On John Piper & Manhood

Kate Wallace Nunneley

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What Does it Mean to Be a Man

At the beginning of March one of our readers wrote in and asked this question:

I recently watched a video regarding The Gospel Coalition’s stance on their complementarian view. In it, John Piper begins to explain that we must be able to answer children’s questions as to what it means for a boy to grow up and be a man, or for a girl to grow up into God’s model for womanhood. He states that egalitarians have never been able to answer his question. I would love to hear your response.”

This video had been making the rounds on social media, so I was familiar with what she was talking about.

You see, John Piper seems to have fallen into the cultural narrative that manhood must be earned. For Piper, manhood isn’t something you simply grow into with age according to your biology. Instead, it is something you work to achieve. And in order for a man to claim Piper’s supposed “manhood” he must exert authority over women.

Because egalitarians don’t believe that men have a natural authority over women, Piper then concludes that egalitarians don’t know the difference between men and women. While there are many more problems with what John Piper believes about biblical manhood and womanhood, I am not going to be addressing all of those here.

Instead, I wish to address this accusation that egalitarians don’t know what it means to be a man or a woman. Here are my thoughts on John Piper’s accusation.

Piper’s position reflects the tendency of many complementarians to center all their thoughts on life around “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”.

Whether he knows it or not, what Piper is talking about in this video is not our sex, human biology, or anatomy. He is actually talking about gender – the social implications and expectations of us, according to our sex. And Piper desperately wants our understandings of gender to be consistent throughout history, geography, and context – but that simply isn’t going to happen.

Social expectations of men and women change over time, and from culture to culture. For example, women in the Western world used to be expected to wear skirts and dresses all the time. This was a social expectation of their gender. But that isn’t the expectation anymore. Our social view of women has changed. In other parts of the world, though, women are still expected to wear skirts and dresses.

Or take high heels, for example. Throughout history, both men and women have worn heels. But for much of Western history shoes with a heel were worn mostly by men, because men were more socially revered if they were taller. Nowadays it is socially unacceptable for men to wear high heels, and women are typically the ones who wear them. Our social expectations of gender have changed. (This post presents other ways gender expectations have changed in our time.)

Piper’s thirst for a biblical definition of manhood is not going to be quenched, in the way he wants it to be, because the Bible really doesn’t have prescriptive things to say about what it means to be a man or a woman. The Bible seems to be more concerned with our Christ-likeness.

There are some directives that New Testament writers give to certain groups at certain churches in their letters to them, but even those don’t seem to be prescriptive to all men and women in all times, because they contradict each other. There are also directives pointed at husbands and wives (which is another topic entirely), but unless you find your whole identity as a woman or a man within your marriage, these don’t tell you what your gender “means” either, in the way that Piper is looking for.

An interesting aspect of Piper’s thought is that he is specifically looking for an answer for what a man is that is different from a woman. He is obsessed with difference.

But in the creation narrative, the notable thing about the nature of man and woman is not their difference, but their sameness. At the first sight of Eve, Adam said, “She is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. The creation narrative shows us that both man and woman are created in the image of God and both are given the same directive to fill the earth and care for every living thing in it.

What the Bible does give us is the story of how our world interacts with us in regard to our sex. In Genesis 3 we read about what sin has done to the world, and we get a glimpse of what God will restore through Christ: because of sin a hierarchy has been established between the man and the woman. The world is now bent toward the man.

So to answer Piper’s question, according to scripture and observations of history and the current day, I believe one of the things it means to be a man in this world is to be privileged. Things tend to go easier for many men in contrast to women. Men tend to rule things – governments, businesses, families, churches. But this is a result of sin, and not God’s original plan.

And what are Christ followers supposed to do? They are supposed to “deny themselves“, they are supposed to consider others as better than themselves, they are supposed to “yield to one another out of reverence for Christ“.

So to a little boy asking me what a man is, I would say:

As a man, you have been given preference in this broken and unjust world, but God calls you to give up that preference, and to show others honor – just as Jesus did. This will continually be your struggle, but as the fruit of the Spirit grows in you and as you become more like Christ, you will more naturally be able to live this way.”

And to a little girl asking me what it means to be a woman I would say:

As a woman, you live in a world that favors men. Throughout history women have been overlooked, used, abused, sold, bought, and silenced. This is a result of sin in this world. But do not fear, for God has overcome the world. Christ came and ushered in a Kingdom where the greatest are last. Christ denied that there is a hierarchy of authority between his people in his kingdom. And Christ raised women to their rightful place of ‘equal partners’ to men. To be a woman is to be a witness, as Mary Magdalene was, to the fact that God uses what the world sees as weakness to defy worldly power. Answer God’s call, as the women who followed him did, even when it is counter to your culture. This will be your struggle, to trust God and lean in, but as you grow into the likeness of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit grows in you, you will more naturally be able to live this way.”

Egalitarians do indeed know what it means to be a man and woman. We believe those titles are given to you based on the way God created your anatomy. They are not things that have to be earned through your actions.

We also know that society has certain expectations of us according to our anatomy. But as servants of Christ, we are often called to defy those cultural expectations in order to live the way Christ wants us to.

As an egalitarian, my actions are not determined by culture’s expectations of me as a woman, neither are they determined by John Piper’s expectations of me as a woman. My actions are determined by how I believe God is calling me to live as a disciple.

———————————

Here are a few great blogs recently written on this topic:

9 Steps to Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Sandra Glahn

Biblical Femininity is a Lie by Tim Fall

The Impetus of Patriachy by Greg Hahn

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55 Comments

  • This is a fantastic post Kate! Truth, truth, and more truth. A lot of people evade the elephant in the room. Could the Messiah have been born a woman? Could we be praying to a Father, Daughter, and Spirit? I knew what he would say when asked in 1999 at a major Renovare conference. Without hesitation, Dallas Willard said, “Yes, Jesus could have been a woman.” He did that with a bunch of American evangelicals in the room! 🙂 Some would say he was nuts! Of course, he felt there are many reasons it didn’t happen that way, but he did go on to explain why it is so important for women to understand that truth. I think it is important for us men too, otherwise we get caught up in our own culture’s warped notions of masculinity which often are just accepted forms of pride and egoism. Jesus was clear that discipleship is for all of us. We are becoming by grace what God is by nature. All of us, male, female, and for humans where the answer is ambiguous, are invited.

  • I’ve come late to this, Kate but once again I’m so appreciative of your clear and well thought out arguments on this subject. There’s such a brokenness in the Piper argument. I often wonder if he and others of the same ilk are aware of how impoverished their souls appear when they stick so determinedly to these issues. I’ve often noted in personal interactions that it’s those guys who are more fearful of appearing to be less than important, well thought of, powerful, that work so hard on keeping women in the place they have carved out for her in their thinking/world.

  • Kate:

    I haven’t even finished reading your post yet and I haven’t read the comments either. But this says it all: “Men tend to rule things – governments, businesses, families, churches. But this is a result of sin, and not God’s original plan.”

    Period. End of discussion. It is sin that makes us act the way we do when we are not entirely loving and selfless and submissive to one another with the purpose of maintaining harmony within the body of Christ and our homes..

    I figured this out years ago when I realized that the James Dobson, et al theory that men need three things and women need three things that are not the things men need. That ruse is not a function of created order. Those contrived “needs” are actually a function of fallen natures acting selfishly.

    Among many examples of corrections in my theology, I am now able to write and speak to others that Abraham had no business telling anyone that Sarah was his sister! –Rather than me passing over that seemingly irrelevant point. Yes, the Bible is true. That does not mean everything the Bible reveals is righteous.

    Egalitarians have learned to discern and separate truth from error. I find no explanation for complementarian theory other than the agenda of perpetuating error, maintaining it as good, rather than breathing fresh air and admitting something has been very, very wrong……for a long, long time.

    Thank you for your exceptionally well thought out posts.

    M.J. Greene
    Paraclete Press Research Service, Inc.

  • Thanks Kate,

    My favorite note from the blog – “The Bible seems to be more concerned with our Christ-likeness.”

    In Jesus time on the earth, he didn’t talk about “male and female roles” and didn’t emphasize ensuring that we fulfill those roles. As humans, we are distracted by things that matter much less to God other than making the main thing (being like Christ) the main thing.

    In my journey as a father of girls, your response to girls is HIGHLY valuable to me.

    Thank you!

    – Jeff

  • Kate,

    I am curious as to your thoughts on gender-specific ministries. For instance, almost all churches offer the following: a program for children, a youth group for teens, women’s ministry, men’s ministry and mixed gendered small groups. If Gail were to see this comment I am interested in her opinion also.

    • Hi Jacob,
      I have no problem with women’s and men’s ministries, as long as they take place at times that allow working women, and stay at home dads, to attend. I have been a part of women’s ministry and of mixed-gender small groups – my experience in women’s ministry was pretty unfulfilling, but I found great community and discipleship in my mixed-gender group. To each their own I guess.

  • Kate,

    While I remain undecided on the egalitarian/complementarian debate, I disagree that manhood is something that a boy simply grows into with age. I believe that manhood is a combination of age and sociological milestones. I have a difficult time looking at a 29 year old who still lives with his parents, doesn’t work or attend school, spends his days playing video games and watching pornography and relies on his mother to do his laundry as a man. My example may seem extreme to some but I don’t think it’s that uncommon nowadays.

    • Hi Jacob,
      Thank you for your comment. Thanks for stopping by The Junia Project, and for being open about being undecided on the issue. I think I understand where you’re coming from, and I agree that your example is not uncommon.
      This question came to my mind when I read your comment: Is your concern that this person is a “man”, or that this person is a grown up? Biologically, a 29 year old male is indeed a man – whether we think he’s acting grown up or not. Of course we expect 29 year olds to be able to take responsibility and care for their lives. Those are reasonable expectations to have of an adult human being.

      Another way to ask the question is this: Would a 29 year old woman – who lives on her own, works for a living, doesn’t play video games or watch porn, and does her own laundry – be “acting like a man”? Or would she simply be acting like an adult?

      It is a very different thing to say that someone isn’t “acting like a man” verses saying that they aren’t acting their age. One connotes difference between genders & the other connotes difference between stages in life.

      This is precisely what I’m trying to get at in this post. Christ followers are called to make disciples of all nations, to love God & love people, to seek first the Kingdom, and to live lives of fruitfulness as seen in the fruit of the Spirit – These are things that apply to both men and women.

      The idea that the Bible has set plans and callings for male Christ followers and also for female Christ followers is severely lacking scriptural evidence. Because there was no differentiation of “roles” between man and woman at creation, no gendered differentiation of calling from Christ, and the Holy Spirit didn’t discriminate based on gender on the day of Pentecost or in the giving of the gifts of the Spirit.

      I hope that makes my thoughts a bit clearer. Thanks again for your comment!

      • This is a great response, Kate! I love how you separated the difference between age and gender. Perfect.

  • I appreciate Kate’s tender and meek voice to speak out about inequality of gender not only in American society but throughout the whole world. I think she is right on target in presenting that God’s view of gender roles was (is) designed in a perfect mutually equitable way for man and woman to function. I have been wondering about this for quite some time and now it becomes clear to me how men have distorted this design only because they think men are supreme of women. That is a grave sin which has caused turmoil and injustices for centuries of time. So, what can we do about it. I like to think we can simply follow first and foremost the peaceful ways of Jesus Christ by simply telling the truth whenever and where ever we are. There was peaceful civil right’s leader Martin Luther King, Jr. who demonstrated in peace and that was very right. The gender equality demonstration strategy is much more difficult. Therefore, in all respects I give Kate and this project great accolades and prayerful support that things can be changed.

    • Thank you for the very high compliment Leon 🙂

  • Ms. Wallace, I respect and appreciate your voice for women that are hurt in our broken world. No one spoke louder for the value of women than the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The real question seems to be is this true?

    Ms. Wallace: “…because of sin a hierarchy has been established between the man and the woman…”

    Me: Could it not be that because of sin a [functional harmony] has been [broken] between the man and the woman?

    Ms. Wallace: “…Things tend to go easier for many men in contrast to women. Men tend to rule things – governments, businesses, families, churches. But this is a result of sin, and not God’s original plan.”

    Me: Could it be that it is God’s design for man and woman to harmoniously rule together under Christ’s ruling (Lordship)? This is God’s original plan, this is not a result of sin. Sin has corrupted leadership. We are all sheep who have gone astray. There is One God-man that every knee will bow to. None of us will take his place, though He will give us glory to share in. Could it be that we are missing quite a few Christ-like men in the West? Could it be that most boys have been raised to be passive? Men should defend women from their spheres of influence. Men should sacrificially lead gov’t, business, family, churches, etc…. so that women can experience the joys and freedom of mothering their children. It seems that fewer men will be found ruling. Women will lead and mother at the same time. There is always sacrifice and burden with leadership. There is a cost. A cost that less sacrificial men will pay as they fade into passivity in the West. We that we can agree that only Christ as head can restore harmony and eradicate sin in the heart. One day, we will have peace in relationships and on that day heaven will kiss the earth.

    Basis for Thoughts: The Trinity seems to be the model reflected in the original design for the family as reflected in 1 Corinthians 11 and 15. Other passages seem to reveal this functional structure in the universe.

    “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” – 1 Corinthians 11:3

    “For “God has put all things in subjection under [Jesus’] feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” – 1 Corinthians 15:27-28

    Is Christ equal to the Father in ontological value? The Scriptures teach, yes. So are women to men reflecting God images (marred though we are). Does Christ have the same functional role as the Father? No. Women are not supposed to have to bear the weight of responsibilities that men do. Men are to sacrificially lead, even as Christ leads men. The way Christ leads is compelling and beautiful. May we all love and edify others as He loves and edifies others.

    Gently and Respectfully, because I appreciate your concern for women and I love the Lord Jesus and his sheep too.
    – Abiel

    • Abiel, you mentioned 1 Corinthians 11 and 15 as having to do with the original design for the family, but to make that interpretation is to take those passages out of context since the family is NOT the topic Paul is addressing in those chapters. In 1 Corinthians 11 it is very clear that he is addressing head coverings in worship and giving instructions to both men and women about praying and prophesying in corporate worship. And is it really not fair to cite 1 Cor 11:3 as you have done, since that verse is in the middle of the larger point Paul is making, which is found in 1 Cor 11:11:12 – “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” The use of the phrase “everything comes from God” supports some common interpretations of the use of kephale here (translated as head) which include “source” or even just the anatomical analogy of a body part. In 1 Corinthians Paul is discussing the resurrection – yes, all things are subject to Christ – the egalitarian perspective of the family is that Christ is the head of the home.

      I differ with you on the Trinity being the model for family design, but that is really another discussion. I am more interested in hearing how you read functional differences into the creation narrative. Where do you see the role differentiation being mandated? When I read Genesis 1-3 I don’t see any mention of such role division until after sin enters the picture. God certainly took the time to tell the man and the woman to rule over all things but there is no similar command for one sex ruling over the other that I can find. Only when the consequences are spelled out for the serpent, the earth, the man, and the woman do we find the statement “he shall rule over you”. One of the authors here at TJP has written a helpful post on that topichttps://junia.thereachco.dev/5-myths-adam-authority-eden/.

      • Gail, though the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11 may not be written specifically to discuss roles, it does say “the head of a wife is her husband.” I do not understand how Paul mentioning head coverings afterwards affects this fact.

        It also says “the head of every man is Christ.” which I hope we can all agree with means that Christ has authority over every man. In Greek literature, the word head (kephalē), which can be translated as source, is usually used in a situation where the ‘head’ has authority over the other. That phrase is then paralleled to man and wife.

        I would not see how 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 would affect this as it reminds us that women are not inferior, but that we are both God’s creation and interdependent (and equal!)

        Also, Christ being head of the home is not just an egalitarian perspective but a complementarian one as well.

        Gail, I do appreciate your pursuit of seeking truth through scripture rather than through personal opinion or human wisdom and it is encouraging to see that!

        • Ambrose, we are getting off the topic of the post now, so I’ll just share a link to a post that addresses 1 Corinthians 11 more fully from an egalitarian perspective. I would side with Payne, Bilezekian and others that this should not be used to infer roles in marriage, especially since Paul is talking about men and women, not husbands and wives. Hope this helps to explain my take on this passage. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/the-chiasm-in-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

    • Wonderful and gracious reply Abiel.

      I find that Egalitarians often tend to focus too much on the privileges of Manhood in Complementarianism rather than the responsibilities. The reason why Manhood is something to work for, as opposed to something that happens when you turn a certain age, is because of the responsibility it entails, particularly in marriage.

      Husbands are called to provide, protect, and pastor the family. Think about how unfathomable it is to put ourselves in the place of Christ in terms of what he did and still does for us as the Church. To think that men are supposed to relate to their wives as Christ loved the Church should put the post of ‘head’ to be assumed in fear, not in greed.

      Admittedly, there are men who abuse this ‘headship’ because of sin, while neglecting their responsibilities, but that is not what complementarianism is about. It is also not something that came from culture (if anything it is completely against current culture) but is rather a part of God’s design, revealed to us through His Word.

      I cannot understand the hurt many women have gone through because of men misusing complementarianism but please do not let experience turn you away from God’s will.

      • I would say the reasons we don’t talk of the responsibilities as much is because it is the (alleged) privileges that causes the danger.

        If a wife should submit, it means that every time the man’s idea is a little worse than his wife’s (that would be on average half the time) ,one-sided submission lets the worst decision trump. Every time that a man is slightly selfish (being human and with humans being sinners, it will happen rather often), one-sided submission will lead to more oppression.

        When imperfect humans are doing it, one-sided submission will undoubtedly, in every relationship, cause hardship for the woman.

        An alleged responsibility to provide, pastor, or to protect may leave the man in a hard spot, or it may leave the family in a hard spot when a comp world only enable the man, not the woman, to do so – and the man leave, die, or does the job less well than it would have been done if both partners helped with said responsibility. While the so-called male responsibilities has advantages and disadvantages for both partners, the so-called male privileges is very one-sided and carries no advantages for women whatsoever.

        • Thank you for your reply Retha but I would have to disagree and so would many other couples in our churches (Harvest Bible Chapel). There is very little privilege (in the worldly sense) in having the authority that comes with being a husband. If you look at Christ’s life, the world would see no benefit to His authority over us during His life on earth.

          I am also saddened that many of the ‘egalitarians’ here have such a pessimistic view of husbands. I gladly submit myself to my pastors and elders who love me and care for me. How much more should a husband love and sacrifice for his wife in putting her needs above His own? I may not be perfect, but through God’s strength, I aim to put my wife’s wants and needs before my own every single day.

          I would also like to point out that though your logic may compel certain people, it is the scriptures that are authoritative. If it wasn’t for the Word, I’d be egalitarian too.

          • Hi Ambrose,
            It seems that your view of the husband’s role is very similar to the sacrifice that Christ showed us. I believe that is what Paul was asking husbands to do – to give up their lives, preferences, and worldly authority to best serve their wives. Unfortunately, many complementarians don’t see the husband’s “role” that way. They see it as “leader” and “authority” – two terms that actually fall on the opposite side of the spectrum from “servant”.

            I’m sorry you believe the Bible to be against equality of husbands and wives. If you take a look around our site (and Christians for Biblical Equality), you’ll see the very well thought out view of egalitarians. We actually believe what we do because of the scriptures.

        • “one-sided submission will lead to more oppression.”
          This isn’t really the case, and in I Peter 2-3, Peter lays out what we are to do in many cases of poor leadership or oppression, and specifically in chapter 3 for wives he gives very detailed instructions on what should take place. Quiet submission seems to be his answer. For the Christian in general, quiet submission seems to be the response to hardship. It’s why Paul says we are “killed all day long” in Romans 8.

          Also, the idea of privilege is seemingly misguided. All privilege is one sided which is implied in its definition. Women have privilege as well based on their responsibilities in a marriage.

          • Hi Mike, thanks for stopping by.
            I agree with Retha on this one – that one-sided submission most likely leads to oppression. It’s a fact of history that those who claim power over others based on their “natural superiority” will abuse that power. Just think of every genocide the world has ever seen.
            1 Peter 3 doesn’t seem to be talking about poor leadership or oppression, but about women who have non-Christian husbands. It’s a matter of evangelism, not “good womanhood”. Peter seems to be telling the women to act like good Christians in order to evangelize their husbands. He doesn’t seem to be telling them to do something that other Christians (men) aren’t also told to do.
            In regard to your statement on privilege – as Retha said, there are advantages given to both men and women under “gender roles”, but the privilege of men under this structure is to have final say in all things. Women do not possess an equal advantage. I believe what Retha was trying to say is that if one gender always holds “the final say” then the marriage will always be unequal and will lean toward disfunction and abuse of power.

      • Ambrose said, “Husbands are called to provide, protect, and pastor the family. ”

        Not all Christian women marry, even the ones who want to.

        Would you suggest that never married (or widowed or divorced) women are without provision, protection, and pastorship?

        (The Bible does not teach that women need a husband for provision, protection, etc. That is more of a cultural assumption or ideal that many Christians assume to be true.)

        • Thank you for your question Daisy and it’s actually a complicated one. God designed family perfectly but it fell.

          The original role of provider, protector, and pastor falls on the father of the family, so in a way, the answer to your question is ‘no’, because the father should fill this role.

          However, death and brokenness can lead to family benefits being lost. Anyone without a spouse will probably not have the blessing of having children. Any child without a father and/or mother will be lacking in other blessings God designed to be given through such parents. So, in a way, the answer could be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for a single woman who no longer has a family. ‘Yes’ because no one will be specifically there to provide for, protect and pastor her and her alone, but the answer can also be ‘no’ because her church is also there for her in this.

          Regarding what the Bible has to say: Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-21, and 1 Timothy 5:8. Man’s role in marriage is definitely not a ‘cultural assumption’, at least not in Canada…

          • Ambrose,
            Interestingly, Ephesians 5:22-33 & Colossians 3:18-21 don’t include the words “provision”, “protection”, or “pastorship”. This tells me that you might be reading your own ideas into the words that scripture is actually using. Is it possible you are interpreting other words to mean these things?
            1 Timothy 5:8, however does indeed talk about provision, but not about protection or pastorship. It also isn’t talking to husbands or men only, but to all believers and is telling them to care for those who have no provisions (like widows).
            You might want to be careful about what you may be reading into scripture.

    • Abiel,

      As I see it, there are 2 parts to the distortion taught by those that believe in gender hierarchy. The one is that males are on top in their ability to make a final decision in home and church, however it is worded. The second is that in trade for this females supposedly have less responsibility. In other words, females do not need to carry the “hard burden” of making a final decision and being responsible for it before God, all they need to do to get this deal of supposed less responsibility is accept that the male makes the final decision when needed. Since the male made the final decision, supposedly, she can just let go and “put it in God’s hands”.

      It IS a Scriptural principle that with greater authority comes greater responsibility, so these two distortions can seem to have a plausibility that they do not really have. If a male just for the reason of being male does actually have a greater responsibility in the Kingdom of God than a female, then it is plausible that a female actually does have less responsibility.

      My claim is that nowhere does Scripture teach either of these distortions. In the home, a child is to honor and obey both parents, a wife is nowhere told in a God endorsed way that she must obey her husband, except in the context of sex, when each has authority over the other’s body in a mutual way in 1 Cor 7.

      So while it is true men may be too passive, it is not true that men are on top in making decisions.

      • Don, I was just writing this morning on that issue of women supposedly being able to act on the decisions a man makes and not having responsibility themselves for the consequences. My conclusion, as you might imagine, is that this is a load of hooey doctrinally.

      • Don, I believe that an exegetical look at Ephesians 5:22-33 and Colossians 3:18-21 would help you understand the balance of authority and responsibility in family.

        Other verses that may help are 1 Timothy 5:8 (man’s responsibility to provide), 1 Peter 3:7 (man’s responsibility to protect their wife emotionally), Ephesians 5:26-27 (man’s responsibility to protect and provide spiritually).

        This does not mean that a woman is no longer responsible for her sin once she is wedded (as seen with Ananias and Sapphira) but there is a difference in roles. Plus, I find it difficult to ignore the difference between God’s use of men and women throughout the Bible (New Testament included).

        • Ambrose, thank you for engaging gently in this discussion.

          I’ve been through and reviewed the scriptures you quote, and I’d like to conment on some of them.

          1) Eph 5:22-33.

          The difficulty is here is that you start in the middle of a Greek sentence. The word “submit” (hupotasso) does not occur in v22 in the Greek, but is only inferred from v21, “Submit yourselves therefore to one another.” As Philip Payne points out in “Man & Woman: One in Christ,” Paul actually does something here with the word hupotaaso that was never done before – he turns it into a reflexive verb that no longer means “one person having to submit to another person” but rather, “two persons willingly and mutually submitting to one another.” (My paraphrase, not Payne’s words.) Paul recognised that something so new happened to relationships “in Christ” that he couldn’t find a current use of words which worked and had to re-purpose this verb to create a new expression to define these “in Christ” relationships.

          The rest of what comes from here on is essentially dot points hanging off this statement in v21, helping to provide advice to the men and women of that particular cultural setting as to how this new Christ-like approach to marriage might work. You absolutely cannot ever divorce your interpretation of 5:22-33 from 5:21.

          2) 1 Tim 5:8

          I’m not sure how you conclude that this verse promotes the idea of the husband’s responsibility to provide. It begins, “ANYONE who does not provide for their own relatives…” Right at the moment, I’m at my son’s soccer game, so I don’t have the Greek to hand, but given the NIV’s tendency (and that of several other translations) to add in male pronouns where there are none (especially in the passages about deacons and elders/overseers), I think it unlikely that this passage refers only to men. So it sounds to me as though “anyone” of either sex has a responsibility to have the skills and desire to get out there and provide for the family. I also note that Paul never has a bad word to say about the many working women of the NT, but works together in leadership with some of them and in the case of Priscilla, works alongside her and her husband not only in ministry but in the business of tent-making.

          I’ll post this now and come back to the other verses after my son’s soccer match…don’t want to accidentally have all that typing disappear!

        • Right…soccer finished, soup cooking…now I have a little time up my sleeve to continue my reply.

          3) 1 Pet 3:7

          When taken in context, Peter is speaking of how to live when your spouse is not a believer (go back to 1 Pet 3:1 and read through).

          Furthermore, this verse doesn’t speak about the husband spiritually “protecting” the wife at all. It does talk about how a man should be considerate and caring toward his wife, in order to protect his OWN relationship with God. Being harsh or cruel – whether physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally or spiritually – towards a spouse does have an effect on a person’s relationship and standing before God.

          4) Eph 5:26-27
          These verses are one of Paul’s typical little diversions in the midst of a sentence or topic. He diverts from speaking of husbands to speak about what Christ has done for all of us who profess His name – it’s as if in the mere mention of the name of Christ, Paul simply can’t help himself from going on about his favourite topic (hmmm…not unlike my son and Minecraft, but that’s another story…). You cannot sanctify your wife if she chooses to reject and blaspheme God. Actually, you can’t sanctify her at all. Only the blood of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit can sanctify her. Paul starts by talking about the sacrificial element of a husband’s love for his wife, gets himself diverged by talking about Jesus and then circles back to discuss the unity of husband and wife. Why does Paul talk about this sacrifice to husbands? Why not to wives? I believe it’s that it was largely unnecessary to tell wives to be sacrificial – sacrificing is so deeply built into how motherhood and being a wife works in most cultures. Women already knew how to be sacrificial. But in a culture where there was no loving relationship between husband and wife as we understand it – where a wife’s function was primarily as a bearer of legitimate children, not as a close companion in life and a romantic partner – men simply needed this point driven home soundly. They needed to understand that for them to be able to succeed in mutually submitting to their wives they would need to learn both to be sacrificial toward their wives and to love them deeply – totally counter-cultural expectations.

        • Ambrose, it seems to me that the topics you list in parentheses after the scripture references are not at all what those passages are really about. Could you be reading your own position into those texts? I would agree that a husband and father has a responsibility to his family, as does a wife and mother. But I don’t see any implications for a husband to be in authority over his wife in the passages you mention. Bronwen did an excellent job explaining Paul’s focus in those passages, so I won’t belabor the point except to say that the only place I can think of where Paul uses the word authority when talking about marriage is in 1 Corinthians 7, where he tells us that the husband does not have authority over his body, the wife does, and vice versa. If you know of another passage where Paul applies the term authority to marriage specifically, please share.

          • Hello Gail.

            First, I would like to say thank you for your kind and considerate response.

            Second, I read the article you suggested and appreciate your thoughtfulness and encouragement to look further into such matters. I will continue to do so as the Lord directs. May we continue to grow in Christ-likeness as we seek truth and live out the Faith in an all too turbulent world.

            Third, I took time to pray for you yesterday. I appreciate your ministry. I think we share a common burden for Christ’s Church and our world. His response to me in prayer was…He loves us. I have been reminded of his words to Peter, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Often, I scratch my head as to how. We need Him. He empowers us to serve boldly, yet, humbly with gentleness, patience, and love toward those we agree and disagree with. I pray that at the end of the day, such issues will not keep us from enjoying relationship with Christ and with one another. It was the love of Christ among his people that shocked me into the Kingdom of God many years ago. I pray that the world might experience such refreshing waters through our lives. You are my sister and I am your brother in Christ. We have One Lord, One faith, One baptism, One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. He gives us grace (Ephesians 4:1-7). You are loved this day and always. Thank you again for your response and heart for God’s people. Enjoy the summer!

            Blessings (Numbers 6:24-26),
            Abiel

    • RE: Abiel’s post.

      Abiel said, “Basis for Thoughts: The Trinity seems to be the model reflected in the original design for the family ”

      I disagree that is so, but your analogy of “Trinity = human family” fails for women who never marry, who never have children, or who are widowed or divorced.

      How is a never married, childless woman supposed to relate to a Trinity (deity) that is only about marriage and “the family?”

      If your view of gender roles is largely only applicable or pertinent to married people who are also parents, and most all your understandings of God or the biblical text is viewed through a “marriage and family” paradigm, I personally think your understanding of Scripture and God is incorrect.

      Jesus Christ did not place a priority of family, children, and marriage above singles, the childless, the divorced, the widowed, and the childfree.

      You also made a comment in your post that men are being raised to be passive.

      That may or may not be true, but it’s far more applicable to girls and women: secular culture and Churches and American Christianity especially condition girls and women to be very, very passive (codependent) – rather than be assertive, be independent, to have healthy boundaries.

  • Very wise and gracious response. I sometimes feel unsettled by militant responses to those who have different viewpoints in this whole area but this does not stray into this. Rather this is a calm and reflective insight. I will try and find more along these lines. From a fellow traveller loving Jesus and loving people whatever their opinions we all know in part but the day will come when we will know him.and be known for who we are.

    • This is a wise and gracious response, and Jesus often speaks this way. Jesus however does at times use blunt language and even militant responses. For example, Mark 8:33 “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Calling a believer, Satan, is quite blunt. Also see Matthew 23, including this verse, 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

  • This is such a gracious & thoughtful response. Thank you so much!

  • Thank you for this. Every time I read what you write I feel like I have found the rightness I have been searching for. I wish I knew how to approach my daughters with this. They have both turned away from God because of the oppressiveness of the church. Women and their gifts were not celebrated. It breaks my heart.

    • Hi April, I am so sorry to hear about your daughters. My heart breaks for those who have felt so unvalued in Church that they leave. We care about your daughters’ voices and gifts. Please let them know they are welcome in this online community 🙂

  • This is great. I have sons, and have spent a lot of time thinking about this. It is precisely the push towards cultural gender norms by Piper and others, that causes children and adolescents to question their own gender identity.

    • Yes, exactly – ‘cultural’ gender norms, which could also read ‘worldly’ gender norms. Not those of God. Not those of Christ.

    • “It is precisely the push towards cultural gender norms by Piper and others, that causes children and adolescents to question their own gender identity.”

      I don’t think this really the case. Otherwise we would see those questioning “gender identity” coming from the church and we don’t, we see them come from all over. Children question their identity because of sin and the fall.

      • The push toward cultural gender norms are not just coming from the church, but from all over. The church sure isn’t helping though. And I’m not sure where you are getting all your info, but many many people who are questioning their gender identity came from Christian and Catholic families. In fact, the push for gender roles has been cited by some as the reason they left the church all together.

  • I was wondering where you were going with this and I was pleasantly surprised with the male privilege point. I see this is exactly what Paul is saying in Eph 5-6 when read in cultural context.

  • I would add that some little girls grow up to be men, some little boys grow up to be women, and some people are neither men nor women, and a lot of the gendered discourses presented both in church and in the world at large do untold harm to us.

    • Thank you for adding this important point to the discussion!

  • This is such a worth while conversation! I have been feverishly studying egalitarianism and complimentarianism for a good year now. So naturally, I’ve been examining Piper’s Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, as well as other resources. What troubles me about his school of thought is his obsession with power. It is clear that one way or another, the man must come out on top. As he said, “There can be no 50/50.” Must it be 51/49, 60/40, 70/30, ect.? Does being a man mean always getting your way over a woman? Is that leadership? Is that the heart of a man? I know in his book he says that manhood is to lead for God and womanhood is to help for God, but I find this definition rather vague. What does it mean to “help”? If I am strong or dare I say gifted in an area, when does my helping become too much help or leading? Why can’t I simply be Spirit-led and use my gifts without fear of “being out of order”?

    • I once had a professor say that his wife had equal input except for rare cases when they couldn’t agree, in which case, he would decide, because that was his job as head of the marriage. Complementarianism was new to me at the time, and it struck me that it was equivalent to saying, my wife has equal input as long as she agrees with me… which struck me as absurd. And I realized then that it was all about power.
      I think your questions are great. And often the answer is that a woman can “help” until a man determines she has too much power.

      • “A woman can ‘help’ until a man determines she has too much power.” What sad logic! I hear you Kelly. I believe that when the conversation is framed with power and control in mind, fear and ego become a driving force in who does what in the family of God. In my heart, I am not trying to “lead” or be in charge of anyone per se. I am a simple woman who loves Jesus and is excited about God. I have gifts and talents that I am compelled to share. Only the devil should be threatened.

    • I think you’re on the right track, Leah! The outcome of 51/49 is the same as 99/1, really. What is really interesting is that you will never find a command in the bible where God tells men to lead, as Bob Edwards points out in a couple of his posts here on this website. Here is one that might be helpful: Do Men Really Need to Govern Women?

      • I read the highlighted article Gail, and it articulates so well my thoughts. I actually bookmarked it to go back and share with my husband. Thanks

  • I like your explanations Kate – well written, and they even echo a lot of the Ephesians passage on marriage. It is a tough question precisely because our ideas of manhood and womanhood reflect gender and not sex. Thanks 🙂

  • “Piper then concludes that egalitarians don’t know the difference between men and women” – The word fatuous comes to mind.

    As to the advice you propose for little girls and boys, it is masterful. It goes straight at reality and offers guidance and hope. Well done, Kate.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. Thanks for the shout out to my blog post. 😉

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