Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt. 4: Q & A with Piper & Grudem

John Piper and Wayne Grudem. “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers”. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds). Wheaton: Crossway. 56-85.

The fact that this chapter exists should alert us to something very, very important in this discussion, before we even examine the arguments presented. The editors have teamed up to produce this chapter to respond to “the most common objections”, and then respond to 51(!) different objections to the position taken by CBMW. It is (or at least should be) rather alarming that Piper and Grudem can respond to 51 different questions which they themselves recognize as “common” and still retain their level of absolute confidence in their position. And what makes it even more alarming is that I can come up with several more objections not addressed in this chapter, and the authors themselves even concede “the list of questions here is not exhaustive” (p. 56). That even more objections exist and had to be left out and 51 still remain should give us considerable caution against this position.

Responding to their responses to all 51 objections would be unrealistic. It could take up 51 separate posts if one were so inclined. I’m not so inclined to write that, and I doubt anyone would be inclined to read all of those 51 posts. Also, many of these arguments are developed in other essays in the book, so we’ll leave those out for now. So, what I’ll have to do is make some generalized comments, and then I’ll tackle a few as “case studies” in the methods of these two men in responding to and dodging the legitimate objections which are commonly presented against the position of CBMW.

Overall, there is a definite tone of condescension which permeates the whole article. A sense of, “if you studied the bible like we do, and accept the authority of Scripture like we do, this would be completely evident.” But the actual content of their responses gives no justification for such a high view of their interpretation as we’ll see in a moment. They provide scant evidence in almost all cases (though of course, 51 separate questions doesn’t give much space to actually interact with evidence). Several comments are just plain calloused. Like the response to the question “If God has genuinely called a woman to be a pastor, then how can you say she should not be one?” To which they say “We do not believe God genuinely calls women to be pastors… Probably what is discerned as a divine call to the pastorate in some earnest Christian women is indeed a call to ministry, but not to the pastorate” (p. 70). In other words, if a woman feels convicted that she is called to pastoral ministry, she must certainly be mistaken. Her convictions are invalid or at best misconstrued. She must be called to some other ministry which is valid for women to do (how the distinction between pastor and other ministries are constructed based on Scripture seems to me to be arbitrary at best).

Let’s look at the first question: “Why do you regard the issue of male and female roles as so important?” Here’s a portion of the answer they provide:

Biblical truth and clarity in this matter are important because error and confusion over sexual identity leads to: (1) marriage patterns that do not portray the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32); (2) parenting practices that do not train boys to be masculine or girls to be feminine; (3) homosexual tendencies and increasing attempts to justify homosexual alliances (see question 41); (4) patterns of unbiblical female leadership in the church that reflect and promote the confusion over the true meaning of manhood and womanhood. (p. 56)

The problem here is that 1 & 2 are things which Scripture doesn’t define with specificity, but only in vague generalities. The relationship of husband and wife as reflecting the relationship of Jesus and the Church can play itself out in many different ways. As we noted from Piper’s introduction chapter, his definitions of roles are completely arbitrary. What does biblical masculinity look like? Does it mean men have to drive, be the main breadwinners, be more muscular, etc.? Well, I don’t see that sort of specificity in Scripture. How egalitarian views undermine a loving, mutually indwelling relationship like that of the Church and Christ is beyond me. Even moreso, how egalitarian views result in parenting practices like those described in their answer is just mind boggling. I can’t even figure out what Piper and Grudem are even trying to suggest; my way of relating to my wife as a equal partner makes me unable to help my daughter be feminine? What femininity looks like is culturally constructed, and frankly current 21st century North American notions are things I’d like my daughters to avoid, as are the definitions of womanhood which Piper laid out in his introduction chapter.

Point 3 is just absurd. The oft cited connection between egalitarianism and “homosexual alliances” is not really merited. Are there folks who are egalitarian and who also reject the “traditional evangelical views” about LGBTQ persons? Well, yes. But does that indicate a causal relationship? Absolutely not. I’ve never really understood the link. Nothing in egalitarian readings of Scripture necessitate one become LGBTQ affirming. Many egalitarians remain firm in views which state that the only inappropriate venue for sex is a monogamous heterosexual marriage (e.g. Hays[1], Payne[2]). Point 4 is circular argument. Women in leadership is only confusing biblical manhood and womanhood if one assume women in leadership is in violation of biblical manhood and womanhood (I would obviously argue that assumption is misguided).

Several questions are interrelated so we can tackle a few together (questions 19, 20, 27, & 38):

19. Doesn’t the significant role women had with Paul in ministry show that his teachings do not mean that women should be excluded from ministry?…

20. But Priscilla taught Apollos didn’t she (Acts 18:26)? And she is even mentioned before her husband Aquila. Doesn’t that show that the practice of the early church did not exclude women from the teaching office of the church?…

27. How do you explain God’s apparent endorsement of women in the Old Testament who had prophetic or leadership roles?…

38. In Romans 16:7, Paul wrote, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Isn’t Junias a woman? And wasn’t she an apostle? And doesn’t that mean that Paul was willing to acknowledge that a woman held a very authoritative position over men in the early church?…

These questions all have to do with the roles women are described as taking in the Scriptures. Several women are recognized by Paul as being co-workers and participants in the ministry he too was involved in. The Old and New Testaments both assign the role of Prophet to women. Deborah (Judges 4-5) was judge over Israel (the claim that she was so because of a lack of male leadership available is a strange argument, since she seems to have had a lengthy career in her role as prophet, judge, and a short stint as military leader). Huldah (2 Kings 22, 2 Chron. 34) was a prophet who was consulted by kings. In the New Testament, titles which seem to be semi-official titles connected to an “office” in the early church (Deacon, Apostle) are used to describe women, and ministries which CBMW describes as belonging exclusively to men (i.e. teaching and holding authority) are said to have been performed by women. So either those texts which CBMW and other complementarians understand as prohibiting women from being in certain roles/offices contradict the actual practices of the early church described in the Scriptures (and early Church history too) or else we have to rethink how we read those alleged prohibitions, or, you can take the route of Grudem and Piper, and obfuscate and dodge and manipulate your way out of the obvious problem.

Romans 16 recognizes multiple women, Philippians 4 gives us 2 more, the Letter to Philemon also lists 2 more people as recipients, one of whom is a woman, Apphia (most likely someone within the household of Philemon, who is likely being invited to be part of the reconciliation process between Philemon and Onesimus). 1 Corinthians 11:5 clearly establishes women as able to participate in the assembly with words of prophesy. Acts also affirms women as prophets (e.g. the daughters of Philip, Acts 21:8-9), and describes Priscilla (the nickname form of Prisca mentioned by Paul in Romans 16) teaching not just women, or even just a man, but a man already in leadership, Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). While still somewhat rare, the early church does still examples of women holding high positions of leadership, and in the reformation, particularly in the early baptist movement, women did serve as evangelists, and taught in gatherings of the church.

So, Grudem and Piper have to strain and duck and dodge to get around this. They devise arbitrary distinctions between the roles of women and men in Paul’s entourage which the text does not. Paul uses the same words of several women which he does of men. Phoebe is a deacon (using the common masculine noun, not the modified feminine form deaconess). Paul described both Prisca (named before Aquila interestingly, against typical convention in the first century) and her husband as co-workers (Greek synergos), the same term he uses of Urbanus, Timothy, Philemon, Clement (and others connected to Philippi, including Euodia and Syntyche) and the Corinthian christians. Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Mary are all said to have “toiled in the Lord”. The verb used there (kopiao) is one Paul applies to his own ministry (in the participial form in Col. 1:29). 1 Corinthians 14:39 also includes encouragement to all (regardless of gender) to “be eager to prophesy”.

The evidence here does not lend well to the notion that there were distinctions between the roles available to women and to men. In 1 Cor. 12:27-28, Paul seems to present a crude, semi-official hierarchy of roles in the church: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” Well, in Scripture, we have a woman as an Apostle (we’ll get to that in a second), and certainly as prophets, and at least one teacher. Helping, guidance, and tongues also all seem to be open to women. No mention is made in the New Testament of women performing healing, but neither is there any indication they were prohibited from doing so. Everything seems to indicate women held all these positions, as well as a role not mentioned in these verses; benefactor/patron (e.g. Phoebe, Chloe, Lydia) of Paul and the churches established through his ministry. All this seems to indicate women held all the same leadership roles men did, though certainly not in the same numbers.[3]

The most tricky of all is the role of Apostle. The 12 appointed by Jesus before his crucifixion were males. Judas Iscariot’s replacement was another male. Paul was a male. Women certainly travelled with Jesus, showed hospitality to him, gave financially to support Jesus’ work, and were present from the beginnings of the ministry in Galilee to the cross and the empty tomb and beyond. Women are still part of the meeting between the ascension and Pentecost described in Acts 1. But do any of these women come to be recognized as Apostles? The evidence we have to look at is Romans 16:7; “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me.They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” In question 38, Piper and Grudem respond to this to counter the understanding that Junia is a woman and an Apostle. They claim first the Junia may be a male named Junias. In Greek the name appears as Iounian which is a proper name in the accusative case. In the accusative case all nouns end in the Greek letter nu (equivalent to the letter n). So the names Junia and Junias would appear exactly the same. In the later manuscript tradition, accents were added which would distinguish between them (fem. Ἰουνίαν or masc. Ἰουνιᾶν). The problem is there is no valid source of any kind recording the Greek name Junias. The one source Piper and Grudem cite is problematic on many fronts, not the least being the fact that that document also lists a male partner in mission for Aquilla as Priscas (changing the feminine Prisca to become male). Also, the document has some attribution problems, and was not connected to Epiphanius (a 4th c. Bishop) until the 9th c. Richard Cervin[4] has shown that the ways in which Latin names (Junia is a Latin, not Greek name) were transliterated into Greek would not bring the common Latin name Junius into Greek as Iounias but Iounios. Linda Belleville[5], Richard Bauckham[6], Jay Eldon Epp[7] and others have shown that Piper and Grudem’s presentation of the evidence indicates they completely flopped on their research, either by carelessness or by intentional deception (they only looked at the Greek database, completely ignoring the fact that it’s a transcribed, Latin name, and also not mentioning 4 references in the Greek database, TLG, which Piper and Grudem cite, from the later church fathers, all reading the name as that of a woman, and 2 additional mentions in another source of Greek names, PG), not listing all the instances of the name Junia, and by giving prominence to the Epiphanius source, when in fact it is the least likely to be the accurate one. Belleville’s presentation of the document and inscription evidence is simply jaw-dropping. Other than the cited text allegedly by Epiphanius, there is not a single piece of evidence; not one translation or commentary on Romans indicating that anyone thought Iounian was a man until the 13th century. Everyone understood it to be the feminine Junia, and so should we. Even one of the contributors to RBMW, Douglas Moo, has conceded that Junia is by far the more likely.[8]

Similarly all the early evidence demonstrates that the phrase translated by the NIV as ” outstanding among the apostles” was understood to mean just that- that these two people are included as apostles. The translation of the ESV (Piper and Grudem’s preferred translation) as “well known to the apostles” is simply unnatural. The phrase in question in theory could be translated that way, but it would be very strange to read it that way. The preposition en generally means “in” or “among” not “to”. In the final phrase of the verse we see en Xristoi which undoubtedly should be rendered “in Christ” not “to Christ”. It would be rather awkward to use en in two different ways in the same sentence, especially since Paul could have used more clear language to indicate that these two are known to the apostles but are not part of the apostles. Just as she does with the gender of the name, Belleville also demonstrates with undeniable clarity that the grammar of the sentence indicates Paul means for us to understand that Andronicus and Junia are to be counted among the Apostles.[9] That is what the evidence supports. To get around this by arguing the Junia is Junias or that she is well known to the apostles is, in the words of Ben Witherington III, “an artful dodge”.[10]

How this picture of what was taking place is to be read alongside texts like 1 Cor. 14:34-35 & 1 Tim. 2:8-15 is something we’ll unpack when we look at the articles by Carson & Moo. But the altering of the meaning of Romans 16:7 to fit with one’s interpretation of 1 Tim 2 & 1 Cor. 14 in spite of the overwhelming evidence which insists a different conclusion is simply problematic. The meanings and authenticity of those two alleged prohibitions are disputed. Even though many would argue their meaning is plain, the continuing debate among qualified scholars should give us caution as to the certainty. What Belleville, Bauckham, Epp, and others have shown is that the understanding of Romans 16:7 pointing to a woman who is among the apostles is profoundly strong. Even Church Fathers who showed considerable disdain to the abilities and callings of women (e.g. Origen, Ambrose, Chrysostom) lauded this woman as an apostle. Every early translation (Old Latin, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, Slavonic) of Romans read this verse as depicting a woman apostle. It just doesn’t make sense to continue to debate this. The assertions of Piper and Grudem (and others) have been soundly refuted over and over; asked and answered, next question please.

Finally, one comment warrants some notice. Question 26 reads: “Doesn’t Paul’s statement that “There is . . . neither male nor female . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) take away gender as a basis for distinction of roles in the church?” To this, Piper and Grudem reply: “No. Most evangelicals still agree that this text is not a warrant for homosexuality.” Wait, what? I don’t understand how this reply makes any sense at all. Nothing in that question says anything about homosexuality, so why is it brought up? I am not familiar with anyone who brings this verse up in discussions of homosexuality. It seems like a diversion, meant to get away from the real conversation on this verse. The rest of the argument that this verse applies only to justification and status in Christ and not to gender roles is also strange, as if soteriology has no implications for ecclesiology and interpersonal relationships between people of different genders. Paul shows no sign of placing a distinct line between soteriology and issues of praxis. This type of response reflects an intentional attempt to avoid the implications of reading Scripture in the way it was written- Paul writes letters, meant to be read as a whole, not in tiny chunks with arbitrarily devised divisions.

So in conclusion, this piece reflects all sorts of different means used by CBMW supporters to dodge and divert attention away from the realities of both the biblical text and the history of interpretation.



[1] Richard B. Hays. Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 379-406.

[2] Philip B. Payne. Man and Woman, One in Christ. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 142-146.

[3] See Payne. Man and Woman, 61-68; Craig S Keener, Paul, Women, & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992), 237-249.

[4] Richard S. Cervin. “A Note Regarding the Name Junia(s) in Romans 16:7”. NTS. Vol. 40 (1994), 464-470.

[5] Linda Belleville. “Ἰουνίαν… ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Materials”. NTS. 51.2. (Apr. 2005), 231-245.

[6] Richard Bauckham. Gospel Women: Studies in the Named Women in the Gospels. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 165-186.

[7] Jay Eldon Epp. Junia: The First Woman Apostle. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005).

[8] Douglas J. Moo. The Epistle to the Romans. (NICNT). (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 921-3.

[9] Belleville. Ἰουνίαν, 242-8.

[10] Ben Witherington III. “Joanna: the Untold Story” (lecture). Baylor ISR, Women and the Bible: A Historical Perspective. Sept. 16, 2013.


One Comment on “Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt. 4: Q & A with Piper & Grudem

  1. You are doing a great and much needed job of explaining gender equality. Thank-you

    I have often asked those who write comp/egal blogs if a woman was to follow to the “t” everything they endorse as god’s will, the unquestioning submission, the continual pregnancies, no education beyond high school, and it all goes horribly wrong such as abuse or marital rape, will they (the writers) take full responsibility for the results?

    A whole blog called Recovering Grace tells the stories of some of the not good results of following pat/comp teachings.

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