Who has Authority in a Marriage?

What is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:4?

Who has the authority in a marriage, the husband or the wife?

For much of human history, the men were in charge, and their wives were considered little more than property. Strangely, Paul seems to support this archaic arrangement when he tells the Corinthians:

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. (1 Corinthians 7:4a)

In other words, she belongs to him. (Can you see the rabbis and philosophers nodding in agreement?)

But then Paul follows up with this stunner:

And likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:4b)

In other words, he belongs to her.

Wait, what?

Aristotle and the sexist philosophers of Athens would’ve fallen off their stools. Men belong to their wives? Has Paul lost his marbles?

Who has the authority in a marriage? Husbands belong to their wives and wives belong to their husbands, and they both have authority over each other.

God’s original plan

If this sounds radical, it’s because we have forgotten God’s original plan. “Two shall become one” (Gen. 2:24). When two become one, each partner gives up their right to live independently of the other.

Each says, “From now on I belong to you.”

For some, this is going too far.

“I belong to no one. You’ll not tie me to the ol’ ball and chain.”

Some would rather cling to their rights than embrace another person.

But marriage is an all-or-nothing proposition. It has to be if the two are to become one. A marriage where only one partner goes all in is like a plane with only one wing. She won’t fly.

Wisdom from the most quoted woman in the Bible

Do you know which woman has the most lines in the Bible? It’s not Mary or Esther. The most quoted woman in the Bible is the Shulammite woman in the Song of Solomon.

This unnamed but wise woman knew a thing or two about love. She was the one who said:

My beloved is mine and I am his. (Song of Solomon 2:16)

This is the airborne language of love. This woman has been swept off her feet by a man who has fully given himself to her.

A few chapters later she repeats her refrain:

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. (Song of Solomon 6:3)

This woman does not sound like she is chafing under the shackles of wedlock.

Then a third time:

I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me. (Song of Solomon 7:10)

Their shared love is so overwhelming, she can’t stop talking about it. “We were two, but now we are one, and I couldn’t be happier.”

When the Shulamite sings, “His desire is for me,” it’s the same word God used when he said to Eve, “Your desire will be for him.” The fall of humanity upset the harmony between the genders, but love rights the scales. “His desire will be for you.”

The Shulamite’s song is nothing like the selfish songs of the flesh. Her song tells us that in a loving relationship between two equals, submission is erotic, exciting, sensational!

Want to know what a godly partnership looks like? Then hear the words of the Shulamite.

He desires me, and I desire him. My beloved is mine and I am his.


More articles about women and marriage.

Got questions about a particular scripture? Check out The Grace Commentary.

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5 Comments on Who has Authority in a Marriage?

  1. Refreshing article, Paul.. thank you! The first I began to learn about couples submitting to each other (and discovering I wasn’t a 2nd class citizen to God) was in J. Lee Grady’s book “10 Lies the Church Tells Women.” An interesting read. Btw, I’m so enjoying your book The Silent Queen. Excellent!

  2. This is beautiful! Thank you very much Paul!

  3. Any words on 1 Peter 3:1-6? Of all the verses on wives’ submission, this section is the most concrete with scaling to Sarah as one who obeyed Abraham and called him lord.

    I know that this is part of the broader context that is 1 Peter 2:11-12, where Christians live within a patriarchal empire system (which Bible Project has pointed out). I also know (from the Grace Commentary) that the husbands should do similar actions for the wives.

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