Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.” Genesis 32:7-8 ESV
Jacob divided his camp into two companies. In one company went all of his livestock, and in the other went his family and other possessions. (We can know the general scheme of division because verses 22 and 23 say that all four women and eleven sons were still with him after he had sent off his livestock.) Jacob obviously did not consider his wives and children to be mere property. He was willing to sacrifice all his wealth before sacrificing even one of the concubines. Later, he would also divide his family into separate parties.
There are points in this story where it sounds like Jacob sent his family ahead to face the danger of Esau while he stayed behind to see what would happen, but a careful reading shows that this isn’t what happened at all. Here is a breakdown of the actual sequence of events:
32:3-5 – Jacob sent messengers to Esau to announce his return.
32:6 – Messengers returned to say that Esau was coming with 400 men.
32:7 – Jacob divided people and herds into two groups, but they didn’t go anywhere yet. His entire retinue was still in one location.
32:8-12 – Jacob prayed for deliverance from Esau and declared his trust in God’s promise.
32:13-18 – Jacob sent servants with goats, sheep, camels, cattle, and donkeys as 5 separate gifts to Esau.
32:19-20 – Jacob sent additional presents of herds to Esau.
32:21 – Jacob stayed in the camp with his family.
32:22-23 – Jacob sent his family and remaining possessions across the Jabbok river.
32:24-30 – Jacob wrestled with the angel.
32:31-32 – Jacob returned to his family.
33:1-2 – Jacob divided his remaining camp into three.
33:3 – Jacob went ahead of his family to meet Esau alone.
33:4-11 – Esau met Jacob and his family. Discussion of gifts.
33:12-15 – Esau offered to merge their camps and Jacob refused.
33:16 – Esau returned to Seir.
33:17 – Jacob went on to Sukkot.
At first Jacob feared for himself and his family, so he divided his household into two groups, thinking that if Esau attacked one, then the second might have time to escape. But then, as he prayed for God’s protection, he remembered God’s promise to make his offspring as numerous as the sand of the sea and realized there was nothing Esau could do to threaten that future. He changed his plan.
Instead of sending his household in two different directions, Jacob decided to try to make peace with Esau, apparently hoping to cool his brother’s anger before they even met. He formed small herds of goats, sheep, camels, cattle, and donkeys and sent them ahead as gifts, one herd at a time. He instructed the herdsmen accompanying each herd to tell Esau that they belonged to his servant Jacob and were sent as a gift to Lord Esau. He called Esau “Adonai” and used the same word for gift, minkhah, used of the grain offerings given to YHWH in Leviticus 6 and 7. He simultaneously expressed humility and generosity to someone who was legally and justly his inferior and did so in a way that was certain to soften Esau’s heart toward him.
Jacob then followed this with more of the same, with groups of animals–the most widely recognized form of wealth–probably arriving over the course of at least two days. He could have sent all of these animals as a single, tremendous offering, but he understood that many small–but still generous–gifts over time will have a much deeper impact on the recipient than a greater gift given all at once. If a soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), how much more will a dozen soft answers?
In Genesis 32:22, Jacob took his family and the rest of his household across the Jabbok River north of Esau’s territory. While both sides of the river were within the territory that God had ultimately promised to Abraham’s descendants, it was a significant geographic boundary separating them from Esau. Jacob had authority from God, but Esau still held most of the actual power, as evidenced by the significant force that accompanied him–100 more men than Abraham fielded in his war against Chedorlaomer in Genesis 14.
Verse 23 says that Jacob “sent them across the stream” and is then left alone in verse 24 for his wrestling match with the angel. However, verse 22 shows that he crossed the Jabbok with his family, probably going back and forth multiple times to lead them across in smaller groups. When his entire household had successfully crossed the river, it appears that Jacob went back by himself, possibly to make one last check for stragglers, just as we might check under all the pillows and in all the drawers of a hotel room before finally checking out.
Even then, the text doesn’t say which side of the river Jacob was on during his encounter with the angel. Most people assume that he was on the north bank since he was by himself, and that seems reasonable but is ultimately unknowable. The antiquity of Genesis necessitates guessing at many dates, names, and locations.
My point is that Jacob didn’t send his family ahead into danger. In 33:1, he is back with his family again, so whether he wrestled on the north or the south bank of the Jabbok, they were never far away.
In 33:1-2, when Jacob could see Esau and his men approaching, he divided his camp again, this time into a column of three groups, with those he valued most at the rear. Bilhah and Zilpah with their children were in the first group, Leah and her children in the next, and Rachel and Joseph in the last. Each of these groups probably included herds, beasts of burden, servants, and armed guards. Even after giving away enormous wealth to Esau, Jacob was likely still a very wealthy man.
Good leaders, fathers, and husbands should almost always be first into danger and the last to escape. Verse 3 says plainly that Jacob then went ahead of all these to be the first to meet Esau on the road, bowing seven times along the way. Although we know from Genesis 29:10 that Jacob was a strong man, he didn’t want a fight with Esau, let alone with all of his men. He wisely softened Esau’s heart before they met with generous gifts, shows of humility, and generally treating Esau as an honored lord, all the while putting himself and all his wealth in danger before his wives and children.
Finally, knowing Esau’s fiery character from previous decades spent with him, he seems to have also suspected that Esau’s good will might not last and that his men would not make good company for his family on the road.
In 33:12-15, Esau offered to accompany him on the road, but Jacob found a gracious way to decline: “Let my lord go on ahead of his servant, and I will lead my group slowly, at the pace of the livestock and children, until we reach Seir.” He flattered Esau by acknowledging his ability to travel more quickly, he made himself seem weaker in Esau’s eyes, and he even lied to say that they would join him in Seir, when he had no intention of going there.
Esau responded by offering to leave a group of men behind to guard them on the road, but without their lord present to keep them in check, that might prove even more dangerous than traveling with Esau. Jacob’s response this time was simpler, but even more subtly flattering: “There’s no need. Only let me find favor in your sight.” That last was probably to say that if everyone knew that Jacob was in Esau’s good graces, who would dare try to harm him? So Esau went to Seir and Jacob went to Sukkot.
Jacob, far from being a coward, showed himself to be a generous, determined, and humble leader. He put the well-being of his family ahead of his own, recognizing and avoiding dangers to them, and humiliated himself before the world in order to preserve them. He was far from perfect, but in this episode of his life, Jacob was a model from which all fathers and husbands can learn.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18
Men and Women are Not the Same
According to Adam Clarke (Commentary on the Bible), the Hebrew for “help meet for him,” ezer kenegdo, “implies that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself.” He was right to an extent.
Mankind, both male and female, is unique among God’s breathing creations, those beings that Scripture calls nephesh, or souls. This is confusing to many English speakers because we often use the terms “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing in the Bible. A soul is a living being, while a spirit is the incorporeal part of a person that carries on the essence of the person after the body dies.1
Eve was like Adam in that she was of the same kind of being, mankind, somewhere between angel and beast. Like Adam, Eve was a living soul in possession of a body, spirit, and mind. She shared his divine mission of caring for the Garden and, by extension, the whole Earth. She shared in his authority and in his role as a connection between the eternal Creator and his temporal creation.
But Eve was never “a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority.”2 The physical differences between men and women are obvious. Sane people do not allow men to compete in women’s athletic events, even if those men are pretending to be women. Every society that has every existed has recognized the sexual dimorphism of humanity, sorting men and women into activities that are best suited to their capabilities. Among hunter-gatherers, men almost always do the hunting, fighting, and heavy lifting, while women almost always do the gardening and textile work, which might be even more challenging in their ways, but don’t require the same strength or speed.3
The mental differences are intuitively apparent to most people. Think of the joke about men being a machine with a single switch and women being another machine covered in switches, dials, gauges, and buttons without a hint of what they’re supposed to do. The joke is an exaggeration, of course, but still close enough to the truth to be funny. The mind is significantly more opaque than the body, so the differences between the sexes is harder to quantify, but the work of many reputable researchers, astute observers of human behavior, and less reputable (but possibly more effective) proponents of dating Game, have established their existence and general parameters beyond reasonable argument.
The spiritual differences between men and women are not so obvious. They are evident, however, in the spiritual and hierarchical roles into which men and women have almost universally organized their activities, in the Creation story of Genesis, and in the many scriptural examples of and references to the differently ordained roles of men and women.
Consider just a handful of many dozens of examples:
God repeatedly chose a younger son to inherit the covenants and promises of Abraham, never a daughter, although their wives and daughters certainly participated in those covenants. (Genesis)
When God chose someone to lead Israel out of Egypt, he chose Moses rather than Miriam. Only men were appointed by Moses as leaders over the people at God’s direction. Only the sons of Levi are permitted to serve at the Tabernacle and only the sons of Aaron to serve at the altar, although their wives and daughters enjoy some of the benefits of that service. (Exodus, Numbers)
The land of Israel is passed from father to son and only to a daughter if the man had no sons. A woman joins the tribe of her husband–never the other way around–and so a daughter who inherits her fathers land must marry a man of her own tribe in order to keep the land intact. (Numbers)
God gave fathers the explicit right to annul the vows of their wives and daughters, but not of their sons, and Paul twice wrote of the obligation of wives to respect and obey their husbands. (Numbers 30, Ephesians, Colossians)
At about this point, some readers might be thinking to themselves, “My! What a misogynist!” But how so? If I say that elms make better shade than palms, does that mean I am somehow anti-palm trees? If I say that dump trucks haul more rocks than do refrigerated panel vans, am I saying anything against refrigerated panel vans? Of course not, to both questions. I am merely pointing out that some things are better at one thing than another.
I am also not saying that women have no legitimate role in ministry or leadership. Although men are more suited to many kinds of leadership and a preponderance of women in leadership is almost certainly a symptom of a society in trouble, God never said, “Thou shalt not suffer a woman to lead.” Scripture records a number of prophetesses and one God-ordained woman who served as the national Judge of Israel at a time when men were weak and cowardly.
Men and women are different physically, mentally, and spiritually, and it would be impossible for them to be equally suitable to performing the same tasks or filling the same roles. To insist otherwise is actually anti-man and anti-woman by disregarding their unique strengths and weaknesses.
A Help Meet for Him
If it’s not clear already, the term “help meet” (often mistakenly given as “help mate”) doesn’t mean that Eve was created to be Adam’s slave. In fact, Moses and David both used the same word to refer to God as their own helper. (Exodus 18:4, Psalm 33:20, 70:5) Surely they didn’t think of YHVH as a personal servant to be summoned and ordered about at will! God is the indisputable superior in those relationships, yet he is still called a helper.
In Ezekiel 12:14, God refers to the personal attendants–whether guards, aides, or mercenaries–of the King of Judah with this same word. So ezer ultimately implies neither inferiority nor superiority. Rather than a servant, ezer implies an ally, an indispensable supporter, and even a rescuer.
The Hebrew phrase ezer kenegdo literally translates to “a helper suitable to him”–“Meet” is an archaic English synonym of “suitable”–and by itself the word doesn’t necessarily imply any kind of hierarchal relationship at all.
So then what does it mean for Eve to be a help meet for Adam?
The fact that she was made specifically for Adam’s purposes, and not for her own, demonstrates that God’s intended purpose for her was to assist Adam in his divinely appointed mission, not to launch a separate mission of her own.
Genesis 2:15 says that God placed Adam in the Garden to keep it, but he immediately recognized that Adam could not effectively perform the task unaided, and so v18 says “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Before God created Eve, he brought all of the animals to Adam to examine and name them. The naming is explicit in the text, while the examination is implied by the context and the ancient Hebrew practice of naming a thing according to its character and behavior.
The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. Genesis 2:20
A Perfect Complement
One of the purposes of this naming exercise was to demonstrate to Adam that none of these lesser creatures could ever be an adequate help in Adam’s primary task of caring for the Garden. God created Eve immediately afterward and, from God’s reaction, we can know that Adam was acutely aware of the animals’ entire deficiency:
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.” Genesis 2:23
Eve was like Adam in a manner that no other creature could approach. She walked on two feet and manipulated the world with hands, fingers, and opposable thumbs, just like Adam. She spoke, laughed, reasoned, and loved like Adam, and, like Adam, she was, in her being, the image of God and carried within her the same breath that God exhaled into him.
God didn’t create Eve merely to be Adam’s friend, but she was his friend more profoundly than any of the animals could ever be. A horse can bear a man across country, a dog can show him affection, and an ox can help him plow a field, but none of these can carry on a conversation, help him solve a complex problem, bear his children, or offer him any wisdom. A wife can do all of these things and more.
Eve was Adam’s perfect complement.
It is abnormal for a woman to lead a nation or to be a spiritual teacher over men, but it is certainly no sin, and it is sometimes quite necessary. When a woman steps into a leadership role because the man who should be there is unavailable, unable, or unwilling, she is, in fact, fulfilling her purpose as a “helper suitable to Adam”. It’s a long way from God’s original ideal, but, in his wisdom, his plan included remedies for less than ideal conditions, and we should all thank God for women who are willing to step up to leadership roles when men fail!
God created Adam and appointed him to a task before he created Eve. From this we know that Eve’s purpose is to aid Adam. But God also purposefully created Adam incomplete and unable to perform the task to which he had been set, so that he would love Eve and fully appreciate his need for her.
I suspect that we would all live happier, more fulfilling lives if we didn’t fight so hard against God’s plan and instead used it as a blueprint for our marriages, families, and civil governments.
1 Major tangent: Like God, man is a tripartite being, a living soul, made up of body, spirit, and mind. Our bodies are made up of numerous, complex organs and systems that are also made up of complex, interconnected systems. Our consciousnesses, the part of our thoughts and minds that can’t be dissected and objectively measured, also appear to contain separate systems and components. What about our spirits? We know almost nothing about them, and anyone who claims otherwise is most likely either a con-artist or under demonic influence. However, we do know that God’s Spirit is seven-fold in some manner (Isaiah 11:2; Revelation 1:4, 3:1, etc.) and probably more complex in ways that we couldn’t possibly understand. What might that say about our own spirits? Or about the anatomy (for lack of a better word) of the rest of God? Purely academic questions, of course. There’s no way to answer them and probably little value in spending a lot of time thinking about it.
2 I’m sure Clarke never meant to imply that men and women are equal in a mathematical sense, but many people to day really do believe his statement to be literally true despite all evidence and reason.
3 Goldberg, Stephen. The Inevitability of Patriarchy. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1974. 228. “…the central fact is that men and women are different from each other from the gene to the thought to the act and that emotions that underpin masculinity and femininity, that make reality as experienced by the male eternally different from that experienced by the female, flow from the biological natures of man and woman…the women of every society have taken the paths they have not because they were forced by men but because they have followed their own imperatives.”
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.
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.
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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.
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