1. Marriage

The purpose of the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," is to protect marriage. It is important, therefore, to analyze the Biblical meaning of marriage in order to understand the significance of the laws governing its violation. The institution of marriage (Gen. 2:18-25) in Eden describes the meaning of marriage in relationship to man; this will be considered subsequently. At present, the meaning of marriage in relationship to God must first be understood and will be analyzed.

While marriage is of this earth, since there is no marrying nor giving in marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:29, 30), it nonetheless has reference to and is governed by the triune God, as are all things. The great statement of this fact is Ephesians 5:21-23, which begins with the general commandment, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God," rendered by the Berkeley Version, "Be submissive to one another out of reverence for Christ." Calvin commented on this:

God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn.[1]

Thus, a general principle of subjection and service is affirmed, and marriage is then cited as illustrative of this principle. As Hodge noted, "The apostle enjoins mutual obedience as a Christian duty, v.21. Under this head he treats of the relative duties of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants."[2] Man has through the ages been in revolt against this necessity of subjection and service and dreamed rather of autonomous power. The young Louis XIV expressed his pleasure at the concept to the Duc de Gramont in 1661:

Louis:  I have just been reading a book with which I am delighted.
Gramont:  What is that, Sire?
Louis:  Calcandille. It pleases me to find in it arbitrary power in the hands of one man, everything being done by him or by his orders, he rendering an account of his acts to no man, and obeyed blindly by all his subjects without exception. Such boundless power is the closest approach to that of God. What do you think, Gramont?
Gramont:  I am pleased that Your Majesty has taken to reading, but I would ask if he has read the whole of Calcandille?
Louis:  No, only the preface.
Gramont:  Well then, let Your Majesty read the book through, and when he has finished it, see how many Turkish Emperors died in their beds and how many came to a violent end. In Calcandille one finds ample proof that a Prince who can do whatever he pleases, should never be such a fool as to do so.[3]

With anarchism, this dream of autonomous power has become the hope of a large number of people.

This general principle of subjection and service is rooted in far more than men’s interdependence; rather, it is grounded in a theocratic faith. People are to be in subjection to one another, and in mutual service (Eph. 5:22-29), not because the needs of humanity require it but in the fear of God and in obedience to His law-word. The human interdependence exists because the prior dependence on God requires the unity of His creation under His law.

Moreover, because man is not God, man is a subject, a subject primarily and essentially to God, and to others in the Lord only. Where man rejects his subjection to God and asserts his autonomy, man does not thereby gain independence. The subjection of man to man continues in pagan, Marxist, Fabian socialist, anarchist, and atheistic groups, but this subjection is now without the restraint of God’s law. The Biblical subjection of man to man, and of a wife to her husband, is at every point governed and limited by the prior and absolute subjection to God, of which all other subjections are aspects. God’s prior and absolute lordship thus limits and conditions every situation of man and permits no trespass without offense. To deny the Biblical principle of subjection is thus to open the door to totalitarianism and tyranny, since no check then remains on man’s desire to dominate and use his fellow man. The Biblical principle of subjection conditions every relationship by the prior requirement and totally governing jurisdiction of God’s law, so that all relationships on earth are limited and restrained by God’s law-word. Thus, wives are not placed in bondage by the Biblical commandment of submission (Eph. 5:22) but are rather established in the liberty and security of a God-ordained relationship.

Without Biblical faith, the only sustaining factor in marriage becomes the frail bond of feeling. Mary Carolyn Davies, in her poem, "A Marriage," wrote

Took my name and took my pride
Left me not much else beside,
But the feeling . . . that insures:
Sort of joy at being yours.
Property! That’s what it meant.
Property! And we content!
Now you’re gone; and can I be
Anything but property?[4]

Where feeling is the basis of marriage rather than a religious principle, then ultimately marriage becomes robbery, each partner using the other and then departing when there is nothing new to be gained. Again, Mary Carolyn Davies catches the materialistic impersonality of sexual relations when divorced from Biblical morality:

"Here is a woman,"
They’ll say to all men,
"A little soiled by living,
A little spoiled by loving,
A little flecked,
A little specked-"
Oh, they are forgiving.
To you who did the wrong, but still of me,
Like Cabbage in a market, critically,
They’ll say: "Not quite as fresh as she should be."[5]

Romantic feelings, mutual exploitation and self-pity become the lot of those who reduce the man-woman relationship to one of anarchic liberty from God’s law.

The Biblical principle of subjection is hierarchical in that there are classes or levels of authority, but this does not mean that all levels are not directly and absolutely liable to God in terms of His law-word. According to St. Paul, "the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body" (Eph. 5:23). On this foundation principle, St. Paul adds, "Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:24). The comment of the Right Rev. Alfred Barry on these verses is of interest here:

(23, 24).... The words "and" and "is" are wrongly inserted, and the word "therefore" is absolutely an error, evading the difficulty of the passage. It should be, He Himself being the Saviour of the Body. But. . . This clause, in which the words "He Himself" are emphatic, notes (as if in comparison) that "Christ" (and He alone) is not only Head, but "Saviour of the Body," i.e., "of His body the Church," not only teaching and ruling it, but by His unity infusing into it the new life of justification and sanctification. Here no husband can be like Him, and therefore none can claim the absolute dependence of faith which is His of right. Accordingly St. Paul adds the word, "but." Though "this is so," yet "still let the wives," etc.

The subjection of the Church of Christ is a free subjection, arising out of faith in His absolute wisdom and goodness, and love for His unspeakable love. Hence we gather (1) that the subordination of the wife is not that of the slave, by compulsion and fear, but one which arises from and preseryes freedom; next (2), that it can exist, or at any rate endure only on condition of superior wisdom and love in the husband thirdly (3), that while it is like the higher subordination in kind it cannot be equally perfect in degree -- while it is real in "everything," it can be absolute in nothing. The antitype is as usual greater than the type.[6]

This thoughtful statement misses the point of the passage in grounding the obedience on love rather than law. The obedience of the wife is not conditional upon the "superior wisdom and goodness and love in the husband"; there is nothing in the law to indicate this. Barry’s interpretation denies in effect that St. Paul’s statement is God’s law-word: it is rather presented as a description by Barry of marital relationships. Lenski is guilty of the same error. He comments, "This is also a voluntary self subjection and not subjugation."[7] Certainly, the subjection of a wife to her husband is not slavery, nor involuntary subjugation. St. Paul is not concerned with the feelings, or the voluntarism of the wife: he is stating God’s law and setting forth its meaning. To discuss law without citing the fact that it is law is certainly strange exegesis. It requires a curious blindness.

What is meant by St. Paul is that the whole universe is one of submission to authority, and that the fulfillment of each and every aspect is to discharge its duties in terms of that submission. It is the place and fulfillment of the wife to be in submission to her husband in all due authority. Even as Christ is the head of the church and the savior of His body, the church, so the authority of the husband is to be exercised toward the health and furthering of his wife and family. Even as the church must submit to Christ, so the wife must submit to her husband "in every thing" (Eph. 5:24). Hodge commented on this phrase:

As verse 22 teaches the nature of the subjection of the wife to her husband, and verse 23 its ground, this verse (24) teaches its extent. She is to be subject . . . in every thing. That is, the subjection is not limited to any one sphere or department of the social life, but extends to all. The wife is not subject as to some things, and independent as to others, but she is subject as to all. This of course does not mean that the authority of the husband is unlimited. It teaches its extent, not its degree. It extends over all departments, but is limited in all; first, by the nature of the relation; and secondly, by the higher authority of God. No superior, whether master, parent, husband or magistrate, can make it obligatory on us to do what God forbids, or not to do what God commands. So long as our allegiance to God is preserved, and obedience to man is made part of our obedience to him, we retain our liberty and our integrity.[8]

In a world without submission to law and to authorities under law, very quickly only lawless force would prevail, and nothing could be more destructive of a woman’s welfare, or a man’s, for that matter. The world of God’s law and God-ordained authorities is our true liberty. It is only when we first establish the primacy of that law and authority that we can, with Barry and Lenski, speak of that voluntary submission to law and authority as man’s happiness and fulfillment. Here the matter is best stated by Ingram, who begins with the law and sees the assent as assent to law:

Public witness to mutual consent and pledges of troth: these are the things that make a marriage.

The integrity of the whole moral argument of the Ten Commandments begins to stand out even more clearly in this. The mystery of making and keeping a pledge of loyalty, a promise, to God, to a spouse; the taking of the name of God in a solemn oath: these are the things upon which the moral law is built. These are the foundations of society. These are the things that are kept alive and in force by the inflicting of penalties for breaking them. Promises, vows, pledges, loyalties all vanish if they are broken with impunity. Society turns on keeping pledges and punishing violations. Credit is an extension of the principle into the business world. The contract is established by a spoken word, and is no better than that word. The bond of loyalty or the effect of a pledge lies in what we might call the spirit world: it has no shape or weight or size; it cannot be touched, seen, or heard. But it controls human life.

What an adulterer really does is to break a particular solemn vow. By his act he tramples upon marriage itself, mocks God and society, and figuratively tosses that particular promise into the trash can, making it of no value.[9]

God makes certain promises and threats to man and society conditional upon the fulfillment or violation of His law-word. Man’s studied disregard of that law-word is an implicit or explicit declaration that man replaces God’s authority with his own, that moral submission is denied in favor of autonomy.

The alternative to submission is exploitation, not freedom, because there is no true freedom in anarchy. The purpose of submission is not to degrade women in marriage, nor to degrade men in society, but to bring to them their best prosperity and peace under God’s order. In a world of authority, the submission of the wife is not in isolation nor in a vacuum. It is set in a context of submission by men to authority; in such a world, men teach the principles of authority to their sons and to their daughters and work to instill in them the responsibilities of authority and obedience. In such a world, inter-dependence and service prevail.

In a world of moral anarchism, there is neither submission to authority nor service, which is a form of submission. A husband and father who uses his authority and his income wisely to further the welfare of the entire family is serving the welfare of all thereby. But in a world which denies submission and authority, every man serves himself only and seeks to exploit all others. Men exploit women, and women exploit men. If the woman ages, she is abandoned. If the man’s income wanes, he is deserted if a better opportunity presents itself. The "jet set" world, and the arena of the theatre, provide us with abundant examples of the fact that the world of anarchism and lawlessness, i.e., the world outside God’s law insofar as submission is concerned, is a world of exploitation, in particular, of sexual exploitation.

Another significant fact appears in St. Paul’s Ephesian declaration: although Scripture repeatedly assumes and cites love as an aspect of a woman’s relationship to her husband, love is not cited here by St. Paul with reference to the wife and her reaction to her husband. The primacy is given to submission by the wife, and love by the husband. The husband’s love, however, is defined as service, and it is compared to the redemptive work of Christ for His Church (Eph. 5:22-29). Thus, the husband’s evidence of love is his wise and loving government of his household, whereas the wife demonstrates her love in submission. In both cases, submission and authority are not by the wishes of the parties involved, but by the law-word of God. Where the submission and authority are premised on God’s law, that submission and authority interpenetrate. The husband submits to Christ and to all due authority, and the wife submits to her husband and thereby furthers his exercise of authority in every realm and becomes her husband’s help-meet in his authority and dominion. The wife normally derives her status from her husband, and to undercut him is to undercut herself.

Similarly, "men ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" (Eph. 5:28, 29). The basis of such a relationship is faith, and obedience by faith to God’s law-word. Authority and law are not essentially physical things but primarily of the spirit; where men recognize the religion and faith which establishes authority, there the physical manifestations of authority are respected. If the religious foundations of authority are broken, then that authority rapidly crumbles and disappears. Thus, very little policing is necessary in India to keep Hindus on a vegetarian diet, since that diet is undergirded by the strictest religious faith, but it would be virtually impossible to impose such a diet on Americans today.

When the Biblical faith which undergirds Western family life is denied, then the nature of the marital relationship is also altered. The humanistic relativism of modern man dissolves the ties between man and woman as far as any objective law and value are concerned and reduces them to purely relative and personal ties. Now a purely personal tie is impersonal in its view of other people. A man whose judgment is governed by his personal considerations only, does not consider the personal considerations of other people, except insofar as they can be used to further his own ends. As a result, an externalism prevails. Thus, the coarse humanist, Thomas More, advocated in Utopia that young people view each other in the nude before deciding to marry. When Sir William Roper praised this aspect of Utopia and asked that it be applied to More’s two daughters, whom he was courting, More took Roper to the bedroom where the two girls were asleep together, "on their backs, their smocks up as high as their armpits. More yanked off the cover, and the girls modestly rolled over. Roper slapped one on her behind, stating, "I have seen both sides; thou art mine."[10] The fact that Roper had a happy marriage does not alter the fact of the basic coarseness of both father and husband. Had not Roper and his wife both had a background of strict Catholic faith, the results would not have been as happy.

The externalism of the anarchist is alien to the hierarchy of authority that is basic to God’s law-order. That authority rests on a doctrine of God, and, with respect to marriage, a central aspect of the meaning of marriage is that it is a type of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:25-32). In Ephesians 3:14, 15, St. Paul speaks of God as the Father of all families in heaven and earth, or, more literally, the "Father of all father-hoods" according to Simpson:

God Himself is the archetype of parentage, faintly adumbrated by human fatherhood. From His creative hand have proceeded all rational beings in all their multiplicity of aspects and manners and usages, divergent or interrelated. To the "Father of Spirits" they owe their existence and the conditions that have stamped it with both an individual and collective impress, an actual or potential scope and orbit.[11]

James Moffatt’s translation renders this passage thus, "For this reason, then, I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name and nature." The name and nature of all earthly relationships is derived from the triune God, so that there is no law, no society, no relationship, no justice, no structure, no design, no meaning apart from God and all these aspects and relationships of society are type of that which exist in the Godhead. Hell has none of these meanings, but bare existence, which is itself God’s creation. For men to deny God is to deny ultimately everything, since all things are from God and testify to Him.

According to Simpson, the typology of marriage and its relationship to Christ and the church has four implications. First, it sets forth the fact of dominion, which is basic to God’s purpose and His kingdom. Second, it has reference to devotion or self-sacrifice. Third, it is in terms of a design, a sovereign purpose and destiny. Fourth, it declares the derivation.[12]

The "one flesh" described by St. Paul does not mean, as Hodge pointed out, an "identity of substance, but community of life."[13] Just as hell is the final and total loss of all community, so true marriage, like every aspect of the godly life, is a realization of a phase of life in community under God. St. Paul, in citing Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, makes clear that he has simply made clear to the Church of Ephesus that which was declared from the beginning. The "great mystery" spoken of by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:32 is, according to Calvin, "that Christ breathes into the church his own life and power."[14] Where this life and power are received faithfully, and each authority, receiving God’s grace directly and also as mediated through all due authorities, discharges its duties of submission and authority faithfully, there God’s kingdom flourishes and abounds. With respect to salvation and God’s providence, Christ is the only mediator between God and man. But God’s grace moves not directly from God to man through Christ, but also through man to man as they discharge their duties under God. What covenant member with godly parents can deny that his parents, by their prayers and their discipline, their love and their teaching, did not reveal God’s grace and law-order to them? The fact that their salvation is entirely the work of God does not alter the reality of the covenantal instruments. That covenantal instruments are instruments in God’s hands must clearly be recognized, but to deny them even that status is to deny God’s order. Pastors, parents, teachers, civil authorities, and all others, as they discharge their duties under God faithfully, mediate from man to man God’s order, justice, law, grace, word, and purpose. Clearly and without any doubt, "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5). Protestantism has rightly upheld the exclusiveness of that mediation, but, it must be added, it has done harm by denying often that there is a mediation between men. A godly state, which applies God’s law-order faithfully and carefully, clearly mediates God’s justice to evil-doers and His care to His own. It is for this reason that Scripture refers to authorities to whom the word of God is given, i.e., who are established as authorities by God’s word, as "gods," because they set forth or mediate an aspect of God’s order (John 10:34, 35). The alternative to mediation is anarchism, nor will it do to quibble at the word "mediation" until the dictionaries are altered.

Every legitimate area of administration is an area of mediation, whereby Christ’s law-order is mediated through church, state, school, family, vocation, and society. To administer is to mediate, because an administrator applies not his own but a higher rule to the situation under his authority. This clearly means a hierarchy of authorities, and the higher rule or standard of all hierarchies as of all men is the Bible, God’s enscriptured word.

What the Biblical doctrine of marriage makes clear is that, in life’s most intimate relationships, the law-order of God not only governs every relation but is the ground of the happiness and prosperity thereof.

That Christ Himself in His incarnation confirmed the necessity of submission and the validity of authority by His own example, the New Testament abundantly testifies. To this fact also a Collect of the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Family gives beautiful witness:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, being subject to Mary and Joseph, didst sanctify home life with unspeakable virtues: grant, that, by the aid of both, we may be taught by the example of Thy Holy Family, and attain to eternal fellowship with it: Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.

1. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, William Pringle Translation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), p.316 f.

2. Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), p.308.

3. W. H. Lewis, Assault on Olympus, The Rise of the House of Gramont between 1604 arid 1678 (New York: Harcourt, Brace’ and Company, 1958), p.151.

4. Mary Carolyn Davies, Marriage Songs (Boston: Harold Vinal, 1923), p.16.

5. Ibid., "They’ll Say-," p.13.

6. Alfred Barry, "Ephesians," in Ellicott, VIII, 52.

7. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1946, 1941), p. 625.

8. Hodge. Ephesians, p. 314 f.

9. T. R. Ingram, The World Under God’s Law, p.84.

10. Aubrey’s Brief Lives (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957), pp.212-214.

11. E. K. Simpson in E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p.79.

12. Ibid., pp.130-134.

13. Hodge, Ephesians, p. 346.

14. Calvin, Galatians and Ephesians, p.326.

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