Marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman that was instituted by God. In today’s society, there are differing views on what constitutes a biblical marriage. Some view it as an equal partnership between spouses, while others see a hierarchical structure with the husband as the leader and wife as his helper. What does the Bible say about whether marriage is a partnership of equals? Let’s explore the Scriptures and key biblical principles that provide insight into God’s design for marriage.
The concept of marriage being a “partnership” is a modern notion that has gained popularity in recent decades. With more egalitarian views spreading in society, many couples today enter marriage with the expectation that it will function as an equal partnership. However, this was not the prevailing view throughout most of Church history, so it is worth evaluating whether the partnership view aligns with biblical truths.
This article will dive into Bible passages about marriage roles and responsibilities. We will examine the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “helper” and “head” to understand their original meanings. The Abrahamic covenant will be analyzed as an illustration of God’s intended design for marriage. ultimately, our goal is to seek God’s vision for marriage according to biblical principles, not human ideas that He may not endorse. Here are key points that will be covered:
- The Hebrew word translated “helper” in Genesis does not imply inferiority, but a strong ally.
- The Greek word for “head” refers to one who sacrificially loves and serves, not one who dominates and controls.
- God established Adam as head and Eve as helper even before the Fall.
- The husband’s headship follows Jesus’ model of servant leadership, not worldly authority.
- The Abrahamic covenant reveals God’s pattern of husband as leader, wife as helper.
- Ephesians 5 commands husbands to love and wives to submit, implying role differences.
- Marriage reflects Christ’s relationship to the Church, which is not an equal partnership.
By examining these biblical truths, we can gain clarity on God’s design for marriage as a loving leadership-submission relationship, not an equal partnership. The husband is to lovingly lead by putting his wife before himself, as Christ leads the Church. The wife is to voluntarily submit to and help her husband, as the Church serves Jesus.
The Meaning of “Helper” in Genesis
Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Here God calls Eve Adam’s “helper” even before sin entered the world. Some believe this means Eve was Adam’s equal partner. However, the Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer. This word does not imply inferiority, but rather someone who provides vital support or assistance.
The same Hebrew word ezer is used throughout the Old Testament to describe God as our helper (Ex. 18:4; Deut. 33:7). Obviously God is not inferior to man. He is supreme, but willingly gives Himself to aid, protect, and strengthen His people. Therefore, ezer does not necessitate a meaning of equality or partnership between Adam and Eve. Rather, Eve was created to be a strong ally and supporter to Adam in the mission God gave mankind.
The Meaning of “Head” in the New Testament
Ephesians 5 instructs wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church (Eph. 5:22-23). Some interpret “head” to mean authority, but the Greek word kephalē can also refer to the literal head of a body. This depicts one who is prominent, at the top, leading, but also serving a body, not controlling it.
We see this in Jesus washing His disciples feet. Though He was their Lord and Teacher, He condescended as a servant (John 13:14-15). Jesus sacrificially gave Himself for the Church as Savior. He loved, served, and died for His Bride, setting an example for husbands. Thus, biblical headship follows Jesus’ model of servant leadership, not worldly patterns of heavy-handed authority.
Adam’s Headship Before the Fall
God established Adam’s leadership role and Eve’s helper role even before sin corrupted their relationship. Some argue Adam only became Eve’s head after the Fall as part of the curse. However, Genesis 2 shows God created Adam first and then Eve to be his helper. God commanded Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit, before Eve was made. This shows Adam had headship prior to the Fall.
Eve was deceived by the serpent and ate the fruit first. As head, Adam should have guarded and taught Eve to protect her. Instead he knowingly ate, failing to lead her. Part of the curse was the distortion of their roles where Eve would resist Adam’s leadership and Adam would forcefully rule (Gen 3:16). However, God’s original design was for Adam’s loving servant leadership and Eve’s voluntary submission as his helper.
The Abrahamic Covenant’s Illustration of Marriage Roles
God’s establishment of the Abrahamic covenant provides a picture of how He intended marriage roles and responsibilities to function.
First, the Lord singled out Abraham to receive the covenant promises (Gen. 12:1-3). As patriarch, Abraham was called to obediently lead his family into God’s blessings. Similarly, husbands are to exercise spiritual leadership by guiding their wives and children to follow the Lord.
God then promised that through Abraham’s descendants all nations would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). For this covenant promise to be fulfilled required the vital participation of Sarah. As Abraham’s helper, her motherhood enabled him to become father of multitudes. Similarly, a wife must support her husband’s headship by bearing and nurturing children and managing the household.
Therefore, the Abrahamic covenant models God’s design for marriage, with the husband as loving leader and wife as helper to fulfill his God-given mission. An equal partnership would not have exemplified Christ and the Church as God intended.
Ephesians 5 Commands Husbands to Lead, Wives to Submit
Ephesians 5 contains some of the clearest instruction on God’s design for marriage roles:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:22-24).
The parallel drawn is that husband relates to wife as Christ relates to the Church. Jesus lovingly leads, protects, and sanctifies the Church. In return, the Church willingly supports, honors, and obeys Christ as Lord. This passage is commonly called the “great mystery” because marriage is a picture of the amazing relationship between Jesus and believers.
It is abundantly clear from Ephesians 5 that God ordained husbands to take responsibility for loving leadership, and wives to joyfully support their husband’s mission in voluntary submission. There is no hint of an equal partnership here, but rather loving leadership from the husband and willing submission from the wife.
Reflecting Christ and the Church, Not Equal Partners
God designed marriage to reflect the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. Jesus said He is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride (Matt. 25:1-13). Christ sacrificially loved the Church, redeeming her and washing her to make her holy (Eph 5:25-27). Jesus leads, disciplines, teaches, and cares for the Church as His treasured possession.
In response, the Church loves, honors, serves, and obeys Christ as her head. The Church was created to be Christ’s helper, supporting His purposes on earth. This reflecting of Christ and the Church shows a savior-servant dynamic, not an equal partnership.
If marriage is modeled after the marriage between Christ and the Church, then a biblical marriage will have the husband lovingly leading and the wife joyfully submitting to her husband’s headship, just as the Church does for Jesus. An equal partnership would reflect worldly values, not the relationship between Jesus and believers.
According to Scripture, God did not design marriage as an equal partnership but rather a relationship of loving leadership from the husband and willing submission from the wife. Adam was created with headship even before Eve. Eve was made as his ezer – not inferior, but a strong helper. Jesus taught that the husband’s headship should follow His own model of servant leadership and sacrificial love, not ungodly authoritarian rule.
The Abrahamic covenant provides an illustrative pattern of God’s intended roles in marriage of husband as leader, wife as supporter. Ephesians 5 presents the clearest teaching on marriage roles, with husband loving like Christ, wife submitting like the Church.
Thus, the biblical portrayal of marriage fits with husband as loving leader, wife as helper – not an equal partnership. However, today’s egalitarian views of marriage are at odds with Scriptural principles. As Christian couples, we must follow God’s design for marriage, not popular cultural redefinitions of this sacred institution. The Bible makes clear marriage is not an equal partnership, but a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church.