Don’t Get Excited About Patriarchy4:41 PM
In yesterday’s comments, someone said that we are all missing the point: the question is not whether or not a husband has headship over his wife, but what headship actually means. Her comment redirected me back to what excites me about mutual submission in a relationship: the household codes found in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 chart the future of headship in light of the Gospel—and it has nothing to do with authority.
I’m afraid I jumped the gun in titling yesterday’s article, “Do We Even Need Headship?” I failed to present my thought process on why I’m even asking that question in light of Paul’s obvious statement that “the husband is the head of the wife.” The reason I’m asking whether a love-centered marriage requires hierarchy is because Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 lead towards the eradication of hierarchy.
That may sound crazy to those of us who grew up hardcore complementarian, but hear me out.
Peter and Paul’s household codes address patriarchal households. Without a doubt, the pater familias held authority over his wife, slaves, and young and adult children. Teenage women married much older men, were generally uneducated, and had no influence in society or the family structure.
The household codes found in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 follow the exact pattern of classical household codes, like Aristotle’s: “Of household management we have seen that there are three parts—one is the rule of a master over slaves…another of a father, and the third of a husband. A husband and father rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs, the rule over his children being a royal, over his wife a constitutional rule. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the older and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature…” (Politics).
Neither Peter nor Paul come right out and say that in the name of the Gospel, the husband should disband the patriarchal structure. They acknowledge the patriarchal structure and say nothing against it, like they do with slavery and the corrupt Roman government. (Interestingly, Peter implies that the patriarchal household structure falls under “human institutions.” See 1 Peter 2:13ff. Never noticed that before!)
But just look at what Peter and Paul tell the pater familias to do: submit one to another, love the wife as his own body, and live with her in an understanding way. They tell the top dog to empty himself of his authority and become a servant—not a servant leader. Merely a servant. Sounds kind of like Jesus, you know?
The emphasis on the husband’s “role” is not leading his wife. It’s not bringing home the bacon. It’s not making the final decision when he and his wife cannot agree. It’s not even initiating daily Bible study. It’s radical humility that puts the wife first, prefers her in all things, and submits to her weaknesses and differences.
It boggles my mind that complementarians get all excited about the fact that Peter and Paul seem to acknowledge the husband’s authority and completely miss that the apostles command the husband to lay down that authority in order to become a servant to his wife.
Woman’s curse is to be ruled by her husband (Genesis 3:16). In a patriarchal culture, nobody was questioning a husband’s right to rule as he saw fit. Patriarchy is not counter-cultural. Peter and Paul were not reinventing the wheel when they addressed the pater familias as the absolute ruler of the family.
What’s radical about the apostles’ household codes is that they introduced something subversive to hierarchy: love. Unconditional, humble, selfless love.
When a husband puts his foot down, makes a decision against a wife’s better wishes, and avoids the hard road of compromise, he’s not loving his wife as the apostles commanded. When he tries harder and longer to understand his wife, honor her wishes, and reach an acceptable compromise, he’s loving her as the apostles commanded.
You know what that looks like? Mutual submission. You know what that doesn’t look like? Hierarchy. Which do you think is more important to Christ-like love—authority or laying down that authority?
Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 done correctly only pays lip service to hierarchy. Sure, you can say the husband is the head and the wife must submit, but when the husband lays down his “authority” to love his wife (as he should do all day, every day), there is no more “right to rule”—just love. And that was the apostles’ sneaky way of subverting unjust power structures via the Gospel.
It’s this emptying of authority that allows the married couple to become united. In both Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, the apostles ultimately charge husbands to raise their wives up to a place of unified equality with them. Peter succinctly says, “Show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
Paul tackles it more elaborately: Christ gave Himself up in order that He might bring a seemingly unfit church into perfect unity with Himself. Therefore, husbands should give themselves up in order to bring their brides into unity with themselves as one flesh—“for the two shall become one flesh.” In case husbands miss the point, Paul summarizes: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself” (Ephesians 5:33).
This fits perfectly into the new kingdom: the first go last, the last go first, and the Master of Everything empties Himself to become united with His Bride. It affirms the promise in Galatians 3:26-28: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, though faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Elevation to sonship, equality, and unity—it’s all possible through putting on Christ’s humble love.
God’s heart isn’t to affirm patriarchy—a system that provides ample opportunity for the curse of male abuse and oppression. It’s to get the ones the world appointed as rulers down on their knees in sacrificial love for the “weaker” ones.
And that’s something to get excited about.