December 18, 2009
"IN THE LORD, HOWEVER..." (1 Cor.11:11) Sorting Out Crucial Gender Issues
we were on a ministry trip going as far south as Oklahoma City, a good
friend gave me What's the Difference? and asked me to comment on it.
After reading it, I felt that the content begged for more than a cursory
response. What follows, then, is my attempt to biblically reflect upon
some of many issues raised in this book. The whole review article is
6700 words long. Here are some excerpts.
What About 1 Corinthians 7:1-5?
is interesting that in Piper's major publication, Recovering Biblical
Manhood & Womanhood (1991), there are separate articles devoted to
Eph.5:21-33, 1 Cor.11:3-16. Col.3:18-19, 1 Pet.3:1-7, etc., but 1
Cor.7:1-5 is suspiciously absent. Likewise, in What's the Difference?
there are two lists of verses provided that deal with marriage, but once
again 1 Cor.7:1-5 is not included (pp.21,66).
This omission is
unfortunate for the following reasons. First, 1 Cor.7:1-5 is the only
place in the NT where the word "authority" (Greek, exousia) is used with
reference to marriage. But it is not the authority of the husband over
the wife, or vice versa, that is in view, but rather a mutual authority
over each other's body. 1 Cor.7:4 states that the wife has authority
over her husband's body. One would think that this would be a hard pill
to swallow for those who see "authority" as resting only in the
Secondly, Paul states that a couple cannot
separate from one another physically unless there is mutual consent
(Greek, symphonou). Both parties must agree to the separation or it
shouldn't happen. There is in this text, then, nothing supporting the
contention that the husband's "authority" should override his wife's
John Piper suggests that "mature masculinity
accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband
and wife, but does not presume to use it in every instance" (p.32). But
1 Cor.7:5 challenges Piper's assumed maxim. If the wife disagrees with
a physical separation, the husband should not overrule his wife with
the "final choice" (p.33). Biblically, such separation can occur only
if both husband and wife are in "symphony" (unity) about such an action.
if mutual consent applies in an important issue like physical
separation from one another for a period of time, wouldn't it seem
proper that coming to one-mindedness would be the broad decision-making
model in a healthy marriage? Piper feels that "in a good marriage
decision-making is focused on the husband, but is not unilateral"
(p.32). In light of 1 Cor.7:1-5 I suggest that decision-making should
focus on finding the Lord's mind together. Over the years the good
ideas, solutions to problems and answers to dilemmas will flow from both
husband and wife as they seek the Lord as a couple for "symphony."
Cor.7:5 throws a wrench into the works for those who would conclude
that the husband has the "final say" under presumed authority commonly
known as "male headship." Paul teaches that unless the couple can agree
on a course of action, it should not be executed. I suggest that this
revelation invites us to re-examine what the husband's headship really
entails (cf. Gordon D. Fee, "1 Corinthians 7:1-7 Revisited," Paul &
the Corinthians: Studies On A Community in Conflict, Trevor J. Burke/J.
Keith Elliott, eds., Brill, 2003, pp.197-213).
this "profound mystery" as a backdrop, we better understand Paul's
words to husbands and wives in Eph.5:22-33. In Eph.5:18 the apostle
gives an imperative to be "filled with the Spirit," and five participles
follow showing the fruit of such a life. Verse 21 sets forth the fifth
evidence of the Spirit-filled community, "submitting yourselves to one
another out of reverence to Christ." Here we see a mutual submission
among all the parts of the body. This is the setting for the specific
relationships that follow, beginning with husbands and wives.
22 has no verb. It reads literally, "wives to your own husbands as to
the Lord." Then why do most English translations read, "wives submit to
your own husbands..."? Because they have correctly inferred that
submission is implied. In the English language a sentence is not
complete without a verb. In the Greek, a sentence may be complete
without a verb, but in such cases, the action is assumed to continue
from the preceding sentence. The verb in verse 21 is "submit." The
assumed verb in verse 22, therefore, should also be "submit."
that's not the whole story. Since verse 22 was written in such a way as
to make it deliberately dependent on verse 21 for its action verb, it
is also appropriate to assume a continuation of any previously
established qualifiers to that action. In verse 21, the act of
submitting is not a one-way street, but mutual - "to one another." If
Paul did not intend for that same spirit of mutuality to be assumed in
the submission implied in verse 22, he would have supplied a new verb
and structured the sentence differently. Even though Paul's focus in
verse 22 is on "wives," therefore, there is no justification for
stripping the implied "submit" supplied by the translators of its
previously established mutuality. A wife should indeed voluntarily
"submit" to her husband. But that does not cancel out her husband's
responsibility to just as willingly submit to his wife. Indeed, husbands
and wives should "submit to one another."
It should be clear,
therefore, that Paul's motivation for instructing believing wives to
submit to their husbands was not to establish a hierarchy in the
marriage relationship - nor in any other relationship between believers.
It is the unique, "one another" quality of life within the body of
Christ that is its most essential characteristic. Just as elders
(pastors) have no inherent right to lord it over those whom they
shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:3), husbands have no inherent right to lord it
over their wives. In Christ, earthly marriage is an equal partnership,
with both husbands and wives willingly submitting to one another as unto
Christ. Paul's only reason for underscoring the wives' need for
submission to her husband is because her role in marriage, as the
following verses so beautifully reveal, is to be an earthly reflection
of Christ's bride, the church. And in the "oneness" of that
relationship, there is neither male nor female, "for you are all one in
Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
Because of church teachings, personal
leanings and cultural practices, words like "submission" and "authority"
are laden with potential misunderstandings. Dennis J. Preato reminds
us that we need to think things through a little more carefully:
Greek word, hupotasso, is often translated as "submitting to" or "being
subject" in Ephesians 5:22. However this Greek word has more than one
use and a range of meaning that is quite different from what people
today generally think. "Hupotasso" actually has two uses: military and
non-military. The military has a connotation of being "subject to" or
"to obey" as if you are under someone's command. Most people would
probably think of this meaning. However the non-military use means "a
voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility,
and carrying a burden" (Thayer's Greek Lexicon #5293). In ancient
papyri the word hupotasso commonly meant to "support," "append," or
"uphold" (Ann Nyland, "Papyri, Women, and Word Meaning in the New
Testament," Priscilla Papers, 17:4 (Fall, 2003), p.6) . . . . [W]hy
would Scripture need to command Christians to be filled with the Spirit
in order to be subject to, follow orders, or be under someone's
authority? A person does not need to be filled with Spirit to follow
orders, for even nonbelievers demonstrate this fact when they "submit,"
or obey their superiors ("Empirical Data in Support of Egalitarian
Marriages & A Fresh Perspective on Submission & Authority,"
Presented at the Evangelical Theological Society, April 23, 2004).
wives' responsibility is mentioned in verses 22-24 and 33. It is often
overlooked that Paul directs more attention to the husband's
responsibilities, as the seven verses in between are directed toward the
men in the households. It is possible that Paul has more to say about
the husband's responsibilities toward his wife because of the generally
low status of women in the first century - they were often viewed as
In Eph.5:22-33, then, we see a beautiful picture of
husbands reflecting the Lord's pattern toward their brides - sacrificial
nourishing, protecting and caring - and the wives reflecting the
pattern of the ekklesia toward her Groom - respect and submission.
assessment is that What's the Difference? promotes its own agenda by
magnifying the alleged "role" differences between men and women, and
does not give proper priority to and focus on husbands and wives
becoming "one" in marriage.
While John Piper claims to have "made
every effort to bring the thinking of this book into accord with what
the Bible teaches" (p.14), I do not think that he succeeded, and I
believe he also effectively muted much of the Biblical testimony about
women. He affirms that "God does not intend for women to be squelched
or cramped or frustrated" (p.53), yet his views seem to contribute to
these very tragic ends.
The template for gender that What's the
Difference? lays down does not seem to be in line with the truth as it
is in Jesus. The conclusion for Paul is this: "In the Lord, however,
the wife is not independent of the husband, nor is the husband
independent of the wife. For as woman came from man, so also man is born
of woman" (1 Cor.11:11). For Paul the functions of husband and wife
were to be viewed from the perspective of interdependence and respect,