Rachel Held Evans’ year of ‘biblical womanhood’

Rachel Held Evans

Marta L.
October 22, 2012

I'm glad to see Rachel's book getting talked about here, because I've been following her blog these last few months and am really looking forward to reading it. It's a fantastic project, and I commend her for having the strength to grow in her understanding of the Bible.

One thing about this passage that did trouble me, though, was Rachel's connection of a literal translation with "<i>there would be no picking and choosing</i>." As a humanities grad student I am fully aware of the fact that often a word-for-word translation isn't the best way to translate a text's true meaning, even with something as dry as legal codes. Cultures change, and that means the significance of different practices change with it. For instance, covering your head in prayer probably doesn't mean the same thing to us as it did to Paul. And ritual impurity due to menstruation (even if I believed it applied to non-Jews) is very different when you do it alone, than it is when it's part of a richer culture. (As a friend of an orthodox Jew, I know her association with the practice is very different from my own.) Because of this, I believe there <i>is</i> a choosing when we choose to take the Bible at its literal level.

That said, I think the experience of taking on all these new practices will be an important one, and a powerful read. Can't wait for the book!

October 22, 2012

By putting into practice all sorts of Old Testament rituals that the New Testament says are no longer in force, Rachel obscures the issue. And I'm not sure that that is not her intent.

What I mean is that I'm not sure that the purpose of Rachel's experiment was not to avoid what the New Testament says about women and specifically, wives. There is no lack of consistency here, with Paul and Peter (the apostle to the Gentiles and the apostle to the Jews) saying the same thing: that wives are to quietly submit to and respect their husbands.

Should wives cover their heads? In cultures where this is a sign of respect for the husband (such as first century Corinth), yes.

Can wives take positions of leadership in the church? It is more typical for men to take on these roles, but the New Testament might leave room for women to as well. (If someone wonders how I come to that conclusion, please write me.) But wives are never to be placed in a postion of authority over their husbands in the church.

The New Testament at least makes all of the above clear. But I don't think Rachel wants clarity for either herself or for those who read her book.

That's how it seems, anyway.

Marta L.
October 23, 2012

(This is in reply to Koob's comment.)

I've not read the book in its entirety, but I have read excerpts. I've also been following Rachel's blog where she and other readers have discussed her project. I'm a little hesitant to judge a project without having read the book, but I don't think her job is to obscure anything. While I don't always agree with Rachel's interpretation of the Bible, I sense in her a servant's spirit. A sister in Christ. However you want to put it - she's not perfect, but her heart is good and I believe she is trying to work for good rather than obfuscate what Holy Scripture teaches.

I'm also uncomfortable with this idea that what Scripture teaches is clear or simple, particularly when the "clear" meaning seems so in line with what a lot of people are taught by culture and are inclined to believe. Yes, Paul and Peter implored wives to submit to their husbands in particular cultural contexts. But Christ encouraged Mary to learn at his feet with the male apostles rather than banishing her to the kitchen. it was women he appeared to at the grave. The curse of Eve was removed through His death. And there are the many women who Paul sent out and asked the churches to support, or who headed their own churches (Junia in Rom 16.7, Phoebe in Rom 16.1-2, Nympha in Col 4.15, etc.)

My point isn't that this paints a rosy picture for egalitarianism or feminism. I happen to believe both philosophies are basically true (though not perfect), but I can see how people reading the Bible might come to different conclusions. My point is that there is much to commend <i>both</i> views, and the truth is to be found by struggling with all these passages. God's word is useful for rebuking, for helping us grow, and those who think they have it all figured out in a neat set of beliefs were often the ones most challenged by Christ's teachings.

October 23, 2012

Rachel, you grabbed me with your opening paragraph and then floored me with the punch line: "the point became moot when a woman ran uncontested." I know a lot of Christians would point to Deborah (Judges 4-5) at this point and argue that the only reason God raised up a woman is that no man was willing. I tend to think instead that the reason no man took charge (whether in Deborah's time or at your school) is because when God works in people's hearts to raise them to leadership he does so regardless of whether they are male or female. After all, he is no respector of persons. (Acts 10:34.)

I really appreciate that the year you spent exploring the Bible's teachings has led to a serious study of what it means to follow God. As you say, "biblical" is a word that gets tossed around with various intents. When it comes to manhood or womanhood, rather than pursue a biblical model - whatever that means - I think we are to pursue Christ and a Christ-like model. A Christ-like woman or man is a person who is being conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29.) I'd rather be that than try to conform to someone's notion of "biblical" manhood.

Thanks for helping me think through these things, Rachel.


Bob S.
October 24, 2012

Hasn't this been done before? "The Year of Living Biblically" by A.J. Jacobs comes to mind. I'm not sure what the point of these projects are, especially from a Christian. Shouldn't we be able to do a better job at hermeneutics rather than promote a naive (at best) approach to God's Word? I don't get it.

January 10, 2013

I am saddened that I did not get in on this discussion back in October when it took place. I'm also saddened by the increasing prevalence of the rejection of God's best for women. It is ironic that those who reject complementarianism believe that their end is that of valuing or respecting womanhood, and their means that of destroying God's conception of it. Rachel Held Evans' "project" that involves misapplication of Scripture and her college experience are not a hermeneutic. And, it is very alarming to me that no one seems to take issue with a statement like,
"Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman? She would do well to recognize that."
Moreover, Held-Evans admits that her attitude toward "trying biblical womanhood" was patronizing and flippant from the outset: "When I considered the sheer absurdity of someone like me doing something like this, the best I could do was laugh at the days to come. And there was something strangely liberating about that."
You don't "try biblical womanhood" any more than you "try" Jesus. Either you believe it and commit to it with all your heart or you reject it outright. Rachel's project was that of a clown. She knows it, too. But then she also knows that circus acts sell.

Add your comment to join the discussion!