Bluestocking Feminism

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Rachel Held Evans was recently on the Today show, promoting her new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Rather than address the whole stunt (designed to see if, in the grand tradition of Rocky III, this particular cash cow has any milk left), I thought I would just riff off one thing she did with one verse, make my point, and then go home. Jacobs’ book has been out for 4 years, and it is still selling briskly, and so here’s hoping that A Year of Biblical Womanhood fails to live up to its gimmicky potential. But this is contemporary America, so we can’t promise anything. But if we could promise something, it would likely be that Thomas Nelson will have a pile of money that they are embarrassed by.

Proverbs 21:9 says this: “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” The ESV has quarrelsome for brawling, and the NKJV has contentious. One gets the idea. Still, it is a verse with a woman in it, and so one must do something.

What Evans did was this. Whenever she caught herself being verbally inappropriate, she put a penny in a jar, and every penny represented a minute she had to go up and sit on the roof of her house.

This is where I clear my throat tentatively, not sure I could have heard this right. But I did, and there are three obvious things that can be mentioned right off the top. First, the text says that it would be better for the husband to be up on the roof than downstairs with Rachel Held Evans when she is being bad. So what’s she doing up there?

Second, the text says nothing about penny jars, or each penny being worth one minute of penance time on the roof. Her suggested mechanism for biblical applications can be illustrated on this wise. The Bible says to be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6), and so what if I arbitrarily penalize myself with a minute of hopping on one foot on my front porch every time I find myself being anxious? How about that? But such hopping on one foot, waving at the traffic, is not making the apostle look silly. So we may conclude from this aspect of it that when Rachel Held Evans set up shop to teach us what the Bible says about womanhood, it took her about ten minutes to start producing Talmudic arcana and extra rules instead of straight Bible. Not only extra rules, but dumb ones.

But of course, making it look silly is a central part of her whole project. But here is the difference. The rabbis wanted people to take their Talmud as seriously as they took the Scriptures. Evans wants people to be as dismissive of the Scriptures as they are of her arbitrary little Talmud.

And this leads to the third point. The Bible prohibits silly women from being led astray by false teachers. “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:6-7). The silly women here are perpetual students — bluestockings — and they are constantly learning, but never getting the point. It would be hard to come up with a better modern example of this than the evangelical feminists. They are the sort of people who might think that a badgered husband preferring the roof to his wife means that the wife should be exiled up there.

But that is not what it says, and that is not what it means. So I think we have better things to do than learn about biblical womanhood from someone who is having trouble with distinguishing subjects from predicates. This is a caliber of exegesis that thinks that Jesus went to Capernaum might mean that Capernaum went to Jesus. Who can be sure? Scholars differ on this controversial point.



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Gene Jarr
Gene Jarr
10 years ago

 You point out that Mrs. Evans twists scripture by sitting on the roof herself instead of her husband going up there as the proverb describs,  and then you turn right around and do the same thing by claiming that 2 Timothy 3:6-7  is a Biblical admonishment directed towards women, as a prohibition against their being led astray by false teachers, such as Mrs. Held. But 2 Timothy 3 specifically refers to false teachers who are MALE, and Paul warns Timothy that such false teachers will inevitably appear, and that these “heady, highminded, pleasure-loving” MEN will “creep into houses”, and lead… Read more »