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:
In a recent post, I mentioned I read through a commentary of Genesis by Derek Kidner in the Tyndale OT series. It is copyright from 1967. The point in noting its older date, is that I was surprised (pleasantly) by some egalitarian or progressive thoughts on the opening chapters of Genesis.
In the introduction Kidner states, in regards to the Fall:
“The shattering of the harmony of man and wife, not by any mutual disagreement but by their agreeing together against God, proved at once how dependent it had been on His [God’s] unseen participation. Without Him, love would henceforth be imperfect, and marriage would gravitate towards the sub-personal relationship foreshadowed in the terms ‘desire’ and ‘rule.'”
Kidner goes on to say that the rest of Genesis confirms this tendency. “Polygamy is partly to blame for this, but polygamy is itself the symptom of an unbalanced view of marriage, which…
Although it is clear that God gave Eve to be a ‘help meet’ (helper who is suitable) for Adam, there are at least three Biblical reasons why a husband ought to be a ‘help meet’ for his wife too.
(Understand ‘meet’ to mean ‘fit’, ‘suitable’, ‘right’ or ‘counterpart’).
CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
Adam and Eve were BOTH made in the IMAGE of God (Gen 1:26-27) who is our HELPER (Gk. Ezer – Psalm 33:20) and so it is clear that they were both meant to be helpers of God and of one another if they were to reflect His image.
In Genesis 2:18, it is clear that Eve was created as a ‘help meet’ (help and corresponding counterpart) for Adam . However, by creating Eve as a counterpart for Adam, this automatically made Adam her corresponding counterpart.
By receiving a helper as his corresponding counterpart, Adam automatically had the responsibility to reciprocate for the design to work by being her helper too. So, while she was given to be a strength to Adam where he was weak, he would be a strength to her where she was weak.
CHRIST IS OUR HELPER
If God is our Helper and Christ is the perfect image of the Father, then it is clear that Christ must be our Helper too.
This is also evidenced by Jesus saying that He would ask the Father to send another Helper, implying that Jesus had been their Helper up till then.
So, clearly, Christ is the Church’s Helper because He is the express image of God Who is our Helper and because He referred to the Helper (The Holy Spirit) as being like Him.
HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES AS CHRIST LOVES THE CHURCH
So, if the husband ought to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25) then it is obvious that this would include the husband being the wife’s helper.
In fact, Eve was given to Adam as a suitable helper for him, but, just like being his lover, the help was supposed to be reciprocal.
IN SHORT – 3 REASONS WHY HUSBANDS ARE TO BE A ‘HELP MEET’:
Both husbands and wives are made in the image of God and are therefore both meant to be, by nature, helpers.
By receiving a helper as a corresponding counterpart, a husband automatically has the responsibility to reciprocate as a helper for the design to work.
To love one’s wife as Christ loves the Church means being a helper as He is.
Complementarianism is a belief that limits the roles of a wife to those that won’t infringe on her husband as head ‘over’ her. As such, Complementarianism is a form of patriarchy, but, unlike full-blown Patriarchy, which has women subject to men in every area of society, this version is restricted to how it effects the spousal relationship. The basis for this belief is their interpretation of Biblical passages like Eph 5:23, 1 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:11-15 and 1 Cor 14:34-35. (Click on the references for an Egalitarian/Mutualist view of these passages).
In a nutshell, Complementarian wives cannot take on any leadership roles in society where they are ‘over’ their husbands. And so, fueled by a common misconception that church leadership roles are hierarchical, despite Jesus commanding to the contrary (Matt 20:25-27), Complementarians restrict women in church roles too, in order to prevent them from violating their concept of male headship in the home. In fact, when it comes to church leadership, Complementarians are especially quick to implement this practice, believing that Paul was addressing the possible violation of this spousal headship structure in passages like 1 Tim 2:11-15 and 1 Cor 14:34-35.
HEAD – AUTHORITY OR SOURCE?
What is clear is that this belief hinges on the principle of hierarchical headship in the home. However, even though Ephesians 5:23 certainly does speak of the husband as head (Gk. kephale)of the wife, the biblical era meaning of ‘head’ (Gk. kephale) means source and not rank headship. Also, to note, is that the text says that ‘the husband is the head of (not over) the wife, even as Christ is the head of (not over) the church, which also fits with that era’s use of ‘head’ as source and not authority.
But, someone might ask, what of 1 Corinthians 11:3 that 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 also to be understood as “source” or “origin”, without the idea of rank, and carrying 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.”
Furthermore, Eph 5:21 says ‘submitting yourselves one to another’, which clarifies that the male headship spoken of in Eph 5:23 must be understood within the context of mutual submission and not rank leadership, even if men had this kind of authority through state legislation or culturally. In fact, the term ‘submit’ in Eph 5:22 is not in the Greek, which clearly shows that wives were being directed to the same ‘submitting…one to another’ of Eph 5:21, and not another.
Even in the unlikely event that ‘head’ did mean rank headship in this passage, it should be seen as being descriptive of a husband in New Testament society, who automatically acquired legal authority over his household by virtue of his gender, but as prescriptive of how he ought to behave, given his position, for the sake of his wife and not primarily his own. Understood this way, Paul was being prescriptive within the confines of Roman society’s boundaries, just as he was with slave owners and slaves.
NO CHURCH HIERARCHY
Ironically, neither the meaning of source or rank for ‘head’ would preclude a wife from becoming an elder or pastor in a church and thereby interfere with the supposed spousal rank ‘headship’ principle, because there is no hierarchy in the Church where anyone is ranked ‘over’ another, except Jesus as Lord. That said, it is evident that the passages on Jesus being ‘head of’ His body also have to do with Him being the source rather than being about rank leadership, though it is clear from other contexts that He has this too.
SUBMIT TO HUSBAND
Also ironic is that if one takes a Mutualist (Egalitarian) or Complementarian view here and considers the likely scenario where a husband agrees or allows (depending on the view) his wife to be a pastor, elder, governor, or the country’s president, either by mutual consensus or authority over (again, depending on the view), then the outcome would be that she may, for Eph 5:23 says that it is to her husband that she is supposed to submit. And so, no church or any other man has the authority to stop her.
COMPLEX, BEYOND BELIEF
The Complementarian narrative centers around subordinate roles of a wife in relation to her husband, but the exact parameters for women in general, and each woman in particular, appears to be subject to the discretion and influence of male church leaders who claim Biblical authority for their exclusively male role and their varying interpretations. Furthermore, the application of their belief becomes so tricky, given their various interpretations, that it is hard to imagine that God would have given us something so difficult to pin down. Not to mention that the complexity of applying their belief increases and varies even more when we step out of the spousal relationship and consider leadership for single women or widows that don’t fall under these headship passages.
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) and male rule that came about as a result of the Fall (Gen 3:16) 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.