Like the words 'monogamy' and 'polygamy', the words 'patriarch' and 'matriarch' are not Hebrew terms at all. The only instances of the word "patriarch" appearing in the Bible are in the Greek New Testament at Acts 2:29 and Hebrews 7:4 and translate the Greek word patriarches meaning a 'progenitor', from patria meaning 'of paternal descent' and archo meaningto be 'first' in political rank or power. Whilst such is certainly implied in the Hebrew equivalent 'ab, "father", it does not contain an equivalent to the Greek suffix archo, since the concept of male headship thoroughly suffuses the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
The word 'matriarch' does not appear in either the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures because as such it would be a complete oxymoron. Whereas there are dozens of references to "fathers" and "the fathers" in the Old Testament and New, there are almost none to "mothers". And the few that are present (Isaiah 49:23; Jeremiah 16:3; Lamentations 2:12; 5:3) never refer to the female gender as 'progenitors' or 'heads' (as with the equivalent "father") but always to either 'em, which conveys the sense of 'family bonding' or yanaq, a 'nursing mother'.
The Hebrew word for "father" ('ab) therefore translates 'progenesis' and 'leadership' whereas "mother" translates 'family bonding'. If we have these concepts firmly in our mind, we shall not go astray. And although our English language incorporates the word 'matriarch' and is a word we sometimes use ourselves (perhaps with some risk of misunderstanding, I must confess), its literal meaning as a 'mother-ruler' is entirely contrary to the Hebrew concept of 'em, 'one who creates family bonds'.
This concept of 'bonding' is very clearly built in to the very biology of motherhood. It is to the mother that a developing unborn child is literally bonded or connected by an umbillical cord, creating a degree of intimacy that a father can perhaps never ever really fully comprehend. The umbillical cord is the same for every child that a woman bears, the mechanism of nourishment identical, and as all pro-lifers know, this bond does not make the child a part of the mother's body but is a separate genetic entity, often with a different blood group and and compliment of immunoglobulins. When the baby is born, the umbillical cord is cut and the placenta spontaneously detaches. That severing, though not violent, requires the spilling of blood through a 'violent' act of cutting, indicating that this particular bond of intimacy must eventually be broken as the child walks in his or her freedom.
Within the local church or assembly, there are likewise "fathers" called pastors, who are the shepherds of the local flock as Christ is the Shepherd of the cosmic Flock or Body. These pastors are spiritual progenitors like biological fathers, and the terms is also used by Paul to refer to the progenitorial work of the apostles. He said:
Because of the equivalence of the Greek pater with the Hebrew 'ab, the word "patriarchs" could well have been substituted for "fathers" in this text without doing any violence to the meaning.
"For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:15-16, NKJV)
If there are "fathers" in the local congregation - those who spiritually parent the flock - are there also "mothers"? The answer must, of course, be yes, there are, but not in the sense of being spiritual rulers or progenitors, but as bonders or bonding agents.
A human bond-maker is one who brings or holds people together as in the bond of friendship. This word 'bond', however, also has a negative connotation in the sense that an unrighteous bond can imprison people, with or without their consent. Thus a woman, who has such a vital calling of bonding souls together, is able to do so for good or evil. We have all heard of possessive mothers tying their sons to their apron strings, meaning, exercising unrighteous and suffocating control by failing to cut that spiritual umbillical cord. At some point all mothers have to 'let go' and allow their children to fend for themselves and live their own lives.
The biblical rôle of the woman is to nurture and create spiritual bonds of friendship in the love of Yahweh, our Elohim (God). A true friendship is of equals. Where one 'friend' dominates or controls the other you do not have a healthy, flourishing relationship because it is based to some degree on control and compulsion. Mothers of children do, of course, have to exercise control over their little ones, and in that limited sense may be described as 'matri-archs' (or mother-rulers) but that rulership, as we have seen, is temporary. And indeed, if her husband passes away, her eldest son actually becomes her ruler, just as Yah'shua (Jesus) became when He was an adult and after His step-father Joseph died. When Yah'shua (Jesus) died, the apostle John took His place and looked after His mother, Mary.
In the governing of a local church or assembly there are hierarchies based on maturity and giftedness but as far as spiritual worth and heavenly rewards are concerned, the apostles make it perfectly clear that there is complete and utter equality. Just because, for instance, one is a Pastor in life doesn't mean one is going to get a better reward in the next life than a Deacon who did his duty diligently. In Christ there is a complete levelling, so much so that the Master reminds us that those who aspire to be first will become last, whereas those who take a humble servant attitude and place themselves last will inherit a first position (Luke 13:30; Matthew 20:16). Such should be the attitude of sister-wives amongst each other, and patriarchs amongst patriarchs.
This relationship, so clearly spelled out in the New Testament, is supposed to be reflected amongst the wives in a polygamous marriage. There is no hierarchy of spirit amongst them even though their husband may give them different stewardships. There is no equivalent of a 'pastor-' or an 'apostle-wife' because women are not rulers - their husbands are. Though they may have motherly callings in the local congregation as Deaconesses, Eldresses, and Pastresses (and an even more general female apostolic ministry), these will always be in support of parallel male ministries and not as independent ministries in their own right. And in the ideal situation, a Pastress should be married to the Pastor, or a female Apostle married to a male Apostle, for they are to be help-meets in these ministerial rôles, not heads.
In my own family there is no female headship of one wife over the others. There isn't any need, because that's my calling to lead. Though I assign wives different areas of responsibility, this does not imply any kind of general headship over the others. Thus for one week one wife may be head of the kitchen and determines the menu, meals, etc., but the next week she will be replaced by another 'head'. One wife may be my secretary, another my accountant, another my domestic manager, with responsibilities and stewardships in these different spheres, but none lord it over the others. There is complete and total equality.
Yes, some are more spiritually mature than others in some areas and so exercise a kind of unconscious headship, but never by default but by mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). This form of 'headless headship' is the pinnacle of spirituality, and is described by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, where he says:
But as should be obvious, this kind of submitting has nothing to do with hierarchicial headship, but a conscious acknowledgement that we are all the submitted allegorical wife of Christ in Yahweh the Father. The goal, as always, is that we should not ultimately need to teach one another anything, since the Torah should be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31ff). If wives are lording it over other wives, or if there is a No.#1 wife in the household, such is an admission that that family is still under the bondage of an Old Covenant Mosaic-type spiritual system - not of freedom, but of 'bondage' in the negative sense.
"...speak(ing) to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to Yahweh (God) the Father in the name of our Lord Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), submitting to one another in the fear of Elohim (God) (Ephesians 5:19-21, NKJV).
Those women who like to be under a 'matriarch' are in truth making themselves out to be daughters when they ought to be co-wives. In my family I have wives in the age range 23 to 43 (2001) and all regard each other as equals. Because all operate in the freedom of Christ, all are blessed with the same access rights as the others to the Holy of Holies - to the same Holy Spirit, the same inspiration, the same Messiah. When a wife makes herself a 'junior wife' she is asking, just as the Israelites did (for which they were cursed with the lesser Law of Moses), for an intermediary - she is abrogating both her rights and responsibilities. And when a wife seeks a dominance position, she is placing herself on a pedistal which Christ did not create for her, one that will corrupt her soul with vanity and pride.
A patriarch was telling me that one of his wives occupies such a position, justifying it by saying that his wife was 'spirited' (read: 'domineering') and that the others enjoyed her leadership. Doubtless they did, only it was not hers to give - it was her husband's. You cannot, by definition, have two leaders in a house - if a sister-wife has both a husband and another sister-wife as heads, she has two masters, and even though the 'head wife' may like to convince herself that she is fully subjected to her husband, and that she is therefore, to all intents and purposes, simply her husband's mouth and heart, this is shere delusion. Yah'shua (Jesus) said that such an arrangement was impossible: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). And even if the No.#1 wife claims to be a 'subordinate head', you still can't have a double-headed person with one big head and one little one in the Christian model. Such an image is grostesque and belongs more to pagan mythology, or to worldly models of corporations.
Of course, in his absence, he may appoint a wife as a temporary head, if he does not have a son mature enough in years to represent him, but that would fall safely within the model of a mother temporarily ruling over her children. Its application would merely be practical, however, to resolve disagreements should any (unfortunately) arise.
Once we understand that a sister-wife is a 'bonder' these conflicts over rulership are quickly resolved. By taking Paul's instructions to the Ephesians and substituting the head of the allegorical Bride with the the husband of the family, we obtain, in harmony with the divine model of the mystical marriage of Christ revealed to us as the apex of spirituality, the following wise counsel:
This is the only model that the New Covenant acknowledges - any other reflects back on a law that has long since passed away, being brought to completion in Christ. And such, I would venture to suggest, is a trap that many Messianics actually fall into.
"... (wives) submitting to one another in the fear (reverential respect) of their husband" (Ephesians 5:21).
When a new wife comes into the family I now, as a matter of course, place her under the temporary headship of another wife until she has learned the duties, responsibilities, and ways of my family government. The duration of this 'apprenticeship', which in some respects resembles the rôle of concubine, will depend on the spiritual maturity of the new wife, but usually lasts a year.
It is perhaps unfortunate that this word 'matriarch' survives in our language, though it certainly has a useful negative application to women usurping the proper authority given to husbands and fathers. If there is such a thing as 'matriarchy' in a plural marriage, then it must be a joint one - of the wives in a bond of mutual submission to one another and of individual and joint submission to their husband - over the children and household, but always in reverential submission to the husband and father of that household. Show me a Christian/Messianic household which has a No.#1 matriarchal wife and I will show you a Wife-Concubine relationship, such as obtained between Sarah and Hagar, which has no place in a New Covenant of freedom and equality. If there is a household with a No.#1 wife and two submissive wives (for example), then I will point you to a monogamous marriage with two half-wives or concubines. And if you can indeed point such a household to me, I will tell you that this family has a vision of Christian/Messianic polygamy quite at variance with the vision we share at this ministry. Such will be walking a different path and with a different spirit, and never the twain shall meet.