Red Twin is doing a course on feminism in Islam at MST. I’m disappointed I can’t go but she’s filling me in on what she’s learning. Thinking about their own viewpoint, on the first day, students were sent home to ask people the question ‘Is the patriarchy of the Bible God-given?’
Most discussions of this question end up back at Genesis 1-3 asking whether there’s patriarchy prior to the Fall or after it. However, either way, it’s God-given, either as part of his order or as part of his curse.
There’s another layer to the discussion as well though, a revelatory layer. This asks how to separate out God’s revelation from the culture it was revealed in. For example, the Bible’s story is dominated by men: Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus. Does that reveal a preference of God for men? Or is it just a function of the culture God spoke his revelation into? Is the patriarchy part of the revelation or just an incidental feature of the culture?
I think the Bible itself gives us the answer to these questions. First, the Bible affirms that God is a transformative God, that is, that if he wanted to, he could have overthrown patriarchy in one fell swoop, or legislated against it in the law he gave. Second, the Bible itself critiques and subverts patriarchy. From Dinah’s story to the paradoxical nature of headship in Ephesians 5, the Bible cuts against the idea that men are better or more valuable than women.
I think we can probably assume that the patriarchy of the Bible is God-given at some level. Yet, God is God. Patriarchy is not God and God is not patriarchy. God is neither limited by patriarchy nor identified with it.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.