Politics,  Theology/Bible

John Piper on Voting for a Female Vice-President

On Friday, I noted a video in which John Piper makes remarks about Barack Obama. In that same video, he also has some things to say about Sarah Palin’s candidacy:

“I personally think that it would have been better for [Sarah Palin] to stay at home with her disabled child–both for the good of the family and as a model for moms. So that’s a factor for me. I don’t think that biblically a woman should be the commander-in-chief of the . . . armed forces. And so that puts her in a very awkward position for me.”

I noticed some commenters at Justin Taylor’s website who interpreted Piper to be saying that having a female vice-president would be worse than having a pro-abortion president. Today, Piper has clarified what he meant and concludes with this:

“A person with my view may very well vote for a woman to be President if the man running against her holds views and espouses policies that may, as far as we can see, do more harm to more people than we think would be done by electing a woman President and thus exalting a flawed pattern of womanhood. In my view, defending abortion is far worse sin for a man than serving as Vice President is for a woman.”

The rest of Piper’s essay sketches in brief his view on women in positions of secular leadership. So you’ll want to read the whole thing.

“Why a Woman Shouldn’t Run for Vice President, but Wise People May Still Vote for Her” – by John Piper (DesiringGod.org)


  • Don

    I do not think Palin serving as governor of Alaska or running for VP is a sin and, in fact, Piper is sinning by claiming that, as he is missing the mark.

    I call Deborah to the witness stand in Palin’s defense.

  • Ferg

    Ok, so does that mean that if there is a woman of better morality in your church than all the men she could be in a role of leadership?

    Is his reasoning not completely ridiculous. Either she can run for it or she can’t.

  • John


    We still have not heard from you about this issue. Piper and Mohler have differing opinions. Many of us would like to know what yours is. Are you uncomfortable with it but you support her anyways because it is a lesser of two evils kind of thing? What say YOU?

  • John


    I’m trying to figure out Denny’s position and frame of thought. I don’t need your feminist critique of my question in order to do that.

  • Ali

    Wow, you guys don’t miss a beat! Always reliable commentators when this topic is raised. No disrespect, just an observation of the passion aroused in you guys in particular (and there are others on the complementarian side, too).

    Short responses to each – and I doubt I’ll take it any further. I’ve discussed these issues ad nauseum and really don’t think it’s beneficial to re-re-rehash them.

    Don – I call Isaiah (3:12) as the next witness. And on the text chucking goes…

    Ferg – Passion is a good thing, but I’m a little concerned that in this case you are not being as objective in your reading of Piper as possible. If there was one candidate that was pro-homosexual marriage and another pro-abortion, then voting for the former would not necessarily be affirming homosexual marriage. In the Church, if all the men were disqualified because they lived in adulterous relationships, then, yes, I would say a woman could take a male-only leadership position. But qualification for leadership is not based on merely one thing – a man may be less qualified in terms of character but more qualified in terms of gifting than another for a particular position. As long as the first man’s character does not disqualify him, then it may be he is the best choice. In terms of gender, under normal circumstances, there are positions limited to males, i.e., being a female disqualifies a candidate even though their character is far superior (I know, that’s hard for you to swallow). But should all males disqualify themselves morally, my reading of the Bible is that the gender restriction is a less significant disqualification in those circumstances.

    In summary, if a woman is morally more qualified, then no, she should not take up a male-only leadership position. But if the males are morally disqualified, then, while not ideal, women can (and have) filled those positions.

    That’s probably far too long an explanation!

    John – I agree. I’d be interested in Denny’s take. I tend to agree with Piper, myself.

    Sue – working against God’s revealed will is evil, though morality in manu areas always has some fuzzy borders in some circumstances (e.g. the Israeli midwives lying to save male babies and then being blessed by God). So, voting for Palin is a little fuzzy due to Obama’s abortion support.

    That’s my take, for what it’s worth.

  • John

    Thanks for the input Ali…good words.


    I do hope you decide to do a post about this or something. Your silence throughout the last couple of months has actually puzzled me about this and I don’t know or understand the reason for it. I’m not asking you to give your opinion so I can try and trap you or give some smart-alec remark, I truly want to know. Even though we disagree a lot, you still give very informed and educated opinions that are always well thought out and researched. I would like to see that prowess in regards to this issue. Thanks brother.

  • Don


    You need to translate Isa 3:12 from the Hebrew correctly and not in a sexist way. Some translations do it right, some do not.

  • Don

    NET Isa 3:12 Oppressors treat my28 people cruelly;
    creditors rule over them.29
    My people’s leaders mislead them;
    they give you confusing directions.30

  • Darius

    Actually, the best translations (TNIV or ESV) read like this:

    “Youths oppress my people,
    women rule over them.
    My people, your guides lead you astray;
    they turn you from the path.”


    “My people—infants are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
    O my people, your guides mislead you
    and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.”

  • Ali

    Yes, Don, I’m aware that every verse and passage cited by one side has an opposing explanation at the ready on the other side.

    What concerns me and confirms my decision not to get into further discussion is your apparent confidence about your preferred interpretation. From the little I’ve read even in the notes in the NET Bible, your certainty seems somewhat overconfident. Certainly, to label the alternative translation “sexist” and by implication “incorrect” and “not done right” indicates a real lack of willingness to truly discuss. That’s okay. I wasn’t intending to discuss for exactly that reason.

    Oh, and because I don’t have too much time to spare.

    Thanks for the reply, though.

  • John


    Actually, from the Hebrew correctly would be the “women” translation. Some choose to emend the text, noting that the Masoretes got their vowel pointing wrong. Either way, one should not be overly dogmatic about it. A case could be made for both of them. Even if the correct translation is “women,” this is to be expected with the patriarchal and pre-New Covenant perspective of the ancient Israelites.

  • Don

    For me, the closest I can get to the inspired Hebrew text is the consonant only Hebrew extracted from the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were not inspired and might be mistaken. Perhaps the DSS allows for an improvement, but I have read that it is almost always the same in the consonants.

    The point is that there are then choices to make how to interpret the consonants, by adding vowels and punctuation.

    Given Deborah existed with NO hint of disapproval by God in Judges, I personally find the “women” interpretation of Isa 3 in conflict and so prefer the other, as then there is no conflict.

    I hold that the Bible cannot contradict itself and if I come to a passage that LOOKS like it might contradict another, it means I need to dig deeper.

  • Darius

    Don, I would suggest reading a book like How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth by Fee. You are reading Biblical narrative like it’s supposed to be a doctrinal text where all bad behavior is called out. With that logic in mind, you could think that Gideon was right to test God repeatedly, since God gave in to his requests.

  • Don

    I have read that book by Fee and others also.

    I do not think Gideon was right to test God, but God acted despite Gideon’s weakness. God can do that, but we should not presume it.

    I am not sure why you think I am reading narrative like it is supposed to be doctrinal text, what I AM doing is challenging the translation of “women” in a specific verse.

  • Darius

    Why do you not think Gideon was right to test God? Are you reading into the text? If so, why do you do it there and then get self-righteous (i.e. calling people sexist) when others treat other texts in the same manner?

    You claimed that Deborah indicates that women in leadership are fine because the text never appears to disapprove of it. I’m just making the point that by that logic, Gideon was right to test God. In reply, you say that Gideon was wrong to do that. How do you know this? Considering God’s response, I would say that it is more faithful to the text to say that it appears that God approved of Gideon’s multiple requests (I agree that Gideon was wrong, but for other reasons).

  • Don

    On Gideon testing God:

    Deu 6:16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.

    Exo 17:7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

    David was not to commit adultery with Bathsheba, but Solomon was a result of their marriage, after David had her husband killed.

    God is sovereign and can bless us even when we disobey.

    On Deborah, God chose all the judges and there are no exceptions in God’s choices. When there are 2 choices on how to interpret/translate some negative text and one choice uses “women” and the other choice uses “creditor”, it is precisely correct to term the “women” choice as sexist.

    From m-w.com
    prejudice or discrimination based on sex ; especially : discrimination against women.

    Someone could CHOOSE to interpret the Isa 3 text so there is no discrimination against women, or someone could CHOOSE to interpret the Isa 3 test so there is. If they MAKE THE CHOICE to discriminate against women, it is a sexist choice.

  • Don

    P.S. Perhaps the sexist interpretation choice IS VALID, perhaps God WANTS us to discriminate against women in this way; that takes study in other areas of the Bible, to see the consistency or not of this possibility.

  • Darius

    Okay, thanks for the clarification, Don. I thought you were merely using “sexist” as a pejorative. And yes, perhaps God DOES want some level of “discrimination” (the word has been thoroughly destroyed in today’s PC culture). But my question is this: why is it any more discriminating to choose “women” over “creditors” if both are reasonable options? After all, creditors are people too.

  • Don

    Yes, we need to see by immediate context and the rest of Scripture whether creditors OR women is the best choice, we ARE to discriminate and think ONE of these is a bad thing (or perhaps another choice that I do not know about), per Isa 3.

    The question is what did God intend, as best we can figure out.

  • Darius

    For one, most Biblical scholarship throughout the last 2000 years chose “women” over “creditors.” While that in itself isn’t enough reason to just accept it and move on, it should give us pause from attempting to go a different direction with the translation. Personally, I don’t think this verse means a whole lot either way. Even if it does say “women,” it’s Old Testament prophesy/poetry, which could be argued doesn’t apply to Christians. What is significantly more important to me is how the apostles treated the issue. And what they did was treat women MUCH better than the culture, yet they still drew certain lines. And one of those lines was women in leadership over men. Now this isn’t so much condemnation of the women who took leadership roles as it is of the men who abdicated their rightful roles. Deborah wasn’t sinning when God used her to judge the nation, it was the nation of men who were sinning by being so worthless that God HAD to turn to Deborah. Women today who take the leadership reigns in the Church are not nearly as at fault (with some exceptions) as those men who fail to step up.

  • Ferg

    thanks so much for taking the time to respond. It’s refreshing to converse with someone like you!
    I just get the feeling around here that egalitarianism is a great evil in the church and needs to be stopped any way possible and then I hear Piper say that in some circumstances it’s ok. I had thought that a woman should not lead under any circumstances when I see the vigor in which people argue for complementarianism.
    Do you see where I’m coming from?
    I’m intrigued as to why others haven’t joined in the conversation.
    Do you guys disagree with Piper? TUAD???

    Darius do you agree that a woman should step up to the plate if the men are degenerate?

  • Darius

    If men are completely degenerate, then perhaps a woman should step up. HOWEVER, not before she does her best to get them to fulfill their duty. Furthermore, this is rarely the case today. Most female pastors are not there primarily because no men were available, but because that church decided that both were equal options.

  • Darius

    “I just get the feeling around here that egalitarianism is a great evil in the church and needs to be stopped any way possible and then I hear Piper say that in some circumstances it’s ok.”

    He said this? I must have missed it. He did imply that it isn’t the most important thing, at least in a secular political election.

  • Darius

    Notice, Ferg, that Piper was talking about secular politics, not egalitarianism in the Church. Leadership in the Church is concerned with one thing: faithfulness to God’s Word. There is no such thing as a pro-life or pro-abortion pastor, those are political terms. Pastors don’t apply for a job with a list of their views on war, economics, or education. So if a pastor is not willing to remain faithful to teaching Scriptural truth, how can he/she be trusted with leading the Body? It’s an all or none situation, which is very different from politics, where compromises have to be made.

  • John

    Does anybody know why Denny hasn’t given his take on the whole Palin/female issue? This is so strange to me.

    Maybe it’s because he really feels uncomfortable a little bit about it, but he doesn’t want to forsake his partisanship or something. He wants to be sold out to one candidate and make it look like there is no reason you should not vote for him. That’s my take at least, it has to be something like that. It’s all very odd to me.

  • Don


    Most Biblical scholarship was by men, women were seen as inherently inferior due to pagan culture influence.

    God does give guidelines on leadership, but gender is not one of them. Choosing to interpret a few verses to claim gender is one of the criteria is not a choice that is required to be made, there are other choices possible.

  • mike templin

    to all,

    Another ancient witness, i.e. the Septuagint speaks nothing of women or children in Esaias 3:12 (or Isa for Hebrew text):

    λαός μου οἱ πράκτορες ὑμῶν καλαμῶνται ὑμᾶς καὶ οἱ ἀπαιτοῦντες κυριεύουσιν ὑμῶν λαός μου οἱ μακαρίζοντες ὑμᾶς πλανῶσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ τὸν τρίβον τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν ταράσσουσιν

    -Esaias 3.12

    I just thought I would add this because the NET bible apparently pick up on the translation by the LXX in thier textual criticism.

  • Sue

    Thanks for this. It is important to realize that the ancient witnesses do not speak against a woman ruling a country. Many countries have done well with a female leade – England, India, Israel, Sheba, ….

  • Ali

    “Many countries have done well with a female leader…”

    I understand your point, Sue, but whether a country does well with a female leader or not is not the issue.

    Also, while I confess my lack of any expertise in Hebrew, your assertion that the [emphasis mine] ancient witnesses do not speak against a woman ruling a country” is a big claim, especially when the only ancient witness cited here (the Septuagint) is a loose translation, at least one translation of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls I found includes the “women” and “children” version, and there are enough doubts about the issue that different Bibles translate the verse in different ways.

    I do find it interesting, however, that you seem to accept that if the ESV and TNIV etc are right then the Bible does speak against women ruling a country.

  • Sue

    I do not believe that God would leave such an important point to an ambiguous and debatable series of consonants. I believe that God communicates clearly issues of godly government and gender has nothing to do with it. Godly leadership entails doing the right thing, and not being either male or female. God does not teach that a woman cannot make just decisions.

  • Don Johnson

    This is one example where it shows it is important to NOT rely on just one translation or even just 2 even when they differ as much in translation philosophy as the ESV and TNIV.

  • Ali

    No doubt this thread is a 20th order matter right now, but since I’m not American, let me leave one last comment.

    Sue, I agree. God’s will on this matter is to be gleaned from more than one verse and I think it can be. You and I will disagree what that will is, however.

    I also agree it is an important matter, but I suspect it’s of supreme importance to you. I don’t share that perspective. I believe the Bible was written to communicate the gospel, and gender issues are secondary to that.

    The reason I voice the above suspicion is because of your last statement: God does not teach that women cannot make just decisions. I wholeheartedly agree and history and everyday experience shows that women are completely capable of making just decisions. But that is not what we have been discussing. To introduce this into the discussion at hand, I think, shows that there is more going on here for you.

    My fear, (and I may be wrong here) is that your passion for gender issues is so strong that you cannot concede any ground to “the other side” for fear of being dehumanised. That strength of passion is an idolatry that is shared by many on both sides of the issue and sadly doesn’t contribute to finding the truth.

    Please forgive me if I am wrong.

    Don, yes, I agree we should look into translation issues where they appear, but I also think we need to be careful not to search around for a translation that says what we want it to say and just camp there. I’m not saying that’s what you are doing, necessarily, but, while it doesn’t settle the dispute, the fact that the ESV and TNIV agree on this verse is significant.

  • Don Johnson


    My take on the ESV and the TNIV agreeing on Isa 3:12 is that for whatever reason, they happened to use the same evidence, whatever it was. I did find it surprising; my point is that even if you think you might be covering the spectrum by using the ESV and TNIV for your personal study, you might not be; it is simply safer to not depend too much on 1 or 2 translations.

    It is possible to think too much of a translation, which is after all only a translation. Since a translation involves word choices, it is a given that ANY translation involves interpretation; in effect, the translator is telling you how they interpret the translated text. Another way of saying it is that a translation is a translator’s way of trying to get you to agree with his interpretation, to make it as easy as possible for you to agree with them.

    It is important to know the agenda of the translator(s). I expect a translation by Roman Catholics to conform with Catholic doctrine as much as possible. I expect the ESV to support non-egal doctrine and the TNIV to try to be gender-accurate, as general statements, as these are claims made by the translators.

    When one DOES come across translations that differ significantly, this identifies a potentially problem passage, where further study is warranted.

  • Ali

    Hi Don,

    When one DOES come across translations that differ significantly, this identifies a potentially problem passage, where further study is warranted.

    Sure. But when, as you say, you come across two translations with differing translation policies (eg. TNIV and ESV) that agree, surely that also is not to be sneezed at, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it settles the matter.

    I don’t think I’d be as quick to draw such straight lines between the doctrine of the translators and their translation choices, though. There is a difference between openly working with a considered policy about how to translate certain words and phrases (i.e. the ESV and TNIV), and allowing your doctrine to determine the outcome of every textual variation. The small number of examples I’ve seen over the years indicate that to be too simplistic a view. Even Catholics scholars are willing to choose a variant that does not lend support to Catholic doctrine if the evidence leads that way.

    (It’s been a while, so I’d have to search to find examples, but the present ones of the TNIV and NET translation of Is 3:12 should not be ignored).

  • Ali

    Hi Don,

    Look, I don’t know why I had to point out a further disagreement in my last comment. I agree that we should look at different translations. Let’s just leave it at that.


  • Don Johnson

    As I am sure you know, Catholics believe in a Magisterium that can infallibly interpret, so they have a way to come up with doctrine in a way that prots (like me) would say is even contra Scripture.
    But it is surprising when they translate a verse that has translation choices in a way that is less Catholic-supporting that it might otherwise be; as it shows the evidence for those translators must have been pretty convincing. That is, if one is predisposed to Zig, and you end up Zagging, it is of interest to observers.

    Similarly, if a church uses the ESV or HCSB as their main study Bible, then a church member following along is more than halfway to becoming non-egal, since those translations were made using that hypothesis.

  • Teresa

    Something I wonder about gender complementarian Christians; do they believe there are any activities men should not do? For example, one could make the case that only female doctors should practice gynecology and other medical care on women in the interests of modesty.

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