A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 5:22-24. 2). The duty of wives (continued).

The first part of his (Professor Steven Goldberg) book is an anthropological study whose conclusion he expresses as follows: ‘In every society that has ever existed one finds patriarchy (males fill the overwhelming percentage of upper hierarchical positions in political and all other hierarchies), male attainment (males attain the high-status roles, whatever these may be in any given society) and male dominance (both males and females feel that dominance in the male-female encounters and relationships resides in the male, and social expectations and authority systems reflect this).’ He is at pains to point out that he is neither making any value judgments, not measuring performance, nor pronouncing either sex ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ to the other; his purpose is simply to show that ‘patriarchy’, ‘male dominance’ and ‘male attainment’ – in the technical sense in which he employs these terms – are ‘three universal realities’, since ‘in no society, anywhere or at any time, have these realities been absent’.

For the development of his second thesis Dr. Goldberg moves from anthropology to physiology. He argues that the anthropological evidence for male dominance which he has marshalled has a physiological cause. The ‘three universal realities’ are the manifestation in society of a basic male drive (often called ‘aggression’, though Dr Goldberg prefers ‘dominance tendency’), which is itself ‘neuro-endocrinological’ in origin. ‘At its most basic, the hypothesis at the core of the theory presented here simply states that there are neuro-endocrinological differences between men and women that engender different male and female responses to the environment and, therefore, different male and female behaviour’. He is not denying that our genetic code interacts with our environment and upbringing, nor that there are individual exceptions to the generalization, nor that many women are frustrated because they lack opportunities to use their gifts. Instead, he is asserting that there are basic differences between masculinity and feminity, that masculinity means drive for dominance, and that ‘dominance tendency is primarily a result of hormonal development and not primarily of anatomy, gender identity or the socialization that reflects anatomy and gender identity.

A Christian who reads Professor Goldberg’s thesis wants to state it theologically in terms of creation. God has made and makes men and women different, and one of their basic differences lies in the ‘headship’ which he has given to man. This may well have a genetic basis. If so, man’s natural ‘drive’ needs to be controlled if his ‘headship’ is to be constructive. For ‘patriarchy’ sounds paternalistic and ‘male dominance’ oppressive. Even the biblical word ‘submission’ is often expounded as if it were a synonym for ‘subjection’, ‘subordination’ and even ‘subjugation’. All these words have emotive associations. ‘Submission’ is no exception’. We have to try to disinfect it of these and to penetrate into its essential biblical meaning. This we shall discover neither from its modern associations nor even from its etymology but primarily from the way it is used in its context in Ephesians 5.

Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:22-24. 2). The duty of wives (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.