The one time "authority" is used to describe marriage relationships

Conservative Christians love to obsess over who has the authority in a marriage between a man and a woman. They'll tell you about Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. They'll talk about headship and wives submitting and the metaphor of Christ and the church.

But entirely none of those passages talk about leadership, decision-making, or authority.

The Greek word for authority is used all of one time in reference to marriage relationships.

It's in 1 Corinthians 7. Now, before I read this passage, you need to remember that these letters were often read out loud to a public assembly. It would be common for different parts of the crowd to also respond out loud to different parts of the letter. Every letter you read in the New Testament is a work of rhetoric. They are written carefully to elicit an emotional (and therefore practical) response from the crowd.

So here is 1 Corinthians 7, starting in verse 3. We don't have time in this video to talk about the first 2 verses, but suffice it to say that there is a form of sexual asceticism happening in the church of Corinth; meaning that people are becoming so spiritual that they even married couples are being told to avoid sex.

So here's what Paul says:

Verse 3 (CEB): The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs,

Now you can stop here and imagine the women in the room cheering. We can read between the lines and see a possible sexless movement happening in Corinth that is depriving wives of sexual activity. Paul says, no, that's not what husbands need to be doing.

Then Paul says,

"and the wife should do the same for her husband." Again, perhaps some women were in on this no-sex-club, and Paul is also saying no to that.

Then verse 4: The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does.

You can imagine some men cheering. Paul is holding up the cultural party line. Women are property, tweet them as such.

But keep reading.

Likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

Here, Paul breaks with his culture and says something that no one had said before. When a man and woman become husband and wife, they enter into an agreement in which they belong to one another. Even their bodies belong to one another. It is total and complete mutuality and equality.

And it is the one time that the word authority comes up in the New Testament when talking about male-female married relationships. The only time that authority comes up is an assertion of male and female equality—it is not a hierarchy.

Any attempts for men to assert hierarchy over women goes against Scripture. And any attempt for a husband to demand obligation sex from their wife is a form of abuse and a gross twisting of Scripture.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC