Does the husband alone have divine wisdom?

Does the husband alone have divine wisdom?

CBMW on Women in Ministry by Cheryl Schatz

The wife as a follower?

In a recent CBMW blog article, John Starke recounts Richard Baxter’s instructions for the Christian family.  (Richard Baxter was a 17th century Puritan).  Starke writes:

It is important to realize, when reading Baxter and the Puritans, that there was no guarded language when speaking of how the Christian household ought to look like. They simply assumed the clear, biblical teaching of a husband’s authority in the family and a wife’s joyful submission. So then, at one level, Baxter’s direction for women wouldn’t sound too different than John Piper’s or Wayne Grudem’s.

However, Baxter, in a way that Puritans are known for, approaches the heart of the wife. What would cause a wife to rebel against the biblical mandate to follow the leadership of the husband? Baxter gives a few reasons:

1. Failure to believe God’s will is best. God’s design for the Christian family, which includes the structure of authority and submission, is best! God is wise and we, as sinners, need divine wisdom. He writes, “Who are you to assess God’s Word in a way different than his own qualifications.” What Baxter means is, we are to allow God?s Word to explain itself in its own terms. We must not explain away difficult, but clear, instruction. As Christians, we must trust God’s counsel for the home. Failure to trust God’s will can only bring turmoil and unrest.

According to Baxter, we as sinners need divine wisdom.  And where does that wisdom reside?  The wisdom for the wife and for the home apparently resides in the husband who exercises God’s will through the man’s own authority.  Is this really the “clear” teaching of God’s word?  Let’s test this by the Word of God in Proverbs 31.  In verse 10 we see what is defined as an “excellent wife”.  Let’s consider verses 10-12:

Prov 31:10  An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.

Prov 31:11  The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.

Prov 31:12  She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.

Instead of setting the wife up as one who finds divine wisdom alone in the man, these verses show that it is her husband’s heart that finds trust in her.  Notice that it doesn’t say that her husband takes authority over her or that she has no wisdom from God on her own.  Proverbs lists her as a woman who is wise and who uses her wisdom to do good for him.

The meaning of the word trust that her husband puts in his wife is a confidence and belief to the point of having a reliance upon her  (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).

Far from being ruled by a man and finding divine wisdom in him alone she is industrious and makes decisions about what to do with her own earnings:

Prov 31:13  She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight.

Prov 31:14  She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.

Pro 31:15  She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens.

Prov 31:16  She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.

This Proverbs 31 woman not only has wisdom but also strength:

Prov 31:17  She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong.

She “perceives” (senses) what is good:

Prov 31:18  She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.

This means to perceive mentally [or spiritually], Prov. 31:18. ( Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures) so her wisdom is also from above.  She has the ability and the power to give generously to the poor:

Prov 31:19  She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.

Prvo 31:20  She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.

She takes care of the details of the home and both her husband and herself are known in the gates.  (The gates of the city are where business is done).

Prov 31:21  She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.

Prov 31:22  She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

Prov 31:23  Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.  (see also verse 31 for the wife)

She is a source of supply for others in the city:

Prov 31:24  She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

Prov 31:25  Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.

She is said to have wisdom.  The verb is used twenty-six times in the OT and most of the passages appear in the Qal stem meaning “be wise,”  (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) She is said to have teaching which means instruction and doctrine, on her tongue:

Prov 31:26  She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Not only does her husband trust in her but he praises her:

Prov 31:27  She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.

Prov 31:28  Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:

Prov 31:29  “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.”

Prov 31:30  Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

Prov 31:31  Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.

Does this sound like a woman who is a follower?  Does this sound like a wife who has to rely on her husband for “divine wisdom”?

It seems to me that we have accepted a faulty view of women.  So many have forced upon women a restrained and restricted view because of the teaching that the wife is to be a follower without a clear will of her own and without the wisdom and plan of her own to accomplish good for her husband and family.  In essence, we have accepted the wife as a woman who is an appendage of the man deliberately ignoring the clear mandate of the original creation for her to rule and reign with him.  If we fail to live out our joint mandate together as heirs of God, I believe that we will grow “little women” who are never given the tools to fulfill their full calling as “sons” of God. It is time that we get back to the solid foundation of the Proverbs 31 woman instead of the faulty model of the woman who must be led by the man with God’s wisdom filtered down to her through her husband.

16 thoughts on “Does the husband alone have divine wisdom?

  1. Chery, something that really jumped out at me from Starke’s article is his comment about “explaining away difficult, but clear instructions.” Yet the “instructions” he means are anything but clear! What’s worse, the hiers themselves are masters at “explaining away” plenty of Biblical evidence that is indeed crystal clear. The Prov 31 woman is one, for sure, and there are plenty more strong, godly women in the Scripture who are never condemned for being strong or godly. Yet the hiers do a great job of disappearing them from the story, along with anything else that doesn’t suit their prejudice.

  2. Ha! Cheryl – I see our little off blog conversation sparked something in you. Do I sense the beginnings of a “Proverbs 31 marriage” model?

    This idea that men have some superior godly wisdom or some uniquely male conduit to God has never made any sense to me. Well, in all honesty, it makes perfect sense to my male ego, but no sense to my human mind. It ignores three realities:

    *Many men are dumb as a post.
    *Many men “lean on their own understanding” instead of seeking God. (In fact, women seem to be the ones with the conduit…or at least, the ones who recognize and use the conduit)
    *And finally (this will irk the “sameness” folks out there but it must be said) men in general are less intuitive than women.

    Even if every man pursued wisdom in a way that would make CBMW proud and their wives appreciative, they simply can’t know EVERYTHING. That is why “two are better than one”. Duh.

  3. Good point LMB

    Here is what jumped out at me.

    “We must not explain away difficult, but clear, instruction. As Christians, we must trust God?s counsel for the home. Failure to trust God?s will can only bring turmoil and unrest.”

    Crazy thing is, there are hundreds, if not thousands or even more, women who worked very hard to obey the CBMW teaching (or gothard or piper) and all they got was turmoil and unrest.

    There is a scripture that says you shall know them by their fruit.
    The fruit of such teaching has not proven a shelter from turmoil and unrest for many, but rather that teaching has produced turmoil and unrest.

  4. “God is wise and we, as sinners, need divine wisdom. He writes, “Who are you to assess God?s Word in a way different than his own qualifications.”

    Odd they put these two sentences right next to each other???

  5. “They simply assumed the clear, biblical teaching of a husband?s authority in the family and a wife?s *JOYFUL* submission.”

    CBMW has added the word ‘joyful’ in front of submission so many times – I’ve asked people to find the verse on “joyful submission” – funny, it’s not in there. So, why would they keep placing the two side by side?

  6. The comp. books I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard make Proverbs 31 sound more like a “to do” list of duties rather than an example of a godly wife. Verse 16 when not ignored completely is glossed over. (she works from home, not “out in the world”) Also glossed over vs.24; and vs. 26 is watered down to knowing how to say things “kindly and sweetly.”

  7. “The comp. books I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard make Proverbs 31 sound more like a “to do” list of duties rather than an example of a godly wife.”

    Cherry picking at its ungodly extreem.

  8. “T”his idea that men have some superior godly wisdom or some uniquely male conduit to God has never made any sense to me. ”

    Me either. It makes no sense. So, the thing they do is say things like this to beat with a club:

    “We must not explain away difficult, but clear, instruction. As Christians, we must trust God?s counsel for the home. Failure to trust God?s will can only bring turmoil and unrest.”

    So, their scholarship is right and all others are wrong. That is what it boils down to. They are the authorities. The more I hear them (and I have since the 80’s in all venues) the more I see this is a horrible sin trap for THEM.

  9. I realize that much of the talk results in abuse towards wives. But they abused my dad. All he wanted to do was to give his kids better than what he had. They’re preachers, so they should know how to be a godly man, right? My dad went to them for help, he wanted so badly to do the right thing, and they threw it in his face.

    What happened? A good man fully understood the weight of having “divine authority”, was unable to fuse that with the fact that he is a flawed human being, so he withdrew. And thus began the war.

    My dad could not be close to my mom, because if he was, she would see that he was indeed an ordinary screwed up human being. If she saw that he could choose wrongly, she as a wife would be forced to go against her conscience and obey him, which he though disgusting.

    However, since my dad grew up with and abusive, dominating, control freak of a father, and didn’t want to repeat that, he resorted to passive-aggressive behavior and criticism. He became incredibly insecure and depressed, because he saw how far he fell short of this “divine wisdom” ideal, which furthered the fierce cycle of passive-aggressive, aggressive, depression.

    My mom was taught this “joyfully submit” idea as well. In real life, this mean she had to become extremely passive, to the point where she struggles to have firm opinions. My dad detested this, as he loves strong, intelligent women and married my mom because she was intelligent. She became a stranger to him, and he could not respect this “child” she had become as his equal. The only way my mom can be assertive is through passive-aggressive behavior.

    So now, we have two adults being passive-aggressive, along with the fact that my dad began to have severe depressive cycles resulting in him lashing out (verbally) in anger, which does not make for a healthy family environment.

    My dad once apologized to me for showing emotions! For showing frustration! He was frustrated because after 3 years of my having major medical problems, doctors were no closer to finding out the answer. I think he had a right to be frustrated! He said he failed to because as a husband/father, he is supposed to “be Christ to his family.” Not “Christ-LIKE”, Christ.

    My dad is very intelligent and extremely observant. This means he is right most of the time. However, these teachings meant he had to be right ALL of the time, leading to major conflicts between he and my brother. Their relationship is strained at best.

    As a result of the fact that my parents could not be close to each other, they each took a child to be close to. There was no incest or sexual relationship, but the relationships are not normal or healthy. My father took me to be his confidante, and my mom took my brother to be hers. An example of this would be when I was 17 and thought I would be a better wife to my dad than my mom is. NOT NORMAL. To this day, I am the “chosen child” in the family. If my brother or mom want my dad to do something, they will ask me to ask him. I am the “little wife” to my dad. It is my job to “seduce” him into doing what they want.

    Now, it might seem as though my family are candidates for the Jerry Springer show. Not so. My dad has an excellent job and my mom recently retired from teaching. Both my brother and I are attending excellent Christian colleges. We have some happy times. On the surface we look great, but deep down, there are some very unhealthy patterns. My family is made up of facades. We all talk the good talk, put on our smiley faces, and pretend to be this ideal we are supposed to be. Inside, we are dying.

    I consider myself to have two dads. “Daddy” is funny, intelligent, kind, basically the best dad in the world. “Dad” is angry, resentful, and depressed. I do not like him.

    In my dad there is no peace. He is always at war. At war with these teachings, with his past, with God, with what he knows to be true, with his depression. He is in his mid-60’s now, there is no changing his past and time is running out to change his future. I am scared to have a family because I do not want to repeat these mistakes. I grieve for what my family could have been. I weep that I have to read psychology books to find what a healthy family is, when it so easily could have been my own.

  10. Nicole,

    You have obviously learned very well many lessons from your parent’s relationship. I’d like to encourage you to take these lessons you have learned and move forward in your own adult life.

    I know you “know” this, but it bears repeating, nothing in you is lacking and children are not responsible for their parent’s marriages. Period. It is perfectly o.k. to grieve the loss, but we must move forward and accept the fact that we can’t change the past. And it does not have the power to ruin our tomorrows…unless we allow it. We need not be bound by fear.

  11. Nicole, many of us maintain that the CBMW teachings are bad for both men and women.
    But usually we hear only from the women that it has hurt.
    Thank you for sharing your dad’s story.
    I know it still hurts.
    CBMW doctrine hurts entire families.
    And they have their heads in the sand over it.

  12. Kay,
    Thanks for your words of encouragement.
    Rereading my post, the last part came across as more “wallowing in self-pity” than I wanted. I have been doing a pretty decent job of moving forward. Not perfect by any means, but steadily moving along. 🙂
    I see the day coming soon when I will no longer be dominated by fear, I am almost free.

  13. Nicole and Mara,
    Mara said, “CBMW doctrine hurts entire families.” That is so true! And these verses practically jumped off the page at me recently:

    Titus 1:10-11 “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.”

    They are disrupting whole families by teaching what they should not. And don’t miss the reason: for financial gain!

  14. Nicole,
    You are very welcome. Not to worry – I didn’t read it as self-pity. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    I’m glad you are moving forward. Take heart – none of us are doing a “perfect” job. 😉

    Sometimes, we lose sight of the fact that our main goal is not having ‘the perfect life’ or ‘the perfect marriage’, but that we know Christ and grow in Him.

  15. Nicole, Thanks for telling us all that. I happen to know many such situations and they all manifest themselves in similar ways.

    One very wealthy outwardly comp couple I know very well were are war for 25 years in the home. It was all out war but put on the comp face at church since he was an elder. To the world they looked very together, happy and successful. But it was a lie. A pretense. they could not separate because their entire life and success in the community was based upon this lie.

    Once all the kids were gone they found a happy medium. She is out of town a lot because they bought a vacation home. They actually get along better now that they are apart about 25 weeks a year. But the sham comp marriage is still there.

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