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:
Q – Doesn’t the naming of Eve show that Adam had authority over her?
A – No, both male and female were created in the image of God and they were given shared authority to rule (Gen 1:28).
There is a Jewish tradition that the one who does the naming of another has authority over the one named. There is, however, no evidence that Adam had authority over the Woman when he called her ‘Woman’ and later named her ‘Eve’.
The two occasions where Adam ‘named’ the Woman were unlike the naming of the animals that God brought ‘to the man to see what he would call them.’
The first time that Adam saw the woman he exclaimed, ‘she shall be called Woman’. This was done out of a response to what he saw and out of his free will and NOT by God’s command, leading, or for God’s own interest (as with the animals).
The second time, when he names her ‘Eve’, it is after the Fall and so we cannot interpret anything from this with regard to God’s original intention that is seen in Gen 1:28.
Q – Doesn’t the Bible say that wives are to submit to their husbands as their ‘head’?
A – Yes and No. Yes, only if the term ‘head’ (Greek: kephale) is understood as ‘origin’ or ‘source’ without the meaning of rank. The Bible teaches mutual submission between spouses.
1 Corinthians 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 Greek 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. For more on 1 Cor 11:3.
Ephesians 5:22-24 reads: ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even 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.’
Firstly, it is key to note that just prior to these verses, verse 21 says: ‘…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ Secondly, being ‘head’ meant that husbands were to be the source (kephale) of love, care and provision for their wives as Christ is for the Church. It did not mean that they were to be their lords or have rank above their wives as Christ has over the Church.
Q – Can women be elders (leaders/pastors) in the church?
A – Yes, Paul says, ‘If anyone (Greek tis – a gender neutral term) wants to be an elder…’
In Christ, we are restored to the equality at creation (Gen 1:28). Male rule came about as a result of the Fall (Gen 3:16), but is ended for those ‘in Christ’ where there is ‘neither male nor female’ (Gal 3:28). Both redeemed men and women are called ‘Sons of God’ and Christians are to regard ‘no man according to the flesh.’
Q – Doesn’t the Bible say that women are to ‘keep silent’ in church?
A – No. In fact it says just the opposite.
Paul was clearly exasperated that such an idea was proposed and responded with ‘What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?’ (See 1 Cor 14:34-36).
Also, Paul would be contradicting himself if he taught that women were to keep silent. Consider that he says in 1 Cor 14:26, ‘…when ye come together, EVERY ONE of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation…’ This would have been impossible for women if they had been commanded to ‘keep silent’ in church.
In the context of 1 Tim 2:12, where it says ‘…she (a woman/wife) is to remain quiet/silent’, the term ‘silent’ is better translated ‘in quietness/quietly’, which suggests refraining from bustle and chatter.
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.
The issue of a woman leading or teaching in the church is clearly misunderstood by many and is a contentious subject that divides the body of Christ. The stumbling block is generally over scripture, with 1 Timothy 2:11-15 being perhaps the most prominent of these.
Let’s consider what it says:
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
To some of us, it’s as plain as day what Paul is saying in these words. Others of us believe he cannot possibly be saying what a simple reading of the text seems to indicate.
In order to understand the issues that Paul addresses here, we need to have context in two areas. Firstly, we need to get textual context by examining these verses in the light of the whole letter. And, secondly, we need to get the historical context.
If we look at Paul’s opening address to Timothy at the beginning of the letter, we can see that Timothy, a co-worker in Paul’s church planting team, had been asked to “remain at Ephesus so that [he] may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…” (1 Timothy 1:3).
Then, in 1 Tim 2:11-15 Paul addresses one of these “different doctrines”, the idea of female religious superiority. It was the prevalent belief in Ephesian religion that man came from a woman deity and then subsequently sinned. Also, men were to be subject to women teaching them and to their authority. This idea had apparently infiltrated into the local church’s thinking.
Let’s examine Paul’s instruction that corrects this:
Quiet & Submissive?
Paul tells Timothy, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” This describes the proper demeanor in which both men and women should learn. Except, in this case, it was evidently the women who needed instruction and correction. Let’s consider this:
Firstly, “let a woman learn” was huge progress in that women were often untaught and relegated to the sidelines of life, including among the Jews. Now they were among those being taught.
Then, “quietly” suggests refraining from the bustle and chatter that some may have been previously used to, but that would disrupt a learning environment. This may also be the start of Paul correcting the opposite extreme of female dominance that was prevalent in that society’s religion.
And, “with all submissiveness” is a call to appropriate Christian behavior where men and women are “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
No Teaching or Authority?
Paul goes on, “I do not permit a woman to teach …a man.” Here Paul is addressing the false idea of women being the source of truth. The Spirit of God is the source of truth and it can be through men and women. Consider this in the light of “the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2:27).
Paul goes on, “or to exercise authority over a man”. Prohibiting the exercise of authority over one another is not foreign to Christianity. Consider Jesus’ prohibition on disciples having authority over one another in Matthew 20:25-27. Again, here, Paul recognized that certain women, in the church at Ephesus specifically, needed addressing on this issue.
Paul continues with, “rather, she is to remain quiet.” This is again an attitude for learning and not a strict prohibition from any interaction.
Tearing Down the False Teaching
Then he says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Here Paul corrects the false teaching that man came from a woman deity by stating that Adam was formed first and then Eve. He doesn’t do this in order to place Adam over Eve, but to simply pull to pieces the false teaching. Then, to further take it apart, Paul states that it was actually the woman who was initially deceived and who became the first transgressor. Not the man as the false teaching taught.
The Mess from Misunderstanding
Some in the church today suggest the prohibition on women teaching is based on Paul’s reference here to a propensity for women to be more easily deceived. However, Paul was not saying anything of the sort. He was merely showing up the false teaching. Frankly, as I look around and at our past, the devil hasn’t needed help from women for this. Men themselves have been deceived and have done a right royal job in promoting false teaching.
Through our misunderstanding of the context and what Paul was addressing, we have swung the pendulum from the false teaching of female dominance in teaching and leadership to an equally false teaching of male dominance in teaching and headship.
Paul was not prohibiting women from teaching men or from speaking God’s word with authority. He was simply bringing wayward thinking in line with the equality that should exist in the body of Christ.
(Note that Timothy was not the pastor of the church in Ephesus as has been mistakenly attributed to him. For more on this, see my post on Church Leadership).