• Elaine Kelly

Book Review: The Making of Biblical Womanhood

Updated: Jun 1

Subtitle: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

Did you know that some organizations define being submissive as biblical womanhood? How did this happen, when Jesus demonstrated respect and equality and included women in his ministry? Barr shows how humans came up with this concept, called it the Gospel truth, and how the teaching has negatively impacted women, men, and the church.


Author: Beth Allison Barr, Ph.D.; professor of history at Baylor University, specializing in medieval history, women’s history, and church history.

Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing, 2021

224 pages

Genre: non-fiction, gender & Sexuality in Religion, feminist theology, women & spirituality

Historian Beth Allison Barr shares her expertise and research to reveal how the man-made definition of Biblical Womanhood is not Biblical. In the style of evangelical churches, Barr uses her personal testimony to demonstrate the truth and the impact of these findings.

Her purpose is to set women free from subjugation. I enjoyed this book very much.


Pros

- Thorough overview of the women's roles from both historical and biblical sources

- Barr’s personal story makes the work more readable, and credible and demonstrates how theology is relevant in our lives

- Barr names specific individuals and organizations and calls them to account for promoting a false idea of what the Bible says about women.

Cons

- Includes references to specific people and organizations which were unfamiliar to me.


In her introduction, Barr states that she never meant to be an activist, but could no longer watch silently as gender hierarchies oppressed and damaged both women and men in the name of Jesus. She writes to try to challenge complementarian teachings about women and the church.

Chapters:

1. The Beginning of Patriarchy. This chapter demonstrates that the church term 'Complementarianism' is the same thing as Patriarchy. Quotes from the chapter: “Patriarchy is created by people, not ordained by God.” ”Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin.” “Patriarchy may be part of Christian history, but that doesn’t make it Christian.” Dr. Beth Allison Barr

2. What if Biblical Womanhood doesn’t come from Paul? Barr discusses how Paul often quotes pagan practices and then counters them. “What if evangelicals have been understanding Paul through the lens of modern culture instead of the way Paul intended to be understood?” “Could it be that, instead of telling women to be silent like the Roman world did, Paul was actually telling men that, in the world of Jesus, women were allowed to speak?.... Instead of heeding Paul’s rebuke and freeing women to speak, are we continuing the very patriarchal practices that Paul was condemning?” “Instead of ditching pagan Rome and embracing Jesus, we had done the opposite – ditching the freedom of Christ and embracing the oppression of the ancient world.” Dr. Beth Allison Barr.

3. Our Selective Medieval Memory. Barr discusses the history of the great female cloud of witnesses which gave confidence to Christian women of history. “Despite the significant role women play in church history, and despite clear historical evidence of women exercising leadership, these popular modern church history texts present a masculine narrative of church history that minimizes female leadership.” – Beth Allison Barr

4. The Cost of the Reformation for Evangelical Women. While the Protestant Reformation brought many individual freedoms, for women, it meant less liberation and more limitations; less being Godly and more being a good wife. Women preachers and saints were forgotten. “Reformation theology might have removed the priest (as an intermediary) but it replaced him with the husband.” “Indeed, the further removed medieval women were from the married state, the closer they were to God. After the Reformation, the opposite became true for Protestant women.” “As a Protestant woman, I am thankful for the theological changes wrought by the Reformation world. But as a historian, I know these changes came with a cost. As the role of the wife expanded, the opportunities for women outside of marriage shrank. The family became not only the center of a woman’s world but her primary identity as a good Christian.” Dr. Beth Allison Barr

5. Writing Women out of the English Bible. In the King James Version (KJV), New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV) and others, words that were gender-neutral in Greek, Hebrew and Latin, were translated to male words in English. Words written to mean humanity were translated to men or referred to with male pronouns and interpreted to mean men-only. “The English Bible translated more than Hebrew text; it also translated early modern English ideas about marriage into the biblical text, as well as a ‘falsely universal language’ that excluded women.” and “Gender-inclusive language isn’t distorting Scripture. Gender-inclusive language is restoring Scripture from the influence of certain English Bible translations.” Dr. Beth Allison Barr.

6. Sanctifying Subordination. Barr shows how the sexist culture and science of the middle ages perceived women as less evolved, less capable, and more suited to domestic life. Christians legitimized these sexist ideas, making it more holy for a woman to remain at home as a wife and mother. “By the early nineteenth century, the separation of work from home, scientific claims about female distinctiveness and weakness, and Christian teachings emphasizing the role of wife and the natural piety of women melded together. The cult of domesticity was born. “ “The cult of domesticity…. emphasized piety, domesticity, submission and purity as characteristics of the ideal Christian woman.” “God’s calling on women’s lives never seems justification enough for women to preach; they have to justify their right based on their historical context of patriarchy.” Dr. Beth Allison Barr

7. Making Biblical Womanhood Gospel Truth. The idea of women being submissive was given credibility by (1) saying the complementarian interpretation of the Bible is inerrant and those who question it are unfaithful, and (2) changing the orthodox understanding of the Trinity as three equal persons; saying it's a hierarchal example and women are to be submissive to husbands as Jesus is to the Father. “Complementarians – in their blind pursuit to maintain control over women – have exchanged the truth of God for a gender hierarchy of human origin” – Dr. Beth Allison Barr

8. Isn’t It Time to set Women Free? The conclusion is that the definition of biblical womanhood as submissive, silent, and powerless, is not only unbiblical, it can be harmful and lead to abuse. Barr points to the rise of #Meetoo and #Churchtoo and states, “We can no longer deny a link between complementarianism and abuse.” “Jesus set women free a long time ago. Isn’t it finally time for evangelical Christians to do the same?”- Dr. Beth Allison Barr


I strongly recommend this book for men and women who want to honour the truth of the Bible.

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