Opinions about a woman's role in marriageabound. Around the world the spectrum runs from viewing women as abject chattel to infallible matriarchs. Even within American society, attitudes about the position of women in marriage vary greatly. Men and women alike seem uncertain or confused about this issue.
This perplexity is reflected in everyday language. Until recently, the proper way to address married couples was "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith." This format is still the manner in which couples are introduced in official settings, or in which envelopes are addressed for formal occasions. However, in informal situations "John and Jane Smith" is no longer a predictable nomenclature.
It is now common for married couples to be addressed as "Jane and John Smith" or "John and Jane Smith-Jones" or "Jane and John Jones-Smith" or "John Smith and Jane Jones." There are instances where the groom forfeits his own family name and takes his bride's. I am aware of at least one situation where the bride wanted to change her name upon marriage, but did not want to take her groom's name. Therefore, he had his family name legally changed to a neutral selection.
Of course, there is undoubtedly a host of reasons for this assortment of addresses. Friends and family members who have known a bride all of their lives, or for a significant amount of time before meeting the groom, may recognize the couple as "Jane and John." There may be a cultural or ethnic basis for combining two last names into one with a hyphen. However, for many modern brides the choice of address comes out of a confused understanding of a woman's role in marriage and of marriage itself.
Many women today believe that when they join their lives with a man they will somehow be lost. They fear their identity will be swallowed up in the "Mr. and Mrs." Others see the listing of a husband's name first as a definitive statement about the importance of the two parties. They do not want to play second fiddle, subjecting their every need and desire to that of an overlord.
Indeed questions of value and worth, importance and dominance keep many couples from entering into a marital union. Not surprisingly, this confusion is expressed in the way people are addressed, or wish to be addressed. Throughout Scripture we are made abundantly aware of the connection between someone's name and his or her role, personality or significance. It is when we move away from this foundation that misunderstandings begin.
God calls us to submit our opinions, views, and beliefs to the truth of Scripture in every area of life. The Bible is the standard against which we are to measure every thought, word, and deed. This precept is no less true in the area of marriage than in other spiritual domains. The first book of God's Holy Word is a good place to begin to build a proper view of the marital union.
In the Beginning
In Genesis we learn that God spoke and, ex nihilo, out of nothing, all the elements of Creation came into being. The crowning piece of this miracle of His power came on the sixth day when He created Man in His own image. Genesis 1:27 tells us that "male and female he created them." Genesis 2 gives us more details about the specific process whereby Adam was created, being formed from dust and receiving the breath of life.
God then placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and assigned him to work and take care of it. At this point we are told that God decided that it was not good for Adam to be alone and that He would make a helper suitable for him. This word is repeated a few verses later when we are told that no suitable helper was found for Adam among the beasts and birds. Genesis tells us that God put Adam to sleep and took one of his ribs from which to fashion this helper.
Eve was brought to Adam who pronounced her "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" and "called her woman." It is out of this Creation relationship that marriage is defined (Gen. 2:24). There is a special physical connection that underlies the husband and wife union. However, there is also a deep functional and practical aspect to the design of the marriage relationship reflected in the word used to describe the purpose for Eve's creation.
The word we read in English as helper is translated from the Hebrew word ezer. This word is used 21 times in the Old Testament to mean either help or helper. In virtually every instance, ezer represents divine assistance and most often refers to the work of Christ. Psalms 121 and 124 are prime examples of this usage.
Psalm 121 opens with the psalmist's question, "where does my help (ezer) come from" and the response that "My help (ezer) comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth." The following verses describe the breadth and depth of the Lord's eternal care. Psalm 124 calls out praise to the Lord for His deliverance from fearful and powerful enemies. The psalmist makes clear Israel's sure destruction without the Lord's intervention. In closing, he proclaims, "Our help (ezer) is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Being an Ezer
Someone described as a helper in the world today is seen as an underling, a less qualified or valuable person. The integrity of Christ's divine assistance flies in the face of this view. Through His willingness to be our helper (ezer), Christ elevates the ezer role. His taking on of the ezer position defines it as a calling of honor.
The work of Christ as an ezer is magnificent and manifold. It includes care and creativity, sacrifice and service. A woman who truly understands the relevance of His example to her call as a wife can spend every one of her earthly days actively expressing fealty to her King. She need not be confused about her value or worth nor concerned about a loss of identity or importance.
Adam, and then Eve, his ezer, is the model passed down by the parents from whom all mankind descends. It provides an anchor for modern man. A woman need not insist on being addressed as "Jane and John" nor "Mrs. Smith-Jones" to maintain her personhood. Her identity is wrapped up with that of her Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. She can be all He intends her to be as "Mrs. John Smith."
The Scriptural standard for a woman's role in marriage is neither ambiguous nor pedantic. It is based in the Creation story outlined in God's infallible and wholly relevant Word. There are more principles concerning marriage provided throughout the Old and New Testaments. Nevertheless, they all spring from and must therefore be understood in light of the truths of Genesis.
- Sandra A. Lovelace
Sandra is an award winning author who has contributed to a number of Christian publications. She and Curt, her husband of 34 years, raised and homeschooled two daughters and dote on their grandchildren.