Authority or Unity in Marriage?

This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.

Abandon Ship!

Consider the following argument:

(1) A godly marriage requires a husband’s authority and a wife’s submission

(2) It is nearly impossible within our current cultural and legal framework for a husband to assert authority in marriage. A husband’s authority is, at best, a token or mirage.

(3) By #1 and #2, a godly marriage is nearly impossible to achieve.

∴ (4) Men should—in general—not marry.

If the Authoritative Headship Model is true description of Paul’s description for marriage in Ephesians 5, then it offers nothing to men wanting to achieve the Peaceful Unity Model. Unless one lucks into a wife who respects her husband’s authority, there is simply no way to achieve a godly marriage by authority alone.

It is no wonder that the Black Pill exists. It does not take a genius level IQ to see that marriage is fraught with difficulty, that most marriages will end in divorce, and that if the key to a successful marriage is authority, then it is best not even to play that hopeless game at all. Men are better off following the advice of Jesus and Paul and living a chaste life of service to Jesus.

Do you want to get married? There be dragons. Abandon ship!

Now Boarding

But what if, instead, Paul was writing not about authority, but about unity? As I stated in “What is Grace?“:

Why does Paul refer to the sacred mystery—the grace of God—in the context of marriage? The answer lies in his quotation of Genesis 2:24: when a husband and wife join, they join permanently as one flesh in unity. The grace of God serves as an example of how we are to interact with our wives: in love, mercy, sacrifice for the purpose of living in unity with them. A call to authority would completely miss the point.

No authority is required to show love, mercy, and sacrifice to one’s wife. Yet these are the things that Paul says bring unity to Christ and his church, the very things that he says husbands should model in their interactions with their wives.

In 1 Peter 3:1-6, Peter tells wives to live in submission, purity, reverence, gentleness, and holiness. They can do all of this towards their husbands without needing any authority. We can see from 1 Peter 5:5-6

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

…that Peter wants the whole church to submit and humble themselves. And so in the very next verse after speaking to wives, in 1 Peter 3:7, Peter speaks to husbands:

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

In this context, husbands are to act in the same way towards their wives as their wives are to them. They also can do all of the above, including showing love, mercy, and sacrifice, without needing any authority. No leadership ability is required to be considerate or humble. In fact, Peter is quite clear that submission and humility lead to elevation.

Now notice how Peter joins Paul when he mentions husbands treating wives as heirs. Does this sound familiar? It should. We just discussed this in the last post, “What is Grace?“: Ephesians 3 says:

“So when you read this, you will be able to understand my insight into the sacred secret of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit, that in union with Christ Jesus and through the good news, the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise.”

This grace enables both Jews and Gentiles to be fellow members of one, united body of Christ and partake of the promise of resurrection: grace produces unity, which is why Paul then talks of marriage in Ephesians 5.

It all comes back full circle. Paul speaks of how grace produces the unity in being co-heirs with Christ in one united body, then he shows that this unity is also to be found through Christ in our marriages. Then, Peter describes ways that husbands and wives and members of Christ’s body can find unity, justifying these actions by citing being heirs to the grace of God which grants eternal life. The circle of unity is complete. By speaking of wives being heirs of Christ, Peter and Paul both merely repeated what they had received from Christ, who prayed for that same unity:

John 17:20-23 (NIV)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

A person’s job in marriage is to achieve unity through Christ. Just as members of the church need no authority to be in unity with Christ, so too is having authority (or not) in your marriage only incidental.


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