The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
This is the second part of my critique of Doug Phillips’ The Wise Woman’s Guide to Blessing Her Husband’s Vision so I recommend this post be read in tandem with last week’s. I’d like to start part two the way I started part one – by exploring the concepts that Phillips sees as central to womanhood and femininity, and how they relate to his “core concepts” for manhood and masculinity (which were “vision” and “mission”).
As it turns out, Phillips’ “core concepts” for women are not as easily summed up as his “core concepts” for men. This is because, aside from submission, they were mainly defined in the negative, i.e. as the opposite of the men’s concepts. (I first noted this in my post on The Blessed Marriage.)
A good example of this is Phillips’ position on “mission.” As you’ll recall from the first half of The Wise Woman’s Guide, men have a mission in life and they define themselves by that mission. Not so for women:
We have women that say, “I want to have my own cosmetics business. I want to have my own this business. And I’ll bring income into the family.” Sounds really good, but there’s a dangerous, perilous direction we can take there if it becomes my business, my ministry. You see, a woman isn’t about her business. She’s about completing and fulfilling her husband’s mission and ministry and the two of them are yoked together as one as co-laborers in a joint dominion mission for the glory of God with the division of labor and with a hierarchy of priorities and responsibilities. This is the way the Scripture teaches.
Instead of having their own missions, women work toward their husband’s mission. (What single women are supposed to do is anyone’s guess.) Phillips discusses several different ways they can do this, but I’d just like to focus on the two he mentioned the most. The first is that a wife represents her husband to the outside world. This is how she “expands his borders” and brings honor to the household (explored in last week’s post). This holds true even in the little things – for instance, a matter as apparently straightforward as dinner guests:
Do you open up your home, and when people come in and they say, “Thank you, thank you,” do you immediately defer to your husband and say, “Oh, this is the generosity of my husband. He’s the lord of the home. He’s opened it up to you. I’m doing this to serve my husband, and representing my husband, I welcome you into this home.”
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.
Phillips’ prime example of a “virtuous wife” who successfully managed her husband’s affairs is Sarah Pierpont Edwards, wife of 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards. He tells story after story of Edwards’ all-consuming study habits, and how Sarah took care of business to allow him long periods of seclusion with his books.
Now I won’t dispute Phillips’ point that Sarah Edwards was a remarkable woman and a fine example of what Proverbs 31:10-12 is talking about. However, he may be failing to communicate some of the practical implications of a woman managing her husband’s affairs. Depending on the extent of the management, this could require an understanding of anything from investments to automobiles to whatever business the husband is involved in; and once homeschooling (a requirement in Phillips’ eyes) is added into the mix, the list of subjects becomes even longer. Why then do so many of Phillips’ devotees truncate their girls’ education because they will “only” be wives and mothers? Phillips’ statements logically imply that those might be much more demanding jobs than many suppose.
Who’s in charge?
Phillips’ next “core concept” is that women (or at least wives) must be “under authority.” (This dovetails neatly with the revelation from last week that women should never have authority over men and should not usually be their “functional equals.”) If they are not, he claims, they will be laid open to deception by Satan:
…ladies, being under authority is critical to avoid deception. When a woman puts herself out from underneath authority or reviles an authority, she puts herself in a position where the potentiality for deception becomes very strong. It doesn’t mean men cannot also be deceived, but it does mean God specifically looks to the situation of Adam and Eve as an example and says, “Look, Eve was first tempted and deceived. She was first deceived. So be careful.” What happened? She was out from under authority.
Phillips gets this idea from 1 Timothy 3:11-15:
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness, with self-control.
Anyone who has followed debates between complementarians and egalitarians knows that this is one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament. They will also know that not all Christians accept Phillips’ (very old but debatable) idea that the passage calls women the more easily hoodwinked sex. It does say that Eve was deceived, but never explicitly makes the leap to extend this to all women for all time in all places.
I’d also like to point out a potential problem with Phillips’ statements about Eve. The rest of Phillips’ teaching strongly indicates that a woman going out on her own, without a male “authority,” is wrong and maybe even sinful. If it is sinful, at what point in the Genesis narrative did Eve “go out” from under Adam’s authority? When she ate the fruit? When she looked at it? When she started talking to the snake? When she went near the tree in the first place? The answer to this question is very important, as if Eve sinned before eating the fruit, she sinned before the Fall.* And how is that even possible?
Phillips also claims women are born with the desire to usurp their husband’s authority. (Interestingly, he simultaneously claims that they are miserable when their husbands do not lead.) Those who make this claim usually base it on Genesis 3:16:
To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
If you think this sounds like a bit of stretch from the phrase “your desire shall be for your husband,” you’re not alone. Wendy Alsup has demonstrated that this view, far from being the historical position of the church, was first formulated in the 1970s (ironically by a woman) in reaction to feminism. Before this, the standard view was the woman would idolatrously try to derive all her meaning, worth and security from her husband – which is exactly what Phillips advises women to do!
After covering the “core concepts,” Phillips move on to detail three sinful ways women may respond to a husband who lacks vision or is failing to lead. He draws these examples from Proverbs. First is the “professional drip” – an angry, argumentative woman, nagging her husband ad nauseam and recently made infamous by Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood – from Proverbs 21:9 and 27:15-16:
Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman. Proverbs 21:9
A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike; whoever restrains her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand. Proverbs 27:15
Looking up “contentious” in Strong’s, there are two Hebrew words listed for these verses (I assume because of a variant reading or something similar): midyan and madown, both of which seem to be straightforward words for strife or fighting. Contentiousness is also not considered an exclusively female problem:
As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. Proverbs 26:21
It seems safe to say that Proverbs advises against a willingness or eagerness to start fights. This is reiterated extensively in the New Testament (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14 and many others). Phillips is thus perfectly correct to say that constant nagging and arguing, by either the wife or the husband, is not a good way to solve problems in a marriage.
The second erring woman Phillips mentions is the “professor,” a woman who thinks she knows best and tries to instruct her husband. He bases this on Proverbs 30:21-23:
For three things the earth is perturbed, yes, for four it cannot bear up: for a servant when he reigns, a fool when he is filled with food, a hateful woman when she is married, and a maidservant who succeeds her mistress.
The word for “hateful” in this passage is sane’. It’s usually translated in the KJV as some form of the words “hate” or “enemy,” seemingly in the simple, literal sense. It does occur several times in reference to a marital relationship, but not in the way Phillips suggests:
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Genesis 29:31
If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and they have borne him children, and if the firstborn son is of her who is unloved, then it shall be, on the day he bequeaths his possessions to his sons, that he must not bestow firstborn status on the son of the loved wife in preference to the son of the unloved, the true firstborn. Deuteronomy 21:15-16
If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, “I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,” then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. Deuteronomy 22:13-15
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of the house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife… Deuteronomy 24:1-3
This looks very different from Phillips’ “professor.” There’s nothing in sane’ to indicate the word has a “teaching” element at all. So while it isn’t appropriate for a wife (or a husband) to constantly try to “fix” their spouse by pointing out all their mistakes, Phillips cannot necessarily get that from Proverbs 30. I suspect he let his particular twist on men’s role in the church and home influence his interpretation here.
Phillips’ third misbehaving woman is the “indiscreet” and “bitter” woman, who “reproaches” her husband in public (Proverbs 11:22, 12:4). This is essentially a recap of Phillips’ statements last week about wives criticizing their husbands, which I’ll deal with later when I address more of my concerns about that subject.
Lot’s wife – her second-guessing of her husband, her unwillingness to submit with her heart, resulted in her own execution and the three most troubling words said of a woman in the entire Bible, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
This was not a passing remark: Phillips got very impassioned and almost shouted the words “remember Lot’s wife.” And this would indeed be a serious indictment of unsubmissive wives – if Lot’s wife’s actions had anything to do with a lack of submission to Lot. Let’s look at the context surrounding the phrase “remember Lot’s wife”:
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be also in the days of the Son of Man: they ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
“In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.” Luke 17:26-36
Here Jesus compares His Second Coming to two Old Testament “mini-apocalypses,” Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom. In talking about each event, He focuses on how people let their material goods and day-to-day lives either blind them to the coming judgment, or get in the way once it arrived. In this context His statement about Lot’s wife is easy to understand. Her priorities were out of order; she let her love of Sodom get in the way of escaping God’s judgment. Jesus does not say a word about Lot’s wife being unsubmissive, and in fact, in the actual account of Sodom’s destruction, Lot issues no orders to his wife at all. Lot is commanded to take his family out of the city, but the crucial command – to not look back – is issued by the angels to the entire family after they have already left the city. So when Lot’s wife is punished for disobedience, it’s not disobedience to Lot, but to the messengers of God Himself:
So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.” Genesis 19:17
Another woman Phillips focuses on is Vashti:
And then there’s Vashti. Her disrespect, her presumption, her dishonor brought shame on her husband. But more than that, the people of her society understood that if her disrespect to her husband was left unchecked, it would create national rebellion of women against their husbands all across the entire civilization. … If a woman is allowed, unchecked, to be wroth and disrespectful to her husband, it sends a message to women everywhere that they can do the same.
The above quote is officially the first in my Big Box that made me angry. Let’s look at the relevant passage to see why:
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.
Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom): “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?”
And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath. If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small.”
And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan. Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in its own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people. Esther 1:10-22
In this passage, King Ahasuerus, drunk at an enormous party, tells Vashti to come out and present herself to his guests (not only Persian noblemen, but also palace staff and the ordinary citizens of Susa). This doesn’t sound so bad until we realize it’s widely agreed that Ahasuerus wanted to Vashti to appear naked before all these people, which she understandably refuses to do. Ahasuerus, however, dethrones her and sends out an empire-wide decree ordering women to obey their husbands.
There are several reasons why Phillips’ use of this passage is mind-boggingly inappropriate. First, the Bible (and most complementarians) attach an all-important caveat to a wife’s submission – that she does not have to (indeed, must not) obey her husband if he asks her to sin. And frankly, if there is disagreement among Christians as to whether a drunken husband asking his wife to come into the dining room naked to show off her body to his dinner guests, his coworkers, and the nextdoor neighbors, qualifies as sin, then there is a much deeper problem at work here than disagreements over the meaning and extent of submission! (What’s perhaps more interesting is that I don’t remember Phillips mentioning the sin caveat anywhere in the lecture.)
Second, rather than taking Ahasuerus’ decree as an example of wisdom on the part of the Persians, Phillips should see it as men abusing their headship. Men cannot ask their wives to sin, and their wives are not obligated to submit to them if they do. Therefore, when a pagan king sends out a decree ordering wives to do whatever their husbands say, Christians should react with disgust, as this is as a flagrant example of a man putting himself in the place of God. The fact that Phillips not only does not do this, but holds up said decree as an example of godly behavior, should be all the proof we need to label his views idolatrous in the extreme.
So if all the above examples are what Christian women should not do, what then are they supposed to do? Phillips’ only answers seem to be submit and pray, which he derives from 1 Peter 3:1-6:
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
It’s hardly controversial to say that this passage teaches women to win their husbands to Christianity by their behavior. What is different about Phillips’ interpretation, however, is that he extends this passage, which on its face seems to be mostly about wives married to non-Christians, to apply to the wives of Christian men who “lack vision.” God works through a “submissive spirit,” Phillips claims, and amazing things can happen if a wife submits and prays.
Phillips’ application of 1 Peter 3:1-6 to Christian men worries me. To apply passages about evangelism (like this one) to Christians seems suspect at best. Christians don’t need to be evangelized, and treating a professing Christian like an unbeliever is something that can only happen after gross sin or a prolonged refusal to repent (Matthew 18:17, 1 Cor. 5:9-13). Also, for Phillips to place so much emphasis on “vision” that he pushes Christian men toward being lumped in with unbelievers, seems inappropriate in light of the fact that he never even defines “vision” (see last week’s post) and the term is never mentioned in connection with marriage in the Bible.
(As an aside, Phillips also makes the odd claim that a submissive wife is a “means of grace unto the salvation or revival of the husband.” He gets this from 1 Cor. 7:14 where Paul states that the believing spouse “sanctifies” their unbelieving partner. I’d just like to issue a caution here and say that “means of grace” is a term with a very specific meaning, closely tied to sacramental theology. I doubt Phillips meant to say that wives are some kind of “sacrament” to their husbands, but his use of the term “means of grace” here struck me as bizarre.)
Why the long face?
Lastly, I’d like to address again Phillips’ quote about wives criticizing their husbands in public:
How many of our dear wives today are very, very good at critiquing and picking apart every single problem their husband has and think nothing of sharing that with the community and that is a reproach to their husbands. When a husband knows that his wife is critiquing, is criticizing before other men, it puts a dagger in the heart of a man and it twists it and the man wants to die. If a woman’s countenance is such that her countenance demonstrates that she is grieved, she is unhappy. She’s not happy with her husband, she’s not happy with her life. It’s like a dagger in the heart of a man that twists and turns and kills that man’s spirit because wherever he goes, his wife stands there as an ever-present example, ‘I am miserable. I am unhappy. He doesn’t make me happy.’ You might as well just take the sword and lop off his head.
We’ve already established that it’s inappropriate for spouses to relentlessly nag each other (see above), but I’d like to draw your attention to the word “countenance” in the above quote. “Countenance” usually refers to a person’s face or facial expression. (For example, in Genesis 4:5 Cain’s “countenance fell” after God rejected his offering – i.e., Cain’s anger showed on his face.) So Phillips’ disapproval of wives publicly criticizing their husbands is not limited to their words, but apparently also includes their facial expressions.
But how do we know when a wife’s countenance “demonstrates that she is grieved”? A frown? Tears? Indifference? Anything less than a glowing smile whenever she leaves the house? This standard is so nebulous as to be not only useless, but dangerous: it’s not hard to see how an abusive or otherwise unstable (NPD, etc.) husband could use Phillips’ words to claim that his wife is “disrespecting” him by looking insufficiently happy whenever he is mentioned in conversation.
Which leads directly to my final point. What are Christian wives to do if their husbands are abusive? Phillips spends exactly one paragraph (obliquely) addressing this situation. The answers he gives are hardly encouraging:
Now in the case of gross moral sin, there are remedies for women in difficult circumstances. Those remedies must be followed God’s way and they must be done with fear and trembling before the Lord. Those remedies include the local church. It must be done God’s way. God’s way is not a public rebuke.
Apparently abused wives are supposed to go to their local church for help. Phillips never addresses what should happen if the local church fails or refuses to help. He also never makes clear whether the local church is the only remedy for an abused wife, or if the authorities can eventually become involved. In any case, it’s clear that, in his mind, the local church should be a wife’s first option.
Aside from the fact that Phillips’ position here is questionable (see Romans 13, where criminals, such as abusive husbands who have committed the crimes of battery and assault, whether physical or sexual, are subject to the full penalties of the law), there is ample evidence that the approach he advocates usually doesn’t work and has caused incalculable harm to families. If you’re skeptical, I’d like to direct you to Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts’ blog A Cry for Justice (also in the blogroll to the right), where the terrible handling of spousal abuse by many churches has been documented extensively.
We’ve now reached the end of our fascinating little safari through this corner of the world of patriarchy. I, for one, have learned a lot about Doug Phillips’ beliefs – and frankly I think I find them twice as disturbing as I did before. So a word to the wise: skip The Wise Woman’s Guide. There’s plenty of wisdom to be had elsewhere.
*Other patriarchal teachers have actually argued that Adam “sinned before the Fall” by failing to properly lead Eve, so however ridiculous it may sound, to extend Phillips’ logic this far isn’t unprecedented. Also, since Adam and Eve didn’t become aware of their nakedness until after eating the fruit, and the Bible treats this awareness as the first direct evidence of their new condition, any attempt to “relocate” the Fall to an earlier point is untenable.