Before delving in too far, I offer a couple of brief observations about this umbrella diagram:
One: The wife does not have direct access to Jesus Christ! She must go through her husband! This is not biblical. It is theologically incorrect, and it conflicts with so much Scripture. First Timothy 2:5 proclaims “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” Women, you have direct access to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! Anyone who comes to Christ in faith will be saved (Romans 10:9). Men and women alike can confidently approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Women are not given special instructions to approach differently. A woman does not need her husband or a man in the church to serve as her mediator or covering. Women, Jesus sees YOU and hears YOU!
Two: The role descriptions in this diagram are problematic. Women certainly protect their families too. Right? It is not the exclusive domain of men to protect; mothers are actually noted to be quite protective – think “mama bear.” And even the celebrated Proverbs 31 woman provided income for her family. These strict role descriptions simply don’t match up with the Bible or with the realities of life.
This umbrella diagram portrays patriarchy. But patriarchy is not what the Bible teaches. Here is where we delve in, but we will return again to the umbrella.
Patriarchy: the cultural background, but not God’s model for living
Patriarchy (male rule) and primogeniture (priority of the male first born) is definitely the cultural backdrop of Bible times, but was not God’s intent. The Bible does not teach patriarchy and primogeniture as a model for living. God often worked within the cultural norms for a given time, but was calling his people to something better and different.
For example, primogeniture is regularly subverted and overturned in Scripture. God chose Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David – none of whom were first born. Jesus is the “last Adam” and Jesus exercises authority. The Gospels emphasize that the first will be last, and the last will be first, in God’s kingdom.
Despite the patriarchal cultural backdrop of Bible times, there are a surprising number of instances where God bypassed husbands or men, and directly utilized women for his purposes, even using them to communicate vital information to Israel. Particularly in patriarchal times, this speaks volumes! If patriarchy was God’s mandate, then God breaks his own rule. A few examples:
⇒ In Judges 13, an angel of the LORD went directly to a wife and communicated to her a plan for Israel’s deliverance to come through Samson, rather than mediate through her husband.
⇒ Deborah was a prophet, judge, and military leader in Israel (Judges 4-5) as well as a wife, and she was utilized for God’s purposes as an authority and leader.
⇒ Huldah was a female prophet and a wife, and King Josiah sent a group of important men to her to find out what God wanted them to do (2 Chron. 34; 2 Kings 22-23). These men heeded her word of counsel. Of note, there were male prophets available that they could have sought out instead, but they did not.
⇒ An influential woman known as the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah prevented her town from being destroyed by Joab’s troops, speaking directly and persuasively with Joab. Joab listened and the troops withdrew (2 Sam 20:14-26).
Where did patriarchy come from?
Patriarchy is a result of “the Fall” – that is, the human fall into sin recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Prior to the Fall, in Genesis chapter 1 and 2, there is not even a hint of male rule. Adam and Eve are portrayed as equals and partners to rule over God’s good earth together.
Not until they are deceived by Satan, and sin enters this world, is it then mentioned that as a result of sin “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).
Sin and its consequences is not something to follow and imitate – especially as New Testament believers. The theme of Scripture is the redemption of humankind and the reversal of the effects of the Fall through the work of Jesus Christ. Why would we want to model our lives after the curse?
Jesus demonstrated a new and better way for his sons and daughters to live. (But even in the Old Testament there were signs that God was moving his people slowly towards this better way, as noted above.)
Jesus, and the early church
Jesus routinely treated women in a counter-cultural, non patriarchal, way. Jewish women were generally prohibited from religious education, yet when Mary took the position of a learner at the feet of Rabbi Jesus, he defended her right to learn. Women were among the first witnesses of the resurrection and were sent by the risen Lord Jesus to proclaim the good news to the men. In a patriarchal society where the testimony of women carried little weight, the irony and affirmation of this was huge!
Jesus took women seriously, and saw them as capable, insightful, and intelligent. Men were often surprised by how Jesus interacted with women, because – again – Jesus behaved contrary to patriarchal norms.
The same can be observed in the early church. Philip’s daughters prophesied. Lydia was the prime mover in getting a church started. Phoebe served as a deacon. Priscilla taught theology to Apollos. In Romans 16, Paul greets nine women. Five of the nine are referred to as co-workers and some are praised for working very hard.
The voice and service of women was valued in the early church. They were not relegated to the sidelines. They were not limited to working exclusively with children or other women. Rather, they were seen as capable to work at large in the church utilizing their spiritual gifts.
Back to the umbrella.
Are Christians supposed to be focused on ruling, and being in charge? what about marriage?
The umbrella diagram portrays male rule, but ruling is not supposed to be a concern of Christian believers! In an interesting discussion that Jesus had with his disciples, which can be found in Matthew 20 and Mark 10, Jesus ends up saying:
“You know that those regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
And the passage about marriage in Ephesians 5:21-33 can be strangely misinterpreted and misunderstood. A detailed exposition of this passage would need to be another article, but note:
⇒ The section begins with verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Submission is to be the attitude of all believers, men and women alike, as we imitate our Lord Jesus, who humbled himself and became a servant. This is taught throughout the New Testament. Submission, servanthood, and humility is to be the path of ALL believers.
⇒ As the passage continues, indeed, wives are told to submit and respect, and husbands to love. Okay. Please pause and think.
Women are not told to love in this passage. Only the men are told to love. Does that mean wives do not have to love their husbands? Obviously not!
Because husbands are not told to respect or submit to their wives, does that mean men can treat their wives disrespectfully? Does it mean a man will never submit to his wife, never admit he was wrong about something? I think not! And it would not be loving for a husband to behave this way!
I’d rather not be married to a man that does not respect me or submit to me sometimes. My husband would rather not be married to a woman that does not love him. Both men and women love. Both men and women submit and respect.
Also note the instructions given to husbands in verses 25-33. Husbands are repeatedly told to love their wives, but are not commanded to lead them.
Too many have missed the big picture and broader points of this passage, and strangely pulled out certain words and made them rigid and exclusive. (More detailed discussion on this passage would be for another time.)
In closing…Avoiding false dichotomies
So what is the answer? If not patriarchy (male rule), is it supposed to be matriarchy (female rule)? No. Neither patriarchy or matriarchy is God’s intent for humanity. God’s intent is for men and women to co-rule this earth together.
If an umbrella diagram must be used, male and female are side by side, falling together under the umbrella of our Lord Jesus Christ. See below.
Men and women are not interchangeable, but are individuals, each with unique talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Rather than stereotyping or rigidly seeing our spouse by their gender alone, we view them as a unique man or woman made in the image of God. It is a relationship of mutuality and partnership, where each one sometimes submits and leads, based on ability and circumstance, and each looking to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Marriage will never be perfect in this fallen world, but basing our marriages on the curse, where one rules over the other, should not be the model. Remember that the theme of Scripture is the redemption of humankind and the reversal of the effects of the Fall through the work of Jesus Christ.
Image by @TheAmberPicota
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