That's how feminists have often described the Bible. And
they're right. It is patriarchal at the core and through and through. Like love
and marriage, the Christian Bible and patriarchy go together: any attempt to
dismiss the rule of men must begin by dismissing the Rule of God, i.e.,
the Holy Bible.
For the Scriptures themselves are, in the main, addressed to
men. Every thoughtful Christian -- man, woman and child -- knows quite well that in
addressing men, God addresses all. For the male functions as the head in the
various covenant spheres, and in addressing them God makes plain his idea of
For example, in the Ten Words, God commands, "You shall not
covet your neighbor's wife." He does not need to repeat the respective command,
customized for women, and that not because women are believed by him to be
beyond such temptations, but rather because, having addressed the male, the
command applies to all, each in accordance with his ("his," being Biblical
inclusive language) position.
In Deuteronomy 16:16, the males were required to appear thrice annually before the Lord
(though women and children were permitted to, and often did, make the pilgrimage: 1 Samuel 1; Luke 2:39ff). In Deuteronomy 29, the covenant is explicitly entered into with Israel's males: "You stand today, all of you, before Yahweh your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your
elders and officers, even all the males of Israel, your little ones, your wives,
In the New Testament, Matthew 4:21 records the number of men at the "feeding of the 5,000" (which was probably
closer to 20,000), and restricts the numbering to males again at the feeding of
the "4,000" (15:38).
On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter is quite explicit (as the Greek reveals) in addressing men devout
(v.5), men Jews (v.14), men Israelites (v.22), men brothers (vv.29, 37). Stephen directs his remarks to men brothers and fathers (7:2), as does Paul (22:1). In fact, Paul, in Romans 11:4, significantly adds the word "men" to his quotation of 1 Kings 19:18: "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." And when the Apostle John writes to the churches, he specifies young men and fathers in his audience. Once again, this is all Biblical inclusive language.
Yes, the feminists well regard the Bible as "hopelessly patriarchal," for in it we find that males are appointed elders (without
exception), judges (with one interesting exception), prophets (with few exceptions), priests and apostles (without exception). In fact, you'll search in vain for any visitant angel appearing as female.
All this, of course, is irksome in the extreme to those who
find God's word and ways out of step with their desires. The response of
professors who like to be called "evangelical feminists" has generally been to
try to find a hermeneutical or exegetical way around the obvious.
Some, for example, have advanced what they term an
"eschatological hermeneutic" (calling it a "scatological hermeneutic" would be
more accurate), as opposed to a "protological hermeneutic." Basically, this vain
invention postulates that Genesis does not provide the ethical norm for the
church; rather, heaven does, for there is our citizenship. Thus, while Eve
may have had some sort of subordinate role after the Fall (getting this
much of a concession from feminists is no mean feat!), our ethic flows not from
the past but from the future. Since, in heaven, there is neither male nor female
(don't ask about the 24 elders around the throne; just amuse the
innovators for a moment), we should be working out the implications of that
"truth" now, in the church and all spheres, obliterating role distinctions based
on gender. It does not seem to have occurred to these clever folk that to be
consistent, they should, among other things, ask the church to promote the end
of marriage altogether in this world, not to mention sex!
As Bavinck, Dabney and others have observed, only the radicals
will be left to duke it out in the end, for all attempts to compromise must fail
for weakness. Thus, it behooves us to recognize that there are really only two
positions worthy of a serious student's attention: consistent feminism, on the
one hand, and a consistent, whole-Bible covenantalism, on the other. And
both of these parties fully recognize that the Bible cannot be
made to teach what compromising "evangelical feminists" wish it taught.
It has been more than one hundred years since Elizabeth Cady
Stanton produced "The Women's Bible," in which she attempted to demonstrate that
Judaism and orthodox Christianity had to be eliminated if (what would
later be called) feminist ideals were to triumph. It was not her intention to
make the Bible less "sexist," for in her view, this was impossible. Rather, she
set out to undermine Biblical authority altogether, focusing on what she
regarded as absurdities and contradictions.
Contemporary feminist Naomi Goldenberg picks up Stanton's
premises and pitches them to a new generation in her book, The Changing of
the Gods. "Many of today's feminists are not yet willing to reject Jewish
and Christian tradition at such a basic level. Instead they turn to exegesis to
preserve Jewish and Christian religious systems. They," she complains, "prefer
revision to revolution." She warns her sisters-in-arms that this is a
self-deceptive enterprise: "Jesus Christ cannot symbolize the liberation of
women. A culture that maintains a masculine image for its highest divinity [note
the implicit polytheism here--sms] cannot allow its women to experience
themselves as the equals of its men." Feminists, she insists, must leave Christ
and the Bible behind them.
Philosophical feminist Mary Daley, using more violent language,
calls for the castration of God: "I have already suggested that if God is male
then male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed
to live on in the collective imagination."
Theodore Letis properly indicts evangelical and Reformed
compromisers: "It is evident that all well-intended attempts by evangelicals to
cloud over [Scriptural] male imagery with reference to the Godhead in order to
appease feminists, far from winning them over, results in their becoming
co-conspirators in this cosmic castration."
The push for "gender-neutral" liturgical language has resulted
in revised lectionaries, Psalters (the Christian Reformed Church changed Psalm
1's "That man is blessed who, fearing God . . ." to "How blessed are they
who . . ."), hymnals ("Time, like an ever-rolling stream," no longer bears all
its sons away; it "bears all of us away"), and even Bible
translations. This is to be expected. All fundamental principles, right or
wrong, seek to bring everything which flows from them into conformity with the
God has created men to be covenant heads. The rejection
of patriarchy requires the rejection of the Bible and the Bible's God.
Acceptance of the Bible's God requires an acceptance of patriarchy; it cannot be
The bad news is that egalitarian feminism will get worse before
it gets better, and this means things will first get much worse for women and
children, for Biblical patriarchy is their surest defense. The good news is that
feminism will utterly fail, for it is out of accord with God's word and God's
world. You can run from the truth, but you cannot hide. And when the reckoning
comes, mountains falling will not suffice for cover.
One of the amusing manifestations of anti-patriarchalism is the
trend in which women hyphenate their last names at marriage. "I'll have no man
defining me!", they whine. But in retaining their original last names, they are
only reminded that it was their fathers who so named their mothers. And should a
feminist seek to get around this by adopting her mother's maiden name, she will
have succeeded only in pushing the manifest patriarchy back one generation, to
her maternal grandfather. Should she chafe still, she'll have to go all the way
back to Eve for a name that did not come from a daddy. But, alas for the eve-olutionist,
Eve was named, both generically and particularly, by Adam. There is
no escape. Revolution is tough, ain't it? Submission to Yahweh, on the other
hand, is life and peace.
Steve Schlissel has been pastor of Messiah's Congregation in
Brooklyn, NY since 1979. He serves as the Overseer of Urban Nations (a mission
to the world in a single city), and is the Director of Meantime Ministries (an
outreach to women who were sexually abused as children). Steve lives with his
wife of 23 years, Jeanne, and their five children.