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Summary: Just as the church is made one with God through Jesus Christ, man and women are made one through Christ. Christian marriage consists of three people: husband, wife, and Jesus.

Many preachers would probably prefer to avoid today's passage if at all possible. The idea of submission isn't particularly popular in today's world.

In fact, when the Southern Baptist Convention issued a newly revised declaration in June of 1998 that included a special section on marriage and family life, one phrase was extracted from the message and trumpeted all over the media as proof that the Southern Baptists desired to keep women "in their place" and subservient. That phrase stated that a wife should "submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." Well, we can't just throw the passage out because we don't like this particular interpretation. If this is God's word to us, we'd better find out what his intended meaning is, even though ours is an age of liberation. Out age is so in love with liberation, in fact, that in a book on feminist theology I am currently reading for my doctorate, one of the writers states that Scripture must be subordinate to women's experience, and not the other way around. [Stephen E. Fowl, The Theological Interpretation of Scripture, p. 57] His point is that the mere fact that Scripture speaks to us through a patriarchal culture renders all its wisdom about the nature of relationships between men and women invalid.

The idea of submission to authority is completely incompatible with modern ideas of permissiveness and freedom. So anything that even hints of oppression is deeply resented and strongly resisted. So how do we respond to this modern mood?

Well, the first thing to say is that Christians belong on the side of those who seek freedom from exploitation and injustice. We should be against whatever attitudes, practices, or institutions which dehumanize certain groups of people. One of the shames of the Christian church over the centuries is the way we've often acquiesced in the status quo, justifying countless cruelties on spurious grounds in order to maintain our privilege or to avoid discomfort. I don't have to remind you of our own ugly history with blacks and Indians; South African Boers justified apartheid on so-called Biblical grounds. But I'll bet you didn't know that Scottish Presbyterians opposed the use of ether to ease women's pain in childbirth because of the passage in Genesis which tells women, "in pain you shall bring forth children." {Gen 3:16] That's part of the curse Adam and Eve got laid on them for rebelling against God.

But if you stop and think about it, the history of the people of God is actually one of ever-increasing progress out of the world of the curse and toward the kingdom of God. The sort of struggle for equality of women and blacks that was the great achievement of the last generation rests on centuries of struggle for liberation of all people, men included. Christians were in the forefront of the anti-slavery movement. Christians led the fight to end child labor and sweatshops. Christians called for a halt to the Hindu practice of burning widows alive on their husbands' funeral pyres. Christians led the fight for universal health care and education nearly 2000 years ago. And the Mosaic law was the earliest legal system that we know of to treat all people - including foreigners, slaves, and women - as equal under the law.

And didn't Jesus Christ himself take huge steps toward liberating women, children and workers? Jesus treated women with respect in an age when they were, at best, discounted and ignored. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." [Mt 19:14] Jesus washed his disciples feet because he'd come "not to be served but to serve." [Mt 20:28] Women and slaves were drawn to the gospel because it was a message of freedom and hope.

Because of abuses loosely and indefensibly based on Scripture many people in our modern age have accused the Bible of being a source of oppression, rather than the only guide we have into true freedom. And so we need to be careful what assumptions we bring to a passage like this, which has been one of the texts so misused.

Before we look at this passage we need to understand the Christian worldview that Paul himself teaches. Already in this book he's argued for the oneness in Christ of all races and ethnic backgrounds: that is, of Jew and Gentile. We're all part of God's family, brought to unity in the body of Christ. In his letter to the Galatians he went even further. There he points out that "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." [Gal 3:28] That passage demolishes two more reasons that people have to look down on one another, economic status and gender.

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