Thoughts on the “Quiverfull” Movement

Thoughts on the “Quiverfull” Movement December 1, 2012

by Kristen Rosser

A grass-roots movement has been growing for the last 20 years among evangelical/fundamentalist Christian families. Using a literalistic approach to the Bible, these families withdraw from modern culture into a strict patriarchal structure where birth control of any kind is eschewed and fathers control an ever-growing brood of children, home-schooled by a submissive wife. Considering children to be a “quiver of arrows” in the culture-wars over “family values,” people in this movement describe themselves in many terms. “Quiverfull” is perhaps the most convenient.

This movement defines Christianity largely in terms of the raising up of “godly families” to lift up God’s standards to the surrounding culture. Women are asked to lay down any individual hopes and dreams, for the sake of motherhood as their “highest calling.” The wife is there to support the vision and calling of the father, and the children are to do the same until (if they are boys) they become fathers themselves, or (if they are girls) they are given by their father to a husband, so that they can fulfill their own call to motherhood. Women can also have a ministry in this movement of teaching other women to be good wives and mothers– but all of a woman’s existence revolves around these roles.

But as we look at Jesus’ practices and teachings, and the practices and teachings of the apostles, we simply don’t find anything to indicate that the kingdom of God that they preached about consists of, or is to be ushered in by, the raising up of “godly” families– or any evidence that this is what the kingdom consists of for women.

The best way to determine the main message Jesus preached is to look at His words at the beginning and the end of each gospel: the words that set up and wrap up His earthly ministry. Matthew 4:17 encapsulates Jesus’ basic message like this: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” In a nutshell, Jesus taught that His listeners should listen to His message and change their ways, for a new kingdom was coming and was already among them. Most of the rest of what He taught was either a fleshing out of what He meant by “repent,” or of what He meant by “the kingdom of heaven” — or both.

Luke’s gospel sums it up best. Jesus began His ministry by teaching that the Scriptures about the coming of the Messiah had been fulfilled in Him (Luke 4:18), and wrapped it up by saying that He had completed “what was written” about Him, and that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. . . and ye are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:47-48.

Jesus’ message was that He was bringing in the kingdom of heaven through His life, death and resurrection. The kingdom, He taught, was a new way of simply being in harmony with God, a new way of living in God’s abiding presence (John 15:10) which would grow and mix with all of life until it had changed everything. (Matt 13:31-33) The kingdom is characterized by loving our enemies (Matt 5:44), laying down power and authority (Matt. 20:25-28), and putting our trust in Christ (John 3:15). Jesus said nothing whatsoever to His disciples or to the people along the lines of “Now go and marry godly women and raise up children to be arrows for the kingdom of heaven, to raise up God’s standard in the culture around you.” He said instead that His followers were to “go and make disciples” to follow Him as he had taught them. Matt. 28:19. In a patriarchal society that was very focused on fatherhood, Jesus consistently taught that human fatherhood was not to be the focus of His disciples: “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Matt. 23:9.

Paul showed throughout his ministry that he had dedicated himself to this message and no other. 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 1:8. The only other injunction that was laid on Paul (besides being an ambassador calling, “be reconciled with God”) was that he should “remember the poor.” Gal. 2:10. And though Paul taught principles for the conduct of marriage and family, he did not treat marriage or family as anyone’s “high calling” — rather, he taught that marriage was one option only, for both men and women: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” 1 Cor. 7:8.

If the calling of women as Christ’s followers is a call to homemaking, marriage and motherhood– if women’s place is to serve their families and support their husbands in their callings– then what can we say about Christ’s words to Martha in Luke 11:38-42? Martha was working in the kitchen to prepare a meal for the men while Mary joined the other disciples and sat “at Jesus’ feet” (which meant to be taught as a disciple — see Acts 22:3). Martha was fulfilling everything this teaching says it is a woman’s role to do– but it was Martha, not Mary, whom Jesus rebuked for focusing on what was not “needful.” And it was Mary whom He defended as having chosen “the good part.” Jesus said nothing to either of them about getting married, having children, and supporting their husbands’ callings. Instead He commended Mary for choosing to sit with the other disciples and be a disciple herself.

Homemaking, marriage and family are simply not held up in the Scriptures as the focus of the kingdom of heaven for anyone– and women as well as men can be co-workers in the gospel (see Phil. 4:3). Many women traveled with Jesus in His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3), and Paul commended many women in Romans 16 for their discipleship. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever told these women that they should be home having children and taking care of the house.*

I believe the idea that Christianity is about getting married and raising up children to be “godly arrows” in warfare against worldly cultures, is a distortion of the gospel that Jesus brought, and of everything He came to do. In Him men and women alike are set free. I would encourage anyone who wants to follow Jesus, to stick with what Jesus actually taught, and not to be distracted by what Paul would have called “another gospel.”

*Paul did tell Titus that younger women should be taught to love their husbands and children and be “keepers” of the home– but that word was the same word used for the “keeper” of the garden where Jesus was buried. It did not mean “homemaker” or “housekeeper,” but “guard/watcher.” And he said this should be done so that the gospel movement would not get a bad reputation in the surrounding (patriarchal) culture they were trying to reach– not so that women would be restricted to “keeping the home” and nothing else. Titus 2:4-5 (compare with Romans 16:1-15)

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Read everything by Kristen Rosser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Kristen Rosser (aka KR Wordgazer) blogs at Wordgazer’s Words

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • This is exactly what’s always puzzled me. I can understand why people might be drawn to patriarchy; what I can’t understand is anyone thinking it’s supported by anything in the New Testament.

    Another puzzle is that when the NT teachings *against* marriage and family are brought up, they are dismissed. “Well, that’s because in those days they thought the world was going to end very very soon, in their own lifetimes. Now that we know that didn’t happen, we can ignore those bits.” That’s a very fundamental teaching to get wrong. If Jesus and the apostles were wrong about the end of the world, what else were they wrong about? How does that justify a literalist teaching of the parts of the bible that one likes?

  • Ethan

    Wait just a minute! Are you suggesting that it is unscriptural to believe and teach that there are distinct roles for men and women of God? What of all the examples in the Old Testament of godly men and women who followed the patriarchical pattern (such as Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah), and the lack of any positive example to the contrary? What of the New Testament requirements for men and women who marry?

    “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)

    “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (1 Peter 3:1-6)

    These passages also contain words for husbands & fathers, which balance out these requirements.

    Now this is not to say that every Christian must conform to these requirements! As you correctly point out, marriage is optional, at least for those men and women who are content to be single, having the “gift of singleness” (Matthew 19:10-12), for service to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35), and who are not tempted with lust. (1 Corinthians 7:9)

    There is no question but that anybody who would follow the Word of God will be seen as strange by the world, because the Bible presents a manner of life which is anathema to the world! The area of family relationships is just one of many.

  • Ethan, with regards to this:
    the patriarchical pattern (such as Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah), and the lack of any positive example to the contrary?
    There are actually plenty of positive examples to the contrary. Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, was a leader in Israel. Deborah was a judge. Abigail was a very “unsubmissive” wife who was commended and praised for it. Esther was another unsubmissive wife– she went against the pagan king’s decree that she was not to approach him without an invitation (risking her life in doing so). Huldah was a prophetess consulted by the king in the time of Isaiah– instead of consulting Isaiah himself.
    And in the New Testament, Mary, mother of Christ, received the angel’s word for herself without the interposition of her father or of Joseph– Joseph was only visited by the angel after he had already heard Mary was pregnant.
    Churches met in the houses of Lydia, Chloe and Nympha. Phoebe was entrusted with reading Paul’s letter aloud and explaining it to the church at Rome. Euodia and Syntyche were called Paul’s “co-workers” along with Clement, who later became the bishop to Philippi.
    The cultures of those times were patriarchal, and God worked within those cultures. There is no reason to believe that patriarchy was, or is, God’s divine plan– unless you read what is descriptive in the Bible prescriptively.

    As far as the scriptures you cited, please see “The Bible and Male Headship,” parts 1 – 3, in the FAQs on this site:

  • PS. So yes– I am absolutely saying that it is unscriptural to believe or teach that there are distinct, prescribed roles for men vs. women of God. Absolutely. Men and women are different and distinct– but so is each and every individual, and the spiritual gifts in the New Testament are not labeled pink or blue.
    God especially did not create men to be the ruling class and women the subordinate class. That was caused by the Fall.

  • Persephone

    If you’re going to take those examples literally, then remember that Abraham had a son by his wife’s maidservant. Sarah was the one who suggested it. Does that mean that Ethan believes it is acceptable for a servant to have to accept being raped by her employer? Does it mean that having a child is so important that raping a girl to get one is okay? Does it mean that when you do have a son by your wife that it’s okay to toss the poor girl and her child by rape out to starve to death?

    If you want to witness the current horrors of extreme patriarchy, then I suggest you tune in to what is happening in the Middle East to women and girls there. Also, don’t forget the extreme Orthodox Jews, such as the Hasids, and their practices. Witness the treatment of women and girls who have been sexually abused in the fundamentalist churches and how they are blamed for their abuse.

  • Pauline

    Quite true! It’s pretty telling how they really mostly use the Old Testament to teach from.

  • Toft

    There’s plenty in Talmud/Torah/Tanach that is used to (restictivly) define woman’s roles, but, pauline, you’ll never find jews using the “New Testement” for any guidence, as that is exclusivly Christian.

  • Leaders are set up so they can’t fail, that’s why.

  • JoannaDW

    No one is suggesting that you interpret Bible verses literally, just that interpretations (including “literal” interpretations) differ widely. Thus, fundamentalist Christians that want to promote patriarchy and doubt the faith of those that don’t are on shaky ground.

    This common is a typical example of derailment (changing the subject), as well as the appeal to worse problems (“Starving children in Africa!”) fallacy. No one is defending, or claiming not to care about, oppression of women in other cultures. That said, this is about the Christians Quiverfull movement, which is as destructive and dangerous in its own right as fundamentalist Islam and Judaism (or any other extreme form of religion) are. If you have an issue with that, or if you want to talk about “real” oppression, that’s not the author’s problem.

  • JoannaDW

    Sorry, I meant to write ‘comment,’ not ‘common.’

  • Persephone

    I’m sorry it wasn’t clear that I was responding to Ethan’s comment.

    But this is a key concept in Christianity, not just Quiverfull, if the Bible is the inerrant word of God then it must be perfect, but a reading of it shows many errors, and most people don’t want to live that way; but if it isn’t the inerrant word of God, why do we accept pieces of it and not all of it?

    You can argue that we need to adapt what we learn to our modern day experience and recognize that the Bible is not the word of God, but a collection of writings pointing us to a general truth. But then why be Christian at all? You can believe in the Golden Rule and show it in your behavior without attending church or proclaiming yourself as being of any religion.

    If you are going to say that you must follow Biblical guidelines as they were set forth, then you fall into the trap of accepting a way of life followed by a people whose civilization peaked 2,000 years ago.