Patriarchy is not God’s Plan for Your Marriage
Neither is matriarchy
God intended for marriage to be between one man and one woman, but the fall of man opened the door to two evils; polygyny and patriarchy.
Polygyny replaces partnership
Adam’s offspring took multiple wives, a practice known as polygyny. (Polygyny is a kind of polygamy. The other kind—having multiple husbands—is known as polyandry.)
Polygyny was common among the ancients. A few generations after Adam, Lamech became the first recorded polygynist in history when he took two wives (Gen. 4:19). Jacob and Esau had two wives at the same time (Gen. 26:34, 28:8–9, 29:21–30, 32:22, 36:6), as did Samuel’s father Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:2).
King David was a polygynist (2 Sam. 3:2–5), while his son Solomon was the most infamous polygynist of all (1 Kgs. 11:3). Herod the Great, who tried to murder baby Jesus, had nine wives.
Interestingly, the Law of Moses legitimized polygyny but not polyandry. A man could have several wives, but a woman could not have several husbands (see Deu. 21:15). Josephus, the Jewish historian, noted it was a custom of the Jews to have many wives.
What does polygyny have to do with us?
The old custom of polygyny casts a shadow over the modern church whenever we discuss divorce. By failing to grasp the historical context of polygyny, we misread the words of Jesus when he spoke about divorce. And we misread what Paul said about elders having only one wife.
As a result, divorced people, and especially divorced women, are wrongly condemned as sinners. They are told they can’t lead and can’t teach and they definitely cannot remarry.
None of this is remotely Biblical.
Polygyny is obviously contrary to God’s plan for partnership because it exalts a husband above his wives. He is no longer an equal partner in a matched pair but a little king ruling his harem. He has become a patriarch.
And so does patriarchy
We honor the patriarchs of the Bible, and rightly so. But we must also acknowledge that any system where men hold all the power is contrary to God’s original plan of partnership.
Patriarchy literally means the rule of the father, and it is the oldest and most enduring form of gender discrimination. Patriarchy sounds benevolent, especially to those who have been raised by loving fathers. But its inherent imbalance can lead to the mistreatment of women.
Just ask Lot’s daughters what they thought of their father offering them to the lecherous men of Sodom (Gen. 19:8).
Or ask Hagar how she felt about being used as a surrogate mother before being fired by her employer Abraham (Gen. 16:3–4).
Or ask the Levite’s concubine what it was like to be offered to a mob of rapists (Jud. 19:25–28).
Nearly every culture practices some form of patriarchy, but scholars disagree over its origins. Some say patriarchy is a consequence of biology (women are stuck at home raising the kids while the men conquer the world). Others look to anthropological and historical causes.
But patriarchy comes straight out of Genesis 3. It’s a fruit of sin.
Patriarchy is oppressive to women, yet many Christian women accept it because they’ve been told it’s biblical.
“The husband is the head of the home and his wife is his helper.”
Such claims are derived from scripture, but they are no more biblical than slavery and genocide. The husband is the head of the marriage, but that does not make him the boss or his wife his valet.
A husband acts like a head by nurturing his wife in the same way Christ cares for his church. In a biblical marriage, both partners have authority over each other, both freely submit to the other out of love, and both let Jesus take the lead.
Patriarchy is demeaning to women, but patriarchy also hurts men. By weakening our queens it weakens our marriages and families. By silencing our wives, it makes it harder for us to hear God’s voice.
Patriarchy clips the wings of our partnerships and deprives us of countless blessings.
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God bless you, Paul, & thank you for this article! I still remember a sister (at a church I left yrs ago)… her husband forced her to keep bearing children (7) & wanted more – though she was physically ill & exhausted. Despairing, she sought counseling & the pastor told her she had to submit to her husband’s wishes. She killed herself. My only comfort was knowing she was with the Lord but what a waste of precious life.
Love it! Hope many read this
Without reading further before and after Deuteronomy 21:15-17 for any possible additional context, it’s clear from the text and it’s heading (“Rights of the Firstborn”) that it’s speaking about the rights of the firstborn and not about legitimizing men having multiple wives…
Deu 21:15 reads “If a man has two wives…” Under the old covenant there were laws governing men with multiple wives. There were no laws applicable to women with multiple husbands.
I just read this morning in Judges where Deborah led Israel against oppressors. This one story defies every patriarchal reading of the Bible.
Indeed. Deborah was called a Mother of the Nation. Yet there are some who will say she was God’s Plan B. Because none of the men stood up to do manly things, God had no choice but to go to his second string.
Yeah, she led and the men followed. The one guy even said he would not go unless she went with them. She was also a prophetess, which defies that whole, only men can be prophets bit I have heard before too. Plus there was Anna the prophetess in the NT.
Brandon, God bless you… when I read your comments on Paul’s articles, esp pertaining to women, your heart & respect for your sisters in Christ encourages me. ☺️🙏 Thank you.
Very welcome! 🙂
Dear Pastor Ellis, Gen. 19:8 refers to the Sodom guys while Gen. 16:3–4 refer to Hagar, not the contrary.
Oops. Fixed now. Thanks, Marco.
Thank YOU for your blog and books Dr Ellis!!!! Thank you for pointing to Jesus in the way you do. thank you Jesus for the gift of such amazing people like you Dr Ellis!
What I don’t understand though is why the Bible seems to be written misogynistically when its supposed to be the word of God. Why is it written by almost all (or completely) men? Why are women so rarely mentioned, and mentioned only briefly, in it? As the infallible word of God it comes across as sexist. Yes I know there are a few women of note, Esther, Mary, and a couple others. But overall its about men and women get a background role.
We might just as easily ask why the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek instead of English and Chinese. The reason is it reflects the culture in which it was written. We might also ask why we have different English translations instead of just one. The reason is each translation reflects the lens of those who translated it. There is racism, sexism and slavery in the Bible because there is racism, sexism and slavery in the world, and some Bibles are more sexist than others. But these things do not capture God’s good heart.
If we want to know what God really thinks, we must look to the Son. It is Jesus, not the Bible, who is the exact radiance of the Father’s character (Heb. 1:3). And the way Jesus treated women is the way God intended women to be treated.
Well said Paul.
I saw somewhere that you live in Chattanooga. Are there any churches in the area that believe this way? I just finished The Silent Queen and it confirms so many things my husband and I have been saying.
Hi Lisa, I live in Auckland. To find churches that preach grace, you may want to try Ted Nelson’s Locate Grace Ministries site.
Paul!! Wow! I had no idea there was a site like this to find Grace churches. Thanks for sharing the link! 🙏☺️