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Q. Some patriarchal Christians say that they own they wives (the majority), some say that their wives own themselves, and others say that Christ owns both without them owning each other at all. Can you tell me the biblical doctrine on this?
A lot of smoke has been generated by such questions as these but very little heat, with the driving force behind such questions being unredeemed passion rather than truth. I was recently attacked publically over this issue though my assailant never bothered to actually find out what I actually believed (that's called "bearing false witness" and is a violation of the 9th Commandment).
Before I answer your question I need to clarify exactly what assumption that HEM basis its theology upon because every theology is shaped by certain assumptions, even if it is hormones (testosterone or oestrogen - depending whether you are male or female), a non-biblical philosophical system (such as feminism or evolution), or liberalism ('the scriptures are not equally reliable for the establishment of doctrine'). The entire HEM system revolves around the dominant picture of New Testament thought, namely, the Mystical Marriage of the Messiah (MMM) or the relationship of Christ to the Church (Messianic Community), the Uniplural (Echad) Body of Believers or Saints. Our own human model of marriage is ultimately derived from this, most especially in the New Covenant because, as we know, the Old Covenant forms were incomplete and therefore defective to a certain extent. What this means in practice is that whenever we at HEM answer questions about marriage - and in particular the relationship between husband and wives - we always have in the back of our minds the allegorical marriage of the Messiah to His People. The ultimate relationship is based on a picture of an ideal human marriage. Therefore the perfect human marriage is the nearest picture we are going to get our own relationship to the Son of Elohim (God) in the eternities.
But, some people ask, is it legitimate for humans to make comparisons between the Heavenly Allegorical Marriage and human ones? Is it not true (they argue) that Christ is perfect whereas (for example) human husbands are not? And by extension (they insist), is it not wrong - nay, even blasphemous - for a husband to view himself in a kind of 'christ rôle' in his relationship to his wife simple because he, being mortal, can never attain such a stature as that of Christ and is liable, therefore, to create an idolatrous relationship with his wife or wives by puffing himself up as something he isn't?
Of course man is not Christ. We all know that. However, to argue that the relationship between a husband and a wife should not be the of the same pattern as that between Christ and the Church (Messianic Community) is fallacious on several grounds:
Obviously I, a finite man, cannot possible have the kind of intimate relationship that the resurrected Yah'shua (Jesus) has with vast multitudes. As I write this (2003), I have three wives. Maybe in the future I will have as many as seven wives. I will consider it an achievement if I can love 7 or so wives with the same kind of fervour and cherishing as Christ loves billions. That, then, would be my perfection - my ability to love as He does within my own human capacity. To say that I should not attempt to imitate Him in my marriage relationship because He is divine and I am human is, to my way of thinking, a red herring. Only an idiot would presume to be able to love on such a divine scale. But to suggest that I not should love those within my care to the same degree that Christ loves His billions does, in my view, fly in the face of Scripture, not because I am Christ but because Christ lives within me, maximising my human potential to the full, and thus allows me to love as He does. If I am able to surrender myself completely to Him (as is my goal) so that He can live fully in me and allow me to love those who are my wives in the way that He loves the whole cosmos, then obviously I am not able to live perfectly, and His Word becomes null and void. For it is written:
- 1. We are to live our lives, and form relationships with one another, on the basis of imitation - imitating the way Christ lived;
- 2. We are commanded by Yah'shua (Jesus) to be perfect in the same way that our Father in Heaven, Yahweh, is perfect, taking that imitation to the ultimate; and
- 3. We are to imitate Christ's relationship to the Church (Messianic Community) within the boundaries that are possible for us - Christ is allegorically married to billions of poeple whereas a man is not supposed to be married to more than a few (average 7) wives at a time.
"Therefore you shall be perfect (Aram. gmiyra), just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48, NKJV; cp. Genesis 17:1; 1 Kings 8:61; Psalm 101:2-6)
The argument levelled against the goal to be perfect in Christ (note, not on our own, because that is impossible) is the same argument levelled by those who say we are not to live Torah any more. Both say that we are sinners and so therefore (by implication) we should stop bothering to raise our standards. Their argument is that (as John says) if any man claims to be without sin he is a liar (1 John 1:10). Indeed. That is so. But what is the goal (and by extension, if Yahweh gives a goal to human beings, is such a goal unattainable? ... consider your answer carefully)? What state ought we to be in? Consider what the same author (John) wrote:
In other words, ceasing to sin is not only possible but a commandment. We are to stop sinning! And if Yahweh says we can stop sinning, then obviously we can - otherwise He is a liar. John writes further:
"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1, NKJV).
I often wonder what the spiritual agenda of those who quote 1 John 1:10 is when they consistently fail to quote the same apostle in 1 John 3:5-6? The answer is simple: they are lawless. And who is it who promotes lawlessness?
"Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness (Torahlessness), and sin is lawlessness (Torahlessness). And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him" (1 John 3:4-6, NKJV).
The truth is that we are all sinners. But the truth is also that we are called to be sinless through Christ (not in our own strength or power) so that we can be like Him. The truth is that until we are in that condition we neither see nor know Yah'shua (Jesus)! Does that rest uncomfortably with you? It ought to - and it ought to impell you and I to fall upon our knees and beg Yah'shua (Jesus) to burn the last sin and unrighteousness out of us through faith and obedience to Torah so that we shall no longer be deceived by the craftiness of men and women who - knowingly and unknowingly - are twisting the scriptures to make them mean what their carnal nature wants them to believe.
"And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord/Master will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless (Torahless) one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, NKJV).
Do husbands own their wives? Well, let us see what Scripture says. But before we can answer that definitively, we have to understand that there are two relationships between saved man and our Saviour-God Yahweh:
This then is the two-tier relationship that believers can have with Elohim (God):
"And it shall be, in that day,"
"That you will call Me 'My Husband,'
And no longer call Me 'My Master,'
For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals,
And they shall be remembered by their name no more.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely.
"I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know Yahweh"
(Hosea 2:16-20, NKJV).
Please remember the context of this passage: it describes the relationship between Yahweh and Israel.
- 1. Master to Slave;
- 2. Husband to Wife
Now, does this not sound familiar to us? Is there not a certain ring in our ears when we consider a parallel relationship with Yah'shua (Jesus)? It ought to, for He says:
What, then, do we see here? We see, in fact, the same relationship that exists between Israel and Yahweh exist between believers and Yah'shua (Jesus). Therefore as believers we may have one of two relationships with Yah'shua (Jesus):
"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:9-16, NKJV).
How do believers attain the higher of these two relationships? By loving as Christ loved. What is the evidence that He loves? By His obedience to Torah - to the commandments. What is the evidence that we love Christ? By our obedience too. In short, we are to imitate Him ... yet again.
- 1. Master to Slave (Servant);
- 2. Husband (Friend) to Wife (Friend).
They say that a child becomes like its parents not by hearing what its parents teach but by observing what its parents do. If we are to becomke like Christ, and therefore perfect, we must imitate what He did. We are to copy His obedience to Torah and thus prove our love for Him.
If there are two relationships that man can have with Yahweh, and two relationships that man can have with Christ, then it follows that there are two relationships husband and wife can have with each other - one is a slave relationship and the other is a friend relationship. The latter relationship, as Hosea said, is an eternal relationship, for Yahweh says that he will betroth Israel "forever". But not only that - Yahweh says that the relationship will be one of intimate knowing - Israel will understand Yahweh! Read the passage in Hosea again and you will see.
As a polygamist I have been married many times. In two of the marriages (2003) my wives know me almost completely. In another, she knows me quite well. In another I was understood a little. And in one I was not known at all. One might say that there is a 'scale of knowing' from complete ignorance to complete understanding. It is the same in our relationship with Elohim (God).
There are those who claim to be Christians/Messianics, and who may even be zealous in their works for Him, who do not know Him at all. Is that possible? Are you surprised? If you have never understood this truth before, now surely is the time!
What we teach and what we do - how we think, and how we feel - how we treat others, is a good measure of whether we are in Him or not. Obviously simply going through the motions of obedience is not enough. Our faith and love must first of all be genuine love and faith. And that goes for our relationship with Yahweh as much as it does in our marriage relationships.
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord/Master, Lord/Master,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord/Master, Lord/Master, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matt.7:21-23, NKJV).
You asked me if husbands own their wives, and it is a big question, so I will ask you some questions in return:
I am sure you can think of many, many other parallel questions. Hopefully, though, these alone will give you cause for some deep thought and meditation.
- 1. Does Yahweh own Israel?
- 2. Does Yah'shua (Jesus) own the Church (Messianic Community)?
- 3. What is the basis of such ownership - is it slavery or betrothal, servitute or friendship?
- 4. If we are friends of Christ, does He yet remain our Master, or does He become something else?
- 5. Is there more than one type of Servant-Master relationship?
- 6. When we become Yah'shua's (Jesus') friends through love and obedience, do we become equals?
- 7. Does being a slave of Christ mean that I don't have a mind of my own?
- 8. Does being a friend of Christ mean I can stop obeying Him?
"As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your Elohim (God) rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5, NIV).
Again, I ask you these questions:
Does a husband own his wife? We'll let Yahweh tell us that in His own words:
- 1. Under what conditions does a bridegroom rejoice over his bride?
- 2. Under what conditions does Yahweh rejoice over Israel?
How, then, does He own or possess her? He is in relationship with her. She knows him. She obeys him. She loves him. She submits to him. She reveres him. And when she does these things, she is betrothed to him forever.
"He that has (owns/possesses/is in relationship with - Gk. echón) the Bride is the Bridegroom" (John 3:29).
There is a sense in which he owns her 'legally' and that ownership extends for the period of his or her life on earth. That ownership is a contract of possession and was the boundary of the Law of Moses as far as marriage was concerned. But it is not spiritual. Spiritual ownership is contingent upon obedience, love, virtue, holiness, etc.. At the same time, the bridegroom cannot 'own' her until he is himself first 'owned' by Christ! There are therefore two kinds of ownership of the bride:
The first without the latter is a kind of death for there is no life in it. The latter without the former is a fake/counterfeit (lawless). The real marriage - the real relationship consists - of them both.
- 1. Temporal (legal) ownership (life-long) - slave/servant
- 2. Eternal (spiritual) ownership (forever) - friend/wife
Yah'shua (Jesus) talks of these two types of arrangement in a parable, one which most of you will be familiar with - the parable of the labourers. One set of workers (those who came early) entered into a fixed contract for their wages. Those who came later entered into no contract but simply trusted the master to pay them fairly. He paid both the same wages even though the former had worked longer. And you will remember there was much complaining by the first labourers. Yah'shua (Jesus) said that the issue was not the wages but the fairness of the master and his freedom to pay what he wanted to since there was no agreement other than for them to trust him.
Now the carnal man will see this as unfair but the fact is the first labourers did not trust the master and negociated a contract. They got what they negociated. What the master paid the second group of workers was therefore none of their business. Do you see the difference in the two types of relationship? One was based on mistrust, the other on trust. One was a "servant-master" relationship and the other was based on friendship. And so it is in marriages - there will always be two types.
This is another large subject but one I wanted to broach today. There are people out there from the first kind of marriage complaining about the second one. They resent the fact that some wives consider themselves the property of their husbands but don't understand the basis of the ownership because they have set boundaries and imposed it on their own marriages. We see this in the contractual arrangement of Old Covenant marriages and in the fixed-time 'visiting rights' of plural wives - these are like the first labourers. In the second there is no contract, just trust that the husband will see his wives right and be just and fair.
We can never truly know Christ until we have cast ourselves at His feet without expectations and trust Him to see us right. The same is true in marriage. Depending (of course) on the type of husband (for not all are willing to do that in their relationship with Christ) there will always be wives who will want to 'negociate rights' and those who will simply cast thmselves at the feet of their husbands and trust their men to see them right.
So do I own my wives? Yes I do. Do I own them in different ways? Yes, indeed. Which are the relationships which are the deepest and most satisfying for both husband and wives? The second kind - always.
BUT - and it's a big BUT - there are always abusive men - men who do not deserve such a relationship, who cannot in truth sacrificially love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Messianic Community) - who should not under any circumstances be in polygamy and who cannot demand of their wives what they are not in their turn willing to give to Christ in righteousness (for there will always be the misguided fanatics who think they are surrendering to Christ but who are in truth led by 'another Gospel' and 'another spirit'). So there are many 'conditions', as it were - many caveats. Relationships are complex things and not as black-and-white as people would like them to be. Women who find themselves bound to ungoldly men should probably seek a contractual arrangement for their own safety.
Finally, detractors from biblical marriage accuse men who own their wives of taking away their freedom to think and act. And no doubt there are many men who do indeed turn their wives into thoughtless, blindly obedient chattels. If we want to know the right way for a husband to possess His wife then all we have to do is look at the MMM model. Does Yah'shua (Jesus) own or possess us? Yes He does. Does that take away our freedom to think and act? The answer to that is 'yes' and 'no'. In placing ourselves under his authority we bind ourselves to His commandments - that means we voluntarily relinquish the right to say we can break His commandments. When a wife places herself under her husband's authority, she is likewise relinquishing certain freedoms for the blessings of the relationship. But do we, as slaves/servants of Christ, under His authority, have all our freedom taken away? Are we not allowed to search and discover truth for ourselves? Of course. And so should a wife have similar freedoms.
A godly husband will wish his wife to search and discover truth for herself as one who possesses her own mind, heart and will-power; but like us in our relationship to Christ, there are boundaries. Thus if a wife comes up to me and says: 'I have decided thay my children and I will observe a Friday sabbath as the Moslems do when I have decreed for my family that we shall observe a Luni-Solar Sabbath, and have proven the biblical gound for it, then I shall forbid her from doing so. For not only will she be taking our children out from under my authority, but she will also be presenting herself as my teacher and exerting a kind of matriarchal authority.
Yahweh does not judge us in our ignorance and, as we know, "winks" at us sometimes, extending grace and mercy. A husband is in no different a position towards his wives as Christ is towards us. Before I married any woman I would make quite sure that we were in agreement in all the essential doctrines of the faith in order to preclude the kind of disruptive and unpleasant scenearios I have presented. Indeed, I will not marry a woman walking in a different spiritual direction to the family as a whole. I always reason (Isaiah 1:18) and prove matters from the scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:21) with my wives before any changes are made in family life and seek to obtain their agreement first. A new wife is expected to be in agreement with the way the family pursues its spiritual life before she joins. Thus again employing time to get to know and teach a prospective wife is vitally important.
This does not mean that all discussion ends once marriage vows have been entered into. It does mean, however, that a wife should remember her positioning under her husband and broach subjects where she is in disagreement with him with patience and right attitide. Husbands should no more gratify a nagging wife than Yahweh gratifies us when we make demands of Him in a wrong spirit. There is a right way and a wrong way to do even that which is right.
Where you have a marriage of intimate knowing and deep friendship and love, the flow between husband and wives is natural and free. That mode of being cannot be attained overnight, however. Our friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) comes first and foremost through learning obedience as servants first. Trust is not something that can be demanded but must be earned. That is why in HEM marriages all new wives begin as 'servant-wives', just as new believers must first learn to be Deacons and Deaconesses (shammashim) or servants of the Body doing the most menial tasks before being qualified to be Elders or Pastors. And a husband, who has not first learned to be a servant himself, cannot possibly fulfil the rôle of a husband in a presidential position. That is why we at HEM are always deeply suspicious of 'solo-Christians' who have no attachment to a local church or assembly and have no experience of proper service to a body of believers. Typically they appoint themselves to some high office without ever having served as a shammash (deacon). Needless to say such men often have an inflated sense of their own importance and can (unless humbled) evolve into petty dictators.
There are, therefore, many issues surrounding the ownership of wives by husbands, not least the ownership of the husband by Christ, and so there are no convenient or trite answers for nascent dictatorial men or feminist-inspired patriarchy-hating women whose agendas are not goodness and love but unrighteous dominion. Both can be clever manipulators of the language of righteousness and so believers must ever be on the alert for them. There are many wolves in sheep's clothing - both men and women - whom we must be on the alert for.
Finally, let me suggest another angle to this question which will, I believe, shed even more light on interpersonal relationships in the Gospel. As we have seen, Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
or as the NIV puts it:
This was said by John the Baptist in response to a question by his own disciples for by this time Yah'shua (Jesus) was "baptising and everyone [wa]s going to Him" (v.26). In the marriage allegory John the Baptist is "the friend of the bridegroom" or what we would call 'best man' today.
We see here that the Bridegroom is identified by His ownership of the Bride, meaning the disciples. The fact that they were going to Him was proof that "a man can only receive what is given to him from heaven" (v.27) just as a man's wives belong to him and to nobody else. I learned only the other day that Hebrew women were always baptised or immersed in water before being betrothed and that this ritual symbolised the end of her life as a single woman and her rebirth into her husband's life. The parallel is astonishing for we, who are cut off from Yahweh, become connected to Him through His Son through symbolic baptism by which we indicate our willingness to forsake our old way of life to become the Messiah's allegorical wives.
That washing away of the old is complete. Old ways, habits, patterns of living, goals, etc., all become subtended to that of our Lord/Master or of our husband. Marriage is not the fusion of two equals with different agendas which by necogiation become by a dialectic redesigned into a new agenda. The wife is returning home to the husband and into his life BUT she had better be sure it is her husband! For a wife who submits to a man who is not her husband will know it by the by and both will be most unhappy.
"He who has the Bride is the Bridegroom". The Bridegroom is identified by the Bride! True, John the Baptist still had followers after his death whom the apostles discovered on their evangelisting tours as recorded in Acts, but these did not know of the Messiah. They submitted to Christ's baptism (in addition to John's) and received another Bride, the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)! What was it that Yah'shua (Jesus) had received in the River Jordan when Yahweh identified His Son to the Baptiser?
He who has the Bride is the Bridegroom! The Bride of Yahweh came to the Messiah and identified Him as "Yah(weh) saves" - Yah'shua (Jesus) - the instrument of our Heavenly Father's Salvation. This same Spirit is later called the "Comforter", who proceeds from the Father, who teaches all things, who brings all Yah'shua's (Jesus') sayings to remembrance, who testifies of Christ, who is known as the Spirit of Truth, who comes only to the disciples after Christ has gone away and become invisible (John 14:25; 15:25; 16:7). This is the Bride of Yahweh possessed of the Messiah and which identifies Him as Messiah. And all those who are filled with this Comforter are the allegorical Bride of Christ!
"And Yochanan (John) bore witness and said, I saw the Ruach (Spirit) that was descending from heaven as a dove, and She restied upon Him. And I did not know Him, but He [Yahweh] who sent me to immerse (baptise) with water said to me, Upon Him whom you see the Ruach (Spirit) descend and abide, this is the one who will immerse with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)" (John 1:32-33, from the original Aramaic).