By Zach Garris and Eric Conn.
The patriarchy has fallen on hard times.
Feminists (evangelical and otherwise) blame patriarchy for all of society’s ills, and even most conservatives seem to be allergic to the word. So why would we defend patriarchy? To start, the term is an accurate description of the Bible’s teaching that God designed men to rule in the home, church, and society. The English word patriarchy is formed from two Greek words that together mean “father rule.” In this sense, patriarchy is a gentle term. It refers to the rule not just of men, but of fathers.
Moreover, the term “complementarianism” is not all that helpful. It is clunky, hard to spell, and includes a wide variety of views on men and women. There are currently fights between “narrow” and “broad” forms of complementarianism, with the narrow form resembling its alleged counterpart, egalitarianism.
Thus, while finding much agreement with broad complementarianism, we prefer to embrace the word patriarchy. In doing so, we seek to redeem the word, and the best way to do so is by refuting common misconceptions of patriarchy. Here’s a look at the 11 biggest lies feminists tell about patriarchy.
1. Patriarchy oppresses women.
This is the most common charge against patriarchy. Allegedly, most societies throughout history have practiced patriarchy and kept women back from their true potential. This charge assumes the foundational principle of modern feminism that women are best off by taking on careers like men rather than embracing the duties of marriage and motherhood. Yes, women are “free” today to choose alternatives to family life, but in doing so they trade the greatest natural gift God has given them (children) for wage-slavery and the drudgery of office life.
Moreover, this charge fails to distinguish between different forms of patriarchy. Male rule is inevitable, but that does not mean it is always good. There are ungodly forms of patriarchy that have included abuses of women. We are not defending them. Rather, we are arguing for a Christian patriarchy. We are arguing for the patriarchy of the Bible, which begins with God the Father sending His Son to redeem us and bring us into obedience to His law. And God’s law requires men to take responsibility for providing for and protecting their wives and daughters, and it requires women to be helpers to their husbands and submit to them.
2. Patriarchy devalues women.
Some forms of patriarchy think lowly of women, considering them inferior in worth to men. That is not what Christian patriarchy holds. The Bible teaches that both men and women are made in God’s image—“in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Together both men and women are children of God and thus joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:28-29).
However, God has also designed men and women differently, seen in their different bodies and personalities. God has placed duties on men and women corresponding to these natural differences, and He has made them to relate to one another differently. Women are not to hold positions of authority over men, including in the church or civil government. Rather, women are to submit to their husbands.
This is God’s way of honoring women, not devaluing them. When women are protected and provided for, they are free to fulfill their joyful calling as mothers and helpers to their husbands.
3. Patriarchy leads to violence against women.
There is nothing in the Bible advocating violence against women. On the contrary, the Bible requires men to protect women, even laying down their lives for their wives just as Jesus “gave himself up” for His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25). Violence against women does take place in this fallen world, including (sadly) in Christian marriages espousing male headship in the home. However, there is also violence against women in egalitarian relationships.
In fact, feminism has contributed to the breakdown of the family, and domestic violence is much more common among non-married couples. The fact is that in a fallen world there will always be violence committed against both men and women. The question is, which societal arrangement is best equipped to limit violence and protect women? The answer is undoubtedly Christian patriarchy, where men are taught to honor and protect the women in their lives.
4. Patriarchy prohibits women from working.
The Bible does not prohibit women from working. Rather, the Bible calls women to focus their efforts on marriage, homelife, and children. The Apostle Paul commands “older women” to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Titus 2:3-5). Paul did not want “younger widows” to remain single, but he called them to “marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Timothy 5:14).
Homemaking and childrearing are work. We need to stop saying that a stay-at-home wife “doesn’t work.” She does work, and she works very hard. And the hard truth that women need to hear is that homemaking and children do not leave much time for work outside the home. A wife can contribute to household income, as the Proverbs 31 woman did by selling merchandise (Proverbs 31:18, 24).
But moneymaking is the husband’s primary responsibility, not the wife’s. If there are not children in the household, a wife may want to consider part-time work outside the home. But careers—professions that often require extensive schooling and years of continuous work—get in the way of homelife and wifely duties.
5. Patriarchy opposes women’s education.
Women should receive a strong education in childhood, as well as training to be a godly wife and mother. There are also benefits to women receiving a college education. A good Christian education is a blessing to both men and women. The concern Christian patriarchy has is that many women today are pursuing education (and careers) to the neglect of marriage and children.
The birthrate is dropping drastically in the West, and much of this is due to women trading motherhood for careers. Thus, Christian patriarchy calls women to seek marriage and children and avoid extensive schooling that interferes with these pursuits. A woman should not bring debt into marriage, and she should not unnecessarily delay childbearing into her 30s.
6. Patriarchy disregards a woman’s opinion.
This really is a ridiculous charge, but it is still a common one. While a woman is under the authority of her husband, it does not follow that a woman’s opinion is unimportant. Godly men listen to their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters, taking their opinions and desires into consideration and seeking their best in all things.
Only a weak man disregards input from the women in his life. The strong man listens. He hears and even seeks his wife’s opinion. He may disagree, and the wife should submit to him when he does so. The king listens to his queen and seeks what is best for her and the family.
7. Patriarchy prohibits women from studying the Bible and theology.
The Bible calls for pastors to preach and teach God’s Word to all people, which includes women. So this false charge could not be further from the truth. Women are to study the Bible and theology and apply these things to their lives. (We even encourage women to read this article!) Women should read the Bible regularly, and men should regularly be reading Scripture with their wives and children.
8. Patriarchy prohibits women from all Christian ministry and teaching.
Women can and should still minister to others (in the sense of “serve”) without being pastors or elders. Yes, a woman should not teach or preach to the congregation (1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). But that leaves plenty of other opportunities for ministry. Women should first start by serving their husbands and children, as well as being hospitable and welcoming others into their homes. They should help other women in the church and community.
They can share the gospel with unbelievers they meet. They can be involved in mercy ministries by serving as assistants to the deacons (1 Timothy 3:11). Older women should be discipling the younger women, training them to be good wives and mothers (Titus 2:3-5).
Now there is a question as to what it means for them to “teach what is good” (v. 3). While the text does not explicitly prohibit women from leading women’s Bible studies, the goal of this teaching is to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (vv. 4-5).
In other words, while teaching doctrine is a task primarily given to the pastors and elders of the church (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2), women are to focus on training other women in the duties of being a good wife and mother.
9. Patriarchy is unbiblical.
Male rule is all throughout the Bible. Though God is spirit, He has revealed Himself in masculine terms, emphasizing His kingship and rule over humans. God consistently raised up men to lead in the Old Testament (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David) and in the New Testament (the 12 apostles were men). When God became man, He took on the body of a man, not a woman, and Jesus reigns forever as the God-man. God has given rule and authority to husbands and fathers (Numbers 30; Ephesians 5:22-31). Feminist attempts to counter the obvious are futile.
10. Patriarchy makes women unhappy.
Actually, when godly women submit to godly male rule, the women are quite happy. God knows what is best for us, and He has given us instructions for godly, joyful living in His Word. So really the question is, what does the Bible teach about male rule? Feminism cannot be found in the Bible, and that is because it did not originate in the Bible. Feminism is rebellion against God and His Word.
It is unbelieving man’s attempt to undermine godly authority structures. Moreover, there is plenty of data suggesting that feminism is actually making women very unhappy. In the West, there is an alarming rate of children growing up without fathers around. Divorce rates are high, and sexual immorality and female careers are so normative that many young people struggle to find a spouse. Many women are staying unmarried and/or childless well into their 30s and 40s, thus leading to a future lonely generation. Is this the recipe for female happiness? The obvious answer is a resounding “no.”
11. We can live without patriarchy in egalitarian bliss.
Egalitarianism does not work. There must be a leader. God has made men dominant, which is why all societies are patriarchal. Even in our current feminist society, men still rule—it’s just bad men taking advantage of women. Instead of women being protected and provided for, they are used and discarded. Thus, it is not a question of whether patriarchy, but which patriarchy. The world does not need more feminism or soft Christianity. The world needs what God set down in His Word. The world needs Christian patriarchy.