The Patriarchy Movement

A friend mailed us a series of articles written by Mr. Doug Phillips, a forerunner in what has been referred to as the “Back to Patriarchy Movement.” Mr. Phillips does offer, in a roundabout way, some helpful advice on possible dangers and pitfalls from which much can be gleaned.

Unfortunately, this well-intended series, entitled “God Calls Men to Be Providers,” postulates from the outset that God has ordained, yea, commanded, that the husband and father be the exclusive provider to his family.

To our understanding this is an un-sound statement, and is, though doubtfully at best, simply a speculatively possible implication of the true intent of the Scripture cited, which primarily concerns the care of widows within the church.

Mr. Phillips overextends the biblical teaching on the matter by insisting that the text that he has as his subject, 1 Timothy 5:1-16, precludes a woman from being a provider in the family, resulting in the accusation by Phillips that men who allow their wives to go out in to the marketplace “emasculate themselves” and give their wives over to “serving two masters”.

Before we proceed to these points, let’s first examine the passage together.

Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. Honor widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan. If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. (1 Timothy 5:1-16)

The context shows that Paul is instructing his young protégé, Timothy, in the manner that he and the church should treat women who have been widowed. The context of verse 8, then, is that of a believer who is obligated to care for the widow in his family, whether he is a man or a woman, which is borne out by verse 16. To set aside this context does considerable damage not only to the passage but also to interpretation as a whole, as Scripture ought to interpret Scripture, and be taken within its contextual setting.

The phrase “his own house” in verse 8 has reference to the immediate family not just under a husband and fathers authority and headship, but one in which the woman of 1 Timothy 5:16 might be involved. From the Commentary of Jamison, Fosset, and Brown we read:

But-reverting to v.4, ‘if any (a general proposition, therefore including the widow’s children or grandchildren) provide not for his own (relations), and especially for those of his own family, he hath (practically) denied the faith.’ Faith without love and its works is dead. If in any case a duty of love is plain, it is towards one’s own relatives. ‘Faith does not set aside, but strengthens natural duties.’ Worse than an infidel-because even an infidel is taught by nature to provide for his own relatives, and generally recognizes the duty: the Christian who does not so is worse (Matt. v.46,47).”

The correct interpretation of the passage is simply that those who are able to care for the widows in their own family are to do so, whether they are male or female, while the church is under obligation to care for the widow who has no one to provide for her. A reading of the book of Ruth in the Old Testament gives a view of what this provision for relatives should look like. Any one who has the means to provide for their needy, widowed relative and does not is considered as a heathen.

Hopefully, it can be seen from the preceding (albeit brief) exegesis that Mr. Phillips will not find solid footing for his premise in 1 Timothy, as insisting that it has application only to men. Yet, we have to concur that the primary—but not the sole—responsibility for provision is upon the father and husband, not upon the wife. However, the real question which seems to need addressing is, “Is this responsibility to be shared?” and, if so, “How?” To rephrase the question, “Does the Bible anywhere teach that a woman may assist her husband in providing?” Let’s go back to the book of Beginnings, Genesis, and see where it all started, in order that we might attain an answer to these questions, and, while doing so, a fuller understanding of the God ordained roles of man and wife.

We return to Genesis because we need to examine the foundational teaching of the Scriptures concerning the nature of man (who he was created to be, and what he was created to do) before the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. We believe this is critical because the institution of marriage was brought into existence before the debilitating and destructive introduction of sin into the created order, and consequently, man’s alienation from his Creator. We must be informed of the biblical and creational backdrop to see the picture properly. Two passages are offered:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26-28)

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)

Man was created in the image of God. According to the Answer of Question 10 of the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, How did God create man? “God created man male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”

Following the teaching of the Bible, the Catechism teaches that man reflects the image of God in three ways.

First, he reflects the image in knowledge. Adam, before the fall, was capable of understanding God’s revelation of Himself in the created order.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field…(Genesis2:19-20).

Adam knew what the animals should be called, and he named them appropriately. In other words, the names he assigned to each part of the creation accurately described what they were. In calling the woman Eve (which means “life-giving”), Genesis3:20 says he did so “because she was the mother of all living.”

G.I. Williamson states

Adam (while yet without sin) was a prophet in the highest sense…. He showed himself able to grasp—and express—the true nature of things…. For a prophet is one who can see the truth of God and speak the same for the benefit of others (italics are Williamson’s).

This prophetic role still belongs to all men: Scripture teaches that only those who are united by faith to God, in His Son, Jesus Christ, can fulfill it properly. Christian men and women are both responsible to be prophets in the home, in the church, and in the culture[1].

However, we do not intend to say that all Christians in each of the three societies that God has established exercise this function in the same manner.

The prophetic role in the home, normatively speaking, belongs to the head of the household primarily, and to the wife and mother secondarily. Who will deny the teaching function to one’s co-heir of the grace of life (2 Peter 3:1-6) and to his children? And, children who have the Spirit of Christ have the mind of Christ (as a part of the Body of the Church), and so they, too, in their respective capacities and stations, are able to teach in some manner, and fulfill in some way their prophetic duty and privilege.

The prophetic role in the church belongs, primarily, to those who are called to teach and preach—and the preaching function, the prophetic office, is by Scripture confined to qualified males only.

However, in regard to the culture, we know of no direct teaching of Scripture that forbids woman to teach men, although many abuse Scripture significantly be taking Paul’s words to Timothy about not allowing women to teach or have authority over a man to mean in the culture, when Paul explicitly says that the churches of God have no such practice, thereby limiting the sphere of his injunction to the church alone.

Man in his original state also reflected the image of God in holiness. Adam, before the fall, was the possessor of a heart that was completely devoted to God. He could say, in the words of the Psalmist, “God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” (Psalm 73:26). Therefore, Christian men are wholly devoted to God in purity: they are holy, as He who saved them is holy. This is the basis of a man’s priesthood: he is set apart, that is, he is holy, in his priestly office as husband and father (if he has children).

In one other way man reflected the image of God, and that was in righteousness. Adam, before the fall, was the one who ruled the creation on God’s behalf, by God’s decree.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1: 26-28)

To sum up in the very apropos words of Williamson concerning Adam; “Because he knew the Lord’s will (as a prophet), and desired to serve Him only (as a priest), he was also able to do the works of righteousness as a king of creation.”

So then, we have in Genesis 1: 26-28 the determination of God to create man in His image, and in Genesis 2:18-25 an account of the sixth day, of how the LORD formed the animals, and how Adam named them. He did this in his reflective role of Prophet, Priest, and King.

After Adam names the animals, we are told that there was not a suitable helper found for Adam, obviously referring to the parade of animals that had just taken place. In verse 18, God has already stated that it wasn’t good for man to be alone (not lonesome, or lonely, but by himself, solitary, as in the only), to which we refer back to Genesis1:27,

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

This teaches us that the determination of God was always to create both male and female, contradicting that teaching which would have us believe that it wasn’t until after He created Adam that God realized the man needed a counterpart. Adam was created needing Eve to be “complete”.

Adam could have no conversation with the animals, he “couldn’t relate” to them. Therefore, he had no intimate, confiding relationship with the created order. While he shared with his Creator certain communicable qualities, there was none to be found who was his equal. Without this helper fit for him (she was “made to order”), he was powerless to fulfill the mandate to populate and subdue the earth. Without Eve’s help and godly influence, Adam would not be able to give to the LORD the godly offspring that He desires (Malachi 2:15). Clearly, God had given the institution of marriage for more than companionship. In His sovereign decree, He had determined that man, male and female, would act together to reflect God in his image of Prophet, Priest, and King over all of creation. (It should in no way be established that the woman was in any way subordinate in regards to fulfilling the mandate given to Adam. Certainly, the Scriptures tell us of the subordinate position of the woman as regards function, but she was by nature his equal, having been taken from his side, not his feet!)

An illustration of this theme is found in Michelangelo’s depiction of the creation of man that is found in the Sistine Chapel. In the motif, Adam is portrayed as reclining upon the Earth, with his outstretched arm almost, but not quite, touching the outstretched right arm of God from the heavenlies. God has His left arm wrapped around Eve’s shoulders, perhaps to symbolize His omniscient awareness that there is more to come for Adam. Though speculative, the plausibility of this interpretation of Michelangelo’s work is compelling as we consider the general equality of men and women taught in Scripture, and contended for by Christianity.

B.M. Palmer wrote:

God created first the individual—the man, who was the compendium [essence] of all His creative acts—made in His own image, with reason, conscience and will, and appointed as ruler over the creatures. Then, from his substance an exact counterpart was fashioned, the reflection of his own being; the mode of her derivation establishing identity of nature, and a unity which is not weakened by diversity.

A final quote from Robert C. Harbach will suffice to strengthen the importance of this perspective:

…Without the woman, man could not (1) express his social and covenant nature, his God-given friendly nature, could not (2) execute God’s command to propagate the race (1:28), nor (3) begin the generation of the elect church, nor (4) be God’s means to the production of the seed of the woman. He was in need intellectually, physically, and psychically of a human being like himself, corresponding to him, his counterpart and complement (Studies in Genesis).

From Scripture and other testimonies we have shown: 1) that the responsibility of labor was first given to the husband, Genesis 2:15, and, 2) that the woman was given later as a helper for the man, that he might fulfill his responsibilities, Genesis2:18.

We agree, then, that the primary responsibility for provision is upon the father and husband, not upon the wife. Yet, this responsibility is to be shared, in that Eve comes alongside to help Adam fulfill it. To say she is not responsible in any manner would deny the very reason for her being there. Although Adam was previously the one solely responsible to God in his role of King to provide, first for himself, Eve comes to fill that which he was lacking, and they together exercise dominion[2] in this way (as well as in reflecting the image of God as priest[est] and prophet[ess].

We might suggest at this point that Eve was as much Adam’s “counterpart and complement” in providing for the first family as she was in other ways, and leave the matter there. But, because we have stated that a man is primarily responsible for provision (not solely), we would go on to examine how or when the assistance on the part of the woman occurs.

Proverbs 31:10-28 gives the well known description of a virtuous woman:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

We learn here of the manifold labors of a godly, virtuous woman. She not only does these things diligently and well, but according to the passage, she does them for her family, and in the culture. It is asserted that “she seeketh wool”, “she bringeth her food from afar”, and so forth and so on. Granted, if she is married, a woman is to do these things under the authority and headship of her husband as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5, but the passage clearly shows how she responsibly helps her husband in providing for the household.[3]

Returning to the 1 Timothy 5 passage with which we began, we now understand why in verse 16 Paul would say, “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them”, which clearly proves that men alone may not be the only means of provision in the home.

Returning to Mr. Phillips’ contention that men who allow their wives to work outside the home “emasculate themselves,” we reply that the emasculation occurs when men prohibit their wives unnecessarily from taking part when able in the family’s provision.

As to the contention Phillips makes that women who do work outside the home serve two masters, we simply would reiterate that this contention, apparently based on Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13[4], is an unnecessary confusion of truth, as the text has as its decided meaning the idea that no man can love both God and money at the same time, and that to force its application upon the marital union is the use of a very poor hermeneutic. Moreover, such a poor exegete as the man who accepts the patriarchal understanding of these verses undermines his own authority, in the home and in the church, which is “the ground and pillar of truth.”

A further concern we have with the Patriarchy Movement involves not only a misapplication of certain biblical truths, but the resulting confusion of biblical principles between societies established by God in creation and providence.

Principles that apply to the family are confusedly carried into the societies of the church and culture; principles that are intended to apply to the church are carried inappropriately into the family and the culture; and principles that are given to guide Christians in regard to the culture are applied to the family and the church. The confusion of these varied principles is detrimental to these three societies.

An example[5] will illustrate our point.

We have noticed that some patriarchal assemblies assign to the men the function of headship in that they give “heads of households” certain rights and privileges in the public assembly and in the culture that Scripture assigns to them in their own households, but which Scripture does not assign to every head of household in the church or in the culture.

A man may be the “elder” of his family, leading them in family worship by God’s command, but nowhere does Scripture carry this responsibility into the church or into the world.

Further, because a man has the final authority in decision-making in the home, as a function given him by God, it does not follow that only men are to be the decision-makers in the church, or the only ones with a vote in the cultures politics.

The confusion caused by this overextension of the headship principle into the church and culture is noticeable.

First, when the headship principle is overemphasized, women lose their right to give their consent to those who have the rule over them, a right gained most fully in the Congregational polity, but conceded to in Presbyterianism.

Second, and similarly, a woman’s right to choose who has the right of rule over her in the culture is lost when patriarchal practice denies her the right of suffrage at the voting place.

Third, some Patriarchal assemblies believe and practice that because a man is the head of his house implies he should be the one to serve the Lord’s Supper to his family in the public assembly. In Protestant doctrine and practice this responsibility has fallen on the pastor and the other elders, who are given the oversight of the flock, and not on every head of household without exception.[6] Yet, in some patriarchal assemblies we observe the headship principle extending itself further than Scripture dictates in dictating that heads of household should be the one serving the Supper.

Fourth, we have also noticed that some patriarchal assemblies only allow men to give prayer requests from the congregation, on the premise that men are the priests of the family and home (in those assemblies where women are allowed to speak the Patriarchal mindset still creates tension for the congregants if a woman does speak). How does this separation within the priesthood get defended? Only by referring to the headship principle given for the marriage union, in the family, which headship principle, to repeat necessarily, Scripture nowhere applies to the societies of the church or culture when speaking of the roles of men and women[7].

The statement “men are priests in the home” requires some qualification. Certainly, the principle means that men are to pray for their families. And, their priestly, prophetic, and kingly duty is to lead their family in daily worship to the Lord. But doesn’t the idea of priesthood, presumably taken from 1 Peter 2[8], also belong to believing women and children? If so, why shouldn’t the women and children give prayer requests and even pray publicly, when appropriate? If they are priests, they, too, should be allowed their priestly privileges.

The principle of a man’s priesthood in the home we believe is applied arbitrarily, and, we think it creates a separation in the local church. Furthermore, this practice results practically in removing the essential equality that exists between the members of the church and creating a class system that goes contrary to the spirit of Jesus and Paul, who in both doctrine and practice elevated the status of women and children in the covenant community.

We do not doubt that the Patriarchy Movement has arisen due to the abdication of responsibility on the part of men, and other reasons that have given resurgence to Patriarchal mindsets and convictions. However, we must be careful that the cure for these types of ills, in the family, church, and culture, are not worse than the disease.

To take away from the God-ordained role of helpmeet given to married women, or the priesthood of believers that includes believing women and children, is just as serious an error that we must avoid if we are to be faithful to Scripture.

A return to Patriarchy in any form is a retrograde action. Over the centuries Christianity has discarded patriarchal ways, though somewhat slowly, through the actions of Jesus, whose entourage consisted mainly of women, and Paul, who had the audacity to go to the women praying by the river, for it would appear he did this before he visited the fellows at the city’s synagogue (Acts 16:13ff).

Though as Jews both Jesus and Paul were part of a society that degraded women (for instance, the testimony of a woman in a Jewish court of law was inadmissible simply because she was a woman, an ad hominem argument), neither one acted or taught in a way that should be construed as degrading women.

These two, Jesus and Paul, established principles (the former foundationally, the latter consequentially) that have led to the liberation of woman from Patriarchal forms found in Jewry and Mohammedism. Patriarchy, if practiced on the scale that the Patriarchy Movement desires, would return us to the old wineskins (and perhaps to the old wine of legalism). Christianity sets captives, and women as well, free. We should not return to what a past from which we have been freed, which is tantamount to a dog returning to its vomit.

According to Dinesh D’Souza

Christianity did not immediately and directly contest patriarchy, but it helped to elevate the status of women in society.[9]

Tyranny is demanding from men what God does not sanction or condone.

Christianity has gained ground for women’s rights, giving them a biblical equality, and Patriarchy takes away from these God-given rights, Patriarchy is contrary to God’s will for the home, the church, and the culture, and Patriarchy is nothing more than a revived tyranny, requiring what God does not.

[1] This statement will come as a surprise to some, but the fact of the matter is that the Scripture records that there were prophetesses in the church at Caesarea: Acts 21:8-9.

[2] The idea of Dominion as a doctrinal and practical issue has in recent years become a point of both contention and division. The advocates of Dominion Theology—who more often than not are also Reconstructionists and Postmillennialists, two other errors which plague the Church—are too numerous to mention or cite here. They generally postulate that the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1 to “subdue the Earth” is synonymous with the Great Commission of Matthew 28. The problems with such an understanding are 1) the Genesis passage belongs to all men without exception, who are comprehended in Adam, while the Matthew passage is given to the Church, and firstly, the apostles, who are Christians; 2) the required action in Genesis is to “subdue” while in Matthew it is to “teach” (such confusion of verbs would be humorous if it were not so dangerous to souls); and, 3) the objective in Genesis is the subduing of Nature, while in Matthew it is to persuade men whom God makes willing to be persuaded (Psalm 110:7). Dominionism, inherent to the Patriarchal mindset, has as a consequence a tyranny over souls rather than the subduing of Nature, and the author has seen more than one marriage and family collapse as a result of a Dominionist, Reconstructionist, and Postmillennial husband demanding his wife’s submission. They make themselves as gods, not understanding that God alone can subdue men, and under God men subdue Nature.

[3] The Patriarchy movement has adopted some strange ideas in regard to women who are single or divorced. For instance, it is taught by some of these Patriarchal groups that a woman who is single or divorced is to have an Elder in their assembly act as a “surrogate” father, providing protection and direction to the supposedly helpless females in their midst. One wonders how such women as Lydia, Mary Magdalene, or even the judge, Deborah, might have responded to such treatment.

If a single woman works outside of her home, under a male, is she submitting to his authority in the same manner as a wife submits to her husband? Surely this is not a biblical doctrine, but Patriarchal leaders teach such nonsense. The inability to make such simple and proper distinctions disqualifies the Patriarchal mindset as a biblical one.

[4] “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

[5] The example just given to directly answer Mr. Phillips from Matthew 6:24 and Luke16:13 also serves as an example of the confusion we are speaking about.

[6] The problem will arise in some patriarchal assemblies, if it hasn’t already, of how those women and children who are believers with a right to the Lord’s Table are to be served when no “head of household” is in the home, or cannot make it to the public assembly when the Supper of the Lord is being served. We assume the serving will fall to the “elders” of the assembly, which is a recapitulation to Protestant doctrine and practice.

[7] An appeal to Ephesians 5 is unwarranted and unsupportable. Paul plainly states that in addressing the headship of the husband and wife he is deriving his principle from the relationship of Christ to the Church. To say there is a one-to-one carry-over would imply too much. For instance, the husband, if equated with Christ in every way, must then atone for his wife’s sins, which, of course, is blasphemy.

[8] “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…” (1 Peter 2:5, 9).

[9] Created Equal: How Christianity Shaped The West, Dinesh D’Souza (Imprimis: A Publication of HillsdaleCollege, November 2008).

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