Jordan Peterson, The Apostle Paul, Hierarchies, and the Fate of the Patriarchy

I have friends on both sides of the “Jordan Peterson” fan-club and the “Jordan Peterson” hate-club. I was recently talking to one of them about the existence, and perhaps inevitability, of hierarchies. I happen to think that much of the biblical texts make little sense outside of a robust ancient hierarchy. I’m less convinced of Peterson’s claim (as far as I call tell) that hierarchies are biological and a little more open to the idea that hierarchies are ontological (or at the very that they served an important intellectual foundation for pre-modern civilization, philosophy, and religion. Thanks, Charles Taylor.)
To be sure, I think the biblical authors’ views on God and social ethics, are built on a presumptions of hierarchy (notice: there is a large jump between a hierarchy and a patriarchy), partly because I’m not so sure that a lack of hierarchies was a live option in the philosophical or liturgical world of ancient people. I also wonder if the most basic of theistic convictions, that of a strong creature/creation divide, is possible without a hierarchy of ontology. (Before you sharpen the pitchforks, there is again a big difference from an eternal belief in or current support of the patriarchy).
As I’ve been thinking about these thing, I found the following quote from John M. G. Barclay fascinating:
“The second characteristic of Paul’s social strategy is that the hallmark of his alternative system of value is that it is directed specifically against rivalry: the greatest honor is for those who work against the competitive spirit of honor itself. Nearly all the characteristics catalogued as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23) are directed toward the construction of community, from love downward. “Spirit-people” are so designated because they work with sensitivity to repair the community (Gal. 6:1-2). What counts among believers, according to Paul, is precisely the antithesis to arrogance and competition.
The rubric that governs the ethos of the community is a formula of reciprocity as creative as it is paradoxical. The Galatian freedom will not become an opportunity for “the flesh” inasmuch as they are “slaves to one another through love” (Gal. 5:13). This is a remarkable expression since it adjusts an inherently hierarchical relationship (slavery) not by canceling it, in the name of “equality,” but by making it reciprocal, a hierarchy that turns both ways…. The same structure of relations is outlined in the matching phrase in Gal. 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Burden-bearing, the world of slaves, is made a task for all, in relation to all. Submission to the interests of others is saved from becoming a charter for the crushing of the weak by being turned also into the reverse, such that service and honor continually exchanged. This reciprocity of relations, which does not eradicate but continually inverts a hierarchal order, is indeed the hallmark of Pauline social ethics, not only with respect to the church as a “body” (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31) but also in marriage (1 Cor. 7:3-4) and in the continual competition to be the first not to receive honor but to give it to others (Rom. 12:10). This policy turns competition on its head. What matters is not to gain superiority but to cede it, and in ceding it to be honored in return. To this extent, Brigitte Kahl is right to point to Galatians 5-6 as evidence that Paul strongly resists the combative ethos ever present in Romanized culture — through Paul’s policy is less the eradication of hierarchy than its continual subversion.
(some emphasis mine)
John M. G. Barclay, “Grace and the Counter-Cultural Reckoning of Worth: Community Construction in Galatians 5-6,” in Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter, ed. Mark W. Elliot, Scott J. Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 313.
Of course, questions remain:
1) This is very idealistic (as most of Paul’s pneumatological ethical instructions are). Can we expect this to work, outside of a Spirit-Surrendered individual who is embedded in a Spirit-Surrendered local congregation?
2) Does this really have anything meaningful say to secular discourse concerning just policies in a modern liberal democracy?
3) From the vantage point of a hermeneutics of suspicion, in what ways could this teaching (or interpretation) be used to continue to oppress the marginalized under the name of Jesus?
Overall, what are you thoughts on this reading of Galatians 5-6? 
How can you see this implemented in our churches?
How can you see this implemented, if at all, in our current political arena?


One thought on “Jordan Peterson, The Apostle Paul, Hierarchies, and the Fate of the Patriarchy

  1. I tend to think that Galatians 5-6 is the culmination of Paul’s argument against the attempt to impose ritual laws on Gentile believers. It’s about hierarchy peripherally. It’s about conduct directly. A life of serving is more important than a life of ritual consistency. That people were using ritual purity to leverage their spot in a hierarchy is certainly there. Still, I think that Paul is more perturbed by attempts to replace grace and Spirit-led practice with ritual patterns of eating, interacting, observing Holy days and hygiene (circumcision). The question this raises for me is this—is the hierarchy inherently wrong or could a hierarchy built on love and self-sacrifice be acceptable. If a tree is known by its fruit and the fruit of a particular hierarchical system is good—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and self-control—does that not make the hierarchy acceptable? I think Paul would say yes. I think I’m still ambivalent.


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