The Article Archives
January 11, 2001
Steve M. Schlissel
Hopelessly patriarchal. That's how feminists have oft-described the Bible. And they're right. It is patriarchal at the core and through and through. Like love and marriage, the Christian Bible and patriarchy go together: any attempt to dismiss the rule of men must begin by dismissing the Rule of God, i.e., the Holy Bible.
For the Scriptures themselves are, in the main, addressed to men. Every thoughtful Christian- man, woman and child- knows quite well that in addressing men, God addresses all. For the male functions as the head in the various covenant spheres, and in addressing them God makes plain His idea of inclusive language.
For example, in the Ten Words, God commands, You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. He does not need to repeat the respective command, customized for women, and that not because women are believed by Him to be beyond such temptations, but rather because, having addressed the male, the command applies to all, each in accordance with his (his, being Biblical inclusive language) position.
In Deuteronomy 16:16, the males were required to appear thrice annually before the Lord (though women and children were permitted to, and often did, make the pilgrimage: 1 Samuel 1; Luke 2:39ff). In Deuteronomy 29, the covenant is explicitly entered into with Israel's males: You stand today, all of you, before Jehovah your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and officers, even all the males of Israel, your little ones, your wives, etc.
In the New Testament, Matthew (14:21) records the number of men at the feeding of the 5,000 (which was probably closer to 20,000), and restricts the numbering to males again at the feeding of the 4,000 (15:38). On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter is quite explicit (as the Greek reveals) in addressing men devout (v.5), men Jews (v.14), men Israelites (v.22), men brothers (vv.29, 37). Stephen directs his remarks to men brothers and fathers (7:2), as does Paul (22:1). In fact, Paul, in Romans 11:4, significantly adds the word men to his quotation of 1 Kings 19:18: I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. And when the Apostle John writes to the churches, he specifies young men and fathers in his audience. Once again, this is all Biblical inclusive language.
Yes, the feminists well regard the Bible as hopelessly patriarchal, for in it we find that males are appointed Elders (without exception), judges (with one interesting exception), prophets (with few exceptions), priests and apostles (without exception). In fact, you'll search in vain for any visitant angel appearing as female.
All this, of course, is irksome in the extreme to those who find God's Word and ways out of step with their desires. The response of professors who like to be called evangelical feminists, has generally been to try to find a hermeneutical or exegetical way around the obvious.
Some, for example, have advanced what they term an eschatological hermeneutic (calling it a scatological hermeneutic would be more accurate), as opposed to a protological hermeneutic. Basically, this vain invention postulates that Genesis does not provide the ethical norm for the church; rather, heaven does, for there is our citizenship. Thus, while Eve may have had some sort of subordinate role after the Fall (getting this much of a concession from feminists is no mean feat!), our ethic flows not from the past but from the future. Since, in heaven, there is neither male nor female (don't ask about the 24 Elders around the throne; just amuse the innovators for a moment), we should be working out the implications of that truth now, in the church and all spheres, obliterating role distinctions based on gender. It does not seem to have occurred to these clever folk that to be consistent, they should, among other things, ask the church to promote the end of marriage altogether in this world, not to mention sex!
As Bavinck, Dabney and others have observed, only the radicals will be left to duke it out in the end, for all attempts to compromise must fail for weakness. Thus, it behooves us to recognize that there are really only two positions worthy of a serious student's attention: consistent feminism, on the one hand, and a consistent, whole-Bible covenantalism, on the other. And both of these parties fully recognize that the Bible cannot be made to teach what compromising evangelical feminists wish it taught.
It has been more than one hundred years since Elizabeth Cady Stanton produced The Women's Bible, in which she attempted to demonstrate that Judaism and orthodox Christianity had to be eliminated if (what would later be called) feminist ideals were to triumph. It was not her intention to make the Bible less sexist, for in her view, this was impossible. Rather, she set out to undermine Biblical authority altogether, focusing on what she regarded as absurdities and contradictions.
Contemporary feminist Naomi Goldenberg picks up Stanton's premises and pitches them to a new generation in her book, The Changing of the Gods. Many of today's feminists are not yet willing to reject Jewish and Christian tradition at such a basic level. Instead they turn to exegesis to preserve Jewish and Christian religious systems. They, she complains, prefer revision to revolution. She warns her sisters-in-arms that this is a self-deceptive enterprise. Jesus Christ cannot symbolize the liberation of women. A culture that maintains a masculine image for its highest divinity [note the implicit polytheism here - sms] cannot allow its women to experience themselves as the equals of its men. Feminists, she insists, must leave Christ and the Bible behind them.
Philosophical feminist Mary Daley, using more violent language, calls for the castration of God. I have already suggested that if God is male then male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the collective imagination.
Theodore Letis* (who has written powerfully concerning feminism's anti-Christian root) properly indicts evangelical and Reformed compromisers: It is evident that all well-intended attempts by evangelicals to cloud over [Scriptural] male imagery with reference to the Godhead in order to appease feminists, far from winning them over, results in their becoming co-conspirators in this cosmic castration.
The push for gender-neutral liturgical language has resulted in revised lectionaries, Psalters (the Christian Reformed Church changed Psalm 1's That man is blessed who, fearing God… to How blessed are they who…), hymnals (Time, like an ever-rolling stream, no longer bears all its sons away; it bears all of us away), and even Bible translations. This is to be expected. All fundamental principles, right or wrong, seek to bring everything which flows from them into conformity with the givens.
God has created men to be covenant heads. The rejection of patriarchy requires the rejection of the Bible and the Bible's God. Acceptance of the Bible's God requires an acceptance of patriarchy; it cannot be interpreted away.
The bad news is that egalitarian feminism will get worse before it gets better, and this means things will first get much worse for women and children, for Biblical patriarchy is their surest defense. The good news is that feminism will utterly fail, for it is out of accord with God's Word and God's world. You can run from the truth, but you cannot hide. And when the reckoning comes, mountains falling will not suffice for cover.
One of the amusing manifestations of anti-patriarchalism is the trend in which women hyphenate their last names at marriage. I'll have no man defining me!, they whine. But in retaining their original last names, they are only reminded that it was their fathers who so named their mothers. And should a feminist seek to get around this by adopting her mother's maiden name, she will have succeeded only in pushing the manifest patriarchy back one generation, to her maternal grandfather. Should she chafe still, she'll have to go all the way back to Eve for a name that did not come from a daddy. But, alas for the eve-olutionist, Eve was named, both generically and particularly, by Adam.
There is no escape. Revolution is tough, ain't it? Submission to Jehovah, on the other hand, is life and peace. Thank God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
*Much of the material in this article can be found in expanded form in the source from which it was borrowed-- an outstanding essay by Theodore Letis published in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction Vol. 9, Nos. 1&2 (1982-83), pp. 182-200. The title of his essay is: Feminine Spirituality: Eve Shakes an Angry Fist at Yahweh, But He Triumphs Through the Son.