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.