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. psst's understudy

    They make my dick feel all tingly.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  2. psst's understudy

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    December 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  3. psst's understudy

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    December 8, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  4. psst's understudy

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    I just realized that I listed "clam fart" as an extracurricular activity on my application to Yale. *dies* I was filling it out while one of my friends was over my house, and she was intently watching as I filled it out (which was annoying me). So, as a shocker, I typed in "clam fart" and she started laughing hysterically. BUT I FORGOT TO DELETE IT!!!!! What's worse is that I wrote that I had been doing it for 17 years!!!!!!!!!!! I don't even know what a clam fart is!!!!! It's already submitted (obviously), but I didn't re-read the printed version of my application closely until today. Should I call the office of admissions??

    December 8, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  5. Malcom

    I'm such a turd.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  6. psst's understudy

    Allah is the real GOD!

    December 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  7. psst's understudy


    December 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  8. psst's understudy

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    December 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  9. psst's understudy

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    December 8, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  10. psst's understudy

    anybody out there want to bang a 47 year old living in hisparents basement?

    December 8, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  11. psst's understudy


    The dean's review can run from cursory to substantial, depending on the school and its dissertation guidelines. I've seen everything from a dean's sign off being a mere formality to the dean's office passing a dissertation to an external expert for review prior to the sign off. (At different schools and programs.)

    December 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  12. Malcom

    My balls itch.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • psst's understudy

      I'll suckkkk them DRY

      December 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  13. psst's understudy


    December 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  14. the AnViL

    Please enter me from behind without lube

    December 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  15. sam stone

    I am gay. find me on craigslist

    December 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  16. Malcom

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    December 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • psst's understudy

      It's "Malcolm", you stupid jerk.

      December 8, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Malcom

      STFU. Yu want to tell me how to spell my own name???? F YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • psst's understudy


      December 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • psst's understudy

      If it's spelled like that, your parents are idiots, too.

      December 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • psst's understudy

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      December 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Malcom

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      December 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Lap-lustered deisms denials do forlorn the flagellum of the peasant ridiculer in "bemoaning laments" reprisals within the base commoners lewd tribulations of tried and still trying lack-lustered piteous nuances. We are all as peas in the pods of life's abundances in the cosmologic cellular matrix of life-living measures meant to reasonably prove or deny the bustles and hustles toward twain fidelities of margined society’s needlessly but nevertheless becoming pottage mal-aligned accruals lying wasted within. God forbade as we do deny and still yet we are. Where then does justifiable will become an averaged domicile of cursed acquittals for the ills of generalist meanderings sake?

      December 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  17. The Courts

    Anyone find the fossils of Adam and Eve yet ?

    December 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Stella

      yes, your mother. 12 21 2012. the end.

      December 8, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  18. ZLunfeld

    Just out of curiosity, does anybody care to actually comment on the article at the top of the page?

    December 8, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Stella

      I just sold my stocks Friday

      December 8, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  19. Joe

    anither effort to down play Christianity from the anti christians in CNN, as always

    December 8, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • Leif

      Another effort by a non-thinking soul who thinks he speaks for all Christians.

      December 8, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • Leif

      In other words, just to make it abundantly clear...I am a Christian, and you do not speak for me.

      December 8, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Malcom

      Kristians can sukkk my kok.

      December 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • sam stone

      christian persecution complex in full stride

      December 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  20. Open Mind..

    God in Quran says, (holy Islamic scripture)

    “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    ‘They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism – he never was an idol worshiper." [2:135]

    God will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary did you say to the people, `Make me and my mother idols beside God?' " He will say, "Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.[5:116]

    The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    When My servants ask you about Me, I am always near. I answer their prayers when they pray to Me. The people shall respond to Me and believe in Me, in order to be guided. Quran [2:186]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      Open Mind: Thank you for your post. I found your perspective interesting. Muslims and Jews both have it right in terms of believing in only One God. As a Christian I only believe in One God too. The Bible clearly states that Jesus Christ was God's first creation....his Son. If he is a creation he certainly is not equal to God who had no beginning.

      The Bible refers to Christ as being the second Adam, but obviously he was far more than just a man. The reason the Bible refers to him as being the second Adam is because Christ bought back what Adam had lost. When Adam sinned he caused all of us to be born into sin but Christ took that sin away. Mary wasn't a saint or a virgin after Christ was born. She had a husband and had other children. She was more like a surrogate mother to Jesus. Christ was born without sin because he was directly from God. If Mary had been his biological mother it would have been impossible for Christ to be without sin since Mary was also born into sin. What Adam lost was perfection and eternal life for himself and for future generations, but Christ through his sacrifice bought it back. He is the only one who was in a position to do so since he is perfect and without sin. So you are right when you said that a sinner could not carry the sins of another or take them away, but Christ could, because he is without any sin!

      December 8, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • Malcom

      the koran can line up and suk my kok

      December 8, 2012 at 10:58 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.