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.