It is not uncommon to hear people use 1 Cor 14:34-40, Eph 5:21-33 and 1 Tim 2:9-15 as the scriptural basis to “exhort” all the wives to submit to their husbands, or even, taking outside the marital context, to “exhort” all the women to submit to all the men. The implications are gargantuan and range from imposing on wives to submit unconditionally to their husbands, regardless of the husband’s spirituality and what is right vis-a-vis the issues at hand, to prohibiting sisters from leadership functions, preaching, and teaching brothers (besides other sisters and children).
If you have been troubled by some of the “man”-centric interpretations offered on the above passages, you would definitely not want to miss reading “What’s with Paul and Women?” by Jon Zens. Included in this book are the insights gleaned from the Artemis-saturated Ephesian culture where Timothy was left to stand against false teaching, and also an extensive review article of John Piper’s “What’s the Difference: Manhood & Womanhood Defined According to the Bible”.
The key to understanding the gender issue then, I surmised from the book, is to understand the relationship between Christ and His Church, and how the earthly marriage is a foreshadow of the coming heavenly marriage. Eph 5:21-33 itself give us some light on this key. One of the pitfalls in misinterpreting this passage though, is to make inflexible comparison between Christ and the husband, so much so that the husband himself becomes effectively “the Christ” to his wife, rendering the priesthood of all believers (man and woman) to nothing. But does the wife have two Christ? Hopefully, we did not forget about the uniqueness or otherness of Christ which put the egocentric husbands back in their proper places. By the way, I am a husband.
Thus, when marriage is interpreted christologically as Paul did to encourage the believers, it added a sense of richness and motivation to the marital relationship. Just as the Bridegroom unconditionally loves the Bride who submits willingly to the Bridegroom, husbands and wives are encouraged in their mutual submission to each other (Eph 5:21) because the mystery (Eph 5:32) burns deeply in their hearts and rejuvenate their walk with God. Husbands, do you realize you are also included in the “Bride” of Christ? In fact, the wives have a head start here as they can relate better to the Bridegroom and Bride analogy.
Jon Zens put it this way, “Once we begin to see marriage as an earthly pointer to the ultimate marriage of the Lamb with His Bride, it puts the issues… in a completely new light. The emphasis in Gen 1-2 is not on differentiated roles but on one-flesh partnership. The issue is not 'Who’s in charge?’ but ‘How can we in our relationship enhance our love and service to God?’… It should be clear, therefore, that Paul’s motivation for instructing believing wives to submit to their husbands was not to establish a hierarchy in the marriage relationship – nor in any other relationship between believers… In Christ, earthly marriage is an equal partnership, with both husbands and wives willingly submitting to one another as unto Christ.”
As in any healthy relationship, be it in the marital context or within church life, the issue of rights or who’s in control would never appear when both involved parties are in perfect harmony, partnership and mutual servitude towards one another. Are we then better than the disciples who asked “Who is the greatest?” (Matt 18:1-4)?
To top it off, below is a guest review from a friend after reading Jon Zen’s book.
"We do not have to agree with every conclusion in ‘What's With Paul and Women?’, but Jon Zens is surely to be commended for shedding more light on an important topic, especially as it concerns the contribution and functioning of half the body of Christ! A significant lesson we would do well to grasp from this work is that Paul's writings were truly ‘occasional’ letters written to address specific, local concerns set in the Greco-Roman culture of the day. Paul was really applying the timeless gospel into time-bound contexts, an outworking of the Word made flesh in everyday living. We stand to profit much from the Scriptures under the ministry of the Spirit of Christ if we also learn, like Jon, to become more sensitive to such contextual 'hints’ in the apostles' writings. Perhaps Jon should consider writing a brief guide on the basic elements necessary for acquiring such a sensitivity to the Scriptures. It will surely do us all a lot of good!" - A brother in Singapore
This review is based on the free copy graciously given by Jon Zens, Editor of Searching Together.
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