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Book review: “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”

To declare that your way is the only way effectively eliminates any fear that you might be wrong, or at least pushes it below the surface for a time.
- RACHEL HELD EVANS, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

A-year-of-biblical-womanhood-bookForget what you’ve heard about this book. And what you may have heard about Rachel Held Evans.

Because if you read this book with a clean slate, you’ll find a Bible-believing woman sincerely seeking to honor God, honor his truths in the Bible, and honor her husband in their marriage.

To do so, she places herself in a self-imposed, year-long experiment to look for and practice scriptural principles in the Bible concerning women.

Some are from the Old Testament, some from the New. Many are hard, and some are virtually impossible for our day. But all are to help her sort out mixed messages she’s heard all her life about the appropriate roles of women in the home, in the church, and in our culture.

I found myself inexplicably drawn to Proverbs 31:25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” I was pretty sure I couldn’t find “strength” or “dignity” in the women’ section at Kohl’s, but when I considered the sheer absurdity of someone like me doing something like this, the best I could do was laugh at the days to come. And there was something strangely liberating about that.

Her monthly experiments revolve around these twelve virtues:

  • Gentleness
  • Domesticity
  • Obedience
  • Valor
  • Beauty
  • Modesty
  • Purity
  • Fertility
  • Submission
  • Justice
  • Silence
  • Grace

As she explains it, “I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue.” She interviews a wide range of women: a polygamist, an Amish grandmother, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, an Orthodox Jew, and many more, all as she combs through her Bible to see which practices and principles line up, and which don’t.

Her experiments make you laugh in places, cry in places, and go hmmm in other places. Her explanation of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 has lit quite a fire for once again honoring godly women as “women of valor” or in the Hebrew, eshet chayil:

In Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in a song.

. . . Eshet chayil is at its core a blessing—one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally. “It’s like their version of ‘You go, girl!’” I explained to Dan at the dinner table that night, glowing from the nerdy high of learning a foreign-sounding phrase.

Kudos to her husband Dan, by the way, for being a good sport through it all. He kept his own journal throughout the year, also worth reading, and excerpted throughout Rachel’s story.

At the end of her year’s experiment, Rachel identifies 10 things she wants to continue from the project and add into her regular life. They include:

  • Eat more ethically
  • Identify and praise women of valor
  • Embrace the prospect of motherhood
  • Make room for ritual and remembrance
  • Honor Dan
  • Keep loving, studying, and struggling with the Bible

Time and again I returned to the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila that I discovered back when the project first started: Let nothing upset you, Let nothing startle you. All things pass; God does not change. Patience wins all it seeks. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone is enough.

So what does a biblical woman look like?

You’ll not discover a prototype. We’re all uniquely made in the image of God.

But don’t take my word for it. Or Rachel’s. If this topic pulls strong emotion from you, neither refute nor recommend Rachel’s book until you read it for yourself, alongside an open Bible. That’s what an eshet chayil would do.

[When Rachel elaborates on the sin of gossip, or loshon hara (“evil talk”), she reminds that “according to the Talmud, loshon hara kills three people: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one about whom it is told.”]

Regardless of the conclusions you end up drawing, I pray we can all agree on this:

And I believe that my calling, as a Christian, is the same as that of any other follower of Jesus. My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

Jesus himself said that the rest of Scripture can be rendered down into these two commands.

If love was Jesus’ definition of “biblical,” then perhaps it should be mine.


Title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”
Author: Rachel Held Evans
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2012)
Available at: Thomas Nelson | Amazon

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