Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Contrasting Orthodox Judaism & Patriarchy PART I I: The Autonomy of Wives and the Myth of a Sacerdotalistic Interpretation of Ephesians 5

Personal Rights, Autonomy and Accountability of Wives

A Woman's Independence and Marital Rights

I've mentioned my prior experience with the now familiar expression of “Submit to me, Woman” in previous blog posts. This phrase and example, more than any other in my judgment, reflects the servile tendencies that the patriocentric teachings promote with marriage. I've overheard husbands say this thing to wives when I've been on the phone with friends, and my friends have also lamented about how this served as the ultimate “trump” in arguments with their husbands. The submission doctrines of the Shepherding/Discipleship movement and the doctrines of Bill Gothard promote the concept that a husband does not have the duty to submit to his wife (under the New Testament doctrine of submission one to another) – his own flesh through the marriage covenant. When they marry, couples are taught that the husband has no duty to submit to his wife when they disagree so that it is always the role of the wife to acquiesce to her husband's wishes under all circumstances. I believe that this degrades into a type of scapegoating within patriocentric circles which allows husbands to develop servile attitudes towards their wives who are often treated like objects to be possessed.

The submission doctrines of the 1970s and many of the gender teachings that are prevalent today embrace the concept that Christians possess no personal rights. In order to resolve conflicts, in accordance with Philippians 2, Bill Gothard teaches that a Christian must humble themselves and make themselves of no reputation, thereby transferring all personal rights to God. By laying aside all rights in both attitude and in practical considerations, all interpersonal conflicts can likely be resolved. Combined with the authority hierarchy concepts that are central to the patriarchy movement and these submission doctrines, many women become predisposed to a range of unpleasant, miserable and sometimes harmful circumstances within their marriages.

This quote from Lamm promotes a very different concept concerning the rights that Jewish law bestows upon a woman within a marriage for her well being and her protection. According to Lamm, the law guarantees women certain, specified marital rights while mentioning no specific rights for husbands. Jewish law only details a husband's marital responsibilities and assigns absolutely no marital rights to him within the marriage.

From Pgs 155 - 157:

Woman’s Independence

No individual can acquire possessive rights of another individual. Judaism believes in the sacredness and hence independence of the human personality and it acts on that belief. Owning another human being could be a form of slavery. Be’neh Yisreal avadai hem ve’lo avadim le’avadim –“For the children of Israel are My servants, and not servants of servants.” Children are not the servants of their parents, wives are not servants of husbands, nor husbands of wives.

It cannot be overstated that acquisition in marriage is absurdly construed by some to mean ownership of a mate. This is nothing short of calumny. The Torah speaks of woman’s rights (ishut); it says nothing of a man’s rights, only of his obligations. It says nothing of a wife’s obligations, although the Talmudic Sages developed scripturally- implied mutual obligations and rights. Biblically, men had obligations because they had the funds and the power, while women’s influence, though often considerable, was at that time exercised indirectly...

When the Talmud asks whether barter (chalippin) might be used as a mode of acquisition in place of money, the commentators are quick to point out that there was never an assumption that marriage is to be equated with property, and it cannot be construed as another form of kessef.

A Woman's Right to Work!!!

In many camps that embrace the teachings of patriocentricity, women are not permitted to work outside of the home. This has been communicated both formally and informally, and patriocentrics cite many different reasons why women are to remain within and function only within the “sphere of the home,” a concept promoted to be the only “Biblical” way of proper conduct for any and all Christian women. In an effort to promote the very honorable vocation and profession of motherhood, encouraging women to remain at home to care and educate their children, this teaching has been extended to all women under all circumstances to such an extent that if a woman does not comply with these standards, she is said to blaspheme the Word of God.

I found these strong rights that have been traditionally extended towards women under orthodox Judaism to be quite enlightening. If Jewish law would grant a divorce to a working woman who was denied the right to work by her husband, so long as she provides for her family, from what or where did these teachings of the patriocentrics arise or originate? They did not originate from the traditional practice of orthodox Judaism.

From Pgs 157 - 158:
A woman cannot be willingly compelled by her husband to lower her social status or economic level. Furthermore, if she and her husband are living in her mother-in-law’s home and a quarrel develops between the two women, the wife can insist that the couple move out at the pain of compelling him to divorce her.

According to the Torah, the husband also has no legal rights to, or power over, his wife’s personal finances. In every period of Jewish history, including the early patriarchal era and the Middle Ages, the wife had an independent right to property. Technicalities concerning the wife’s property fill many folios of the Talmud. The rabbinic laws concerning use and maintenance of the property were designed for the furtherance of domestic tranquility (she’lom bayit), which they considered superior to all other considerations.

Throughout the history Judaism, women have had the right to work. In fact, during the Middle Ages, Jewish women often earned the major portion of the family budget. They engaged in a wide variety of commercial occupations, especially moneylending, a business often focused upon the Jewish community by the restrictive policy of the State regarding ownership of real estate. Community organizations frequently appointed women as trustees with the right to invest funds at their own discretion. Impeding a wife’s right to work, which is a complicated legal issue, is considered by the Talmud to be legalistic grounds for compelling divorce. Such laws are not actionable outside of Israel today, as no divorce can be compelled by a Jewish court in the Diaspora.

The Rabbis guaranteed a married woman the right to work, but in the name of healthy family unity they decreed that her earnings must go into the family fund, just as her husband’s earnings go to support her and the family. If she relinquishes her husband’s support, she may keep her wages. (The law does not give the husband the opportunity to refuse to support his wife when she works.) For the sake of domestic peace, the Rabbis ruled that there should be a household division of labor; (e.g., if the husband works the wife has to keep house or, if they are wealthy, at least manage the house. The wife, however, can refuse to do housework if she herself works and pays someone else to clean house in her stead).

These legal decisions clearly and unequivocally reflect the ideal of the independence of Jewish women. Rabbi Johanan said, “Thou shalt call Me ishi (my husband) and shalt call me no longer baali (my master)” (Hosea 2:18).

Sex As A Married Wife's Right and A Husband's Duty

When I opened this series of posts considering the writings of Rabbi Lamm, I mentioned how an elder's wife borrowed the book and never returned it. I believe that she did so because the information Lamm communicated about a woman's sexual rights within marriage strongly contradicted the male hegemony that is promoted by the submission teachings of men like Bill Gothard which were relied upon quite heavily in our church. Two of the women with whom I shared Lamm's book had husbands with obsessive and pathological appetites for sex to such a degree that the women expressed great shame and embarrassment, to put it mildly. One husband's obsessions were so great, his means of “physiologically medicating” unpleasant emotional states, that the couple eventually sought counseling for sex addition for the husband and healing for the wife who felt much like a prostitute.

I found the advice shared by that church's leadership deeply disturbing on many levels, as a Christian, a wife and as a nurse. I don't have knowledge of any disciplinary actions taken against any man in sexual sin or those who subjected their wives to physical abuse, however I am well aware of the counsel given to the wives of some of the men. Because of the unbalanced teachings about submission and the denial of rights to subordinate parties viewed unjust suffering as a powerful means of glorifying God, women were encouraged to submit to their husbands (professing Evangelical Christians) and their sexual sins. Men were not denied opportunities to minister in the church and were allowed to serve as deacons and elders while their authorities bore full knowledge of their sinful behavior. Wives received more counseling than the husbands did because submission to this unwise counsel proved so difficult.

Years later, I am still deeply saddened by the memories of these situations. How grateful I am for the knowledge that I had through reading “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage” long before my introduction to my knowledge of these teachings. The question that I asked those wives and the question that I advance here remains the same. If those who support a return to Biblical concepts of family and Scripture through a conservative interpretation of those Scriptures, why can Lamm cite so many examples, including the writings of antiquity from experts on all things traditionally and conservatively Jewish (Maimonides) – the legalists and those who are sanctified through the works of the law – that completely oppose so many of their views about marriage and specifically about women? How can the writings of the legalism under the Old Covenant as interpreted by the legalists of antiquity who follow the Old Covenant grant far more rights, privilege and autonomy to women within marriage than the New Covenant which sets us free from the law under grace through faith alone? According to Lamm, sexual gratification is a right of the wife and not the right of the husband. The husband's duty includes fulfillment of the wife's desires under Jewish law, not the other way around. (Did I miss a chapter in the New Testament wherein a wife's rights were removed under marriage in Christ?)

Pg 136 -139

The Bible conceives of sex within marriage as the woman’s right and the man’s duty. (Until quite recently, the western concept of marital duty was that it is man’s right and a woman’s duty.) The woman’s right is assured by the Bible; she may not waive it, and her husband may not preclude it as a condition of the marriage contract.

Woman’s duty to man is specifically described in the Talmud, though it is not recorded in the Bible. The basic idea of the woman’s right does not originate in an act of kindness, but it is an essential component of marriage. No man may marry a woman and then simply ignore her or her sexual needs. It is remarkable that it has taken western thought so long to come to the conclusion that was evident in ancient biblical times, namely, that women have sexual needs just like men. The Victorian idea that a “lady” has no such feelings is a piece of prudery that never appeared in the long Jewish tradition.

Jewish law goes so far as to state that if either partner to the marriage refuses to participate in conjugal relations, (under certain conditions) that person is considered rebellious (mored) and the other spouse can sue for divorce. The Bible records three fundamental, unqualified rights of the woman in marriage – food clothing and conjugal rights – but only a refusal of the the last dubs the husband a mored. That surely is because onah is the essence of the marriage. Food and clothing can be handled in court, but withdrawal from onah is a functional termination from married life...

Rights and duties must be defined, or they will be ignored as merely sentimental platitudes. While it does seem paradoxical to divine love by law, it is an effective, minimal safeguard that enables love to continue to function satisfactorily in society. Of course, in regard to the frequency of copulation, the law cannot deal in absolute numbers. Raavad says “The onah frequency ordained by the Sages refers to the satisfaction of the individual woman’s desires.” According to Maimonides, it is also relative to the man’s potency and to the nature of his work.

In addition to the normal onah, the husband is expected to respond to his wife’s needs whenever that may be (outside of the menstrual period) and even anticipate her desire (e.g., before leaving on an extended trip)...

The onah experience may not be mere mechanical fulfillment, for as such it does not conform to the biblical requirement to rejoice one’s wife. Rejoicing means satisfying needs, and it signifies a sensitive and caring involvement of the whole person and a genuine sense of intimacy, (kiruv). Therefore, Mainonides teaches that one may not have intercourse without being mindful, sensitive, and alert. “One may not have intercourse while either intoxicated or sluggish or in mourning; nor when [one’s wife] is asleep, nor by overpowering her; but only with her consent and if both are in a happy mood.” The act must be capable of expressing devotion. Thus one may not have intercourse if husband and wife are not committed to one another are thinking of divorce, nor if they quarreled during the daytime and have not resolved it by nightfall. Raavad refers to this as exploitation, using one’s partner as a harlot. One should not perform the conjugal act while imagining some other partner. The physical onah must be expressive of love; otherwise, it is simply animalistic...

Great sensitivity is a basic requirement in the Jewish attitude toward sex. No excuse of superior religiosity on one hand, or of rough-and-tumble masculinity on the other, may justify a less than delicate approach. The Midrash asserts, “The groom may not enter the bridal chamber without the specific permission of the bride” ...

Ramban added a nuance to these requirements. In these obligations of marriage, the husband’s duty is to provide food, clothing and conjugal relations... The reasoning of Ramban is also significant: “A wife is not to be treated as a concubine... The bedroom atmosphere must have honor.”

Sensitive Appreciation of the Sexual Union

Many patriocentric groups such as those that follow Bill Gothard's teachings, the Shepherding/Discipleship movement and the so-called "Biblical patriarchy" movement advise wives that they must submit to all of their husband's sexual demands and timings as their wifely duties within marriage. Expanding upon the previous blog post that discusses the orthodox Jewish understanding that it is actually the woman who holds this right within marriage, note what Lamm states about the active and willing participation of both parties within intimate relations within marriage. Wives within the patriarchy movement are encouraged and counseled to "endure" their husband's sexual desires, even if they are repulsed or caused physical discomfort as an act of service and worship unto God. According to Lamm, this is not the case in orthodox Judaism and was never the case, as "onah" (sexual intimacy when procreation is not an issue or goal) must always be an intimate encounter wherein both parties participate very willingly and with full willingness and interest.

From Pg 119

But if not, I will take the letters of My name from them, so that they will revert to esh and esh, fire consuming fire.” Hence with God and a partner, marriage is a blessing, ish and ishah. Without God, it can become esh, an inferno where man and woman devour each other.

Pg 140 - 141

The fire that transformed Adam into ish with the creation of the divine component of marriage reverses when only bodies unite...

The physical act must be sensitively appreciated. The Halakhah understood this crucial matter and provided for the widest latitude and the fullest expression, with the constant qualification that the act retain the potential for reproduction and that there be total consent and an abiding sense of human dignity. The law comprehends the human need for variety in the conjugal act, but it has only disgust for the pe’ritzut, the obscenities of the Playboy ethic. The Talmud makes bold decisions on these matters, and Rabbi Huna even advised his own daughter in the method of conjugal relations with the goal of keeping awareness alive.

From Pg 124:

It is not good for human beings to be in pairs but still so alone. Therefore, a man shall cleave to his wife and they shall be “one flesh” – she shall be exclusively intimate with him and he with her. Elsewhere, Raavad continues: “Therefore, ‘it is proper that a man should love his wife as he loves his own being, and respect her more than he does his own self,’ and be compassionate with her, and watch over her as a person would watch over one of his own limbs; and she should love him, for she was take from his side. That is why the Creator commanded man regarding his wife that he should never diminish that which is her due – namely, food, clothing, shelter – in addition to the marital relations which must include joy and intimacy.”

Thus a physical relationship alone is animalistic. Human beings also need intimacy, an exclusive, warm, personal relationship of care and concern. As there is a “oneness of flesh,” there must also be a oneness of soul.

Consequences of a Husband Compelling His Wife Into Intimacy Against Her Desire

From Pgs 138 -141:

When conjugal relations are the result of compulsion, sexual intimacy is robbed of its essential holiness. It makes the blending of bodies and personalities inhumane. True, the tradition does counsel the spouse to yield if at all possible, but if that does not occur, the Halakhah has no tolerance. It is nothing less than “domestic rape.” The Talmud says, “He who coerces his wife will produce unworthy children.” The Rabbis go so far as to say that in such ugly exploitation of his wife, a man is considered morally, though not legally, to have cohabited with a harlot and to have produced a child who is akin to a mamzer. [mamzer: conception resulting from fornication]

Maimonides declares, “You must not have relations with her against her will. In such relations, because they are not done with great desire, love and willingness, the Divine Presence does not rest; for your intents are different and the mind of your wife does not coincide with our mind. You must not fight with her or beat her in regard to conjugal relations” ...

The use of sex as a weapon by a manipulating mate is a desecration. Indeed, the negative phrasing of the duty of onah implies this rejection of its misuse: lo yigra (a man may not diminish her onah) ke’dei le’tzaarah (in order to pain her)...

The sexual aspect of marriage does not fall under the shadow of sin or shame, and this is evinced in many statements in Jewish literature. The beauty, character, and even the health of children is held to be influenced by the nature of the act. The act itself, ideally, should not be perfunctory and dutiful, but as fresh as the first union on the wedding night... Being religious means fulfilling the goals of the Torah, it does not mean being “more religious” than one’s neighbor. “Do not be overly-righteous,” Ecclesiastes says. Judaism is not Puritanism.

Men Are Not Intercessory Priests For Their Wives

A Man Does Not Answer For The Sins Of His Wife: She Is Her Own Moral Agent and Her Own Possession

One of the most disturbing things that I’ve heard in recent years is this whole idea that men somehow atone for their sins of their wives or will somehow answer for his wife’s shortcomings before God. I believed that this odd belief was just confined within the so-called “Biblical patriarchy” movement and patriocentricity, but when I lectured at a Southern Baptist Seminary a few months ago, I had several young men approach me to explain why I believed that they would not stand before God to give an account for their wives’ actions when they themselves one day stand before God to give an account of their lives. I never dreamed that anyone outside of this aberrant, spiritually abusive belief system would embrace such an idea. One can even easily find an example of this at Homeschooling Today Magazine concerning the editor and his wife. The editor declares that his responsibilities include “sanctifying his wife.”

I cannot believe that any professing Evangelical Protestant Christian could hold to such a belief! A husband certainly has a sacred duty to his wife -- to love her as he loves his own flesh, even to lay down his own life for her care -- but an unholy man cannot sanctify himself, let alone another being. To suggest this rejects the saving power of Jesus Christ by grace through faith and promotes a return to the law and works for ongoing sanctification for the Christian. It also inserts a mediator into a woman’s relationship with God and denies that she has access to the Throne of Grace through the Blood of the Lamb alone by requiring the intervention of a man. I find this concept sub-Christian if not pagan. It is certainly not Reformed Christianity.

These views are touted to be a concept of the supposed “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” and are promoted (presumably) to be supported by Scripture. I found this quote from Lamm’s book to be quite enlightening, because this idea clearly did NOT arise from the practice of orthodox Judaism.

Pg 156-157

The wife cannot remotely be considered the property of her husband. The husband never had the power of compulsion over his wife, as was true of English law until the end of the nineteenth century. In Jewish law, the husband is not responsible for his wife’s crimes or her sins. Except when she is involved in irrational behavior or starkly immoral displays, the husband had no right to interfere in her life. Similarly, the particular heinousness of adultery is not that it is an invasion of the husband’s private property; it is a sin against God that threatens the whole structure of the family and society.

Indeed Maimonides writes that “If a woman says: ‘My husband is objectionable to me, I cannot live with him, “ we compel him to divorce her forthwith, for she is not a captive to be compelled to intimacy with one she hates.” Rabbenu Tam, of twelfth-century France, and Rosh, of thirteenth-century Germany, two leading authorities, disagree because they fear this kind of reasoning may come to be used indiscriminately as an excuse for obtaining a divorce. However, we may infer that if it were humanly possible to be certain of the genuineness of the objection in each case, it would constitute grounds for a compelling divorce.

A married woman is considered legally and actually to be in her own possession. In reference to different subjects in the laws of marriage, two medieval authorities make pointed statements.

Rashba: “The woman’s person is not acquired by the husband and this marriage ceremony is not a property transaction.”

Ramban: “She has never been the property of her husband and is in her own possession.”

Christ As Our Sanctification: The Meaning of Ephesians 5:22 - 32

In previous posts in the blog series, I've provided quotes from Rabbi Lamm's book demonstrating many beliefs and practices in traditional, orthodox Judaism that actually contrast if not denounce many of the submission doctrines taught by Bill Gothard, the Shepherding/Discipleship movement (Christian Growth Ministries, New Wine Magazine, Sovereign Grace Ministries, etc.) and the so-called “Biblical patriarchy movement.”

From Lamm's writing, we established the following:
  • God sets Israel apart from other peoples and nations through His law.
    (Note: Jews first abide by the Torah, but Moses ben Maimon, otherwise known as Maimonides, recorded the Mishnah Torah to clarify the practice of Jewish law according to oral tradition.)

  • Man complies with God's law through works in order to set himself apart (sanctify himself) unto God as an act of service and worship.

  • No one can be spiritually purified through God's law. Sins can be remitted and covered, but only through the shedding of blood. (Exodus, chapters 29 & 30)

  • God sanctifies (“sets apart”) sex through marriage. By sending His Law to Moses, God “set apart” marriage from concubinage. Marriage then became a transcendent act which distinguished Israel from other peoples and nations, because prior to His law, marriage was only a common law arrangement.

  • A woman is set apart as the exclusive wife of one man through marriage. She is not owned by her father prior to marriage, and her legal status is “potentially available to all men” and “ownerless.” Marriage therefore sanctifies or “sets apart” a woman for one man, and the groom is in no way considered to be a moral or spiritual intermediary for his bride under Jewish law. When a groom marries his bride, he is not setting her apart unto God and conferring any salvation to her in any sense.

  • So long as there are no impediments under Jewish law, a father does not participate in the arrangement of his daughter's marriage. The law does not even require his participation in the “chuppah” or nuptial ceremony. The father may participate by offering the dowry, but even in the ceremony itself, it is the daughter who presents the dowry to her husband (Lamm, pg 201).

  • Though a husband “acquires” a wife, Judaism repudiates the concept that a woman is property. The language of “acquire” imparts a legal status to marriage and was used for this reason, not to reduce woman to an object or property. Judaism finds this concept of a woman as property to be repugnant.

  • A wife retains her rights and independence under Jewish law, including rights to wealth, property and the right to work. As long as her family and home are well-provided for, she may even keep all of her own money if she agrees to not live off of her husband's wealth. She may obtain a divorce if her husband prevents her from employment or if he demands that she lower her socio-economic status.

  • Jewish law grants a wife the right to sex, and it is the duty of the husband to satisfy his wife's sexual needs, not vice versa. The wife is granted rights in marriage, but the husband is granted no rights but only responsibilities.

  • A wife answers for her own moral behavior, independent of her husband. For this reason, God deals with Adam and Eve separately when he confronts them in their individual sins in the Genesis account, holding each accountable for their own sin separately. Adam was not questioned about Eve's behavior, but only for his own. Eve did not need a mediator before God, and Adam did not act as such when God confronted her directly. A husband is not considered to be the moral agent or representative of his wife or her moral keeper. (This is apart from fiduciary obligations, as by law he must provide for her as part of her marital rights and his marital obligations.) The Jewish law does not hold a husband accountable for his wife's moral impropriety or behavior because she always retains her own, independent, full legal and moral status.

In the previous post, I discussed Paul's status as a Jew with advanced, expert knowledge of Jewish law through his training as a Pharisee. The Torah and the Hebrew language were still significant to the practice of Christianity because Jesus came first to offer salvation to the Jew by fulfilling the law, the Old Testament. As an expert in the Hebrew language, Paul also would have considered that the audience to whom he addressed his epistle when he wrote to the church at Ephesus would have understood Hebrew language and tradition concerning both sanctification and marriage.

From Page 151:

Rabbi David Abudarham, a medieval liturgical commentator, said, “When we recite in our prayers ‘God who sanctified us,’ we may interpret it ‘God who married us,’” for the Hebrew root of both “sanctified” and “married” is k-d-sh.

Paul knew well that the words “sanctified” and “married” were closely related in Hebrew and that they did derive from the same root of “k-d-sh.” But what was his purpose? His audience understood the significance as he did, and I believe that Paul considered this significance with design an purpose. Paul often uses advanced Greek literary devices in his writing, but his meaning conveys with a quite simple reference to the similarities in the words here. Paul is highlighting the difference between Christ and the Jewish law here, not teaching that husbands are spiritual intermediaries or governors for their wives. By referencing sanctification, he is explaining how Christ fulfills not only the law but even the “k-d-sh” through his sacrifice which allows us union with God through him and his “marrying” of us. He literally became the fulfillment of the word “k-d-sh” in every way, by both sanctifying us and marrying us. The promise of the word “k-d-sh” holds an analogy and a foreshadowing of Christ Himself and is almost like the proto evangelian with a promise of sanctification woven within it!
Prior to Christ, the law sanctified sex through marriage. As marriage transcended concubinage through the law, so does Christ. Christ fulfilled the law and gave us a superior covenant wherein our sins are not only covered or remitted but they are imputed unto Christ himself so that we actually receive His own holiness. He does what the law cannot – the law merely sets us apart but Christ actually becomes our sanctification. The imagery of marriage holds a powerful message of how Christ sanctifies us.

Consider this section from Ephesians 5 (NKJV):

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,

27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

This passage which starts out discussing different aspects of our actions and works as a function of our “walk” in the Lord speaks of God as our origin (our head) through Christ. Our Savior sanctifies us spiritually and sets us apart for Him and for no other, just as a husband does in marriage. Looking to Christ's sacrificial love for us, husbands are to follow His example in love and care of their wives. Wives are to submit unto their husbands as unto the Lord. But there is no language here that says that a husband becomes an intercessor for his wife, and it certainly appears nowhere else in the New Testament.

This passage compares the spiritual example in Christ as our sanctification – impossible for man through works and outside of Christ – through the analogy and imagery of the marriage of husbands and wives. Marriage is found in the likeness of Christ and His relationship to the church, not vice versa. Following the analogy of being, the creator's example far supersedes and exists on a superior level than the imagery that we have been given here through earthly marriage. Marriage is the analogy and imagery that Paul uses to clarify our understanding of sanctification in Christ, contrasting it with marriage under the law with Christ's sanctification of the Church, His Bride. The mandate to husband to love their wives concludes with the statement then shifts subjects to that of the Christ and the church. He compares them but does not indicate in any way that they are identical. Paul goes on to describe the example of Christ, BUT then returns in verse 28 to further clarify his meaning for husbands. It does not include language that explains that a husband is his wife's spiritual intercessor.

Paul does not say “Husbands, sanctify your wives by washing her with the Word to present her to Me or to the Father.” Paul only tells husbands to love their wives deeply, offering the example of the depth of Christ's love for the church. The admonishment to husbands in verse 25 and the description of Christ's example of love for the church does not conclude with verse 27. Paul goes on to specifically explain how a husband should love his wife and what he means by “even as Christ loved the church” in verse 28 -29:

28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

After these two verses which clarify “what it looks like” and means for a husband to love his wife as Christ loves His bride, Paul shifts back to the comparison of similarities with Christ and the church. Again, verses 28 and 29 include nothing signifying that a husband endeavors to make his wife holy before God, only to love her as if she was a part of his own body. The church is so united with Christ through His love and sacrifice (the spiritual sanctification of us through His flesh and not through the law) that it is greater than that of even the mysterious intimacy of husband and wife as one flesh.

Ephesians 5: 30 - 32:

30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Anyone who teaches that a husband is an intermediary for his wife in terms of her spiritual salvation or her spiritual sanctification preaches a different Gospel and seeks to set husbands up as demi-gods. If Judaism maintained this, we would expect to find it defined and detailed somewhere in Jewish law or in the marriage ceremony, but we do not. We see the opposite in traditional, orthodox Judaism: that woman is independent from her husband in a moral and spiritual sense. Jesus would have required that the women who approached Him bring a man with them to interact with Him on the woman's behalf, but that is far from the Gospel accounts. Women approached Jesus directly and he approached them and dealt with them directly, an activity that was seen as scandalous in the culture of His day. There are also no Scriptures in either the Old or the New Testament that teach us that husbands are the moral agents, advocates or intercessors for their wives. Numbers 30, which the patriocentrist camps claim describe such a salvific role for husbands, in reality speaks of a fiduciary responsibility for juvenile daughters and wives, specifically distinguishing them from women of age. If it were necessary for husbands to work sanctification into the lives of their wives, then this language would be clear and very present in other areas of Scripture. One would at least expect to find language supportive of this in Judaism, but the opposite is true.

To take Ephesians 5 and ascribe to it the meaning that man affects the holiness of any other person, a creature who, on his own, has no ability to gain right standing and holiness before God outside of union with Christ, amounts to usurping Christ as our Savior by replacing Him with a demi-god -- a lesser god with no sanctifying or salvific power in himself. Husbands are not spiritual intermediaries or moral agents for their wives, but all come to Christ with their own sins upon their head only to account for those sins on their own. They are fully culpable for their own sins and not the sins of another. To claim that a man can work to affect holiness through actions advocates salvation by works. Roman Catholic Theology claims the opus operatum wherein works can impart grace to the inward man without faith, just by performing a sacrament. Salvation and grace come through works and need not require faith at all. Roman Catholic Theology also maintains that an earthly priest must participate in sacraments, standing in the place of Christ and serving as an intermediary for an individual follower to receive the salvific benefit of the sacrament. Thus, one could say that the idea that a husband works or governs or participates to spiritually sanctify his wife is doubly Roman Catholic. Rome believes that the priest is the necessary mediatory in the sacraments (what a Protestant believes to be standing in the place of Christ), but Rome does not teach that the wife needs two mediators, her husband and her priest.

Anyone who claims that a husband is a spiritual intercessor for his wife cannot, by definition, be Reformed by denying salvation by faith alone, both through the saving power of works and through a sacerdotal intermediary. This is closer to a Roman Catholic Theology but actually supersedes Catholicism's belief and theology. We have no savior but Christ alone, by grace alone and through faith alone. Paul wrote no special addendum to Ephesians 2:8-9, stating that it applies only to men and offering special instruction to women. Paul does not even say this in Ephesians 5. Read it and consider the tradition of works-based Judaism that denies it as well.

Copyrighted material quoted here
under fair use for educational purposes from
“The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage”
by Maurice Lamm. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1980

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