We live in a day when the basic family unit is disintegrating. Divorces are rampant. Live-in relationships are the norm, and homosexual unions are being recognized by governments. It is right and necessary for the Christian church to both teach and model the Biblical concept of “family” in this age when the Biblical concept of family is seldom understood. However, one of the problems we face as Christians is misinterpreting what God calls the ideal home. There is a growing patriarchal movement among conservative Christian churches, a movement where men are taught that they should have complete “authority” in the home, and that they should “rule” over their wives and children. Many of these conservative Bible-believing Christians who advocate patriarchy honestly believe they are teaching Biblical truth. It is my intention in this post to show that patriarchy is not God’s ideal, but rather, patriarchy is the result of God’s curse on Adam and Eve. When God’s grace appears in the home, patriarchy is expelled.
When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, God pronounced judgment on them in Genesis 3:16-19. God first began with Eve:
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
Some conservative Bible scholars take the last phrase of v.16 to mean (1). The wife shall have a “sexual desire” for her husband (i.e. “your desire shall be for your husband”), and (2). The husband is to be the head, authority and ruler of the home (i.e. “and he shall rule over you”). These conservative scholars declare that God’s statement in v. 16 is how the husband and wife “should” relate to each other in the home, and how the home ought to be in terms of headship and governance. The man, they say, is to rule over his home; there should be no equality of authority since God established this patriarchal system from the very beginning.
However, other conservative Bible scholars rightly point out that the woman’s “desire” for her husband in Genesis 3:16 is not, at least linguistically and contextually, a sexual desire. One only needs to turn one chapter over to find the same word teshuqah, in Genesis 4:7, where it is also translated “desire.” In the context of Genesis 4:7, teshuqah is used to refer to sin’s “desire” to control Cain. Thus, letting the Bible interpret itself, the word “desire” in both both Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 means “a desire to control.”
Likewise, the same Hebrew verb mashal, which means “to rule,” is also used in Genesis 4:7, just as it was in Genesis 3:16. Mashal is used in Genesis 4:7 to describe Cain’s efforts to rule over or dominate the sin that is “crouching at his door.” Again, when you let the Bible interpret itself, mashal is used in both Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 to describe someone who is having to fend off an attack; it carries the idea of warring for control or domination; a battle to see who will be ultimate “ruler.”
Using basic principles of interpretation, one comes up with a very simple explanation of the consequence of God’s curse on Adam and Eve – a consequence that has infiltrated every home since the beginning of time. Simply put, the woman will desire to dominate or control the man, but the man, perhaps even with superior strength, will fight hard to rule over and dominate the woman. Where the curse is present there is a constant battle for control. This is how things are because of sin, not how things in the home ought to be. The patriarchal societies of the world express the reality of male domination, and in certain western Christian cultures, patriarchy is often said to be ordered by God – as if God designed the home to be this way.
Likewise, in some cultures, such as the Kanu of South America, the women “rule” the home, and the men are the “servants.” These women explain their domination of men in the home with the simple phrase – “the gods have made it this way.” What both matriarchal and patriachal proponents need to understand, regardless of the culture from which they come, is that any system designed for “domination” or “control” of the other spouse is the result of sin and the curse on sin.
When the God of all grace gets a hold of a man and a woman in a marriage relationship, no longer will there be a fight to see who dominates and controls the other. Rather, there will be mutual submission between husband and wife (i.e. Ephesians 5:21 – “submitting to one another in reverence to Christ”). Mutual submission, with no thought of “control,” is God’s design for the home. It should be the effort of every Bible-believing church, pastor and teacher to instruct husbands and wives on the sinful nature of any husband or wife seeking to dominate the other spouse.
In fact, I like what Dr. Richard Hess, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Denver Theological Seminary says in his comments on Genesis 3:16. Dr. Hess said all Christians should attempt to pull down any patriarchal (or matriarchal) system of domination and control in the Christian home, and then responds to those who object to any attempt to end patriarchy:
It is no more a sin to end this consequence of the fall than it is to use weed killer to end the promised weeds and thorns in the following verses. No, the emphasis (in Genesis 3:16) is on the terrible effects of sin, and the destruction of a harmonious relationship that once existed. In its place comes a harmful struggle of wills.
I trust that conservative, evangelical churches will continue to proclaim and model God’s design for the home. I just pray that we do a good job of understanding the subject ourselves first. Patriarchy is the result of man’s sinful desire to control and dominate and should be, by God’s grace, avoided at all costs.
In His Grace,