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…
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). 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.
Did Paul, or for that matter God, teach “”Let your women keep silence in the churches”?
In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14:34-35).
That seems plain as day, right? Yes, if these verses are looked at in isolation, it does seem very plain that Paul was restricting women from speaking in church meetings. However, let’s consider the text, in its context.
Firstly, consider that the very next verse says, “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor 14:36), which, if read immediately after verses 34-35, shows Paul to be reacting to the idea of restricting women and not advocating it.
Extra Biblical Context:
Now, someone may rightly ask, surely Paul would not advocate following God’s law only to immediately refuse the idea. But, was it God’s “law” that Paul was referring to that says women ought to keep silent? No! A careful search will reveal no such law in the Bible.
So what “law” was Paul referring to then? Paul was quoting the Jewish oral law (Talmud) in vs 34-35 that some in the church apparently still wanted to embrace. And, in vs 36, we see Paul reasoning against this restriction on women. Firstly, he is clearly flabbergasted by such a notion. Then, through rhetorical questions, he refutes their logic to keep such a custom.
Paul points out that the word did not come from men, but, by implication, that it is from God. And, that it also did not only go to men, but, by implication women too. The logic being that there was no reason to restrict women from speaking because they “learn” just fine directly from God and His word and don’t need to be instructed by their husbands at home in order to learn. This explains the grammar and obvious tone in verse 36.
Only men could speak in public (Beraktoth 4,36; Mishnah Aboth 1,5)
No woman could give a testimony or conduct business. (Mishnah Shabbath 4,1).
For a glimpse into the prevailing mindsets around that era, here is Adam Clarkes comment on Verse 34:
“Let your women keep silence in the churches] This was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbins taught that “a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” And the sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are ….”Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women.” Adam Clarke
Paul would be contradicting himself in the very same letter if he taught that women were to keep silent. Consider that he says 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 be impossible for women if they were to keep silent.
Furthermore, Paul clearly knew, taught and practiced the New Covenant where no restriction on women exists. In Galatians 3:28, Paul captures the equality that is found in Christ. It reads, “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.”
Paul Was Rejecting Male Patriarchy and Not Women Speaking
So, contrary to the teachings and traditions of Judaism (and a whole lot of Christianity today), PAUL WAS OPPOSING THOSE WHO WOULD SILENCE WOMEN. He was correcting those who were wanting to bring certain wrong teachings and traditions from Judaism into the church. Clearly, if we are to isolate verses to capture Paul’s thinking then surely his view is seen in vs. 36 and not vs. 34-35.
He then refutes opposition to this by saying, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Cor 14:37-38).