So unto the man is woman,
Though she bends him, she obeys him,
Though she draws him, yet she follows,
Useless each without the other!" (Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha)
The relationship between a man and a woman in marriage is a complex one. Unfortunately, some try to simplify it by taking one passage of scripture and leaving the rest alone. Rather than simplifying things, this skews them into something unrecognizable.
When talking about marriage, some men will automatically go to Paul’s advice to women in the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. What Paul says is true, but incomplete.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Eph 5:22)
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (Col 3:18)
Peter gives the same advice, but with an explanation. “Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” (1 Pet 3:1)
Now some honest people will acknowledge that Paul continues, “Husbands love your wives,” which contains certain obligations. The husband is not to be abusive or overbearing. He is not to treat the wife as a slave.
Paul had his reasons for presenting the relationship in this way. He was teaching the chain of command in the church. Nevertheless, in some ways the way Paul presented it creates a false dichotomy.
In another place Paul demands silence from the woman. He traces his argument back to the creation.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. (1 Tim 2:12-14)
Paul’s argument is valid and just when it comes to teaching and authority in the church. In a broader sense, though, harking back to the creation should bring out another aspect of man/woman relations.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. (Gen 2:20-22)
Almost every translation modifies the word helper with the word meet or suitable. God did not create woman to be subservient to man. He created her to be a suitable helper. God’s command to subdue the earth was made to both male and female. (Gen 1:28) Man was not to subdue woman, but to work with her as an equal. They are to become “one flesh.” (Gen 2:24)
Paul himself acknowledges this coequal relationship. One must not try to hold what he says to the Corinthians in opposition to his comments to the Ephesians and Colossians, but understand each in its context. “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. (1 Cor 11:11-12)
There are, necessarily, certain definitions of roles between men and women. The genders will never be totally equal in certain respects. However, a marriage is between two people that are suitable to each other. Their roles complete each other. In so doing they make not only one flesh, but one entity, under God.