This week and next week we will look at what the Bible says about what the family is for in order to better understand why God calls us to different tasks aimed at the same goal.
8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God (1 Cor. 11:8-12).
Summary of the Text
In a somewhat challenging passage, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the creation details are important and significant, not arbitrary or ambivalent. The first woman was created from man, and this is because woman was created forman (1 Cor. 11:9). Paul reasons from the order of creation to a telos or purpose of creation. Paul says that this is why a woman ought to have authority on her head (1 Cor. 11:10), especially in the context of worship and public prayer (1 Cor. 11:4-5). This is so significant that it in some way even reaches up to the angels (1 Cor. 11:10). At the same time, none of this can be taken to mean that man is independent of woman, as though only she needs the man. No, both need each other (1 Cor. 11:11). In fact, don’t take the “from” language in a sloppy way because every man after Adam literally came from a woman. And besides all of that, all things are from God (1 Cor. 11:12).
Because of the Angels
Riffing off of C.R. Wiley’s new book The Household and the War for the Cosmos, the Bible says that getting sex and marriage right has cosmic significance. This is implied at the beginning of our passage where Paul writes, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Paul insists that the order (or structure) of male and female in this world is constantly referring to Christ and God. To mess with male and female is already to attempt to mess with God and His Christ. We’ve been reminded of this many times when considering the fact that man (both male and female) is made in the image of God. Since rebel man cannot actually strike at the Infinite God, he strikes at His image – he burns the image in effigy, like some kind of blasphemous voodoo doll. But here Paul presses the point further: the blasphemy is not merely in the disfiguring and dismembering of image bearers themselves, but it is also in the attempted deconstruction of the order of the sexes in marriage, in worship, and in the public square. To defy the order is to defy Christ and God.
But it isn’t only that. Paul says that this order is even significant in some way because of the angels. Without pretending to understand fully what Paul had in mind with that phrase, we should understand that Paul is making a cosmic claim. He is arguing that the order of man and woman and Christ and God is not an extraneous matter, but it reaches up and out into the fabric of the universe. While we have been trained to think of molecules and atoms as the fabric of the universe, a more biblical understanding recognizes that God’s Word is what ultimately holds all things together (Heb. 1:3), and the angels are His messengers, who carry out His word (Ps. 103:20), sparks of fire intimately involved in all of creation, fulfilling His will (Ps. 104:4). This is why in the Bible angels are associated with the stars (Jdg. 5:20, Job 38:7, Lk. 2:13, Rev. 22:16), and star-angels can be seen in this sense as having something to say/do with the births and lives and callings of people (Job 3:9, Mt. 2:2-20). Our lives are intertwined with the angels (Ps. 8:5).
All Fatherhood is Named
In another place, Paul again gestures at the cosmic significance of the family when he writes, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family [lit. all fatherhood] in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…” (Eph. 3:14-16). As with angels and stars, moderns are frequently ignorant of the Biblical and cosmic meaning of naming. But going back to the original creation week, when God spoke and called the universe into being, He did so by calling it by name, and when He began to teach Adam what it meant to be made in His image, He taught him to imitate that creativity in the task of naming the animals (Gen. 1-2). Naming in the Bible goes closely together with calling. To be called by God is frequently to be named by God with that calling (e.g. Gen. 17:5, 15, Mt. 1:21, Lk. 1:13-17). While we are not God, our words are still powerful like God’s words (e.g. Ps. 42:10, Prov. 25:15, Js. 3:5-6). So all fatherhood finds its meaning and purpose in the Eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is how God grants strength in the inner man. Knowing the Father through His only Son is an invitation to put roots down, to know who your people are, to know what your name is, to know what you and your family are for, to build a strong family.
What Are Families For?
“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28). A great deal of our confusion is related to the fact that we don’t understand what family/marriage/home is for. The word “economics” is from two Greek words “home” and “law.” So literally, an “economy” is the “law of the house” or we might say the “order of the home.” An economy is literally the way a household is organized. A household economy includes what is being produced, what supplies are needed, and who performs what tasks. And therefore, there must be a clear chain of command. We do not generally bat an eye at the idea of a boss having authority and giving instructions and pointed feedback to employees. But this is frequently because we have a great deal of reverence for money and market success. But if you don’t think that the family-economy is doing anything terribly important then you might think the man being the head of his wife seems arbitrary and tyrannical – like some roommate being appointed “head” of all the roommates. But if you see how high the stakes are, that we are participating in cosmic realities, then you are likely to appreciate the need for clear roles. But you might still wonder: businesses have services they provide or goods they produce. What are families for? The answer is they make people.
People are the most valuable resource in all of creation because they bear the image of the Eternal God. Lewis says somewhere that we have never had any dealings with a mere mortal. Everyone we come in contact with is either in the process of becoming a creature that we would be tempted to worship or to recoil from in utter horror. People are immortals. For two people to become one flesh, and create new people is to participate in something beyond reckoning: immortal souls are coming into existence and being fashioned for eternal destinies.
So the stakes are really high if we get this wrong. But on the flip side, to submit to God’s design for man and woman and family is to cut with the grain of the stars. It is to even honor the angels in some mysterious way. It is to participate in something that reaches all the way up to God in heaven, which is why it is such a threat to all the old systems of sin and unbelief. But none of this is automatic. Our families participate in that glory in the only way there is to the Father, which is through the Son. This is good news for every kind of household there is. We make people biologicallythrough the one flesh union of husband and wife, but we make people for everlasting glory and productivity through the gospel, by knowing the Father through Jesus His Son.