Against Patriarchy, Part Ten: Male Households?

Another common assumption of patriarchalists is that the male is given dominance over his whole household, including wife and children. This is argued from a few places where men are addressed as needing to care for their households, but, as we shall see, just because Paul says one thing in one place does not mean he has not said other things elsewhere, and it does not mean that this exhausts all that we can say about an issue.

We should note before we begin that male headship in this way is excluded from the outset by the general principles we have seen Paul already develop concerning mutual submission and equality in all of life for believers. Even if in every other place Paul said that women and children were to submit to the father/husband this would still not diminish his obligation to do precisely the same for them on the basis of their being believers.

Patriarchalists appeal to a number of passages in order to establish this male priority structure, which we have already examined and rejected. Neither Genesis 1:26-28 or 2:8-24 speak of male superiority, and in fact quite the opposite, as we have discussed at some length. We note also that 1 Cor. 11:7 does not teach that women is subordinate to man, but that woman surpasses man in glory. It should be noted here also that the proper translation of v. 10 is not “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,” but rather “That is why a woman ought to have authority over her own head.” This will be defended in later installments. They also appeal to 1 Tim. 2:13, which speaks of Adam being formed first, despite the fact that we have shown this passage is dealing with Genesis 3 and Eve’s vulnerability of knowledge, and that this does not establish all women are creationally lesser in the slightest.

They also appeal to 1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:24, and Col. 3:18 to establish the “headship” of the man over the woman. As we have already examined in detail, none of these passages speak of authority, and mean simply “source” or “origin,” and that Eph. 5:24 comes in the context of the mutual submission of Eph. 5:21. They also appeal to 1 Pet. 3:1-6, which we have also seen comes in the context of a Christian wife submitting to an unbelieving husband as a work of evangelism, that also comes in the context of the mutual submission of all Christians, regardless of gender, to submit to unbelievers after the example of Christ (2:21-24; 3:8-9). The whole context of 1 Peter is summed up in 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” The submission of the believing wife to the unbelieving Gentile husband is part of this evangelistic program, nothing more than an example of the universal submission to which all believers are called, to one another and to the world. It is the same with Titus 2:5, which simply singles out women to do what all Christians are to practice mutually anyway.

They also point to the qualifications for elder and deacon as an example where a man must manage his household well in order to be entrusted with the management of the Church (1 Tim. 3:4, 12). There are a few comments necessary here. Firstly, what have we seen already about what “management” or “rule” looks like? We have seen that it looks like Jesus, who came in the form of a slave, to serve and not to be served, and to practice submission and seeking the good of others over himself, which is the calling and duty of every Christian, regardless of gender. So the call for the one seeking eldership and deaconship to “manage” their households well is a call for the same submission which is practiced mutually and reciprocally and by everyone. Secondly, the texts do not say that the wife is part of the household. Verse 2 speaks of the wife without regard to submission, and then v. 4 simply says they must manage the household and the children. The wife is distinct from the household, unusual for the time period Paul wrote in, but as we shall see, this is something assumed in the Torah. Likewise, the qualification for deacon is simply “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households,” (1 Tim. 3:12). Once again, the wife is mentions outside of the household.

Why would Paul construct his argument so carefully? Because he was an expert in the law. When the law was first given in the Ten Commandments, wives were actually included among the household goods of the man. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” (Ex. 20:17). But 40 years later when Moses restates the law after a generation of applying it and growing in wisdom, the wife has been elevated above the rest of the household and stands apart from it. “And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house,” (Deut. 5:21). Notice the reversal.

So it is interesting to notice that the Bible often addresses parents together as heads of their household. In the Ten Commandments itself, in the heart of the law, they are addressed as equals: “Honor your father and mother,” (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,” (Eph. 6:1-2). Proverbs frequently addresses parents together, as an equal unit (Prov. 6:20; 10:1; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 28:24; 30:11, 17). Paul, in fact, describes mothers as being oikodespoteo, “house ruler,” and did you catch that root of the word despot in there? There is no inequality here. They are equally the governors of their house, mutually and reciprocally submissive to one another.

The End of Patriarchy

But for all the advances of Israel over the other nations with regard to separating women from the household of the male, the Old Covenant was still limiting to women. The fact that the covenant was given directly through circumcision meant that women were in principle only ever marginal actors on the center of Israelite life. They could participate by clinging to a man who had been circumcised.

Jesus changed all of that. Under His teaching, the New Covenant would no longer be a gendered covenant in the same way that the Old was. His teachings illustrate this nicely. The Beatitudes, as the universal principles for all of Christian life, stand as a glorious, genderless vision of the covenant community (not in the sense that gender has been done away with, but simply that one no longer approaches God by way of one’s gender, but simply by personal faithfulness). Not only are the poor and meek said to be blessed above all in the Kingdom, but they will inherit! Only under certain conditions could women inherit property under the Old Covenant (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-9; Josh. 15:13-19; Job 42:15). But in the new covenant, anyone could inherit all that belonged to God. Any who are pure in heart, regardless of gender, “shall see God,” (Matt. 5:8). All who work toward peace “shall be called sons of God,” (Matt. 5:9). All those who are persecuted for the sake of God’s justice will find that “theirs is the Kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 5:10). All who follow Him, regardless of gender, are to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16). This indicates, by the way, that we are to all make public testimony, regardless of gender, and that no longer will the talents of some be hidden away under a basket. All, regardless of gender, are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness/justice,” (Matt. 6:33). His words presume equal participation by women: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,” and “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household,” and “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” (Matt. 10:35, 36, 38). “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt. 11:28). “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” (Matt. 12:50).

So often the English language gets in our own way when trying to read the Bible. We simply assume our translations are accurate, but often they fail to convey the full scope of various words and phrases. One such limitation of English is the word “man.” Our word “man” translates two separate Greek words: anthropos (humanity) and aner (male). So we don’t realize how radical it was that Jesus took on Himself the Messianic title “Son of Man” and used the word anthropos. He came as the Messiah, announcing Himself as the “Son of Humanity,” the Son of the undifferentiated Adam that contained components of masculine and feminine prior to the separation of Eve. He did not come for men, but for all humanity together. He came to knit back together what God had divided in the beginning, a New Humanity, not in a male form, but in a single, undifferentiated form that incorporated men and women equally and directly. By Baptism, the covenant is no longer limited directly to men (Gal. 3:26-29).

It is no wonder the women responded to Jesus in the way they did, flocking to Him. As Dorothy Sayers once said:

They had never known a man like this Man–there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized them; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious,” (Are Women Human?, 47).


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