The Teaching that a Husband/Father is Priest to his Family is Unbiblical and Promotes Abuse (Part 4)
The second chapter of Sam Waldron’s book, A Man as Priest in His Home, is entitled The Scriptural Warrant. His purpose is to demonstrate that Scripture teaches that a man is a priest in his home. In part 2 of this series, I showed that in fact every Christian is a priest. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we are the temple of God, and we function as priests when we bring the gospel of Christ to the lost and when we pray for the lost. Surely Waldron would not deny these things, and yet in his book the priesthood of the husband / father is a one-way affair. That is to say, he never speaks of the wife/mother’s priesthood.
This also means that as fathers, we must make sure that our children, at the appropriate age, develop the holy habit of spending part of each day in private prayer and the study of their Bibles. We must oversee our children to make sure they are practicing these disciplines. We must talk with our wife to make sure she is keeping a good conscience by having daily times of private devotions. [Waldron, page 49]
Though there is only one Mediator between God and men, here on earth there are many types and shadows of the great Mediator. One such symbol is a man who is a husband and father in his home. In this chapter [ch 6] we’ll consider that man’s special priestly role as a mediator of divine blessing to his family. [Waldron, page 55]
Once more, we will assume the best and believe that Waldron’s purpose is to call husbands and fathers to fulfill their spiritual duties to their wives and children. But to neglect the priesthood of all believers, which includes wives and children who are in Christ, is to create an office not authorized by the Lord. A husband/father is no more a priest than any other Christian. And those of us who are familiar with the mentality of the abuser can easily see that such a teaching fuels abuse. Where does Waldron discuss the wife’s priestly role, as a Christian? He doesn’t. And as a result he communicates to the reader that a wife must not “talk to her husband to make sure he is keeping a good conscience by having daily times of private devotion.” The picture Waldron gives is that of the husband doing to talking, not the wife.
Let’s consider Waldron’s arguments from Scripture that a man is priest in his home.
1) Here is his “Spiritual Leadership” argument: [page 13ff]
- “Priests in Israel exercised many functions of spiritual leadership identical to duties that a man must exercise in his home.”
- Ephesians 6:4 says “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Therefore, this verse says that men must practice spiritual leadership in the home.
- In Eph 6:4, the man is addressed in regard to his home, “and the spirit is priestly” (“do not provoke your children to anger”). (Are you starting to feel the stretch and strain on Waldron’s logic here?)
- “Fathers are to be gentle, wise and benevolent in their leadership, and we have already seen [in chapter 1] that priests are to be gentle and gracious in their ministries.”
- “Such spiritual leadership involves performing in the home many of the functions priests carried out in Israel [intercessory prayer, communicators of blessing, directors of worship, instructors in Scripture, and judges in holy things.
- “Such parallels suggest that men are indeed spiritual priests in their home”
I leave it to the reader to evaluate the validity of Waldron’s logic. For myself, I don’t see it and I don’t follow it. Old Testament priests did certain things that are similar to what a man does in his home. Therefore, the man is priest of his home. That’s a big leap over a wide chasm of logic and in my opinion, Waldron landed short of the other side.
What else does Waldron argue is Scriptural warrant for the husband/father priesthood?
2) This is his “Early History” argument: [page 14ff]
- “Second, priests in the Old Testament were viewed as spiritual fathers, so it is natural to think of fathers today as spiritual priests.”
- “Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job all seemed to have acted as priests for their families by offering sacrifices and burnt offerings according to God’s original order.”
- Waldron also refers to the era of the Judges where (in 17:10 and 18:19) Micah and others are trying to hire a priest to be “a father and a priest” to them.
So here, Waldron takes us waaaaayyyy back into early OT history and points us to people who offered animal sacrifices before the time of Moses, and to a couple of strange references in a strange era (Judges), and wants us to conclude with him that this is support for men today functioning as priests of their wives and children.
3) Waldron says that his third argument – The Model of Christ – is “an even more compelling reason that men must be priests in their homes.” Here, he quotes Ephesians 5:25-27–
Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (26) that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (27) so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Waldron then reasons: “Since husbands are commanded here to love their wives in the same manner that Christ loved the church, it follows logically that if Christ’s work is priestly, a husband would in some sense be a priest to his wife.” He goes on to claim that this conclusion is correct because of 4 words Paul uses that “have clear connections to the priesthood.” They are: 1) “Gave himself up” which Waldron says is a priestly action. I agree that it is, in Christ’s case. 2) The word sanctify “also specifies a priestly action, 3) “Having cleansed” has “priestly connotations, and 4) the word washing is priestly. Waldron then summarizes: “This priestly language makes clear that Paul is indeed thinking of Christ as a priest when he presents him in Eph 5:25-27 as an example of what a husband should be. A man must imitate Christ’s priestly behavior if he would be a priest to his wife in his home.”
Something is very wrong here. The emphasis Paul makes is “Husbands, love your wives.” And the example for that love is Christ’s love for the church. Christ gave himself up for her. This much certainly does apply to husbands. The husband must love his wife in a self-sacrificing way, denying himself. But to then take Paul’s further elaboration in vss 26-27 in which he describes Christ’s further work of sanctification of his bride, the church, and apply that ability and role to the husband…seems very problematic to me. Does a husband, as his wife’s priest, sanctify her? I don’t think so.
In his closing applications of chapter two, Waldron says this:
- “First, we learn something of what it means for us to be a priest to our wife. We must love her by showing an abiding concern for her spiritual welfare and progress, and we must seek that welfare by washing her with the priestly, cleansing water of the Word. We should also speak to our wife regarding these spiritual matters. We can’t teach her if we don’t speak to her. But these two things – loving and speaking – are just the ares where so many men fail. We must confess our sin to God, our wife, and ourselves, and begin by the grace of God to treat our wife in a priestly manner.”
- Wives and children should also respect a man’s priestly authority and support him in his priestly roles, even when he fails in them. Hannah is a wonderful example of this in 1 Samuel 1. Eli was far from an ideal priest, and Hannah must have known that. Despite this truth, she responds respectfully to his false accusation of drunkenness with a simple, “No, my lord” in 1 Samuel 1:15. Hannah’s example should encourage us to ask our wives and children to support us and submit to us even though our best efforts often fall short. When a wife uses her husband’s remaining sin as an excuse for her lack of respect, she needs to be reminded that there was only one perfect man who ever lived – and she isn’t married to him….It may be difficult to give respect to a sinful man, but those who don’t give him that respect will regret it in the end.
No, Mr. Waldron, a husband/father is not priest to his wife and children. There is no such priesthood taught in Scripture. All believers are priests, women as well as men, wives as well as husbands. In your teaching you are denying this priesthood of all Christians (whether you intended to do so or not) and you are enabling and encouraging wicked, abusive men in their evil. Those of us who know about the evil of abuse and who understand the wicked, entitled mentality of the abuser, deny what you have said here. We say that those victims who continue to give “respect” to a wicked person are the ones who will regret it in the end.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Posts in this series
Part 4: Is this post.