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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