Skip to content

John Piper: “women’s books keep men safe from their direct, authoritative womanhood”

April 5, 2013

Christian men should NOT listen to a woman, of course, when she presses on men in an authoritative and a direct way.  They must not listen to her even if she were telling them that they must listen to the podcast by John Piper linked below. That is too direct. That is too personal. That is contrary to the way God made us in biblical manhood and in biblical womanhood. That would be permitting a woman to teach or have authority over men. That would not be listening to the biblical man, Paul, writing to the biblical man, Timothy, and teaching all men. That would not be following I Timothy 2:12.

On the other hand, all Christian men reading this post should not be concerned when reading the following John Piper podcast transcription. Even if it were transcribed rather directly by the female hands of a woman, not to worry:  the format “takes away the dimension of her female personhood.” All “writing” puts “her out of my sight,” oh man. Books written by biblical women are safe for biblical men to read from, to learn from, to quote from in a sermon. The same is true of this blogged transcription of the podcast, whether a woman typed it or not.  Read on.

The John Piper Podcast Transcription:

A pastor writes in to ask – quote –

Pastor John,
Would a pastor who uses a biblical commentary written by a woman be placing himself under the biblical instruction of a woman.  If so, would this not go against Paul’s instruction in I Timothy 2:12?

It might be.  Uh.  He may feel it that way.  And if he does, he probably’s not gonna read it.  He shouldn’t read it.  It doesn’t have.  It doesn’t have to be experienced that way I don’t think.  And here, here’s my reasoning.

The point of Paul in I Timothy 2:12 where he says, don’t permit, I don’t permit a woman to teach or have authority over men.  That’s a key text.  I Timothy 2:12. I don’t permit her to teach or have authority.  And those two things together, I think, constitute the eldership office.  Teaching and authority.  And so there should be men – elders in the church, who are spiritual and humble and kind and loving and Christlike in their servant heart toward the men and women in the church.

So, I think the point of that text is not to say that you can never learn anything from a woman.  That’s just not true.  It’s not true biblically, and it’s not true experientially, because the reason for saying that I don’t permit a woman to teach or have authority over men here is not because she’s incompetent.  It’s not because she can’t have thoughts.  In fact, the women in your church, and the woman in, the woman you are married to, have many thoughts that you would do well to know. [laughs] And to know, and learn, and to learn from.  And so the issue there is not that she doesn’t have thoughts that you wouldn’t benefit from.  Or that she can’t, uh, teach you anything.

The, the issue is one of how does manhood and womanhood work.  What is the dynamic between how men flourish and women flourish as God designed them to flourish when an act of authority is being exerted on a man from a woman.

And so I distinguish between personal, direct exercises of authority that involve manhood and womanhood.

Because it’s personal.  She’s right there.  She’s woman.  I’m man.  And I’m being directly, uh, pressed on by this woman in an authoritative way.  Should she be doing that?  Should I be experiencing that?  And my answer’s, No;  I think that’s contrary to the way God made us.

So those two words:  Personal and direct.

Here, here would be an example of what I mean.  A drill sergeant that gets in the face and says, Hut One, Hut Two, Keep Your Mouth Shut Private, Get Your Rifle Up Here, Turn Around Like I Said.  I don’t think a woman ought to be doin’ that to a man – because it’s direct, it’s forceful, it’s authoritative, it’s compromising something about the way a man and a woman were designed by God to relate.

Uh. The opposite would be where she is a city planner.  She’s sitting in an office at a desk drawing which street should be one way and which street should be two way.  And thus she’s gonna control which way men drive all day long.  That’s a lot of authority, and it’s totally impersonal, and indirect, and therefore has no dimension of maleness or femaleness about it, and therefore I don’t think contradicts anything that Paul is concerned about here.

So I would put a woman writing a book way more in that category of city planner than of a drill sergeant.   So that the, the personal directness of it is removed.  And the man doesn’t feel himself, and she wouldn’t feel herself, in any way compromised by his reading that book and learning from that book.

So that, that’s the way I’ve tried to think it through, so that, in society, and in in academic efforts, and in the church.

So that, that’s reading and benefitting from a woman’s exegesis in private.
Would you have any reservations about quoting from that commentary by a women in a public sermon?

I just think that’s an extension of the same principle.

You know there, here’s truth.  A woman saw it.  She shared it in a book.  And I now, I now quote it.

Uh.  Because I’m not having a direct, authoritative confrontation.  She’s not lookin’ at me, and, and confronting me, and authoritatively directing me, as woman.  There’s this, there’s this interposition of this phenomenon called “book” and “writing” that puts her out of my sight, and, in a sense, takes away the dimension of her female personhood.

Whereas if she were standing right in front of me, and teaching me, as my shepherd, week in and week out, I couldn’t make that separation.  She’s woman. And I am man.  And she’s becoming to me my shepherd week in and week out, which is why I think the Bible says that women shouldn’t be that role in the church.

Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to this podcast. Please email your questions to us…. I’m your host Tony Reinke. Thank you for listening.

The John Piper Podcast:

A Few Other Bloggers on the John Piper Podcast:

Rachel Held Evans, woman yes, but writing here [which takes away the dimension of her female personhood], so feel free to read on: The Absurd Legalism of Gender Roles: Exhibit C – ‘As long as I can’t see her…’

Henry Neufeld, a man, but how biblical can he be accusing John Piper, “Convoluted Reasoning on Women Writing Commentaries“?

Scot McKnight, also a man, if clearly lacking as an “exegetical gymnast” when posting “Using Commentaries by Women: John Piper’s Response

21 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2013 8:05 pm

    I’ve never listened to him. Does he always have these embarrassing innuendos in his speech? I count eight double-entendres in this text. Here is one:

    Because it’s personal. She’s right there. She’s woman. I’m man. And I’m being directly, uh, pressed on by this woman in an authoritative way.

    I could have chosen racier examples, but I aspire for this to be a family blog.

  2. jayseidler permalink
    April 5, 2013 9:14 pm

    But if she says, “pretty please” first can we then listen to her?

  3. April 5, 2013 9:21 pm

    So putting a woman’s words in a book provides prophylaxis against her cooties?

  4. April 6, 2013 1:23 am

    Wow. So if I changed my avatar to a masculine one, would that change thigs? Woo-hoo!

  5. April 6, 2013 8:13 am

    Somehow reading, rather than just listening, brings a directness. The written word, often, gains new authority.

    This is an irony. As we all know, as Socrates tells Phaedrus and the rest of us who would learn from him:

    Writing … has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.

    One irony, for Plato and for the rest of us, is that we get what he’s saying. It’s “really” what Socrates, not Plato, is “saying.” But we have to read it, what Plato, not Socrates, has written.

    Another irony is how steeped we all are in the Western tradition. John Piper is extremely steeped in the Patriarchy! If women teach men, then they must write so he, as a man, can be in control, can be the “father to help” and “to protect.” Women “as if they had intelligence” are so much less a threat to him, and to churchmen, when their words can be captured and controlled, re-directed from their authority and direction over fathers and brothers and sons. The directness of the written word, its authority, can be appropriated.

  6. April 6, 2013 8:25 am

    Let me just add that hearing Piper, for me, or reading others summarize or paraphrase what he’d said on this podcast, was a different experience than reading his words.

    One reason for typing it all out was to show things like his innuendo, which can be more easily noticed when we are allowed, as listeners, to slow down, to re-view, the subtleties, normally unconscious until a Freudian therapist begins to explicate what’s below the consciousness.

    Reading the transcript also allows us to see what’s more conspicuous in a text of Piper’s speech: the halting, the restarts, the logical fallacies, the enthymemes, the sexist metaphors passed through in the fast talk, the appeals to text and to male authored authority with codes such as “I Timothy 2:12,” the appeal by self-references of ostensible objectivity such as “I just think that’s an extension of the same principle” (as if “the principle” were not something “I just think”).

  7. April 6, 2013 10:05 am

    @Rebecca “Every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Gospel of Thomas 114

    This is not to suggest in any way that Piper is susceptible to a charge of gnosticism.

  8. April 6, 2013 2:11 pm

    I somehow knew I should never listen to this person. The transcript is ultimately ignorant. He ignores the teaching that he should be listening to. So no pied music for me here. God forbid!

  9. April 8, 2013 9:25 pm

    And what about if a woman reads the commentary written by another woman to a congregation with men in it?

  10. April 8, 2013 9:31 pm

    @ Jay, Paul or his 1st century avatar may say that he does not permit x, but I do permit x. What I like to hear is good teaching and that can come from any person who has done the necessary homework and recognized the biases and weaknesses from which they teach. We are all in this together.

  11. April 8, 2013 11:07 pm

    And what about if a woman reads the commentary written by another woman to a congregation with men in it?

    That seems like a case that is right on the edge. Now that Piper has retired from his pastor position, and we cannot ask him personally after services, perhaps we should err on the side of caution by advising all men to plug their ears with their fingers and make a raspberry noise whenever this situation arises.

  12. April 12, 2013 1:38 pm

    You know, I almost hate to say it, but what he seems to be actually saying is that he can stand hearing from a woman as long as she doesn’t get uppity.

  13. April 14, 2013 5:58 pm

    Rebecca Trotter and Kristen,
    Good thing you wrote your comments here. Maybe he’ll be able to read them. 🙂

  14. April 15, 2013 12:23 am

    The poor man sounds afraid of women to me.

    My authority and role is not threatened by you – if a woman – if you just write it down instead of talking to me okay?!

    He sounds more insecure the older he gets honestly.

  15. April 15, 2013 2:13 am

    Many Christians today regard the Bible – a book – as the ultimate authority on faith and practice. So books can certainly be authoritative and influential.

    I wonder how John Piper would feel not knowing the author’s gender of a book he was reading. Would it make a difference to him whether a book was written by a man or by a woman? My guess is ‘yes’. He seems obsessed with emphasizing supposed gender differences. And I agree with Hannah, he does sound threatened by “womanhood”.

    Here’s a comment I made elsewhere about the podcast:
    John Piper says that a woman can teach a man if it is done indirectly and impersonally. For example, a woman can teach a man through the medium of a book or commentary; she can teach him as long as she is not standing in front of him. Conversely, I’m pretty sure Deborah, Huldah, King Lemuel’s mother, Priscilla, and other Bible women were facing men when they gave them instructions and directions. Unlike John Piper, Barak, Josiah’s all-male delegation, King Lemuel, and Apollos did not see these women solely in regard to their sex. These Bible men respected the women and knew they had something important to say and teach them. Gender was not an issue.

  16. April 15, 2013 8:02 am

    man sounds afraid of women

    Thank you for your comment, Hannah. What is fascinating, a good bit troubling, is that this one man is being interviewed by another to teach their ostensibly “biblical” arrangement of men over women as how it must be for all women and men.

    how John Piper would feel not knowing the author’s gender of a book he was reading

    Yours is a great question, Marg. Recently, Deborah Copaken Kogan reminds readers of the following:

    centuries of literary sexism, exclusion, cultural bias, invisibility. There’s a reason J.K. Rowling’s publishers demanded that she use initials instead of “Joanne”: it’s the same reason Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Eliot; the same reason Robert Southey, then England’s poet laureate, wrote to Charlotte Brontë: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.”

    When John Piper says he sees and especially hears nothing of a woman, whether writing or speaking, then there’s nothing to be concerned about. The books he reads, because some are written by women, must be “totally impersonal, and indirect, and therefore has no dimension of maleness or femaleness about it.” Eventually, nevertheless, his principle breaks down for him; he cannot abide by it (and I think this sort of hypocrisy needs more exposure — Rachel Held Evans gives it some when she notes how he feels like he has to say ” that women like Beth Moore and Elisabeth Elliot should be free to speak, to write, and to teach.”)

  17. April 15, 2013 9:29 am

    Because it’s personal. She’s right there. She’s woman. I’m man. And I’m being directly, uh, pressed on by this woman in an authoritative way…. Uh. Because I’m not having a direct, authoritative confrontation. She’s not lookin’ at me, and, and confronting me, and authoritatively directing me, as woman…. Whereas if she were standing right in front of me, and teaching me, as my shepherd, week in and week out, I couldn’t make that separation. She’s woman. And I am man.

    In other words, John Piper has stethophobia (fear of boobs).

  18. April 15, 2013 10:53 am

    In other words, … stethophobia

    LOL, Eric. Your comment somehow reminds me of lines from the poem “Quarto” by the wonderful Adrienne Rich:

    Press your cheek against my medals, listen through them to my heart
    Doctor, can you see me if I’m naked?

  19. Wes permalink
    May 2, 2013 2:54 pm

    Why does the Catholic church not allow women to be priests (and on up)?

  20. Tierra permalink
    February 9, 2017 2:28 pm

    Hey John Piper I am they ideal female authority. It’s the way I was born. And I also read the Bible so this topic has haunted me most of my life upon prayer and finally in one gathering of believers. I got my answer from God. Which was this. 1) Love God with all you mind body and heart. 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Which love covers all laws because it does no harm to one another. The law condemns but that’s why Jesus died on the cross to edify us from the law of death. I think it’s Galatians 3:24-26 that Clarifies that.
    So yes in marriage I do believe that the husband has authority over the wife. But in society I think that would be dishonoring who God made me. Which is an authority figure. Trust me and believe it was not my choice. But pretending I am not who I am. Goes directly against God. So clearly in the Bible the law and the spirit conflict each other often. In which you have a duty to obey the spirit as so to I. For you to not respect and honor who I am would be a grievous sin on your part.


  1. Women who taught Jesus (and what he learned from them) | BLT

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: