If you're like me, you enjoy nestling under some covers with a mug of hot tea (or coffee) and settling in to read a good book during the holidays. Since "biblical womanhood" is in the title, you might pick up A Year of Biblical Womanhood out of curiosity, or you might have heard some chatter regarding this new book by Rachel Held Evans on the Today Show or other TV shows and want to know more. I had read reviews of the book on the Gospel Coalition's site and on the Desiring God blog, which made me wary of the book's content, but especially because my small group is studying various facets of biblical womanhood this semester, I wanted to read the book and decide for myself. Here are a few concluding thoughts that I have regarding the book.

A Short Summary of the Book

Having been raised in a conservative evangelical church in the South, Evans received conflicting and, often, guilt-inflicting messages about how Scripture describes a woman's role. People would throw around the term "biblical womanhood," yet they varied in their definitions of the term. So, taking a page from A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically, Evans set out to spend one year obeying all of Scripture's commands that relate to women. Although she developed a "Biblical Woman's Ten Commandments" to guide her decisions for the year, she also focused on one particular virtue per month and designed creative ways to learn about and to practice that virtue.

Relevant Overarching Question

Is there a cookie cutter way that all women should live in all eras of history? Obviously, times have changed since the Ancient Near Eastern era, so does biblical womanhood mean that we must pray with our heads covered (1 Cor. 11), remain silent in church (1 Tim. 2), and avoid wearing braided hair, pearls, and gold jewelry (1 Tim. 2)? Or were these specific instructions to women in particular contexts? Great questions we as women should consider, but...

Shaky Hermeneutics

  • I do disagree with many of Evans' interpretations of passages, for she often takes them prescribing a particular way of living instead of the passage describing something. For example, she takes 1 Peter 3:5-6 ("For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening."), which describes an action of Sarah, and interprets it to literally mean that she should call her husband "master." Another example has to do with polygamy. Although the Bible describes polygamy and regulates it, this does not mean that God desires His people to have polygamous relations. Genesis 2 clearly describes the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Just because Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon had multiple wives does not make it right.

  • In the book, Evans states, "Despite what some may claim, the Bible's not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today" (p. 48). Granted, Scripture does not present perfect families (remember the Abraham and Hagar situation or the Jacob-Leah-Rachel love triangle?), but it also presents them not as models for morality but as mirrors for identity. Considering that the Bible is the only inerrant and active Word we have, it is the best place to look for how families should operate and live.

  • Avoid taking Scripture out of context! This happens several times throughout the book such as when she takes Paul's statement in Titus 1:12 ("'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons'") to mean that Christians should boycott vacationing in Crete and should speak out against Cretans (pp. 259-260). However, Paul is actually quoting a Cretan philosopher and does so to make a point regarding false teachers in the church of Crete. This isn't an "embarrassing" bit of Scripture when one understands it in context of the surrounding passage.

  • While Evans rails against selective literalism (pp. 52-54), she practices her own version of it. For example, in the month where she practiced "modesty," Evans concludes that "true modesty has little to do with clothing or jewelry or makeup" (p. 139-140). While she does correctly explain that modesty involves a person's attitude of self-control, plainness, and humility, these things do have external repercussions in how we should dress. What we wear shouldn't cause others to stumble and shouldn't be worn with the intention of flaunting our wealth or anatomical assets (1 Tim. 2:9). While we don't necessarily have to wear turtlenecks and keep our ankles covered, how we dress - whatever we do - should glorify God (Col. 3:17).

  • Evans relies on modern Jews and rabbis in her interpretations of Old Testament passages. However, this is problematic because much of what modern Jews and rabbis practice and preach extends beyond what is specifically included in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). They actually rely just as much on tradition and on the words of ancient rabbis than they do Scripture. So what Evans deems "biblical" actually isn't always in Scripture but is tradition.

  • Evans includes commands from both the Old Testament and the New Testament without explanation of how Christ's death and resurrection renders many of the levitical laws (such as the laws relating to food or to a woman's period) obsolete. When studying the Old Testament, we must read it in light of Christ.

  • To be fair, Evans doesn't get it all wrong. I gave a hearty "amen" to her response to those whose definition of biblical womanhood includes remaining beautiful for her husband so he won't be tempted by other women. On this subject, she states, "...the Bible consistently presents us with a realistic and affirming view of female beauty. The writers of ancient Scripture seemed to acknowledge what all women instinctively know - that our bodies change as we get older, as we bear children, when we get sick, and as we experience joy, pain, life, death, victory, heartache, and time. And frankly, the suggestion that men are too weak to handle these realities is as emasculating as it is unbiblical" (p. 105).

Entertaining Read

There are plenty of laughable moments in the book, and Evans engages readers with her anecdotes. I mean, Evans calls her husband "master" for an entire week, rents a computerized baby doll to practice being a mother, and observes Levitical purity laws and subsequently camps out in her yard while on her period - there's plenty of fodder for some chuckles!

Concluding Thoughts

Evans concludes by determining that there is no such thing as "biblical womanhood" (pp. 294=-95), that there is no one-size-fits-all formula. I disagree in the sense that there are guiding principles established in Scripture that remain the same in every era. For example, "Women, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22) remains a command for every married Christian woman to follow. Where there is not a cookie cutter approach is in how some instructions in Scripture play out in particular cultures. Scripture does not specify what all wifely submission includes, and among godly marriages, submission will not look exactly the same in every marriage.

If you do decide to read A Year of Biblical Womanhood for yourself, I encourage you to read critically (as we should with any book) and to measure it by the content of Scripture. Know what Scripture says and do not merely accept what anyone else states it means without studying the Word for yourself. For as Evans herself correctly asserts, just because we attach the adjective "biblical" to something does not make it biblical.