Friday, February 25, 2011

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Wife

Are the rules for children and for wives the same? A complementarian argues that since children are commanded to obey their parents, but parents are never commanded to take authority over their children, that the lack of such a commandment is meaningless—unless one concludes if wives are to have equal authority with their husbands, that children also have equal authority with their parents. Thus the writer concluded the text infers both parental authority over their children and husband authority over his wife.

This complementarian argument lacks substance. First, the qualifications of those who are chosen as leaders in the church include managing and ruling their children. I Timothy 3:4 A bishop is to be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity.” and I Timothy 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” Notice that nothing is mentioned about husbands ruling their wives.

Second, if Paul wanted young widows to marry, bear children and be the heads of their households, I Timothy 5:14, (the word that has been translated “guide” or “manage” actually means be the head, ie: ruler of, the household.) it is unlikely that he wanted anything less for other wives.

Furthermore, there are many verses/passages in the Old Testament telling parents to teach, discipline, and bring up their children, but not a single verse telling husbands to discipline or bring up their wives. Deuteronomy 6: 5-9

5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Here parents are commanded to love God and to teach their children what God has commanded. The only verses suggesting that husbands are to teach wives is I Corinthians 14:34-35 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
Because these verses are so opposite of what Paul teaches otherwise—he particularly teaches Christians to NOT follow the law, explained that in Christ there is neither male nor female, and wrote respectfully of women who were leaders in the early church—many scholars suspect these were inserted later and are not the writings of Paul at all. I Corinthians 11, for example talks of women praying and prophesying publicly. It is not possible to prophesy publicly while being silent. But even if Paul did write them, notice that it is the wives who are to ask their husbands, not the husbands who are to impose teaching upon their wives.

There are a number of Old Testament verses telling parents to discipline and bring up their children, but there are no verses telling husbands to discipline their wives or “bring them up.” Prov 13:24 “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Prov 22:15 “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Prov 23: 13-14 “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.” Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

All these speak of parents disciplining their children.

The Bible does talk of husbands who are distressed by a woman/wife, but nothing is mentioned about husbands training, disciplining, ruling, or teaching their wives. There is no “Train up your wife in the way she should go.” or “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of your wife; the rod of discipline will remove it far from her.” or “He that spareth his rod, hateth his wife, but he that loveth her, chasteneth her betimes.”

Proverbs 25:24 “It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.” Proverbs 19:13 “A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.” Proverbs 21:19 “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” Proverbs 27:15 “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.”

Instead, we have Proverbs 31, where a woman is praised by her husband for running a business and making big decisions like buying a field, for ruling their household, for managing their staff. That husband says nothing about taking authority over her, about disciplining her, about making rules she must follow, or about her catering to him. He doesn't demand or expect that she submit to him, but rather gives her the freedom to serve him and their household as she sees fit. And both he and the children praise her. By his example, he teaches their children to appreciate their mother.

Indeed, the entire community respects her; the passage infers that it is because of her independent management of estate, family and business that her husband is known and respected among the elders of the land. The respect her husband enjoys is not from taking authority over her, nor is it from keeping her cooped up at home. He is respected in part because she is so well known because she brings her food from afar, considers a field and buys it, she stretches out her hand to the poor and needy, and delivers girdles to the merchant. (This reminds me of the woman in my area who started the hog farming business. Her sisters were asked, "Are you the one who put up the big hog barn?" Obviously, her reputation precedes her.) The only way people of the land would know what happens at home is by what her servants are saying to their friends and families. And absolutely no one reported that she obeyed her husband.

Compare this with the praise for children, which is about following the instruction of their parents. Although parents are not commanded to discipline their children in the New Testament, the church is told to avoid selecting leaders who do not discipline and manage their children. The Old Testament lays a foundation of parental guidance of their children, including discipline and punishment, even going so far as to record God's condemnation of Eli for not curbing his sons. Hebrews speaks of God chastening us as a parent chastens his or her child.

Note the lack of God holding any man accountable for the conduct of his wife. Adam was not held accountable for Eve's sin, Ahab was not held accountable for Jezebel's sin, nor was Samson held accountable for Delilah's sin.

The complementarian argument once again is a leaky bucket that cannot hold water. Nowhere in the Bible are husbands given rulership over their wives.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.


  1. Very well researched and presented, Waneta!

    Jesus was a rebel in the female followers he honored. In an environment where women were not permitted beyond the outer sanctuary at the Temple, Jesus welcomed them to his side and made them part of the followers without any derision.

    Jewish men viewed their wives as one of many possessions. They had no qualms about multiple wives. The OT stories of jealousy and family fighting all have to do with wives fighting for their child's birthright. Jesus solves this by admonishing that we love others as we love ourselves.

    I think far more fighting over position occurred among the male Disciples than is ever cited among women followers. In fact, there is not a single story over women fighting for position in the Kingdom of God!

    Male ego is the core of the distortion of Jesus' Way. He went to the woman at the well and told the followers that they need not criticize Mary Magdeline for her washing and anointing of his feet. It was men who designated her a "prostitute" when there is no real evidence of such.

    God help men who want to make women second class citizens in His Kingdom! He created Eve out of Adam's rib and placed her as a "helpmate" for him. Without women this would be a harsh and cruel world and there would be no new humans to corrupt it!!!

  2. "Jewish men viewed their wives as one of many possessions. They had no qualms about multiple wives. The OT stories of jealousy and family fighting all have to do with wives fighting for their child's birthright. Jesus solves this by admonishing that we love others as we love ourselves."

    Well said, Gene! There is one OT example of women fighting for position, and that is when they were fighting to retain their family land because there was no male to inherit it. Moses granted them their land.

    Some groups today are working to return the US to the days when women could not vote and when land remained in male possession. They want absolute male authority.

    "God help men who want to make women second class citizens in His Kingdom! He created Eve out of Adam's rib and placed her as a "helpmate" for him. Without women this would be a harsh and cruel world and there would be no new humans to corrupt it!!!"

    Amen! Those countries where couples are trying to have only male children is already seeing the effect of their actions. Many males with no female partners. What are they to do? Have women with multiple husbands? Visit brothels? Become homosexuals? All poor choices which add to distress in life. And all because they devalued and disrespected females.

  3. Thanks for your work in this area, Waneta! As a victim advocate for a number of years, the only group that never asked us to come and speak were churches. They perpetuate domestic violence and yet refuse help from educated, trained specialists.

    I only pray women learn scripture for themselves and know how unscriptural abuse is.

  4. Mary,

    Thanks so much for advocating for victims! You bring out an important point--churches both perpetuate domestic violence and refuse help from specialists. I have the same complaint.

    I understand a big part of the problem is that they tell one another that domestic violence services encourage and command wives to leave and divorce their husbands, even though that is not true. DV services do help wives understand what they are dealing with and how serious it is, but tell them the wives are the best judge about what action to take.

  5. If she's having multiple affairs with other men, ignoring you, insulting you, not taking care of the children, ruining your vehicle, plans to join the military, wants to earn a good living, looking at other men, even in pornography and the media, etc. by all no means, whip her. That's the only way you can get her to obey you.

    1. Of course based purely on scripture, you have the right provided to you by God Himself to divorce her on the grounds of being unfaithful. Remember, she too was given free will to love god and to love you, or not. Her adultery will be handled by God. If you choose to stay married, you have the free will to do so.....but God gave you an out for a reason. Because whipping her won't work.

  6. Anonymous,

    If she is doing all that, its likely BECAUSE you try to force her to obey you.

    What would cause her to want to stay with you? Would you stay with someone who whipped you? Who insisted that you obey her? I think not. No wonder she has no interest in you, insults you, and pines after other men.

    Did you marry her because you love her, or because you want her to serve you? Because you want to be king over someone?

  7. I don't how anyone can read the bible and then conclude it doesn't advocate a wife's submission to her husband's authority. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to come to the conclusion that the Bible advocates equality in marriage for husband and wife. The text of the scriptures are not the sligtless bit unclear on this. Verse after verse argues against this. Sorry but you're trying to impose man's words on Scripture

  8. Anonymous (May 5, 2012),

    Please tell me where in the Bible, chapter and verse(s), is a husband told to take authority over his wife? Ephesians 5? I Peter? Proverbs? I haven't been able to find it.

    I agree: "The text of the scriptures are not the sligtless bit unclear on this." Scripture teaches husbands to submit, love and sacrifice, to lay down their lives, to cherish their wives. Since husband authority is so missing in scripture, I conclude "you're trying to impose man's words on Scripture." It is man who dismisses the submission and sacrifice God requires from husbands toward their wives. The requirement is so strong, speaking of sacrifice even to the husband's death, it takes a substantial amount of scripture twisting, scripture dismissing, scripture re-interpreting to conclude the Bible teaches husband authority.

    The Bible does command wives to submit to their husbands, but NOT to their husband's authority. The Bible also commands husbands to submit to their wives--both in the fear of God.

    Perhaps you are unaware of the word play some writers use to escape husband submission. They claim the submission one to another in Ephesians 5:21 actually means "some (submit) more than others." What is that besides "mental gymnastics" and "man's words"?

    You sound like you want to follow God, but do you really? You are defending the arguments of rebellious men. Choose this day who you will serve: God or men.

  9. Sorry to interject as I am a christian but not a 'practicing' one but may I say I fully admire your work and am totally horrified and had no idea that churches are actually teaching men to act as God, this is blasphemy. Are they Christians or Paulians? Paul was not a divine being and was fallible. Jesus embraced women fully as equals, he is the role model. I do have to say though (sorry) that coming from a scientific background, that Adam could not possibly have been created first. Men have the 'Y' chromosome which in effect is a mutated 'X'. Female is the default sex and at one point in the eons of time males were created for diversity in the gene pool. No one is superior of inferior as a result of this fact but I think maybe if these arrogant men were to practice a little more humility and remember Jesus' words 'blessed are the meek' and the 'first shall be last and the last first' they might appreciate that ego and pride are to be conquered at all costs.

  10. Anonymous (Dec 29, 2012)

    I apologize for taking so long to publish are reply to your post. I've been trying very hard to catch up, and am getting closer...

    "maybe if these arrogant men were to practice a little more humility and remember Jesus' words 'blessed are the meek' and the 'first shall be last and the last first' they might appreciate that ego and pride are to be conquered at all costs."

    Well Said! I read a comment recently, that it is the men who are NOT loving their wives who are insisting on wife submission. Unfortunately, pastors and church-going "Paulians" have not figured out that those insistent men are letting their secret out of the bag.

    I, too, am horrified that churches are teaching men to act as God. "These things ought not to be."