While preaching through 2 Samuel, I’m becoming convinced that maybe we Christians shouldn’t be advocating for traditional marriage. Maybe we should be advocating Christian marriage instead. Traditional marriage hasn’t usually been all that Christian.
The effects of the curse on the woman listed in Genesis 3:16 in part affect the marriage relationship. We read, “Your desire will be to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” This is not an example of what should be, but what is. Women historically and traditionally have been viewed as existing for the benefit of the man, and have not been treated with respect as “fellow-heirs” in the image of God. Although the Christian teachings of the Old and New Testaments address this in a way that no other religion even began to, the Christian community has been slow in implementing this truth.
We have made a lot of progress in the last couple of centuries in particular, recognizing different roles for women within the church and home, but advancing equality in legal treatment and rights, and equality in human worth and dignity. But then along comes modern feminism, which teaches that there should be no distinction between men and women at all. This is a lie of the devil, but like many of his lies, it is an extremely clever one. Like modern radical environmentalism, like socialism- it is a lie that is based on Christian truth, that would have been impossible had it not been for the Christian truth which it distorts. I think we ought to regard feminism as a Christian heresy- a distortion of Christian truth. The reason I think it is important to think of it this way is that this lie, like many of the devil’s lies, has a two-sided danger to it- it gets you coming and going. On the one hand we are tempted to accept that lie and reject the distinctions that the Scriptures maintain between men and women. But on the other hand, if we reject that temptation, we are tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to reject the sound Christian truths which modern feminism distorts.
Modern feminists, for example, often assert that marriage is essentially an institution designed for the suppression of women, for the institutionalization of violence against women. We Christians often rebel against such sentiments. But while you’re thinking about that, read 2 Samuel 3. In that chapter, we see David with multiple wives in order to advance his political and military career, Abner seizing someone else’s concubine to advance his career, and David demanding that Michal, his first wife, be returned to him, again to advance his career. Every one of these decisions is made entirely absent concern for the women involved. And all of them lead to disaster down the road.
We Christians need to realize that when we advocate for traditional marriage, 2 Samuel 3 is what a lot of people, especially feminists, hear. The fact is that modern feminists are more right than we would probably care to admit. And the reason for this is the curse. When we say, “We need to defend the institution that has been at the very foundation of every society for thousands of years”, we are making a huge mistake- tactically and theologically. The institution of marriage for thousands of years has been defined not by Ephesians 5 (“husbands love your wives”) but by Genesis 3:16 (“he shall rule over you”).
Genesis 3:16 is not advocating what ought to be. It is advocating what is, under the curse. No aspect of the curse pronounced to the devil, to the woman, or to the man, is a positive or good thing (true, the Messiah is promised in Genesis 3:15, but remember, God is talking to Satan there, and the coming of the Messiah would be nothing but a huge headache for him). The relationship defined by the curse is one of warfare- the wife continually trying to undermine the legitimate authority of the husband, and the husband ruling over his wife as he would a slave, as property. For thousands of years, all around the world, this is what marriage has been. This is what we see in 2 Samuel 3. Outside of the Christian worldview’s perspective on marriage, which is all too rarely practiced even in Christian circles, the feminists are more right than I think we conservative Christians would care to admit- marriage is an institution that institutionalizes oppression and violence against women.
Now there are common-grace benefits to marriage, even outside of the Christian worldview. Marriage provides for a certain amount of societal stability and order. Women are usually more protected within the confines of marriage than outside of it, especially in societies without much rule of law. But the common practice of marriage in history, which we see well demonstrated in 2 Samuel 3, where women exist solely for the good of the men, absolutely cannot be defended Scripturally. Jesus, attacking the exploitative views of the Jews of His day on divorce, said, “From the beginning, it was not so”- that the husband and wife were to live as one flesh, acting as loving and equal partners, companions. Leadership exists within marriage, of course. But according to Ephesians 5, that leadership exists in order for the husband to serve the wife, not the other way around. Christ is our model of Christian leadership, and Christian leadership always exists for the purpose of service, as Jesus so beautifully modeled by washing His disciples’ feet.
So I think that when we’re dealing with the current assault on Biblical sexual ethics, we need to be really careful not to defend the indefensible. Let’s stop advocating for traditional marriage, an institution dominated by the curse. Let’s recognize that our critics may have more to teach us than we may have been prepared to admit. Let’s advocate instead for Biblical marriage, and the wonderful picture of love and companionship we see presented to us there, a model of mutual service and mutual respect.