Patriarchy: When Husbands Possess Wives

In looking at 1 Peter 3:7 and its instruction that husbands should honor their wives as weaker vessels, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood editor and communications director Greg Gibson claims that weaker means “of great value”. He then tells men how to properly valuate their women:

Men, think about your most important possession and how you treat and honor it.  Now triple your efforts and apply that same carefulness in how you treat and honor your wife. …

Remember, she is the weaker vessel–an object of intense value. (Building a Marriage Culture – husbands, honor your wives.)

There you have it, men. The way to treat your wife right is to look on her as one of your possessions. The most prized (three whole times more valuable than your car or boat!) but still a possession.

Women are objects.

The objectification of women is a theme in patriarchy. And this is not some outlier among CBMW’s writings. The article has been promoted on social media by CBMW’s president and other leaders of the organization. Spreading this language of objectification leads to people thinking of women as objects; that’s how language works.

Why do patriarchists do this? Why do they say they are honoring a person and then objectify the person as a possession?

It’s because they don’t understand people the way God does.

Men Don’t Elevate Women

Mr. Gibson’s article gives examples (rules, might be a better word) of how husbands should treat their wives. He says wives always come first and the husband should take her on dates she would like to go on and plan vacation where she says they should go. As he says, “It means spending money on her. Lavishing her with goods and services.”

He says all of this will let her know that her husband honors her.

No it won’t.

As much as I like to do nice things for my wife, I don’t recommend this marriage plan. For one thing, it’s based on an immature understanding of marriage. For another, one spouse always doing whatever the other spouse wants is not a healthy marriage; it’s servitude dressed up in marriage clothes.

Mr. Gibson finds himself on this wrong track because he took a wrong turn early in the essay when he asked:

What does it mean for a husband to elevate his wife to a place of honor?

Husbands can’t elevate wives. It’s not only not their role; it’s impossible. Women are already raised higher than any husband could ever hope to accomplish. It’s true of all who are in Christ.

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6.)

Elevate my wife to a place of honor? I’m blessed that God has raised me to the same place of honor he’s already given my wife: seated with Christ in heaven.

This idea that husbands are to elevate wives falls into the trap Paul warned the church in Colosse about:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. (Colossians 2:8-10.)

Comparing women to possessions and objects to be elevated is one of those hollow teachings, because the Bible says women and men are full of Christ and sit in heaven with him. Anyone who says differently is twisting Scripture to fit their human traditions, not the gospel of Christ.

Jesus filled us up and raised us up, and that is reason enough to honor one another in him.

***

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79 Responses to Patriarchy: When Husbands Possess Wives

  1. govpappy says:

    How far down your own rabbit hole do you gotta be to not see that, at very least, calling the wife an object based on a biblical metaphor is shaky ground?

    It’s reinforcement of all the ideas that most comp folks i know vehemently deny about their belief system.

    • Tim says:

      Shaky is right. The patriarchists will tell you they elevate women (as if they had that power) but as Christians we are to stand on solid ground, not a pedestal. Christ is our foundation and the one who lifts us up.

    • Melody says:

      Language says a lot about what people really believe. It’s something we all need to self evaluate on and reconsider on occasion. I’m shocked they want to claim they don’t objectify women then blatantly use the word and descriptions of an object to describe a wife. Wow.

      • Tim says:

        It’s really sad that they seem to think it’s all right because she gets valued 3X more than the most beloved object.

  2. Michelle says:

    Excellent article Tim. Being raised in a comp home, it has taken me several years to begin truly discerning the scriptures on this issue. I always considered my own marriage comp, but in all honesty, it more closely mirrors egalitarian, and I must say I’m quite happy about that. I appreciate your help in developing this new understanding.

    • Tim says:

      I would bet that a lot of people who attend comp churches likewise have functionally egal marriages, Michelle.

      • Michelle says:

        One more thing that came to mind. It’s almost as if the patriarchists feel that by stating things this way it makes them better. Though in actuality women as objects, no matter how it’s packaged, is still not what God had planned.

        • Tim says:

          It’s as if they are saying, “What do you mean we’re not treating women well? We’re putting them on a pedestal for crying out loud! What more do you want?”

      • Angie says:

        They do apparently. Some like Adrian Warnock and Mary Kassian acknowledge healthy complementarian marriages will look egalitarian. The problem is, folks like Gavin Peacock (CBMW Int’l) tweeted just last week a rebuke of professing complementarian marriages being functionally egalitarian. I asked what would need to change so as not to appear functionally egalitarian. He didn’t respond. Peacock is not alone in decrying functional egalitarianism among professing complementarians. Others include Strachan, Grudem, Ware, D Wilson, J Wilson, et al. The Wilsons have been honest enough to say more authority in the bedroom is needed (whatever that looks like) but patriarchialists won’t say specifically what needs to change so as not to be functionally egalitarian.

  3. Sergius Martin-George says:

    “goods and services.”

    Classic!

    • Tim says:

      But it’s lavish, Serge. LAVISH!

      • Marg says:

        I checked with the article to see if “goods and services” was used by the original author, or if it was your paraphrase, Tim.

        It’s original. He sounds like a real romantic . . . not.

        • Tim says:

          They say it’s OK because he’s lavishing her with them, Marg. And it’s all so he can say he’s elevated her. Wow.

    • Ahab says:

      Yeah, as if wedded love is something that can be bought or bartered. What happens after the vacations and spa visits have long passed, after gifts have lost their novelty? You still have two people in an unequal relationship. A couple will get more mileage out of mutual respect, honesty, responsibility, and affection than goods and services.

      • Tim says:

        Exactly, Ahab. He’s advocating hay, wood and stubble when God wants marriage relationships to be full of gold and silver.

  4. Angie says:

    CBMW is trying to ignite a counter cultural marriage culture. Looking at women in western culture as a material possession will do just that.

    • Tim says:

      It might be counter cultural in much of the west but would fit comfortably into places where women are bought, sold and traded from father to husband (and more).

      • Angie says:

        Right. I am playing off their own words of creating a counter cultural marriage culture. It is only counter culture in the West.

  5. Jeannie says:

    At first this writer’s intentions sound good — wanting to please God and his spouse is a worthy motive. But ultimately treating someone as an object of “intense value” (and intense is the wrong word there; I just had to say that) may just be the flip side of treating them as an object to be abused and discarded. Elevating someone to pedestal status can lead to control, resentment, and even hate — and those are just the feelings the person doing the elevating can have, when the “intensely valued” one isn’t grateful enough, or feels used or bought, or doesn’t feel free to speak the truth, etc. I just see too many red flags here.

    • Tim says:

      Those red flags kept popping up for me too, Jeannie. Not all of them are as blatant as the advice for husbands to treat wives three times better than their most prized possession, but they are there throughout. Objectifying language just doesn’t make for good marriages.

    • 7stelle says:

      All that valuing and lifting up with patriarchy mindsets is for the man, ‘Look at what a woman *I* married (roped in). In the end it’s ALL about him.

      And watch when someone else bestows some genuine praise or honor on their wives, jealousy and anger seeps out of ever pore.

      Abused and discarded is exactly what happens when the “valued” wife does not live up to her “pedestal” status. After all he has done for her how dare she have needs, wants.

      Stepford wives need only apply for the entitled mindset of patriarchy.

      • Tim says:

        This type of objectification promotes the idea that the man is always in complete control. “I’m the one who elevated you and I’m the one who can bring you back down.” That is so non-Biblical.

        • 7stelle says:

          And so they do–gleefully. Financial abuse and ruin through divorce is one of their valued ways of accomplishing the take down.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    One of the fundamental mistakes CBMW makes is to not understand that the Scriptures were originally given to various groups of people in specific times and places and cultures which were very different from today. That is, instead of assuming that the original text had some meaning to the original readers and it must be shown to be transcultural, they assume it is transcultural unless someone can prove differently. This wrong assumption then leads to wrong questions. Instead of asking how was a wife in the first century in the Mediterranean cultures of the time (Roman, Greek, Jewish) a weaker vessel than her husband, they ask the question how is a wife a weaker vessel in all times and places. They then get to supply their own answers to this wrong question, to their shame. What CBMW does is one of the best examples I know of extended eisegesis.

    • Tim says:

      That’s a great insight, Don. I’ve heard many theology students say their professors tell them to ask what the writer meant and what the readers understood in order to get how we can best understand it today. CBMW isn’t doing that when they post articles like this.

  7. Stan says:

    My church supports a mission that rescues and employs sex slaves in southeast Asia. The missionary visited us once and presented. One of the things she told us was a saying in that culture: boys are gold and girls are lace. Which means, men can get put through the ringer and are still valuable, but girls are worthless as soon as they are tarnished. So, this cultural idea that an unmarried and non-virgin girl is worthless justifies child prostitution. I’m aghast at how much describing women as valuable yet delicate objects sounds like this.

    Patriarchy may be the way of some of the world, like the part I just mentioned, but in the west the world idealizes a husband as a henpecked buffoon living in fear of his wife’s judgment. Watch any sitcom from the last 20 years. Just doing whatever the wife wants sounds more like the latter. Know your girlfriend/wife enough to plan things you both can enjoy. Easier said than done, but is that idea really so groundbreaking?

    • Tim says:

      That is a really interesting connection to the objectification in the area that missionary worked in, Stan.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      How much of this is cross-cultural confusion? Was this speaker referring to the other culture

      • Stan says:

        Thanks for the responses.

        The gold/lace expression was from the presenting missionary talking about Cambodia and the rest of Southeast Asia. You can look up information on that area yourself, and it isn’t pretty. Agrarian rural areas where sons can help the household but daughters are burdens until they get married off + money and tourism from the urban areas.

        I jotted that during my lunch break, but I’m taking a more charitable view now. There are guys, Christian and otherwise, who see marriage as the end of wooing. The lazy slob who was hiding can come out now and she’s stuck and has to deal with it. The article sounds like a repudiation of that, which would be righteous, but he must toe the company line to not be called a “feminist”. In doing so, he says women are valuable objects, which reminds me of what I know of prostitution/trafficking.

        In conclusion, CBMW is weird.

  8. Pastor Bob says:

    In another caolumn a posted an article on polarization. It is one thing to use a narrow idea as a sounding board for discussion 9valid in many circles) but it another thing to post this idea a a statement of belief(s) and argue it strongly.
    -I saw initial value in what was posted, but the development of the (initial) writer’s premise to a logical conclussion objectifies the wife – not good. The balance on this includes valuing her as one wh is a bit more delicate – a call for respect.

    One key principle I impart on all is that powerful “R” word – I think I posted on that earlier with you.
    Might the initioal writer be trying to impart the “R” word, albeit in a clumsy way?

    • Tim says:

      I think it’s not just a clumsy attempt at advising respect, but one that goes dangerously off the rails through the objectification problems.

  9. RStarke says:

    I’m the last person to defend CBMW on pretty much anything usually, but the part of me that’s not fleshly wants to read this charitably and argue that some of the language used here is a consequence of thoughtlessness and perhas implicit bias, but not intentional. Case in point – the “vessel/object” terminology is used of both men and women consistently throughout scripture (Romans 9. 2 Timothy 2, etc.). Honor is also a pervasive concept – we are to honor our father and mother, honor those in authority over us, etc. The question is what that actively looks like. My point is I think some of the applications are awkwardly phrased, but the underlying intent is pretty noble. In effect, this piece reads like an attempt to compensate for the actual frequent fruit of hyper-comp homes, where the man’s choices and decisions and preferences are paramount and the wife’s are ignored. I respect the intent, even as I’d argue that the actual solution is to dial back on the entire framework of seeing all of the Christian life through a complementarian lens.

    • Tim says:

      I thought of the passages that refer to people as vessels, etc., but those are always in the context of our relationship with God, our Creator. To apply this to marriage, though. actually plays into the comp doctrine where husbands are a type of Christ to their wives. A husband/Christ-type can objectify a wife, right?

      As for the intent, I think the CBMW post was written with the best of intentions. But the answer to husbands who treat their wives like dirt is not to tell them to treat them as their most prized possession.

  10. jorymicah says:

    Love this Tim! The Word clearly states that God has given His children (both men and women) all authority over heaven and earth. We are all “the bride of Christ.” Thank you for this post! I am going to share on my FB ministry page and on Twitter! 🙂

  11. Persis says:

    I still consider myself a non-egal, but I find the use of “possession” and “object” disturbing. Maybe I’m missing something, but If one reads the entire verse, the basis for honor is being joint-heirs of the grace of life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving gifts and such, but they are poor compensations for not being treated with the dignity and respect that befits all fellow image-bearers and recipients of saving grace, which Peter seems to be advocating IMO.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly, Persis. he says to do this because we are all fellow-image-bearers. That’s a lot better way to look at women and men than to say they are 3X more valuable than your favorite jet ski.

      • govpappy says:

        I don’t even like jet skis.

        The missus is a human being, not a wild animal that needs to be trained. I know that’s not what they’re going for here, but the language is similar. I see folks talk about their cats in similar ways.

        You want to honor your wife? Love her like your own flesh, an image-bearer of God.

  12. Laura Droege says:

    How can this writer not see that calling someone an “object” sounds awful? I’m sure he had good intentions, and probably he hoped to convey that men are to respect their wives. But frankly, I don’t want my husband to cherish me three (or infinite) times more than his most valued possession. This would still be treating me as an object. Whether it’s as an object to be elevated (as it is here) or an object to be kicked around like trash (as in the case of porn, trafficking, slavery, etc.) , it’s still viewing a person as an object. God didn’t make us as objects or to be objectified.

  13. I have a fairly radical reading of 1 Peter 3:7 myself. The verse is packed with euphemisms Peter’s grown up 1st century Jewish readers would have understood. The word ‘vessel’ crops up in 1Thess 4:3 AV …that you abstain from sexual immorality: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God… Ironic that Gibson talks about ‘possessing your wife’ as a property without mentioning this passage where possessing your vessel wasn’t about property but sexual relations.
    1 Peter 3:7’s ‘dwell with’ you wife sunoikeo, has all the implications a couple ‘living together’ has for us. The word isn’t used anywhere else in the NT but you will find it used that way in the LXX
    Gen 20:3, Deut 21:13, 22:13, 22,22, 24:1, 25:5, Judges 14:20 and Isaiah 62:5. Peter is telling husbands they need sex education: to live with their wives ‘according to knowledge’. Not to force himself on his wife hurting her while satisfying his own needs, but in honour deferring to her and waiting until she is are ready. Would Peter have thought of women as weak? We meet Peter’s mother in law in the gospels and she is one tough lady Matt 8:14. Her daughter accompanied Peter on his travels 1Cor 9:5, which as we read from Paul’s accounts of his own travels was not for the feint hearted. Peter didn’t think women were weak, just more easily hurt by inconsiderate husbands who use their wives for their own satisfaction rather than honouring them as fellow heirs of God’s grace.

  14. 7stelle says:

    As he (Greg Gibson) says, “It means spending money on her. Lavishing her with goods and services.”

    This might as well say, “buy her.” Yes, that will make her feel indebted to you. How can she not when he’s reminded her of how hard he worked to afford all these trophies, I mean gifts. Have her equate things with relationship; now he can spend time as pleases him. She can also brag about all these things to family, neighbors, and friends; they will never suspect him of putting her down in private in a variety of ways.

    Patriarchy: control, selfishness; the gift that keeps on taking.

  15. Nancy Le says:

    Thank you!

  16. Fish on a bicycle says:

    What concerns me is how Mr. Gibson has to encourage his audience to value women. He essentially cops to the fact that he believes men have a default view of women as inferior. Thanks for finally acknowledging what feminism has been saying for the past century. And while I’m ranting, treating your spouse like a project is not the way to build a partnership. How about befriending and engaging her as a whole person who has thoughts, ideas, and passions? You know, like you do with other people? Because she’s…gasp…a person.

  17. Lucy says:

    As a woman, I’ve been through a relationship where I was treated as a possession, and every thing CBMW advocates in that awful quote was applied to me. Within months I felt controlled, trapped, and most importantly, I felt invisible — my own life, my own personality, and my own choices were ignored or misunderstood simply because he’d done everything right, hadn’t he? He’d ‘won’ me and put me on a shelf of ‘Nice Things’ and offered me a home, nice dates out to different things, so why was I asking for more? I was more valuable than his car or whatever else, so why wasn’t I grateful?

    I got out of that relationship very quickly, and I’m glad I did. It frustrates and angers me that men are still being told that women are to be treated as things, and that women will be ‘raised up’ through such treatment. We are people. We bleed. We hurt. And we are capable of a hell of a lot more than simply being grateful for a man’s attention. Thanks for this post, it was very refreshing to read such a clear destruction of the patriarchal assumptions involved!

    • Tim says:

      “And we are capable of a hell of a lot more than simply being grateful for a man’s attention.”

      That’s perfect, Lucy. Women are people. Husbands and wives who treat each other like fellow people are well on their way of actually getting what Peter wrote of in that verse where he not only uses the phrase “weaker vessel” but also says women and men are joint heirs in Christ.

  18. Elena says:

    Great article. Great points. I am a woman. I am married. I am in Christ. I do not to be led. I do not need a head over me. I do not look for a provider. I only need a companion, a partner, who can see me for who I am, without trying to become something that he is not meant to be. He is not meant to take the place of Christ in my life. I am fully capable of leading. I can follow when I feel I need to. I do not to be lorded over (have a head)–I have a mind of my own, although I am all for unified decision making, when possible. At the end of the day, to put so much a responsibility on a man–to lead, to provide, to control, to cherish, to do…do…do–is just too much for one person to handle. Wouldn’t it be easier just to share in all things equally and put Christ at the HEAD, LEADERSHIP and the PROVISION of a relationship? It certainly could save a lot of marriages.

    Thankfully, my husband and I walk side by side, so we can see eye to eye on these issues.

  19. Funyun says:

    What the…?
    This is a whole lot of inside baseball, folks. I grew up Pentecostal, married a Catholic, and attend Presbyterian, with a whole passel of children in the intervening years – though I am exploring the Catholic church as my husband leans more Protestant. I have no idea what any of your acronyms stand for;.
    And I have no idea what you are talking about. Really. I try to follow Jesus, and I’m not great at that every day. I sin in thought, word, and deed. And yeah, I agree with you that there are a bunch of guys who like to control their wives, and like to use religion – any religion – to do that. Likewise, there are women who really like to control other people, husbands included, and also use whatever religious text comes handy.
    Marriage is sometimes very hard. It’s at those moments I remember that book I read by Tim Keller and think – marriage isn’t supposed to make me happy, it’s supposed to make me holy. But that’s because the person one married can occasionally be an a*****e. I’m not being abused. Those who are – of whatever faith they are, and no matter who is abusing them – need to run far and fast, and salt the earth behind them. Is this post speaking about those who are abused or not? If not about those who are abused, why not just chill out and quit judging how folks live their lives and practice/not practice their faith?

    • Tim says:

      Because this type of teaching – patriarchy – is contrary to God’s word and leads to women being oppressed. Live and let live doesn’t cut it when false teachers hurt God’s people.

      • Funyun says:

        How many practicing patriarchs are in the church? In what countries are they most prevalent?

        • Tim says:

          The organization that posted the article i refer to above is huge, and teaches this type of false doctrine all the time. Other prominent patriarchy teachers in the United States include Douglas Wilson, Gavin Peacock, Wayne Grudem, and Owen Strachan, all of whom teach at mega-conferences and run large congregations/organizations that produce teaching material and train pastors. These types of pastors/teachers/leaders with large and small influence are influential. Google the Quiverfull movement and Headcovering Christians and you’ll get a taste of it; it’s not pretty

          For a take on it from overseas, you can read Marg Mowczko’s blog. She’s in Australia and writes on the dangers of patriarchy in Christianity from that perspective.

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  22. Bev Murrill says:

    Something that is entirely different as a comment is the idea of lavishing ‘goods and services, holidays, etc’ on your wife…

    What if you don’t have the financial ability to lavish anything except love? what if you can’t afford a holiday, or to ‘buy her a new dress’… or anything else for that matter? Does that mean you don’t love your wife?

    Or what if she lavishes ‘goods and services’ on you…? Does that mean she’s out of order?

    • Tim says:

      Great point, Bev. That whole line of thinking – “Show you care by how much stuff you give her” – is contrary to Jesus telling us not to chase after things but to focus on God. If we are to live lives in Christ, it seems that lavishing his love on people (including our family) is the best thing possible.

  23. nataliakwok says:

    “Husbands can’t elevate wives. It’s not only not their role; it’s impossible. Women are already raised higher than any husband could ever hope to accomplish. It’s true of all who are in Christ.”

    So true. Great post!

  24. I just re-read this and it hit me just as strongly as the first time. 🙂

  25. Elizabeth Marie says:

    Tim, can you please point me to your definition of complementarian vs egalitarian marriages? I hear the terms a lot, and they are new to me. Thank you…. excellent article, by the way…

  26. Ruth says:

    Well, just waiting for my husband to decide what I’m worth then give me the goods! It had better be spectacular or I’ll be very upset! Motorbikes, push bikes, cars, tool sets, kayaks, new furniture, a home theatre? Ha!
    I know my value to my husband because he buys me a bunch of particular flowers quite often, that I told him were my favourite because my 1890s Granpa loved them and picked them for me from his garden when I was little. They mean a world of love and memories to me, and my darling husband comes panting through the front door with a huge load of groceries, and a little bunch of sweet smelling, flowers for me.
    That is love, equality, thoughtfulness and true manly love all rolled into one.
    Did you notice I mentioned he went grocery shopping??? Oh, and he cooks and plans menus too whilst I am doing the business and personal paperwork. No hope for this egalitarian, mis-guided male I guess!! Good, cause he treats me as an equal, then teases me frequently for being too little to be a grown woman! 5′ nothing is quite enough if I can latch onto a knee-cap! Just for fun, but really, real, equal men and women come in all shapes and sizes and spiritual individuality!

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