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The Ultimate Marriage Passage

On July 29, 2009

When Christians for Biblical Equality was quite young, I spent a day in Christian bookstores looking for books on marriage that CBE could recommend. I was searching for books that considered ALL the passages on marriage (especially New Testament passages)—more than just Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (TNIV).

The real meaning of that passage starts in Ephesians 5:21, where Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” pointing to the mutual submission of all Christians. Paul later explains that, in the often quoted Eph. 5:22 passage, he is really talking about Christ and the church and how the church should be united with Christ as husbands and wives are to each other.

That being said, I wanted to see how writers on Christian marriage handled 1 Corinthians 7:1-16—the ONLY place where Paul specifically discusses marriage and nothing else! Most of the marriage books I read had an index that listed biblical passages they covered in the book. So I quickly searched for 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. NONE of the books discussed 1 Corinthians 7 at all! Why not? Probably because 1 Corinthians 7 does not say what the writers wanted to say!

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about many aspects of marriage—the sexual relationship of husbands and wives, the spiritual impact marriage partners have on each other and on their children, the grounds and effects of divorce, etc. In every instance, Paul gives the same instructions and comments to husbands and wives!

Once when my husband and I were team-teaching, a man interrupted to say, “Show me ONE Bible passage where a wife has any authority over her husband!”

My husband quietly said, “Turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 and read it aloud, please.” The man stood up and read the passage. Verse four reads, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. . .” The man sat down in surprise. He obviously had never heard anyone discuss that passage!

My husband (a seminary professor) used to tell his students that Paul said they could not go on a prayer retreat without the permission of their wives (1 Cor. 7:5)!

1 Corinthians 7 provides a group of identical instructions given to husbands and wives. No wonder so many “biblical marriage manuals” never mention it. It doesn’t say what most of them want it to say! This is the result of “selective literalism” where people choose what biblical passages they want to take “literally” and omit all others.

If we truly believe the Bible is God’s message, inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we must examine ALL passages on whatever subject we are studying. We must use sound principles of interpretation; consider the historical, cultural, and literary contexts; seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and study with humility.

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