Patriarchy describes the structuring of society on the basis of family units, in which fathers have primary responsibility for the welfare of these units. In some cultures slaves were included as part of such households. The concept of patriarchy is often used, by extension, to refer to the expectation that men take primary responsibility for the welfare of the community as a whole, acting as representatives via public office (in anthropology and feminism, for example).
Patriarchy has been dubbed a movement, primarily by opponents within the Church. I’m not sure why they object to the idea that a wife ought to submit to her husband, since the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. The idea is not exactly a new one and Paul, being inspired, said some pretty smart stuff.
Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. (Eph. 5:22-24)
Apparently they see dangers in Paul’s position. Do they think God took a break from inspiration here and Paul kept right on talking? Do they think it was a temporary plan, until we were ready for a more egalitarian system?
At any rate, many say that
obeying God in this case obeying one’s husband is a bad idea because a husband might abuse his authority, taking it as an excuse to act like a jerk.
But wives are clearly commanded several times in Scripture to obey their husbands (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18, Tit. 2:4,5, I Pet. 3:1). There is no doubt as to the meaning of the Greek word. It is used many times in reference to angels and demons under Christ, Christians under civil magistrates, and servants under their masters.
be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.
In her excellent post, Patriarchs, Feminists, Complementarians, Oh My! Stacy McDonald debunks several common myths about patriarchy. I think that much of the misunderstanding comes back to three basic issues: personal responsibility in light of the failure of others, the servanthood of leadership, and the origin of authority.
Personal responsibility in light of the failure of others
The first is easily dealt with: the failure of another person to discharge their duty does not relieve us of our own duty. I tell my children frequently not to blame their sins on the sins of others. “I didn’t clean the bedroom because she wouldn’t help” is not a valid excuse for a 7yo, nor is it for an adult. “I’m not obeying him; he’ll take advantage of my obedience and act like a selfish jerk.” Wives are commanded to obey even unbelieving husbands.
1Pe 3:1 In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, even if any obey not the word, they may without the word be gained by the behavior of their wives;
If a Christian wife must obey even an unbelieving husband, how much more should a wife obey a Christian husband, imperfect though he may be?
The servanthood of leadership
The husband is not the unquestioned and all powerful despot in the Christian home.
…For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church…
Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife. 1Co 7:3-4
Christ came as a humble servant, working and sacrificing for the Church, and this too is the duty of the husband to his wife. He is commanded to love his wife as his own body; to cleave to her; to honor her;
Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; because we are members of his body. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. Eph 5:28-31
Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered. 1Pe 3:7
A husband’s authority over his wife is not license to act as an absolute dictator; his authority has limits, guidelines, and a purpose. But the fear that he might abuse that authority is not license for Christians to disregard a husband’s God-given authority.
The origin of authority
All authority comes from God. We do not obey those in authority because they demand or deserve our obedience or respect. We obey them to honor God, the source of all authority.
Our children should not obey us because we are bigger and stronger, but because God has commanded it. Our authority over our children comes from God’s command for them to obey us and from His command for us to raise them in His fear and admonition.
Likewise, we obey the civil magistrates not because we’ll get jail time if we don’t, but because God has set them in authority over us.
And a wife must obey her husband not because he is really smart and strong; not because he brings home the bacon; not because he helps with dishes and diapers. She must obey him because God has set him in a position of authority over her. She honors God by obeying her husband, regardless of whether or not her husband helps with dishes and diapers. (A little tip for the guys: helping with dishes and diapers makes it much easier and more pleasant for your wife to obey you.)
The husband and wife relationship presents a beautiful image of Christ and the Church. Many want to pity the wife and criticize the pattern that God has laid out, but to do so questions His own goodness and reduces Him to a petty tyrannical god fashioned after our own fallen nature.
Rather than judging God’s plan based upon our own shortcomings, we need to see the relationship for what it is designed to reflect, however imperfect that reflection may be. We must strive for perfection, not give up without trying because others are imperfect.
We are created in God’s image, and we must obey God. Rather than fretting or arguing about what might go wrong with His plan, we should obey Him in faith, trusting Him for the outcome.