Biblical Womanhood Is Nothing (And Neither Is Biblical Manhood)

Biblical Womanhood is a loaded phrase. Some people think it means a woman like this and others this woman. Biblical Manhood is like that too, causing some people to think of this guy and others to think of this one.

But my favorite image of Biblical Womanhood is this one:

Judges 4:21 – One Example of Biblical Womanhood

All of this came to mind because of a couple of articles I read recently, coming at the issue from different perspectives but both calling for a focus on Jesus and not on our sex.

Rejecting The Staus Quo

Rachel Stone (whose awesomely talented father drew that Jael picture) pointed out that a real woman of the Bible - a Biblical Woman, if you will – is one who points others to Jesus. In her essay on Edith Schaeffer, Rachel recognized that Schaeffer came from a different time in our culture, one that sounds so different that it might almost be taken as a different culture entirely. Rachel compared her younger self to Schaeffer and found a stark contrast:

I was haunted by all the ways that I didn’t seem to measure up. Edith dropped out of college before marrying Francis and worked to put him through seminary; I was determined to go to graduate school. Edith made sure that she was looking serene and beautiful for her husband after the birth of her child (in the days when fathers weren’t allowed to attend deliveries); my husband had to take care of me for months while I struggled unattractively with all-day morning sickness. Edith seemed to have been serenely content during difficult domestic times; I had a temper.

Yet despite coming from such a different time and culture, Rachel points out that Schaeffer’s ministry continues to serve the church and those of us who follow Jesus today:

[T]his creative and thoughtful woman opened doors … for many of us in the evangelical world, helping us to realize that things like literature, music, dance, good food, and beauty aren’t unspiritual or worldly, but pathways to enjoying God and God’s good gifts, a message we might today take as a given, but one that was, in her time, a spirited rejection of the status quo. And for that energetic conviction, I will remember her with gratitude and admiration.

I love Rachel’s point here. A woman who fits the sterotype of Biblical Womanhood might very well be one who engages in “a spirited rejection of the status quo”, even one that is firmly entrenched in the church of that time.

Breaking Out Of The Box

That same day I read Aimee Byrd’s excellent piece about getting outside the box of Biblical Womanhood (and her article applies just as much to men as women). She speaks of attending a conference where 73-year-old Susan Hunt cautioned:

With intentions to counteract the world’s messages and be biblical women, we can condense biblical womanhood into a set of rules, legalistic moralism. Susan warned us that womanhood is particularly susceptible to a reductionistic/simplistic approach. She encouraged us that biblical womanhood is much bigger than the box.

Rules and legalistic moralism. I’ve heard plenty of that from people who try to teach, speak, and write about what it means to be a man or woman in the body of Christ. Aimee (whose doctrine tends toward complementarian while mine is decidedly egalitarian) hits it out of the park in responding to one of the commenters to that article:

 I guess you could say that Susan Hunt offered up as our “maximalist interpretation” the relationship within the Trinity. Being made in the image of God, we were created as covenantal creatures that reflect him. In that way, our equality as distinctive, sexual beings does not equal sameness. We have complementary functions with the same purpose, to glorify God.

However, I’m not sure that I am willing to say that a maximalist interpretation leads to a woman staying at home. I do believe that it is an ideal way for a woman to fulfill her role as a helper and life-giver, but not the only way – especially when you consider her many seasons in life. (Emphasis added.)

Funny Family Ecard: You say complementarian, I say egalitarian. Now that we have our oven mittens, let's go check the biscuits.

Which brings me to the point. How Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood – whatever those phrases mean – are lived by the members of the body of Christ will be different for each individual woman and man. The only universal principle that I can discern in Scripture is that we are each destined to be more like Jesus as we grow in him.

Being Biblical

That’s my sole test for whether I am conforming to Biblical Manhood – am I growing in and conforming to the likeness of Christ? I think the same standard can be applied to women.

If the answer is no, then no amount of domestic/marital/family/whatever rule-following will transform the person into a Biblical Man or Woman. And if the answer is yes, then no amount of failing to follow such rules will diminish the person’s status as a woman or man of God. In fact, I suggest we dispense with the phrases Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood and go with Christlikeness.

Now that’s the way to be Biblical.

***

[On a related topic, I wrote a while back on John Piper's mistaken call for a more masculine Christianity. You might also like my post arguing that women in the Body of Christ aren't ladies.]

***

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52 Responses to Biblical Womanhood Is Nothing (And Neither Is Biblical Manhood)

  1. Aimee Byrd says:

    Okay, the cartoons today are top notch. I’m looking forward to reading Rachel’s article when I have some more time later. Thanks for adding to the conversation. The way I see it, we were made different sexes for a reason, and that is to reflect the Trinity–Equal in purpose, different in function. And yet, our culture tries to draw the “function box.” Many of the times Scripture uses the word for “helper” to describe God, they describe functions that we might put in the “man” category, like as a defender and protector.
    And if I might drop the “S” word, I think it is a very beautiful thing in the Trinity, and one that we have also made ugly. Susan Hunt pointed out that Christ voluntarily submitted to the Father. That word “voluntarily” has been kind of left out by both women and men.

    • Tim says:

      I love that image of a “function box”, Aimee. As if God’s work in our lives, men and women, can be put in a box! Voluntary submission among Christians one and all is the model that I see in Scripture.

    • SJBeals says:

      Great post, Aimee. I am reviewing a new child’s book for Moody Publishers by Susan Hunt and she lays out these great truths in a picture book!! :) Equal, but different, but created for the same purpose: glorifying God. I was so ecstatic about all of that truth being packed into a little picture book. :)

  2. I laughed out loud at the Precious Moments spike through the head.

    And can I just agree with everything Aimee Byrd said?

    (Also, this is so timely for me, Tim. My neighbor wanted to get into “biblical womanhood” the other day, and her definition was a little different than mine, and I felt pretty crappy after that conversation. The good thoughts + awesome cartoons are just what I needed.)

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad for God’s timing in getting you this post to read today, Anne. And as for agreeing with everything Aimee said, I’m right there with you.

      (On the cartoons, isn’t the one from Rachel’s Dad a hoot? The oven mitt cartoon is one I created at someecards. It’s their graphic but I wrote the text.)

  3. Your perspective gels with me Tim. In essence if we point to Jesus that’s the litmus test, I believe, and the fruit is love. I love God’s Word but there is a problem with analysis-to-application in that not all of us read with the same hermeneutics. If we examine the Word and come up with a rule that fits our thinking and then apply it to someone else, where is the love? Christ died to fulfill the law, not to get us to dissect his Word it so that it fits into our way of thinking. And yet, if action defies scripture we are walking off the path. I think as we seek to follow Christ, when our hearts are full of love and not judgement, we are less apt to go far wrong.

    • Tim says:

      Sarah, you’ve captured in one paragraph what I took a whole post to write about. I love every line here, and particularly the conclusion: Yes we are apt to go less wrong when acting out of Christ’s love!

  4. janehinrichs says:

    Keeping the Main Thing (Jesus) the main thing….that is what is important. I love the cartoons too Tim!

  5. Deanna Ratz says:

    Excellent post (and the cartoon made me laugh too!) Also, as a single person, I love the definition of Biblical womanhood as growing in Christlikeness; since much of the debate around the topic of Biblical womanhood has to do with the role of women in marriage and the home, something that is completely irrelevant to me at this point, your different focus is refreshing!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Deanna. If being a biblical man or woman depended on being married, Paul would have flunked the test!

      • Laura says:

        Good post Tim! And I relate to Deanna. While I am married (20 plus years), I don’t have kids. So much church focus for women is on roles…your role as mom, wife, housewife, etc. This alienates a variety of women – not only singles, but women like me too. The focus should be on Christ, but too often seems to be on roles. What if you don’t have that role, either in the present or never? The funny pictures in your post are sadly close to reality in evangelicalism (whether overtly or indirectly), as women and men are often put in boxes. Perhaps as a woman who does not fit in the box, these things stand out to me more.

        • Tim says:

          Thanks Laura. I agree about the role-thing. As soon as we announce a conference to help people become better men of God or women of God, I start to ask whether the conference is going to focus on being more like Christ or more like whatever image of proper manhood or womanhood is in the mind of the speakers.

          It’s an issue I’ve brought up with others in church leadership on the local level too. We can get overly focused on programming as the way to build Christians, but I think the Bible says that it is actually the work of the Holy Spirit and Scripture itself builds one into the person God wants her or him to be. Can programming be part of that? Sure, but some I’ve spoken to seem to see it as an alternative and not merely a supplement. Sad.

        • janehinrichs says:

          Tim, I appreciate your comments to Laura about the roles becoming an alternative to what matters. I have the same problem with people focusing on being “holy.” We can’t make ourselves holy. That’s God’s job. We focus on Jesus and go where He tells us to go and live in Him and all that that goes with it and God will make us holy vessels. I guess I am on a soap box because I am part of a Bible study right now that this topic just came up. Maybe it’s good I talk about it now — I don’t really want to cause a huge problem at our next meeting…but I do want to draw people’s attention to the issue…

        • Tim says:

          I hope that study goes well Jane, with lots of rich discussion. I was just listening to a bunch of talks Darrell Johnson did years ago on the Upper Room Discourse and he was getting to the part about Jesus leaving so he could send the Holy Spirit. Johnson pointed out that being holy as God is holy is not accomplished by following a list of holy rules and laws, but by being indwelt by a Holy Presence, God the Holy Spirit himself.

  6. Jeannie says:

    I really appreciate this post and Rachel and Aimee’s points and all the comments so far. To suggest that there is only one way to be a “Biblical woman” is a recipe for guilt and judgmentalism. But to become more like Jesus, trusting in the Spirit’s power and the Father’s love to do that, is something for everyone: male, female, old, young, married, single, etc. Thanks for exploring this important issue today.

    • Tim says:

      That only-one-way type thinking always gets me, Jeannie. As if there were a monolithic structure called the Biblical Man and another called the Biblical Woman!

  7. SJBeals says:

    Okay, the precious moments cartoon: hysterical. :) I have to say that I bristle at “Biblical Womanhood” discussions on the web (probably in my rebellious sin nature, truth be told.) because invariably they take on a life all their own. My son has a squeezy stress ball at his desk, and when he squeezes it through his fingers, it bulges and contorts through his fingers making one “bulge” of the ball prominent. (does that make any sense?) This is what ends up happening with these discussions. I want to be obedient to God’s word, especially where it is directed specifically towards women, but where God is vague, we can’t declare that He has been specific. I also believe that focusing on that one issue magnifies it and distorts it. (we call it “tangent christianity” in our home). I really want to live a life that is sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is teaching me, and that might look different for me than it does my sister in the church. I may be called to stay home with my kids while she may be called to work to support her family. As long as we are following Christ, aren’t we both biblical women?
    Thanks for this post, Tim. :) Sorry for the novel.

    • Tim says:

      I am glad for the novel, Sarah, and especially for introducing me to your household phrase “tangent Christianity”!

    • Retha says:

      “Tangent Christianity”- I love it. I recently asked myself why some people could harm themselves and others so much while trying to follow God, and came to the conclusion that they forget the big things and go on a tangent. (My most recent blog entries are also about that.)

  8. SJBeals says:

    Also, I have a dear friend whose husband got caught up in the “patriarchy’ movement, which in this instance just equalled overbearing men who were focused on their wife’s submission to them. Let’s just say that not only did their marriage not thrive, but I watched a once spiritually healthy woman shrivel up and “die” emotionally. Thankfully, they are coming out of that, but still…the damage has been done and will never be forgotten. So sad.

  9. Kathleen says:

    I would love your thoughts on my last post Know your Mission Field. I think there are Biblical issues that the church has taken out of context and caused confusion. Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” Seeing everyone in the context of eternity and His glory, changes how we look at others and how we conduct ourselves in order not to cause anyone to stumble. Are Christian women submitting to men to model the Church submits to Christ, or are we demanding equality in roles and authority, modeling the Church equal to Christ and His authority? This might look different in each of our lives, but only to the extent that it is another light reflecting God’s glory.

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  11. Mary Anne says:

    As someone who usually heaves at the mere proximity of all things Precious Moments, I thought the cartoon was a HOOT. (And don’t even get me started on Footprints in the Sand.)

    As for Biblical womanhood, I’ve been told variations of the following:

    I’m not fulfilling my destiny as a woman of God if I don’t have children. (Well, gee, I’d need a HUSBAND for that, unless you’d rather have me break all ten of the Commandments instead of just nine . . .)

    That the reason I’m not married (yet) is because I have never wanted children, so for my “disobedience” God has withheld the blessing of a husband from me. Response: “Marrying a man who thought like you would be more like a curse!” End of discussion.

    That what’s wrong with our society started “when we let women out of the house.” I told the man who said that to me, “Thy mouth runneth over.” End of discussion. (Probably he was judging from my facial expression that my next move would be similar to Jael’s.)

    That in my struggles to figure out just where I belong in the Kingdom, I’m “thinking too much.” My reply: “Not a common problem in our society.” Another discussion ended.

    The common thread in all of this can be summed up by an ancient Hebrew term, which is pronounced something like this: “Buh-lo-nee.”

    But thank God I’ve seen Biblical womanhood in my mother, my grandmothers, and many others who did all they could for the Kingdom with what they had and where they were.

    Now I think I’ll post that cartoon on my refrigerator (y’know, where I’ll see it very often . . .) *g*

    • Tim says:

      Mary Anne, all of those responses sound biblical to me. and you’ve now inspired me to make up a new phrase whenever someone tries to smother me with their made up spiritualisms: “Don’t make me go all Jael over your head, now!”

      • Mary Anne says:

        Oh, that’s a keeper. For variety’s sake, I need something to swap out with “There are eight ways to kill a man with his own foot . . .” *g*

    • Jeannie says:

      Mary Anne, I cracked up at your mention of Footprints. (Actually I laughed several times while reading your comment.) Perhaps you’ve seen the cartoon where Jesus says, “And see that long rut over there? That was where I dragged you for a while.” I also remember the pastor of my parents’ church, a very enthusiastic Irishman, saying about the Footprints poem, “Excuse me but … that’s nonsense! When is God ever NOT carryin’ us?” I wish I could reproduce his accent, but you’ll just have to use your imagination.

      • Mary Anne says:

        LOL! I can hear that in my head, for sure. Speaking as someone who’s currently being dragged through “the LONG rut,” I can only say it gives a whole new meaning to “underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” Hope His arms don’t get tired, because mine sure do. Arms, and all the other parts thereunto attached . . .

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Then there was the version of Footprints over at the “Coffee with Jesus” online comic where Jesus delivers the punchline “Sometimes I like to levitate.”

  12. That cartoon is hysterical. :) Love it.

    Great post, too. I read Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans this year (and by read, I mean TORE THROUGH the book in two days) and this topic is always one of interest. We go to a church that’s highly complementarian in views, but Elliott and I have fallen into a very egalitarian marriage. We continually look to the Lord and the Bible when it comes to our home, our relationship, and our walks with God, and we have just sort of fallen into this way of life. It might not work for every married couple, but it works for us.

    Looking at Biblical manhood and womanhood this way opens up the Bible a LOT more too — so instead of just looking for the verses that “apply to women,” we can look at the verses that apply to us (meaning ALL OF THEM). Thanks for the reminder!

  13. michellevl says:

    Not too long ago, I listened to a group of thirty-something women clamor for someone to tell them how to be Biblical Women (as in “Please just give us some Nancy Leigh DeMoss rules and models and we’ll copy those”), I am cheering your words, Tim.

    Seeking to be conformed to the image of Christ – the same Christ who made us each unique, and gifted us with unique gifts and callings – is an entirely different thing than building a Christian life by following someone else’s recipe.

    GREAT POST, TIM! I’m doing the ‘all caps’ thing because your words made me want to cheer!

    • Tim says:

      THANKS, Michelle. Is it just me or do you notice too that this is a lot hotter topic now than when we were in our early thirties. I can’t remember Biblical Womanhood/Manhood getting this much press 20 years ago.

      I do remember the will-of-God books that came out about 30 years ago, and they essentially went to the same thing those young women you heard were saying: someone just tell me what I should do to be in God’s will. Garry Friesen set the record straight on that one, I think, with his book Decision Making and the Will of God. I read it in teh 80s, but there’s a new edition from 2009 or so.

  14. Laura says:

    Hey Tim! The Junia Project on facebook has linked/posted the “precious” cartoon and your blog site. Hope it brings you some traffic!

    • Tim says:

      Hi Laura. I saw the same thing on their Pinterest page, and that has generated a bunch of clicks. I hope they give Rachel Stone’s dad credit for that great drawing!

  15. Julie Anne says:

    Tim – Glad to have discovered you on TWW. This is great. I like your style.

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  17. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    Tim,
    I always enjoy reading what you have to say on Her-menuetics, and was glad you added a breath of fresh air comment to the very heavily male supremacist responders for the article “What about Eve…” by Rachel from Calvin College. There was waaay too much of what I call “Salad Bar Theology” with the guys fixing their theological plates from preferred Scripture pickins’ they crave out of the Bible. Problem is they don’t want to let us go to the Bible for ourselves and want to force feed us a plate they made up for us.
    I praise God that not only I but my husband and children were obedient to the call that God placed on my life for ordained ministry, which entailed relocating halfway across the country so that I could go to seminary. I’ve been blessed to serve as a senior adult pastor, hospital Chaplain, Solo church pastor and for over 6 years now Hospice chaplain. Really don’t care who approves or doesn’t approve–too busy obeying the One who called me and serving Him. His approval and opinion is the only one that matters anyway. I figure when we are standing before God, they’re the ones who will have the ‘splainin’ (to use a Ricky Ricardo term) to do about why they were more focused on what everyone else was doing instead of doing what He called THEM to do.

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  20. How cool to find this great blog through the Junia Project! Good words, greats stories (yes, I’ve looked around a little) and laughs here and there as well. Thanks for this one and for any and all words you offer in support of women being fully orbed human persons and marriage as partnership and mutuality. Love it.

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