Did Paul Teach Male Authority/Female Submission?

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

John Piper, “Did Paul Teach Male Authority/Female Submission? Response from John Piper,” The Standard (March 1984): 36. This was a response to Alvera and Berekely Micklesen, “Sexual Ambiguity at Corinth,” The Standard (March 1984): 31, 33–35.

I grant that women prophesy. The Mickelsens grant that “Paul’s point is the distinction between the sexes,” and that both men and women have something “distinctive to offer.” Is not therefore the question for both of us: What is the distinctively feminine way to prophesy? I need to hear from the Mickelsens what they regard as distinctly feminine. They need to hear from me what I regard prophecy to be.

Though I still have many questions, it seems to me that Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (1982) succeeds in showing that the gift of prophecy in the New Testament is not identical with the inspired word of the Old Testament prophets, nor with the apostolic word of the New Testament. It can be tested (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:29) and even rejected (1 Thess. 5:20-21).

The gift of prophecy seems to be the (sometimes imperfect) human report of a divine revelation for the purpose of edification, consolation and encouragement (1 Cor. 14:3).

Isn’t this the question before the church today: What are the offices and forms in which men and women can appropriately minister their insights to the church without obscuring or contradicting the distinctive roles of male headship and female submission?

Now some brief criticisms:

  1. When the Mickelsens assert that the “authority” on woman’s head in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is not a sign of her submission to man’s authority, they give no arguments for their alternate view. I think my five opposing arguments still hold.

  2. The Greek word which they call “mantle” in verse 15 never in the Old Testament refers to a prophet’s mantle. It is not a “sign of a prophet.”

  3. “Source or origin” is not a “common Greek meaning” of “head.” The meaning “leader” is more common in contemporary religious literature (Septuagint, Philo, church fathers) than “source” is in contemporary secular literature. Paul’s usage is what counts. (See Eph. 1:22; Col. 2:10 and 11:8-9, and my article on Eph. 5, February STANDARD, pp. 27, 29).

  4. The submission of church members to Paul’s fellow workers (perhaps including women in 1 Cor. 16:16) leaves open the form or manner of submission, which may differ, as it does for Christ and the church as they submit to each other (Eph. 5:21ff.)

  5. Prostatis in Romans 16:2 does not mean “leader.” The scant lexical evidence supports the meaning “patroness” or “helper.” The context confirms this. For even if Paul had given to women leadership over men, he would not have called Phoebe his leader, though the Mickelsens imply that he does.

  6. One crucial difference in the way the Mickelsens and I do exegesis is that they emphasize general observations about culture and words, while I emphasize specific logical connections between Paul’s propositions and the importance of following the thread of his argument.