Did Jesus Teach That Women Were to Be Leaders?

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

John Piper, “Did Jesus Teach That Women Were to Be Leaders? Response from John Piper,” The Standard 74:1 (January 1984): 36. This was a response to Alvera and Berekely Micklesen, “Jesus’ Teaching on Men and Women: In Stark Contrast to Sinful Culture,” The Standard 74:1 (January 1984): 32–33.

The Mickelsens seem to want that reader to infer from Jesus’ life and teachings that there is nothing in maleness or femaleness that would make it more fitting for men to lead women than women to lead men. Or all leadership roles in the church and home should be open to women and men equally, regardless of whether they involve women in direct, personal leadership of men or not.

If so, they come under the indictment of one of their own principles of interpretation. They wrote:

“Closely related to selective literalism is the reading of ‘implied meanings’ into selected passages. If such inferences are repeated often enough, the uninformed listener or reader begins to think the Bible actually says what the speaker or writer implies (sic) from the passage” (November Standard, p. 29)

But this is precisely what the Mickelsens and most Christian feminists do with the Gospels. They say dozens of true things about Jesus, but then draw inferences about leadership roles which simply do not follow. Nothing Jesus did or said calls into question the pattern of loving husbands taking the responsibility of headship and loving wives honoring that headship with a submissive disposition.

My challenge to the Mickelsens is to show how Jesus’ condemnation of divorce, His un-patronizing teaching of female disciples, His public conversation with women, the evangelistic activity of the Samaritan woman, the use of a woman’s search for a coin to illustrate God’s search for sinners, the women’s running to tell the other disciples that Jesus was raised—how any or all of these are inconsistent with the headship of man and submission of woman when they are purged of pride and fear and ignorance.

The Mickelsens are guilty of their own condemnation of “implied meanings” unless they can demonstrate this inconsistency.

I do not argue that the all-male apostolate necessarily implies that only men should lead and preach in the church. I argue that in choosing all men Jesus was not demeaning to women. If, however, one wanted to draw an inference from the all-male apostolate to the effect that Christ favors male leaders in the church, this would be at least as plausible as the inference that because Jesus sent Mary to tell the eleven about the resurrection she would also have had Jesus’ endorsement as a teaching and ruling elder in the church. Neither inference is valid.