Headship and Harmony

John Piper, “Headship and Harmony: Response from John Piper,” The Standard 74:5 (May 1984): 39–40. This was a response to Alvera and Berekely Micklesen, “What Happens to God’s Gifts?” The Standard 74:5 (May 1984): 35, 37–38.


In their first article (November, pp. 27-29), the Mickelsens rejected Bible interpretation which reads “implied meanings” into a passage. They denounced the method which repeats these “implied meanings” again and again until people begin to think they are part of the text. It is odd then that all the passages which give explicit teaching on male leadership and female submission (1 Cor. 11:3-16; Eph. 5:21-24; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Peter 3:1-7) are given abstruse reconstruction by the Mickelsens while they build their case largely on dubious “implied meanings.”

  1. In January (pp. 32, 34) I called for an explanation of how Jesus’ teaching on servant leadership contradicted Paul’s teaching that husbands should be self-sacrificing heads of their wives. No answer.

  2. If it is hard to imagine women reigning with Christ and yet subordinate to men, it is just as hard to imagine women reigning if nobody is subordinate to anybody or everybody is subordinate in just the same way. I am content to leave open the dynamics of sexuality in the age to come.

  3. I admit that Deborah and Huldah do not fit neatly into my view. I wish Berkeley and Alvera would do the same about 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (etc.!). Perhaps it is no fluke that Deborah and Huldah did not put themselves forward but were sought out because of their wisdom and revelation (Judges 4:5; 2 Kings 22:14). I argued in March (pp. 30-32) that the issue (in 1 Cor. 11:2016) is how a woman should prophesy, not whether she should. Are Deborah and Huldah examples of how to “prophesy” and “judge” in a way that affirms and honors the normal headship of men?

  4. That Berkeley and Alvera consider Gabriel’s direct communication to Mary to have any relevance for our controversy shows they have not listened to what I have said. It is plain that this does not contradict my position.

  5. I can’t think of any spiritual gift (except apostle in the limited sense) which in my view would be denied to women. The issue is to whom and how the gift is exercised. No gift is a divine mandate to use as we please.

  6. Yes, Phoebe was probably a deacon. But how is this an argument against my interpretation? Elders were the “ruling” body in the church (1 Tim. 5:17), not deacons. Elders, not deacons, had to be “apt to teach.” This is a vivid example of a tendentious use of “implied meanings.”

  7. Yes, Euodia and Syntyche fought at Paul’s side in spreading the gospel. But where do the Mickelsens get the “implied meaning” that this involved authoritative teaching of men? How do they know things weren’t just as Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) said they were: “The apostles, giving themselves without respite to the work of evangelism… took with them women, not as wives but as sisters, to share in their ministry to women living at home: by their agency the teaching of the Lord reached the women’s quarters without arousing suspicion” (Stromata III, 6, 53).

  8. Yes, there were prophetesses in the early church. But it is unproved that the gift of prophecy included the kind of authoritative teaching of men that Paul rules out in 1 Timothy 2:12.

  9. Galatians 3:28 shows that men and women are both “baptized into Christ”; both have “put on Christ”; both are “one in Christ”; both are “Abraham’s offspring”; and both are “heirs according to the promise.” But it is a tendentious “implied meaning” to say that this text eliminates all role distinctions based on sex. The result of this would be homosexuality.

I have tried to deal specifically with the Mickelsens’ arguments each month. I have tried to say yes to all the truth in their position. Yes to the need of applying biblical teaching carefully to new situations. Yes to the havoc of sin in the man-woman relationship. Yes to Jesus’ revolutionary transformation of this relationship. Yes to mutual submission. Yes to servanthood. Yes to women prophets and deacons and missionaries.

I affirm all this joyfully because I see it in Scripture. And for this same reason I stand by the God-ordained headship of the husband at home, the eldership of men at church, and the delicate harmony of distinct man and distinct woman in the poetry of everyday life.

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