The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood: How God’s Word Consistently Affirms Gender Equality by Philip B. Payne is a thorough, comprehensive, and accessible introduction to the biblical texts commonly used to support the concept of “biblical womanhood” (a.k.a. male headship). Payne has been a missionary with the Evangelical Free Church in Japan and a biblical scholar of the New Testament at seminaries in the United States and the United Kingdom. He has spent much of his career examining biblical discussions on women and men and, at a little over 200 pages, The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood is a streamlined, simplified, and updated version of his 500-plus page academic text: Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.
The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood has an impressively broad scope, examining Genesis 1–3, women throughout the Old and New Testament, and prominent passages in the epistles (1 Corinthians 7–10, 11, 12, 14:34–35; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5:21–33; 1 Peter 3:1–7; 1 Timothy 2, 3; Titus 1–2). Payne’s goal is to re-examine passages in the Bible that have been used to argue for male headship, unequal roles between women and men, or limiting women’s participation in the church. In each section of the book, he first presents how a passage has been used to scaffold “biblical womanhood” before offering an alternative analysis. For most sections, this includes an in-depth examination of keywords in the original Hebrew or Greek, a useful explanation of the broader historical and social context of the passage (both in the biblical narrative and historically), and a clear-eyed discussion of the passage as a whole and how it affirms egalitarianism. Each section ends with an “Answers to Objections” portion in which Payne directly addresses common complementarian questions or arguments relating to the specific text. Payne demonstrates that, in many cases, the biblical passages used to argue for male headship strongly affirm God’s intention of biblical equality and the importance of women stepping into their God-ordained roles of leadership in the church.
Although it can be tempting to get bogged down in the minutiae of the exegetical analysis inherent in Payne’s arguments, the book’s structure and outline allows readers to efficiently revisit and reference sections of the book when needed. In addition, Payne keeps each section short and focused. The “Answers to Objections” help reframe and contextualize the academic analyses into practical spiritual perspectives. Payne’s deep background in biblical analysis undergirds his convincing and compelling arguments.
Because Payne is covering so many different (albeit related) topics, and since he is attempting to summarize a much longer and deeper analysis of each passage, the book tends to feel fragmented at times. Some of the arguments feel unnecessarily brief, and his terminology feels outdated at times. The book is so focused on providing a comprehensive and rapid overview of information that Payne’s few personal interjections can be jarring, and he sometimes moves too quickly from point to point without making clear connections or transitions.
Overall, though, The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood is an excellent introduction to biblical analysis for readers new to egalitarianism and a helpful reference for experienced readers looking for a quick overview of the most essential biblical passages relating to biblical equality. The book is an enlightening and uplifting read and an encouragement for anyone who seeks to support women in the fulfillment of their callings as teachers, elders, preachers, and prophets in the church.
Book Review: Man and Woman, One in Christ
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