Recovering the Gospel from Patriarchal Theology

What is “the gospel”? In other words, what is the “Good News about Jesus” that Christians are encouraged to embrace and share with a fallen world? According to patriarchal theology, the “Good News” is that Jesus lived, died and rose again so that men could be restored to their proper place of authority over women.

In an article entitled “Genesis Gender and Ecclesial Womanhood,” Owen Strachan, President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, portrays God’s plan for humanity strictly in terms of male authority and female submission:

“The Lord takes Eve from Adam, forming her from his rib (Gen. 2:21). Her substance proceeds from his, an elegant reality which underscores that Eve’s physical safety derives from Adam’s masculine strength.”

“Adam is in every respect the initiator, the leader, the one who bears the weight of responsibility for himself and others before God” (Gen. 2:24-25).

Strachan further explains that “sin” occurs when men fail to lead, and women “assume” male authority:

“Everything falls apart in the fall. Adam fails to lead and protect Eve. Eve is deceived by the serpent and assumes the role of leader (Gen 3:1-13). In short, the fall itself involves an inversion of God’s plans for men and women.” (http://9marks.org/article/genesis-gender-and-ecclesial-womanhood/)

Do the Bible passages cited by Owen Strachan actually state that “Eve’s physical safety derives from Adam’s masculine strength”? Do they say that “Adam is in every respect…the leader”? Is Eve ever accused of wrongly usurping male authority? Let’s examine the passages mentioned to see for ourselves:

Genesis 2:21 – “Then the LORD God made the man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh.” There is actually no mention in this passage of Eve deriving physical safety from Adam’s masculinity.

Genesis 2:24-25 – “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one. The man and the woman were both naked, but they were not embarrassed.” There is no mention here that Adam is a leader, an initiator, or that he is responsible for the actions of others.

Similarly, in Genesis 3:1-13, there is no language present to indicate that Eve wrongly assumes male authority. Referring to this portion of the Genesis account, the apostle Paul explains that humanity’s fall into sin occurred when they “disobeyed God’s command” (Romans 5:14).

Prior to humanity’s sin of disobedience, the only mention of authority in the Genesis narrative occurs when God gives human beings, both male and female, “charge” over the rest of creation:

“Then God said, ‘And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.’ So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, ‘Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.'” (Genesis 1:26-28, GNT)

In fact, the tendency of men to “rule over” women is described in Genesis 3:16 as a consequence of humanity’s first sin.

The notion that the fall constitutes an inversion of God’s planned authority structure for men and women is not stated in the Bible. Rather, this assumption has been supplied by Owen Strachan. He is not the first theologian or church leader to project a patriarchal worldview onto the book of Genesis. St. Augustine, an incredibly influential theologian from 4th century Rome, made a similar inference:

“When she was made of his rib, Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh….’ Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.” (On John, Tractate 2 § 14)

As in the case of Owen Strachan’s patriarchal assumptions, the Bible nowhere states that just as the spirit commands and the flesh serves, so too must men rule over women. St. Augustine supplies this inference himself. In his book of Confessions, he identifies the source of his patriarchal worldview; it is not the Bible:

“Simplicianus congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, ‘after the beggarly elements of this world,’ whereas in the Platonists, at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word.” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter II)

In Plato’s Republic, a “just society” is one in which the “complex pleasures” found in “women, children and servants,” must be “held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few.” The “best born” and the “best educated” men were required to rule the social order, allegedly because of the “general inferiority of the female sex” (http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/plato/republic.pdf).

Do Jesus and his earliest followers truly portray humanity’s fall into sin as “an inversion of God’s plan for men and women”? Do they, like Augustine and Strachan, make sense of God’s plan for humanity through the lenses of Plato’s patriarchal philosophy? Let’s examine the evidence:

“Be under obligation to no one—the only obligation you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else’—all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ If you love others, you will never do them wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.” (Romans 13:8-10, GNT)

According to Paul’s letter to the Romans, God’s plan for humanity is “love.” When we love one another as we love ourselves, we “obey the whole Law.” “Sin,” on the other hand, is a violation of God’s law of love. When we sin by breaking any of God’s commandments (e.g. adultery, murder, stealing etc.) we are not acting in love; we do “wrong” (i.e. harm) to ourselves and others.

When asked for an explanation of God’s will by the Teachers of the Law, Jesus provides an answer that is very similar to what we have just read from Paul:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, GNT)

God’s plan for humanity is that we love God with all of our being and that we love one another as we love ourselves. No mention is made by Jesus or the apostles about a “just society” based on “male authority.” This patriarchal worldview has been supplied by theologians, who were influenced by human philosophy.

One of Jesus’ original disciples, named John, writes a beautiful epistle that teaches us how we can begin to love God and one another:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.

Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.

We are sure that we live in union with God and that he lives in union with us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and tell others that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If we declare that Jesus is the Son of God, we live in union with God and God lives in union with us. And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us.” (1 John 4:7-16, GNT)

John tells us that “love comes from God.” He further explains that God revealed his love to humanity by sending his Son “to be the Savior of the world.”

Jesus saves us from our sins through his death and resurrection. In many of his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul explains how each of us can find freedom and forgiveness “in union with Jesus Christ, through faith”:

“For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession.” (Colossians 2:13-15, GNT)

“For when we die, we are set free from the power of sin. Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again—death will no longer rule over him. And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God. In the same way you are to think of yourselves as dead, so far as sin is concerned, but living in fellowship with God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:7-11, GNT)

“It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself.” (Galatians 3:26-27, GNT)

When we trust that a God of love sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, we share in Christ’s death and resurrection. We are “dead to sin” and freed from its power. Our sins are forgiven. We are free now to live a new life “in fellowship with God.” We also receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Using the language of metaphor, the apostle Paul explains that the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit living within us is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these” (Galatians 5:22-23, GNT).

Did the Son of God become a human being, die on a cross and rise again to restore men to their rightful place of authority over women? No, Jesus and the disciples never use such language. Simply put, this is a “different gospel.” Jesus died and rose again to free humanity from sin and to bring us into the kingdom of his love forever:

“We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all God’s people. When the true message, the Good News, first came to you, you heard about the hope it offers. So your faith and love are based on what you hope for, which is kept safe for you in heaven…

And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.” (Colossians 1:3-14, GNT)

Freedom, forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (the incarnation of God’s love)–this is the gospel message. I pray that church leaders the world over would no longer confuse the “Good New about Jesus” with patriarchal philosophy:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8, NIV).

(For a fuller exploration of the gospel message as it was taught by Jesus and his earliest followers, please feel free to read Bob’s new book entitled, “Jesus the Messiah: His Atonement and Return.”)

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