Is God’s divine order for society, Church, and family really the subordination of women to men and thus the promotion of Patriarchy? The Bible is often used to make such an argument.

Patriarchy and Genesis 1:26-31

Patriarchy typically defined “is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children.”(( In other words, males rule and laws are enacted to support male rulership. Males lead and females follow. However, in Genesis 1:26-31 we are told that God creates humanity in God’s image and likeness, male and female. The stated purpose for the creation of humanity was for them (male and female) to procreate and to care for creation. In fact, the concern for creation care is stated first, followed by procreation and a restatement of their mission to care for God’s creation. Nowhere in Genesis 1 can we find anything remotely related to Patriarchy. What is presented is that males and females are equal. They both are created in God’s image. They both are charged with the same mission, which is to care for creation. Thus, humans are equal ontologically and functionally, whilst being different biologically.

This difference does not produce subordination, but enhances relational intimacy.

Patriarchy and Genesis 2:4-3:24

Genesis 2:4-3:24 has been used to justify the subordination of women and perpetuate the notion that patriarchy is God’s intentional design for orderly society, church, and home. Some argue that because this passage teaches that woman was created out of man, woman is derived from man. Hence, woman is not equal to man but subordinate to man and created in man’s image. Secondly, the woman is rationally inferior and susceptible to temptation. Eve is the temptress who was deceived by the serpent and, in turn, tempts Adam. Adam’s first sin was that he did not keep the woman in her place for if he would have, she would not have been deceived.

However, a closer reading of Genesis 2-3 does not teach the subordination of women to men, but instead teaches that humans are subordinate to God. Furthermore, it presents the woman as the crowning event of creation, and thus, the fulfillment of humanity. When read literarily, the mutuality of women and men is clear (2:18-25).

Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Genesis, points out that 2:4-3:24, has four scenes:

Scene 1: (2:4b-17): Placement of Man in garden
Scene 2: (2:18-25): The crown of creation with the formation of Woman as a co-laborer in the Garden
Scene 3: (3:1-7): The disruption of shalom in the garden through the Serpent
Scene 4: (3:8-24): Judgement and expulsion

Brueggemann notes that it is only in the fourth scene that the trouble of inequity arises. He writes, “The contrast between the faithful work of God in scene 2 and the result of human distrust in scene 4 is an eloquent comment on the relationship of the man and the woman. In God’s garden, as God wills it, there is mutuality and equity (2:18-25). In God’s garden, now permeated by distrust, there is control and distortion (3:8-25). But that distortion is not for one moment accepted as the will of the Gardener.”((Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), p. 51))  Thus, patriarchy is a result of sin, a corruption and distortion of God’s original equality between males and females. The result of the rebellion in the garden is the struggle for control and a position of power. Neither patriarchy nor matriarchy were part of original creation. Maybe this is why Paul writes about how redemption brings restoration to the distortion of relationships for “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 HCSB)

Thus, patriarchy is a result of sin, a corruption and distortion of God’s original equality between males and females.

Patriarchy and the Missional Church

Understanding God’s original intention for human relationship is important in understanding the mission of the Church as well. In the Gospels, Jesus tasks his disciples to carry on His mission, taking the Gospel to all the nations and making disciples of those who convert. To assist in this mission, Jesus promised to send his Spirit (Luke 24:49), a promise which came true on the Day of Pentecost. As we read in Acts 2, the Spirit descended on “all flesh” – men, women, and children alike. It’s immediately evident to the reader that the Spirit shows no partiality in whom it empowers to carry out the work of the Church. The Pentecost event, the moment when the implications of the Cross become fully realized for all humanity, renews the egalitarian mission of humanity that was first instated in Gen. 1.

It’s immediately evident to the reader that the Spirit shows no partiality in whom it empowers to carry out the work of the Church.

Therefore, in response to our initial question, three statements can be surmised:

  1. God’s initial plan for creation and human relationships was egalitarian. Man and woman were given the same mission with no distinction as to who would lead the relationship. While there is a biological distinction, this in and of itself is not a functional inequality for both male and female are created in the image of God for the same mission.
  2. The Fall corrupted God’s original plan for human relationship which was best shown by Adam’s naming of Eve, a responsibility he had been given by God to exercise only over animals and not over other humans. Patriarchy (and matriarchy) is harmful to society, church, and family because it is a result of distorted relationships.
  3. The Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was sent to empower the Church, reinstated the egalitarian mission of humanity by demonstrating God’s impartiality towards sex/gender in carrying out God’s plans for creation.

It’s important that we read Genesis in order. If we read Ch. 2 before Ch. 1, and then read Ch. 3, we might be lead to reorganize the image of God to express male over female, functionally speaking. Thus, Ch. 2 and Ch. 3 minimize chapter 1 (the image of God) and reorient it away from equality into patriarchy. But, if we read Chs. 1, 2, and 3 in order, patriarchy is a descriptive reality of the fallenness of humanity and not a prescriptive pattern for original human relationships. It is when we read the Scripture in its literary context that we are better able to interpret it. Therefore, God’s egalitarian mission remains. Humans are called to care for creation and carry on the ministry of Christ together through the empowerment and leadership of the Holy Spirit. In God’s mission, patriarchy has no place.

Co-authored by Dr. Kenneth J. Archer and Jordan Reed