Calvin on Men as Heads in General

Recently I got in an online discussion about patriarchy. I was told that “Patriarchy is NOT the historic teaching of the church.”  Whether this is right or wrong depends to a large degree on the definition of patriarchy. In the discussion patriarchy was defined as women submitting to men in general. It was assumed that wives should submit to husbands and that women could not be pastors. But men do not have a headship over women in general. By the logic put forth in other discussions, if this was the case, we would find men ordering women around everywhere they went.

There are several issue at play here. But in this post I simply want to quote John Calvin who clearly does assert that men are heads of women in general. And I doubt this led to the men in Geneva ordering all the women around.  This quote comes from a sermon on I Corinthians 11:4-10.

Now St. Paul is not speaking here of individuals, or of particular households. Rather he has divided the human race into two parts, as was indicated in the previous sermon. So there is the male, and the female. I say this, because even though a man may not be married, he still has this privilege of nature: he is a head. Of whom? Of women, because we are not merely to examine one house, but the order that God has established in the world. In the case of a widow, or of a young woman who has yet to marry, the subjection of which St. Paul is speaking still pertains to them. Why? Because it applies to the entire feminine sex…From this we see the stupidity of some who have expounded this text of St. Paul as if it referred only to married women. For, as I have already indicated, he is not dealing with each individual in particular, but with the general order.

You may disagree with Calvin. I do not. However, that is not the point. The point is a historical one. Calvin clearly did hold to the general submission of women to men. He did not restrict it to wives and husbands only. He says the same thing in his commentary on this passage.

Does this make women less than men? Are they not also made in the image of God? Does Christ relate to men in the same way as women? See this blog post where Calvin affirms that women are made in the image of God and salvation is fully their’s in the same way it belongs to men. In Christ, we are equal and all are made in the image of God. But “in this passing life” [Calvin’s term] there is a need for order. And God created men to rule.


One thought on “Calvin on Men as Heads in General

  1. The logic was wrong, but the definition of ‘patriarchy’ is also wrong. Patri-archy does not mean ‘male rule’, it means ‘father rule’. Four verses in the NT use the term:

    Act_2:29  MenG435 and brethren,G80 letG1832 me freelyG3326 G3954 speakG2036 untoG4314 youG5209 ofG4012 theG3588 patriarchG3966 David,G1138 thatG3754 he is both deadG5053 G2532 andG2532 buried,G2290 andG2532 hisG846 sepulchreG3418 isG2076 withG1722 usG2254 untoG891 thisG5026 day.G2250
    Act_7:8  AndG2532 he gaveG1325 himG846 the covenantG1242 of circumcision:G4061 andG2532 soG3779 Abraham begatG1080 Isaac,G2464 andG2532 circumcisedG4059 himG846 theG3588 eighthG3590 day;G2250 andG2532 IsaacG2464 begat Jacob;G2384 andG2532 JacobG2384 begat theG3588 twelveG1427 patriarchs.G3966
    Act_7:9  AndG2532 theG3588 patriarchs,G3966 moved with envy,G2206 soldG591 JosephG2501 intoG1519 Egypt:G125 butG2532 GodG2316 wasG2258 withG3326 him,G846
    Heb_7:4  NowG1161 considerG2334 how greatG4080 this manG3778 was, unto whomG3739 evenG2532 theG3588 patriarchG3966 AbrahamG11 gaveG1325 the tenthG1181 ofG1537 theG3588 spoils.G205

    You will notice that none of these verses are talking about ‘men in general’, but of fathers of lineages.
    The idea that only men should be pastors and civil leaders is also very clear in Scripture, but it is not ‘patriarchy’ as the term is used in Scripture, or as it was used in ancient Greek.


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