My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’
The author argues that there are many meanings of the adjective 'biblical.'
November 17th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’

Editor's Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

On "The Daily Show" recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.

When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.

As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.

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And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics - that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.

But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”

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Growing up in the Bible Belt, I received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church and society, each punctuated with the claim that this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”

In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul's restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent"), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 ("Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head").

Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver's.

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This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.

After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.

So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?

These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of "The Year of Living Biblically", and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing."

This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband "master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.

During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family - and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.

My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and - at times - frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.

The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (4,657 Responses)
  1. Joseph Pun

    To bad the author doesn't get covenant theology. Jesus himself says he has come to fulfill the law meaning the sum of the OT regulations have been taken care of Jesus' life and death. To live biblically is no longer to do the laws that are not required, but to do the ones that continue.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Taskmaster

      Joseph I only wish that the majority of people here could understand what you do. Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Law.We are supposed to keep the 10 Commandments[ which are good] but we now live under Grace and not the Law. THANK GOD!

      November 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'm just grateful that I live in reality.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Yessarie

      The OT explains God and gave us the Law through Mosses. The NT explain how God came to earth to save us and show us how to walk with him to eternity. Jesus clarified his truth. Man makes it difficult because they refuse to go humble to see his truth.

      November 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  2. GBlivins

    "After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives."

    What a wonderful book, isn't it?

    November 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • filthy hindu cheese ism

      word fondu is based on Latin word dippity doo, hot gooey, chips, great, chip dip, to be in greatness, pita chip, to be creamy to both of them, fondu, a noun in yummy, fonduism, way of yumminess.

      Visit dippingisfun.com to learn about fonduism, deliciousnessity of fondu's, deliciousness to impose fonduism, veggie dipping on humanity by fonduism, cheese skin of truth absolute by dipper. Be a dipper, not a fondu, lactose intolerant like a fondu, double dipper.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Tony

      Hey DUMP etc. What are you on?

      p.s. Please improve your english.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Yessarie

      You must be speaking about heathen husbandd, because Christian husbands respect their wives and vice versa. You wouldn't know this truth because you don't practice Christianity but hedonism.

      November 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  3. Dr. D. Johnson

    In my research I have found that Mary Magdalene was in fact both consort and wife. A consort was simply a companion. If you read the scriptures, you will find that in the late BE and early CE, it was actually possible to both be married and single simultaneously.

    How you ask?

    You must refer to the Gnostic versus attributed to Phillip who said, "Be it spouse or alone, we are only that which our threshold allows on the Sabbath."

    Loosely translated it means a woman can be beholden to a man one day, and quite free the next. This makes polygamy possible without breaking God's law against Adultery.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Yessarie

      You watch too many movies Johnson. Jesus didn't partake in carnal experiences. He was too busy preaching his spiritual truth. The reason you see carnal in everything he does is because you are still stuck at the simplistic carnal level. I know, I know, you believe spiritual truth is beyond your reach. It is when you stay LAZY.

      November 18, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
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    November 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Does it come with Jay ism?

      November 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      but filthy-ism all those things are different their not synonymous ... ism

      November 18, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Tribalism intertwines with socialism to inerrantly become spiritualism. The 3 oldest trades within all races are 1.The s e x trade & 2. The drug trade and 3.The gambling trade. Here within todays established 'ritualisticisms'- all profiteering embolisms including today's ongoing religious 'Pharisiticals' are all pilfering the mobs and even the masses while all governing embodiments do also have their handy tentacles in almost every cookie jars.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Belief Blog Bistro

      Sam ism, they are all tasty ism.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      and being Hindu is a good thing

      Love truth, look upon the world as Ishwara (sacred). All forms of prayer are valid. You are responsible for your action, for your lot.

      its pretty F4ck!ng Pagan

      and Pagan is good its about excepting people for who they are and loving them for being alive

      calling Hindu evil is saying love is evil, understanding is evil, kindness is evil, and the sacred universe is evil

      even you god say creation is good, so why are you saying its evil? Allah would be vary displease t see your words.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Belief Blog Bistro

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      November 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Sam Yaza


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      November 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • fritz

      Screwism the mayoism. No freakinism hoagieism without mustardism!

      November 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  5. thes33k3r

    Religion strikes again.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  6. Rob_Dredd

    I love watching all you christians squirm as usual, with your counterarguments of scripture, that as usual have nothing to do with the article. There couldn't be a more appropriate article to just think for once and say "oh yeah, this passage is important to me and ONLY me, I should take it my way and STFU". Your'e only hurting yourself to expect people to read POETRY and see the light as strong as you do. Keep it up and one day society will deem you all as crazy and lock you up. Here's praying ;D

    November 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  7. Vic

    I believe Christians should remember that our focus as Christians is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and NOT the Law! That will definitely correct people's comprehension of Christianity! When we present Christianity with Jesus Christ the Lord and our personal Savior as its focus (Belief/Faith,) and not judgement and condemnation (Law,) that is the TRUE WITNESS to the GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD!

    John 3:16,17
    “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."

    Philippians 3:8,9
    "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,"

    For the fellow Christians who religiously adhere to the "Old Testament Law," I would like to bring to their attention:

    Ephesians 2:8,9
    "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

    I also would like to remind them that the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf before dying for our sins! Jesus Christ spoke of that the Law would be binding until it is accomplished. That's why he accomplished it for us for no human can accomplish it! His work was Done! When someone finishes his/her work they sit down. After the Lord Jesus Christ finished His work, He sat down at the right hand of God the Father!

    Matthew 5:17,18
    “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

    John 19:30
    "Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit."

    Mark 16:19
    "So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God."

    Romans 8:1,2
    "8 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."

    Romans 10:4
    "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

    Also, see Galatians 3.

    Note that in all of the above our Lord Jesus Christ is the center/focus!!!

    Therefore, the Christian Church shall invite people to "Believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Personal Savior" and WITHOUT JUDGEMENT! That's our "Faith!" "Love and Salvation," and the "Dispensation of Grace!" That is the "New Covenant/Testament!"
    That way, people will come in the masses!

    The Christian Church shall refrain from preaching to people the "Law of Sin and Condemnation!" That's the "Old Covenant/Testament!"

    All Scripture from New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    November 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Vic, you're picking and choosing – exactly what the author was saying. Choose what you want from the bible – but don't go on to say that YOUR version of what you want to believe is the ONE true way. In the end, it's simply a collection of works, written by people, for people, and used to control and manipulate people. It is not the WORD of god, because there is no god. But you are enti-tled to believe what you want. Just don't push those beliefs on others, or try to influence the laws of the land with your beliefs.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Sam

      Christianity would be much better if it just got rid of the old testament. Why keep it if it no longer applies?

      November 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  8. purplestikypunch

    Christianity is a religion. America is a nation. KEEP THE TWO SEPARATE. Does anyone remember the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the reign of Henry the VIII and his daughter "Bloody" Mary during the protestant reformation and the dark ages? Jesus has SOME wonderful teachings, when he's not talking about wrath of fire, but his teachings, and all others from the same book, should remain personal belief and practice. Marriage, abortion, "moral" rights... all should stay separate from the religious community. When the teachings of a tyrannical God are allowed to be made into civil law, then inevitably tyranny will reign again.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      you are correct brother

      Death to the Tyrant God

      November 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      The Spanish Inquisition???? NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four*...no... *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Sam Yaza


      November 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  9. albie

    evangelicals are bad people

    November 18, 2012 at 2:14 pm |

      No, tools of hindu's, crooks.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Dale

      Anyone that uses religion regardless of faith for financial gain or to have power to control people can be dangerous, It is up to the individual to decide what is right or wrong when it come to religion.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  10. retief1954

    I'm not a believer, and I find it offensive that those who DO believe want to preach to me about my "sins", about what I ought to believe, and about how I should make decisions and live my life. I find it offensive and arrogant that some believers operate from the perspective of "our belief system and our holy book are the truth, they are right, and anyone else's is wrong, and they are sinners to be judged not only by God, but by us as well".

    That being said, I enjoyed reading this woman's account of what the bible means to her, and why she believes in it so completely. She's asking herself questions and testing her belief. She's plainly not blindly obedient or thoughtlessly compliant. She's committed to exploring the bible's applicability to her own life, in a more modern age. She's not judging or criticizing anyone else's religiosity or relationship with the bible. Best of all, she suggests that people of faith do themselves and others a disservice when they use the bible selectively to bolster their arguments for specific political views and lifestyle prescriptions, using it "as a blunt weapon", as she puts it. I RESPECT HER GREATLY FOR THAT. FOR ONCE, a person of public faith who doesn't seek to prescribe to me or judge me, but instead turns her focus inward to find out exactly why she believes as she does, and then writes about the experience so I and others can weigh the merits and decide for ourselves. Well done, you've done your faith a great service.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  11. Skeptimist

    Jesus apparently has a great sense of humor. He keeps showing up in different disguises, giving me opportunities to heal and be healed. I don't always pay attention but, good thing for me, He never gives up.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm |

      he is hinduism, fabrication of hindu's crooks, never existed, a tool to justify, every thing they want.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  12. Sam

    If there is a god, why would he produce a holy book that is "messy, imperfect and – at times – frustrating?"

    November 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • AT

      Because that is the way "man" lives life. If the book didn't challenge our thoughts and our actions in so many different ways then there would be no way to grow in our faith. It is a journey, not a destination. It is a relationship that evolves and with it, your interpretation of the book. For me, I experience the bible, I do not read it and my experience is always changing just like my life. The book is not literally perfect, but the way described above...the book is perfect to me.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
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    November 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
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    November 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  15. CarmenSo

    According to the bible God only wrote 10 things and they are the Commandments everything else was just some man's over inflated opinion

    November 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm |

      and bible is hinduism, absurdity of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      So what do you base your claim on that the 10 commandments were written by god, but not the rest of the bible? and please provide evidence from outside of the bible. Otherwise, it's simply a circular argument

      November 18, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  16. Dr. D. Johnson

    Jesus, while inarticulate and a bit clumsy in general, had an excellent grasp of the fundamentals of what the Native Americans call, "Mother Earth" and what it is to be a "Human Being".

    How do we know this?

    Look at the teachings of Jesus in the Gnostic literature that relates to being reborn as a Snake, a Lizard, and a Spider. Why did Jesus feel he was reincarnated; and why these animals and insects? That is easy if you read the Gospel of Mary.

    Mary had many pet names for her lover and among them were Snake, Lizard, and Spider. Snake and Lizard I can understand, but the passages relative to Spider are less clear.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      We don't "know" this. This is simply your observations of a book – you could make similar observations about any of the characters in Harry Potter. So what?

      November 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  17. djg

    I find it amusing that the author of the article has enough grey matter going on to realize that half of the bile is crap, and yet can still refer to it as holy and revered?? Perhaps so, but no more so than lets say, Harry Potter for instance.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Eric

      I find it sad – an otherwise intelligent women forced to try to architect her life around a book of fairy tales.

      November 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Apple Bush

    the entire planet is affected by the irrational belief systems of the various mainstream religions. It affects the global economy, it affects world peace, it affects our secular life style in the United States. These ancient belief systems are based on superst.ition and mythology. One would think humans would have moved forward by now but instead we as a species behave in the same self-destructive manner now as we did thousands of years ago with more at stake then at any other time in history.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  19. Tony

    Moreover, after Christ death, there were several competing groups of Christians each with their own version of Chrisitanity... (Much like today lol) Such as the gnostic gospels, and others that were destroyed by order of Roman emperors.... So there is no "one" original version of the Bible... or again the existence on an "original" Bible.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  20. djg

    I find it funny that the Christian position, when met with any logical argument to discount the greatness of the Bible, can only cite more passages from the same book, as opposed to countering with a equally logical counter position. That should tell the masses all they need to know about religion. When you hold onto a lie, the only defense of that lie is to continually repeat it in hopes some might come to believe it. Sad.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.