After reading the historical accounts throughout the Bible, one can easily be mislead into believing that male leadership is God’s intended design for marriages, families and for mankind in general. But, a closer look at God’s word clearly reveals that God never desired patriarchy.
In fact, it is instead a testimony to God’s mercy and grace that throughout history, and even in Jesus, God met and worked with us in our fallen state of patriarchy.
The pre-Fall account (Gen 1:27-28), the historical glimpses into God’s heart in the midst of patriarchy seen in women like Deborah (Jdg 4:4-5), the uplifting ways in which Jesus treated women in the highly patriarchal society in which He came, and most especially the New Covenant in Christ (Gal 3:28), all point to the fact that God did not plan to leave us in our fallen state of patriarchy, but intended on restoring the gender equality once enjoyed in the Garden.
Men ought to treat their wives and all women with the gender equality that God wants them to enjoy, because in Christ Patriarchy has Fallen.
Women, don’t wait for men to grant you equal status when Christ already has. However, if your environment is highly patriarchal, be wise in how you walk in your status, even being prepared to forgo your status for Christ’s sake, being winsome for Him in your context.
The misunderstanding of the Scriptures keep us captive in our patriarchy. Here are links to common questions that some might have:
Sadly, the Church’s long embrace of Patriarchy (male leadership in society), as well as its current entanglement with Complementarianism (a newer watered down version of Patriarchy where the role of leadership in the home and church are designated to males), are a perpetuation of the Fall and its consequence, “HE (man) SHALL RULE OVER YOU (woman)”. As such, they have nothing to do with the New Covenant and the gender equality found in Christ.
To consider how this came about, here, in a nutshell, is an overview of mankind, male and female, their dominion and how they have related to one another in God’s timeline:
The foundation for male and female equality, being joint heirs with joint dominion is found in the very beginning, in Genesis 1:27-28:
So God created man in his own image… MALE AND FEMALE he created them … And God said to THEM,”…fill the earth and SUBDUE IT, and HAVE DOMINION over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:27-28).
Note: nothing is said of gender roles or rank, or roles with rank.
Inequality that exists through so-called male roles of leadership was not in God’s original plan, but is described in Genesis 3:16 as one of the consequences of the Fall.
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and HE SHALL RULE OVER YOU” (Gen 3:16).
History shows that man has certainly done this, even, and sometimes especially, by those in the church.
Note: male rank became the typical default.
Although He worked, and works with us in our brokenness of male dominance, inequality is not God’s original or ultimate plan. In the New Covenant, described in Acts 2:17-18 and Galatians 3:28, we find a restoration to the equality seen at creation:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
Note: nothing is said here or anywhere in the New Testament of spousal rank or church roles with rank.
Male Dominance Preserved by Misinterpretation, Tradition and Man’s Fallen Nature
These doctrines of Patriarchy and Complementarianism come from misinterpreting God’s word and are perpetuated by having become unquestioned tradition for many. Of course, the fallen male nature to want to dominate also helps to entrench these traditions.
As a result of years of indoctrination and bad example, many in the Church have a veil of Patriarchy on their minds that causes them to misread texts like 1 Cor 14:34-35, 1 Tim 2:11-15, 1 Tim 3:1f, 1 Cor 11:3f and Eph 5:22f. Consequently, these texts are used to endorse behavior that is contrary to the Spirit, which is both sad and ironic, because Paul was often teaching against Patriarchy with those very texts.
For a look at those misused texts in context, click on these links:
Biblical texts are often used as proofs for our own particular set of Christian values. Among those are texts which appear to subject women to men and wives to their husbands. But do these texts mean what many have ascribed to them?
Clarity for these texts are found in careful consideration of each passage in its own context and by avoiding transferring our own ideologies into the text. In the next posts I will cover two passages that speak of a husband’s headship in order to give some idea of their original meaning in context.
The first text, 1Corinthians 11:3, reads: But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
Here, the term “head”, from the Gk. kephale, is to be understood as “source” or “origin” without the idea of rank and has as its meaning the idea of chronology and not hierarchy.
To further substantiate this, the sequence in 1Cor 11:3 shows that hierarchy wasn’t the meaning. The sequence in the text is: Man – Christ, Wife – Husband, Christ – God
If hierarchy was the meaning, then it would have had this order: Wife – Husband, Man – Christ, Christ – God
Thirdly, hierarchical interpretation of this passage begs the question, is the ascended Christ, the Son of God, under God? As the Word, having been equal to God, He relinquished His equality for our salvation, but isn’t He restored to equality with God with ALL authority in heaven and earth? And, only at the end will He subject Himself to God again (see 1 Cor 15:28).
Order by chronology according to origin/source:
The source of every man is Christ (ADAM was made by Christ)
The source of the woman is the man (Eve came from Adam; also descriptive of that time when a husband was the main provider of physical resources and spiritual food which he could access more easily and from which she was often deprived access)
The source of Christ is God (Christ from God, Begotten of God, God became flesh to be the Christ)
Consider Cyril of Alexandria (5th century): “Thus we say that the kephale of every man is Christ, because he was made through Him and brought forward to birth…. And the kephale of woman is man, because she was taken from his flesh and has him as her source. Likewise, the kephale of Christ is God, because He is from Him according to nature.”
Someone may ask, “But, isn’t the husband meant to be the leader if he is the head?” and cite Ephesians 5:22-25: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wifeeven as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. This is the second text that I want to reflect on.
Firstly, it is key to note that just prior to these verses, verse 21 says “…submitting to one anotherout of reverence for Christ.” This is important because, in order for all the parts of the body of Christ to function properly, submission needs to be universal in the kingdom of God.
Secondly, the term “head” (kephale) has the meaning of “source” and not rank. The focus is on husbands being the source of care for their wives as Christ is for the Church.
Consider that coming out of darkness and oppression is both instantaneous and progressive. So, while we are instantly changed spiritually, we often take time to change behaviorally and it usually takes even longer for the effect of the gospel to change society, even Christian society.
So, just as masters and slaves were prescribed certain behavior in the New Testament and yet slavery was not being endorsed as a Christian ideal, so too, husbands and wives were prescribed certain behavior toward one another in their current context, which was not an endorsement of the status quowhere husbands were the main providers and sole leaders and where their wives were heavily dependent and often the only “partner” in submission.
Slavery and subservient wives were the context, but not the ideal to which Christianity was pointing. God-breathed prescriptions were given into these circumstances in which those saved found themselves, which, if carried out wholeheartedly, were a means to a greater end – the emancipation of slaves and women.
Essentially, husbands and wives who came to Christ, were on a journey back to mutuality. On this road, wives were not to use their freedom in Christ to become reactionary, domineering or rebellious, but to remain in submission, a Christian trait for all. And, husbands, who according to verse 21 were to submit too, as the main providers at the time, were to use their circumstantial benefits to help lead toward spousal relationships of equality.
As for us today, while we can all draw from the many truths in this passage, only those who are saved within the highly patriarchal societies will experience a direct correlation with this scripture. Husbands in general have always been the head, being the main source of provision and, by default, since the fall, the leaders. However, if they carry out their role in Christ properly, they would be able to help lead their marriages (and eventually society) to experience mutuality with regards access to resources and the opportunity to lead.
In our modern world where women enjoy a lot more liberty in church and society, husbands are still to provide support for their wives to fully flourish. But, with the opportunities that many wives have, it’s now more of a mutual support of one another than ever before. In some societies we can taste the pre-fall dream of mutualitythat was lost at the fall. Certainly Christianity in most places should have moved far from the sad years of men having sole access to the many resources that made them the primary providers and also, sadly, often dominate their wives and women in general. Yet, this is not the case because of narrow views of what certain Scriptures really meant. Worse still, is the modern trend to again enslave women in emancipated Christian society through the ideologies of Patriarchy or Complementarianism.
Gen 1:28: And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Mutuality Lost and Post-fall Dominance:
Gen 3:16: To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Gal 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Christ, husbands and wives should be joint providers, especially of an environment for mutuality. There, Christ is their provider and alone is preeminent in every area.