As a homeschooling family, we come in contact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. One of the groups that is fairly common within the homeschooling community is the modern patriarchy movement, or as they refer to it “Biblical Patriarchy.” Some of the big names in this group include, R.C. Sproul, Jr., Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, and Doug Wilson of Credenda Agenda magazine. R.C. Sproul, Jr. and Doug Phillips have put together a list of tenets to help define Biblical Patriarchy. They define the reason for the movement this way:
We emphasize the importance of biblical patriarchy, not because it is greater than other doctrines, but because it is being actively attacked by unbelievers and professing Christians alike. Egalitarian feminism is a false ideology that has bred false doctrine in the church and seduced many believers. In conscious opposition to feminism, egalitarianism, and the humanistic philosophies of the present time, the church should proclaim the Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy as an essential element of God’s ordained pattern for human relationships and institutions.
While many, especially within the homeschooling and Reformed communities, would agree that feminism, egalitarianism, and humanism are wrong and should be opposed, Biblical Patriarchy is not the answer. It’s not Biblical. It is a dangerous distortion of the truth. It destroys families and can tear apart churches.
As Dr. Steven Tracy, a professor at Phoenix Seminary, wrote in his article,”1 Corinthians 11:3: A Corrective to Distortions and Abuses of Male Headship:”
Donald Bloesch, a complementarian, astutely observes: In opposing militant feminism, however, we must not make the mistake of enthroning patriarchal values that have often held women and children in bondage and oppression. Similarly, in the context of noting the harmful results of egalitarianism, which he says are anarchy or matriarchy, he issues a sober warning: a very real danger in the patriarchal family is tyranny in which the husband uses his power to hold his wife and children in servile dependence and submission.
Biblical Patriarchy is also not the only option in opposing feminism and egalitarianism. I hold to the position mentioned above called Complementarianism. I believe that men and women are equal before God and that husbands and wives are made to complement each other. I also believe that men are called to be the spiritual leaders of their families and that women are not called to be officers in the Church. I believe that I am to submit to my husband’s leadership and that my husband is to love me sacrificially like Christ demonstrated by dying for the Church. I also believe that my husband and I are both to submit to the leadership of the elders that God has placed over us.
Those who hold to Biblical Patriarchy would probably agree with everything I just outlined. However, this is not what Biblical Patriarchy is about. Instead of sticking to Scripture in defining the roles of men and women in the home, the church, and in society, Biblical Patriarchy starts with Scripture and then branches out into culturally biased opinions. It may seem odd to call it culturally biased, but it is. It owes a lot to the cultural ideals of the Victorian Era, especially the concept of separate spheres.
While it may seem like Biblical Patriarchy and Complementarianism are very similar, or even the same thing, there are very important distinctions between the two. One of the best examples of the differences between Biblical Patriarchy and Complementarianism has to do with women working or holding leadership positions outside the home, in the workforce, or in government.
Dr. Steven Tracy also addressed this in his article:
Male headship does not mean that females are not invested with any authority … . While complementarians by definition believe that God has given the man final domestic and ecclesiastical authority, the woman as the man`s equal is given significant and varied authority (the right or power to do something). … [W]e should note that in Scripture, godly women have authority to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8), prophesy (Is 8:3; Acts 2:17-18; 21:8-9), run a household (Prov 31:10-31), manage commercial enterprises (Prov 31:10-31), give men corrective accountability (1 Sam 25:18-38; Luke 18:1-8; Acts 18:26), and serve as co-laborers with men in ministry (Judges 4; Rom 16:1-3, 6; Phil 4:2-3).
In contrast, Vision Forum’s Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy outlines the following tenets:
11. Male leadership in the home carries over into the church: only men are permitted to hold the ruling office in the church. A God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres as an application of and support for God’s order in the formative institutions of family and church.(1 Tim. 3:5)
13. Since the woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a “keeper at home,” the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home, although her domestic calling, as a representative of and helper to her husband, may well involve activity in the marketplace and larger community. (Gen. 2:18ff.; Prov. 31:10-31; Tit. 2:4-5)
14. While unmarried women may have more flexibility in applying the principle that women were created for a domestic calling, it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion (industry, commerce, civil government, the military, etc.). The exceptional circumstance (singleness) ought not redefine the ordinary, God-ordained social roles of men and women as created. (Gen. 2:18ff.; Josh. 1:14; Jdg. 4; Acts 16:14)
This is where Biblical Patriarchy goes far and away beyond what Scripture teaches. While wives are to be helpers for their husbands, and men are to be the officers of the church, Scripture does not teach that:
A God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres as an application of and support for God’s order in the formative institutions of family and church.
It also doesn’t teach that:
[I]t is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion (industry, commerce, civil government, the military, etc.).
The discussion of the domestic and public spheres of dominion comes not from Scripture, but from secular culture. The concept of men and women occupying separate spheres goes back to the ancient Greeks and Aristotle, but it gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution and Victorian Era. The idea is that men inhabit the public sphere which includes government, business, etc. and that women inhabit the domestic sphere of child-rearing, housekeeping, and education. A popular Victorian Era poem called “The Angel in the House” exemplified the ideal Victorian woman, and the image of the wife and mother who was pious and submissive came to be referred to as “the angel in the house.”
Unfortunately, this has next to nothing to do with the Bible. Aristotle’s idea, which carried over into the Victorian Era, and into modern Biblical Patriarchy, was that women are by nature inferior to men. Is this the picture of men and women who were created by God together in His image? Is it consistent with the Scriptures that teach that men and women are equal before God? Is this consistent with the description of the virtuous woman from Proverbs 31?
The underlying view of women as inferior plays out in very destructive ways. In Biblical Patriarchy, men are given the tools to dominate and rule over women in abusive and heavy-handed ways. One of the big problems, according to Biblical Patriarchy, is that women are prone to rebellion and need to be directed in submission.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I struggle with sin like all other daughters of Eve and submitting to my husband’s leadership is a challenge at times. By the same token, my husband struggles with sin like all other sons of Adam and loving me sacrificially is a challenge for him. This is not what Biblical Patriarchy is talking about.
Here is an example from an article by Doug Wilson, “Not Where She Should Be.” Wilson explains that husbands may find that their wives are rebellious in various ways:
Most married Christian men are not in this position, but at the same time we cannot say the problem is extremely rare.
The symptoms can of course vary. He may be distressed over her spending habits, television viewing habits, weight, rejection of his leadership, laziness in cleaning the house, lack of responsiveness to sexual advances, whatever. But however the problem is manifested, what should a husband do?
He goes on to explain what steps a husband should take to ensure submission from his wife. After confessing his own sins, a husband is encouraged to sit his wife down and explain to her that things need to change and that she needs to start doing her duties:
[H]is expectations for change should not be exhaustive, but rather representative. He should want to address the problem in principle, not in toto. The purpose of this discussion is not to present a twenty-year-old list of grievances–love does not keep a record of wrongs–but rather to help her learn to do her duty, and to lead her as she learns what is, for her, a difficult lesson. She can learn on a representative problem. She would be overwhelmed with a requirement that she change everywhere, all at once. If, for example, the problem is one of poor housekeeping, he should require something very simple, i.e. that the dishes be done after every meal before anything else is done.
The first time the dishes are not done, he must sit down with his wife immediately, and gently remind her that this is something which has to be done. At no time may he lose his temper, badger her, call her names, etc. He must constantly remember and confess that she is not the problem, he is. By bringing this gently to her attention, he is not to be primarily pointing to her need to repent; rather, he is exhibiting the fruit of his repentance.
He does this, without rancour and without an accusative spirit, until she complies or rebels. If she complies, he must move up one step, now requiring that another of her duties be done. If she rebels, he must call the elders of the church and ask them for a pastoral visit. When the government of the home has failed to such an extent, and a godly and consistent attempt by the husband to restore the situation has broken down, then the involvement of the elders is fully appropriate.
Where in Scripture does it say that a husband is responsible for enforcing his wife’s submission or that it is appropriate to micro-manage her? This is a prescription for abuse. Notice what is included in the list of things a wife might be rebellious about.
Where in Scripture does a husband have any right to tell his wife how much she should weigh? I don’t want to imagine that conversation. “Honey, I realize that it’s my fault for buying the ice cream, but your current weight isn’t attractive enough to me. You need to lose a good 15 lbs, and if you aren’t willing to submit to my authority on this matter then I’ll need to call the pastor and elders in.” It sounds ridiculous and extreme, but that is the sad reality of many men and women caught in the lies of Biblical Patriarchy.
Another example comes from a discussion I was part of recently. The question was raised by a young husband and father: should a husband tell his wife how to vote? I was floored by the question, not so much by the topic itself, but by the underlying assumptions. A wife is assumed to need direction in how to vote. She’s assumed to be rebellious in her choices. She’s assumed to have inferior abilities. Her husband is assumed to have an authority that includes directing her even in this matter.
My thought was that if a wife is voting for a morally bad candidate and can’t be trusted to make a wise and godly choice, there are much bigger problems in the marriage than whether or not her husband has the right to dictate her voting choices.
According to my understanding of Complementarianism, a husband and wife will discuss and make decisions together. A husband will appreciate the insight his wife can give him, and a wife will appreciate the insight her husband can give her. This is the Biblical picture of help-meets.
Biblical Patriarchy is a perversion of the truth. It is not a corrective for feminism, but rather a culturally biased over-reaction. Instead of returning families and Churches to Scripture, it tears them apart. As Complementarians, we should be careful to voice our opposition to both egalitarianism and Biblical Patriarchy. We should not sit by quietly while women are dishonored and mistreated.
Matthew Henry gave a beautiful picture of the Biblical relationship between husbands and wives in his Commentary on Genesis:
[T]he woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. Matthew Henry Commentary on Genesis 2:22
That is something to remember and to strive for in our relationships.