Biblical Foundation for Christian Families
Philip P Eapen
Worldliness. It is one of the greatest enemies of godliness. The ungodly world – its thoughts and values that appear to be just, beautiful, and wise – contaminates a Christian’s values. It can eventually turn a godly person against God.
Not all worldly ideas are offensive or shocking at first sight. The idea of Gender Fluidity might initially shock Christians. But there are equally destructive notions that appear beautiful and “politically correct.” I expose a couple of these here for the benefit of Christian couples. If you resist unscriptural values and ideas, your marriage and family life will be blessed.
“Equality” of the sexes – I deliberately avoide the pseudoscientific term ‘gender’ – is a given in today’s world. What can be more liberating and beautiful than rising up against centuries of oppression of women? Did Jesus not extend salvation and healing to men and woman without any discrimination? Did He not pour out His Spirit on both men and women? Didn’t the Gospel raise the status of women wherever it had a free rein? Therefore, Christians should be the last people to oppose the notion of equality of the sexes.
There’s a problem though. The devil is in the details. Most Christians are unable to identify the deception behind the so-called “equality of sexes” as taught by feminists who don’t submit to God’s Word. As a result, over the past few decades, an increasing number of Christians have been influenced by ungodly ideas. A pitched battle is on. “Evangelical Feminists” and “Egalitarian Christians” are on one side; “Complementarians” are on the other. This has wrecked havoc in the lives of many. Neither group can see eye-to-eye on several key issues.
The Bible’s teaching on the sexes is quite clear. Yet, not everyone understands it; not everyone wants to. The key to understanding the Bible’s wholesome view is to know that any statement on the “equality of the sexes” must be qualified. A man and a woman are not physical quantities or numbers that may be compared and equated. They are “equal” in certain aspects, “different and unique” in several other aspects, and quite “unequal” when we consider still other aspects. Let me show you how men and women are equal and unequal at the same time.
A man and a woman are equal. The statement needs to be qualified. Both men and women stand on the same level ground before God and the world. As creatures, they are both at the same level. That is, they are both equally human. Neither the man or the woman is less human than the other. Taken together, ontologically speaking, men and women are way above the most advanced animals.
The Bible says that the first woman was taken from Adam’s side. Her place is beside the man. Eve was created as a “suitable” helper to Adam. They were designed to become “one flesh,” complementing each other in every way.
In the Garden of Eden, there was one law for both Adam and Eve. All men and women are equally bound to obey God’s laws. All are equally sinful. Salvation, provided through Jesus Christ, and His call to discipleship, is open to men and women. Jesus did not discriminate on the basis of sex. A woman need not reincarnate as a man – as taught by other religions – to receive salvation. Both men and women have equal access to God in prayer and worship, an equal right to proclaim Christ, and an equal right to exercise spiritual gifts. In our flawed world, it took a while for women to enjoy equal pay for similar work, and equal civic rights.
While men and women are equal on several grounds, they are not equal when we consider other factors. Lift your gaze upward from the level ground men and women stand on. Consider their stature. I’m not talking about just physical stature. I’m referring to their stature before God. Even as they stand on an “equal” footing on level ground, they differ in their stature and authority before God and before each other.
Many Christians place men and women on a level ground, and at the same time see them as having equal stature and authority. Why? They err because they misinterpret the biblical teaching on “image of God.” Ask any English-speaking Christian. They will tell you how God created men and women in the image of God. They define the “image of God” as a set of characteristics that set us aside as human from the rest of creation.
How can they be wrong, you may ask. Instead of understanding Genesis 1:26ff in a Jewish way, they read their English Bibles in an English way. Their definition of “image of God” is flawed. If you say anything contrary to their definition, they’ll pounce on you as if you rob women of their basic humanness.
In the Ancient Near East, kings used to erect their statues in various parts of their empire to declare their dominion over those regions. God’s creation of man in His image must be understood in that literary and historical context. After creating Adam in His image, God placed him on earth as His vice regent (as a king) to let him exercise dominion on earth on His behalf. The first man Adam was formed before God made Eve. Adam bore God’s image even when he was alone. He was a king. If God had chosen to make Eve too in His image, she too would have been a king! It’s important to understand that God did not create a second king. He created a suitable helper for Adam. God created a queen for the king. He had authority over her. He named her. (For a scholarly treatment of the topic “Image of God,” please read my book “Imago Dei and the Uniqueness of Man.”)
Adam was king. Eve was his queen. That’s how they differed in their stature. This is why the Bible teaches “male headship” in the family. Every man wants to be honored as a king; every woman, to be treated as a queen. The elevation of one brings about the elevation of the other. One cannot pull down the other without pulling himself/herself down.
Those who claim that both men and women are created in the image of God do not think through the implications. If men and women are equally kings, there wouldn’t be any need for the wife to submit to her husband. “Egalitarian” Christians are quick to point out that there is no biblical command asking wives to obey their husbands. They should read Peter’s description of Abraham’s wife Sarah. Some even claim that the word “head” in the New Testament does not represent authority; they say, it just represents “source.” D. A. Carson refuted that very well in his book Exegetical Fallacies.1
What a nightmare it would be for a child to live in a family where the father and the mother are “equal” in stature and authority! It would be like the distress of passengers seated in an airliner, listening to this announcement.
“Good morning. This is your Captain speaking. The First officer too greets …”
“No way! I too am your Captain! …”
Furthermore, those who claim that both men and women are created in the image of God miss out on the Hebrew sentence structure (called chiasmus) that clearly demarcates the creation of Adam in God’s image. The verse in English translations clubs everything together in a way that hides this distinction.
God \ created Adam \ in His own image, in the image of God / him created / He male (zāḵār) and female (nᵊqēḇâ) He created them
Due to a lack of understanding of the structure of the text and its Jewish interpretation, many Christians say God created both man and woman in His image. Paul, a former Jewish rabbi, knew how to read Genesis 1:27.
“For a man should not have his head covered, since
he is the image and glory of God;
the woman is the glory of man.”2
Why don’t Christians see such plain teaching in the New Testament? The entire passage that contains the above verse is dismissed by Western Christians as some “cultural” nonsense that does not apply to them.
The authors of the Bible did not invent “male headship.” Contrary to feminist claims, I submit that the doctrine and practice of “male headship” was not a clever invention of a patriarchal society. True patriarchy comes from God the Father from whom all families derive their identity.3 Sinful humanity twisted it out of shape, oppressing women and anyone who was weak. The “enlightened” folks of today demand the scrapping of patriarchal societies. They want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They do not wish to acknowledge human sexual differentiation. They brought in a spurious concept called ‘gender.’
We should now take a look at the ugly reality of conflict and power-struggle between the sexes.
Ask any “enlightened” person why there is a conflict between the sexes. They will blame the centuries-old patriarchal system. Women have no other go but to rise up against patriarchy, they say. True, there is ongoing oppression of women all over the world. No Christian should brush that aside or justify it. But what lies at the root of the war between the sexes? The Bible’s answer can’t be clearer: sin is the root cause.
The Fall of Man is not a fable or myth. It’s a historical reality affirmed by none other than the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles. The Fall brought about some real consequences for both men and women. Every man who wishes to succeed is given to toil. Every woman who gives birth does so in extreme pain. But that’s not all. The balance between the sexes was upset. There’s no natural cure for that just as there is no natural cure for the pangs of childbirth.
God said to Eve,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”4
“thy desire shall be to …” It’s not a regular English expression. Not many English speaking people search out its meaning. Many translators don’t get, as is evident from the various English versions. The key to interpreting the expression lies in God’s statement to Cain.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”5
“Sin wants to rule you. You must rule over it.”
“Your desire is for your husband, and He shall rule over you” must be read as: “You will tend to rule over your husband; he will rule over you.”
That’s at the heart of the general conflict between the sexes, especially in the context of a family. Add to that emotional, physical, cultural, intellectual, linguistic, biological and other differences between the man and his wife. Financial difficulties, mental or physical illnesses will worsen it. But the root of the conflict is a consequence of the Fall.
The solution to this tendency to rule lies in godly submission – of both husband and wife – to the Word of God. That’s why the New Testament’s teachings on the duties of husbands and wives are very important. Detailed instructions regarding the duties of a husband and wife are given in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 7, Titus 2, and Proverbs 31.
In this context, it should be noted that several Christians use Ephesians 5:21 to sabotage Ephesians 5:22. Ephesians 5:21 says, “… and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The very next verse says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” If you say that husbands and wives should submit to each other, on the basis of 5:21, you will have to extend that rule of mutual submission to parents and children, as also to masters and slaves. Ephesians 5:21 serves like a subtitle to the whole passages that follows it. From verse 22, the apostle explains how that submission should work out.
God not only gives us instructions but He also gives us His indwelling Presence to enable us to do the right thing. With God’s help, if a couple will align themselves to obey God’s Word, they can overcome the basic flaw in them which came as a result of the Fall.
The Son of God left us an example too. He, being in the form of God, did not hold on to His heavenly glory. He humbled Himself to the level of a human, even to that of a slave who stooped to wash the feet of His disciples. Finally, He perfected His obedience to the Father by laying down His life for us. Every Christian husband is commanded to follow that pattern.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her … In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.6
If it was not a humiliating experience for God the Son to obey God the Father, it shouldn’t be too difficult for a godly wife to submit to her own husband. A Christian couple, therefore, should be eager to be serve each other instead of succumbing to the urge to dominate or trounce the other.
Men and Women are unique and different. But they are equally human, equally precious, and equally accountable. At the same time, the man bears the image of God, as God’s vice-regent. His special helper stands beside him, sharing his dominion and privileges. Let every man treat his wife as his queen to bring out the best in her. Let every wife treat her husband as her king to bring out the best in him. Lead gently. Submit gladly. Together, let them submit to Christ the King and serve the best interests of His kingdom.
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“It follows, then, that we should be a trifle suspicious when any piece of exegesis tries to establish the meaning of a word by appealing first of all to its usage in classical Greek rather than to its usage in Hellenistic Greek. In an article in Christianity Today, for instance, Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen argue that ‘head’ in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 means ‘source’ or ‘origin’; but their appeal is to the standard classical lexicon (LSJ - which does of course move forward to cover Hellenistic sources), not the standard New Testament and Hellenistic Greek lexicon (Bauer). The latter lists no meaning of ‘source’ or ‘origin’ for κεφαλὴ (kephale, head) for the New Testament period.”
D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies. Baker Academic, 1996.↩︎
1 Cor 1:11 NASB.↩︎
Genesis 3:16 NIV.↩︎
Genesis 4:6-7 HCSB.↩︎
Ephesians 5:25-28 Berean Standard Bible.↩︎
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers; he also runs a small ‘tent-making’ business. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: Jan 9, 2023