Is Christian marriage a master – servant relationship?

masterservant

The obvious answer to this question is absolutely not! Right? Marriage is a loving relationship of two equal partner’s right? This what we are told time and time again, even in many Christian marriage books. Even in some more conservative Christian marriage books that teach about male headship, they always seem to qualify a man’s headship role over woman in marriage, by saying something like “this is not a master and servant relationship, but simply an order of priority”.

But the Bible speaks very differently on this matter than what our modern society accepts.

The Bible states that the husband is the “head” of his wife:

22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

Ephesians 5:22-24 NASB

Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is to be a picture of the relationship of Christ and the Church. The husband is to model Christ in his love, leadership, provision and protection of his wife and the wife is to model the Church in her serving of her husband, and she is to be “subject” to him in “everything”.

One could argue easily from Ephesians chapter 5 that the relationship between Christ and the Church is in fact a master-servant relationship, rather than a partnership of equals. How could anyone argue that Christ and his Church are equal partners from this or any other passage?

But the Bible even doubles down on this idea that the husband-wife relationship is indeed a master-servant relationship in I Peter chapter 3:

“In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”

I Peter 3:1-6 NASB

The Bible in I Peter tells women that they ought to model to their submission to their husbands on Sarah’s behavior with Abraham when she called him “lord”. The English word translated here as “lord” is a translation of the Greek word “Kurios”.

According to Thayer & Smith’s Bible dictionary the definition of Kurios is:

“he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord

  1. the possessor and disposer of a thing

    1. the owner; one who has control of the person, the master

    2. in the state: the sovereign, prince, chief, the Roman emperor

  2. is a title of honour expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants greet their master

  3. this title is given to: God, the Messiah”

The word Kurios most often is translated as “Lord” with a capital “L” indicating a direct reference to God. But in many other places it is often translated as “Master”.

In the Old Testament a husband of a wife was referred to in many places as her “baal” which literally meant “Lord” or “Master” or “Owner”. This same word was even used as the master of owners of slaves.

Proverbs 31:10-11 & 23 & 27-29 NASB

10 An excellent wife, who can find?

For her worth is far above jewels.

11 The heart of her husband [BAAL (Master/Owner)] trusts in her,

And he will have no lack of gain…

23 Her husband [BAAL (Master/Owner)] is known in the gates,

When he sits among the elders of the land…

27 She looks well to the ways of her household,

And does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and bless her;

Her husband [BAAL (Master/Owner)] also, and he praises her, saying:

29 “Many daughters have done nobly,

But you excel them all.”

What does the Master-Servant aspect of marriage mean for husbands and wives?

I don’t know how any person could look at the Scriptures and see anything less than a Master-Servant relationship between a husband and wife, as opposed to a partnership of two equals. But if you are a woman reading this, before your think I am advocating for men walking all over their wives as selfish dictators let me draw your attention to a word I just used – “LESS”.

Biblically speaking the relationship between a man and his wife is no less than a master-servant relationship, but it is in fact much more than that. A master is not commanded to love each of his servants as his own body as husbands are told to love their wives in Ephesians chapter 5. A master is not commanded to honor his servants and live with them according to knowledge, as a husband is commanded to do with his wife in I Peter chapter 3. A master is not commanded to have sex with his servant as he is commanded to have sex with his wife in I Corinthians 7:5 and Exodus 21:10.

This Biblical truth that marriage is indeed a master-servant relationship can be abused, and many men throughout history have done just that. But when we understand that this is just one aspect of marriage, and not the totality of how marriage works, this can make marriages stronger.

If you are a wife reading this, you might wonder how such a teaching, that your husband is your master, and you are his servant can make your marriage stronger. It makes it stronger because it removes the contention in marriage. It removes the competition. You each have your role to play. Your husband leads, and you follow.

But shouldn’t husbands serve their wives as Christ served his disciples?

There is no doubt that a husband ought to exercise the servant leadership that Christ did. A man ought to be humble enough to serve his wife by helping with making dinner or helping with the kids when she gets overwhelmed. Really this what a good boss, or master does when his employees (or servants) are overrun, he steps in to make up the difference.

But while Christ washed the feet of his disciples, Christ did not spend the majority of his time serving plates of food and washing feet. He spent the majority of his time teaching and leading, as a man should do.

Conclusion

While a husband ought to be humble enough to serve his wife and family where he sees needs arise, his primary concern should be that of leading, providing for and protecting his family. The dominate trait of a wife should be that of a servant. She is not tasked with leading the home, so all of her efforts can focus on serving the needs of her husband, her children and her home.

Obviously the economic reality of some families today sometimes means that a wife may have to serve her husband and family by working outside the home. But this does not change the core principle that a husband is called to lead, and wife is called to serve.

Peace truly comes through living the way our creator designed us to.

8 thoughts on “Is Christian marriage a master – servant relationship?

  1. Going back a few verses we find the parallel.
    1 Peter 2:18 Servants, be subject [hupotassō] to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.
    1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection [hupotassō] to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

  2. Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! Brief but full of undeniable wisdom for marriage success. Lifetime harmonious co-existence especially with a person of the opposite sex, with different gender needs and even personal fear and ambition can prove almost unattainable. But such truth as the one you have shared in your article can make the difference if accepted and applied. I feel informed and found. Keep touching souls and changing lives. God bless you more in Jesus’ name. Amen!

  3. ErinaHaiqin,

    In the New Testament Greek the word ‘kephale’ is only used in two ways. In its most literal usage it refers to a person’s head, as in the head on top of their body or the head of an animal. An example of this in found in Matthew 5:36:

    “Neither shalt thou swear by thy head[kephale], because thou canst not make one hair white or black.”

    The only other way it is used is in the figurative sense of a one in authority. It denotes chains of authority. See here in I Corinthians 11:3 how ‘kephale’ is used:

    “But I would have you know, that the head[kephale] of every man is Christ; and the head[kephale] of the woman is the man; and the head[kephale] of Christ is God.”

    The beauty of the Bible is that often times we can know what word means by the context in which it is used. You don’t need to be a Greek scholar to see exactly what “head” means in the above passage. God the father is not the source of Christ – Christ is uncreated. Christ is the unbegotten eternally existing Son of God. The trinity has existed before time began. So it cannot mean ‘source’, to say otherwise would be to embrace heresy.

    Then lets look at Ephesians 5:23-24:

    “For the husband[Aner] is the head[kephale] of the wife[Gune], even as Christ is the head[kephale] of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
    Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives[Gune] be to their own husbands[Aner] in every thing.”

    The language her again tells us exactly what kephale means. The context is that of authority and submission. While one might be able to say Christ is the source of the church – that is not what is being discussed here. And if it is saying Christ is the source of the church, then it would also be saying the husband is the source of the wife which is absurd. A husband is not the source of his wife.

    Now some egalitarian scholars will try and twist and turn this to say the words for husband and wife can be translated as “man” and “woman” and that is true as they are used this way in I Corinthians 11:8:

    “For the man[Aner] is not of the woman: but the woman[Gune] of the man.”

    But again what they miss is CONTEXT. Context is key to proper Biblical hermeneutics. The context always determines the meaning of the word. I Corinthians 11 is not specifically discussing marriage, but rather God’s order in creation. The head coverings in I Corinthians 11 are not restricted to only married women, but all women just as all men are forbidden from covering their head for worship.

    Ephesians 5:22-31 however has its context MARRIAGE. And that is key. Anytime a passage uses aner and gune in the context of marriage it is refering to husbands and wives, not just men and women in general. So the egalitarian view of kephale would tell us that “then husband is the source of his wife as Christ is the source of the Church and just as the Church is subject to Christ in all things, so too should wives be subject to their husbands in everything.” Such a reading literally mutilates the passage beyond recognition.

    And while we are on egalitarian views of words – lets show how they murder the Greek word for submission:

    “19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
    20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
    21 Submitting yourselves[Hupotasso] one to another in the fear of God.
    22 Wives, submit[Hupotasso] yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
    23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
    24 Therefore as the church is subject[Hupotasso] unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”

    Ephesians 5:19-24

    The Greek word Hupotasso for submission, like the previous Greek word kephale for head has two different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. In its most literal meaning it was military term refering to mandatory submission to the chain of command. In its less formal usage it could be used to communicate voluntary cooperation between equals. So the egalitarians jump on the second meaning and try to apply it to marriage.

    The say look at verse telling people to “Hupotasso” submit to one another say “See God is saying a husband and wife are to submit to one another”. Again the fatal flaw in their hermeneutic is their ignoring the context in which hupotasso is used. The first half of Ephesians 5 is NOT refering to marriage or the family. The first part is referring to general behavior in the body of Christ(and thus the reference to singing psalms and hymns”). Then in verse 22 Paul switches over to talking about the marriage and the family he continues this a bit into Ephesians 6 with children and their parents.

    How is hupotasso used when speaking of the husband and wife? The husband wife relationship is DIRECTLY compared to the relations of Christ to his church. Do and Christ and his church mutually submit to one another? It is absurd to say so. Christ the head, the lord and master of his church. He does not arrange himself under his church, rule of his church.

    So as you can see egalitarian method of Biblical interpretation is fatally flawed. It is a desperate attempt to apply American and western egalatiarianism to the Bible. The two do not mix. That is why I have maintained that egalitarians cannot be Biblical literalists and they cannot believe in the inerrancy the Scriptures. I actually have more respect for Egaliarians I know who just throw out I Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5, I Peter 3 and any other passages which seem to show God placed men over women. At least they are not twisting the Bible, they just simply dismissing it. But in either case while I do not doubt the salvation of egalitarians and I do believe there are true egalitarian Christians I do believe they will be ashamed in the judgement. They have not run the race according to God’s rules and his laws.

    So they make up their own rules and their own race.

  4. thanks for the explanation. What did Paul mean when he said that the woman’s long hair is a glory?
    1 Corinthians 11: 14,15. Was it only for the women of Corinth or is it still true today?

    In my opinion, when Paul said that the woman’s long hair was a glory, he meant that it is the natural sign of his submission to man, and long hair differentiates the woman from the man, not to mention that the greater beauty of the woman is your femininity is in your long hair (my opinion).

    I have heard so many different interpretations of what Paul meant here, that I am very confused.
    For example, there are some who say that Paul was referring to prostitutes in Corinth, others say he was talking about adulterers, because adulteresses had a shaved head, and that was dishonor, so the woman’s long hair was a glory to her . I have seen others say that Paul said it was dishonorable for a man to have long hair because at that time a man with long hair was a sign of homosexuality.

    I do not even know if these things are true, I just hear people say haha, I’d rather not pay such attention to these arguments, because Paul does not even cite these prostitutes, adulterers or homosexuals. Some people say that the word “nature” means culture, so Paul would be talking about the culture of the time. others say that everything Paul said about submission and cover to the head was not about Greco-Roman culture but about his Jewish culture.

    but I think there is one thing that people forget in this debate about this: Paul said it was because of the angels.
    Does that mean what? That angels observe the worship of the church and when they look at man, do they see the glory of Christ in man and glorify Christ?
    for this reason a woman cover her head to attention is only in Christ and not in the glory of man?

    *if my English is a bit bad, it’s because English is not my mother tongue

  5. Erina,

    Your Question:

    “What did Paul mean when he said that the woman’s long hair is a glory?
    1 Corinthians 11: 14,15. Was it only for the women of Corinth or is it still true today?”

    While there certainly were changes that God made between the Old Covenant and the New (the removal of ceremonial law requirements and the civil law punishments and resitutions given to Israel as a theocracy) we must be very careful of saying of the Bible “is it still for us today”. Many false Christian teachings have come from people saying things like “that was just for Corinth” or “that was just for during Jesus time and not today”.

    The default understanding of the Scriptures should be that it applies to us just as much as did to them.

    Paul talked about nature, not culture, teaching us that a woman’s long hair is her glory. That is a God given instinct in us to know that a woman’s hair should be longer than a mans.

    There are two coverings spoken of in I Corinthians 11. There is the natural covering a woman(her long hair) and the spiritual covering as an additional covering which is a cloth or something else she puts on her head. This head covering that the woman wears for worship and prayer tells the world that she recognizes and fully accepts what God said in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that “the head of the woman is the man” and also that she recognizes what God said in I Corinthians 11:7 that he is “the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man”.

    In a way, a woman wearing a head covering for worship and prayer is like baptism. Why do we as Christians get baptized – we do so to make a public showing of our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Our baptism is an outward symbol of our inner belief.

    In this same way, each time a woman puts on a covering for prayer and worship she is showing the world her inner belief that God has placed her under the spiritual authority of man whether that is her Pastor as the head of the church, her father as the head of the home or husband as the head of his home. And some Christians say head coverings are only for married women – but I disagree. There is no mention or distinguishing between married and unmarried women in I Corinthians 11. This is about women acknowledging the general authority of men over women in all spheres – the home, the church and society. In other words it is about women acknowledging that it is God who installed partiarchy over women and its not just some cultural thing.

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