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:
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.)
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.
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.