The Place of Women
The Place of Women
Chalcedon Position Paper No. 47
One of the chronic problems of men is that too often they react instead of acting. The terms and nature of the problems of life are set by their opposition rather than by themselves, and the reactions are foolish. This has all too often been true of the reactions of men, Christian and non-Christian, to the women’s liberation movement. The results are sometimes painful. Two examples will suffice. In one church, some of the women came together to study Scripture. The women were of varying ages but with a common need to know the Bible better in its application to their everyday problems. The church ordered the meetings ended, although no problem had arisen. The concerns of the study were not ecclesiastical, and the meetings were not a part of the church’s work nor limited to church members. By no stretch of the imagination can any text of Scripture be made to forbid women to study Scripture together.
In at least several other churches, the women are held in an unbiblical subjection which treats them as children, not adults. The Bible declares Sarah to be the model wife in her obedience and subjection (I Peter 3:1-7). We cannot understand the meaning of that without recognizing the fact that, on occasion, Sarah, confident in the godliness of her position, gave Abraham an ultimatum (Gen. 16:5; 21:9-13), and God declared, “in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice” (Gen. 9:12), a sentence men rarely if ever use as a sermon text!
Moreover, as Charles Hodge said, with respect to Ephesians 5:22, the authority of the husband (or any human authority) is not unlimited. “It extends over all departments, but is limited in all; first, by the nature of the relation; and secondly, by the higher authority of God. No superior, whether master, parent, husband or magistrate, can make it obligatory on us either to do what God forbids, or not to do what God commands” (Charles Hodge: Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 31.4f). But this is not all. The stupidity of all too many men is nowhere more apparent than in the assumption that subordination means inferiority. Most of us have at some time or other, and, usually, most of the time, been subordinate to very inferior men. In a fallen world, this is routine. The world commonly appraises a man’s position in terms of very limited criteria, such as wealth, birth, education, and the like. The natural aristocracy of talent and character usually does not prevail in a sinful society! To assume that pre-eminence in position and power is pre-eminence in intelligence,character, and ability is to assume that the men who rule in Washington, D.C., and in the Kremlin, are the cream of history! Such a perspective would be sheer idiocy, but it is a kind of idiocy all too many men have in relationship to women.
One aspect of this idiocy, proudly taught as gospel by some such churches and pastors is the blasphemous assumption that the husband is the mediator between God and the wife. Scripture tells us that the husband is the head of the family, not a mediator, nor a little Christ. In relationship to the Lord, husband and wife are declared to be “heirs together of the grace of life” (I Peter 3:7); the husband is not declared to be the central heir, nor the recipient of greater grace or wisdom. We are not told that the wife's prayers are hindered or void if she fails to pray through a mediator-husband. Too many men want a lovely and charming wife to serve them and then to be a silent zombie the rest of the time! Peter tells us that the prayers of a husband and a wife are hindered if either is false with respect to their duties under God.
Some churches give men a cheap and false religion which justifies keeping a wife in line while the man is free to be his fallen self. Men find such a religion very palatable!
When God ordained marriage, He also gave us a sentence to set forth its meaning: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This is the opposite of what too many see in marriage: the woman is viewed as leaving her parents and cleaving, or adhering to, her husband. That she does so is true enough, but the Bible stresses the requirement that the man make a break and cleave to his wife. Moreover, Jesus Christ declares that this is God’s own statement (Matt. 19:5). Why then are commentaries and preachers silent about its meaning? It is clear that headship is given to the husband. Is it not here equally clear that a particular and very great centrality is given to the woman, who is “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20)?
Man is made of the bones and flesh of his father and mother, as C. A. Simpson has pointed out in The Interpreter’s Bible, to become, in the act of marriage, one flesh, one community of life, with his wife. In the Hebrew, the word “cleave” means to cling close together, to be joined together, stick, or follow closely after. Given this meaning, it is most significant that it is the man whom God in particular requires this of. Since headship is given to the man, the human expectation would be that woman must adhere to the man and cling to him. God, however, places another requirement on marriage: the man must be joined to, cling to, or cleave unto his wife.
Man, it should be noted. is given dominion over the earth, over the fish, birds, and animals, and he shares the exercise of that dominion with his wife (Gen. l:26-28). Man’s headship is in the exercise of that dominion. When Sarah called Abraham “lord” (I Peter 3:1-7), it was because Abraham was the head in the exercise of their dominion under God's covenant. In other words, a man is given headship over his wife in the exercise of dominion, not dominion over her.
A man's relationship to his parents is a blood relationship. He is genetically bone of their bones, and flesh of their flesh. This, however, is the relationship he must “leave” to "cleave" unto his wife, a non-blood relationship. This new non-genetic relationship must still become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh (Gen.2:23-24).
It would be dangerous and false to push the point too far, or to see it as more than an important Biblical analogy, but the analogy to circumcision is there. In circumcision, the organ of generation is made the covenant mark by its circumcised status, signifying that man’s hope is not in generation but in regeneration, a new life in the Lord. Circumcision, as Gerhardus Vos, in Biblical Theology (1948), pointed out, “stands for justification and regeneration, plus sanctification” (Rom. 4:9-12; Col .2:1l-13) (p. 105).
In some sense, marriage is also comparable to a new life. The twain become “one flesh,” a new community of life. In terms of this unity, Paul uses marriage as a type of the unity of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:21-33). By this analogy. we are told that husbands must love their wives as Christ also loved the church, “and gave himself for it.” This, plainly, calls for sacrificial service to the new entity or life, the family. The headship of the husband is one of a comparable radical love and sacrificial service, not a tyrannical power. Headship in Scripture means, our Lord makes clear, service: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:1l). In the foot-washing episode, our Lord says, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). For men to seek the blessings of Christian marriage with pagan doctrines of headship is blasphemous.
The family thus creates a new entity: the twain becomes one flesh. Two bloodlines and faithlines come together to create a new union, one which unites two heritages. Eugen Rosenstock-Heuessy, in The Multiformity of Man (1936), called attention to the fact that, in the old days, a bride went from her father’s house to a new house with a unity of faith and heritage. “She was not exposed to any other man’s doctrine or ideals or values.” This is now completely changed by public or statist education. The state imposes many fathers on a family’s sons and daughters; these teach creeds and values antagonistic to those of the pupils’ families. The result said Rosenstock-Huessy, is a polytheistic education. “Thus, a modern man is not marrying one man’s daughter, but many men’s pupil,” and the same polytheistic education is true for the young man.
The result is that, instead of marriage creating a new entity, it creates another carbon copy of a machine-stamped factory assembled, statist model. With the teaching of sex education in these “public” schools, carbon copy techniques are carried to the marriage bed, where performance is by the book-model, and in terms of the most recent sexological research! That problems result should not surprise us.
One of the reasons for Christian Schools is to preserve the priority of the family in the life of the child. The state school undercuts the Christian family and is anti-familistic and thus is the poorest kind of training ground for marriage.
The Biblical family is by nature future oriented. Because it requires that there be a continuity of faith and honor, it maintains its roots in the past. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus20:12). This “honor” means continuity and love. At the same time, there must be a departure: leaving father and mother to cleave unto one’s wife. Past, present, and future, are from God and under God.
A statist world is different. The goal of the state is control and the restriction of change to the state. Instead of the individual or family as the source of innovation, change, and entrepreneurship, we then have the state in control of all these things. The state, however, when it becomes this powerful, becomes a vast bureaucracy, and it gives us a frozen, pre-arranged world, not a future.
The family is the true wellspring of the future, not the state, and the woman is the key to it. The statist school is a citizen-producing factory designed to manufacture people whose every loyalty is eroded. No family ties bind the well-taught statist school product. Thus, all competing institutions or loyalties of family, faith, and heritage are eliminated. The result is a mass man; such a man is easily a rebel, a malcontent, or a drone, but he s not capable of anything but a statist answer to problems, because for him no other agency has any stature or viability. He is a factory product with standardized reactions and responses.
The Biblical family, however, is future oriented. It begins under God as an act of faith, not a trial experiment in living. It is governed by a faith and by a way of life that ties the past to the present and to the future. The grandparents and the parents alike share a concern for the children's future, and for a continuity of faith and life. At the same time, they have a concern that there be progress for the children.
Some economists have somberly predicted that the current and coming generation will be the first in American history whose standard of living will be lower than that of their parents. If statist controls continue and increase, this may well be true, because statism seeks a frozen pre-arranged world order, not a free one.
Scripture orders a man to cleave or adhere to his wife because the godly woman is the mother of life. To cleave to one's wife means that one clings to, or follows closely after, not his parents but his wife. To cleave to one’s wife means that a man sees the future with her and in terms of her, not in terms of his past, nor in terms of the state. We are definitely not told to cleave to or follow closely after the state, our president, governor, or prime minister. All too many men are more married to the state and its promises than to their wives, and the result is what can be called orgasmic politics. The future hope is then political, not personal.
Marriage is a personal act between two persons creating a very personal “one flesh” under the very personal God of Scripture. The future created by the family in Christ is not the impersonal monster-world of statist planners but a free society in the Lord.
The dominion mandate of Genesis l:26-28 is followed by the institution of marriage, Genesis 2:20-24. These are not unrelated. The second implements the first.
The headship of men does not mean the shelving of women. The Pauline epistles tell us plainly how real and extensive the role of women was in the New Testament church. Men who seek to make a woman the mere adjunct of themselves are stupid, foolish, and unchristian. They pass up the wealth of God’s way for the poverty of their ego. The churches which relegate women to a limbo of irrevelance are guilty before God. Subordination does not mean irrelevance nor incompetence. If this were true, every corporation would be better off if all the staff and employees were fired, and only the chairman of the board remained! It would commonly mean the departure of intelligence.
In terms of Scripture, the women’s liberation movement is nonsense, but so too is the position of all too many churchmen. Genesis 2:24 tells us something we dare not forget. Beginning with the first couple, Adam and Eve, God requires a leaving and a cleaving. There is a natural and happy cleaving by women to their husbands, to godly husbands. But there is the cleaving which is central, is commanded by God, and is at the heart of true marriage; it is by the husband to his wife.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.