Pick on someone your own size

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In response to a mortifying podcast on patriarchal abuse, from certain former Ref21 bloggers, let me just say a word or two about the very stupid idea that husbands can beat their wives.

I knew someone once who told me (quite unashamedly) that he did this, on the alleged basis that the Bible encourages it. Ephesians says marriage is like the relationship between Christ and the church, he told me. And since Christ disciplines the church, ergo he should physically discipline his wife, especially when she was displeasing and disobedient to him.

Apart from being just an inherently distasteful and distressing thought, as well as utterly ungodly and lacking in any kind of holy self-awareness, this spurious justification for violence brutally rips a beautiful analogy out of its context to invert its purpose by cack-handedly applying it inappropriately elsewhere. Ephesians 5 does say marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. But Paul then defines the parameters of what he means by the comparison. He uses it to talk about what self-sacrificial love looks like in service of the weaker sex, not how self-gratifying Machtgelüst can be satisfied within holy matrimony. To miss that is simply illiterate. 

Martin Luther (whose affection for his own wife is well-known) puts it well, in his own bullish and ironic style:
And others will say: "Should I be agreeable to a woman and put up with her disagreeable ways? I want to be feared by her and to rule with authority, in order that she may realize that I am a man." You will surely gain great praise if you crush the weak vessel and burden your conscience with excessive bitterness toward a sister and joint heir of the kingdom of God, one who is in the same fellowship of Baptism, of all the kindnesses of God, and of the entire church. Consider what a wife is and who you are. Or if you want to fight, why do you not fight with someone who is your equal? What praise are you going to get from it if you vent your rage on a weak vessel? This is surely unbecoming to any human being, much more to a Christian. Therefore I strongly detest those men who are full of courage toward women and, as the saying goes, are lions at home and rabbits outside the home.
- Luther, Works (American edition), volume 5 page 33, commenting on Genesis 26:8.
He also says (on the previous page) that "a husband should conduct himself in a friendly and gentle manner toward his wife, not only in the bedroom but also in public. He should not be capricious, irascible, and surly; for examples of dissensions and offenses are easy to see and cause great displeasure." I pass over what he says a few pages later about "those who practice shameful and execrable things with their wives in their bedrooms." His advice on that is very different to that of a certain, now infamous, New York Times bestseller.

Suffice to say, spousal abuse is cowardly and vile. So, consider how displeasing it is to God and everyone else, before church discipline sees you justifiably excommunicated and the police get involved.

If you know someone who is struggling in these areas, or if you are, remember that secrecy is the oxygen of a bully. Please talk to someone and get it out in the open.


Dr Gatiss is impressed that the Reformers thought a lot about how marriage works relationally, and has always been challenged when listening to Calvin preaching on Ephesians 5.

Posted October 20, 2014 @ 9:36 AM by Lee Gatiss
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