What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible

ISBN: 0891075623
ISBN 13: 9780891075622
By: John Piper Elisabeth Elliot

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About this book

What does the Bible teach about true manhood and womanhood? Noted pastor, author and Bible scholar John Piper looks at these important questions in a positive, sensitive way.

Reader's Thoughts


bad cover, good book

Carlos E. Montijo

To start, I don't appreciate Piper's irrational emotional appeal for writing this book:[T]here is another way to commend the vision. A person also wants to know, Is the vision beautiful and satisfying and fulfilling?... Commending Biblical truth involves more than saying, "Do it because the Bible says so." That sort of commendation may result in a kind of obedience that is so begrudging and so empty of delight and hearty affirmation that the Lord is not pleased with it at all.... Not only must there be thorough exegesis, there must also be a portrayal of the vision that satisfies the heart as well as the head.... This little book is meant to fit mainly into the second category. (15-16)The Bible contrasts the mouth (what one professes) and the heart (which really means the whole person--the true, inner self--not just emotions) rather than the head and the heart. This is why Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me'" (Mark 7:6). The modern psychological distinction between head ("intellect") and heart ("emotions") is unbiblical, which leads Piper to overemphasize emotions and create a false dichotomy between obedience and desire. Much of what John Robbins said in his review of Colson's Loving God applies to Piper's book as well:...in your [Colson's] book and tapes you attack creeds and philosophies and emphasize the Person and cross of Christ. You contrast a “magnificent philosophy” with a “living truth,” and “academic theory" with a “living Person.” But the Bible makes no such contrast. Indeed, it teaches the opposite: As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Christ said, “My words are spirit and they are life.” The words are the Spirit. The Gospel, the truth, the words are powerful. There is no contrast in the Bible between words or teaching or doctrine or philosophy and Christ. There is a contrast between profession of belief and actual belief, but not between Christ and his words. The contrast is a figment of modern psychology. We know Christ only insofar as we know about him. One cannot know Christ, or any other person, except by knowing propositions about him. Knowledge is always knowledge of a proposition. Saving faith is always assent to one or more Biblical propositions. Therefore, please do not disparage knowledge or teaching or doctrine, for by doing so, you are disparaging Christ. As Calvin put it, we owe to Scripture the same reverence that we owe to God. (http://www.trinityfoundation.org/jour...) Jesus also said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:21). Believers keep God's laws because God said so. Period. Not because we find them "satisfying." "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law" (Romans 3:31). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). A true believer desires to obey his heavenly Father because he's been forgiven by Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Law of God is only burdensome and "empty of delight and hearty affirmation" to unregenerate sinners because it condemns them. We don't need to somehow be emotionally convinced in addition to "thorough exegesis": "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord" (Isaiah 1:18).Piper also confused me when he, seemingly referring to Emil Brunner and Paul Jewett--who were liberal theologians--claims that "our best Christian thinkers claim not to know what masculinity and femininity are" (20). But anyone who studies the Bible can know exactly what true masculinity/femininity are.Moreover, the book's misleading subtitle is "Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible." I disagree. He defines manhood and womanhood as the following:At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships. At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships. (22)A more appropriate subtitle would be "Manhood and Womanhood defined in relation to each other." Although Piper is a complementarian (20-21), his definitions of manhood and womanhood overlook the fundamentals: God's order and creation roles. And why does a woman, according to Piper's definition, seem to have more than one head? 1 Corinthians 11:3-13 reads:I [Paul] want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.... For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.Piper doesn't explain that man was made for God and woman for man. And although spiritually "there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28), Christ explains why there is a prescribed natural order:The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:34-36)So in this life, God institutes an order for us to follow until the resurrection comes because we are still in the flesh and marry and have kids...and die. Women should "have a symbol of authority on their heads because of the angels"--i.e., a woman's "hair is given to her for a covering" (Eph. 5:16), and the man also covers her because even though women are spiritually equal to men and to the angels in heaven, they are still in the flesh, so they must "submit to [their] own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands" (Ephesians 5:22 ff.). This order won't be necessary for believers after the resurrection because they will no longer marry and die, and because there will only be one marriage in heaven: Christ (the Husband) and the church (the bride, Revelation 19.7-9). This also shows why God has historically destroyed societies that embrace homosexuality: it violates God's natural order and unravels the moral fabric of society; the most fundamental institution of society is the one that God Himself established first and foremost--marriage.Piper also argues that "It is not primarily the responsibility of women to build procedural and relational guidelines to protect themselves from the advances of ill-behaved men. Primarily it is the responsibility of mature manhood to establish a pattern of behaviors and attitudes" (45). It is primarily the responsibility of both! Not just the man's! A woman's only head is her husband; she does not need to rely or depend on any other man to "establish" boundaries. Piper later on claims that "the natural expression of...womanhood will be hindered by the immaturity of the man in her presence" (55). This makes no sense. True womanhood is affirmed by God and the husband and is only hindered by other immature men if the woman is insecure. But even a mature married woman, according to Piper, "will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men" (59). These comments make me very uncomfortable, for the only man a woman needs to "affirm and receive and nurture" is either her father if she's single or her husband if she's married! Not every "worthy" man she comes across!Lastly, Piper believes that men and women should be "totally committed to ministry" (73) but seems to disassociate ministry from family. Family is ministry. Every parent is a youth pastor. "For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" (1 Timothy 3:5, cf. the entire book of Proverbs). Your kids are your responsibility, your legacy, your purpose, your calling, your ministry. You had 'em, so raise 'em! The book had some helpful points, but overall it confuses rather than clarifies biblical manhood and womanhood. I would recommend Gary Smalley's If Only He Knew, Pastor Tommy Nelson's teachings on marriage and the Song of Solomon (http://dbcmedia.org/), and Pastor G. Craige Lewis' teachings on creation roles (http://www.exministries.com/true-church/) instead.


A short and sweet look at biblical manhood and womanhood. I particularly appreciate the criteria he gave to use for assessing whether a particular role is suitable for a godly woman to have authority over a man.


I'm not 100%sure what I think on this whole issue yet, but this is definitly the best book, article of blogpost I've read on this topic. the author didn't make an wild claims or speculations, and restricte himself to explaining the principles behind his beliefs in a clear and conscice manner. My only obvious objection or rather, complaint, is that although the author states at the begining that he will not include all the scriptual basis for his arguments....I want him too! I mean, at least he acknowledged that he didn't (many people won't even do that) but I really can't think what could be more important than explaining how he drew his conclusions!


This is an excellent introduction to the subject of biblical masculinity and femininity, and has whet my appetite for lengthier, weightier treatments of this important and beautiful subject matter.

Pathway Midland

This is a short essay that many could read in a day or two and get a quick overview/teaching on gender issues. In "What's the Difference?" Piper gives brief outlines of what Biblical masculinity and feminity. Being a short essay, the writer does not deal with these issues in depth. This is a great starter book for those who wish to begin the journey concerning these topics, but if you really want to explore these issues in depth, read Piper and Grudem's "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" which they co-wrote; it is a much larger work, and goes much more in depth. Overall, for this essay type work, I thought Piper did a great job teaching on these issues and keeping it readable for the average Joe.- Curtis


WTD is John Piper’s editorial introduction to Recovering Biblical Masculinity and Feminity: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, a work edited by him and Wayne Grudem. It’s short, it’s quick, it’s dirty. Does it get the job done? I say that it doesn’t for me on the basis of either “not enough evidence for the generalizations made here” or “even if these generalizations are true, they are qualified out of significance.” Let me try to substantiate these two objections by first giving the outline of this prefatory work, knowing that a lot of the good arguments for the things he simply states are probably contained in the essays that follow.Roughly stated, here are the sections and their summaries:1. Masculinity: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.2. Femininity: At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.3. A fifteen point call to men and women with some gender-specific points but many overlapping ones. The phrase “appropriate to” is the qualifier that has thrown me for a loop. In any discussions I’ve heard differences have always been the issues. Difference. Difference. Difference. I tend to think that approaching the idea of skewed cultural gender roles is the wrong approach. Antithesis tends to mistake opposition for total opposite. What I mean is that there is a whole hat-full of similarities Christian men and women ought to cultivate that have nothing to do with their gender per se. This said, gender roles are important and are not the main event of the christian life. They play out most prominently in marriage and church leadership roles, but these are limited domains.To examine something like what Piper says in his masculinity section, I fully believe that men ought not to be lazy, ought to take leadership when the situation calls for it, ought to be able to withstand pressure, and ought to provide for and protect for both men and women in ways that are appropriate to the man's given situation. The problem I have with this is not so much a problem as an exasperation: should not women do the same? Does the statement that men ought to do this entail that women should not? If so, then I’m in disagreement. If not, then why state it gender-specifically? If the reason for stating it gender-specifically is because of gender-tendency (or a kind of primary-secondary man-woman ideal-reality bit: this is the angle that really kills me in practical theology because at no point on earth can life be expected to meet ideal reality--ecclessiology, human relations and worship are the results of making the best of what we're given, not the descent of some platonic form of The Good onto The Moral Ought applied to Ward and June), I would submit that to disperse gender-generalization to All Men on the Basis of their Manness is crude and hasty at best. It's the kind of a priori move a non-anthropologist would make (read: sola scriptura, sola Pipra interpreta).At the same time—and this is the other end of my objection—if this is a simple wake-up call that could just as well be directed to women as to men, that is, if the universality of “men ought to” can be fairly applied to women as well, then the presentation of these encouragements under the title of “Gender Roles” or “Complimentary” baffles me, because the presentation of a difference seems to be the point of writing a book like this. It's the reason the table is set in the first place.At this point do I resign my objections to the idea that there are likely good answers in the essays that follow this very short, non-argumentative introduction? I wish not, but I think I have to do so.The same form of my objection can be applied to the section on feminism: affirmation and reception and nurturing of strength appropriate to a given relationship ought to be something that is done by women. And... men! This sounds like a great description of what a good father will do when raising a child. Women ought to do this, but is the point of describing this as a difference not the idea that women are doing this in great exclusion to men doing this? If this sort of thing is not being done in culture, it’s hard to nail women as the ones responsible…That is, it’s only possible to nail them as responsible if and only if…They are the only ones who can do it in the way it ought to be done! As if there's a kind of woman-nurture that men despite their best efforts cannot deliver.This is the type of difference assumed here. With gender comes specific inassessable-to-opposite-gender ways of being.The presupposition of this book is that when God created he created differently in some pretty specific ways. I agree with the idea that God created differently, but I don’t see a kind of gendered uniqueness in vague words as “leadership” or "affirmation.”The response to this is that there may not be an exclusion between men or women any of these things, but there ought to be a tendency. WTD leaves me asking, “WTF does a tendency look like?” I live in particular situations, not tendencies. I encounter life daily, not via clean a priori axioms based on tenuously-applied verses. Bring me down to earth please. It’s Aristotle verses the Forms all over again. This is where a subject-presentation of gender roles confuses me; but where Christians are indwelt by God’s Spirit, where Christians can pray for wisdom when uncertain how to love given the situation, and have been given minds and wills to act, all the while having to trust God when relationships seem dark, so there do I have hope for rightly-ordered relationships. For me it's in the specifics of things, not in the theory laid out here. In form it's impossible for it to have specific applications, hence the tenuousness.I have yet to see how adding the category of gender roles adds to what a Christian generally does in relationships anyway, but I’m open to thinking about it, the kind of, “I believe, help my blindness” kind of thing. Perhaps I will read more, perhaps I am already swimming in what this book is promoting I should be doing or am doing. How basic is this reality of gender roles that I may be overlooking, or how much effort would it take to install this reality into my life? If it were installed, would I know it? If its one of those basic things already there, am I able to observe it? Am I able to observe it if I practice observation and is life made richer when I can see life in terms of gender roles? Until I know that it passes the "does it help me do what I already know all people ought to be doing already" test, I don't know how much a schema like this is worthy, which is to say that I won't know till I know, which is kind of tenuous in itself. Maybe we're all trapped in it.

Anna Klein

An absolutely awesome book that I read with Bill to help me understand the healthy, Biblical roles of men and women. The absolute best book I've read on the subject so far--one the honors and lifts up both roles as precious and God given. Definitely recommended!


very useful to know what the bible says about manhood and womanhood.

Johnathon Vogel

Very short book, but a great starter to discovering the biblical role of men and women.

Mark Nenadov

I was very impressed by this small booklet. Piper goes through this controversial issue and lays down a solid framework for understanding Biblical manhood and womenhood.He avoids some of the extremes that we find in our society (ie. outright feminism or outright male domination and abuse) and gives some great practical advise on the fundamental differences between the two sexes.


I read this book after Piper made comments about masculine Christianity. This book is a good example of the complementarity position. This particular expression of it focuses on gender differences that have large cultural components and argues that they are actually prescribed in Scripture (e.g., it is biblical that a man do the ordering in a restaurant {???}).This book, for me, is also a god example of how an author can be extremely helpful in some ways (I really appreciated Desiring God), and not in others.


Very helpful. The lists in the back are worth visiting often.

Jennifer Nelson

This is an excellent, excellent little booklet looking at gender roles from a Biblical perspective. John Piper writes gently, but with passion and firmness about the roles that God has designed for men and women. It is the most balanced, logical, and inspiring treatment of this subject. A must read for any Christian.


3.5/5 because I felt it went downhill from what I thought was a very good chapter on Masculinity. This is probably because it's so short (the Femininity chapter was a letdown), so perhaps I'll enjoy the more exhaustive writing by Piper & Grudem. If I had known it was a brief adaptation of 'Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood', I wouldn't have wasted my time. Hopefully the more extensive work on this is worthwhile!

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