Throwing the Hierarchy Out with the Bath Water?

When I was growing up, I had the privilege of helping my family in an extraordinary task; we flipped houses. That’s right, six houses, one cottage, and one hotel, restaurant, and coffee shop. Flipping houses definitely taught us valuable life lessons as we scrapped, painted, wallpapered, and designed our way through each house.

One of the lessons I learned is that the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” is legit! Through renovating homes with my family, I was taught to look beyond what was “ruined,” and see the design of what could be. When we renovated the restaurant/coffee shop, there was this one table we found in the kitchen. A pitiful looking thing that had seen better days, scarred from being used as a butcher’s block, stained from decades of use, my parents were ready to chuck it out at first sight. But I saw potential. There was a rustic design element that with some elbow grease, I knew a good-looking table could be exposed. Days later, I was proven correct. The table became a center piece in the coffee shop, and my parents were so grateful that we didn’t throw it out.

When it comes to our views of hierarchy or patriarchy, it’s easy to see them as innately evil forms of male dominance. Because we live in a culture that promotes tolerance and individuality, the ideas expressed in these words can communicate oppression and inferiority. But much like the table in that coffee shop, the problem lies not in the design but in how it’s been used and abused in the past.

Defining our Terms

What do we mean when we say hierarchy or patriarchy? defines hierarchy as “any system of persons or things ranked one above another.” It defines patriarchy as “a form of social organization in which the father is the supreme authority in the family.” In other words, hierarchy says, “It’s my way of doing things because I have more authority than you do.” And patriarchy says, “Dad holds the ultimate authority in a household.” While these definitions can come across as rigid, there’s something about their design that we must understand before we can just chuck them out.

Because God is good and only does good, if we believe that hierarchy and patriarchy are evil, then we’re saying something about the character of God.

From Genesis to Revelation, God has unabashedly been hierarchal. He’s the boss. It’s His way or the highway, and He makes no apologies for it being this way. The first commandment found in Exodus 20:2-3, God demands absolute worship. “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” In Deuteronomy 6:5, He says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

God set up patriarchy. At the onset of creation, God set up a patriarchal system. Adam was created first (Gen. 2:7, 8). God assigned Adam with the task of tending the Garden (Gen. 2:15). The marriage covenant was performed by Adam (Gen. 2:23). And that was all before sin came into play (Gen. 3). After that, God worked through patriarchs in establishing the covenant with His chosen people (Gen. 12:7). The reason Paul gives for woman’s silence in church refers back to the creation order (1 Tim. 2:13). He sets up patriarchy in the home during New Testament times many years and cultures after the Old Testament was written (Eph. 5:22-32).

Christ was hierarchal in His mission. Numerous times throughout the Gospels, Christ’s “ONE WAY” message is reiterated. In John 8, Christ says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” In John 14:6, He lays out the correct ranking order when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Even in the Godhead, we see forms of hierarchy and patriarchy. It was His Father’s house where Jesus ran off to when He was young…not God’s…His Father’s (Luke 2:41-51). When describing God, Christ says, “My Father is greater than all,” (John 10:29) In John 14:10, Christ recognizes that His authority comes from God, His Father.

Since God is not evil, but good, neither hierarchy nor patriarchy must be evil, because all that God creates is good.

Six times in Genesis 1, God considers His creation “good,” and at the end of it all, He considers it “very good.” And the only time God considers His creation “not good” is when He’s addressing the solidarity of Adam, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Woman is then created making His creation complete. Looking at Creation’s account, there’s no doubt that all God creates is good. Really, really good. Because God is good. Really, REALLY good. And it is not just a God who chose to do things this way; it is a good God that chose to set up a male leadership way of running things. All throughout Scripture, God’s covenant with Israel is through a man. It is man, not woman, who He chose to be the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23). It is man who He chose to lead His church (1 Tim. 3). And we can’t chalk this up to a cultural context, because the Word of God spans almost 2,000 years of cultures, thereby making it above culture and timeless. Since God isn’t evil, but good, hierarchy and patriarchy are not evil because all that God creates is good.

It is sin which distorts this good, as it does with all of God’s creation. Therefore, if a system created by God is seen as faulty, the problem lies not in the design of the system, but in the flawed individuals holding to that system.

In John 10:9-10, Christ says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Abundant life is the opposite of oppression and dominance. Christ reminds us in the rest of John 10, that we have this abundant life because of the sacrifice He made for us on the cross. Christ didn’t die for life to be stolen from us, He came to give us life – and an abundant one at that!

So if God’s way of running things seems faulty, the problem doesn’t lie in His order of leadership, but in the flawed individuals executing that leadership. Just like there was nothing wrong with the design of that table in the coffee shop, the problem was in how that table had been used or misused in the past. When sin entered the world, it distorted everything. Everything from then on was skewed, and Christ alone could redeem it all. Christ alone could make it right. And even though He has done this through His death on the cross, sin still exists. As does sinful man, each in need of redemption. Even as flawed individuals, however, we can still interpret God’s order of things by obeying the commandments He gives in His Word. If we have a saving knowledge of God, we are redeemed and therefore, patriarchy (in its biblical form) can be obtained through obedience to the Word of God. He has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

The alternatives to patriarchy, unfortunately, don’t achieve God’s glory… It’s only God’s plan – patriarchy – as God defined it that gives God the glory.

What gives God glory in the Bible gives God glory now because Scripture is above culture. It’s for God’s glory that He revealed Himself to mankind as a Father. It’s for God’s glory that He manifested bodily as His Son, Jesus Christ. It is for God’s glory that He set up male headship in the church and in the home (Ephesians 5:31). Really, patriarchy, in its biblical form, is all about God and His glory. Because as the leader, the father serves his family (Ps. 103:13). As a leader, the father sacrifices for his family (Eph. 5:25). As a leader, the father spiritually leads his family (Prov. 3:12; 14:26; Eph. 5:26,27). And while these are all tasks a woman has the ability to do as a capable human being with a keen mind, patriarchy was God’s design for His glory.


Terms like hierarchy and patriarchy can be confusing. With dominant and abusive men using them as their calling cards, it’s no wonder they have such negative connotations. But seen through the lens of Scripture, we can see that they’re not evils in and of themselves. In fact, they are quite opposite. They can be good and bring God glory when done in the biblical way they were created in. Just because something is flawed (by individuals, not by design), doesn’t mean you throw it out. Instead, we must humbly ask the Lord to show us areas in our lives that don’t match up to His way of doing things. Psalm 25:9 says, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” And then ultimately, trust in God’s way of doing things, even if it doesn’t make sense. In Isaiah 55, God reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” There are times when God has a plan or purpose that we, with our finite minds, cannot comprehend what an infinite God is doing…and that’s okay, we can trust Him. He is good. Really, really, REALLY good.

8 thoughts on “Throwing the Hierarchy Out with the Bath Water?

  1. Well, sure. Along with that we can look at the institution of slavery. Slavery is throughout the Bible. When Jesus walked the earth, he often alluded to master/servant relationships. Apparently from your blog post we can deduct that it wasn’t the institution of slavery that was bad; it was how people abused it. We can deduct from your post that it was OK to be someone’s “master” as long as the master was a benevolent master.

    Yes, Christians honor some forms of hierarchies. There are hierarchies at work, in the military, and in other governmental entities. Even Jesus showed honor to established earthly hierarchies during His time on the earth. And He also showed obedience to His Father in His humanity while He was on the earth.

    At the same time, He also taught that people who follow Him are not to strive for exalted positions of power. He said, “not so with you,” and taught that the greatest are those who serve.

    It is interesting to note that God did not tell Adam and Eve that marriage is to be a hierarchy. When Jesus was asked about marriage in the gospels, He did not speak of hierarchy.

    In many stable, healthy Christian marriages, both husband and wife take the “not so with you” admonition to heart and seek to serve rather than use power. They follow the Golden Rule in their relationship. They follow biblical admonitions to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving towards one another; imitators of Christ. They have found that in a close, intimate, “one flesh” relationship of two, hierarchy is not needed. They have also found their relationship to be God-honoring.

    This view is radically different from the hierarchical marital structure taught in many churches. There are those who believe that the “not so with you” admonition does not apply to husbands. They teach that maleness is a position of entitlement. The person who is male holds the trump card and is entitled to his own way in potentially any and all marital decisions.

    Those who teach male entitlement teach that all marriages must be structured in that way. Somehow, in their view, it is right for a male to strive after a position of power in the most intimate of relationships. And somehow, in their view, married couples who do not seek positions of power and who choose to relate to each other in an intimate and compassionate way, are in sin!

    • SHD –

      Thank you for your interaction to our site. I know the subject of hierarchy and patriarchy can be a heated one, but I believe there are wonderful truths about these terms in Scripture so as not to fear or misjudge them, rather understand and embrace them. When it comes to your point about slavery, it would seem like we are picking and choosing what we decide is culturally limiting and what we don’t. Please understand that this is not the case with slavery vs. hierarchy. Because hierarchy and patriarchy can be seen in the very character of God, as well as from the beginning and in Christ, therefore, we can say without doubt that they are timeless principles to be carried out today. Slavery, however, is not. And, really, when we talk about slavery, we are talking about the Greco-Roman class system or the Ancient Near Eastern culture of employment. These were a cultural invention; God’s guidelines for them in Scripture were for the purpose of restraining sin. Slavery, unlike hierarchy, is never seen in the character of who God is, and it is clearly seen as a system created by man. And while God may give mankind principles in how to participate in slavery in a godly manner, He is, in no way, the author of slavery. It is on this premise that slavery can be taken as a cultural norm that exists no longer in America (although it does exist in other parts of the world, and therefore passages like the end of 1 Peter 2 become highly relatable to those people). For more on our view of gender roles being assigned pre-fall, click here.

      As far as the other faults you find with hierarchy/patriarchy, I believed I addressed these in my post so I will not reiterate them. I would just ask that you re-read what I wrote with an open mind. I am not saying that men should put themselves in power over women and control them, so if that is what you understood I am truly sorry. I do not believe that. I do believe, however, that hierarchy and patriarchy alike are not innately evil because they were created by God and expressions of His character, and it was man through whom He chose to reveal that…pure and simple. While a woman has the ability to express these things, we have been given a different and beautiful assignment, to complete the picture of the Gospel to a watching world. As we submit to our husbands, men in church, and our father’s (as the Church submits to Christ) and as the men, submitting to God, do honor, love, and sacrifice for the women in their lives (as Christ does for the church), together we portray the Gospel.

      I hope that clears up any misunderstanding you may have. I do hope you come back next week. Alex (Diane’s husband) is writing an article on the man’s side of things, and I am really looking forward to it. I think it may help fill in some of these gaps.

      God bless.

  2. Very well put. This is an excellent explanation.

    I’m also with you on slavery–it did not exist in the Beginning in the Garden of Eden, but hierarchy did. Eve was told her desire would be to her husband and “he shall rule over thee.”

    God has power over us. But we are not slaves to Him. We voluntarily choose to follow Him and His commandments because we want to because we can see that his guidance will bring us the most happiness in the long term.

    • Mr. Strong Man.

      I’d say these were consequences of “the fall”, rather than some Godly ideal. If we are to accept & embrace these consequences without seeking to rectify them, only the following are possible:

      When your hard work results in “thorns & thistles” whether literal or figurative, you’ll need to take them as they are and not seek to get rid of them for a more profitable yield on your efforts. You must accept the poor results and lack of success and not seek a better way.

      And if you are married and have children, your wife must NOT get an epidural when she goes into labor. She must accept her greatly increased pain, and not seek a better way.

  3. History cannot be denied. Some prominent Christian leaders used the Bible in the 1800?s to try to justify the injustice of slavery. Some Christian leaders are now using the same kind of arguments to try to justify the subjugation women. The parallels are unmistakable.

    Reality cannot be denied. When cultures which practice patriarchy are compared to cultures which promote freedom and equality for women, the contrast in the quality of life for women in those cultures is striking..

    What can your husband say to try to make female subjugation look appealing that has not been said countless times before?

    There are many God-honoring stable, healthy, and happy Christian marriages in which husband and wife show mutual love, respect, and consideration for each other. Arranging a relationship of two intimate equals in such a way that one has control over the other is not a prerequisite for God’s blessing on the relationship.

  4. I can tell that you have taught well where wifely/daugter submission is concerned. You articles present your case in a very precise and intelligent way. But, you must surely be aware that you are promoting a teaching called, The Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). This teaching takes away the authority and power of Jesus….in essence making Him “less than God”. There are some preacher ( I will not mention names here) that teach that Jesus cannot answer prayer. His function is mainly that of an errand boy that delivers our prayers to the Father. To begin with I do not see Hierachy between the man and the women in creation. A person must ‘read’ hiearchy into those passages, and that comes from being conditioned to see everything through authority tainted glasses. As far as I am concerned, The Old Testament (Moses) tried to implement some protective measures for women. Women were treated as property by men/husbands, so the regulations for women/virgins do seem harsh but anyone can see that Moses was trying to curb the abusive excesses of the men and possibly help women’s lives not to be so harsh, hard and cruel. Jesus was born into a patriarchal culture. And what you find is that he takes a different approach to women. He lets them learn, follow him, He touches them and talks to them. Shd was right. You can compare slavery and hierarchy. The church was really SLOW in seeing that slavery was man made and not God made “God made man, man made slaves.” And with male/female realtionships being the LAST hurdle, “as there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. This is the last stronghold of the enemey that must be defeated to truly make ALL people ONE in Christ Jesus. Anyway, Moses dealt with injustice against women in his frame of time and so did Jesus. They did not seek to dramtically overturn the systems of injustices against Gentiles, slaves and women but instead worked from within and slowly. I have had people say that ‘some’ slave masters were benevolent and good to thier slaves. You tell me, Would you be happy as a slave even if you had a good master………i think not, you are still not free.

  5. Sarah: First of all, I greet you as my sister in the Lord. I admire and respect the fact that you seek to be pleasing to God (and I am quite sure you are pleasing to Him!). Yet, although I do not want you to feel as though people are ganging up on you, I will tell you that agree with the “dissenters” in your comments section.

    I think your patriarchal interpretation of Genesis is one interpretation, but not the only interpretation that a faithful and sincere Christian can have. Of course there is only one “true” interpretation. Patriarchy and non-patriarchy can’t both be right, but we all do the best we can to understand what the Bible says, live according to our convictions and trust God to forgive when and where we miss the mark, as of course, He will.

    I agree with you that God is God, we are His creations, and as such, we should submit ourselves to Him. I suppose your could call that divine patriarchy, although I believe commenter Teri’s points about Eternal Subordination of the Son are well taken.

    But after that, I think you extrapolate.

    That Adam was created before Eve cannot mean what you you think it does, imho. The Bible has more than one example of “the oldest serving the younger.” If your extrapolation were valid, then I believe primogeniture would also be valid and it would leave absolutely no room for the times when God chose the younger over the elder, such as with Jacob and Esau. And forgive this silliness, but cattle were created before both Adam and Eve, but no one is suggesting that all of humanity submits to cattle.

    It is true, of course, that Eve was created from Adam, but Adam did not create Eve and therefore, did not deserve Eve’s allegiance in the same way as God deserves His creatures’ allegiance.

    Some who believe in patriarchy also use the fact that Eve was created from Adam and for Adam as a reason for woman’s secondary and submissive place. But the fact that Eve was created as a “help mete” for Adam does not require this conclusion at all. The Hebrew word for help does not infer inferiority. It is most often used describe how God helps us (not that I’m saying women are superior!) And the KJV word “mete” in the Hebrew has the idea of “corresponding to.” This is also referred to when Adam talks about Eve being, “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The idea not that Eve is a subservient aid for Adam but instead that she is there to supply what is lacking in him. It is quite possible (I admit this is some extrapolation of my own and others) that one reason why God didn’t create Eve separately was so that Adam would understand that, unlike the animals, Eve was “made of the same stuff” as himself, equally human, equally in the image of God. In today’s academic language, we would say Eve was not the “other.”

    So, because of this, I do not see patriarchy as being woven into the fabric of existence as you do. On the contrary, I see patriarchy as yet another result of the fall.

    Why do I see it this way?

    Commenter Strong Man quotes Genesis 3:16 (and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee) as support for patriarchy as being God’s will. But as stated by others, this happened after the fall and as clearly stated in the text, is a result of the fall. And I agree with Pam that if you treat this as a commandment instead than a consequence of sin, you must not use pain killers for childbirth or even menstrual cramps and if your husband happens to be a gardener, he had better not use weed killers! Or hope for a pay raise.

    But I believe this is not a commandment or even a curse from God but rather a description of what happened as a result of the fall. And when you think of the larger picture of what happened after the fall, it becomes (for me) even clearer.

    Think of it — God created, male and female, both in the image of God. They were in fellowship with God, nothing between them. They were in fellowship with one another, nothing between them. You might even say, to some extent, they were in fellowship even with nature. I don’t mean that in a new age way. I just mean that they tended the garden but thorns, thistles, floods and drought were not a factor. There was harmony all the way around.

    But then there was a cataclysmic event. The fall. It was orchestrated by Satan, who wanted to be like God. And it shattered the harmony, the peace, the Shalom between humanity and God, between man and woman, between human and human and between human and nature. And here is a very important fact: Since that fall, like Satan, someone or something is always trying to get the upper hand over someone or something else, although in truth, only God deserves the upper hand. For He is God. Sometimes people try to get the upper hand over other people with altruistic motives. But this will invariably turn out badly because people are neither all-pure nor all-knowing like God is and therefore, not so good at being in control.

    But thank God, another cataclysmic event occurred! Jesus came to us, He died and He rose from the dead. He bore the curse — in fact, became the curse. And now He is our peace, who has broken down every wall.

    I believe that to live a redeemed life means to live life not as people who are broken by sin and in need of the artificial walls and controls that patriarchy and the world’s power structures require, but to live freely in Christ, with every person, man and woman, king and subject, rich person and poor person, loving, serving and submitting to the other. That is how my husband and I do marriage. And it has worked for us for more years than you’ve been alive (judging by your photo)!

    So, I do not believe patriarchy is an expression of the good news, as many claim it is. I believe it shows an incomplete understanding of the good news.

  6. Pingback: Gender Roles, Context, and the Church – Who Decides? – Guest Post from Natalie’s Narrative | The Edge of the Inside

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