Recently, I have been amazed to see multiple men on Facebook stand up to defend and recommend John Knox’s infamous pamphlet The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. I am amazed, because some of these men clearly aspire to leadership in the church. I am amazed, because I have actually read the Monstrous Regiment, and know that it is completely indefensible.
Knox’s pamphlet was originally written in 1558 as a protest against two queens opposing the Reformation in the British Isles, Mary I Tudor of England and Mary Stuart of Scotland. Rather than oppose the two queens with a doctrinal defense of Protestantism, Knox chose to argue against their authority as female rulers. His First Blast was intended as just the first of three pamphlets that would prove women to be incapable of bearing godly rule.
Even at the time, the pamphlet was controversial. John Calvin disapproved of the First Blast, saying that by publishing it Knox was likely “to unsettle governments which are ordained by the peculiar providence of God.” ((Hastings Robinson (ed.), The Zurich Letters (Cambridge, 1846), pp 76-78.)) Within months, the pamphlet backfired on Knox when Mary Tudor died, leaving the English throne to her Protestant sister Elizabeth I. Elizabeth supported the Reformation, but was highly offended by Knox’s pamphlet and never allowed him to return to England to work for the cause of the Reformation there. Knox admitted that “my First Blast hath blown from me all my friends in England” and gave up writing the second and third pamphlets.
In other words, the Monstrous Regiment ultimately had to be abandoned by its own author, and anyone who supports it today is demonstrating less wisdom than Knox himself.
The main argument of the Monstrous Regiment begins with an appeal not to Scripture, but to natural law. For Knox, this means Greco-Roman pagan sources:
Aristotle, as before is touched, does plainly affirm, that wheresoever women bear dominion, there the people must needs be disordered, living and abounding in all intemperance, given to pride, excess, and vanity; and finally, in the end, they must needs come to confusion and ruin.1
This is illuminating, because it demonstrates where the true roots of Knox’s argument lie: in something other than Scripture. In fact, it would be difficult to find a view of women more antithetical to Scripture. Disproving Aristotle is easy: all we have to do is find Scriptural evidence of women bearing dominion to the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom.
First, the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:26 is given to men and women both jointly and severally: “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea. . . .” Second, in 1 Tim. 5:14, women are tasked with “keeping,” or more literally being despots of the home. In a Christian home, women are supposed to bear dominion. We see a vivid example of this dominion in Proverbs 31, where the virtuous wife is praised for her wisdom, capability, business sense, management of others, and productivity. Third, we have Deborah as an example of a woman bearing dominion as a judge in Israel. Under her leadership, Israel heard the voice of God. They did not come to confusion and ruin, but to victory and redemption.
Scripture makes it clear that women are capable of ruling wisely and well in their homes. It should go without saying that anyone who can rule a home wisely and well is equally capable of ruling herself wisely and well, or a business, or a school, or a church, or a state, for that matter. She can be a businesswoman like Lydia, a judge like Deborah, a deaconess like Phoebe, or a landowner like the daughters of Zelophehad. According to Ecclesiastes 4:13, “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.” How much more true must his be for a godly woman?
Knox, however, does not take Scripture as a starting point. Instead, he begins with ancient paganism and then reads these pagan ideas into Scripture. He then goes on to appeal to church fathers like Tertullian and Augustine. He quotes Tertullian as speaking to women like this:
You are the port and gate of the devil. You are the first transgressor of God’s law. You did persuade and easily deceive him whom the devil durst not assault.
First of all, this contradicts 1 Timothy 2:14, where Paul says that Adam was not deceived by Eve. This is not a minor niggle, because it was in Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, that the entire world was cursed. The devil did use Eve to persuade Adam to sin, and Eve and her daughters were cursed because of it with pain in childbearing. Women were not cursed to become “the port and gate of the devil” any more than men were (instead, she was the port and gate of the coming seed who would destroy the devil!). In fact, Scripture shows us multiple examples of women like Sarah, Abigail, or Rebekah who opposed their husbands and were vindicated by the Holy Spirit and obedient men of God.
Knox then quotes Augustine, who is even worse:
“Woman,” says he, “compared to other creatures, is the image of God, for she bears dominion over them. But compared unto man, she may not be called the image of God, for she bears not rule and lordship over man, but ought to obey him.”
Augustine is one of my favorite theologians, but this dehumanization of women is inexcusable. Here, he is clearly under the influence of Greco-Roman patriarchalism and not of Scripture. Scripture teaches that men and women are made equally in the image of God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The metaphysical equality and equivalence of the sexes could not possibly be made clearer, and it’s restated in the New Testament, in Galatians 3:28: “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is not to deny certain physical, mental, or emotional differences between male and female. But regarding the image of God, and the respective standing of men and women before God, it’s crystal clear.
But doesn’t the Bible teach women to obey men? No. Ephesians 5:22 directs wives to “submit” to “their own husbands.” Women as a class are not to submit to men as a class. Rather, they are supposed to submit to the specific authorities God has put in their lives. Scripture puts a great deal of limitation on authority: for example, Mark 9:35 insists that whoever wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all, and Acts 5:29 makes it clear that a Christian ought to obey God rather than man. Scripture even records a situation in which God himself directly ordered Abraham to obey his wife (Genesis 21:12). In that particular situation, Sarah had the godly authority.
Anyone who wants to can easily read the rest of the Monstrous Regiment online, and find more of the same kind of thing inside it, whether quotes from pagan patriarchalists or from Christian thinkers who uncritically accepted the same views. John Knox, whatever his strengths in other areas, clearly had an unbiblically low view of women as a sex. Speaking for himself, he says:
Where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled [deprived] woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be. Man, I say, in many other cases, does in this behalf see very clearly. For the causes are so manifest, that they cannot be hid. For who can deny but it is repugnant to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong? And finally, that the foolish, mad, and frenetic shall govern the discreet, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority. For their sight in civil regiment is but blindness; their strength, weakness; their counsel, foolishness; and judgment, frenzy, if it be rightly considered.
To do him justice, Knox does spend time in the Monstrous Regiment attempting to defend his views from Scripture. To someone who has turned away from modern feminism, not everything he says may seem outrageous. The ideas may sound radical, but feminism is so prevalent in our culture that maybe the truth is going to sound radical. Maybe, you’re thinking, Knox has a point.
Don’t be deceived. There is something very wrong with Knox’s position here, and it’s actually exactly the same mistake which is made by modern feminism.
That mistake is to draw an invalid dividing-line between men and women, to maintain that the difference between good and evil is not defined according to the deeds of each person, but according to whether they are male or female. The mistake made by radical feminism is to argue that women are metaphysically more virtuous than men. The mistake made by radical patriarchalism is to argue that men are metaphysically more virtuous than women. Both buy into an unbiblical category of gender-based virtue.
According to Scripture, the only valid dividing-line for good and evil that can be drawn between one class of humanity and another is the dividing-line that runs between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. No other dividing line matters for this purpose, which is what Paul meant when he spoke of no more divisions between Jew and Gentile, between bond and free, between male and female.
Scripture pictures good women and bad women, wise women and foolish women, but it never denigrates women as a class. It never pictures women as bound by certain sins simply because of weak minds or lack of spiritual value. In fact, Scripture uses a woman as the personification of Wisdom—and not just any wisdom, but God’s divine, perfect, authoritative Wisdom (Prov. 8). Scripture pictures the church as a woman—the fearless warrior bride of Christ. Scripture pictures the good woman as wise, kind, disciplined, productive, and virtuous.
“Foolish, mad, and frenetic”? Not even close.
Faced with a wise and godly female ruler like Deborah, Knox can only explain that God must have “exempted Deborah from the common malediction given to women.” For Scripture, however, Deborah is not the exception to some “common malediction”; in her wisdom and sobriety, she is clearly the norm for Christian women.
Knox’s view is that women as a class are metaphysically defective as compared to men. This is exactly the same error as radical feminism, just with the genders swapped. By embracing a view of women as inferior by nature, Knox (together with Augustine, and Tertullian, and Dalrock, and other men’s rights activists) has ignored the clear teaching of Scripture in favor of pagan sexism.
I would plead with my brothers in Christ, especially those who claim to be Reformed. Think twice before you throw your support behind this document, which literally argues that women are subhuman, somewhere between men and animals on the Platonist chain of being. Men and women are both members of the church of God, one body in Christ. Let the word of God rebuke the foolish ravings of John Knox:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cothinians 12:21-26).
Scripture is totally opposed to both pagan feminism and patriarchalism, because Scripture evaluates people ethically-judicially. God judges people according to their deeds and only according to their deeds, not according to their gender. God entrusts women like Lydia with businesses, single women like Naomi with faithful covenant leadership of a family, and even women like Deborah in civil realms to judge and rule. These are not to deny differences or norms by any means, but if we follow Knox’s standards here, we are headed down a very wrong path.
There are no metaphysical defectives in God’s world. There are only the covenantally faithful and the covenantally unfaithful, whether men or women.
- This and the following quotations are excerpted from John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/firblast.htm, accessed May 19, 2018.(↩)