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Jesus’s encounter with the Syrophoenician woman of Mark 7 changed the minds of the first disciples and has the power to change modern minds as well.

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Biblical feminists, as opposed to other feminists outside and within the church, accept the full authority of all Scripture for all the people of God. But they recognize, with all modern people, that we do not absorb Scripture in its pure form into our understanding. Like anything else we read, reading Scripture is an interpretive process. 

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The Bible sets forth an ideal and calls the ideal woman an eshet-chayil, which is the Hebrew for a “virtuous woman” (KJV) or a “wife of noble character” (NIV). This Hebrew expression occurs only three times in the Old Testament, but a study of these three passages is likely to reveal what the Bible supports as an ideal of Christian womanhood.

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Shortly after the controversy over the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) erupted, an older woman in one of my Bible classes asked me, “Are you in favor of changing our Bible?”

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When was the last time you went into a bookstore to buy a new Bible for yourself? Did you struggle to understand some of the versions? Or did you delight in the clarity and readability of others? Did you notice the changes in gender language? Or did you wonder if you can trust this different way the Bible speaks to you? For evangelicals these are important questions.

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Recent events in the evangelical community—particularly with the release of Todays New International Version (TNIV) Bible translation—have raised concerns over masculine language. Does Jesus ask us to be fishers of people or fishers of men (Matt. 4:19)? Is there a difference? Should we be afraid to use words like people, especially when the ancient text and context warrants this?

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King-James-Only advocates have taken a personal preference, elevated it to a theological absolute, and used it to divide liberals from conservatives, believers from unbelievers, servants of God from minions of Satan. Critics of inclusive language in Bible translation are doing the very same thing with their reckless, blanket denunciations of the TNIV.

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Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)

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“Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

This was the question stretched across banners in front of the White House, distributed on pamphlets, and spoken all over the country in the 1910s. Inez Milholland, an icon of the women’s suffrage movement, first uttered them. They were her last words before she collapsed, and soon died, while campaigning for women’s suffrage through the western United States. This is also the question that pervaded my mind as I watched the film Iron Jawed Angels.

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Cleansing the Bible of counter-cultural female roles not only masculinizes history, it also deprives women of a broader picture of how God has and might use women and their gifts in church, home, and society.

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