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.

3 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;

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