Mutual Submission in Marriage? Part two

Continued from part one.

The Fall Argument

The third Bible-based argument for equalitarian marriage says that husbands only had authority over their wives as part of the punishment for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. If Adam and Eve had never sinned, marriage would have remained an equal partnership. More importantly, Jesus restored marriage to its original form, so whatever the state of authority was in marriage during the days of the Patriarchs and Prophets, now authority has been redistributed as God originally intended: equally between husband and wife. Any remaining dogma that subordinates a wife to her husband is rooted in cultural prejudice and the sinful pride of men.

This argument is Bible-based, but is it actually Biblical?

To the contrary, patriarchy in marriage is not a result of the Fall; it is an inherent characteristic of marriage as God designed it from the very beginning. The authority of a husband over his wife is evident in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, in the Fall itself, the stories of the Biblical Patriarchs, the Torah, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Apostolic Epistles. I believe the divine intention of patriarchy is expressed so ubiquitously in the Scriptures that it can only be denied by ignoring large swaths of text and selectively reading the remainder. Let me show you exactly what I mean.

The Pre-Fall Garden

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” …Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:18,23 ESV)

Three elements of this story show an authority relationship of Adam over Eve:

  1. Adam was created first.
  2. Eve was created specifically to be a helper for Adam.
  3. Adam named Eve.

The order of creation of two people says very little about the relationship between them, let alone which is subordinate to the other. Likewise, the fact that one thing helps another doesn’t necessarily imply an authority relationship. God is our helper, after all, and He is in no way subject to us. However, both these circumstances say a great deal if the second person is created explicitly as a helper for the first. God helps us, but He was not created to help us. Indeed, He was not created at all.

Suppose your neighbor sees that you are having a hard time walking down your driveway on an icy day and lets you lean on him until you reach your vehicle. His assistance implies no authority relationship in either direction. Imagine, however, that when you return home from work that evening, that this same neighbor has installed a hand railing from your front door to the curbside. He says to you, “It’s not good for you to have to walk on this ice alone. Here, I’ve made you a railing to help you along the way.” In this case, because the handrail was given to you and because it was built specifically for your use, there is most definitely an authority relationship between you and the handrail.*

Adam was created incomplete—deliberately so that he would know his need for a companion—and the creation of Eve allowed him to fulfill his purpose more effectively, like prosthetic arms for a man born limbless. This was Paul’s point when he told Timothy that one of the reasons he did not allow women to hold authority over men was the order of Adam and Eve’s creation (1 Timothy 2:13). He wasn’t referring only to temporal precedence, but to the purpose of that precedence. Limbless people are not born in order to provide mobility for prosthetic limbs, but rather prosthetics are designed for the benefit of their users. Likewise, Adam was not created for Eve’s use, but she was created for his.

And then he gave her a name. Throughout Scripture, certain activities represent a demonstration of authority: surveying, counting, and naming, for example. In Genesis 2:19-20, after giving Adam authority over creation, including all of His earthly creatures, God brought all the animals to Adam to see what he would name them. Parents have God-given authority over their children and give them names. God names His chosen servants (Abraham and Sarah, for example). Kings take captives and give them new names, but servants do not give names to kings. Recall the interaction between Moses and YHWH in Exodus 3. When Moses asked who he should say sent him, God replied “I Am Who I Am,” as if to say, “Who is above Me to put a label on Me. I am who I am.” The power to name a person is a natural extension of the possession of authority over the one named.

Eve was created after Adam for Adam’s benefit. God presented her to him, and then Adam gave her a name.

Individually these points are inconclusive—there are arguments of varyingly persuasive power to explain away each one of them—but in the aggregate they are substantial evidence of divinely ordained patriarchy in the pre-fall Garden.

The Fall

Following the creation of Eve, the very next event in Scripture is the temptation of Eve and the fall of man. You are familiar with the story, I’m sure. The serpent talks Eve into eating from the forbidden tree, then Adam eats, then God banishes them all from the Garden.

First, I’d like to point out the most widely understood evidence in this story for divinely established patriarchy: although Eve was the first to sin, the Fall of all mankind is ascribed to Adam.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22 ESV)

One might say that this is because Eve was only deceived, while Adam sinned willfully, but that’s only partly correct. Eve was deceived, but that doesn’t make her actions any less sinful. God said not to eat of the tree, she knew that, yet she ate anyway. The reason Adam’s sin tainted the whole human race, while Eve’s did not, was his authority relationship over all of humanity. Had only Even sinned, it is possible that they would not have been banished from the Garden, and it is certain that we would not need a redeemer.

There is another evidence for patriarchy in the Genesis account of the Fall, one with which feminists and equalitarians seem to be only half familiar, and it lies in God’s words to Eve after their sin had been found out.

Take a look at what God said to Cain many years after the Fall:

… sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:7 ESV)

God’s meaning is clear. Sin was waiting to ambush Cain. It would seek to control him, but he must master it. Cain must not allow sin to take authority over him. Ultimately, allowing the usurper to have power over him ended in the death of his brother and his own banishment from society.

Back to God’s sentencing of Eve:

…Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (Genesis 3:16 ESV)

The sentence structure and word choice is almost identical to that in Genesis 4:7, changing only in tense, subject, and object.

Gen 4:7 Its desire is for you You must rule over it
Gen 3:16 Your desire shall be for your husband He shall rule over you

If God had been speaking to sin instead of Cain in 4:7, it would read very much like 3:16:

Your desire is for Cain, but he will rule over you.

If 4:7 means that sin would attempt to control Cain, but he must not allow it, then wouldn’t 3:16 mean that Eve would attempt to control Adam, but that Adam must not (or would not) allow her to usurp that power? The clear implication is that God wanted Adam to have authority over Eve—definitely not the other way around—and that the two of them must work to maintain that divinely ordained structure. If Adam allowed his wife to control him, they could suffer terrible consequences. Or a third party could suffer, as was the case with Cain’s failure. God informed Eve that she would have an instinctive desire to control her husband, and that life would only go well if Adam did not allow her to give into it.

The Patriarchs of Israel

The honorable standard of husbands having authority over their wives continued from the Garden, through the Fall, and into the world of the Patriarchs of Israel.

God gave Noah a job to do, a crazy, unpopular mission that took many years and invited incessant ridicule from everyone who heard of it. His wife must have been one of the most amazing women who ever lived. She went along with all this, staying by his side for many decades while he built this monstrous boat far away from any water. She must have worked right at his side all that time, encouraging him, feeding him, fetching supplies, and wielding a hammer. She deserved accolades, yet because she was there to support Noah in his calling—and not the other way around—scripture nowhere even records her name.

Sarah also had a key role to play in her husband’s saga. In one instance God even commanded Abraham to do as Sarah told him. We could say that this was a case of Abraham obeying God rather than obeying Sarah—and we would be correct—but Peter is much clearer in his summary of that relationship:

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:5-6 ESV)

According to Peter, Sarah and the other matriarchs (Racheal, Leah, Rebekah, and possibly others) made themselves beautiful to their husbands, not with jewelry and makeup, but with submission. That still works today.

The Torah

Patriarchy within marriage is commanded by the Law of Moses in multiple circumstances.

  • Patrilinealism is required by marriage laws. Tribal identity is determined solely by a person’s father, never by his mother. When a woman marries, she joins her husband’s tribe, but may return to her father’s house if she is widowed or divorced. Marriage never changes a man’s tribal identity.
  • Inheritance laws assume patriarchy by giving the double-portion to the eldest son, and only giving an inheritance of land to daughters if there are no sons at all.
  • A husband may cancel a vow of his wife when he hears about it, but a wife may never cancel the vows of her husband.
  • In Torah, a married man cannot commit adultery with an unmarried, unbetrothed woman. He would be required to pay a fine if he has sex with her, and he might even be required to marry her, but he can never be guilty of adultery with her. On the other hand, a married woman commits adultery if she has sex with any man who is not her husband, no matter what his marital status might be.

There are many more examples, but I believe four is sufficient to demonstrate that God commanded the Israelites to respect a husband’s authority over his wife, and God would not command His people to do something of which He does not approve.

The Prophets

Patriarchy within marriage continued to be the standard throughout the time of the prophets of Israel.

In Isaiah 2 and 3, God described a very sorry situation in Judah as the nation is overtaken by idolatry and other forms of wickedness. The men, He said, abandon their responsibilities, and the people are ruled by children, fools, and women–not an especially flattering statement concerning women. The most interesting part for the purposes of this article is in Isaiah 4:1.

And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach.” (Isaiah 4:1 ESV)

The restoration of Judah begins when women repent of their pride and beg to be taken under the authority of a man. They don’t ask that he fulfill any of the usual obligations of a husband, only that he give them his name, i.e. take authority over them. They considered living outside the authority and name of a husband to be a disgrace.

Much later, when the exiles to Babylon were returning to Judea, Israelite men were found to have married pagan women and were forced to divorce their wives and send them back to their people. Surely if the men were intermarrying with pagans, Israelite women were too, but the women were not made to divorce their husbands. It isn’t because those marriages were somehow acceptable, but because they didn’t bring pagans into the nation of Israel. When women married pagan men, they left Israel altogether, joining their new husbands’ people. However, the patrilinealism prescribed in Torah meant that when men married pagan women, they brought those women and their false gods into Israel, a much bigger problem.

The Gospels

Four passages in the Gospels record Jesus discussing divorce: Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, and Luke 16:18. The Matthew accounts both acknowledge the right of a man to divorce his wife for adultery in accordance with the Law of God. The Mark and Luke accounts state that neither husband nor wife may divorce the other if their purpose is to marry another. What is pointedly missing from any of these accounts is an exception for a wife whose husband has committed adultery. Jesus did not say that a woman is absolutely forbidden from divorcing her husband for sexual immorality, but he made a special point of saying the reverse, that a man may divorce his wife. That is not proof positive that he recognized the husband’s superior authority, but it is evidence.

In all Scriptural instances in which marriage is used as a metaphor of God’s relationship with mankind, God is the bridegroom and never the bride. Who is the authority in those metaphors, the bride or the bridegroom? Note also that the bridegroom always comes to take his bride. The bride never comes to take the groom. See the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, for example. Nobody prepares for the coming of the bride. She isn’t coming to spirit her new husband off to her castle. No, the groom comes for the bride. This is because, even in Jesus’ parables, the woman joins the house of her husband, coming under his authority, and never the reverse.

Jesus had ample opportunity to explicitly state that men and women are to be equal partners in marriage as He slaughtered a host of other sacred, cultural cows. But He didn’t because marriage was designed by God to emulate the relationship of God with His people. He never said wives should have equal authority with their husbands because the church can never have equal authority with Him.

The Epistles

Paul’s opinion on marital hierarchy is notorious. He instructed the women of Ephesus to submit to their husbands (see Part 1), and he gave identical advice to the women of Colossae:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18 ESV)

He told the men to love their wives and not to be harsh with them. Why should he tell husbands not to be harsh if he didn’t also mean “submit” in the previous sentence? It seems he was making sure they understood that they should not take undue advantage of their wives’ submission. The purpose of the submission wasn’t slavery, but an efficient and peaceful house.

Peter, as noted above, was even more explicit about the relationship between husband and wife when he told Jewish women to submit to their husbands and defined “submitting” by appealing to Sarah’s example in obeying her husband, Abraham, whom she called “lord.”

Conclusion

The Apostles, the Messiah, the Prophets, the Patriarchs, and God Himself appear to be united in their opinions. Scripture is consistent from start to finish that husbands have authority over their wives, not due to the fallen nature of either party, but due to their design. The case is unusually strong as theological arguments go.

Marriage was designed by God to be patriarchal.

  • Wives were designed to be subordinate to their husbands.
  • Eve was warned that she and Adam must keep her rebellious inclinations under control.
  • Husbands were commanded to take authority over their wives.
  • God’s relationship with his people is consistently, repeatedly couched in terms of a husband with authority over his wife.
  • The apostles instructed women, both Jewish and gentile, to obey their husbands.
  • And finally, Jesus portrays himself as a vengeful husband, coming to take away his spotless bride and to punish anyone who does her harm.

God is a Patriarch of His house and requires His men to be patriarchs of their houses in turn. Equalitarianism is toxic to marriage and families, but following God’s design and command cannot be wrong.

Submission in Ephesians 5 simplified
Submission in Ephesians 5 simplified

*Obviously women are not handrails. God created Eve to be like Adam, “flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.” She wasn’t an inanimate object. The analogy would be closer if the neighbor had created a living, breathing person to walk you to your car, but then he would be God, the person would be Eve, and we would be right back where we started. Analogies aren’t perfect, just useful so long as you don’t take them further than they were intended to go.

 

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