John Piper’s Freudian Slip – On What Else but Women Teaching Men

In his book The Blue Parakeet, at p. 148, Scot McKnight argues that, to be consistent, a man who refuses to listen to a woman teaching in church, he should also refuse to read biblical commentaries written by women.

In a recent audio commentary, John Piper takes on that issue and argues that reading a biblical commentary written by a woman is OK ‘as long as the man does not see her’, and he suggests that is behind Paul’s injunction that ‘women should not teach men’ (1 Timothy 2:12).

I am afraid what we have here is not only a sample of outdated fundamentalism, of the kind Piper if guilty time an again, but also an unintended Freudian confession of being obsessed with women bodies.

Rachel Held Evans takes this on in her article on this topic and provides us with a few examples:

  • ‘Piper’s primary measure of appropriateness is whether a man feels threatened by a woman’s teaching’
  • ‘Piper argues that a woman can teach a man so long as her teaching is “impersonal,” “indirect,” and “removed”—essentially, so long as it is easy for him to forget she is a woman’

As Evans rightly argues, these statements, and others like them are dehumanising for women and, I would add, a pathological expression that needs a bit of psychoanalytic unpacking.

In an article in Christianity Today called ‘Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing?’, Rachel Pietka from Baylor University tackles this latest aspect of the discussion. She writes:

Concern over women’s bodies in public is what barred them from representing themselves in civic or political situations 200 years ago, right around when they started feeling the itch for the vote. A woman’s presence on a public platform was scandalous; it was even more scandalous for her to look upon a mixed audience and speak to them.

Given that women can now vote, go to college, enjoy the same property rights as men, appear in public while pregnant, and stand at a podium, we tend to think Emma Willard’s challenges are history. We think that hers is a 200-year old problem, but as John Piper reminds us, it’s actually last month’s problem.

And she concludes:

Women today, particularly Christians whose communities are influenced by men like Piper, may find their voices stifled when their influence and participation in so many spheres is limited to activities dubbed indirect and impersonal. Additionally, to view the opposite sex solely in these gendered, bodily terms tends to make women ashamed of their bodies, while men fail to see women fully, as human beings with bodies as well as souls and minds.

I fully agree with Pietka.

I confess that, coming from a fundamentalist and literalistic background, I have struggled myself with the meaning of texts like the one on 1 Timothy 2 and I was able to go beyond ‘sanctified’ misogyny only with the help of adequate hermeneutics.

I strongly believe that the only solution for curing the fundamentalism of sincere believers (for the hypocrites there is not cure, whatsoever), is for them to relearn how to interpret the Bible:

  • not individualistically, but ecclesially, in the context of the Christian tradition;
  • not in a voluntaristic manner, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God;
  • not in blind obedience to sectarian prejudices, but in line with the intended meaning of the original authors; and
  • not in absolutist atemporal manner, but in response to contemporary challenges

So help us God!



Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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