Yes.

I love John Piper, as I assume has been evident over the years, but I found his answer to this question lacking at best and unhelpful at most. To some extent, he was directed to go to the biblical outline of gender roles by the phrasing of the question itself. But I think a better answer would be simply to step back, redirect, and consider the nature of a book. Any book. Any kind of book. Written by any author. Period. Female authors and male authors. Even Christian authors and non-Christian authors.

There is only one authoritative book. Every other book we can learn from and draw from and consider, testing all things its author teaches and clinging to whatever truth shakes out, even using what we see true in it in our life and ministry and public sermons.

I do subscribe to complementarianism, which means many things, one of which is that I agree with Dr. Piper that the Bible restricts pastoral authority in the local church to men. (Not just any men, of course, but those meeting the further qualifications for elder.) But the other key word in that phrase, the one that is not “men,” is “local.” Because of this, I don’t read any book, listen to any preaching, or otherwise gather any counsel outside of my church that I consider authoritative over me in the sense the Bible is concerned to restrict to only elders. Because I pastor a congregational church, all the members of my church, male and female, have in some sense authority over me. But only my elders have pastoral authority over me. This means that I don’t even read a John Piper book as if he has pastoral authority over me any more than I would read a Marva Dawn book as if she has pastoral authority over me. And I’ve read both and learned from both and used both.

Perhaps a better answer could have come from a better question. The better question is not “Is using a book by a woman a violation of the Bible’s restrictions on pastoral authority?” but “Is using any book a violation of the Bible’s restrictions on pastoral authority?” And the answer to both is “No.”

Now, of course, we ought to weigh some authors as more thoughtful, more faithful, more biblical than others, but I suppose that goes without saying.

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23 thoughts on “May We Use Commentaries Written by Women?”

  1. Clarice says:

    thank you for this! helpful. Very.

  2. Um… YES!. Thank you for speaking about this. One of the major ways that we trip over ourselves as complementarians is by divorcing gender dynamics from the contexts in which they play out. There simply is no such thing as headship apart from actual relationship–the authority of elders or husbands (or the govt for that matter) derives from the office and the responsibilities that pertain to that office–not simply from the maleness of the one holding it. (And of course, everything you said about how we relate to books is great as well.:-))

  3. Rachael Starke says:

    Thanks for such a thoughtful, gracious response. Really helpful.

  4. Chris says:

    I agree with what you are saying I think. However, do not books and their authors in a sense have authority over me and the ability to rebuke me as they faithfully reflect Christ and his words and only in this way? Honest question. Thanks for the helpful counsel.

    1. I’d offer that they have influence, but not authority. Authority is invested in Christ, His words, and the local church where He has delegated authority to the eldership.

      The difference between authority and influence is an essential one when we are discussing gender dynamics.

      1. Margaret says:

        I agree that you have to determine what you mean when you say “authority”. Anything can shape your opinion on a topic. Your child’s reaction to a specific form of discipline can shape how you discipline that child, but it doesn’t mean your child has authority over you. To me, authority involves submission. I don’t submit to anything that John Piper writes, or any other author (other than the Bible, of course). I submit to my husband, pastor and God. But I will gladly offer than any number of sources in my life have had wise influence on me from friends to pastors outside of my church to teachers in seminary to three year olds. I would say that if you are feeling rebuke or conviction from a book that it would not happen outside of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. So is it really the book that’s authoritative or God’s work in your heart?

        1. Melody says:

          I love Hannah and Margaret’s answers. I would add that no book has influence over me unless I have allowed it to. It has to fit in with what I already know to be true.

          I respect Piper as a godly man but I’m not what one would call a fan. His style of teaching doesn’t speak to me enough. When he says something slightly off or wonky there is a definite feel that one is not allowed to question it without committing some kind of social sin. That, I assume, is not his fault but all those that have made him a sacred cow or something. It’s nice to see that my perception is just perception and not reality.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Thanks. Helpful thoughts. However, the main portion of your answer seems to be the same as Piper’s. You said, “Yes, we may use commentaries written by women.” Piper said, “Yes, we may use commentaries written by women.” You said, “The author of the commentary doesn’t have pastoral authority over me.” Piper said, “The author of the commentary doesn’t have a direct, personal authority over me.” So when you say that you don’t even read a John Piper book as if he had that kind of authority over you any more than you read read one by Marva Dawn in that way, Piper presents the same thing, or at least comes to the same conclusion. I agree with both of you.

    But the reason Piper helpfully talks about 1 Timothy 2 instead of immediately redirecting, as you suggested, might be because we can’t deal with a commentary as just *any book* anymore than we can deal with a sermon as just *any lecture*. The entire purpose of a commentary is to teach or expound the Word of God expositionally to others. This is why it seems to me that Dr. Piper didn’t have any choice but to deal with 1 Timothy 2 in his answer to this question. In other words, the question is, if the primary purpose of any commentary is to teach doctrine directly from a book of the Bible to its readers, and Paul says that he doesn’t permit a woman to teach in that capacity, can a male read a commentary written by a woman? How is it that a woman can exercise authority through the teaching of Scripture as she writes the instruction for men (and women) to read but not as she comes and presents it to the congregation? I imagine we wouldn’t want to suggest that Christian men should go and hear women pastors on Sunday mornings because they should consider the nature of a lecture, any kind of lecture, spoken by any kind of teacher. Because there’s a huge difference between a sermon focused on expounding Scripture and a lecture on any other subject at the local college–or at least there *should* be. I think for the same reason that there might be a huge difference between a commentary and a typical book in the “Christian Living” section (or any other section) at Barnes.

    1. Chris says:

      Peter,

      Who has authority over you would seem to depend on context. I have multiple pastors and elders in my church who all have authority over me. :)

      1. Peter Kirk says:

        Chris, I guess there is a distinction to be made between authority over ordinary believers in the congregation and authority for the governance of church business. I would suggest, in agreement with Don Carson I understand, that no one other than Jesus has the former authority. But clearly there are authority relationships between pastors, elders etc within a local church – although there might be disagreements on what is the biblical pattern for this. If you are an ordinary church member, I would accept that the pastors, elders etc have authority over what you do in church activities, in the building etc. But they do not have generalized authority over your life.

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    Surely just as “There is only one authoritative book” there is only one authoritative Pastor. So for anyone, man or woman, other than Jesus to claim authority over our lives goes against biblical standards. When Paul forbids women from usurping authority in the church, he doesn’t intend to endorse men usurping authority. The only proper authority in the local church is that held or delegated by the Chief Pastor.

  7. Zack Skrip says:

    Spot on Jared. That’s exactly where I had landed as well. Paul’s concern is over authority and I think you nail it on the head!

  8. Clarification Dave says:

    I find that anyone who holds to the position

    (a) that 1 Timothy 2:12-15 is based in a creation ordinance that forbids a woman to teach a man
    and yet
    (b) allows a woman to teach a man on any subject whether in bodily presence or by book or audio/video recording
    is
    (c) by such allowance being inconsistent in their application of their interpretation.

    1. Zack Skrip says:

      Context. Context. Context. Was my driver’s ed teacher incorrect? How about the business class I took at corporate on Lean Principles in Manufacturing? I don’t think Paul had those things in mind. He’s talking to a _pastor_ about his obligations in the _church_. Don’t you think? Do we need to draw it out farther than that? Does the bible command that we draw it out farther than that?

      1. Clarification Dave says:

        Please note the way I presented it.

        Point (a) notes that a creation ordinance is the basis/context for many interpreters of the 1 Timothy passage. A creation ordinance covers every aspect of human life. It covers all contexts, including driver’s ed and principles in manufacturing. Many interpreters argue that Paul is applying a complementarian creation ordinance to the specifics of a local congregation, not the reverse. The creation ordinance is the founding theological basis for his decision about limiting women teaching men.

        My point is that holding to a creation ordinance basis interpretation necessitates women never teaching men in anything.

        I, however, do not hold to that creation ordinance interpretation of Paul. I am merely noting a need for consistency. Neither John Piper nor Jared Wilson nor other complementarians are consistent if they allow women to teach men in any matter by any means, that is, if they argue from a creation ordinance basis interpretation.

        1. Cornell says:

          Clarification Dave,

          The creation ordinance is not as sweeping as you make it appear. It is not the whole creation, but AN ordinance within creation. Therefore, it is consistent to conclude that AN ordinance does not cover “every aspect of human life” simply because it is in the creation. Otherwise you will have to also admit that this same creation ordinance affects how you treat your neighbor.

          The man-before-woman creation ordinance only affects the aspects of life that it has been correlated to in the Bible… which, in this case, is male headship and teaching in the CONTEXT of the local church… as Paul said.

          Paul is not talking to EVERY woman (Christian or otherwise), EVERY man (believer or otherwise), EVERY where (Church or elsewhere) teaching ANY thing (Biblical truth or math). To assume that would be mighty fallacious and inconsistent of you, kind sir.

  9. MzEllen says:

    > Perhaps a better answer could have come from a better question

    Here’s the thing…it was a Q&A session, Paper didnt get to answer the wuestion, but he *did* answer the question that was asked.

    It makes me a little nuts when people get asked a question, then don’t answer it, choosing to give an answer to a “better” question. He didn’t side step it, he didn’t deflect it. He answered the question with integrity and honesty.

    People who rebel against male headship are going to hate the answer to any question regarding male leadership, and people who “get” Complementarianism know what he was saying.

  10. Jordan says:

    Maybe its just me (which could very well be!), but I feel like this answer is addressing something other than women writing commentaries on Scripture and 1 Timothy 2. 1 Timothy 2 is grounded in the creation mandate and thus is not only applicable in certain instances. 1 Timothy 2 also prohibits the function of teaching which would be what the commentary is necessarily trying to accomplish regarding Scripture. Paul commands that no woman maintains spiritual authority over a man. This form of teaching can take on many forms regarding Scripture, commentaries being one of them. I will admit, this does seem to be a gray area, so being dogmatic is probably not wise, but from this small post I personally felt it missed the important aspects that need to be addressed.

    Just my two cents.

    Thanks for the post, Jared!

    1. Zack Skrip says:

      hey Jordan,

      But does she have spiritual _authority_ in book form? In fact, there is a very godly PCA (male) pastor down the street from me. I’ve heard him speak a few times. He is gracious and teaches very well. He’s not my pastor and has no spiritual authority in my life. I’ve learned from him, but my elders are the ones with spiritual authority in my life.

      I do not submit to a commentary, I submit to an elder(s), who is present, and knows me, and loves me. And I think you agree with this, because I don’t think you would consider reading and considering a commentary to be submitting to it. You wouldn’t turn your brain off and just accept anything that it says, written by a woman or not.

      1. Melody says:

        It has never once occurred to me that I was submitting to a commentary. The whole conversation seems silly to me. To me a book is like a private conversation you might have in the foyer in the church or sitting next to each other on the plane. If it is not possible for a man to learn from a woman in a casual setting, which is a book, then Priscilla should have not spoken to Apollos at all. Just let him stay ignorant until someone “better” came along to explain things?

        I think I’m just going to skip reading anything more on this subject from now on. It has an unsettling creepy feel to it.

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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