When I was tasked with reviewing Rachel Held Evans’ new book, I was admittedly nervous. A lot of heated discussion is circling around AYear of Biblical Womanhood, and I was hesitant to step into the fray. However, having now read the book, I’m excited to be part of the conversation. There’s a lot worth talking about, and yes, much to critique. Unfortunately, many are tossing aside this book for its flaws without considering the valid points it brings to an important conversation.
Evans spent twelve months following "as many of the Bible’s teachings regarding women as possible in my day-to-day life" (xxi). She created a "Biblical Woman’s Ten Commandments," and each month dedicated herself to one of the commands. These included "submitting" to her husband by saying "Yes, Master," to every request; mothering; having a gentle and quiet spirit; dressing modestly; devoting herself to "the duties of the home;" covering her head in prayer; and so on. Evans found herself learning how to sew her own clothes, spending a week in a tent while on her period and trying to feed a very temperamental electronic baby.
This all makes for a funny and thoughtful book. Evans' goal was to show her readers just how hard and ultimately oppressive it would be to literally do everything the Bible teaches regarding women. "I set out... to show that no woman, no matter how devout, is actually practicing biblical womanhood all the way." By the time I was done reading, I was inclined to agree. If biblical womanhood means sewing my own clothes and sleeping in a tent, count me out! The problem is, while this may be biblical womanhood in the sense that it covers a literal read on what the Old and New Testaments say about women, it’s not "biblical" in so far as it offers Old Testament law and scriptural narrative on the same plate as New Testament directives. This has proved to be the main issue many have with the book. Evans not only adheres to New Testament instructions (women must be gentle and quiet, must dress modestly, must cover their heads in prayer), but also Old Testament, Jewish cleanliness rituals (touching no one during her period, following kosher rules) as well as creating commands out of narrative prose (taking the 31st Proverb to literally mean women should sew their own clothes, rise before dawn, etc.).
As many have pointed out, Christians no longer practice cleanliness rituals because Jesus' death was the final sacrifice and cleansing for our sins (John 1:29, Romans 3:27-28 Romans 6:14 Galatians 2:16-21 Acts 3:20). We also generally understand that narrative passages, like Proverbs 31:10-31, are meant to praise godly behaviors, not create a set of legalistic rules for us to follow.
So, by mixing Old Testament laws and rituals with scriptural narratives and New Testament instructions, Evans has confused people. Some have accused her of being intentionally misleading, but I don’t believe this was her intent. She wanted a compelling, funny story, so she mixed in Jewish observations of cleanliness rituals and keeping kosher, created some rules out of a proverb most understand to be an accolade to one specific woman, and didn't make a distinction between those things and the instructions the New Testament (specifically Paul) gives women. That's a problem for many, and Evans has admitted as much. On her blog, she responded to critical feedback, saying: