John Piper Clarifies Remarks on Wife Abuse

John Piper Clarifies Remarks on Wife Abuse January 2, 2013

Some time ago, John Piper engaged in a Q&A about wives submitting to their husbands and what to do in the case of wife abuse (see a video here). This caused quite a bit of a stir, and rightly so, because it gave the impression that wives should just suck it up for the glory of God.

Thankfully, however, Pastor John has offered some remarks to clarify (and I think modify) his views on this matter, including the statement:

God himself has put law enforcement officers in place for the protection of the innocent. “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). A wife’s submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ’s sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband’s demand that she endure his injuries. This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.

Not everyone will like Pastor John’s vision for Christian marriage, I’m not saying that I endorse everything he says, but I think this is a step in the right direction. Even on the complementarian scheme, when imperatives conflict, one has to take precedence, and it is the safety of the wife and any children that has an ethical priority over any sense of submission to an abusive husband.

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  • I guess if Romans 13 wasn’t in the Bible, then Piper would have no choice but to say that abused wives need to stay with their husbands. Sigh.

    • Don’t forget the awkward gap between Romans 12 and 14!

  • Yoyo

    Leaving aside the obvious scars and broken furniture, how can you not address the damage complementarianism does to women’s spirits and children’s lives. By the time you have to call the police ( and become homeless because women are not allowed to work) it is far too late.

  • Litchies

    A believing spouse surely needs the Spirit to guide them in these situations as the Lord knows what will ‘break’ the abuser’s patterns. In working with foster children who abuse me physically and emotionally at times, the acts of love and kindness I do and respond with are not usually enough to change their abusive behavior. They hunger for and run toward a spiritual connection, but the behavior still continues. There are deep emotional wounds that need healed. I am not an expert, but have a little experience. Yes, God does heal emotional wounds. I’m just saying my limited experience has been there are wounds from abuse, rejection, lack of proper discipline, exposure to immorality which take more than just being ‘nice’ to heal. Yes, you’re always nice, respectful, loving. But, you need to: adopt. counsel. discipline appropriately. protect from immorality in media and elsewhere to bring about heaing over years. This is to say that an abusive person is wounded. Unless they have the vision in themselves to completely surrender to the Lord, it’s going to take some ‘extreme’ measures on our part to wake them up and guide them along the path of awareness and healing.

    • Patrick

      I gotta say, for a theologian this logic is hurting.

      There is no evidence God says “civil law” in a secular state exceeds a mandate from Christ to His Church, there is evidence the opposite is accurate(Peter defying the mandate to stop preaching about Christ comes to mind). So that argument is nonsense whether complimentarianism is or is not good interpretation, IMO.

      Peter defied civil law when it became at odds with Christ’s mandates and I think properly so. Romans 13 teaches us why God created the state, it was to protect us. When a state does otherwise, it is not within God’s boundaries and we no longer need to respect it as if it were.

      Same with marriage. God created that to benefit both parties and as a metaphor for Christ and His bride, when it is harmful to one or both due to the actors operating outside of God’s desires in extremity, it no longer deserves the respect God intended for it.

      We don’t need to make up theology like this which contradicts the biblical(yea, I said it) narrative.

      Civil law never exceeds God’s desires for His people, not even in the OT Torah did God prefer the lesser above the greater( example, love God and your neighbor in Leviticus exceeds holding slaves or seeing women as lesser than men, God tolerated that crap, He didn’t prefer it, He always preferred virtue love for His people).

      Using Piper’s logic, He’s saying Christ defers to a pagan secular state above His own mandates to His people. Good grief.

      Piper has a system he follows and he needs to defend it and this is the best he can do. God is way more flexible than Mr Piper is, IMO.

  • BostonSurvivor

    In the video, Piper sounds super creepy when he, acting as the wife, says, “It would be sweet for me to enjoy your leadership.” Who talks like that but the religious. You do not have to be a serf all your life. Think freely. Think for yourself.

  • Joel

    Over years of evolution and psychological roles in dire situations, women might find submission to husband and household as “feeling right.” I know where Piper is coming from on his translations of 1 timothy 2 and 1 corinthians 14, I just think that 1 timothy 2 is refering to A CURSE on women, from the time of Adam, that will be overcome as the gospel penetrates the earth so that their will be “no longer male and female [roles]” (Galatians3), but “men and women will prophesy [equally].” And 1 Corinthians 14 is refering to women disrupting the order of the church, because they are uneducated and have many questions; therefore they need to “ask their [educated] husbands at home” (1Corinthians14). It was a cultural thing. I think Piper has good intentions toward the Bible, and a good-willed heart, but he just stuck in a premodern matrix.

  • Jagdip Singh Matharu Virginia abusive spouse adulterer

  • BT

    Rather than insisting a woman has to act submissively even in when defending her own health and safety, what’s wrong with a woman just saying on her own authority as one created in the image of God that abuse isn’t ok simply because it’s wrong. Full stop. End of story. What does submission have to do with it? Even when Piper tries to defend women, he demeans them.

  • Tere Latimer

    I’m disappointed to say the least. A clarification on something from “several years ago”? Didn’t really expect it but still found myself wanting to hear Piper say ‘I got it wrong. No woman should submit to abuse no matter ‘what kind’. At the first sign of physical abuse go to the police first. Then come to the church and we will help you get out.’
    But sadly that’s not what he said. This recent post gives the option of the police, but right in the center of it all he gives a reminder “that the thought of a husband going to jail and losing his job and being publicly shamed is so undesirable”. And then basically went on to say the first port of call is the church leadership, who with the “intervention of these mature brothers and sisters may bring the husband to repentance and reconciliation. Or they may determine that laws have been broken and the civil authorities should or must be notified.”
    So THEY decide if and when. Ugh.
    All in all, I didn’t hear him say anything different from the first time around – “several years ago”.

  • Piper does not say that the wife should seek law enforcement help for her own sake, though—he says she should do so based on her “submission to civil authority.” At no point is she given any value or agency; it’s just a question of whose property she is. If the state and the husband both agreed that she should be beaten to death, Piper’s theology would support—and require—that it be done.

  • Sorry, Mike, I see no improvement here at all. He trades husband authority for civil authority without granting the woman the right to stand up and say it’s wrong … because it is.

    • Elena

      Thank you I agree. He may not beat his wife himself but sins of omission are no less than sins of commission.

  • This kind of discussion reveals that absolute folly of using the Bible as a rule book. Piper is more concerned about maintaining his 19th century hermeneutics than he is for the gospel, I think. At least that’s what this episode suggests.

  • Darian G. Burns

    I am growing weary of Pastor Piper. The truth is that if one follows the logical path of his teaching on the subject of submission and is philosophically consistent then the honest conclusion is his former one. He need to look at the text he uses to teach submission. He should translate them, look at context in all its forms and then consider the redemptive story of scripture and admit he has gotten it wrong. However, my exposure to him leads me to doubt humility is something which comes easy to him.