And I will make boys their princes, and infants shall rule over them. And the people will oppress one another, every one his fellow and every one his neighbor; the youth will be insolent to the elder, and the despised to the honorable. For a man will take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying: “You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule”; in that day he will speak out, saying: “I will not be a healer; in my house there is neither bread nor cloak; you shall not make me leader of the people.”
…My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths. The LORD has taken his place to contend; he stands to judge peoples. The LORD will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord GOD of hosts. The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet, therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts….Your men shall fall by the sword and your mighty men in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; empty, she shall sit on the ground.
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.” In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
Isaiah 3:4-4:6 (abbreviated)
A Nation of Weak Men
This prophecy in Isaiah concerned the ancient nations of Israel and Judah as well as the coming Messiah and His Kingdom, but there are still lessons for us to learn from the example. Look at the sins that brought about this punishment from God: men refusing to take leadership, teachers leading the people astray, oppression by selfish rulers, oppression of neighbor against neighbor, promiscuity, vanity and dominion of women.
When the men God called to leadership refuse to take it, women, children, and fools take it instead. God brings down the proud and avenges the oppressed. He will not sit idly by forever. In time, God will purge His people so that only those worthy and those willing to accept His ways will survive. Men will accept the role that God assigned to them as the heads of their families and the leaders of their people. Women will accept the role that God assigned to them as their husbands’ assistants and supporters.
“In that day, seven women will take hold of one man,” the prophet says, and today’s western Christian immediately recoils in horror at the thought. “What!? Women subjecting themselves to the authority of a man?” But this is not a part of the sin, this is a part of the healing process. When men turn to God and accept the leadership He desires for them, and when women turn to their men and accept the headship that God has placed over them, then we will begin to truly see what God can do with His people.
The Symptoms of Decline
These things are specifically listed in Chapter 3 as being
good things that God would take away as punishment for their sins; they are the
support and sustenance of a nation:
Food and water
Strong men and soldiers
Judges, prophets, administrators, elders,
military commanders, honorable men, skilled craftsmen, and eloquent speakers
These things are listed as either sinful or the terrible
consequences of the absence of those things listed above:
Government by women, children, and weak-minded men
Disrespect for elders
Elevation of the disreputable above the honorable
Prideful and vain women
The pattern should be obvious. The first list is typical of a well-ordered, patriarchal society. The second is typical of a feminized democracy. Except for the judgeship of Deborah when no man was willing to stand up for the whole people, God’s mandated leadership throughout all of Israel’s history was masculine. Every one of God’s specially appointed kings, priests, elders, and judges (with that one exception) was a man. The only times when women led the nation were times of turmoil and weak-willed men.
Feminism Is an Effect, not the Cause of Trouble
I do not mean that no woman should ever be in a leadership
position, or that it is somehow a sin for a woman to have authority over men.
Some women are well suited for leadership, and some leadership positions are
best occupied by women, and there is no command in God’s Law against women
holding leadership positions. We should thank Him that there are competent and
willing women available to take charge when all of the men have advocated their
None the less, any society with a significant percentage of its leadership positions–civil, business, family, or religious–occupied by women is already in serious trouble. A healthy society will always be governed primarily by godly men.
Humble Righteousness Is the Cure
If weak and selfish men are the disease and feminism a symptom, what is the cure?
In Isaiah 4, the healing begins with the repentance of women, but if that’s as far as it went, then there would have been no real healing at all. Ultimately, national healing requires the humble repentance of men.
We could take back the reins of power, take the vote away from women, and re-establish men-only universities and clubs… But without godliness, that would only replace one tyranny with another.
The solution to crime, corruption, and decaying public morality isn’t patriarchy in itself, but humble, righteous men picking up their divinely appointed staffs and mantles in their homes, churches, and synagogues. Be the men that God intended for you to be. Live righteously. Keep the commandments. Ensure justice for the oppressed–the legitimately oppressed, not people who merely imagine themselves to be oppressed–the widows and orphans.
When we obey God, when we follow his standards in our personal lives and in our homes, the rest will fall into place naturally.
If you explored a mysterious cave in the depths of an unexplored jungle and found something there with all of these qualities, you might believe some lost civilization or advanced intelligence had made it.
Multiple, networked information storage and retrieval systems
Complex, interdependent systems
Materials with properties beyond anything our best engineering can duplicate
Flight capabilities with greater speed and maneuverability at low speeds than any bird
In-flight sensing systems that can detect and track multiple tiny objects simultaneously and calculate trajectories with pinpoint accuracy
Such a discovery would be undeniable proof of advanced intelligence, but really it’s just a bat like many that I’m sure you’ve seen before. They live in caves, barns, and forests, and under bridges all over the world. Bats are powerful evidence of God’s hand in the world, but as amazing as bats are, they are far from God’s most astonishing creatures. If you’re curious, look up glass frogs, compass termites, and blue whales.
Now move your attention to something bigger. Much, much bigger.
There are things in our universe that are so massive, so powerful, that we can only hold them in our minds if we imagine them to be much tinier than they are.
Think of yourself as the size of a grain of sand. The earth would be the size of an enormous mountain in comparison, and the sun would be the size of a large country. Now imagine the energy generated by all the wind, solar, hydro, coal, and nuclear power plants that have ever existed. Now add the power released by every nuclear device ever exploded. The sun releases millions of time more energy every single second than humans have produced throughout our entire history.
On the galactic scale, the sun isn’t very impressive.
The size of many other stars is as much greater than the sun’s as the sun’s is greater than the earth’s. The sun’s energy output is mind boggling, but a neutron star can release as much energy in a single second as the sun does in a million years. The Milky Way galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars.
Hundreds of billions of stars.
And on the universal scale, the Milky Way isn’t a big deal.
It’s breathtaking. Astounding. There aren’t enough superlative adjectives in the English language–or any language–to describe the wonders of God’s creation on any scale you might use. The mind blowing complexity of the subatomic, quantum world, and the crushing grandiosity of the universe that is so big that no human will ever, ever see the light from the most distant stars.
And the most awesome thing is this: God spoke it all into existence.
We are awed by thunderstorms, but a thunderstorm doesn’t even rise to the level of a single spark compared to the power of the sun, which is, itself, a mere speck of dust compared to the Milky Way, which is….
You get the picture. We serve an awesome God indeed.
No wonder it’s so hard for some people to believe in God. He is so far beyond our comprehension that it’s simpler for many people to pretend that bats and black holes just happened all on their own.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
We are incapable of comprehending God. His existence is more than our tiny minds can handle. It is only by faith that we are able to see what ought to be obvious and incorporate it into our worldview: the existence of the Creator and the evidence of his handiwork in absolutely everything that is.
And it is only by faith that we are able to comprehend what is even more incomprehensible than all of this: The Creator of heaven and earth sees us. He knows us. He cares about us.
When God made mankind, he put them in the Garden and told them they could eat from every plant, right?
Genesis 1:29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a summary of creation week. Genesis 2:4-25 tells the same exact story but from a different vantage point. It’s hazy regarding the passage of time, leaves out some details, and adds some others. That doesn’t mean the two accounts are contradictory, only that they have different foci.
There is one problem, however. There is an apparent contradiction between Genesis 1:29 and 2:16-17.
Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Which is it? Can man eat every plant or not? The answer is yes!
There is no contradiction. The confusion is not in the words, but in the reader who treats them like a mathematical text. Genesis was written to be understood by ordinary people. It’s bare meaning had to be accessible to shepherds and farmers, so it was written in the same basic language that they themselves used.
When a subsistence farmer says, “Let’s get all these fields planted,” does he mean every single field in existence? Of course not. Does he even mean all of his own fields? No again. He only means all the fields that are supposed to be planted at this time, and he expects that everyone to whom he is speaking will understand that.
The ancient Hebrews knew the story of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they heard or read, “I have given you every plant that grows on the earth,” they didn’t need to hear “except for this one” to understand that there was at least one exception.
We don’t need to hear it either. Instead, we need to understand that God and his words recorded in the Scriptures are holistic. They are a unified whole (echad in Hebrew) with depth and height and breadth. We cannot understand the words of Paul or John without understanding Moses and Isaiah, because the latter are a foundation and framework for the former. Likewise, since we do not live within the cultural context of Moses or Isaiah, we cannot completely understand their words either without Paul and John to finish the walls and trim.
Scripture is a palace, not a line. Read and understand it accordingly.
When God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s, Cain’s first reaction was anger. God told him he had no right to be angry; it was his own fault that the offering wasn’t suitable. There was no contest between the two brothers. If Cain would choose to do what was right, God would accept him also. If he surrendered to temptation, then sin was waiting to take control, subjecting him to the Law of Sin and Death. The choice to be mastered by sin or to be the master of it was Cain’s alone. He had no one to blame but himself.
And YHWH said to Cain, Why have you angrily glowed? And why did your face fall? If you do well, shall you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at the door; and its desire is for you, and you shall rule over it. -Genesis 4:6-7
The word for “accepted” in verse 7 is שׂאת (saet), which means lifted up or exalted. In other words, if Cain swallowed his pride and chose to do what was right, he would be exalted by his humility. On the other hand, if he chose not to do what was right, nursing his wounded pride, he would become a slave to the sin that sought to conquer him.
The rest of the story is a pattern that everyone should be familiar with. We see it all around us every day. Cain hid that anger in his heart and it continued to warp his perspective, making his brother Abel into the bad guy even though he had done nothing at all against Cain. Cain valued his pride above his brother and even above God, so his heart followed his pride into deep resentment.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” -Yeshua, Matthew 6:21
Eventually, whatever is in your heart will come out of your mouth.
Having filled his heart with anger, Cain spoke harsh words to his brother. The word for “talked” in verse 8 is אמר (amar) which, unlike other Hebrew words that carry the same basic meaning, seems to indicate a confrontation rather than a simple conversation. It is the same word used for God’s rebuke of Cain in verse 6.
“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” -Yeshua, Matthew 15:18
Eventually, what has found its way from your heart to your mouth will find its way to your hands.
And Cain talked with his brother Abel. And it happened when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. -Genesis 4:8
Cain saw himself as greater than he was and so took offense when God didn’t agree. Rather than correct his error and be elevated by good deeds, he cultivated his resentment until it drove him to rise up against his brother. The consequence was that he was driven away from his family and made unable even to continue his chosen profession as a farmer. Through pursuing self-aggrandizement, Cain achieved nothing but self-degradation, subjugated by the very forces that drove his ambition. If only he had sought to elevate his brothers instead of himself, God would have exalted him too.
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:
Adam was created first.
Eve was created specifically to be a helper for Adam.
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.
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.
Its desire is for you
You must rule over it
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
*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.
P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates, anniversaries from American history, and links to interesting, enlightening, and useful stuff from around the Internet.
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. (Eph 5:22-23 ESV)
The predominant opinion of popular cultural in America today is that marriage is–or ought to be–an equal exchange between husband and wife, that the two should work together in mutual and equal submission for the greater good of the partnership and the family. But this ideal seems to go against the plain meaning of Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians as quoted above. Was Paul wrong? Or have we misunderstood his intent? Since Paul was a Hebrew writing in Greek, and we are Americans (or Australians, Canadians, Brits, etc.) reading an English translation of his ancient Greek text, the idea that something might have gotten lost in translation cannot be ignored.
There are three main arguments I have heard in favor of an equalitarian interpretation of this passage. I will refer to them as Mutual Submission, Source vs Authority, and The Fall.
Source vs Authority.
I’ll consider the first two arguments in this post and the third argument next time.
The argument: The submission of wife to husband in Ephesians 5:22 is merely a reiteration of the instructions in the immediately preceding verse for all believers to submit to one another.
It seems to me that the Mutual Submission theory depends on the assumption that women are predisposed against mutual submission to their husbands. Not to other believers, just to their husbands. Why else would Paul devote one verse (21) to the mutual submission of all believers, but twelve (22-33) to the submission of wives to their husbands within the overall context of mutual submission? I don’t disagree with that premise at all. In fact, it is almost self-evident that most women have trouble submitting to their husbands, especially if those husbands are already submitted to them. I’ll explain what I mean by that in more detail when I discuss the consistency of Biblical expression on patriarchy within the family later. For now, I believe it will suffice to point out that this logical dependency on the unsubmissive nature of women within marriage is also the fatal flaw in the Mutual Submission argument. If women are by nature less able or willing to submit to their husbands, then it is only to their own benefit for women to expend extra effort on that submission and for their husbands to encourage them in it, and there is very little difference between “wives submit to your husbands” and “wives, make extra effort to submit to your husbands as opposed to everyone else, because that is especially difficult for you.”
Source vs Authority
The argument: The Greek word for “head” in verse 23 (kephale) was used in the sense of the head of a river, i.e. the source, rather than in the sense of a controlling authority.
Understand that I am not an expert in ancient Greek or Koine Greek—I’m not even a novice—so I must defer to the actual experts.
Wayne Grudem of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School wrote,
Those who claim that κεφαλή could mean “source” at the time of the New Testament should be aware that the claim has so far been supported by not one clear instance in all of Greek literature, and it is therefore a claim made without any real factual support. The editors of the standard lexicons for New Testament Greek (such as Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker) have been correct not to include “source” among their lists of possible meanings for [kephale].
In fact, all the standard lexicons and dictionaries for New Testament Greek do list the meaning “authority over” for κεφαλή, “head.” Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker give under the word κεφαλή the following definition: “In the case of living beings, to denote superior rank.” They list thirteen examples of such usage. 1
Thayer’s Greek Definitions says:
1) the head, both of men and often of animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment.
2) metaphorically anything supreme, chief, prominent
2a) of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife
2b) of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church
2c) of things: the corner stone
I won’t abuse your patience by quoting the hundreds (thousands?) of Christian theologians and Greek scholars who, for the past 2000 years, have almost universally interpreted “head” in this passage to mean “authority over.” I don’t think it’s at all controversial to assert such a continuity of thought. The argument isn’t whether or not submission of wives to husbands has been taught throughout most of historic Christendom, but whether or not this throng of learned men and women were and are wrong in that teaching. I’m not opposed to the idea that nearly every great thinker for two thousand years could be wrong. I believe they have been wrong on some significant issues. However, I would not discard their opinions without strongly compelling reasons. I’ve read a few articles that take the opposite view, and I haven’t been very impressed, either with their scholarship or their logic. Maybe I just haven’t read the right ones, and as I already said, I’m no Greek scholar myself, so whether or not I am impressed is hardly relevant.
Fortunately I don’t think the precise meaning of κεφαλή is relevant either. However the word is translated, the context makes Paul’s intent imminently clear. Let’s break down Paul’s individual statements beginning in Ephesians 5:22:
v22 – “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” How should a wife submit to her husband? In the same manner she should submit to the Lord. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and said the one who would lead must serve, and the first will be last. But He also said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” In other words, “Obey me.” Although Christ serves us of His own free will and in the manner of His and His father’s choosing even to the point of giving up His life for us, Christ does not obey us. To the contrary, He is our King. We owe all obedience to Him, while He owes no obedience whatsoever to us.
v23 – “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.” There are two important ideas here that need to be addressed: First, the husband is to the wife as Christ is to the Church. This is a rephrasing of the previous verse. If the church owes submission to Christ, so does the wife owe submission to her husband. Second, the term “head” is explicitly, if metaphorically, used in the sense of the physical head of a person’s body, and not the source of anything. Even if the ancient Greeks didn’t understand the cellular mechanisms of the brain and the nervous system (who does?), they were fully cognizant of the fact that the head houses the command center of the body. There can be very little doubt that when Paul wrote that Christ is the head of His own body, he meant that Christ is the controlling authority of His body.
v24 – “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Again, Paul expresses the same idea as in the previous two verses, only rephrased. Since Christ’s body is submissive and obedient to Christ, so should the wife be submissive and obedient to her husband. The Church’s submission to Christ is not mutual. Christ does not submit Himself to the Church in any manner other than in choosing to serve her for His own purposes. He sacrificed Himself for the Church in submission to His Father, not in submission to the Church.
I could continue through the rest of the chapter, but I’m sure you get the idea. (And again, I don’t want to waste your time. You’re here, and I’m grateful.) Paul keeps saying the same thing in different ways: “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” I’m not saying that the Greek word kephale cannot possibly be translated “source” anywhere in this passage, although I think that would be awkward and implausible. I’m saying that it is much more natural and consistent to render it just as the vast majority of Bible translators have done: “head,” as in the hard, roundish object at the end of your neck. I’m also saying that it cannot be understood to imply anything but an authority relationship of husband over wife, even if it is translated as “source” instead of “head.”
Christ is the source, founder, and head of the Church, and He is the ultimate authority over her.
The Church submits to Christ in all things, without expecting or having any right to His submission in return.
Christ serves the Church even to the point of giving up His life for her, but He never serves her in a submissive role. He is, was, and always shall be the King of Kings, Lord, Master, and Law-Giver of the Church.
Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that wives should submit to their husbands in exactly the same way that the Church should submit to Christ. Jesus is perfect; husbands are not. Jesus would never expect the Church to do something that clearly violates God’s Law. Some men routinely expect their wives to sin against God on their behalf. No woman owes her husband more allegiance than she owes to God, and His Law trumps any command of men. With that caveat in mind, Paul still wrote, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
There is no way to interpret this passage in an equalitarian manner without doing severe injustice to the clear meaning of the text, not to mention the rest of Scripture. The clearly patriarchal, non-equalitarian nature of Paul’s instructions to wives does not depend on the translation of the term κεφαλή, nor are they merely a subset of the mutual submission owed by all believers to all other believers. The submission of wives to their husbands is of a different nature altogether, and this nature is illuminated throughout all of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.
Next time, I will address the third equalitarian argument, The Fall, and show how Paul was not saying anything revolutionary nor acquiescing to cultural expectations. His words were solidly based in the Garden of Eden and reinforced by God’s law, the Prophets, and the Apostles.
1. Wayne Grudem, “Does κεφαλή (“Head”) Mean “Source” Or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples,” pp 46-47, Trinity Journal ns 6.1 (Spring 1985): 38-59. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/tj/kephale_grudem.pdf Last accessed 9/14/2014.
P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates, anniversaries from American history, and links to interesting, enlightening, and useful stuff from around the Internet.
No sane and knowledgeable person disputes the fact that the nuclear family is at the core of all civilized society. From Israel to China to Britain, every civilization that stood for more than mere decades codified the defense of marriage in their laws. When those civilizations reached their heights and began to suffer all the depredations of pride, they disregarded the sanctity of marriage. Temple prostitution, homosexuality, divorce… They each began to fall. You can’t chisel away the structural support of a building and expect the walls and roof to remain intact for long.
If we value our nation, our civilization, we must protect the institutions that are common to all strong, enduring peoples:
Rule of Law
Family and Community
Most importantly, marriage.
And I do not mean the equalitarian business partnership which that word seems to bring to mind for most modern Americans. I mean the only form of marriage that has proven itself throughout history as the nucleus of strong families, communities, and nations. The kind of marriage instituted by God, not by men, women, and lawyers.
God’s Law (the Torah, the first five books of the Bible) tells us how God intended marriage to be, and His intentions were not politically correct. Marriage in God’s plan is patriarchal, fertile, and strong. In today’s America marriage is equalitarian, barren, and frail, a very weak support indeed for such a large and diverse nation.
The requirements of God’s Law aren’t always easy. They aren’t always what we would want. But they are always right because God is always right. He knows you and every other person at a deeper level, more intimate and thorough than we or any therapist could ever hope to realize. If we are uncomfortable with God’s prescriptions for healthy relationships, perhaps the problem is not with the Doctor, but with the patient.
If we are to restore a robust and enduring America, then it’s far past time to put God’s plan for marriage ahead of our own. It’s time to get back to the basics and relearn what we once knew about relationships, about men and women and the very core of a strong nation.
Adam was created first and was the only human being besides Yeshua to have been created in God’s image. All others bear God’s image, but are created in Adam’s. Moses made no mistakes in his choice of words. He did not write, “In the image of God created he them,” but he wrote, “In the image of God created he him,” adding the creation of them (plural) as male and female as a distinct thought.
So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Tom Shipley points out that, while mankind may be collectively referred to as Adam, only the first man is ever called Adam as an individual.1 Throughout Genesis 1 and 2, when Moses referred to the individual characters, he referred to the man as Adam and to the woman as Ishshaw.
While all of mankind bears the image of God, woman is the image of man in the same way that a child is the image of his parents. Together, in their procreative capacity they image the creative nature of God. Separately, in their spiritual and familial roles they image other aspects of God. In 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 Paul told us that, although God is the source of us all and that mankind as a whole bears the image of God, men more specifically are that image:
“…he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
The Hebrew words used for male and female in v27 are somewhat illustrative. According to Strong’s, zakar, the Hebrew for male, means “remembered,” which one could suppose might refer to Adam being reminiscent of God. Nekebah, the Hebrew for female, is derived from nekeb or nakab, and is a more functionally oriented word and describes more of who the woman is rather than who she resembles.
God has no physical gender other than that of the Messiah’s human form, but his superior authority requires that he almost always be referred to in the masculine. He promised the Messiah and he gave the Torah. He died and he rose again. He guides us and he comforts us. God is neither female nor feminine, yet he still has something of the feminine within him; else how could Eve have been created from Adam, who was created in the image of God? While he has no sex and it is certainly incorrect to refer to him as “she,” the roles of wife and mother can be discerned in certain aspects of God. When the first part of the substance of Eve was extracted from Adam, most of the feminine and something of the masculine, both of which he had inherited from God, were put into Eve. Both men and women have masculine and feminine attributes, and in this they both bear God’s image, but men more directly.
This is not a statement of the intrinsic worth of men over women or of women over men.2 They both bear the image of God, and they are both essential to God’s plan. Would it make any sense to ask whether the sergeant or the lieutenant is more important to the plans of the general? Of course not. One has authority over the other, but they are both essential to victory. The lieutenant who believes he can effectively perform the sergeant’s duties in addition to his own is a fool, and so is the sergeant who believes that he can do the same in reverse. The woman is subordinate to the man the way the heart and lungs are subordinate to the head. Without the heart and lungs, the head is of very little use. The subordination of one to the other is of function and not of worth.
<1> Tom Shipley, Man and Woman in Biblical Law (Baltimore, Maryland: Institute for Christian Patriarchy, 2001, 2004.) 19.
<2> Stephen B. Clark points out that subordinates are very often more valuable to the success of a venture than are their superiors. Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ. (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1980.) 23-24.
There is not a single extraneous character recorded in the Torah (Matthew 5:18). Every word is written for a purpose, and there is nothing wasted. This is one reason why the names of wives are rarely mentioned: not because women were considered unimportant, but because their names were not significant to the point being made. So when the names of Lamech’s wives are given without further information about them in Genesis 5:19, we should immediately ask why.
As a descendant of Cain and a probable murderer, Lamech is often used to argue that God does not approve of polygamy. “See? The first recorded polygamist was also a murderer and of the line of Cain. It must be wrong!” This kind of reasoning is based on the Law of First Mention, which is a theological land mine all on its own (see here), but apart from that, they are ignoring some important details in the story.
Lamech’s wives names can be translated roughly as “ornament” and “shadow.” Ornamentation is a symbol of wealth and shadow is often used in scripture to symbolize a powerful patronage. Could Lamech’s wives symbolize wealth and power as mulitple wives often do? Perhaps one father-in-law brought him great wealth, and the other was a king or warlord. Lamech’s declaration that he would be avenged seventy-seven times was a declaration of independence from God and immunity to the vengeance of men. He believed his access to wealth and power provided him with greater protection than God.
The point of Lamech’s story is not to highlight the evils of polygamy, but rather the evils of pride and the abuse of power.
Excerpted and adapted from on-line discussions in February and March, 2005. My apologies if it’s a little hard to follow. You’re only getting one side of several conversations.
I coasted through the first ten years of my marriage, pretty much just trying to be my wife’s boyfriend, but God says that I am responsible for the spiritual well-being of my house, and that he will hold me accountable for them. So about five years ago I decided that I was through being a boyfriend, and it was time to become a husband. Things are frequently difficult, uncomfortable, or downright heated–the price I pay for developing habits based on the standards of our hedonistic culture. Now my family is no longer stagnant and spiritually dead. I am learning to lead instead of to drift with the emotional current of the day. My son is growing up in a scripture-based home instead of a feelings-based home..
A rudder, under the command of a helmsman, serves a ship by controlling its direction. A viceroy, under the command of a king, serves his people by creating and enforcing laws. A sergeant, under the command of an officer, serves his men by instilling purpose and discipline. A husband, under the command of God, serves his family by leading and teaching them….
A leader does what is necessary. He takes action and accepts responsibility. He promotes the well-being of his charges. A follower follows the leader’s lead. In the context of marriage, a wife subjects her own will to her husband’s. She supports his calling–whatever that may be–working to encourage and strengthen him. She may have a separate calling of her own, but that is subordinate to her role as wife and mother….
A leader doesn’t wait around for everyone else to line up behind him before taking action. He just starts moving. His moral justification doesn’t come from behind, but from ahead, because he is also a follower of Christ. God’s created order is for men to be the leaders of their families. If they are not following that order, then they are not following Christ’s example, because he was obedient to the Father above all else….
Shouldn’t all government be after the pattern of Christ and the church? Shouldn’t all kings rule as servant leaders? What is the difference between David ruling over Israel and a father/husband ruling over his family? A king rules in order to serve his people, but he never relinquishes his authority as king. Without that authority and all of the power that comes with it he could not serve his people effectively as a servant leader. Although Yeshua does not usually force us (my apologies to Calvin) to do his will–at least not in the present–but he demands our obedience none-the-less. There are more parallels:
Mankind was created to serve God and the woman was created to serve the man. (Gen 1-3, 1 Cor 11:9)
God (the Word made flesh) gave men laws to order and protect his people, and a man governs his own family to order and protect his house. (Gen-Deut, 1 Tim 3:4-5, 1 Tim 5:8)
Yeshua gave up his own life in order to return the Church to a state of perfection and obedience, and then serves her by ruling over her, and a man serves his family by protecting and guiding them even to the point of giving up his own life for them so that together they can serve God in obedience to their calling, which is firstly his calling. (Rom 1:5, 1 Pet 1:2, Rev 2-3, Gen 1-3, 1 Cor 11-9)
… Never does Yeshua submit himself to the Church. Never. He is a servant to the Church (and all of mankind) as its ruler, provider, and kinsman-redeemer. He grants the petitions of believers only at his own discretion.
It was never my goal to get my wife to submit to my leadership. It was always my goal to become a better leader. It just took me a little while to learn that you can’t force people to act as if you already are a good leader. It is the husband’s job to lead and the wife’s job to follow. If the husband is leading, then it’s not his responsibility if the wife refuses to follow. If the wife is following, then it’s not her responsibility if the husband refuses to lead. They each need to do their part regardless of what the other does.
I told my wife that I’m not drifting anymore. This is where I am going, and if you want to be a part of my family, you’ll have to go with me. Of course, there are many things on which my wife and I have come to disagree, but I don’t think that level of detail is necessary here. We discussed our respective roles before we married and were in basic agreement at that time. Our current differences are the result of allowing my family to drift instead of taking an active role at the helm from the very beginning. My values have changed, and my wife’s values have changed. Unfortunately, they have drifted in opposite directions…
I quit accepting my wife’s feelings and opinions as equally authoritative as my own. Not because my opinions are any better than hers, but because I have to make the final decisions. I will consult my wife and I will value her feelings and opinions, but God put authority over the wife onto the husband, and not the other way around. He created us. He knows how we will best live. I decided that I will set the tone and direction of our activities and the moral standards of my house. I quit being afraid of making a wrong decision when I realized that making no decision was even worse. I do not like the prospect of facing God having made wrong decisions for my family, but I am terrified of facing him after having given up my family to whimsy and deception. I will not be the worthless servant who buried his master’s gold in the ground.
You can’t change your spouse; you can only change yourself. As I wrote earlier, my job is to love and to lead my family, and my wife’s job is to support me. I can’t force her to do that, and I wouldn’t even want her “support” if it had to be forced…. Whatever the outcome, I know that through the exercise of love, patience, and faith, I will be a better man on the other side.