Most of us know what the Bible says about marriage, right? There’s some talk of a of a working mother/wife and her quest to “have it all,” a few lines about wives submitting to their husbands, and a few confusing images that demand that women be both sultry and virginal.
Stuff that totally doesn’t apply to relationships today at all, right?
Religious or not, a lot of our so-called ideals of marriage and what it means to be a worthy woman and wife, in general, stem from deep-rooted beliefs in the Bible. But thanks to Rachel Held Evans and a little book she called A Year of Biblical Womanhood, some of those surprising “truths” about marriage have been exposed to be untrue after all.
1. That famous Proverbs Woman wasn’t even real.
The standard for women “having it all” has its Biblical origins in a woman referenced in Proverbs 31. There are websites and even free printables dedicated to helping women imitate this original wonder woman.
So who was she, you ask? Well, the wife described in Proverbs 31 is a woman who gets up at the butt crack of dawn, runs a business, makes great financial choices, cooks, does all the grocery shopping (exotic foods only), manages a fine household, works out, has a great sense of humor, dresses everyone in the family so they look nice, invests in her marriage, is beautiful but not too vain, and excels at crafts (making bed covers is her specialty).
Hmmm, now why does this woman sound so familiar? Oh, yes, she’s the modern Pinterest-worthy wife of our time. But there’s just one problem — according to Evans, she was the stuff of a literal legend back then, just like the modern “have it all” wife is today.
2. That whole wives-must-submit-to-their-husbands thing is a bunch of bunk.
So, so much talk about marriage, from a Christian perspective, has its origins in references from the Bible that demand that a woman “submit to her husband in all things.” Even in non-Christian marriages, it seems like this little gem has wormed its way into our brains: A husband is supposed to be “head” of the household.
Evan points to the literal meaning of the Hebrew words used to describe Eve as having been created to serve and “help” Adam. According to Evan, the words did not in any way mean that she was somehow “beneath” or inferior to him — but actually translated into something that would mean a fitting equal in today’s language. From her website: “In Genesis 2, ezer is combined with the word kenegdo to mean something like “a helper of the same nature,” or a corresponding character.”
And it also turns out that the famous Biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands was actually also comparing wives to slaves, so unless you’re cool with slavery, taking that line literally just won’t fly.
3. And the same goes for the fact that women in general are lesser beings than men.
There are all kinds of Biblical references to the fact that women must never try to be superior to a man, not just in marriage, but in leadership as well, like 1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
But most Biblical scholars will tell you that some of the letters by Paul weren’t actually written by Paul. In fact it has been argued some were added much later to try to keep women in their place. In “Jesus, Interrupted,” New Testament expert Bart Ehrman says the original disciple Paul openly embraced female leaders in the earliest Christian churches.
4. Polygamy is totally the Biblical rule.
Think that Kody guy and his multiple wives are totally cray-cray? Think again. The majority of the men in the Bible had several wives. How else do you think they were going to go forth and multiply? But don’t worry, the Bible also makes it clear that if a man takes another wife, he must certainly not neglect his first wife of food or clothes. ‘Cuz that would just be cruel.
5. It’s actually not a wife’s responsibility to “prevent” her husband from cheating.
There have been some pretty messed-up justifications from Christians for husbands to argue that it’s “Biblical” for a wife to keep her man happy by always looking good and being available in the sack, but contrary to this popular belief, says Evans, the Bible actually extols the virtues of merit, inner strength and honor, instead of any outside beauty.
6. The Bible has some really beautiful things to say about love.
I love how Evan is clear in her book that although there are some pretty disturbing things in the Bible (marital rape, beatings, and forced slavery come to mind) and though Christians tend to pick and choose what to believe from it — it’s still not all scary and confusing. There are some pretty intensely romantic lines in the Bible on love: like in the Jewish culture, when husbands actually sing the praises of their wives on the Sabbath, praising her as a woman over whatever meal they have on the table that night.
Or, the fact that there is a pretty juicy poem in the Bible when a woman talks about her own erotic desires, initiating some action for her man to enjoy the “choice garden of her fruit.”
In summary, what have we learned? That the Bible at once teaches that marital rape is OK, and that some dude many moons ago tried to keep women quiet by writing a fake letter to tell them to submit. But also that women are awesome and beautiful and wives should totally go for what they want in the bedroom.
Or, in other words, even in the Bible, marriage can be totally confusing, frustrating, and yet wonderful.
Sounds about right to me.
Image via j&j brusie photography