Book Review: Woman and the Bible

In this book Evans attempts to summarise the teaching of the Bible about women, coming down on what would be described as an egalitarian or evangelical feminist reading. She works through Old and New Testaments and addresses pretty much all the key passages and issues with a particular focus on women in worship and in the home (church leadership and marriage).

Woman in the Bible by Mary EvansAlthough I don't agree with her conclusions, Evans is a good scholar to be in dialogue with because she is biblical, careful and thoughtful. Her work is dated to some degree (the book was first published in 1983) and this is both a benefit and a weakness. The benefit is that Evans works out of a fairly standard evangelical hermeneutic - she works hard to understand what the passages say and why and doesn't resort to importing the historical context as many more recent authors do. However, the weakness is that she rests heavily on meanings of "submit" and "head" that are generally thought to be untenable now.

So why do I disagree ultimately with Evans? Five reasons:

1. Her argument rests heavily on head having the meaning source and submission not really implying authority and being mutual. Neither is persuasive.

2. She has a tendency to draw much too general conclusions from what are more nuanced discussion. For example, "there is nothing in Paul's letters to necessitate the conclusion that he saw the place of women in worship as intrinsically different from that of men." (p.108). This is at the end of a long discussion of all the reasons one might well see a difference!

3. Linked to the reason above, one ultimately feels the weight against Evans' position. She must consistently argue against what the text seems to say and ends up often with a position of the text need not mean...But the weight of passages eventually suggests that it is much more likely that the text does indeed mean what it has traditionally been taken to mean.

4. Evans notes that there clearly is a difference between men and women, but concludes it is intangible (p.130). This constantly begs the questions of why the Scriptures regularly address men and women in different ways. I.e. because her emphasis is always to show equality, Evans fails to address the actual meanings of texts too often.

5. The positive evidence that Evans' adduces for an egalitarian position is too vague and often ignores the contrary evidence. For example, Evans writes "there is no indication that leadership when it was exercised by women, was in any sense different from that exercised by men." (p.130) on the basis of a discussion of allusions to people like Priscilla and Phoebe. The problem is that on the evidence Evans has just surveyed there is also no indications that this leadership was the same as men either and of course when one goes to the specific passages about men and women in leadership there is every indication that it was different.

For all those disagreements, I found Evans a stimulating reading. It is a fairly academic and heavy read (there are hundreds of footnotes for example), although not especially long (133 pages). It is a worthwhile addition to the debate, although I think ultimately misguided.

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