God created man and woman as equal in status and worth, as joint bearers of the image of God (Gen 1:27). God also desired that man and woman live together in harmony, and with this in view he made them as the counterparts of each other. As husband and wife they were partners in a marriage relation where each was equipped to complement the other. Within this equality of status there was a difference of functions (Gen 2:21-25).

The need for regulations

Since the husband was given the role of originator of offspring, he bore the ultimate responsibility for the family (1 Cor 11:3,8-9; see also FAMILY; WIFE). But when sin entered the world, the husband was tempted to misuse his position and treat his wife as if she were his slave rather than his equal (Gen 3:16). On account of this, the law of Moses introduced regulations that guaranteed the rights of the wife and protected her from exploitation by her husband. If a husband accused his wife of unfaithfulness, his accusation was not accepted without careful examination (Num 5:11-31). If an accusation was found to be false, the husband was punished (Deut 22:13-19). Husbands were in the habit of divorcing their wives for the most insignificant reasons, until Moses introduced a law to protect the wives (Deut 24:1-4; see DIVORCE). If a man took one of his female slaves and made her a wife or concubine, he had to give her the full rights of a wife. He could not make her a slave again if he later grew tired of her (Exod 21:7-11; see CONCUBINE). When a man wished to marry a woman taken captive in war, he had to give her special consideration and care because of the new way of life she was being introduced to. If later she did not please him, he could not make her a slave again, but had to allow her to go free (Deut 21:10-14).

The Christian way

Teaching given to Christians in the New Testament has helped to restore the rights of the wife so that she might enjoy the equality with her husband that God intended from the beginning (Gal 3:28; 1 Peter 3:7). Both husband and wife have rights, but they also have obligations to each other. One cannot do without the other (1 Cor 7:3-4; 11:11-12; cf. Acts 18:2-3,26). In their different roles, the wife must accept the husband’s ultimate headship, and the husband must sacrifice himself for the sake of the wife. The husband has no authority to force his wife to follow some course of action merely because it pleases him. On the contrary he must treat her with special consideration and give her respect (Eph 5:23-25; Col 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). The self-sacrificing love that the husband should exercise towards the wife is the same as that which Christ has exercised towards the church (Eph 5:25-31; see also MARRIAGE).

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