The Patriarchy Paradigm
In his April 9, 2010 blog entry, “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem”, P. Andrew Sandlin argues that patriarchy and egalitarianism are equally wrong, false doctrine, and enemies of biblical truth. Now this is not the first time that Andrew has set his sights on the teaching of those who promote “Biblical Patriarchy.” In the past he has written a number of highly critical evaluations concerning the teaching of other brothers in Christ (most of whom are committed adherents to the Reformed faith) who are trying to restore biblical precepts and patterns to the Christian home. He takes the approach that we are dangerous men, false teachers, and enemies to the cause of Christ. I am sorry that he sees us in this light and am disappointed by his latest attack on biblical patriarchy. In the past, we have largely ignored his rhetoric against us, but I sense that it might be helpful to others, and perhaps even to Andrew himself, to offer a response to his April 9 article on “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem.”
But let it be known that I do not enter into this with delight. Years ago I had the privilege of working closely with Andrew. When he was the president of the National Reform Association (1994-1999), I was the vice president and editor of the Association’s periodical The Christian Statesman. Furthermore, while Andrew was the editor of the Chalcedon Report, he graciously invited me to be a regular contributor to that publication. Not only did he give me this opportunity, but he also published some of my work in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, wrote the Foreword to two books that I have written, and collaborated with me in the publication of a third, Explicitly Christian Politics, of which I was the editor. Andrew preached in the church where I pastored and broke bread with me in my home with my family. I thank God for our past seasons of ministry together and for his personal encouragement and help to me as a new author.
When I was a writer for the Chalcedon Report, I never would have anticipated that we would be in an adversarial position over issues relating to the biblical teaching on the role relationship between men and women. After all, as editor of the Chalcedon Report, Andrew published my distinctly anti-feminist and pro-biblical family articles “Should Christians Support a Woman for the Office of Civil Magistrate” (March 1996), “The Feminization of the Family” (February 1998), and “Keepers at Home” (May 1999). Ironically, all three of these articles now appear on the website of Vision Forum Ministries, the same ministry and website that has developed and published the “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” that is the target of his April 9 blog entry.
1. Patriarchy and Parents
Andrew begins with a simple definition of “patriarchy” as “father rule.” As a literal rendering of the compound word patri/archy, this is an acceptable definition. However, the meaning of the word within a biblical context is fuller than that. Patriarchy according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary refers to a patriarchal system of society or government. In Scripture, this idea of patriarchal society or government is represented in the biblical hierarchy that God has established between the man and the woman in society and in the divinely ordained governments of family, church, and state. This hierarchy is part of the creation order, and it applies in all areas of life where men are called by God to exercise authority over others. The Bible reveals that the divine Sovereign has delegated authority to men to exercise headship and to govern under His authority in the family (Eph. 5:24; 1 Tim. 3:4-5), church (1 Cor. 11:3-15, 1 Tim. 2:11-14), and state (Deut. 1:13). And so Andrew is correct in his assessment that “the word patriarchy might be thought to imply that the father as father bears unique and final human authority in the family.” However, it should be noted that the governmental system of patriarchy is not based simply on a man’s status as a father but is based fundamentally on the fact that he is a man functioning within specific covenantal relationships ordained of God for men as men. Patriarchy advocates godly rule by men in their homes in their roles both as husbands and as fathers.
After defining patriarchy, Andrew seeks to make the argument that patriarchy is false in its teaching on male authority in the home because it does not recognize the equal authority of the mother and the father in regard to their children. Through a number of biblical passages he attempts to show that Scripture teaches that a mother has the same authority over her children that the father has. In response to his argument, I offer the following analysis and critique.
We agree fully that children are commanded to honor and submit to both their father and their mother. We believe that God has placed both parents in a position of authority over their children. Hence, children are to obey their mother because she is their mother and not only because she is the wife of their father. The mother has authority given to her directly by God to teach, discipline, and govern her children. And so biblical patriarchy endorses the mother’s own God-given authority over her children and teaches that children must honor and obey her commands and counsel as they would obey the commands and counsel of their father.
However, we disagree strongly with the conclusion that he draws from the biblical fact that children are to honor and obey both their father and their mother. Since Scripture teaches that children are to obey their mother as they are to obey their father, he concludes that the father does not bear “unique and final human authority in the family.” The fallacy of this argument is evident when we consider the following.
First, the fact that a child is commanded to honor and submit to both parents does not negate the possibility that one of the parents holds a position of authority over the other. For example, the fact that a private in the Army is required to give due respect and obey the orders of both his captain and his colonel does not prove that the captain and the colonel have a parity of authority over the private or that the captain and colonel themselves stand in an egalitarian relationship to one another. In any hierarchy of authority those lower in the chain of command are responsible to submit to all who are above them, but at the same time they are aware that the one they are submitting to is also in a position where he must submit to someone who is over him. The Scripture clearly teaches that the husband has headship over his wife (Eph. 5:23; 1 Cor. 11:3), and it also teaches that together they have authority over their children. However, it is wrong to conclude that this means that wife does not have to submit to her husband in her role as a mother. Anyone who understands institutional hierarchy should have no trouble recognizing this.
Second, it is not possible to separate the husband and wife relationship of a man and woman from their roles and duties as parents in the same household over the same children. To teach that the wife is to submit to her husband in her role as a wife but not in her role as a mother is patently false. This false distinction introduces a division into the one flesh relationship that makes parenting something distinct from the marriage and not an integral part of it. In Sandlin’s view, the wife’s submission is limited to matters of marriage only and does not apply to matters of parenting. This view is illogical, incoherent, and unbiblical. It is illogical because it is deduced from a false premise (see the previous point). It is incoherent because it divides marriage and parenting into different compartments and contends that the submission of the woman to the man only applies to marital issues and not to parental issues. It is unbiblical because it stands in contradiction to Ephesians 5:24 that instructs the woman to submit to her own husband in everything. The “everything” must include the wife’s role as a mother, for one of the primary purposes of marriage is to have children and to walk together as parents. Sandlin’s statement that Scripture “never depicts a paternal hierarchy, only a parental hierarchy” can only be true if you separate marriage from parenting. Such a separation however is contrary to everything we know about the one-flesh relationship of marriage. Man’s headship over his wife is not compartmentalized in Scripture; it is comprehensive and all embracing. His headship over her is based in his calling as a man and her calling as a woman. It is biblically incoherent to make marriage a complementarian relationship and parenting an egalitarian relationship.
Third, Scripture does assign unique and final authority to the father in his own household and over his own children. Proof for man’s unique authority over the woman and his household is found in the following:
In the creation order of male positional priority (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:8-24; I Cor. 11:7-12; 1 Tim. 2:13);
In the explicit teaching that man is the head of the woman and that she is to submit to him (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6);
In the biblical law that gives a man authority to overturn the vows of his wife and daughters (Num. 30:3-16);
In the biblical designation of the household as the “father’s house” (this designation occurs 62 times in the KJV, while “mothers house” appears only four times and “parent’s house” does not occur even once; see especially Gen. 18:19; Lev. 22:13; Num. 2:2; 30:3, 16; Deut. 22:21);
In the Scriptures where children are commanded to honor and obey parents the father is named before the mother (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:2; a notable exception is Lev. 19:3);
In the laws of the Bible that regard parental authority over children but only address or speak of fathers (Ex. 22:17; Lev. 21:9; Num. 30:3-5; Deut. 22:29; 32:7; Ps. 78:5-7; Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21) without comparable laws that only speak of mothers;
In the many texts where both parents are named, fathers are almost always named first (see all the references in Sandlin’s article and to these add such texts as Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 18:7-13; Deut. 21:13, 18-20; 22:15-19; 27:16; etc.);
In the elder and deacon qualifications that state that men are to govern their own children and households well (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12).
Therefore, the biblical familial hierarchy goes like this: husband/father > wife/mother > children. Both the husband/father and the wife/mother have authority over the children; but in God’s order the husband/father has also been placed in a position over the wife/mother.
2. Patriarchy and Scripture
In this part of his article, Andrew takes aim at the statement in Vision Forum’s “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” that defines the authority and responsibility of fathers: “5. A husband and father is the head of his household, a family leader, provider, and protector, with the authority and mandate to direct his household in paths of obedience to God. (Gen. 18:19; Eph. 6:4)” He identifies this statement as opposing his view on “parental parity” where he explicitly denies that “the father bears unique and final human authority in the family.” Sandlin emphatically rejects any notion that the husband/father is the head of his household. According to Sandlin, the man may be the head of his wife, but he is definitely not the head of his household. In fact in Andrew’s view of things, “we might even say that while the husband is the head of the wife, the wife is the head of the household.”
Sandlin summarily dismisses the two texts used in “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” to support the husband’s and father’s role as the head of his household as being irrelevant to the discussion of a father’s authority. In regard to Ephesians 6:4, he makes the assumption that the text only mentions fathers, not because they are the heads of their households, but because they are more likely to provoke their children by employing their authority sinfully. That may be the case, though as a pastor who has worked with many family situations over the years, I have seen instances where the mother employed her authority over her children sinfully to a greater degree than her husband. But perhaps there is a better explanation as to why Paul only mentions fathers than Sandlin suggests. If it is the case that the husband/father bears unique and final authority in the family, then he is in a position to abuse his authority in a way the wife/mother is not. If the wife/mother abuses her authority there is an authority over her that can bring relief to the children, i.e., the father. However, if the man holds headship in his household it will be difficult for the woman to check his abuses. It seems to me that this approach makes more sense contextually (here I refer to the whole context of Scripture and of Ephesians 5:22-33), and Paul, as Christ’s representative, rebukes the men for abusing the unique authority Christ has invested in them.
In regard to Genesis 18:19, Sandlin sets this aside on the fact that God made his covenant with Abraham and not with Sarah. Therefore, he concludes there is nothing to be made from the explicit statement that Abraham will “command his children.” There is some merit in what Andrew says here: the point of the passage is not teaching that only fathers have the authority to command their children. However, there are things in this text (not to mention the whole biblical account of Abraham) that indicate that Abraham was the head of his household and therefore make it a legitimate text to support the doctrine that a man is the head of his household.
First, the very fact that God made His covenant with Abraham and not with Sarah has enormous significance in the whole patriarchy debate. The reason that God made His covenant with Abraham is due to the principle of male headship and male representation established by God Himself at the beginning. Furthermore, the covenant with Abraham was not only with Abraham but with his seed; in other words, this covenant included his household and his descendants. (Note that the text of Scripture, as it is God’s Word to Abraham, always speaks in the 2nd person singular “thy seed” [Gen. 17:7-10] and “thy house” [Gen. 17:13], but never in the 2nd person plural as if it were Abraham and Sarah’s seed or household; there is no egalitarian parity expressed here.)
Second, it is important that we consider not only what God said to Abraham about his children but also about his household: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him and they shall keep the way of the LORD. . . .” Here the household is specifically said to be Abraham’s household, and he is pictured positively as commanding his household. The text is clear in regard to Abraham’s authority: the same authority that he has to command his children is the same authority that he has to command his “household.” The Hebrew word for house is often used of figurative sense to refer to persons living together in a house, family, i.e., wife, children, and all domestics” or to refer to “those sprung from any family, descendants, offspring and children” (Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, p. 116). Since the word children was used prior to the word, it most likely refers to his entire household—wife, children, and domestics. Hence this text speaks of Abraham’s comprehensive duty as a husband, father, and master to command all under him to keep the law of God, both now and in the future. It seems evident that this text pictures Abraham as the head of his household, and thus it is rightly used in the “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” in support of the idea that a man is the head of his family.
After his treatment of Ephesians 6:4 and Genesis 18:19, Andrew then seeks to prove from 1 Timothy 5:14 that the woman is not only not under the headship of man in the family, she herself as one who is occupied with domestic duties is actually the one who is “the lord, head, and manager of the family” and “the wife is the head of the household.” 1 Timothy 5:14 instructs widows to marry, bear children, and to “guide the house.” From the injunction to “guide the house,” Sandlin concludes that the woman, because of her domestic role, is “the principal authority” in the home. It is true that the word “guide” can mean to serve as a master of household (Matt. 10:25; 13:27), but it also carries the meaning of occupying oneself in the management of a household as a steward. The context must determine its usage here. The nearest contextual clue to the meaning is found in Paul’s requirement that godly men, i.e., men who are qualified to serve as elders or deacons must be those who “rule” their own houses well (1 Tim. 3:4-5,12). The word for “rule” in these texts means to lead, govern, rule, or preside over. Whatever Paul means in 1 Timothy 5:14, it cannot stand in contradiction to his doctrine in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12. But the harmonization of these texts is not difficult. The role of the husband/father is to preside over his entire household as the head and ruler, and the role of the wife is to serve in a steward-like capacity under her husband in the management of the household.
We give Andrew credit for calling attention to 1 Timothy 5:14 because both men and women need to carefully consider its meaning and application. This passage sets forth the sphere of a woman’s work and the place of her authority. She is the mistress of her home and God invests her with authority to manage and govern its affairs. Men who ignore this and deny their wives the authority to manage the home are sinning. Women who ignore this text and give the management of their homes to others or refuse to make the home the center of their lives and work (cf. Titus 2:5) are also sinning.
Andrew’s statement “that the father and mother must agree on decisions relating to their children and have veto power over each other with respect to their children” may have a ring of truth to some, but in the end it fails to line up with the teaching of Scripture. We who adhere to biblical patriarchy believe that fathers and mothers ought to strive to come to agreement on decisions relating to their children. The father so strives with the recognition that his wife is his own God-appointed helper (and this includes his recognition that she is his chief counselor) and that under normal circumstances it is unwise to act when there is a division of opinion between them, and the wife so strives with the understanding that, while she too has authority in regard to her children, her husband is her God-appointed head (and this includes her recognition that he is her head in the parental sphere). But on the basis of the biblical paradigm of male headship we would deny the absolute statement that they “must agree” on decisions about their children and that woman holds “veto power” over the husband. However, we agree with him when he says, “A father who runs roughshod over the mother’s authority pertaining to their children is no less sinful than a wife who refuses to submit to her husband’s leading.” I know of no responsible teacher of biblical patriarchy who would deny that a mother has authority over her children or approve of a father who “runs roughshod” over the mother’s authority. If a situation ever presented itself where the father has to veto a decision of the mother, he should do so with grace, wisdom, and sensitivity.
His final paragraph on the division of labor in parenting contains some good counsel. However, those who adhere to biblical patriarchy apply the principles of the division of labor within the context of different paradigm than Sandlin’s parental egalitarianism.
3. Patriarchy and Feminism
Andrew Sandlin says he agrees with “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” when it says, “Egalitarian feminism is an enemy of God and of biblical truth.” This is heartening. However, everything he says after that is truly disheartening. He poisons the mind of his readers against biblical patriarchy by calling it “patriarchal machismo,” suggesting that patriarchy is about the glorification of the male gender. Patriarchy does not teach that being a male is superior to being a female. Rather, it teaches that men and women ought to recognize the creation order concerning men and women and gratefully accept the Creator’s plan for their lives. He finishes by categorically stating that biblical patriarchy is an enemy of biblical truth, and, like egalitarian feminism, it must be exposed as false doctrine. Our view is that biblical patriarchy is the antithesis and the antidote to the lie of egalitarian feminism.
But in conclusion, we must ask, if Sandlin rejects both egalitarian feminism and biblical patriarchy what is his paradigm for man and woman in the context of the family? In his article he answers this question for us: 1) In the marital sphere, the husband is the leader and his wife has a duty to submit to him, and so the marriage operates on a complementarian basis; 2) In the parental sphere, there is a parity of authority, and so father and mother operate on an egalitarian basis; 3) In the household or domestic sphere, the wife and mother is the principal authority, and so the household itself operates on a matriarchal basis. This is nothing but confusion and a serious misreading of the Scriptures.
View the article by P. Andrew Sandlin here.