Patriarchal authority and free will

Patriarchal authority and free will

One of the key differences between an egalitarian and a patriarchal marriage is in the area of authority and will. In a patriarchal marriage, the man is set up as the final decision maker of the home and he is given the right to make a decision for his wife even if it overrules her will. The question we need to ask ourselves, is this biblical? Is a husband given a scriptural right to take authority over his wife against her will?

There is only one place in scripture where we find husbandly authority. This authority is found in 1 Corinthians 7:4. The Amplified version says:

1 Cor. 7:4 For the wife does not have [exclusive] authority and control over her own body, but the husband [has his rights]; likewise also the husband does not have [exclusive] authority and control over his body, but the wife [has her rights].

In this case both the husband and the wife have rights and authority over their spouses’ body. While the bible shows that each has an authority over their spouse’s body, this does not give one person the right to exercise authority over their spouse’s body against their will. In verse 5 Paul addresses the one who has made a decision to hold back from their spouse the sexual rights due to them.

1Co 7:5 Do not refuse and deprive and defraud each other [of your due marital rights], except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves unhindered to prayer. But afterwards resume marital relations, lest Satan tempt you [to sin] through your lack of restraint of sexual desire.

Paul’s encouragement is not aimed at the one who has been deprived of their rights telling them to take what belongs to them by taking authority over their spouse. This kind of forcing of one’s will on the other is never permitted. Rather, Paul’s instruction is to the one who is holding back and he instructs them to consider their spouse and the marital rights that are due their spouse because of their one-flesh marriage union. Paul writes that abstaining from marital relations is fine as long as it is for a time and is by mutual consent. The focus then is on mutual consent not on one person taking authority over another. If there ever was a place where Paul could have allowed men to take authority over their wives, this would have been one such place. But Paul does not tell men that it is their right to take authority over their wives even when he states that it is a man’s right to have marital relations with his wife. Why doesn’t Paul tell men in this instance that the husband has the right to take authority over his wife when their view on sex is different? Why doesn’t Paul tell men that they are allowed to make a decision for their wife when the husband and wife do not come to a mutual decision? It is because when a husband takes authority over his wife and physically overrules her will it is called rape.

If a husband is not allowed by scripture to take authority over his wife physically to force her against her will into a sexual relationship with him, then what makes patriarchs think that the husband is allowed by scripture to take authority over his wife’s will when they have a difference of opinion in other areas of their marriage? Scripture never once tells a man to take authority over his wife. This would be an overriding of her will and God considers our will as a very precious thing that not even he overrides. When people reject God by a decision of their own will, God does not force them into a relationship with him. God has given mankind a will that God respects. God will encourage us and persuade us and plead with us but God will not override our will. If we reject God, God will give us our will in the end and he will punish us for our sins instead of forcing us to be saved against our will.

One of the challenges that patriarchs will offer, is what does a married couple do if they disagree over a decision? If the husband doesn’t take authority to make the decision then how can they survive in a dead-locked position? The book “Does God Really Prefer Men?” available as a free download from doesgodreallyprefermen.com gives some very good biblical suggestions regarding what to do in this situation. When a couple is dead-locked, this is an opportunity to take the decision to the Lord in prayer. It is also an opportunity to work at unity. Last, it is an opportunity for the husband to sacrifice for his wife and/or for the wife to submit to her husband.

There is another good reason why God has not given the husband the right to take authority over his wife. The reason is that God’s desire is for each one of us to grow up and be mature. If the husband takes the position of decision maker in the home, the wife’s ability to mature is withheld from her.

Let me give you a couple of real life examples from a former complementarian couple who were taught that the husband was to be the decision maker of the home and he was to be responsible for his wife.  I will refer to them as “Bruce” and “Connie”. On their wedding day Bruce started this “role” as he took seriously his responsibility as “head” of the home. On their honeymoon in the mountains, when he realized for the first time that his new wife was afraid of heights, he took on the responsibility of dealing with her fears. He took authority over Connie by forcing her to go close to the edge of a cliff. For him it was an act of love because he was taking authority over her fear and that should have been a good thing. However his young wife was not released from fear. Instead she experienced a great amount of fear and panic and for the very first time in her new marriage, she experienced resentment because he had exerted his authority over her and against her will.

Within a few months they came to their first major roadblock in decision making. Bruce had a bag of mending for Connie to do and he wanted her to work on mending the holes in his pants. She loved sewing but she hated mending and she did not want to mend the ragged holes in his pants, at least not now. Maybe later, she told him, but not now. So he took his authority over her and told her that she had to do the work – now. Bruce pushed Connie down into the chair in front of the sewing machine and took authority over her will. This certainly should help her to be responsible and do things in a timely manner. He did everything that he was taught to do. He became responsible for her and he took authority over his wife and made the final decision when they disagreed. But by his taking authority over her will, she started a process of dying inside. Because Connie’s husband took authority over her will, she started to lose who she was as a person and instead of growing and maturing as a person and as a Christian she was kept in an immature state and she stopped growing. Through the years he loved her by protecting her from making mistakes. For example if she bought a frying pan at the store and he didn’t think that she needed a new one, he took authority over her will and made her take it back to the store.

As Connie’s will was overridden time and time again she started to hate her oppressor. After years of having her husband take authority over her, she started to dream about doing the unthinkable. She could never actually divorce him, but she could dream about divorce and what it would be like to be free from the one who controlled her life. What neither one of them realized at the time was that taking authority over your spouse against their will is emotional rape. It wasn’t until many years later when Connie came to the end of her rope and she finally drew the line in the sand because of all the control, he stopped taking his authority over her and he stopped making all the final decisions and she finally started to grow and mature emotionally. She actually started to blossom as a person. Instead of protecting her from every bad decision, he started to allow her to make wrong choices and she started to learn from her mistakes and this helped her to mature. She responded by loving him intensely for the freedom that he gave her to be her own person. She now was able to submit to him in love instead of having her submission forced on her. Bruce started to understand that loving his wife meant that he needed to sacrifice his need to keep her from making what he considered to be mistakes. True mature love, he learned, is not about taking authority over another person, but in serving them. A true godly husband serves his wife by providing her with all the tools that she needs to grow and mature.

When Jesus was on earth he did not take authority over his bride. Instead of taking authority over her and making her decisions, he spoke gently to his bride and he used persuasion instead of authority. One of the best examples of this is when Jesus submitted himself to wash the feet of the disciples. Peter, part of the bride of Christ, refused to have Jesus wash his feet. If the patriarchal way of taking authority over the wife was the right way, then Jesus surely should have taken authority over Peter and made the decision for Peter to wash his feet even if it was against Peter’s will. However Jesus did not do that. Instead of taking authority over Peter’s will, Jesus told Peter why he needed to wash his feet. When Peter understood Jesus’ actions as serving Peter in his need, Peter was very willing to submit to the service of Jesus.

The actions of Jesus are representative of a godly husband. A godly husband does not take authority over his wife’s will. Instead of making decisions for her, a godly husband will gently persuade and lovingly sacrifice for his wife. When a husband does these things, a wife will find joy in submitting to his sacrifice and it will be an act of her own free will that will accept what he offers her.

14 thoughts on “Patriarchal authority and free will

  1. Yep. 🙂
    It always goes back to “not so among you”, doesn’t it. Jesus, as the Cornerstone, is not representing the roof of the building but the foundation. He “gets under” us in order to lift us up. That’s what Phil. 2:5-11 is all about, Jesus stooping down to the lowest level to get under us and lift us up. That’s true “servant leadership”… and true love.
    Anyone who still wants to “lord over”, to haven preeminence, to boss, control, or command, is being prideful and ignoring this primary example to Jesus, an example given to both men and women without distinction.

  2. Paula, I like your analogy of the foundation vs the roof.

    The world is prone to “lording it over others”.  If Jesus had proposed that this was the way to operate the church and Christian marriage, he did a poor job of teaching the “lordship” model.  Instead he made it clear that the world’s way which is  “lordship” based is not to be practiced among them.  Instead, Jesus said they are to be a servant and a slave to the body of Christ.

    The term slave here means one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will being altogether consumed in the will of the other.  If a husband were to serve his wife this way with his will altogether consumed in her will there would be no way that he would force his will on her.  A servant is not a tyrant and a servant is not someone who will domineer.   Today’s hierarchical leaders term “servant-leader” as defined as someone who takes over leadership of their spouse for the spouses good.  However taking over one’s wife against her will, does not qualify one as a servant nor a slave.  I believe that it is time that we get rid of these worldly terms and practice true godly servanthood.

  3. A non-egal man is also kept immature by getting his way when he really wants it or thinks it is the best or whatever.  He always has the ability to vote twice and break the tie and even if this is not used explicitly, it can be used implicitly to get what he wants, as his wife knows she will lose eventually, so why even oppose it, as it will make no difference in the end.

  4. That is a really good point, Don.  She knows that she is going to lose anyway since he has the tie-breaking vote.  Makes for a helpless feeling for sure.

  5. Oh yes, but eventually the wife reverts to manipulation to get her way. It is almost subconscious for her to do this. It keeps her as a little girl manipulating ‘daddy’ to get her way. It really sets up some sick situations. I have heard it too many times: Make him think it was his idea. As if he is some idiot you cannot have a grown up conversation with.

    How many sermons have I heard the pastor say, the husband is the head and the wife turns the neck. See, the affirmation for her to manipulate? Or how about this one: Anything with 2 heads is a freak. (Meaning both husband and wife cannot be in charge) Well, if we take that one as it is meant, then the wife is a freak because she has 2 ‘heads’: Her husband and Jesus. That is why I think this understanding of ‘head’ as authority makes no sense in relation to these passages.

    I read something from a young Christian man out of seminary not long ago where he told someone that if he had a job offer in another state, he would ask for his wife’s input BUT if she did not want to go, he HAD to make the decision for the good of the family because they did not have time to wait on prayer together for the offer was in two weeks. the answer he got was quite funny. This guy told him that if he did not have a job, his wife would probably start packing before he finished the sentence. However, if she did not want to go, he would be a fool to force the issue because driving to another state solo is lonely. :o)

    These young guys think it all sounds so pious but it really reeks of pride and arrogance. Where is the ONE FLESH UNION in this thinking?

  6. Uh, I think the whole idea of this authority thing forced over and against a wife’s will is just creepy. Well when one really thinks about it, as the article above helps one to do, put on the table it just looks so creepy. Granted it’s a programmed frame of mind and traditional mentality that people fall into or are forced into…but still, it’s just hard to look at for what it is. So going to a positive note because this one is too much for me right now…

    Sacrificial service on the other hand is a beatutiful thing, giving up is better than receiving and it’s enjoyable to give and give up and the other benefits too by getting their needs met! I feel better…  🙂

  7. Any slave society lives in fear of a slave revolt.  This by itself is a big reason to be egalitarian in the family.  There are 1001 ways to subvert some decision that one does not agree with, there are many forms of manipulation.

  8. Lin wrote: How many sermons have I heard the pastor say, the husband is the head and the wife turns the neck. See, the affirmation for her to manipulate? Or how about this one: Anything with 2 heads is a freak.

    I must say that I now recognize how truly blessed I was to have not heard this stuff at all until I got involved in a shepherding-discipleship Christian/Bible-based cult. Perhaps this is why so much of this debate seems so outright silly to me. How two people can become one flesh and then shenanigans like this can be promoted is just beyond my understanding. Praise God that I was well into my marriage when I first heard this ridiculous stuff.

  9. As one who lived in a patriarchal marriage for 8 years, it is akin to emotional rape and I really appreciate you putting it that way.  Except that then, I spent a lot of my private time beating myself up for feeling that way.  I was trained to think that ANY time I didn’t like being “ruled over,” it was because of Gen. 3:16 (their warped interpretation of it—that a woman will always try to rebel against the rightful rule of her husband). 

    As such, it took me a lot longer to *get* that this was abuse than it should have.  It’s hard to realize something is abuse when both of you have well-intentionedly been following God’s will to the best of your ability (and all your books, teachers, etc, tell you that patriarchy *is* God’s will)! 

  10. Molly,

    Even those who understand what is clearly emotional abuse, can fall back into the pattern set by years of practice.  If a wife does not have a high self-esteem so that she thinks that she somehow deserves being treated as a child so that her will is overridden and her decisions are made for her, it may take a long time to develop healthy patterns of mutual respect.  When she sets boundaries to stop the abuse she can have guilty feelings and fall back into supporting his control.  It certainly helps when both marriage partners recognize the faulty patterns and each work hard to bring mutual love and respect back into the marriage.  Yet while it can be hard to change old patterns, it is a rewarding thing to see the positive changes.

  11. Do you really think that if a man loves his wife as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for her that haveing some kind of roles within the home is going to always defaut to some kind of abuse of women? I can see that happening in the context of a marriage where the husband is a false convert trying to be religious but I really get the impression that you guys… um, girls…, uhhh, people are fighting an invisible enemy. I think this can be demonstrated by this quote from the original post: ” If a husband is not allowed by scripture to take authority over his wife physically to force her against her will into a sexual relationship with him, then what makes patriarchs think that the husband is allowed by scripture to take authority over his wife’s will when they have a difference of opinion in other areas of their marriage? Scripture never once tells a man to take authority over his wife. This would be an overriding of her will and God considers our will as a very precious thing that not even he overrides. When people reject God by a decision of their own will, God does not force them into a relationship with him. God has given mankind a will that God respects. God will encourage us and persuade us and plead with us but God will not override our will. If we reject God, God will give us our will in the end and he will punish us for our sins instead of forcing us to be saved against our will.”

    Nobody aside from rank hyper calvinists (which seem to be almost mythical creatures always spoken of but virtually non-existent) would claim GOD saves someone “against their will”.

    I think you are fighting a very unnecessary battle. Speak out against false conversion and nominal Christianity and you won’t have to worry about chauvenistic hypocrites abusing their wives.

  12. int3grity,

    Thanks for popping in and welcome!

    I think you, perhaps, need to reread my post. When a man loves a woman like Christ loves the church, he will not abuse her or override her will. But many men are taught that their position as “head” means to override his wife’s will when there is a conflict of wills. I point out that overriding one’s will is not God’s way. Perhaps, if you believe otherwise you can show where it is God’s way for marriage. I do not see it in scripture and Jesus doesn’t override our will in his marriage with the church. He gently works with us and brings us along with his patience and love.

    If you think that chauvinism is only within nominal Christianity, I can point you to Christian counselors who can educate you otherwise.

    Thanks again for stopping by. I hope you find a lot of things in my blog that will be very helpful for you!

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