Against Patriarchy, Part Three: Patriarchy is Judiazing Pharisaicalism

Yesterday we looked at the first pillar of my case that patriarchy represents a serious departure from the Christian faith, namely that patriarchy grounds its subordination of women upon a construction of the Trinity which argues for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. This is little more than a revival of a neo-Arian heresy, rejected by the universal Church in the fourth century, which saw the Son subject to the Father both in nature and in role and authority.

Today, I want to compare the approach of the patriarchalists and hierarchical-complimentarians to the views of the Judaizing Pharisees who beset the primitive Church in the period between Christ’s ascension into heaven and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

But before we look at the Judaizers, we must start by sketching out what it is that patriarchalists believe, and why they do what they do. We begin with something positive, which is that patriarchalists really believe what they say and want to be obedient to God no matter how offensive or unpopular that is, and this is a Godly impulse to be sure, one we ought to share with them. This is an impulse shared by all involved in this discussion over patriarchy, and so we shouldn’t let them paint this as a debate between those who take God seriously and those who do not. This is a discussion between two groups who both seek to be faithful to what they see God saying, but who do not agree over what it is that God is saying.

Beyond a commendable desire to be faithful in all God has commanded, the second motivating factor is holiness and remaining unstained from the world. R. C. Sproul Jr. notes, speaking of his children, “I still want to maintain their ‘innocence’ as long as possible. They don’t need to know about crack houses, child-beaters, homosexuals and pornography” and “I shelter my children,” concluding that “Shelter is good” and to “Stand firm against the wolves who growl at you,” (Eternity in Our Hearts, p. 23, 24). This becomes the theme and mantra of the whole patriarchal movement. The movement is two-fold: in the first place, away from the world and its sin, and in the second place, obedience to God which will result in their conquest of the world. Andrews agrees with Sproul Jr., writing that Satan “is an accomplished deceiver, a master of many disguises, who can infiltrate our lives without our knowledge, piggy-backing into our homes via such things as television, movies, neighborhood friends, recreational activities and innumerable other apparently innocent pursuits, until he is in a position to deliver what is frequently a crushing, disabling blow to our families. Who can defend himself, much less go on the offensive, when he does not recognize that his enemy is all around him?” (The Family, p. i).

Remaining pure and distinct is the goal, the result of which will be the growth and arrival of the Kingdom on earth. Patriarchalist Robert Andrews titled his own book, The Family: God’s Weapon for Victory. R. C. Sproul Jr. titled one of his books Bound for Glory: A Practical Handbook for Raising a Victorious Family. Patriarchy sees those living under its precepts as loosing a great power into the world which is restrained when families don’t live according to God’s will. Their view of God is a deity which blesses for obedience and actively curses for disobedience (Sproul Jr., ed., Family Practice, pp. 7-8).

For this reason, they see the world laboring under a direct curse for its refusal to live as God commanded. This is often painted as a war between light and darkness. “There is a great war being fought in our culture over the nature of the family. There are principalities and powers among us who would delight for us to have a confused and distorted understanding of what the family is,” (Sproul Jr., Bound for Glory, p. 37). For Andrews, “God’s people are at war. This is clear from even a casual reading of the Bible, and is confirmed by the media every day. We are in a battle-to-the-death with an alien world system, controlled by the enemy of our souls, Satan himself. No prisoners will be taken in this war, and any possibility for compromise is an illusion,” (The Family, p. i).

Conversely to this, obedience in the family to God will transform the world. If God blesses “our children’s labors as they raise our grandchildren in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and if He should bless those children as well with quivers full of mighty warriors, and such should continue for thousands of years–what might this world look like? How might our King’s glory shine forth before the watching world?” (Eternity, p. 57). Andrews says that male rulers in the home are “absolutely necessary in order for a man to see the kingdom of God expressed in his home,” and that “proper family leadership establishes the kingdom of God,” (The Family, 97, 115). Without a male leadership, “family members generally have no clear direction toward biblical life goals, for the father is the one God designed to provide that, and he is the one naturally equipped to do so,” (p. 98). This is known as “multigenerational thinking,” in which the father lays out the family plan for everyone, going so far in some circles as to teach that the patriarch lays out a plan for multiple generations of his family which his sons and grandsons are to carry out by being saddled with obedience not just to their own fathers, but to their father’s fathers (Vision Forum; Voddie Baucham; Geoff Bodkin, Fathers and Sons).

This is the reason for the emphasis on the family in patriarchal circles. The family fulfills and brings about the Kingdom of God. Because they are literally “breeding an army” with which to spread their teaching and lifestyle, nothing can be permitted to get in the way of bringing about the Kingdom. The emphasis on submission roles has to do with the husband’s comprehensive authority and the well-being and health of the home. Because if you don’t properly lead, God will curse you for disobedience. Likewise, women are told that if they refuse to submit, they will fall under judgment. At the patriarchal church where I used to attend (one supported and loved by Sproul Jr.), the pastor’s wife told the women that if they did not submit to their husbands, “God will curse your wombs.” When the wife fails to live up to the household standards laid down by the husband, he must take her aside and “gently” reprimand her like a petulant child, after which point if she continues to live up to the standards which the husband has laid down for her, he is to bring her before the elders of the church (Wilson, Federal Husband, pp. 25-27). Children are to be beaten, from a shockingly early age (as early as six months in some cases), until they submit to everything that is required of them, and this so they might never be led astray from the faith (Pearl, To Train up a Child), trained like you would a small animal (To Train up a Child), their will broken like you would a stallion (Doug Phillips). Even Wilson’s principle is this: “My philosophy of child-rearing is this. You are bigger than they are. If what they are doing is wrong, make them stop,” (Standing on the Promises, 119, emphasis his).

Often the rising number of young people leaving the Church is used as an impetus for adopting patriarchal lifestyles, which are advertised as a way to make sure your kids don’t wander off (Ham and Beemer, Already Gone). One must court instead of date in order to be biblical, and to ensure that no one sin physically or emotionally (Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage; see also the devastating expose of courtship teachings put forward by patriarchalist groups by Robin Phillips, The Way of a Man with a Maid).

These practices are done in order to remain unstained from the world, and so that the family might be used as the means by which the Kingdom of God is brought about on earth.

The Zeal of the Judaizers

To understand the Judiaziers, we have to understand where they came from. The Pharisees were the respected group of holy Jews in first-century Israel at the time of Jesus. They grew up under the influence of the zeal of Ezra, and sought to imitate his passion and devotion to the Torah (Ezra 7:10). They grew in influence in the intertestamental period for their uncompromising approach to their Roman and Greek conquerors. The root of the word “pharisee” actually means “separated one” (Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness, 137), and they were obsessed with keeping themselves separated from the world, from uncleanness, and from sin (Extreme Righteousness, ch. 9), as well as obsessed with guarding the boundary-markers that kept them distinct and separate from the unclean Gentiles and sinners (Extreme Righteousness, ch. 8).

There is reason the Pharisees were worried about who was “in” and who was “out,” who was “pure” and who was “unclean” After the exile, when the Persian King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their land, they rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem. They had heard and believed the words of the prophets that when the exile ended, Israel would be restored, the Messiah would come, and the eschatological Kingdom would be established higher than the mountains, their enemies would be defeated, and they would stand vindicated as Yahwah’s faithful people (Wright, New Testament and the People of God). But when they finished the Temple, no fire came down from heave, no glory-cloud filled the House, driving the priests out from God’s glory, as had happened with the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple (Ex. 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11). Instead, there was silence from heaven, and those who “had seen the first House” saw that Yahweh did not fill His Temple as He had before and so they “wept with a loud voice” so that “the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping,” (Ezra 3:11-13).

Israel concluded that she must still be in spiritual exile (New Testament and the People of God, 267-279, 299-320), and that something more was needed before the arrival of the Messiah and God’s long-promised Kingdom. They concluded they were still unclean and only increased holiness would cleanse the land and allow God to return. But the situation soon became more dire, when Rome appointed the corrupt and ruthless Herods as the provincial governors over Israel, and the Herods in their own turn controlled and corrupted the priesthood (Perrin, Jesus the Temple, 10-17). It was looking less and less likely that cleansing could happen by way of faithfulness in the Temple.

Thus the Pharisees were born, promoting priestly-level cleanness among the people themselves, hoping that in this way God would take note of their care to remain clean and unsullied. Pharisaicalism was a grass-roots movement for purity and holiness among the people, a call for the people to separate themselves from sin and sinners and any contaminant that might compromise them. Scholar James Dunn summarizes, writing that the “social function of the law [boundary-markers] was an integral aspect of Israel’s covenantal nomism, where separateness to God (holiness) was understood to require separateness from the (other) nations as two sides of the one coin, and that the law was understood as the means to maintaining both,” (Dunn, New Perspective on Paul, 15).

At the heart of their movement was the setting up of boundaries and fences between themselves and the unholy around them, carefully and in great detail defining who was “in” their holy group and who was “out.” In doing so they destroyed the careful graded level of holiness in the Mosaic code (the priestly laws, for example, weren’t intended for non-priests) and thereby distorted the Torah. Their attempt to uphold the law ended with the law’s distortion by multiplying fences and boundaries.

The Judiazers were a group of men who claimed apostolic status upon themselves and spread across Israel and the surrounding countries, coming to the various churches Paul and the Apostles were planting, claiming to be authorized messengers of the apostles but who were not (the Apostles wrote to the churches “some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,” Acts 15:24), and who taught strange doctrines (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:5, 11-21; 3:1-3; 5:1-12; Col. 2:8, 18-23; 1 Cor. 15:12; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Time 2:18; 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 10-22; Jude 4, 8 ,10-13, 16). In Acts 15, we are told that “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved,'” (Acts 15:1), and were unified with the Pharisees in the matter (v. 5). The Apostles and the elders of the young church roundly rejected the views of these Judiazers in the first recorded council of the Church (Acts 15:23-29), and warned the churches about them (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15; Phil. 3:18-19; 1 Time 1:3-7; 2 Time 4:2-5). Paul and Barnabas had “no small dissension and debate with them,” (Acts 15:2), and they would continue to spread divisive and false teachings throughout the churches for much of the rest of the New Testament. The letters to the Galatians, Hebrews, and the epistles of John were all written to explicitly counter their destructive false gospel. Yet as time wore on the popularity of the Judaizers seemed to only grow (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 3:1-9, 13; 4:10, 14-16). John called them Antichrists (1 John 2:18-19, 22-23, 26; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11). 

The central area of debate between Paul and the Judaizers was the matter of the Torah and circumcision, and therefore centered around boundary markers. The issue had to do with who the true People of God were and how one might recognize them. The issue was over who had the right to come into the House and sit at the table, which Paul expressed through the question of how one was to identify the children of Abraham (Gal. 3-4). The dispute was other who the son’s of Abraham were. The Judiazers wanted to keep the fences up so that only those who submitted to the Jewish rites were identified as children of Abraham, where Paul now insisted that anyone who lived the faithful life of Abraham was an adopted son of Abraham, arguing this from Abraham’s faithfulness prior to circumcision (Rom. 3).

For Paul, the old boundary markers were fulfilled and swept away in Christian baptism (Gal. 3:27-28). The cultic distinctions and barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and freeman, male and female were coming down in baptism. As Leithart notes of this passage, the “dualisms of the world” introduced by God at creation are “now engulfed and dissolved in the baptismal flood,” (Priesthood of the Plebs, 198). Paul rests his argument on the Abrahamic promise that “All the nations will be blessed in you,” (Gal. 3:8). The “gospel proclaimed beforehand” centered around the dissolution of the barrier between Jew and Gentile, who can come into the priestly people while remaining Gentiles. To question this, as the Judiazers did, was to jeopardize the entire gospel, for if any single nation had exclusive right to the Kingdom, Jesus did not fulfill the Abrahamic promise (Leithart, Priesthood, 199). This is why matters of table fellowship (Gal. 2:11-13), slavery and liberation, male and female are so important (Gal. 3:27-28).

Paul had already established that salvation would come by faithfulness, where obedience is the true circumcision (Jew) and disobedience is the true uncircumcision (Gentile), in Romans 2. Jesus himself had said that the identification of the people of God were not those who performed mighty religious works like prophesy and exorcism, but those who “did the will of my Father in heaven,” (Matt. 7:11), which, as is seen from the sheep and goats scene at the end of His ministry, is clearly justice for the poor and oppressed and fatherless and widow (Matt. 25). This was true religion (James 1:27). Such faithfulness in life was the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham; his election and covenant rested upon a righteousness of justice and mercy for the poor and afflicted, rather than upon religious ceremonies: “I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness and justice, so that Yahweh may bring to Abraham what He has promised him,” (Gen. 18:19). Because of this, Yahweh could declare that “I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices,” and instead had commanded faithful obedience in lives of mercy and justice (Jer. 7:22-23). This was why Yahweh repeatedly placed such justice-doing above the sacrifices (Gen. 18:19; 1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11, 16-17; Pro. 21:3; Amos 5:15, 24; Micah 6:7-8; Isa. 58:7) and it is why, with Hosea, Jesus could declare, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Hos. 6:6).

By insisting that one nation possessed the priestly people, that the old divisions remained in place, the Judiazers were trying to overthrow (intentionally or not) the entirety of the gospel. They insisted that Jesus could only be the Messiah if he refused to take down all the old fences, and added new ones of their own, just to make sure there was no doubt. The faithful, to the Judaizers, were those who kept themselves unstained.

But for Paul, the faithful were those who did what Yahweh commanded even if they had no fences, or were on the outside of the fence (Rom. 2:14-15). For Paul, Jesus did not come to set up boundaries, but to take old boundaries down (Gal. 3:27-28) and reconcile all those who found themselves suddenly part of an unpartitioned house under a single roof (Eph. 2:14-22). For Jesus, the gospel wasn’t about keeping oneself unstained from the world, but from getting one’s hands dirty (Matt. 25). For Jesus, the gospel isn’t about who can’t come to the table in His House, but about who can – and that includes, primarily, those who fit none of the old house rules (Luke 14:21-24). Jesus welcomes the prodigal sons, and this drives the rules-oriented nuts (Luke 15:24-30).

Patriarchy attempts to set up barriers that showcase who is “in” and who is “out,” in precisely the same way as the Judaizers did, focusing on who is a “true” servant of God. James Jordan has argued that the Church has a long history of creating first and second-class citizens of the Kingdom, always looking to exclude someone (Liturgy Trap, 43-45). This is not the exclusive property of patriarchalists, because Baptists and Presbhyterians and most every one else has some sort of sense, explicit or implicit, that those who agree with them are in some sense “holier” or “truer” Christians than everyone else. But patriarchy errs much more seriously than these do (unless they also happen to be patriarchalists) because it explicitly re-divides the world in just the way that Paul says Christ unifies it: male/female (gender roles), Jew/Gentile (only patriarchy will mark them out as “true” faithful whose obedience will bring in the Kingdom), and slave/free (eternal subordinational teaching, creating second-class Kingdom citizens). Patriarchy says blessing only comes by obedience to the law, but Jesus says blessing falls on the good and bad alike (Matt. 5:45), and Paul says all difficulties borne by Christians are actually themselves blessings and that curses do not exist for the Church (Heb. 12:1-11). Patriarchy claims that strict adherence to their new Talmud and Mishnah of teachings will vindicate them and justify them, but Jesus and the Apostles declare that the weak and poor, and those who help them, will inherit the Kingdom (Matt. 25).


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