Wolves in Ewes’ Clothing

Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them.    Acts 20:30 CSB

In the wake of recent controversy around Paige Patterson’s comments on women and abuse, I want to draw attention to the public writings of his wife, Dorothy. Are Dorothy and her husband wolves? I don’t have any authority to say that they are, but I mention the concept of wolf from Acts 20:29-30 to remind us all that Paul specifically warned believers to be aware that some will rise up and distort the truth from WITHIN our own cohort of believers. Dorothy Patterson’s writings consistently distort the truth of Scripture, claiming “biblical” womanhood while simultaneously stating that multiple verses from the Bible say something they actually do not say.1 Whether this constitutes what Paul meant by wolf or not, we can at least agree that all those who submit to the authority of the Scripture for faith and practice must take such distortions seriously.

Most who are regular readers know my burdens for this blog. Because I by conviction hold to an orthodox understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, I am gravely burdened that it is not the folks who deny that Scripture is authoritative that are most at fault for pushing others out of the church, but those that pervert/distort that truth, claiming that something is biblical that is not actually supported by a close examination of Scripture. My closest personal experience of this was around the fallout from Mars Hill in Seattle. If I know one, I know a hundred women (and/or their families) who no longer trust the authority of Scripture because Scripture was misinterpreted and misused to support an agenda. It’s a serious stewardship, this teaching of Scripture, and it is morally right to expose misuses of Scripture for what they are.

I can say confidently, though soberly with grief, that based on the evidence I have seen from his wife’s commentary, Paige Patterson’s comments encouraging a woman to stay in a situation in which she was further abused and drawing attention to the sexual beauty of an adolescent girl were not thoughtless words given on the fly. Rather, they are consistent with a system of thought he and his wife have taught for years, one they claim is biblical.

I will only offer a brief look into the Old Testament Women’s Evangelical Commentary by Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley (Dorothy’s sister-in-law). There is an overwhelming amount of bad teaching in that commentary in my opinion, but I will limit what I share here to a few key problems that mirror the things for which Paige Patterson is currently under fire. Patterson has vehemently denied that he counsels wives to endure abuse, but the Patterson’s long track record of teaching show their belief that abusive situations are a thing for wives to endure to reflect God’s created order, which they present as the essence of what it means to be a Biblical man or woman.

On Vashti’s lack of submission

Her flat and unqualified refusal was public—no private note or whispered message. Some have tried to make this pagan queen into a heroine who was responding with her own modesty, but again there is no basis for this virtue in the text or in any logical approach to the history of pagan queens. In Vashti’s response to a foolish command, she may have responded unwisely more from personal pride even if under the guise of modesty.”

And a few pages later …

“… the conclusion of the pagan advisers of the king coincides with the creation order of God Himself: All women will honor [Hb. yeqar, “precious, heavy” in the sense of having weighty and thus high responsibility] their husbands (v. 20). The plan of God from creation is expressed as calling for the husband’s loving headship and wife’s responding gracious submission, firmly established as the divine mandate long before the time of Ahasuerus and the wise men of Persia.”

Summary: Patterson teaches that Vashti’s refusal to flaunt herself in front of her husband’s drunken party violated God’s created order and design for Biblical manhood and womanhood. She and Kelley further teach that the unbelieving leaders of this godless kingdom nevertheless reflected God’s created order in perfection in what they expected of the women in their court, particularly Vashti and Esther.

On Naaman’s slave girl as an example of wifely submission

“This young girl in Naaman’s household was a slave, separated from her family and country, yet she accepted her situation. She gladly yielded to be an instrument of great blessing to her master in order to honor the Lord. This young girl models the principle of submission (wives are called to submit to their husbands for the glory of God; likewise, daughters are called to submit to their parents, Eph 5:22; 6:1). However, submission does not suggest lack of worth or usefulness.”

Summary: Patterson and Kelley teach humble perseverance under oppressed servitude as a righteous example of wifely submission.  Similar ideas show up in their comments regarding Hagar and Esther as well.

Patterson and Kelley present a world view in which a “biblical” understanding of submission and femininity is based on the created ORDER (man first, woman second). Woman’s identity at every turn is then defined by how she submits to male leadership (including to literally being owned by a man) because she was created second, in response to the man. Though caveats are given (abuse is bad, this doesn’t mean servitude, etc.), the actual examples used show that submission to abuse and even slavery is good/rewarding/faithful and it does in fact, in Dorothy and Rhonda’s worldview, include servitude. Submission to abuse, rather than standing against it, is the more noble way in the Patterson/Kelley paradigm.

These entries reflect the Pattersons’ long history of teaching wifely submission as a permeating piece of the woman’s nature based on the created order. The examples given in this commentary of good wifely submission clearly show that their line of reasoning results in encouraging women to submit to abuse as part of a woman’s essential role in society.

In response to this, some will point out Southwestern’s and other’s recent statements of repudiation of abuse. I am glad to see those statements. But just recognize that those recent statements contradict decades of teaching readily available in the Pattersons’ own works that reveal the pressure they put on women to endure abuse with a submissive spirit.

The Pattersons as People

A friend shared with me this article full of personal anecdotes written in defense of Dr. Patterson. I understood the sentiment expressed in that article very much. I experienced similar emotions when Mark Driscoll received criticism early in my time at Mars Hill. Mark and his wife had received me at their house at midnight a few years before when I was overcome with exhaustion while sitting with my husband in intensive care at the hospital. They were sweet and compassionate, and I believe they showed their genuine heart of ministry in that moment. When others criticized Mark in popular media outlets, I saw Mark as a convenient, misunderstood punching bag for liberals. It took long examination over the years of what Mark actually taught for me to recognize the harmful ways it diverged from Scripture and the rotten fruit it produced down the road.

The more I look at Paige and Dorothy Patterson’s writings, the more it reveals a worldview on men and women that they manipulated Scripture to uphold, reverse engineering at least this Bible commentary to say what they wanted it to say, rather than the other way around. They are a team, and we understand the work of one by examining the work of the other. I hope they can own that they have treated oppression of a woman by a man as an essential part of biblical femininity and a noble thing for a woman to endure. Their teaching has projected shame on women who stand up against abuse. May they confess that and repair with those who have been harmed by this teaching.



1 For example, in their discussion of Proverbs 31’s statement that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, they say, “There is no decrying of feminine “charm and beauty,” which is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture (cp. Pr 4:7-9; 1 Sm 25:3; Jb 42:15; Sg 2:14), …” Dorothy Kelley Patterson & Rhonda Harrington Kelley. Women’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament (Kindle Locations 32788-32794).

If you look up these references that the authors cite as affirming physical beauty (which for some odd reason seems really important to the Pattersons), zero of them  actually do so. It’s disturbing, and not the only example of this.

18 Responses to Wolves in Ewes’ Clothing

  1. Kathryn May 8, 2018 at 10:55 pm #

    So good Wendy!!

    • Wendy May 9, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

      Thanks, Kathryn!

  2. Amanda May 9, 2018 at 7:08 am #

    Thank you for this. I was planning to buy the CSB women’s study Bible, but last week I saw that Dorothy Patterson was listed as the general editor, and I had a bad feeling about it. This article is very helpful in confirming that bad feeling.

    • Wendy May 9, 2018 at 7:13 am #

      Yes, sadly. The good news is that there are some other good CSB study bibles. I have appreciated reading through that version, so I hope lots of good, helpful resources are associated with it in the future.

  3. Jules May 9, 2018 at 8:05 am #

    Thank you for making the time to research and write this, Wendy. Sorely needed.

    • Wendy May 9, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

      Thanks, Jules!

  4. Annie May 9, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    I am interested in what you said above, “Patterson and Kelley present a world view in which a “biblical” understanding of submission and femininity is based on the created ORDER (man first, woman second).” I was talking with my (PCA) pastor recently about elders/deacons, and he sited the creation order as the rationale behind not having women in leadership positions. Do you think 1 Tim 2:12 is appropriate for leadership, but not wifely submission? I think I’m having trouble separating the two.

  5. Becky Miller May 9, 2018 at 9:03 am #

    Excellent analysis. Thanks for digging into this.

  6. Lydia May 9, 2018 at 9:21 am #

    Wendy, no matter how disgusted we are by someone’s remarks or writings or teachings, I think we have to be very, very cautious before applying or even implying the wolf label, when, in many cases it’s more a matter of immaturity and error. Certainly there are wolves among them, but error, even grievous error, doesn’t necessarily a wolf make.

    • Wendy May 9, 2018 at 12:19 pm #

      I don’t think it fits to suggest that a seminary president’s wife, in her seventies, herself with numerous Bible degrees, who has written Bible commentaries and study Bibles, is IMMATURE. I don’t imply wolf without serious, sober consideration. But immature, she is not. There is a willfulness about her misuse of Scripture that we must soberly consider.

  7. Jules May 9, 2018 at 10:01 am #

    In my opinion, this is all one massive tumor, in the sense that this issue with the Pattersons and their teaching, the SBC and misogyny and ESS (eternal subordination of the Son) are all tentacles belonging to the same beast. It’s all metastasizing.

  8. Meredith May 9, 2018 at 11:32 am #

    Thank you for this post, Wendy.

    I have been musing over all these recent #ChurchToo #MeToo scandals, especially in light of the fact that my husband is military and we are going to be moving across the country and starting all over again in finding a new church community in the next month. I have to admit, all of this has me discouraged before we even start. I firmly believe that those of us who want to claim theological orthodoxy when it comes to the relations of men and women need to stop acting as though the endorsement (whether subtle or overt) of patriarchy and all the mistreatment of women that goes along with it is somehow less serious a sin/heresy than what is committed by “liberal” churches that affirm same-sex relationships. In other words, we need to stop acting as though affirming gay relationships is a worse sin than telling a woman whose husband is beating her that she should go home and submit better to her husband. We should not be a part of churches that would do either of those things. We should be as quick to rebuke and call out pastors that would teach the latter as we already are at rebuking and calling out the former. When Jen Hatmaker came out in favor of same-sex marriage, a firestorm of articles and blog posts from every corner of the orthodox Christian internet world was ignited in showing why and how she was wrong. Where is the same reaction when men claiming to be Christians (and often Christian leaders) treat women like dirt? Why was Jen Hatmaker’s Christianity called into question while Paige Patterson’s is left alone?

    I was discussing it with a friend of mine and she used a metaphor that I thought was really insightful. She said that same-sex marriage is like obesity– while there is a movement to embrace “big is beautiful” regardless of whether or not it’s actually healthy, others can see that while it might feel good, leading a lifestyle of obesity is ultimately going to kill you. But misogyny and the abusive culture is like anorexia– (quoting my friend) “from the outside it can look healthy and attractive, but once you get under the layers of clothing (the good ol’ boy system), and once it gets past the very beginning stages, you find out that it’s damaging your body faster and more irrevocably than overeating would, and realize that you’re actually killing yourself while everyone around you still thinks you’re just dieting and exercising self-control. So basically, a homosexual lifestyle is visibly wrong and will destroy you eventually if you don’t take the advice of people reminding you of the truth, but misogyny and abuse in the church will kill you while everyone is watching and nodding their heads in approval.”

    • Lisa May 24, 2018 at 11:40 am #

      Very interesting analogy.

  9. Claire May 9, 2018 at 1:14 pm #

    Thanks, Wendy.

    So important that Christians (especially women) who uphold the inspired Word of God are grappling with this issue.

    I believe that the root of this problem can be traced to a lack of accountability and discipleship in our churches that allows those in fellowship to behave in ungodly (even wicked) ways at home and in the church itself.

    If this is given attention, the abuse and hypocrisy will more likely be addressed without contributing to the harmful culture of crisis management we fin ourselves in these days.

    Onward, church, we must stay alert and defend the weaker among us.

  10. Lea May 9, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

    The Persian king and his ‘wise men’ were the bad guys. This stuff is maddening. And a slave is not a wife. Sheesh!

    Your notes about the focus on physical beauty are very interesting. It seems the authors of that book attempted to explain away anything that did not promote physical beauty! Strange. Are we not supposed to be looking at the heart?

  11. Desiree May 11, 2018 at 9:45 am #

    I’ll be honest – I’m a little confused, but concerned and interested, and hoping you can point me to some other sources regarding Dorothy Patterson and the study bible for women? I have many Bibles, but decided to make that my go to (mostly because it has very minimal commentary compared to some of my others, and I love the translation – HCSB).

    I also own their commentaries, though I rarely reference them. I haven’t found anything unusual or overly focused on beauty? Even just now reading the Proverbs 31 commentary and cross references (from their study bible, I was too lazy to bust out the commentary right now), I don’t really see them *emphasizing* being beautiful, as much as I see them just reassuring it’s not a SIN to be beautiful or improve your appearance. Which, I know some women feel it is due to certain misinterpreted bible passages (anyone not braiding their hair out there or refusing to wear gold?).

    I read the comments on Vashti and Namaan’s wife’s servant girl and also didn’t see any issues or talk of submission – so I’m guessing this is in their expanded commentary?

    Anyway – I mean no snark whatsoever, I would just appreciate some more information on them if you don’t mind. I tried to do a little research on my own, but other than finding Paige’s years old bad advice (which from his comments on what happened vs. what others are writing doesn’t actually sound as bad as what people are writing, so I’m kind of confused there, too).

    I checked my other usual discernment bloggers and haven’t found anything helpful. So any direction you can point me in would be very appreciated! Thank you!

    Just googled him again and saw some sexualized comments about a teenage girl. Sigh. I’m not a southern baptist, or a Paige/Dorothy “fan”…but it’s just always so disappointing when things like this come out. Disappointing is too small a word. I guess I will be searching for a new, commentary free HCSB (thankfully they are all on sale due to the advent of the CSB, lol!)

    Thank you for your time and work. I’ll be bookmarking your blog 🙂

  12. Curious Thinker May 12, 2018 at 3:39 pm #

    I agree with everything you said. What I don’t like about the teachings of Paige Patterson and people like him among the Christian circle, is that rationalize their argument of wifely submission by comparing the wives relationship with her husband to that of a employee/empoyer or supervisor like a wife is nothing more than a subordinate to her husband’s superior and she should just do what she is told no matter what. As for abuse, many Christians will use the marital vows for better or worse to justify staying in a abusive marriage even though the same rules could apply for adultery too but, according to many adultery justifies divorce just not abuse. Since the bible doesn’t actually say divorce is okay for domestic abuse, many think that is an unbiblical reason to end a marriage just work it out is the only way to go or if they do divorce remarriage isn’t an option. However, there are other scholars and pastors who do believe abuse counts as a biblical ground for divorce and remarriage. Scholars like David Instone-Brewer, Barbara Roberts, Bob Yandian, Rick Walston, William Luck, the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen that support divorce for domestic abuse. Mr. Instone-Brewer has an old article titled “What God Has Joined” in Christianity Today that gave a convincing argument on divorce for abuse and even wrote a book about it. Ms. Roberts also has a book “Not Under Bondage” with similar arguments. I feel sorry for Christians who have been shamed and shunned by their fellow believers and even family because the chose to end a marriage that was very physically abusive even when the abuse was directed at the children as well. I don’t believe Mr. Patterson and those who think like him mean harm but are misguided by their distorted view of the scriptures in the bible which they take out of context to support their logic. In the future I plan make a post on my blog on divorce in the Christianity community to explain my views about it. Great article once again and God Bless.