The Making of Biblical Womanhood

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

by Beth Allison Barr
Genres: Ancient, Nonfiction, History, Religion
Published on April 20, 2021
Pages: 256
Source: Library

Biblical womanhood--the belief that God designed women to be submissive wives, virtuous mothers, and joyful homemakers--pervades North American Christianity. From choices about careers to roles in local churches to relationship dynamics, this belief shapes the everyday lives of evangelical women. Yet biblical womanhood isn't biblical, says Baylor University historian Beth Allison Barr. It arose from a series of clearly definable historical moments.
This book moves the conversation about biblical womanhood beyond Greek grammar and into the realm of church history--ancient, medieval, and modern--to show that this belief is not divinely ordained but a product of human civilization that continues to creep into the church. Barr's historical insights provide context for contemporary teachings about women's roles in the church and help move the conversation forward.
Interweaving her story as a Baptist pastor's wife, Barr sheds light on the #ChurchToo movement and abuse scandals in Southern Baptist circles and the broader evangelical world, helping readers understand why biblical womanhood is more about human power structures than the message of Christ.

“Patriarchy exists in the Bible because the Bible was written in a patriarchal world.”

You know I’m always up for a good analysis of Christianity. I have opinions. One of my strongest opinions is that Paul was the worst thing to ever happen to Christianity. He wrote all the things that people have used to subjugate anyone who doesn’t look like them. This author directly tries to counter that argument.

Her idea is that Paul was fairly radical for his time. He believed in equality between man and women. I’m not sure I’m buying the points she made. I see what she is trying to do but I’m unconvinced.

The medieval clergy couldn’t explain away Mary Magdalene preaching, so they made her an exception. Because she was an extraordinary rather than an ordinary woman, ordinary women’s ability to follow her example was diminished.

She does agree that men in charge of the church have used Paul’s writings – She says misinterpreted – to keep women out of leadership.

Ben Witherington: “No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis, to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in the church.”

The author was the wife of a youth pastor who was fired for suggesting that perhaps the church they were in should allow women to take more leadership roles. At the time she was teaching classes at Baylor University in biblical history but was not allowed to teach Sunday School for teenagers at her church. The reason given was that women were not allowed to have that kind of authority over teenage boys. As you might imagine, there were several times I cussed the people in these stories out and yelled, “Run, girl, run!” at the author.

She was a seminary grad. But she tells this story about her time studying in a conservative Christian school.

“One professor was known to divide his students into permanent small groups in his class, and each student was tasked with leading a group discussion. The professor would then pronounce in front of the entire class that if a male student was uncomfortable with a woman leading, the student should let him know. The professor would switch that student into a group without women. The message was clear: any man could lead in this class, regardless of his qualifications or how uncomfortable he made women, but the position of every woman in his class was precarious.”

She points out that the focus on complementarianism (the idea that men and women have strict gender roles in a family and church) is a fairly new thing. The problem is that it is being taught was biblical truth and not a cultural issue.

By forgetting our past, especially women who don’t fit into the narrative that some evangelicals tell, we have made it easier to accept the “truth” of biblical womanhood. We don’t remember anything different.

Complementarianism rewards women who play by the rules.