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1Jan/000

Is the Bible Relevant to Modern Marriages?

Misperception and Distortion

As a post-Christian culture, many people have mistaken traditional perspectives of marriage as Biblically based. The Bible, however, is not as closely linked with American perspectives and traditions as some would think. While the traditional perspective of American culture places women in a subordinate position of less value, the Bible actually empowers women in their roles to make important decisions for their families.

The result of traditional perspectives in American culture, as Bruess and Pearson point out, is that it is still often perceived that a woman's place is in the home, cooking, cleaning and raising the children, and that a man's place is in the breadwinning, providing and protecting of the family (153). As a result, while there has been an increase in dual career families, the role of taking care of the house and children has remained the woman's responsibility, giving the woman in a marriage a double burden (153-154).

Furthermore, even though the American woman is overburdened with more than her share of work, she is not given the ability to make decisions for her family. Mirowsky and Ross reveal that women are overall more depressed than men are and that a large part of this is because of inequality in decision-making (13). They continue to say, "Each spouse is least depressed if, to some extent, decisions are shared." However, this balance is rarely met and usually favors the husband (13). "In one out of ten marriages, the wives are so far from their ideal balance of influence they are about 50% more depressed than would otherwise be the case."

These traditional perspectives are not from the Bible, but rather from a patriarchal society, where men were encouraged to be exceedingly dominant in their marriages. Nonetheless, many modern Americans have made a connection between traditional perspectives of marriage and the Bible. This is most likely because of people who have distorted the Bible and interpreted it to fit their own selfish desires.

Quoting scriptures that say that a wife is to be submissive, many men have distorted the Bible to say that women should have no say in family affairs, but must do everything through their husbands. This is a distortion because in order to understand the Bible a person must take everything that it says into account, not just specific passages. So anyone who quotes a passage such as Ephesians 5:22 where it commands wives to be submissive, without quoting the other verses which say that husbands are to serve their wives, is distorting the Bible. However, with the fact that the Bible has often been misquoted, it is no surprise that the link between traditions and the Bible has been made, nor that people have perceived the Bible as irrelevant and sexist.

What Does the Bible Really Say?

Far from being irrelevant and sexist, however, the Bible is often an advocate of women and women's rights. While it does provide a structure for family life, giving the husband slightly more authority, that structure correlates with what modern studies have shown to be the happiest marriages. Modern, secular (non-Christian), studies tell us that "young couples reveal that men and women still believe men should have more power in the arena of personal relationships. An example is the fact that despite many of the nontraditional behaviors of dual-career couples, the marital satisfaction of these couples is still related to perceptions that both spouses fit sex-role stereotypes. Both husbands and wives in dual-career couples report more satisfaction if the husband is seen as more intelligent, competent, and of higher professional status than his wife" (Bruess 153). The Bible correlating with modern studies says that wives are to be submissive and respectful to their husbands (that he is to "have more power in the arena of personal relationships"), but equally important, it says that husbands are to serve and love their wives (Ephesians 5:22-33). In the matter of a dispute, the husband may have to make the final decision, but this does not mean that the wife should not take part in the decision-making process. A man who serves and loves his wife will value her opinion above his own, and will defer power and responsibility to her.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible very clearly reveals that women can be given a great amount of responsibility and make decisions without the supervision of their husbands. For instance in Proverbs 31, which many Christians use to define a woman of character, it states, "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night" (Proverbs 31:16-18). Furthermore, Proverbs goes on to say, "She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness" (Proverbs 31:24-27). This does not reveal a woman who is a plain housewife who has to call her husband before making any decisions, but a woman who works, earns money and plays a vital role in her family making important decisions on her own.

A man who serves and loves his wife will not only make sure that he defers power and responsibility in decision making, but he will also make sure that his wife does not have to do a disproportionate amount of household chores. A man who serves his wife will take out the trash without being asked, and a man who loves his wife will give the kids their bath while his wife takes a break instead of watching television and asking for another beer (as the famous American stereotype goes).

Therefore, the Bible is very relevant to modern marriages and the problems it is facing. The Bible reveals that with "more power in the arena of personal relationships," a husband is required to put his own desires aside and be a self-sacrificing husband (Ephesians 5:25), always taking into consideration everything his wife says or feels. Even though he may have more overall authority, he should always look to her best interests instead of his own. Through self-sacrifice, the husband solves two problems, he takes away the "double burden" by serving, and he allows his wife to have more power in the overall decision-making process.

Does the Bible Fit?

Correlating perfectly, Bruess and Pearson reveal, "Marital satisfaction is also related to task sharing; the happiest wives are in marriages where husbands share equally in household tasks, and in marriages where they are satisfied with the amount of sharing or support they receive from their husbands. Couples in one study reported that sharing tasks has a number of positive outcomes, such as increased communication heightened intimacy, and improved decision-making abilities. However, wives who maintain traditional ideologies about marriage seem the least concerned about husbands who share household work. For wives with egalitarian beliefs about marital roles, marital satisfaction is closely linked to their husband's involvement in housework (156).

The Bible illustrates that a woman can be very capable of working and deserving of trust. Both modern studies and the Bible agree that women should be placed into a position where they can make decisions and their opinions are considered important. This not only gives the woman the benefit of decision-making and of feeling that she is a vital part of her marriage, but it will also be beneficial to the husband since it is unlikely that he could or should make all the decisions. Instead of the man making all the major decisions, decision-making should be based on each spouse's differing abilities in various areas, i.e. the person with the most financially organized mind should be in charge of finances. This is why the Bible states, " The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper [ally] suitable for him'" (Genesis 2:18).

Though the Bible is thousands of years old, it addresses modern problems in a way that makes it beneficial to modern society. The Bible reveals that men were not meant to do all the decision-making while the women do all the work. Instead, men and women should work together to compliment each other, to be allies, and thus have a happy marriage.


Works Cited

Mirowsky, John and Catherine Ross. "Social Causes of Psychological Distress." The Practical Skeptic. Ed. Lisa J. McIntyre. Mountain View, Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999. 7-19

Bruess, Carol J.S. and Judy C. Pearson. "Gendered Patterns in Family Communication." The Practical Skeptic. Ed. Lisa J. McIntyre. Mountain View, Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999. 150-163

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995.

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