People always talk about a Biblical marriage, but what do they really mean by it? Far too often they quote one verse from Ephesians Ch 5 as if it defines a Biblical Marriage. Or they refer to a certain well known modern book. They suggest that men must simply love their wives and women must respect their husbands. The reality is that both men and women need love AND respect.
A few years ago, a Christian Bishop said in an interview that there was no such thing as marital rape. He indicated that this belief comes from the Bible. I wrote the following in answer to his claim, and below I have included 35 quotes that are helpful for a truly Biblical Marriage, with my comments after each one. (Scroll down to skip straight to the quotes.)
Disclaimer: Please note, I am not by any means saying that all people who believe in a Biblical marriage believe that there is no such thing as marital rape. Nor am I saying that couples who both agree to submission of spouses to one another are living in an abusive relationship.
Talking about a Biblical Marriage
Those who deny the existence of marital rape give the impression that a man can take a woman’s body whenever he feels like it, and that she has no choice in the matter. After living in four countries and attending church services while visiting 30 countries, I believe that the overwhelming majority of thinking Christians in the world disagree with those views on “marital rape”.
When we speak out as Christians, especially with the authority of clergy, people will listen to us and take our advice. Men who wish to simply use their wives for their own pleasure justify their actions on the basis that marriage is supposed to involve sex. Their wives will accept bad treatment from them because they have been indoctrinated to believe it is their duty as Christian wives. This bears little resemblance to marriage as a relationship. In fact, it sounds more like the opposite of marriage.
As Christians we represent more than ourselves, our individual church or even our denomination. When we speak out as a Christian, viewers/readers/listeners take us to represent all of Christianity, however inaccurate or unfair that may be. Because of the judgemental words and bad attitude of some Christians, haters of Christianity feel justified in their indignation.
The bishop spoke about “getting sex” as if it were just a matter of obtaining an orgasm, regardless of the spouse’s feelings. Sexual Intercourse within the context of Christian Marriage is a gift for procreation, a means of mutual pleasure and most importantly, a physical communication of love as well as a spiritual connection. It is not a question of “getting sex”, rather it should be “giving sex”, since a gift can never be taken, but can only be given.
Intercourse is indeed a gift of self and it is all about building a relationship of trust and intimacy, which is why the phrase “making love” exists. It could equally be called “creating connection”. It is a process developed over time, not an immediate gratification of men’s desires.
Sexual relations should start with eye contact, conversation, non-sexual affection, as well as kissing and other touching. If these are not present first, and if there is no friendship between a couple, then the man should not expect the woman to be enthusiastic about having intercourse with him.
What A Biblical Marriage does not Include
A Biblical marriage does not include a man forcing himself upon his wife or bullying her into having sex with him.
Consider these scenarios:
- a young virgin, nervous of sex,
- an exhausted new mother,
- a wife who has felt ignored for a decade by her successful husband,
- a menopausal woman who feels depressed and disconnected,
- a good Christian woman whose husband drinks and fools around with other women,
- a grandmother who has run out of energy because she is too busy to look after her own fitness,
- an old lady who just wants to go to sleep, but whose husband has taken viagra and has become wild as a result.
These are just some of the examples where a man might force himself on his wife against her will. These are the kind of situations where non-consensual sex is correctly called rape. It does not have to be violent to be called rape.
So What is a Biblical Marriage?
In the Bishop’s interview, he stated that the Bible says that “It’s a non-issue.” So, let us take a look at the Bible. In fact, The Bible does not mention marital rape specifically. However, below is what I found that the Bible does say about marriage as well as other good general advice that can help us with a Biblical Marriage:
Old Testament Quotes
Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
If they are one flesh, they are to treat each other’s flesh with as much respect and care that they use for their own flesh. If a man does not relish the thought of a larger man raping him, he should respect his wife’s wish not to be overpowered to gratify his sexual desires.
Exodus 20:14: Thou shalt not commit adultery
If a man is committing adultery and this is the reason his wife does not want to have sexual relations with him, it is him who is in the wrong, not her, and she has the right to withhold her body until he is being faithful. The same goes the other way round too.
Leviticus 18: If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.
This shows that there are times when the couple can abstain from sexual relations, and that they are both responsible to choose when they come together, not just the man.
Numbers: This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best…
This verse shows that women have choices and even in Biblical times are not just chattels.
Deuteronomy 14: But if it happens that you are no longer pleased with her, let her go wherever she wants. You must never sell her or mistreat her as if she were a slave, since you’ve already had sex with her.
This is about when an Israelite is married to a foreigner and wants to divorce her as had been allowed by Moses. Even in those circumstances, the husband must treat her with respect.
Ruth 12-13: “Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives, I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
Boaz treats Ruth with respect when he finds her in his bed, even though he has the chance to take advantage of her.
1 Samuel 1:3: But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved her even though the LORD had closed her womb.
Elkanah loved Hannah, even though at the time she was barren and could not provide children for her husband.
Tobit 6:18: Then, before you sleep together, first stand up, both of you, and pray. Ask the Lord of heaven to grant you his grace and protection. Do not be afraid; she was destined for you from the beginning, and you are the one to save her.
This clearly shows that spouses are supposed to do everything in a spirit of prayer.
Judith 8:7: Her husband, Manasseh, had left her gold and silver, male and female servants, livestock and fields, which she was maintaining.
Judith’s husband treated her with respect and made sure to take care of her even after his death.
Psalms 143:8: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”
A wife entrusts her life to her husband, so that he may protect her, not violate her.
Proverbs 3:3-4: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
Love and faithfulness include not betraying a woman’s trust by making her have sex when she doesn’t want to, as well as being faithful in the literal sense.
Proverbs 31:10: “For her price is far above rubies.”
A husband should treat his wife a rare treasure, not as a modern-day slave.
Ecclesiastes 4:9: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
This speaks of spouses as a team. When the wife is sick or upset, the husband should support her, not force himself upon her. When they lie down together, they keep each other warm, not just physically but emotionally too. They listen to each other’s needs.
Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
This is a great image for Holy Matrimony, which involves man, woman and God. We can infer that intercourse should be a godly and prayerful act, not one of selfishness and one spouse overpowering the other.
Song of Solomon 4:9: “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.”
Husbands must treat their wives as well as they would treat their own sisters or mothers.
Isaiah 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
This verse is referring to the love God has for all humans. It states that He loves us as a husband, because that love is the highest kind of love. Husbands should love like God does, protecting their wives from harm, not inflicting it.
Malachi 2:14-15: “But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
This verse refers to the wife as a companion, not a slave or a chattel. The man in question has been faithless in some way. In other words, he is certainly capable of wrongdoing, including misusing the gift of intercourse.
New Testament Quotes
Matthew 19:8-10: Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus did not give permission for a man to divorce his wife because they are not having enough sex!
Mark 10:9: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Some people suggest that if a woman refuses her body to her husband, he should divorce her. They make no mention of counseling, praying together, going on marriage retreats, reading relationship books, talking things over etc. Instead, they encourage a man to dispose of his wife if she is not indulging his desires. It’s as if the only point to her existence is to “service” him.
John 13:12-15 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
This is also how spouses should treat one another, including how husbands should treat their wives.
Romans 12:10: “Devote yourselves to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
That means putting each other’s needs first. Respect each other, don’t violate each other’s bodies.
Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
We owe nothing but love to each other. We do not owe sex to one another. Intercourse is not a right, nor a duty but a gift of self.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it does not get angry easily, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
Love does not dishonor or traumatize others by forcing itself on them in any way, including sexually.
1 Corinthians 13:2: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Sex without consent is rape. Transactional sex is prostitution. No wife wants to feel like a rape victim or a prostitute.
1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
This verse is not specifically about a Biblical Marriage, but is applicable none-the-less. A man who is waiting for his wife to make love with him, needs to pray in faith with her, hope for change and love her enough to bring about the change, not rape her.
Ephesians 4:2-3: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This verse encourages husbands and wives to treat their spouses with gentleness. That is the opposite of aggression. A husband should be patient while his wife is experiencing difficulties, not demand his own desires over his wife’s needs.
Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Again, there is no mention of the use of force.
Ephesians 5:25: “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.”
Again, love is giving up your life for someone. That includes your sexual desires. It does not mean forcing yourself on your wife.
Ephesians 5:28-29: “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
Husbands should love, nourish and cherish their wives, not force themselves on them.
Colossians 3:14: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Obviously, the virtue of love does not involve a man forcing himself on a woman. Perfect unity means that when intercourse occurs both spouses agree.
Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This includes encouraging a woman to grow in love. Divorcing her when she is in need of emotional support is not the answer.
1 Peter 3:7: “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.”
This speaks against taking advantage of her physical lack of strength and forcing himself upon her. Note that he calls her an equal partner.
1 Peter 4:8:“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
Clearly, loving deeply includes respecting and honouring the body and certainly does not include forced sex.
1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
If we act towards each other with love God lives in us. But if we use aggression and act as if we own the other, God does not live in us.
1 John 4:16: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
More mention of love. God does not force himself on us, and neither should a husband force himself on his wife.
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