John Piper and Christian Patriarchy

John Piper is a leading voice for complementarian patriarchy. Piper is chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, a mentor to younger men of the New Calvinist movement, and was Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 33 years.

Today, we respond to Piper’s views on complementarian patriarchy using excerpts from his article, which you can read entire at God Created Man Male and Female.

John Piper

John Piper

John Piper Defines ‘Complementarian’

Piper first introduces complementarian patriarchy:

[W]e are complementarian…In other words, we believe that when it comes to human sexuality, the greatest display of God’s glory, and the greatest joy of human relationships, and the greatest fruitfulness in ministry come about when the deep differences between men and women are embraced and celebrated as complements to each other. They complete and beautify each other. [All bolded items in this article are my emphasis]

The…word “complementarian” is to locate our way of life between two kinds error: on the one side would be the abuses of women under male domination…on the other hand…the feminist and egalitarian impulses that minimize God-given differences between men and women and dismantle the order God has designed for the flourishing of our life together.

The wish to avoid ‘abuses of women’ is laudable, but Piper still insists on significant ‘God-given’ gender differences which apply to all men and women.

Nobody is a generic human being…God creates male human beings and female human beings. And this is a grand thing.

It is a travesty of these human natures to think God’s only design in the differences was for making and nursing babies. The differences are too many and too deep for such a superficial explanation.

A woman is a woman to the depths of her humanity. And a man is a man to the depths of his humanity…Glory in being alive as the male or female person you are.

So Piper emphasizes the tremendous differences between men and women—and says they are innate to the depths of humanity. He enumerates some of these differences later.

Piper Lays Out the Framework for Patriarchy

Piper continues:

For those who disagree with this complementarian view, the likely criticism would be: That is all culturally determined. It’s not innate and it’s not from God. You are just reflecting the home you grew up in and the biases of your childhood.

That’s possible. Everyone brings assumptions and preferences to this issue. The question is: Does God reveal his will about these things in his word?

I think Piper is right about the major objections here: patriarchy (even in the Bible) IS culturally determined, and it is NOT innate or a mandate from God. I think he understands the objections well but simply dismisses them by turning to the favorite of all passages for those who embrace patriarchy—Ephesians 5:22-33. We have discussed this passage recently, so I will not dwell on it here.

Piper says:

Let’s look first at a text dealing with marriage and then one dealing very briefly with the church. In both texts, Christlike, humble, loving, sacrificial men are to take primary responsibility for leadership, provision, and protection.

And women are called to come alongside these men, support that leadership, and advance the kingdom of Christ with the full range of her gifts in the paths laid out in Scripture.

The text begins:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. (ESV)

Piper draws four observations from this text:

1. Marriage is a dramatization of Christ’s relationship to his church.

2. In this drama, the husband takes his cues from Christ and the wife takes her cues from God’s will [command] for the church.

3. So the primary responsibility for initiative and leadership in the home is to come from the husband who is taking his cues from Christ, the head. And it is clear that this is not about rights and power, but about responsibility and sacrificeNo abuse. No bossiness. No authoritarianism. No arrogance.

4. This leadership in the home involves the sense of primary responsibility for nourishing provision and tender protection.

First, let me point out that Piper does not address the previous verse (21) in this passage: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’, which I think frames the entire text—mutual submission. Piper’s observations, however, seem kind and gentle compared to the patriarchal teaching and practice of some others, where the arrangement IS about bossiness, power, authoritarianism, and arrogance—and often leads to abuse. But, even so, I think Piper draws unwarranted conclusions from the writer of Ephesians, who is merely giving pastoral direction to a church.

Piper then appeals to 1 Timothy 2 for leadership responsibilities in the church: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.’ And he comments:

In the context we take that to mean: The primary responsibility for governance and teaching in the church should be carried by spiritual men. These are the two functions that distinguish elders from deacons: governing and teaching.

These positions, then, are closed to women according to Piper. So in the final analysis—despite the nicy-nice language—complementarianism holds that women are both subject to their husbands and barred from church leadership; I think this is condescending to women.

Piper also tells an interesting story about a young man and a woman who are accosted by thieves that supposedly illustrates many gender differences. We will talk about that, and critique the gender differences he finds, next time.

Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy

See also:


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34 Responses to John Piper and Christian Patriarchy

  1. Chelsea says:

    You know, this “separate but equal” gender role business doesn’t leave me feeling great about my position as a woman! I read Piper’s article and wasn’t sure what his point was with the little story, so I’m eager to hear your take on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chelsea, I think Piper’s story is quite unconvincing. The story, and my responses to it, is scheduled to appears for next Monday. I hope you like it.


  2. Charlotte Robertson says:

    I suppose the men in judaism led the synagogue and would be put off coming to a church where women were in leadership. It is probably a culture thing from THAT TIME. Likewise the head coverings. I think it was a softly softly approach to not alienate people from the New Way. And see how men have used it over centuries.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, you are probably right. I have never heard anything except the women were isolated from the men and did not speak. But we need not follow their practice in this day.


    • Paz says:

      Charlotte, I know what you mean! I have also thought about it myself as the possibility of it being “a culture thing from that time” which has continued on by men over centuries.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. hoju1959 says:

    I’ve noticed how Christians try to temper the stance taken by earlier believers by saying that men are to be the SPIRITUAL leaders in the home. That is, they are to discern God’s will for the family. Well, I hesitate to make general statements, but . . . . generally speaking, it’s my experience that Christian women tend to be far more discerning of the Holy Spirit’s movements than men. And just more discerning in general. After all, no one talks about “men’s intuition”! Men are usually clueless. That’s my experience — and I say that as a man! I’m at peace with my cluelessness!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hoju, I love your observation: “it’s my experience that Christian women tend to be far more discerning of the Holy Spirit’s movements than men. And just more discerning in general. After all, no one talks about “men’s intuition”!” And I think you very well might be right about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Paz says:

    Tim, is it possible that much of what has been discussed as harmful has probably as much to do with spiritual as it does with culture and time/historical ??
    In other words, beliefs and practices which have been passed on but also culturally accepted (by religious – Christian and others, as well as by non-religious) and therefore have even become reinforced values and behavior patterns from one generation to the next (culture and time/history).

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Paz, I think there is a lot of merit to your idea. I do think that harmful beliefs are often passed down from generation to generation as authoritative and can also have a cultural aspect. Tradition is sometimes difficult to escape even when it has become toxic. When we add to that the idea of biblical ‘inerrancy’ or literalization, it becomes easier to find ‘scriptures’ that support tradition even if the ‘scripture’ needs to be twisted a bit.


  5. newtonfinn says:

    Let me expand a bit on the cultural conditioning that Tim and some commentators have pointed to as a major cause of patriarchy, ancient and modern. Ever since the demise of the agrarian village, millennia ago, human beings have lived essentially under one economic system, what Edward Bellamy called “the rule of the rich” in his late 19th Century classics, “Looking Backward” and “Equality.” There has never been a genuine “civilized” democracy, because the most important side of life–the economic one that physically sustains us–was never put under public control and has remained largely autocratic, from feudalism through communism to capitalism and all permutations inbetween. In America, for example, you can vote for Trump or Clinton, with impact on certain social issues, but you have, in the vast majority of cases, no input into or control over the job that feeds your family. The day after you voted in the political arena, you can show up to work in the economic arena and be handed a shoebox, in which to empty your desk before being escorted out the building by a security guard. In one way or another, so has it been since “civilization” arose, and the acceptance of this servile, precarious economic condition has been hammered into our DNA to the point of TINA (there is no alternative).Small wonder that dystopias abound, and utopias are few and far between. Small wonder that the teachings of Jesus about God’s inversion of the rich and poor and the spiritual dangers of wealth–teachings which inspired Bellamy–have never been dominant themes of institutional Christianity, since its early marriage to empire. It may well be that this precarity and powerlessness, traditionally felt accutely by male wage earners, perversely fuels the perceived need of many men to control and dominate women as compensation for their economic impotence. The same dynamic would certainly play into racism, homophobia, and other forms of repression engaged in by those who are themselves oppressed in this most fundamental and universal sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I think you are on target when you say: “Small wonder that the teachings of Jesus about God’s inversion of the rich and poor and the spiritual dangers of wealth–teachings which inspired Bellamy–have never been dominant themes of institutional Christianity, since its early marriage to empire.”

      I believe that when the church accommodated to the Roman empire in the early fourth century it lost something it has never since regained on a wide scale. The impact of the kingdom of God was blunted even while the ‘Church’ expanded exponentially. The kingdom of God is still within the church but is not the driving force of the church at large and it is often difficult to recognize.

      Liked by 1 person

      • newtonfinn says:

        The kingdom may be difficult to recognize in the church at large, but, thank God, it’s hard to miss on “Jesus Without Baggage.” You, Tim, are a fisher of men AND women AND all humankind. By the way, my speculation about the shift from the agrarian village to “civilization” bringing with it a movement toward patriarchy, seems to have some archeological support in that representations of deities begin to change at about this time from female to male. I’ve always been struck by the fact that when Jesus laments the refusal of Jerusalem to follow him, he uses the metaphor of a hen who wanted to shelter her chicks under her wings. Have you done a post about the Holy Spirit possibly having a female “gender”…as in Sophia? If so, could you provide a link? If not, it might be an interesting subject to shoot around.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Well thank you, Newton. I try to emphasize the importance of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching but there are not as many people interested in details about the kingdom as they are in harmful baggage. And I understand; however, the understanding and participating in the kingdom is mighty important.

          I think your ideas about the historical transition from female deities to male deities are worth considering. This is not an area of systematic understanding for me. I know there have been many female deities in the past and also much adoration of Mother Earth, but I have not studied it from the perspective of your question.

          However, I do recognize Jesus’ expression of feminine traits in the metaphor of the protective mother hen, and there are some feminine traits ascribed to God in the OT. I have on my list to write an article around these feminine biblical references but have no idea when that will be.

          I have often read about the HS possibly representing female gender, but it is not something I have pursued. You might want to re-read the passages on the feminine depiction of Wisdom in Proverbs–especially chapter 8. For Sophia (wisdom) check out the art of The Naked Pastor:

          You can also introduce a discussion with your thoughts on the topic right here if you wish.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. fiddlrts says:

    The words “deep differences” are the core of the entire way of thinking. It envisions male and female as essentially separate species, with little (if any) overlap in traits. (Perhaps like, say, cats and dogs.) The problem with this (as Dorothy Sayers points out so well in her essay “Are Women Human?”) is that reality shows something much different, which is that male and female humans overlap in traits substantially. Even in a truly sex-linked trait like height, while males are *on average* taller, many women are taller than many men. (Something I, at 5’7″ experience daily.) For personality traits, intelligence, talents, and other less tangible things, the overlap is far greater – indeed, it is pretty much complete in many areas. In the complementarian/patriarchal viewpoint, however, *any* man is more fit to lead than *any* woman, which is so obviously untrue to anyone who studies history or looks around them once in a while. So, in order to make reality conform to those perceived theological needs, women (and to a degree men too) are forced to function in certain ways, whether or not they are suited to do so. This has not, shall we say, worked out well, and that is one reason that the younger generations are not returning to church as adults.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Fiddlrts, I agree with you on the misguided belief of ‘deep differences’ between mean and women. And I further suggest, as I am sure you agree, that God has no mandate on how each gender should act. I think your statement is well said:

      “Male and female humans overlap in traits substantially. Even in a truly sex-linked trait like height…For personality traits, intelligence, talents, and other less tangible things, the overlap is far greater – indeed, it is pretty much complete in many areas. In the complementarian/patriarchal viewpoint, however, *any* man is more fit to lead than *any* woman, which is so obviously untrue to anyone who studies history or looks around them once in a while.”

      That is what I think also.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ross says:

        Hi, I’m glad to have re-discovered this site after a long absence. So glad to see you still continue with your marvellous equanimity Tim.

        This whole area is a disquieting one for me. Although I generally dislike the whole patriarchal privilege narrative within much of the religious establishment, which is peculiarly pronounced in America, a part of me still wonders if there may be some form of pragmatic acceptance of the unfairness of patriarchy in the current World.

        My views may well be offensive to some but hey ho.

        My life experience has been one where females have often violently oppressed males for very extended periods sometimes leading to retaliation. The weapons of choice however have shown some difference, with emotion and words being more the female choice and fists being more the male option but neither being exclusive. This has lead to the police being called and fairly frequent bouts of physical violence and often continuous bouts of emotional violence.

        It never occurred to me that either side had the upper hand in our family history, but rather than any form of complementarianism individuals were engaged in some form of continual warfare using the weapons at hand.

        Generally speaking within my family I have usually seen females believing that someone should be in charge whereas males have never really thought it important that anyone should be in charge.

        Quite frankly I hate the idea that there should be an “alpha” anyone and any form of hierarchical power structure stinks, but the majority of people I know, whether female or male seem to believe that hierarchical structures are some form of natural “right”. In theory I know they could work, but in practice I’ve never seen it happen.

        In the broader World of work I have experienced the disparity of roles being distributed often on gender lines, without any particularly obvious reason, but I have worked in fields where males have been predominate as well as where females were predominate. I couldn’t say that males have any greater need to be in charge than females, as both sexes seem to have an equal distribution of alphas, betas and lone wolfs and I’ve seen many females who want to be in charge. The issue only seems to arise when the sexes mix and then it’s the loudest, strongest biggest who rises to the top. I have never seen in practice the myth where females are collaborative and men competitive. both men and women can be collaborative or competitive, it just seems to take more time, effort and humility for either gender to be collaborative.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Ross, welcome back!

          I like your introduction of ‘alpha’ personalities to the discussion. There are alphas of both genders who are great leaders without dominating others, so why do we see this artificial emphasis on strict, God-given gender roles–one size fits all men, and another size fits all women?

          I also like your statement: “I have never seen in practice the myth where females are collaborative and men competitive. Both men and women can be collaborative or competitive, it just seems to take more time, effort and humility for either gender to be collaborative.” I agree!


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  11. newtonfinn says:

    Just read through the entire Piper piece. Curious mix of common sense, male privilege, and Biblical literalism. Of course there are beautiful, complementary differences between the sexes. But there are also human beings who do not fall into these complementary categories and occupy other territory in the diverse field of human sexuality. And those who occupy these non-traditional spaces are also children of God and, if they so choose, followers of Jesus. Rather than look for Biblical guidance on these issues in NT letters or OT laws, shouldn’t we take our cue from Jesus’ radical decision to call and welcome female followers and the central role that Mary Magdalene played in his ministry? There is deep and rich theological territory yet to be explored in this intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary, a relationship that lies between the lines of the synoptics. For me, the most profound probing of this relationship is found not in a book but in a song from an underrated 70s musical:


  12. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Newton, I love this song! I love the movie! I think it has a lot of insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • newtonfinn says:

      Kierkegaard tells a wonderful story about the incarnation. He imagines a king who loves a peasant girl and wants to win her, but he fears that if he should come to her as the king, and she consents to be his, he will never know whether she loved him for being the king or for being just himself. So he comes to her in disguise as another peasant. Thus, Kierkegaard explains, comes God to us in Jesus, the lowly and persecuted man, asking us in this context of seeming equality the all-important question: “Do you love me?”

      Of all the theologians I have read, Kierkegaard is the master at coming up with these sorts of profound collisions between God and humankind, and the sacrifices that must be made on both sides if they are to be in genuine loving relationship. In this song from Superstar, we see Mary Magdalene, the woman of the street whom Jesus called to follow him, who has fallen deeply in love with Jesus, but senses, knows somehow, that while human, he is not just another man (as she tries to talk herself into believing).

      Imagine the collision here between romantic love, the real thing in all its passionate intensity, and the Son of God whose destiny is not to live like other men but to die for them at their hands. I always have to stop and catch my breath when I come to that aside comment in the gospel that as Jesus was being crucified, some of the women who followed him were watching from a distance, “among them Mary Magdalene.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Newton, Mary Magdalene is certainly key to Jesus’ inner group. And I love the JC Superstar song, ‘I just don’t know how to love him’!


  13. Charlotte Robertson says:

    That is wonderful, thank you, newtonfinn.

    Liked by 2 people

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  15. So apparently Piper is fine with specific advice for a specific audience and is ok to use for all times and places? Why would this then be different from the laws of the Old Testament which talk about murder and death and cutting off hands? Are they also applicable for all times and places? I wonder what Piper would say about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Luther, I would like to know what he would say about that as well. There are some inerrantists, however, who DO believe we should practice these sorts of OT laws because ‘God said so’. Shivers!

      Liked by 1 person

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