Jesus’ Teaching on Men and Women
Dismantling the Fall, Not the Creation
John Piper, “Jesus’ Teaching on Men and Women: Dismantling the Fall, Not the Creation,” The Standard 74:1 (January 1984): 34–35. Alvera and Berekely Micklesen responded with, “Did Jesus Teach That Women Were to Be Leaders? Response from the Mickelsens,” The Standard 74:1 (January 1984): 36.
More than any other Gospel writer, Luke accents the honor Jesus restored to women as “joint heirs of the grace of life.” He gives large space to Jesus’ respectful and merciful dealings with women.
For example, Luke seems intentionally to put stories about men and stories about women together in pairs: the angelic annunciation to Zechariah (1:11–20) and to Mary (1:26–38), the songs of Mary (1:46–55) and Zechariah (1:67–79), the exultation of Simeon (2:25–35) and Anna (2:36–38), the illustration of the widow of Zarephath (4:25-26) and Naaman the leper (4:27), the healing of the demoniac (4:31–37) and Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38–39), the healing of the centurion’s servant (7:1–10) and the raising of the widow’s son (7:11–17), the rebuke of Simon the Pharisee and the forgiveness of the sinful woman (7:36–50), the good Samaritan (10:29-37) and the attentive Mary (10:38-42), the man’s garden (13:19) and the woman’s dough (13:21), the searching shepherd (15:3–7) and the searching housewife (15:8-10), the sleeping men (17:34) and the women at the mill (17:35), the importunate woman (18:1-8) and the penitent publican (18:9–14), the woman at the tomb (23:55–24:11) and the travelers to Emmaus (24:13–35).
Full Fellow Heirs
When Jesus said in Luke 13:16, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” he showed two things: that the Jewish leadership did not honor women as full fellow heirs of Abraham’s blessing, and that He aimed to change that and give them full inclusion in the mercy promised “to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Luke 1:55).
In fact, everything Jesus taught and did was an attack on the pride which makes man brutal and makes women manipulative. Everything he taught and did is a summons to the humility and love which purge leadership of its self-exaltation and purge submission of its servility.
Jesus put man’s lustful look in the category of adultery and threatened it with hell (Matt. 5:28f). With that one word He condemned all forms of pornography and the commercializing of the female body in advertising and entertainment. Jesus rescues woman as person from selfish male objectifications and sensual female manipulation.
Jesus’ condemnation of divorce (Mark 10:11f) set itself against the callous abuse of women as property to be disposed of at the whim of their husbands. He chalked up this abuse to “hardness of heart” (Matt. 19:8) and demanded a thorough cleansing from the inside out (Matt. 23:25; 15:18–20). He pointed men back to the days before the fall to discover how God intended men and women to relate (Matt. 19:4f).
Against every social custom which demeans or abuses men and women, Jesus fires the word: “Why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3). Jesus freed the church to say no to human traditions which run contrary to God’s Word. He thus exalts Scripture as the authoritative rule of faith and practice in all the affairs of church life. Neither tradition nor fad enjoys sanctuary from the scrutiny of God’s Word.
Women Are Persons Too
Jesus commanded men and women to treat each other as they would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12), to love each other as they love themselves (Matt. 22:30), even to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44). This does not mean we should treat women like men. It does mean to treat them like persons. No one obeys Jesus while mistreating or maligning the opposite sex.
Even more particularly the Lord warned, “On the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter” (Matt. 12:36). Farewell to female jokes. Farewell to thoughtless caricatures and demeaning stereotypes. Farewell to persistent putdowns. “There is a levity,” Spurgeon says, “which has not heart enough to laugh, but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal. A hearty laugh is no more levity than a hearty cry.” No one has ever dreamed of accusing Jesus Christ of levity, especially in His relation to women. Persons are not trifles.
Jesus stunned the chief priests and elders with the words, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). Harlotry is the blending of what is worst in male and female sexuality: man’s overpowering weakness and woman’s capitulating control. For the priests and elders it was woman at her lowest ebb. Yet through Jesus she enters the kingdom! And enters on an equal footing with a man. If there are any characteristically female sins, they are no more damnable than characteristic male sins. Publicans and harlots enter heaven together—“washed in the blood of the Lamb.”
And when they get there, Jesus says they don’t marry: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). The very least this means is that whatever woman and man gain from marriage is not essential to eternal bliss. There will be no frustrated saints in heaven. Therefore, the single man and woman are not enslaved to pursue each other. Single Christians will enter heaven lacking nothing. Man and woman do not hold the key to each other’s eternal beatitude. Christ does.
The most devastating thing Jesus ever said against the evil of male domination and female maneuvering was, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Men who act like bullies and women who play the coquette are childish, not childlike. The text goes on, “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Humility transforms male-female relations. But childlike chauvinists and childlike feminists are rare.
The desire of fallen women to want to manipulate men, and of fallen men to lord it over women, is exposed as mad folly by the words, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). The use of power for self-exaltation is suicide. The only way up is down. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26).
Jesus showed by His own example that leadership and arrogance are not synonymous. At His lowest point of servanthood He was still the unquestioned leader.
Jesus freed men forever from the charge of arrogance for taking up their God-given responsibility of leadership. He never condemned the aspiration to leadership. He said, “Let the leader become as one who serves” (Luke 22:26). But He never said, “Service makes leaders into followers,” or, “Service makes everybody equally a leader,” or, “Women are as likely candidates to lead men as men are to lead women.”
Men: Leaders, Protectors, Sustainers
Jesus’s message of judgment on sin, and forgiveness for His people is revolutionary for the relationship between men and women. He drives the Word of God against all harmful traditions. But nowhere does Jesus say anything or do anything that overthrows the teaching of creation that men bear more responsibility to lead and protect and sustain women that women do toward men. Let us soberly ask this question: Did Jesus aim to show that sexuality is irrelevant in filling the roles of headship and submission, or did He aim to reclaim the love and humility of a fallen male headship and the freedom and dignity of a fallen female submission?
It is simply a non sequitur to say that since women ministered to Jesus (Matt. 27:55) and learned from Jesus (Luke 10:39) and ran to tell the disciples Jesus was risen (Luke 24:10), therefore Jesus thinks women should exercise authority over men.
Only those who assume that it is necessarily demeaning not to support the leadership of women over men will be able to argue that when Jesus ennobles women He dismantles the structure of loving male headship and wiling female submission. Jesus Himself gives no indication that such a structure is demeaning. Instead, when he chooses the 12 persons who will bear authority in His church, He chooses all men.
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