Friday, June 12, 2009

Itching Ears, Part 7 (Ruler, guide, or manager?)

Those men with ears that itch to hear pastors and teachers expound on the male-invented right of husbands to rule or lead their wives, grab onto I Timothy 3:4-5 as a major lifeline of their ideology. It speaks of the qualifications of a bishop. “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” Verse 12 says the same thing of deacons.

Again, they use human reasoning to make it say what they want it to say. First, they emphasize “rule his own house.” Second, they reason that "house" includes wife. Third, they reason that if ruling his house is good for the church leader, then it is good for all Christian husbands, because who knows which of them God will call to become a church leader.

So lets look to see if the emphasis on "rule" is justified. Strong’s concordance says the Greek meaning of rule and ruling in both verses is “to stand before, i.e. (in rank), to preside, or (by implication) to practice:—maintain, be over, rule.”

While rule is included in the meaning, so is maintaining, which would suggest caring for whatever or whoever is in his charge. Yet ruling is emphasized and maintaining isn't mentioned at all.

The second assumption is that husbands are to rule their wives as well as their children. But Note WHAT or WHO Paul says the bishops or deacons are to rule. Their children and their houses. There is no mention made of ruling their wives. If wives was meant, wouldn’t Paul have said so? He spelled out children, and didn’t just lump it all into ruling the household, so wouldn’t he also spell out wives if that was what he meant?

But according to I Timothy 5:14 he did not mean that husbands are to rule their wives as a part of the household, because he also tells wives to rule the house or family. (see the June 5 post entitled “Itching Ears, Part 4). The King James Version translators used the word “guide” for the wives, but the concordance spells out that the Greek word translated "guide" means “to be the ruler or head of the house or family.” (my paraphrase.)

So both wife and church leader were to rule the house, and neither directive tells either gender to rule their spouse.

The third assumption, that what applies to faith leaders applies to all husbands has some merit, IF and ONLY IF the directive is not manipulated into meaning something other than it was meant to mean. It is clear from the whole context of I Timothy that both the faith-leader husband and his wife were to rule their household, family, and children.

Yet pastors emphasize that women are to submit and be keepers at home, suggesting a nanny-type service where the wife actually has very little authority, and where the authority she does have can at any time be over-ridden by her husband, and that she has no choice but to yield to that authority even if it is contrary to biblical doctrine. This puts all wives on the same level as slaves, servants, and menial laborers. At the same time, pastors teach that husbands have the authority to rule both wives, children and house, in effect, making any married man a king whose will can override God's own commands.

Now, most Christians would deny this. They would say a wife is not to obey her husband's command to steal or kill. Yet, they fail to realize that abusive husbands expect their wives to accept whatever the husband says about them as gospel truth. These same men demean their wives on a regular basis and the wives are told to submit to defamation of their godly character as well as violation of their physical bodies. In short, the wives are expected to cooperate with their husbands in stealing the wife's vitality and energy and in killing the wife's mind, soul, and spirit. The result is that most wives who are thus used get chronic illnesses that are a direct result of the stress, fear, and anxiety that is inflicted upon them by the very persons who vowed to love and cherish them. It is a slow suicide that the wives are expected to participate in, and often the children are included in the degradation and the resulting illnesses and declining health and abilities.

In short, this expansion to all husbands of a scripture intended for the qualification of leaders, isolating these few verses from the rest of the passage, is in essense collective rulership. The men keeping the women under control. It is domestic abuse that is aided and abetted by the church authorities, which frequently leads to domestic violence, for which the leaders have yet to devise a remedy. Could it be that both men and church leaders--both with itching ears--VALUE domestic abuse? Doesn't it benefit them all by helping them maintain their power over women? Doesn't it benefit them by allowing each of them to harness a member of the other gender as his personal slave or free-laboror? Just as the rich get wealthy on the backs of the poor, "Christian" husbands live lives of relative ease by standing on the backs of their wives. And they do it with the male-run church's blessing.

I’d like to add a piece of speculation here. Is it possible that men of itching ears have used our current-day family arrangements to interpret scripture? We know from Proverbs 31 that at least some women had household staff to help care for family, house, and/or business. Wouldn’t it be legitimate to assume that Paul’s directive to rule the house referred to upkeep of the structure and contents as well as management of the household hired help or even slaves? Why jump to the conclusion that “house” means “wife?” After all, the word wife is used elsewhere in Paul’s writings.

It appears the itching ears phenomena in this case started with the KJV translators, which probably started with the attitudes of men before they were born. Although the directions to both husband and wife include ruling the house, they chose to use the strong degree “rule” for the directive they supposed was for the husband, and the lesser degree “guide” for the directive that was for the wife. What is the likelihood that a male leader would look up the meaning of “guide?” And if he did look it up, what is the likelihood that he would alert anyone else of the truth he found? (BTW, the NIV uses “manage” for both church leaders and for wives.)

Although the above paragraph gives the itching ears crowd a tiny benefit of the doubt, they still have no excuse. The commands to husbands in Ephesians 5 and throughout the Bible, tell them to love, to be kind, to sacrifice for others, to put others first. But the men of itching ears focus on the two or three verses that tell them to rule. They also replace the object they are told to rule, with the ones they want so badly to rule--their wives. I repeat, they have no excuse.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel," a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. As Theologians and Bible translators have been predominantly male--all of them historically--it should come as no surprise that English Translations do reflect male bias in many areas of scripture including 1 Timothy 5:14.

    Thank you for bringing this particular pair of scriptures to our attention. Your blog sparked some independent research which verified yours that the word translated "guide," in 1 Timothy 5 (Strong's number 3616 could and should be translated "rule."

    oikodespoteo oy-kod-es-pot-eh'-o from 3617; to be the head of (i.e. rule) a family:--guide the house.
    3617. oikodespotes oy-kod-es-pot'-ace from 3624 and 1203; the head of a family:--goodman (of the house), householder, master of the house.)

    It would not be blasphemy or heresyfor 1 Timothy 5:14 to be translated: I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, rule the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

    The first man and women were created to exercise a co-regency over all creation--not over each other, and it should be no different within the home.

    Jocelyn Andersen

  2. What a surprise it was to me to learn what this word meant in the original language!

    Thanks for the explication. I wonder if you'd like to come chat with us sometime at the Equality Central Forum?

  3. Waneta,

    Learning about oikedespoteo changed my life! :) I also did some digging into the word "keeper" and it was equally enlightening: