The Bible and the end of patriarchy (2023)

Note: I know some of you have seen this before, but people tell me it's useful, so I'll post it again here. It was also republished inJunia Project. This version is slightly expanded.

kind reader,

God loves all creation. God made us and loves us women.

"The sex of a woman is not a vice, but nature" (Agustín,City of God22.17).

Since creation (which speaks to us of God's good will), women are explicitly made in the image of God. This is revolutionary. It's the death knell for the patriarchy, right there.

Adam and Eve are partners side by side (where's the rib?)thousand spots," where "milit is used elsewhere to refer to God's strong help in God's dealing with Israel.

(You know the hymn, “Here I raise my ebenezer, here with your help I come?” Remember the people in the Bible who put stones [eben] to mark where God helped them [ezer]?)

woman, thethousand spots, is a strong partner. The language here is far from the diminutive, subservient connotations we associate with common English translations like "helpmeet."

Adam and Eve shared the work to be done - the mandate of the good creation (fertility and dominion) is for both of them together. Not a trace of a division of labor by gender.

Sexually differentiated bodies (the very fact that women exist!) are a created good. Women: God made us; God loves us.

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So God created humans inyour imagein the image of Godhe created them; male and femalehe created them(Genesis 1:27 NIV).

There is no mention of subordination or hierarchy before the fall, but the patriarchal breakdown of the male/female relationship is a clear mark of sin.

Under sin (Genesis 3), the shared handiwork of creation's mandate is divided and falls under the dominion of death.

Eve achieves fertility, but it is fertility under the reign of sin, conceptions multiply because the children are going to die.

Adam gains dominion, weighed down under the condition of sin by "thorns" and the possibility that the family that needs to be fed will starve.

Death hovers there, interrupting the goodness of the man/woman relationship.

Under sin, Adam blames Eve, refusing to take responsibility for his sin.

(Eve blames the serpent, but that doesn't seem particularly pertinent to the patriarchy issue, though it certainly is important to the sin issue.)

The Bible and the end of patriarchy (1)
Hans Baldung Grien,Adam and Eve with snake,1514

Sin mars the marital relationship; Is it her desire for her husband (rather than God? Rather than the good work of creation's mandate? Because of the vulnerability of death, especially since pregnancy makes her so vulnerable?)

AND - UNDER SIN - he will rule it.

It is no exaggeration to call patriarchy the hallmark of life in a sinful world.

The goodness of the created gender difference is distorted into a hierarchical difference, which denies the full image of God in women.

But sin is not God's final word on patriarchy.

Where the Ancient Near East was patriarchal, Israelite family law calls God's people to something different, what Old Testament scholar Dan Block calls "patriocentrism."

In patriarchy, wealth flows from everyone TO the patriarch. He gets the capital, the good cuts of meat, the respect and the privileges. This is not the good will of God, says the Israelite law.

In Old Testament law, the father is to sit in the center (not on top) of the family/domestic structure, to ensure that goods flow FROM HIM TO the most vulnerable members of his family, to his wife, children , servants and animals

He is there to give, not to receive. Your strength/power/privilege in a world of death is for the protection of the vulnerable.

The Song of Songs gives us a picture of reciprocity and delight, where man and woman can say to each other "this is my beloved and my friend." (And this picture is also mysteriously a picture of God's love for us; wait until Jesus says he will make us his BRIDE and his FRIENDS!)

The Bible and the end of patriarchy (2)
Alexandre Bida,The Woman in the "Song of Songs",C. 1886

The Song of Songs goes back to Eden, before the rupture caused by the sin of the patriarchy, and listens to the marriage supper of the Lamb. It gives us a glimpse of living in redemption.

What about all the bad things that happen to women in the Old Testament? Polygamy, rape and other horrors? Just because something happens in the Bible doesn't mean the Bible approves of it.

This material is descriptive of a sinful world, and Israel's law always presses against this, FOR the protection of women, against the rather brutal patriarchal norms of the Ancient Near East.

Get the New Testament.

God chooses a woman, our friend Mary, to carry the Savior in her own flesh. She tramples the serpent and lets it rip against sin, including explicitly patriarchy, as she sings the Magnificat.

And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because he has looked kindly on the lowliness of his servant. Indeed, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He showed strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of his hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and raised up the lowly; he filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-55 NIV).

Jesus, in his incarnation, dignifies all human flesh, and the slander of women is undone for being bloody and innate and just as she really has been since creation, and will be in the final redemption.

The Bible and the end of patriarchy (3)
Margaritone d'Arezzo,virgin and child enthroned with four saints, C. 1240/1245O

Jesus treats women as people. Some of your best friends are women. (Can women and men be friends? Unequivocal Biblical answer = yes: see Jesus, Mary and Martha).

Jesus undoes thecondition sine qua nonof patriarchy - men who view women as property rather than persons - when he redefines marriage. Marriage is no longer a property agreement. It is a holy alliance between two image bearers, a sanctifying sign of God's fidelity to us.

(This all happens when Jesus makes it clear that adultery is not a crime against property but a violation of the covenant; adultery is not damage to a man's property, it is now something a man can commit again against his wife; see Matthew 19).

(The destruction of slavery in the Bible goes along the same lines, as slavery is an extension of patriarchy. I imagine this is one of the reasons we see some deceived and desperate people trying to offer a defense.” Christian” of slavery; they are Not bad that patriarchy must fall if slavery falls.)

And Jesus names the woman at the well as the first evangelist, sending her to his people to tell them all about him.

The Bible and the end of patriarchy (4)
Woman Standing by a Well, Northern Wei dynasty (386–535), early 6th century; with later restorations, China

Likewise, he commissions the women in the tomb to preach the gospel of his resurrection. A woman anoints Jesus.

“By pouring this ointment over my body, she prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:12:13).

She also tells the gospel.

And Paul, that old patriarchal nuisance?

As with Old Testament law, if we know anything about New Testament society, we can see Paul pressing against patriarchy over and over again.

One of the craziest places is when she tells men that their bodies are not theirs in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). Hold on? Are women not property of men? Are men in reciprocal relationship with women?

There are two obvious types of gendered texts in Paul: those that seem to tell women to submit and be silent, and those that seem to give women surprising roles in the gospel, like preaching and so on.

Any honest conversation must acknowledge BOTH TYPES OF TEXTS. If we are fighting with the silence mandates, we also have to fight with the women who speak up. (How else can we discuss whether they should cover their heads when they do?) I won't have this conversation unless we're talking about BOTH TYPES OF TEXTS.

Paraphrasing Scot McKnight then, there are two interpretive options: Or, generally women preach and teach, but there are exceptions. Or, generally women are silent, but there are exceptions.

There are plenty of careful and persuasive studies of the New Testament that convince me that women preaching and teaching were the norm, with circumstantial exceptions. I can't go into all that here, but learning about what circumstances might have warranted an exception and thinking about where Paul might be citing his opponents are two persuasive moves.

But what is most persuasive, to me, is the way in which women are an integral part of the great narrative of salvation, from creation to redemption, as beloved image-bearers with a good job to do, being redeemed in Jesus.

Paul has friends and colleagues who are working the gospel with him. Phoebe is a deaconess (Romans 16:1), Junia is an apostle (Romans 16:7), Priscilla explains "the way of God... more exactly" (Acts 18:26).

Then we have the equalization of baptism (Galatians 3:27-29). Where the covenant sign of circumcision was for male bodies, baptism marks all bodies, including female bodies.

Bring the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit descends with power, and Peter quotes Joel (Old Testament and New Testament unity again!): the Spirit gives power to all flesh (Acts 2:14-21). Spiritual gifts are anti-patriarchal. The sons and daughters will prophesy.

It brings sanctification.

The gifts and fruits of the Spirit (like the creation mandate) are not divided by gender.

Where the ancient world understood women's bodies to be for the good of the patriarchs and for reproduction, the New Testament says that our bodies are for God (see Romans 12).

This is why early Christian women could choose a different wife/mother vocation (wife/mother vocation is still GOOD, but no longer the only possibility). Some have now chosen a life of service.

But wait, don't they need a man to protect them? No, the CHURCH will provide for widows and virgins, freeing them to do the gospel work to which they were called.

Bring in the New Heavens and the New Earth, where God will completely redeem all flesh.

Although certain suspicious Gnostics or Christians wondered in ancient times if women could be resurrected, the Bible is quite clear on this matter of ALL FLESH.

One could call the dismantling of the patriarchy a key descriptor of redemption.

“But Jesus called them and said to them: 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones rule over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wants to be greatest among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28).

Will we continue to sin so that grace increases? Absolutely not. The Bible speaks of the beginning of the process of undoing patriarchy in the world, and we in the church are empowered by grace to live in that process.

Sisters, a sinful world says otherwise. A sinful world acts otherwise. But God made us. God loves us. God has a good work for us to do. And God tenderly invites us to redemption in Christ our Lord.

Grace and peace


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