Patriarchal or Complementarian?
A Meditation on the Song of Solomon’s Importance As A Return To God’s Original Intent with Implications for Marriage and Ultimate Meaning for the Church
Depending on who defines these things results in various views among Christians. For my purpose here I am simply looking at these terms generally from a biblical standpoint. When I say “Patriarchal” I mean the time between Genesis 3 and the fulfillment of the New Covenant by Christ’s giving His Spirit. When I say “Complementarian” I am referring to the time period of Genesis 1–2, as well as the rule for the New Covenant. It is essentially God’s intention for male and female roles in home and society before the fall.
In a patriarchal society women were largely treated as property in a way that from the gospel forward they are not. Certainly there is an aspect that the husband’s body is the wife’s and the wife’s is the husband’s, but that has its context. The point of the gospel is to restore what was written in the beginning—namely the image of God. God made man male and female. They have unique makeup physically and emotionally etc. and are meant to complement each other. The wife remains a helper to the husband, and her role is vastly different from that of the husband. The husband is set forth to lead, protect, and provide for the wife. The wife is there to help her husband in his task to tend the garden of God, and to fulfill the dominion mandate by procreation and discipleship of children in the home. Moreover, they are to live unashamed in their pleasure for one another and for their God.
This is where Song of Solomon comes in. The Song depicts a woman taken in the harem of Solomon by force. This was not unusual in Patriarchal times. Esther is an example of the same thing. Additionally, laws were set forth to mitigate sexual crimes, divorce, and other things related to women in a way that would seem harsh to us today. It was a different time, it was patriarchal. Women were truly in a man’s world. The Song of Solomon is a song about returning or having an Exodus back to God’s world where in the likeness of Jesus he says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” The gospel always calls us back to what God always intended without any change, because after all, God never changes.
There were those who operated in a New Covenant fashion throughout history but this was because the newness of the New Covenant is effectual grace. So, we get diamonds in the rough like the book of Ruth and her marriage to Boaz. Grace operates throughout all time the same way, nonetheless it is most clear post-resurrection/ascension. We can only properly understand the Song of Solomon with having the patriarchal background in mind as one that was not ideal but a mitigation of a fallen world until the fullness of time came. Song of Solomon could not be understood rightly until Christ came and did His work, and this by the Spirit of God. The Jews saw the book as something worth reading at the Passover to commemorate the Exodus. They were close to the kingdom in doing such because the book is indeed about salvation, but not merely a physical temporary one. Puritans interpreted the book as an allegory about Christ’s love for the church, this also is close to the heart of the book, but still lacks the historical background that gives a more precise meaning. The Song of Solomon is a typology of the faithfulness of the Church to her Lord and Husband Jesus Christ. He does not operate like Solomon as a patriarch, but like an Adam, a last Adam fulfilling all that was lost in the fall and all that could be gained by obedience. He remains the Church’s head, and families follow his order—as marriage was always intended to set forth a picture of Christ and the Church. People would not have a hard time understanding how to be married if the church would dedicate themselves more to faithfulness to her husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not patriarchalism, but more akin to complementarianism. Nonetheless, the matter is simply a biblical view of history. The Bride is being adorned in the power of the Spirit of grace by virtue of the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ. The Song of Solomon is celebrating and telling the story of the Church who will be in the arms of her Lord in the end, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing—and more than that, who will be defended by her Lord against the tyranny of the world.
Thus, while I am absolutely supportive of women making the sandwiches, I don’t find patriarchalism the best representation of the marriage relationship, but neither do I think that those roles are not very distinct. The man is head of the wife as Christ as head of the church because that was how it was intended from the beginning. Based on my study, this fits the description of complementarianism much better than that of patriarchalism.