The Blessed Marriage (TBB)

The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.

Today we’re going to talk about mawage. More specifically, The Bwessed Mawage!

But wait…maybe I’m not taking this seriously enough. Doug Phillips, after all, takes it plenty seriously:

Pray that [your future wife] loves God, but more than that, you gotta pray that she has your vision, and the two of you will share a unified vision for life. You two are gonna spend the rest of your life together, and marriage can either be a little taste of heaven or it can be a taste of the other place. And that’s the problem for most people today.

Phillips cuts to the chase fairly quickly and outlines what he believes are the two problems facing most marriages today: first, a lack of vision for the purpose and meaning of marriage; and second, a discomfort with accepting the roles God has given us.

The purpose of marriage

Phillips’ first claim is that marriage is “normative” in the Bible:

But did you know that marriage is the normative estate and it’s specifically a state that God commands you to prepare for? – with two exceptions. If you’re a eunuch – that’s a Biblical category – and you cannot consummate a marriage; or secondarily, if you have a spiritual gift of celibacy, 1 Corinthians 7. Those are the only exceptions and in the Bible, the entire weight of Scripture, which we’re gonna look at, is on preparing for marriage, ‘cause marriage is normative, marriage is blessed, marriage is the first institution.

Crucial to Phillips’ argument is his previous statement that Paul’s positive statements about singleness 1 Corinthians 7 are limited to a specific situation. According to Phillips, they are not timeless statements that singleness is the preferable (though not required) state for Christians, but instructions to the Corinthians to temporarily forego marriage because of intense persecution. Phillips claims that if it were otherwise, Paul would be contradicting himself because of 1 Timothy 5:14:

Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

In the KJV (the translation Phillips uses), the word “women” is used instead of “widows,” which Phillips uses to make it seem as though this verse applies to all women. The immediate context, however, makes it abundantly clear that Paul is talking only about young widows, and that his instructions here are intended to keep them from making (and breaking) rash vows of celibacy.

Phillips bases his view of Paul’s statements on singleness on 1 Cor. 7:26:

I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress – that it is good for a man to remain as he is…

I don’t think Phillips’ view is entirely without merit. However, there seems to me to be more at play here than he wants to admit. Paul makes two interesting statements in this chapter (emphasis mine):

Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. … But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. (1 Cor. 7:1-2, 6-7)

Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose that this is good because of the present distress – that it is good for a man to remain as he is… But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. (1 Cor. 7:25-26, 28)

Paul states that both his instructions to marry and his high view of singleness are not commands from God. Interestingly, only the second of these statements is immediately connected to the “present distress.” The first is surrounded by universal instructions (1 Cor. 7:1-9), so I see no reason not to take it as a timeless statement. Phillips, after all, would take everything surrounding it (marry if you cannot control yourself, love your wife, etc.) as timeless and binding; so why should the phrase “not as a commandment” be temporally restricted? Granted, it is true that most people will not be able to control themselves; Paul acknowledges this in v. 7. But even while making that acknowledgement he still refuses to call his instructions to marry a command (v. 6). Phillips, however, apparently feels quite comfortable painting marriage as mandatory for most of the human race (emphasis mine):

But did you know that marriage is the normative estate and it’s specifically a state that God commands you to prepare for?

Lest there be quibbling about whether “normative” means “mandatory,” here’s a sampling of dictionary definitions of “normative”:

Of, relating to, or determining norms or standards; conforming to or based on norms; prescribing norms. [1]

Of or pertaining to a norm, especially an assumed norm regarded as the standard of correctness in behavior, speech, writing, etc. [2]

Relating to rules, or making people obey rules, especially rules of behavior. [3]

Establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm, especially of behavior. [4]

“Normative” means, essentially, “the standard,” “the rule,” etc. Phillips is thus claiming that marriage is God’s “standard” for most people. There’s a word for when we do not measure up to God’s standards: “sin.” Of course, Phillips doesn’t come right out and say that those who are unmarried but not gifted for celibacy are sinning – but it is at least heavily implied in his language. This should be concerning in light of the fact that Paul, despite Phillips’ protestations, never commanded marriage for anybody.

Phillips goes on to explore what he thinks are qualifications for marriage and how we prepare our children to get married. He first claims that young people today are immature:

…if we were a Christian culture, what we would be seeing is young people raised to youthful maturity. That’s the way it was in the past. That’s why we believe Mary was so young.

Throughout the discussion that follows, it is made clear that maturity is defined as “ready to marry.” This raises some questions for me. Does Phillips think all people who remain single, or do not want to marry for whatever reason, are automatically immature? And since scholars generally agree that Mary was twelve or thirteen years old at the time of her engagement to Joseph, just how young is young?

Phillips states later in the lecture that he is not against young marriage, he is against young marriage “done wrong.” He seems to define “young” as age 16 or 17. So since he would clearly be pleased if everyone “did it right,” it seems safe to assume that he would be fine with a majority of youth marrying at this age as long as it was “done right.” Per his claim that this is the historical norm, records actually indicate that most women (at least in America) married after age 20.[5][6] If he is referring to Biblical times, it is true that most Jewish girls were betrothed around age 12 or 13[7] – but I doubt Phillips wants to suggest that we marry off our 13-year-olds.

Men and women’s roles in marriage

Harold_Copping_The_suitorPhillips moves on from here to actually discussing his qualifications for marriage in detail. He focuses mainly on men and lists four things a mature, eligible man (or youth, given his earlier statements) must be prepared to do when he marries – serve as a family priest; embrace spiritual leadership; protect his home both physically and spiritually; and parent children. Let’s break each of these down.

We already discussed the idea that men are “priests of their home” or “family priests” last week. In a marriage where both spouses are Christians, the husband and wife are both “priests” (1 Peter 2:9). Also, in the Bible men are never referred to as “priests” of their homes; in fact the only explicit example of a “household priest” is decidedly negative and connected with pagan worship in the disorderly period of the judges (Judges 17).

The second qualification (husband as spiritual leader), on its own, isn’t nearly as problematic as the first, but here it’s inextricably bound up with Phillips’ idea of the husband as “family priest.” This goes much deeper than dads doing Bible study with their kids and leading family devotions. As such, even many complementarians would disagree with Phillips’ particular interpretation of the husband’s headship.

Phillips makes a statement about the third qualification that I find troubling:

Whenever you’re the head, it means you have responsibility. With authority comes responsibility. Part of your authority is to be a protector. That’s why the Bible says in Genesis 18 that Abraham was a covering over Sarah.

Here is the passage Phillips referenced (actually Genesis 20, emphasis mine):

Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, “See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.” Thus she was rebuked. Genesis 20:14-16

The footnote at the bolded phrase in v. 16 reads “literally ‘it is a covering of the eyes for you,’” and the verse is actually translated as such in the KJV. Most translations (such as the NKJV above) seem to take this strange phrase to be a figurative expression, indicating that Sarah has been publicly exonerated of all guilt in the uncomfortable situation related in the rest of Genesis 20.[8] To wring a doctrine about husbands being “covenantal heads” of their families out of this odd, obscure verse seems unwarranted to me.

Some of the earlier themes in the lecture resurface in the fourth qualification. Phillips claims that only men who are ready to be fathers should marry. He then references Malachi 2:15 (also quoted two weeks ago by Scott Brown) and implies that, according to this verse, it is “treachery” to prevent children inside of a marriage. This only makes me wonder even more if Phillips thinks single people are automatically immature (since he considers readiness to produce and parent children an essential part of maturity and many single people do not want children). Also, the verse immediately following Malachi 2:15 seems to define the “treachery” mentioned as divorce, not a failure to have children – though there are numerous translation issues with this section of Malachi[9], so I would be leery of advancing any interpretation as rock solid.

Also, let’s return for a moment to an earlier topic. Phillips claims to believe that some people have a “spiritual gift of celibacy,” but where is the practical outworking of this in his child training recommendations? He says nothing about how (or even if) parents should determine if their child has this gift, only that children need to be prepared for marriage. But if all children are to be trained for marriage, what happened to the gift of celibacy? It doesn’t appear to be acknowledged in any way. Frankly, given that Phillips related a story of how he prayed with his three-year-old daughter that God would send her a Christian husband so she could “have lots of babies like Mommy,” I have to wonder if it is even mentioned as a legitimate option.

So much for the male qualifications for marriage. What about the ladies? Phillips mostly defines female virtues in negative terms, i.e. the opposite of the male qualifications. Men are supposed to lead; women are not. Men can work outside the home; women are supposed to be “keepers at home.” This is pretty standard fare for anyone even remotely familiar with patriarchal theology, so I’d just like to zoom in on one particular facet of Phillips’ reasoning in this section.

Phillips makes much of the phrase “keepers at home” in Titus 2:5 and uses it as a jumping-off point to go on a prolonged tangent about the evils of the modern workplace. He claims that it violates God’s will for a wife to serve “multiple authorities” (i.e., her husband at home and her male boss at the office), and that this works against happy marriages by fostering an “independent spirit” in the wife and tempting men to form emotional bonds with women who are not their wives. He even goes so far as to claim that women cannot have their own “missions in life” separate from men (whatever “mission” is supposed to mean – in any case, you can kiss feminism goodbye).

Aside from the fact that Phillips’ verbiage here implies that husbands cannot or should not serve their wives (which they are commanded to do in multiple places[10][11][12][13]), I think Phillips’ conclusion here is faulty on its face. If married women cannot “serve multiple authorities,” what are we to do with the married female slave? In Phillips’ view, wives are commanded to submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22-24, but slaves are commanded to obey their masters in Ephesians 6:5-8. So does a married female slave submit to her husband, or her master? According to Phillips, she cannot do both. So in this situation, which of God’s commands would Phillips have this woman disobey?

Before we close, I’d just like to draw attention to a phrase Phillips used several times over the course of the lecture: “joint dominion work.” He sometimes shortened it to just “dominion work,” but the effect is the same:

One man, one woman, called for one life purpose, the woman following the husband in a dominion work for God. How does it work in our civilization? One man, one woman, two life purposes, two directions, questioning leadership, no visionary dominion-oriented goals in life, and what you have is utter chaos.

It’s well-documented that Phillips has ties to many key figures in Christian Reconstructionism, a theology in which the word “dominion” is central:

Christian Reconstructionists often cite [Genesis 1:26-28] as a proof text for the “dominion mandate,” also called the “dominion covenant.” Christian Reconstructionist Gary North, the son-in-law of R. J. Rushdoony who is considered the founder of the movement … states: “This is why Genesis 1:26-28 is truly a covenant: it establishes the basis of the relationship between God and man … Man is actually defined by God in terms of this dominion covenant, or what is sometimes called the cultural mandate. This covenant governs all four God-mandated human governments: individual, family, church and civil.” The range of dominion, then, includes dominion over other humans and human institutions. Reconstructionists contend that Adam lost this dominion when he sinned. … This shows the idea that certain humans (here Christians) are to have dominion and that this dominion extends over other humans.[10]

The fact that “dominion” features so prominently in Phillips’ ideas about marriage is yet another sign that Reconstructionism colors his thought at almost every level (see also the first article in this series). Since “dominion” in Reconstructionism entails Christians ruling not only creation, but also other humans, simply because they are Christians, this ought to give us much pause.

And in light of that, I’m unsure that Phillips’ vision of “mawage” is quite as “bwessed” as he seems to think. So much for “a dweam within a dweam”…

5 comments on “The Blessed Marriage (TBB)

  1. Jeff S says:

    I’m enjoying this series very much Hester- thank you for your insights and writings on these subjects.

    I actually think that whole portion of 1 Cor 7 should be viewed withon a context of persecution. It explains the otherwise terrible advice to marry if people cannot control themselves. Someone asked me what I would do if I found out my son (when he is 18, which is a long way off) was having premarital sex. I know what I wouldn’t do- shame him into getting married. Getting married just to have sex is such a horrible reason- you are making a life decision to solve a temporary desire. But if you consider persecution- well then Paul makes a lot more sense. Say my son were going off to war to fight for his country and he met the girl of his dreams. Would it be wise for him to marry? Would it distract him from his mission and create additional hardship? I think it would be best in that situation not to marry, but if he did I would understand it and he would have my blessing.

    But aside from all of that, the scripture is pretty clear that marriage is not a requirement. Jesus was way more concerned with individuals- so much so that he said he came to divide families. I just don’t see how you can take a religion that was founded in the life of a single man with its greatest missionary being a single man, and say that marriage is such an elevated part of it. It’s nothing short of idolatry the way these folks talk about marriage.

    • Hester says:

      The persecution thing is an interesting point. I had somehow never picked up on that in 1 Cor. 7 before so when Doug brought it up I was actually intrigued. The image he used was that he couldn’t stand to have to watch his wife and children be thrown to the lions. So I think there are valid points on both sides, though as usual Doug takes it way too far. I hope I reflected that balance in the article.

      Funny you should bring up your son going off to war, because a similar situation is brought up in Deuteronomy. Granted, in this scenario the young man’s already married, but your comment made me think of it.

      When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken. Deuteronomy 24:5

      • Jeff S says:

        Just to be clear, I am no Bible scholar and I haven’t investigated the passage that deeply, so I could be way off. It just how I’ve made sense of something which not only sounds weird to me, but also seems contrary to Paul’s other writing. I think in most cases he seems to be encouraging toward marriage, but not the way these VF guys are.

      • Jeff S says:

        And yes, I thin your treatment was fair and balanced 🙂

  2. […] the first header), and women who work outside the home have more than one “authority” (see here under the last header).  (Note that Phillips doesn’t address Paul’s other requirements, which […]

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