I say.

  21. Thank you for this, Tim. All my growing up years in the church and Christian culture, the only message I remember hearing was that the husband gets the trump card, when necessary. It was like that was the only way a “godly” marriage could work.

    • Tim says:

      Trump card is an apt label for the way I’ve seen it taught by some people. It’s as if they think a husband can come along and say “I know you thought we’d decided on one thing, but I changed my mind without telling you and did it differently” and the wife is supposed to say “Oh, you wonderful leader!”

  22. Greg says:

    The main question is how does the foundation of submission and roles supercede all cultures and what are the arguments for roles and submission. To a feminist and modern day American, the joke is she submits to him in bed and he really submits to her in all other things not to be cut off sexually. This is the feminist idea of roles in the marriage. Also “she can make him do what she wants” and this is in relation to control over sex, is a common theme of this country from both Christians and non-believers. That’s not marriage, but more like supply and demand prostitution.

    In reality when looking at the scriptures and what Paul teaches, he either is teaching a lie and is a pharasee or he is teaching consistent scriptural roles, if he is teaching roles and a role model. The role seems to be based on three things that underlie submission. First authority in the role of the husband as the head as in headship. This for a Christian role model of Christ and the church. That has nothing at all to do with democracy, but it has to do with Lordship and a role of a person as a King, Prince or Leader. The head. It has nothing to do with power alone, meaning power without authority, but has to do with authority alone and a model of that. Submit means obey, it’s the same thing. As far as I can tell the husband has every bit the right of authority over his wife as he would have over his children, except he cannot physically beat her, as he could spank his children. This is the only right I can see, but that doesn’t mean she does not have adult rights given or granted to her like the wife in Proverbs 31 who has full rights to do all the things she can do,where he grants and gives her rights. Those rights are granted by the authority of the husband as her “lord” in the role of marriage. He is her Lord as Jesus is the Lord of the church. Of course he is an imperfect role model and that is the goal, to be her Lord as in head as Christ is the Head of the True Church. And when Christ is away from the church as is the case right now, the church like the woman of Proverbs 31 which is a spiritual representation of the church and Christ has all vested power given to her by her husband. The church has power to make contracts, buy and sell land, bind on earth what should be bound in heaven, and loose on earth what should be loosed in heaven. . . that is contractual power of a wife, granted while the husband is away at the gates with the elders (proverbs 31) and where is our Lord today. He in not present. He is with the elders in the gates. He is the gate to Heaven. So Proverbs 31 not only talks about a virtuous woman but a virtuous church.

    Now Paul’s reasoning is without cultural context. His reasons for the man to be the head of the household are: Order of Creation, Adam made first and Eve taken from Adam. That is the intent of creation. And second, the nature of women to be deceived easier, that is their nature revealed in the fall. Maybe that’s why they can fall in love with guys like us sometimes, they are easily decieved. . . lol. . . a bit of a joke there for you. But that’s the second reason. Then the third reason is because it’s to be a model of Christ and the church. Now how does that work out? Is your church ordering Jesus what to do and telling him what to do? If it is then Jesus isn’t your Lord, but you are acting as if you are His Lord. And that is rebellion against authority. Is the Holy Spirit leading you? Or are you leading him around and bossing Him around? Your actions prove you and you love Jesus if you do the things he tells you to do. In other words He knows if you love Him, and can see that by your obedience. But if you think it’s a democracy and you have a right to out vote Jesus and women have that right in the marriage, well that’s a broken model.
    Now the word submit is tied to authority and women can show submission as a role by wearing a head covering. That is preached as well. And women have a role to teach (other women) how to be a good role model in marriage. They do this by modelling and showing others how. Women can do this because they can model and lead and teach by example. Men can’t do this, but we can do this as a corporate church when we obey and follow Jesus because we are in a submissive role to the Lord and He is Lord of the church. So as a point of fact, the roles Paul is talking about are models based on the creation of man, which was outside of any social ethnic group, because there was no group present in creation, just God and some dust that was used to create Adam. And then there was the fall, and there was no society during the fall. There was no ethnic group during the fall, just Adam and Eve and the serpent. That’s no group, nationality or religion. Paul also used the role model of the church and Lordship. And that is coined in terms of Lordship and Paul and Jesus and God accepted authority and that includes authority of Kings, who may be even chosen and be evil, but they are still leaders. Because Jesus even has a title of King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He cannot be a King of Kings, if Kings are not accepted by men and by God.
    You can either believe in the Bible and what is said, or you can be progressive in your morality and compromise with your culture to be modern. I can say from a role perspective the man is to be the head of the household. Now modern day women who are weaker and more easily deceived will go out and try to fend for themselves. And they are often swallowed up by brute beasts who are in the world, and I’m not saying that these men are good or that women are all good. But it’s interesting to see how women are taught to be independent, and they run out to college and get seduced and at times raped, but they are away from any men who are to honor them and protect them. They went out away from all true love and authority and protection of men who would care for them, and what is the result? Do they win in the power struggle with beasts? Obviously we see the result. Bu they are liberated in their mind, and of course for those who have no god but their bellies and desires, the goal of sexual liberation is to do what one pleases, and that includes women acting as if they are men and sexually free. This leads to abortion, murder and the sacrifice of their own children to the idols of better living and materialism. So we see the fruits of rebellion and independence from God and that results in death, depression and suicide. That is the road away from God and lawful authority. But in the name of feminism and a woman’s right to equality we have the sexual revolution. The super liberal easy to give instructions given to the church without any legalism and law at all, the early church was to abstain from fornication and meat offered to iidols. Today we even preach fornication is okay, and our idols are ourselves and our sexual desires. The liberal mind even tries to equate homosexual sex with marriage. Truly those who have heard and seen the true gospel and done this are worse than Sodom an will get a worse judgment, for they were told and knew better but would not listen. So follow the world and it’s trends and follow the vote of fools if you wish.

    I find it interesting of course to mention that although sins like homosexuality are abhorrent to normal humans, it’s not like it’s the only sin in God’s eyes. Simple disobedience to parents, and lack of authority of the parent over the children was equated as a sin that was equal. It’s interesting that the SIN of rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. What is the goal of a witch? it’s the goal of having power and spiritual power, often by a female over a man. And that goal is an usurping of power (through spirits) over the true authority of others. It’s a false power, not a true power. And it’s power, not authority. God wants to loose the church and women from the power of evil spirits, but we are enticed by these when we are drawn after our own lusts. So both men and women have a resistance to true authority when they look to take power and have that outside of authority. As a child should obey a parent in the Lord, so should a wife obey a husband in the lord. She is in every way to submit to her husband, in all things. Either Paul meant that or he didn’t. And even if the husband is not saved, she is to submit to him in a way that will bring him to Christ. So submission is a role in marriage, it’s not just empty words. In Christ or outside of Christ women are supposed to submit to their their husbands.

    Now what if a husband or parent is wrong, and you have a problem with what they are doing. You have to approach them with humility and air your problem with them as a child would approach a parent. In other words the lower folks even church members who are not elders, should approach the elder or the person with authority over them as a child would approach someone who is older and has more experience. That is a humble attitude. Which is the act of submission one to another. How that works out with any two humans is they realize who has more knowledge on a subject and more practical wisdom and they will if both humble accept who is better at that duty. This happens in marriage as well. The husband ceded authority over things the wife is better at, even perhaps finances. But both should learn and grow and get better and help each other.

    A true Christian male is looking for a help mate, that is a helper that can help them spiritually, mentally and physically. Alas, most modern women don’t seek to be that, especially in the west. In the more backward cultures, they may seem to do this, but they often come to the country seeking to get better financially and will decide that they want to have the modern wealth and progress in our backward modern culture. So there are very few women of virtue, today, but there are few men of virtue as well. It’s easy to slam one side or the other. Of course if you look at relationships as the emphasis, you can ignore roles altogether, and that appeals to women and liberals and makes one appear to be broad minded, and wide. It seems like a wide open door of freedom, but it’s just ignoring roles. Now roles of course are like goals, they are kind of like laws. Or laws of nature. They are not laws to be proud of but goals. So I’m not necessarily preaching a role of legalism, but that of human nature in this life. In the church under church functions, under spiritual leading, there is a genderless state that can exist, which allows prophets of both male and female roles to exist. And so women can do anything a man can do in the church, but they can’t be a husband in a relationship. Of course if you accept lesbian marriage, then that satanic logic will do away with sexual realities in it’s entirely insane logic, and you’re not even a Christian, but I”m approaching this from a scriptural point of view.

    • Tim says:

      That’s a lengthy defense of complementarian doctrine. I’ll let it stand on its own. I disagree with it in its entirety, but there it is.

      • Angie says:

        I keep thinking that has to be an attempt at satire.

      • yael58 says:

        I find this man’s sense of entitlement and privilege deeply disturbing. I wonder whom he really worships?
        And the usual cheap shot of disagreeing with him means disagreeing with Scripture and ultimately God.
        Amazing, annoying, and quite telling how so many comps/patriarchists are convinced they have God’s entire counsel re women and men.

        • Tim says:

          I can’t believe how many times I’ve read “I didn’t say it; God said it!” when what the person really meant was “The only way to understand this passage is the way I understand it!”

    • If created order REALLY meant anything then animals would be a higher order than humanity.

      • Tim says:

        And dirt higher than animals.

        • You may be exactly right which would explain why in Genisis 1:26-28, God gives man dominion over the earlier creation. This doesn’t mean that the creation order of man & woman isn’t significant. Paul certainly thought it was (I Tim 2:13).

        • Tim says:

          I’d like to know more of what he had in mind, that’s for sure. He didn’t write as plainly here as in other passages.

    • David M says:

      Oh, yeah. Greg, reading your response to Tim’s post brought back memories of my own youth and upbringing. So, I think I’m fairly familiar with your doctrine of complementarianism.

      With that said, I can tell you that your doctrine concerning marriage is at best based on some extremely poor exegesis and proof texting. And, at worst misogynistic thinking wrapped in Christian justification based on, again, poor exegesis and proof texting. Let me urge you to step out of your indoctrination and actually examine your theology. I want to encourage you to really examine your theology – which is what I did. Have you ever really studied anything other than what was spoon fed to you from a pulpit? These are questions you need to ask yourself. An unexamined theology is not worth believing.

      The rest of your “Christian” diatribe against anyone who would believe anything differing from you was quite honestly just crap, dude. But then again, when you set yourself up, as you have, as being the Gatekeeper of Truth, then no one is ever “right” unless they think exactly like you do. We are all blessed, indeed, since YOU obviously are the one we are told to listen to and you can discern who is a “true” Christian or isn’t. YOU can tell us all what is right and wrong doctrine, dogma and opinion since you are a Gatekeeper of Truth and YOU have an inerrant hermeneutic to the scriptures. (If you are sensing sarcasm, you are correct, sir.)

      However, in your paradigm, this is how God intended relationships to be – women are to be subject to men, the LGBTQ community is going to hell, etc. Like I said I get it, I grew up with that stuff. However, even though you will get pissed on and ridiculed for your beliefs, today, you will still get a gold star on God’s refrigerator. And it’s worth the price, isn’t it Greg? Because being the ‘voice in the wilderness’ and a Gatekeeper, that’s the price you pay. People just don’t always “get it” and woe unto them and they are not “true Christians” but you did your best to get them back on the narrow path. And we should all know that “Love exposes a multitude of sins..” wait..no, that’s not right.

      If I seem harsh, Greg, I really am not. I’m just really tired of hearing this same old rhetoric without any real thought or examination put into it. It’s a total disregard to the overall message of the Gospel to piss on the marginalized and women and say it looks anything like Jesus, because it isn’t. People with your line of thought are why I always have to qualify the question when asked of me, “Are you a Christian?”. My response, sadly, is “Depends on what you call a Christian. First and foremost, I try to be a follower of Jesus. Tell me what you think a Christian is and I’ll answer you.” But, then again, in your opinion, I’m not a “true Christian” and given what I know of your definition of Christian, I’m really okay with not being one.

    • Julie Anne says:

      I’m thinking if you need that long to explain something that should be so obvious and simple, then maybe what you’ve been holding onto is more contrived than really “Biblical.”

      • Melody says:

        Amen to that, Julie.

        This part is pretty shocking for those who can hear the progression: “the husband has every bit the right of authority over his wife as he would have over his children, except he cannot physically beat her”. Ok then.

        This part rings true: “You can either believe in the Bible and what is said.”

        And for those that don’t see it- the progression is that women are objects, property, on a level with children (ie not adults), and the only kind of abuse women don’t have to worry about is physical. What in the world??!

        Plus 1 Corinthians 7 doesn’t fit into this world view then. So much for the authority of Scripture!

        The point is, this is patently unbiblical tradition that is replacing what the Bible actually says about women as equally authoritative to their husbands in the marriage bed, without getting into all the stuff about the context of keeping silence in the church and so forth.

        The danger is that it opens women up to abuse and limits their God-given freedom in Christ, as made clear in Galatians 3.

        This teaching, as understood by this guy, both infantilizes women and down-classes them as second class Christians with no voice, potentially opening them up to all kinds of abuse. It’s nuts.

      • yael58 says:

        Julie Anne, when people go to such lengths and energy to defend bigotry like his, I cannot help but wonder if he is really so secure in his (hugely unScriptural) beliefs.

  23. Greg Hahn says:

    @Greg – Your interpretation of Paul is unBiblical. If Paul is teaching the gender hierarchy that you believe he is, from where did he get it? Certainly not in the Old Testament, nor from the words of Jesus. I’m not buying your “created order” argument, nor the other alleged “more or less obvious hints” of Genesis 1-2. If God had subjected ½ of the human race to the other half, why did He forget to tell anyone about it until 1500 years after Moses? YOU, sir, have no Scriptural foundation for what you believe.

  24. keriwyattkent says:

    So, I might have gotten into a bit of an argument with my small group about this and then written about it. http://www.keriwyattkent.com/head-of-the-household/

    • Tim says:

      That’s a great post, Keri. It sounds like you handled it very appropriately too.

    • Zoe says:

      Keri, I went to to look at your blog (looks interesting) but for some reason can’t scroll down past the first screen. Is this happening to anyone else, or is it just me? There’s no scroll bar on the screen, and my mouse roller won’t scroll on that page either. If it’s just me, I’ll check some more things in my system.

  25. Lucy says:

    Hi Tim, so this post and the comments on it are very timely as I am working on a critique of an unpublished book by a Christian friend, in which she advocates very firmly for women to be submissive 1950s housewives and the men to lead — which I categorically disagree with. Your post was very refreshing!

    Out of curiosity, I went to Biblegateway to confirm my belief that nowhere in the Bible are the words ‘husbands lead your wives’ used. Of course, the famous Ephesians passage comes up: wives, submit to your husbands. But one translation (NIRV) has actually changed this verse, to ‘wives follow the lead of your husbands’. I’m pretty amazed by this blatant rewriting!

    • Tim says:

      That mistranslation also fails to deal with the fact that this is a mutual submission passage, so it should go on to say that husbands follow their wives’ leading too by their reasoning.

  26. Don Johnson says:

    Napoleon wrote that he would rather fight two good generals than one bad one. Once you figure out what he is claiming, he is saying that in a battle situation, unity of command (even when it might sometimes be mistaken) is best, when one is fighting for survival. So in an emergency situation, it can be the case that there is simply no time to discuss things and figure out the best plan, rather one needs to act right now.

    Just as an example, if we had a house fire and my wife said to grab our son and go outside, I would not discuss with her why it might be better for me to make sure our daughter was safe. And if I happened to be the one to tell her how I wanted her to act (as in leading), I sure hope she would follow through.

    I guess my point is there will be times when what a comp couple does and what an egal couple does is indistinguishable in practice; the main difference is that an egal couple does not claim that the way it happened this time is the only Godly way.

  27. Kiki says:

    So, what do we do with the equally biblical verses on wives submitting to the husband?

    • Tim says:

      Eph 5:22 doesn’t have “submit” in the Greek. It is a translation choice. The verse pertaining to the husband and the one for the wife each rely on verse 21, where submit is used the only time and qualifies the rest of the passage for both husbands and wives. That’s the most faithful reading of the text as it was really written.

  28. Becky Castle Miller says:

    Thank your for the note at the end. It’s so important to caveat marriage advice for normal, healthy marriages to make it clear they don’t apply to abusive relationships. And the way you did it is great — not labeling abuse but describing unhealthy or abusive situations so people are more likely to recognize them.

    • Tim says:

      I am glad that end note came across well, Becky. A marriage with an abuser is a whole different type of relationship than the healthy marriage I mean to address in the post.

  29. Donna says:

    In the original creation, what you say is true. But then mankind [ a generic word encompassing male and female] fell and things changed. Such as “You’ll want to please your husband,
    but he’ll lord it over you.” Genesis 3:16 ( The Message). So even though couples talk over situations, it is in the fallen nature of female bend to the husbands wishes and in the fallen nature of male to magnify that ‘power’. But then we are given “Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don’t take advantage of them. Colossians 3:19 . ( The Message). That puts a cap on the tendency to be authoritative. Sometimes I think that since males-traditionally-work in a competitive world, that they bring that competition home. Especially if they are not winning in the corporate world. So there may need to be a reminder that the couple are not suppose to be in competition but in agreement.

  30. D says:

    Hi Tim. I have not read every comment above so this input may already be mentioned. I have always thought that even men who believe in egalitarianism have a difficult time following the belief because of the way we US parents raise them, If a boy leaves his stuff lying around, the females pick up after him. This applies whether it be to wash clothes, pick up trash that missed the can, pick up dishes left in the wrong room, make the meals and clean up after working or school all day, clean the toilet after them; you get the point. This training subconsciously leads males to expect this behavior from females and ultimately, whether they intend it or not, they are taking the female for granted. They are deciding that this service is her work and duty to make him comfortable.
    I have no objection to doing work in the house-in fact, I like it. But I do not want it to be expected as my place in life. I told my children that work is work. There is no male work or female work. A mature person sees what needs to be done, and they do it. An immature person sees what needs to be done and ignores it. Some females do better than males in things like carpentry,some are better at handling finances and some males excel at cooking and cleaning. So if the couple agrees together how the house and yard work is to be divided, it does not mean one is lazy and inconsiderate of the work the other does. D

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