There are some who advocate a notion of “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” with strict definitions of what roles men and women should occupy. Representative is John Piper, a leading voice in the movement named “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” In his essay “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” Piper writes about “biblical” manhood:
When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house… (32, cited below)
[W]hen there is no bread on the table, it is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get it there… a man will feel his personhood compromised if he… becomes dependent over the long haul… on his wife’s income. (42)
Shockingly, Piper even goes so far as to say that:
“[E]ven where a Christian wife may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission–a disposition to yield” (47).
Piper alleges that biblical womanhood follows this pattern:
A mature woman is glad when a respectful, caring, upright man… provides a pattern of appropriate initiatives in their relationship. (48)
[She is to follow] Biblical submission[, which] for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through… (53)
From Piper, we learn that “biblical” womanhood is to yield, to be led, not to be the head of the home, be provided for, indeed even to avoid situations in which a woman is closely leading a man in the office (52).
Proverbs 31 destroys this concept of what a “biblical” woman should be. In this astonishing passage, we read that the ideal woman:
1. Takes care when selecting products to purchase (31:13)
2. Brings food to her family (31:14)
3. Provides for her family (31:15)
4. Appraises and purchases land (31:16)
5. Brings profitable gain (31:18)
6. Works with tools of various trades (31:18)
7. Helps the poor and needy (31:20)
8. Crafts goods to be used by the family (31:22)
9. Crafts goods to sell and is shrewd in selling them (31:24; 18)
10. Speaks and instructs with wisdom (31:26)
11. Watches over the ways of the household (31:27)
12. Above all, she fears the Lord (31:30)
Now remember, this is an “ideal” and of course no woman could be or do all of these things. This passage illustrates aspects of what a biblical woman would be.
Recall, though, the roles that have been defined for women by some complementarians–people who hold a view in which man and woman occupy different roles in the home and church, with men as leaders. Which of these are found in the description of woman in Proverbs 31? Let’s just do a quick comparison of a few (Piper citations from above):
Piper: [I]t is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get [bread on the table]
Bible: “[The ideal wife/woman] gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family...” (31:15a)
Do women not share the pressure in putting bread on the table when the Bible describes ideal womanhood as a provider of food for her family without excluding the husband?
Piper: When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house…
Bible: “She watches over the affairs of her household…”(31:27a)
Does watching over the affairs of the household have an unwritten, unspoken clause that excludes men?
Piper: [A] man will feel his personhood compromised if he… becomes dependent over the long haul… on his wife’s income.
Bible: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard… She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” (31:16; 18)
Does the wife/woman’s managing money, earning it, buying fields, ensuring profit, and staying up late into the night focusing on this profitable gain compromise her husband’s personhood?
Also interesting are the things that are not said. It doesn’t say the ideal woman yields to her husband when he does wrong, she rather brings him good, not harm (31:12). Sin is a harmful cycle, and to say women are to rebuke it, but yield because a man is the leader is perpetuating that cycle.
The question, then, becomes this: where are those like Piper, who make the statements quoted above getting their ideas from? Is Proverbs 31 biblical womanhood when it contradicts these notions, or are the Scriptural quotes above instead to be defined as the properly biblical womanhood?
The question is ‘how do we define Biblical Womanhood’? The answer: A buyer, seller, purveyor, manufacturer, innovator, leader, provider, entrepreneur, and above all, one of God.
You ask “What is Biblical womanhood?” I’ll tell you: Proverbs 31.
Check out my posts on egalitarianism – the belief that men and women are equally qualified and called in the church and home (scroll down for more).
On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.
John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by Piper and Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).
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