A groom placing a wedding ring on the finger of his bride during a wedding ceremony. Photo by Petar Milošević - Wikipedia

Nailing Marriage to the Crossbeam

By Ernesto Tinajero

Throughout the Gospels there is a sharp distinction between two Sons of God. Jesus was referred as the Son of God. First century readers would be well aware of another Son of God. Caesar was also commonly called Son of God and so the Early Church knew that calling Jesus the son of God was subversive to the powers of the day. The contrast to Caesar is dramatic. When Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Roman habit of processing into a conquered city was parody. Caesar enters on a gallant steed with an army behind him, and Jesus enters on a donkey. In both cases they were greeted with shouts of glory, only Jesus enters with his poor followers not with legions of soldiers. Several times, his followers try to force Jesus to wear the crown and it is only Pontius Pilate who forces a crown him and then it is a crown of thorns. A mocking jester to show that Caesar was the real power and authority.

Yet Christians should know as powerful as Caesar was, his power no longer has any sway in the world. What Jesus reveales in authority in the power of love truly defeated Caesar’s authority.

Complementarians and the Egalitarians have been having a debate for what seems like hundreds of years. Are men to be the head of the household or are men and women equals? The current debate can be traced to  the Quakers in the early 1600s and continues to this day. Each side has their go-to verses like Paul saying a man is to his household as Jesus is to the church (Ephesians 5:23) for the Complementarians, while the Egalitarians look to Galatians 3.28 where Paul says that their is neither men nor women, master or slave, jew or gentile as all are one in Christ. Can they both be right? Can they both be wrong? With the whole Duggar affair, the question of roles in a marriage are coming again to forefront. Most think that this debate is only as old as the 60s, but like I stated, the debate is far older.

Throughout the Gospels and the New Testament, the contrast between Caesar and Jesus parades before us to show us the difference between what sinful men think of as authority and power differs in all ways from Jesus and God’s way. Both Caesar and Jesus were known as son of God and only one is currently thought of this way by billions of people.

Jesus reveals the way of God’s authority arises from grace, forgiveness, love and servanthood. Jesus unfolds authority by the way of love. Caesar’s way comes from controlling and oppressing. Caesar uses the threat of violence to uphold the social norms. Jesus uses the way of the cross.  He reveals his power with his presence and suffers in love for his church on the cross. Clearly there is a difference.

The question for Complementarians is how they cast the head. If they cast the husband as a Caesar in the home rather than like the servant Jesus, who suffers on a cross, then are they upholding a false norm? What would a Christian household look like if the original sin of man was not upheld as the model of the head, but the head more inline with Jesus, who provides love and presence?

Certainly, it would not be the image of a king and tyrant that currently comes from the pen of complementarians. If fact the whole notion of roles and different roles played by the different partners would come into question. God made us less a template of a life with our just filling the preformed blanks.

Is marriage a mathematical equation? Galatians 3.28 does not say all are equal, all are one. The reality of a marriage is that we all bring different talents and gifts into the marriage. It speaks less about the division of power and who gets to says what in marriage. God gives us different talents and it is not a zero sum game as humans can’t be reduced to a digit an then made “equal” to the other digit. Anyone in a real marriage knows this utopian fantasy is exactly that a fantasy. Both parties have a say in the marriage and how that say plays out has to do with the individuals within the marriage. Every successful marriage divides into different domains and the domains are not set but preset notions of gifts, but in the trial and error of life. But this division is not a preset. Some are better with money regardless of gender. In both sides there seems to be a lack of looking at how two people navigate through life. A Christian marriage should be marked by the freedom granted by Jesus and by the startling reality of when two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, he with them. What should mark a Christian marriage is love, love for God and love for the other partner.

At the center of a Christian marriage is the cross and Jesus. Many times we ignore this fact and try to force God’s world into our own image. We are more than numbers and men are not called to be caesar in their homes. Love God and love others, even in our marriages, this should define what it means to be a Christian.

About Ernesto Tinajero

Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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  1. I definitely like this, definitely sympathise with it. I do have one question, however: given that marriage, even (some would argue) Christian marriage, is currently available to same-sex couples, how does the husband/wife distinction apply to them? Or does it apply at all?

    • Brad, your question proves the point of the article. Lest we force genders into set roles, we should note that it is two, not male and female that are necessary to a marriage. We might as well say “the one on the right” and “the one on the left”
      Also, let us not forget that many of the references to male and female marriages in the Bible are descriptive, not prescriptive.

      • Perhaps, but the very use of the labels “husband” and “wife” is inherently heteronormative. Moreover, the roles expressed by partners in any relationship will (necessarily) be in constant flux, as the needs and capabilities of the partners evolve from day to day. I think these categories, however defined, carry with them a rigidity that is unsuitable for marriage as it currently exists.

  2. Ernesto, thank you for this well-stated, historically accurate, biblically sound article on what marriage can (and should) look like. As God gives gifts and talents, they should be celebrated and affirmed, regardless of which gender holds those gifts. Wonderful!

  3. Excelent points, Brad. We know so much more sociologically, and have different purposes than the 1st century followers of the way. I’ll add these points to my reasoning. We have not been created to occupy our same state forever.

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