Have you ever wondered what Ephesians 5 is correcting in the marital relationship? Not just then at that moment for the Corinthians but fundamentally for both persons. Where did the relationship go wrong?
We'll start at the beginning: Genesis.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ge 1:26–28.
We'll pay specific attention to the words used in both English and Hebrew. We are still in chapter 1 and on day 6. The animals have been created in the prior verse.
Now in verse 26 there is something different about man. Man will be given a blessing that God doesn't give the other animals. God says mankind (the Hebrew means person; not a specific gender) will have authority over the Earth and the animals that God just created. He gave that authority to humanity not the man nor the woman alone. Verse 27 says that both male and female are created in God's image. Then in verse 28, God repeats to the man and woman what he said he would do and tells them both that they are to 'Rule' (the Hebrew word means to have dominion over) the Earth and its animals.
At this point, God has created a team and they are equal partners in their God given authority. At this point in scripture all is well. Paul, in Ephesians, isn't correcting anything here.
Chapter 2 of Genesis gives us the details of the creation of man and woman. In verse 24, it is said that the man and woman become one flesh. Together they complete the image of God. God before making the woman shows the man there isn't an appropriate companion for him. God said that was incomplete. He created the woman out of the man and together they are united as one flesh fully realizing the image that God intended.
And to this point things are still good. Paul isn't addressing the first man and woman at this point.
Then we get to chapter 3. If you know the Bible at all you are likely familiar with this story without even checking what chapter 3 is. This is the introduction of sin. We'll skip to the part where God is talking to the woman.
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.”
The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ge 3:16.
Now we need to get to the Hebrew because most English versions translate the Hebrew הרה as 'childbirth'. The word really means conception. It means the pain in conceiving will be severe. It doesn't mean that pain in childbirth will be severe. That point will be important later.
In the next phrase of the same verse, the authority that God gave to both of them is being usurped by the man. He will now, in addition to ruling the Earth and the animals, rule over the woman as well.
God has laws created and they were violated. Now God is telling the woman what will happen. He is allowing the natural course of these actions play out. This is cause and effect. It is written in the phrasing of "I will make..." because ultimately God created the laws and humanity and knows all things. He isn't saying that because it is a specific vendetta against the woman.
You could almost see this as a warning. Women, this is what is to come.
Now we see what Paul was correcting. Where else does this happen?
Let's fast forward to Genesis 6. In the opening of this chapter we see the "Sons of God" taking, as opposed to being given like when God brought the woman to the man, the women as their wives because they are good (beautiful). The context doesn't give you the idea that this was something the woman chose. It reads as if the behavior was unilateral. The context of the remainder of the chapter is also against the behavior.
Skipping to chapter 11 and verse 30: Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.
The Hebrew uses the term barren. Barren is the inability to conceive. We see the pattern that God spoke of back in Genesis 3. Again, this the undoing of the blessing to be fruitful and multiply.
Then at the end of Genesis chapter 12, Abram is acting out of fear because of pharaoh's advances on Sarah. This is the picture of the man during the temptation. Instead of telling the snake to take off, he sits there passively.
In chapter 16, Sarah and Abram conspire to sexually abuse Hagar (the family slave). From this comes Ishmael. Later after Isaac's birth, Hagar and Ishmael will be sent away.
In chapter 25 we learn that Abraham had concubines AND had remarried. Also in this chapter we learn that the wife of Isaac (Rebecca) was barren.
In chapter 26 we see a replay of the interaction of Abraham and Abimelek but this time with Isaac.
Chapter 27 sees the introduction of the plural marriage of Esau.
The pattern continues through the rest of Genesis. The man and the woman are in regular contention and the woman is regularly barren. Additionally men are abusing women. The pattern is repetitive.
In the old testament, it is the man though that is regularly ruling the woman. He isn't living in mutual submission as Paul is dictating in Ephesians. Paul isn't trying to create new way for man and woman to live together. He is giving instruction related to how to return it to the original design. That design that saw man and woman as a duumvirate ruling jointly the Earth and animals. They are to be fruitful and multiply and govern those creatures that do the same. God is giving them both the authority that he also possess.
After all of that, if you are still reading what is the take away? Speaking only to the man of the marriage, if you are using the role of husband as a way to control, you are performing the role as it is a result of sin. As Paul states in Ephesians 5, the marriage relationship (and all relationships) is one of mutual submission:
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
Something to think about.
The background from this blog can be traced with deeper thoughts at the following locations. Both of these are worth the time.
This is the Neurodiverse Christian Marriage podcast and specifically with focus on the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis: https://www.spreaker.com/user/mhnrnetwork/relationship-foundations-a-new-look-at-g
This is the bible project podcast. There is a rabbit trail they chase related specifically to the 'childbirth' phrase and the down stream affects of sin to the relationship between man and woman: https://bibleproject.com/podcast/great-blessing-and-great-responsibility/
All scripture quoted is NIV
The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011)