Home > Books & Reading, Christianity > A Year of Biblical Womanhood Leads Me to Question the Bible

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Leads Me to Question the Bible

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


I read A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. It got to me in a way that no other book has. I began questioning such verses as I Timothy 2:9-15, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, and I Peter 3:1-2. I will quote those verses for you because I hate seeing a string of verses without seeing the actual words.

I Timothy 2:9-15

…likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Ephesians 5:22-24

Wives, submit to your 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.

Colossians 3:18

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

I Peter 3:1-2

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

It’s tough for a married woman to believe the Bible, especially when you’ve got verses like that. Evans quotes Sharyn Dowd who says:

…the apostles ‘advocated this system not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about. It was the best culture had to offer.

So this led me to wonder: Are these verses cultural to the time and period these women lived in, or are they prescriptive for millenniums later?

It’s a question I still haven’t fully answered. Evans came to the conclusion of “mutual submission” based upon Ephesians 5:21 that says “submit to one another.” But then I feel like she’s picking and choosing which verses to adhere to and which verses she wants to throw out. But Evans admits to picking and choosing:

For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it.

Evans has come to the conclusion that picking and choosing is what people who hold the Bible as sacred do. I tend to agree with her. I wrestle with the following text, for example I Corinthians 11:4-10:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

As far as I’m aware, the only Christian denominations that require head coverings for women are the Amish and Mennonites. Most Christian denominations do not require head coverings and take the tact of Christian liberty upon this passage. So why not Christian liberty with the passages regarding wives submitting to husbands?

The verse that I feel like was elevated above every other was the following one from Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I read the endorsements at the beginning of the book and became quite skeptical when I saw a blurb from Brian McLaren whose book I couldn’t even finish because it was so riddled with theological error. (I didn’t have to go to seminary to understand that McLaren was doing mental gymnastics in his book, A New Kind of Christianity.) I became even more skeptical when I saw an endorsement from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, who (to my knowledge) isn’t even a professing Christian. Then for the month of June, she used Debi Pearl’s book (of No Greater Joy Ministries), Created to Be His Help Meet, as her rulebook for submission. This really threw me for a loop as Pearl’s book is another text filled with theological gymnastics and riddled with error. (Who can forget or forgive the passage in which Pearl tells a young woman who is physically abused and threatened by her husband to stop “‘blabbing about his sins’ and win him back by showing him more respect”?)

When I told my husband that Evans’s book had been featured on Oprah’s website and NPR, he did further investigating and found that Evans and her book had also been featured on “The Today Show” and “The View.” Then he asked me, “Do you really want to take your cues from someone who’s been featured on Oprah and has an NPR endorsement? I’m highly skeptical of anything that was featured on morning talk show circuits.”

Kathy Keller, wife of famed pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, criticizes Evans’s hermeneutics and biblical interpretation. (Did Rachel go to seminary like Ms. Keller? I don’t know many women who have a keep grasp of hermeneutics that haven’t attended seminary.) Trillia Newbell who wrote for the Desiring God website took a different tack:

As I read the book, it became increasingly clear to me of one theme: God’s word was on trial. It was the court of Rachel Held Evans. She was the prosecution, judge, and jury. The verdict was out. And with authority and confidence, she would have the final word on womanhood.

Did she? According to Evans, she was looking for a “good story” when she first embarked on her year of biblical womanhood, but in the end:

I think I was looking for permission—permission to lead, permission to speak, permission to find my identity in something other than my roles, permission to be myself, permission to be a woman.

What a surprise to reach the end of the year with the quiet and liberating certainty that I never had to ask for it. It had already been given.

Evans found what she was looking for, but she leaves a lot of evangelical female readers like me bereft of where to go from here. Should we pick and choose as she has done or should we accept that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” as it says in II Timothy 3:16-17?

This is a long post, I know, but I’m really trying to think out the implications of Evans’s book. My husband and I were discussing the roles of men and women in marriage, and I simply couldn’t help but feel that women are marginalized in certain denominations of modern Christianity.

When Jackie Roese delivered her first sermon at Irving Bible Church near Dallas, Texas, in 2008, she had to have a bodyguard for protection.

“I think the strangest thing I heard was that a woman preaching on a Sunday morning would inevitably lead to the acceptance of bestiality,” Jackie said with a laugh.

Even before I read Evans’s book I wondered what would be so wrong with a female preacher? As Evans pointed out, Mary Magdalene was sent to tell the disciples part of the gospel—that Jesus had risen from the dead! Isn’t a woman preacher better than no one at all? I know some people would argue no, but I think “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (I Corinthians 9:22).

And I think that’s the point of Evans’s book. The Bible is confusing, contradictory, and culture-based. Do I still believe this sacred text? Yes. Do I think people pick and choose which text to adhere to? Yes. And do I think the ultimate goal is God, Jesus, and the gospel? Heck, yes!

  1. Chris
    December 29, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    Very well written and very thought provoking – thank you!

  2. December 30, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Interesting post! However, can people say they believe that the Bible is sacred and the word of God, and at the same time say that it has contradictions and is culture-based? I believe that it is culture-based, since we don’t see a lot of churches today prohibiting women from being pastors or using make up, like the verses above indicated. Also, slavery is currently considered illegal and wrong, unlike the Bible indicates. We often get caught up with all of these discussions about what is culturally right and wrong, trying to put labels and condemn behaviors such as roles in the church, homosexuality, slavery, government, etc, and miss what I believe is the essential message of the Gospel, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Bible can be used as a guide and an inspirational book, but we should be careful not to end up worshiping the Bible itself to the point of drifting away from its main message of love, care, mercy, and forgiveness.

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