“Patriarchy is the backdrop of the Bible, not the message of the Bible.” — Carolyn Custis James
One of the common counter-arguments to the egalitarian view is that God would never pander to culture or let it influence His word. Therefore, many of the biblical limitations on or commands to women that egalitarians claim are cultural (women should always be “keepers at home” for example) are seen by complementarians as eternally mandated by God.
I used to think that since the culture of the Bible was patriarchal, then that was how it was supposed to be — mandated by God. It was written mostly by men, mostly TO men (women weren’t educated as well as men for the most part, after all), and with a clear bias towards men. It was just women’s lot in life to play second fiddle, and culture, biblical or otherwise, was a reflection of that law, not vice-versa.
But we encounter a scripture that says the very opposite in Matthew 19:3-10:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
WHAT??! It seems incredible that a law that regulated God’s people could be influenced by fallen culture, but it’s there in black and white. And this particular issue is not alone. Polygamy was also allowed and regulated under Mosaic law, even though this was clearly not what God desired or designed.
This passage is just one glimpse into how egalitarians interpret scriptures and gender issues. While we acknowledge that there are “problem” passages that don’t exactly align with egalitarianism, there are also those snapshots of freedom for women that reveal the ideal (Gal. 3:28).
One principle I try to follow, then, is that when we know how things are SUPPOSED to be (the pre-fall equality of Genesis, the equality of Gal. 3:28, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on male and female in Acts 2), then anything that contradicts that ideal is most likely an accommodation to fallen culture. I’ll get back to this idea later.
Egalitarians point to slavery as a parallel example. Anyone could make a clear pro-slavery case using scripture (indeed, many people have), even though most realize that slavery is neither an ideal situation nor a condition that we should perpetuate and encourage. In fact, part of Jesus’ mission on earth, as revealed in Isaiah 61:1 and repeated in Luke 4:18 was to:
“bring good news to the poor.
comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.”
And yet we still see laws and regulations for slaves in verses like Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 3:22. These passages are not proclaiming freedom at all, but rather affirming the existing culture by insisting that slaves serve and obey their earthly masters AS THEY WOULD CHRIST. These instructions to slaves are identical to the ones given to wives. Why would God allow the results of the fall exhibited in culture to prevail over His intended purposes for women and slaves?
We will look at the answer to that question in the next post. In the meantime, let’s make sure that as ambassadors of God and His kingdom, we are truly doing all we can to answer Jesus’ prayer that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In our current culture of equality and opportunity for all, let us not waste the chance to set right all things that “were not that way from the beginning.”