Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

Rate this book
Biblical womanhood--the belief that God designed women to be submissive wives, virtuous mothers, and joyful homemakers--pervades North American Christianity. From choices about careers to roles in local churches to relationship dynamics, this belief shapes the everyday lives of evangelical women. Yet biblical womanhood isn't biblical, says Baylor University historian Beth Allison Barr. It arose from a series of clearly definable historical moments.

This book moves the conversation about biblical womanhood beyond Greek grammar and into the realm of church history--ancient, medieval, and modern--to show that this belief is not divinely ordained but a product of human civilization that continues to creep into the church. Barr's historical insights provide context for contemporary teachings about women's roles in the church and help move the conversation forward.

Interweaving her story as a Baptist pastor's wife, Barr sheds light on the #ChurchToo movement and abuse scandals in Southern Baptist circles and the broader evangelical world, helping readers understand why biblical womanhood is more about human power structures than the message of Christ.

245 pages, Paperback

First published April 20, 2021

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Beth Allison Barr

9 books228 followers
Beth Allison Barr is Assistant Professor of European Women's History, Baylor University. Her research interests focus on sermon literature in England, 1350-1750, and she is the author of The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England. She lives in Waco, Texas.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
6,068 (58%)
4 stars
3,183 (30%)
3 stars
857 (8%)
2 stars
207 (1%)
1 star
107 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,956 reviews
Profile Image for Josh Olds.
842 reviews74 followers
January 17, 2021
The Making of Biblical Womanhood will kill Christian evangelical patriarchy, if we let it. Unfortunately, the very premise of Beth Allison Barr’s incisive work is that we won’t—or, at least, we haven’t—in nearly two thousand years of New Testament church history. Barr goes beyond a theological discussion of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism and instead regales readers with a compelling historical blow-by-blow account of the creation of Christian patriarchy and how it stands counter to the Gospel. Intertwining history, theology, and present-day reality, Barr pulls back the curtain to lay bare the damage that patriarchal thinking has done throughout history.

Barr writes with an intimate knowledge of the evangelical patriarchy. She works in academia at a Baptist university. She grew up in a church system of complementarianism. Her husband attended seminary at Southeastern Baptist. Barr has lived and worked within the Southern Baptist Church, the most well-known, palatable home of Christian evangelical conservatism and complementarianism. This personal experience combines with her own faith journey that led her out of those unhealthy beliefs (even as she remains somewhat tethered to the system), makes her uniquely positioned to understand complementarian beliefs and the unhealthy systems that result from it.

And, if you are a complementarian, you’re already attacking the book on the basis of its egalitarian theological interpretations. I know you are. And I know that there is little chance of successfully making this argument on theological grounds because it’s so entrenched that many patriarchal systems have made it a make-or-break litmus test for orthodoxy. Saying that women can preach or lead is akin to saying Jesus rots in his tomb. In such a vitriolic debate, it’s difficult to maintain an objective perspective. But if you just could…just for a bit…I think you’d find Barr’s theological arguments compelling.

This isn’t the place for a full theological critique, but let me say that although Barr is a historian, she writes with theological passion and precision. On balance, I find her arguments for egalitarianism more convincing than the arguments for complementarianism—which, she notes, we ought just to call patriarchy. The second chapter “What If Biblical Womanhood Doesn’t Come From Paul?” is The Making of Biblical Womanhood’s theological lynchpin. The usual argument is that, to believe that women can lead churches is to disbelieve Paul. Barr boldly leads us into a different reading of Paul: one that interprets him in light of his cultural situation and context. Paul’s purpose isn’t to emphasize male authority or female submission, instead Barr writes that they are a “resistance narrative to Roman patriarchy.”

The most prominent example of this contextual reading of Paul comes in the classic “women are to be silent” passage. Barr writes how her church resisted her as a last-minute youth Sunday School substitute. Not because she was unqualified—she was a university professor who taught high school through graduate students—but because she was a woman. Women don’t teach men, even if those “men” are aged thirteen. After discussion, Barr is allowed to act as a “facilitator”—she can go through the sermon questions from the week before—but isn’t allowed to teach. Why not? 1 Cor. 14:33-36.

After telling her personal experience, Barr attacks that interpretation with fervor. She dives into the history of Rome to give historical context. She then suggests that Paul isn’t admonishing the believers to adhere to this practice, but is stating what the common practice is before refuting it. Paul does this elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, perhaps taking from Jesus who employed the technique in his Sermon on the Mount. Her conclusion: Far from saying that women should be silent, Paul is telling men that, in the world of Jesus, women are allowed to speak:

“‘It is shameful for a woman to speak in church.’ [Paul quotes] What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?” – 1 Cor 14:35-36, RSV

With the theological case put to rest—at least, as strongly and convincingly as she can, which, to me seems pretty darn convincing—Barr moves onward toward a history of women in leadership from the medieval age onward. Interweaving these accounts from history with her own story, Barr inexorably shows how little we have progressed—and, indeed, perhaps regressed—from those ancient times. It was particularly eye-opening to see how the Protestant Reformation was, in many ways, a net negative for the inclusion of women in ministry.

The closing chapters of The Making of Biblical Womanhood are a clarion call for change. Barr brings the historical discussion into modern focus as she shows what affect patriarchal thinking has on Christian homes and institutions, particularly as it relates to the #ChuchToo movement and the cover-up of sexual abuse within the church. It’s a powerful call that, given Christian patriarchy’s bad fruit, we must seriously consider if it is part of the true vine.

For me, there can be no doubt: Jesus presents women as ministry leaders. I am writing this article one week before Christmas—an event in which the central characters are women. Elizabeth and Mary preach the Gospel as Zechariah and Joseph are silent. At Easter, it is the women who preach the Good News to the men. Bookending Jesus’s earthly ministry is incontrovertible proof that women can preach and teach and lead. The Making of Biblical Womanhood deconstructs patriarchal thinking and portrays it as the harmful system it is.
Profile Image for Traci Rhoades.
Author 3 books76 followers
March 22, 2021
Huzzah! I cannot tell you how many books I read on theology and church history, knowing I can't recommend them to the majority of my friends. They could understand them but wouldn't take the time to do so.

On the other hand, I read books that lean angry or cynical. The tone can feel disrespectful, which may get the point across but can leave my heart-that-aches-for-unity hurting. We can't come together if we alienate one another.

Beth (of course your name is Beth), thank you for guiding women in a way that we can all read and enjoy. I learned so much from your story, from your professional insight, and from your lengthy list of references.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can give, I'd recommend this book to anyone.
Profile Image for Dorothy Greco.
Author 5 books66 followers
April 20, 2021
This is a searing indictment of the church as it pertains to how religious leaders have misused Scripture to subordinate women. Barr's historical expertise coupled with the many examples of women who served as leaders/teachers in the 1st century church expose the misogyny that fuels rigid complementarianism and broken patriarchy. It's a bold book and one that makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, we might move toward creating a church where men and women are truly equal.
Profile Image for Josh.
574 reviews32 followers
May 2, 2021
Where this book is good, it is really good. Where it is bad, it is really not that bad. It has lots of info to digest and many points worth considering no matter where you fall on the issue of complementarianism/egalitarianism.

Barr is a historian, and she pays the closest and most careful attention to the history of the subject. Barr also has had experiences, and she uses her experiences and other anecdotes to support her case (much like the idea of a counterstory in CRT). As far as evidence goes, this volume is super strong. But I feel Barr sometimes overstates her conclusions and makes connections that are not necessary (both between thoughts and thinkers). There are multiple points where the reverse of Barr's arguments could often be made back to her (e.g., She says Fundies supported Inerrancy to prop up the patriarchy; a counterargument could easily be made that Barr opposes Inerrancy as a means to undermine the patriarchy, etc.).

I believe Barr's historical evidence (as it relates to church practice and bible translation) is compelling. I think Barr's readings of Pauline texts are as good or better than those that have been taught and assumed in Evangelicalism since at least the Conservative Resurgence. And I believe that there has to be attention paid to the fact that there exists ample evidence of abuse in the name of complementarianism/patriarchy--spiritual, emotional, physical, and in the case of the 21st-century repackaging of Arianism, theological. But I also think that Barr undermines her argument in places, both by ceding ground unnecessarily (why hand over the idea of inerrancy when you have taken the text of Pauline letters and offered a compelling counter-reading?), resorting to hyperbole far too often, and lumping complementarian thinkers and other doctrines together much too loosely.

I hope that this is a book that garners a wide readership. I hope that this is a volume that church leaders read and consider deeply. I am not convinced that complementarianism=patriarchy=greatest lie the devil ever told, but I am convinced that egalitarians have an argument supported by logic, Scripture, and church history--and that it is an argument well-worth considering.
Profile Image for Natalie Ray.
8 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2021
Complex… it’s not NOT worth your time

My biggest issue with this book is that it’s a memoir posing as history and theology. The author cannot help but read history through the lens of her own experience, and this makes some of her conclusions hastily reached and even problematic. BUT she does, in sharing her story, tap into a common experience of disenfranchisement with evangelical structures because of dogmatically held complementarian ideals. This book speaks far more to the American / SBC context, but as a Sydney Anglican I found some common ground. The main thing I am taking away from this book is a reading list of women’s history texts. If you actually want an academic history of patriarchy, or the biblical womanhood movement, this isn’t it. I wanted it to be, but it’s not. This is anecdotal and reflective - if you want rigorous and analytical history it won’t scratch your itch. But if you want to think about how teaching on women’s roles has played out (to some degree) historically, and then in someone’s life and ministry, it would help you to do that.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 2 books217 followers
March 27, 2023
I started listening to this book (via Hoopla) on the same day that I saw this tweet by Matt Anderson.

It's not a great sign that the book begins with an emotional story and an admission that this account is basically revenge history. Barr was hurt by church people (her youth-pastor husband was fired for challenging church leadership about women's roles in ministry), so she wrote a book about how wrong they were.

This won't be a detailed synopsis or review, but here are a few points from her chapters. Ch. 1 compares pagan patriarchy (including Aristotle's notion about female bodies being deformed male bodies) to contemporary complementarianism, claiming that the present looks too much like the past (and citing Russell Moore, who once said that patriarchy is a better term than complementarianism). Ch. 2 explains how Barr stopped believing in male headship by listening to herself talk (about Romans 16). According to Barr, 1 Cor. 14:34–35 is an echo of Livy, meant to be taken as a quotation that Paul is refuting. Ch. 3 covers some biblical and medieval women. Ch. 4 downplays the important and normative institution of marriage and overplays the Reformation's role in elevating marriage. Ch. 5 gets into Bible translations, and Barr takes aim at the ESV, which was intended (in part) to respond to the gender inclusive language of other translations such as the TNIV. Ch. 6 mentions the cult of domesticity, as if being a homemaker were an invention of the Reformation or the 19c. I was interested to read about Barr's account of a Conference on Faith and History held at Regent University in 2016 while a Trump rally was being held on campus. Ch. 7 focuses on inerrancy and ESS/EFSS. Russell Moore stated that today's families are shaped too much by egalitarianism and feminism. Ch. 8 gets into #MeToo and claims that complementarianism and hierarchy foster abuse. Barr makes connections to suffrage battles and racism. The 1948 Sayers letter to Lewis was interesting.

Read DeYoung's review here, and here are responses to DeYoung by Bird and Barr (here too). Here's another negative review.

Here's Barr with Baylor folks in DC discussing this book, and here are a few comments.

One thought that struck me as I was finishing the book is that Christ's apostles were called to martyrdom. The call to leadership in the church is a call to battle, a call to fight and die—sometimes literally, but always symbolically. Women are not called to fight and give their lives. That is one of the reasons that biblically, naturally, and morally, a military draft for women is an awful idea. As one book puts it, eggs are expensive, but sperm is cheap.

A counterargument I've heard is that Barr's argument is anachronistic. In blunt terms, her book argues that the ancient and medieval church got preaching right (by allowing women to do it), and we moderns have subjugated women by preventing them from preaching. One counterargument is that Barr employs a Protestant understanding of ministry (as primarily preaching) and reads it back into ancient and medieval history, ultimately arguing that since ancient and medieval women preached, then contemporary women can preach too. The problem, according to the counterargument, is that examples of ancient and medieval women preaching proves nothing regarding the proper role of women in ministry. However, one problem with this counterargument is that we're still left with the question of whether women should preach.
Profile Image for Shelby Deeter.
75 reviews18 followers
May 2, 2021
My feelings on this read are a little complicated. I'll get the easy stuff out of the way first.

1) She takes a very scholarly approach and that should be respected even if you disagree with her argument. The woman has her shit to-ge-THER.

2) I already was an egalitarian convert (?) but this book, especially the latter half, made me feel sick I was ever patriarchal or a complimentarian. Honestly, like trigger warnings should abound because ew and ouch. I felt this way before, but I feel a reinforced intolerance towards anyone who says a woman can't or shouldn't be ordained.

Now for the meh part...

After reading Peter Enns book on the bible I find it to not be very convincing to argue "ah, but the old pasty fundie misogynistic men got it wrong! the bible liberates women!" The whole they're wrong, we're right argument is old because anyone can use it. You can literally justify anything that way. This isn't a reflection on Barr necessarily, just my own grappling with the abyss that is biblical interpretation and the deconstructing soul. BUT!!! Her historical references and overall nerdiness were HIGHLY convincing and I found myself very much strengthened by that thread.

Anyway, everyone should read this and no one should support patriarchy or complimentarianism. Vaginas and penises and everything in between are equal in worth and rank. The end.
Profile Image for Carmen Imes.
Author 9 books276 followers
December 8, 2021
This is an important book, and I'm glad to have read it. Dr. Barr shines a light on some of the most oppressive and inappropriate expressions of patriarchy in the church. As a historian, she also helps readers see that many restrictions on women (e.g., teaching and preaching) are quite recent or that these restrictions are newer expressions of older failures to see women as equals made in God's image. Her examples from medieval Christianity are fascinating.

I was tracking closely with her until midway through chapter 7, where she describes the motivation for the doctrine of inerrancy as the perceived need to subjugate women. I am not a historian. However, I am a conservative Evangelical who has grown up in this movement. I hold a PhD in biblical studies and I am a member of the Evangelical Theological Society -- a society which requires members to sign a doctrinal statement affirming two items: (1) the Trinity, and (2) inerrancy. Many of the men Dr. Barr critiques in the book -- John Piper, Denny Burk, Al Mohler, and others, are also members of ETS. Dr. Barr is certainly right that many of those who hold to inerrancy also hold tenaciously to a very conservative form of complementarian theology. Complementarians may even be the majority of ETS members.

However, I have many friends and colleagues at ETS who hold to the doctrine of inerrancy but not to complementarian theology (e.g., Ron Pierce, Mimi Haddad, Craig Keener). ETS has no official statement on gender and for many years egalitarians and complementarians have worked side-by-side in the "Evangelicals and Women" workgroup on gender, as well as in other sessions.

Has ETS always been a warm and welcoming place for women scholars? Not exactly, but over the past decade I've witnessed encouraging trends for evangelical women. This year -- in the year that Al Mohler presided as president -- ETS elected a woman to executive leadership. And last year Craig Keener -- an outspoken egalitarian -- was president.

I do not dispute the connection between inerrancy and complementarian theology for many, as well as the fact that many hold these together tightly. However, the way Dr. Barr defines inerrancy in her book is not the way it is defined for membership in ETS. She says biblical inerrancy is "the belief that the Bible is completely without error, including in areas of science and history" (188). This is misleading. The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, which tends to be evoked in discussions in my circles regarding inerrancy, recognizes the role of genre and does not require a "literalist" reading of biblical texts. In other words, inerrancy does not require literalism. I know many dozens of evangelical scholars who hold PhDs in Bible and theology who read Scripture in appropriately nuanced ways that account for historical and cultural contexts -- and who also affirm inerrancy.

I don't doubt that the doctrine of inerrancy has lead many people to read scripture more "literally" and on that basis to develop more restrictive views of what women can do in the church. My point is simply that inerrancy is often more broadly defined, with correspondingly broader possibilities for women in ministry. I would have liked to see a more nuanced argument in this chapter that acknowledged the whole range of views held by inerrantists on women's roles.

That aside, Dr. Barr's book is well worth reading, and I'm grateful for her work to broaden the thinking of evangelicals on this issue.
Profile Image for Rachel Shearer.
189 reviews6 followers
April 26, 2021
So I read this in about four hours. I could not put it down. I feel so vindicated and valued and seen. This book is a must-read, especially if you grew up Southern Baptist.
Profile Image for Marc Schelske.
Author 5 books47 followers
May 3, 2021
Just finished “The Making off Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth” by Beth Allison Barr. If you want to save time, just go get this book. Read it together with “Jesus & John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation,” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. Taken together, they are a one-two punch taking down Christian patriarchy. They both are well-researched, historically substantiated, and Biblically astute. They are both written by people who love Christianity and thus not only function as historical expose but also as prophetic call for Christians to more faithfully live out their faith in Jesus. Get them. Read them. Share them. Go.

At the heart of so many of the failures of modern Christianity, we find a similar seed: collective ignorance of our past. Most Christians know little to nothing about theological history, assuming that the framing of the Christian message they hear each week in church is precisely what they would have heard if they’d been able to sit under the teaching of Peter, Paul, or John in a 1st-century house church. Some think they know church history, but in fact, learned it via a structured presentation meant to show how “our special thing” is just the final and inevitable conclusion of God’s work in the history of the church. (I grew up with this kind of presentation as a Seventh-Day Adventist. Church history was a central part of substantiating the unique doctrines of this denomination, so we learned it as children. Only as an adult, when feeding my interest in theological history, did I discover that the history I was taught was not the whole story.)

This historical illiteracy has two significant problems. First, when we don’t know what happened in the past, we assume the past was very much like our time, just less convenient. Same concerns, same vision of culture, same expectation of roles, but without light switches and the internet. When we read old documents (like Scripture!) with this assumption, we can’t help but misread. We assume the authors were answering our questions rather than their own.

Second, when we don’t understand the theological discussions of the past, we leave space for teachers and preachers today to fill in the missing meaning. Many good church people assume that their pastor understands the text accurately because of their training. When a pastor makes a claim like, “If you don’t accept the literal historicity of the Genesis creation account and the flood, you may as well throw the whole Bible into the trash,” most Christians don’t know that there are many, many orthodox Christian thinkers over the past two thousand years who disagree. Many present the Christian message as monolithic with phrases like, “the early church believed...” or “the Bible clearly says,��� when history is unapologetic about the plurality of readings and interpretations that have existed in dialogue for nearly two thousand years.

Barr, a historian who focuses on Medieval Christianity, cuts to the heart of these issues. Today a particular notion of the God-ordained role of women is being taught. Major theological influencers within Evangelicalism (such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and the whole Gospel Coalition crew) say their view on this matter is THE historical Christian view because it is THE literal scriptural view that goes back to the very origin of the church. Because many of us don’t know our history, we assume these guys must be right. They are not. They are profoundly wrong.

With very accessible prose, Barr walks through the historical development of the idea of “Biblical womanhood.” She shows (perhaps to our surprise) that the modern view of “Biblical Womanhood” is a relatively recent development, drawing on several historical threads. Rather than being rooted in Christian doctrine, it is simply a spiritualized version of historical patriarchy, starting with Greco-Roman patriarchy, but always drawing in elements from the then current cultural conversation. She even demonstrates how the Protestant Reformation had the tools necessary to provide freedom and equality to women, but instead of applying the “priesthood of all believers” to women, constrained that authority to men only, a direct betrayal of its core theological premises.

But this historical evolution has always had an opposing voice, rooted in the teaching of Jesus and an understanding of the Gospel’s work of setting the oppressed free. The early church, and even the western church in the Middle Ages, was attractive to women precisely because it was a place they were valued as human beings, endowed with spiritual gifts, and able to lead, in contrast to the secular culture of the time. Barr points out how, at critical historical points, men banded together against the movement of women’s autonomy in order to maintain their shared authority, justifying it as the will of God.

It’s ironic to realize that those Christian leaders today who claim that the movement toward the autonomy and liberation of women results from the dangerous encroachment of secular culture into the church have it precisely backward. Jesus’ message brought freedom, and historically it has been patriarchy that has crept from culture into the church. That battle has been fought over and over again and is raging today.

(An interesting side note: Barr brings clear receipts that show how the ESV, one of the current most popular English translations of the Bible, was explicitly envisioned to counteract gender-inclusive and egalitarian readings of scripture. While I knew from my own study that it was a heavily slanted translation, I did not realize that it is not even a translation at all, but simply a theological revision of the 1971 RSV.)

I think it’s also important to note that Barr also makes the connection that patriarchy walks hand in hand with racism (racial hierarchy.) While this book is not about individual or systemic racism, she notes how patriarchy of necessity defines people according to worth and dignity, which always means that it generates hierarchies of race and gender. (I’d agree and add that it also adds hierarchies of class, ability, and sexuality as well.) Her historical study demonstrates how these kinds of discrimination evolve, taking on different forms precisely so that those who benefit can avoid the spotlight of individual culpability and take shelter in the “this is just how it is” quality of systemic injustice.

Barr ends the book with a clear and simple statement: “Biblical womanhood is Christian patriarchy,” and she leaves no margin for the kinder-gentler version either. “Complementarianism is patriarchy. Patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus.”

Followers of Jesus are called to join Jesus in his mission. Jesus defined his mission for us in Luke 4:18. Whatever else we envision as the impact of the Gospel, this must guide. If our message and action don’t bring good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, then we are off track. History shows that Christians have often participated in the oppression, marginalization, and silencing of women, but when we do so, we are betrayaing of our Lord and his mission.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,978 reviews3,299 followers
February 13, 2022
3.5 stars rounded up

Video discussion: https://youtu.be/IFHShWKCkmg

Where this book really shines is in its handling of history, so it should come as no surprise that the author is a historian. She traces patriarchy and the treatment/roles of women from the early church through medieval times and the reformation, linking them to what we see in the modern evangelical context. She offers historically contextualized readings of Paul with regards to women that are compelling and offer a path toward dismantling patriarchy in the church. Whether that will happen is much more questionable (see Jesus and Johny Wayne).

It's worth noting that Barr's intended audience seems primarily to be conservative to moderate Protestant Christians. She writes about her own history in a conservative Baptist church and the revolution of her ideas about men and women, but she stops short of questioning the construct of gender altogether or how these issues of gender and marriage in the church relate to the LGBTQ community. Those topics aren't addressed, and the vibe I get is she might find it a bridge too far. (again, if you're looking for a more thoroughly progressive take that focuses on the history of modern American evangelical Christianity, I really recommend Jesus and John Wayne, which this author does reference on a couple of occasions) She is also coming from a background where women were not allowed to preach in church or teach men, which is her big emphasis. And that is important, but personally having come out of evangelical churches that did allow women to preach, I felt like this inadequately addressed the other ways women are subjugated in the church. And while she mentions that she doesn't believe in male headship, she doesn't really work to unpack that or suggest a different model for marriage.

Stylistically, she tends to state other positions than her own and then refute or question them, but the way she does it might leave some readers confused as to which positions are her own and which are being called into question. I'm guessing it's the historian in her that doesn't want to make too many strong claims, and is more concerned with detailing historical fact, but I would have liked to see this go farther in a few different areas. That said, this is a book I could see giving to more conservative family members who might not be ready for something like Jesus and John Wayne. And I think she begins an important conversation about how the Reformation actually harmed women in specific ways, while also pointing out how purity culture and the idea of female innocence and male sexuality are the opposite of the assumptions made in the medieval church. This book does a great job of pushing back on whether we really know as much as we think we do about church history.
Profile Image for David .
1,223 reviews147 followers
May 14, 2021
Who Should Read this Book – Christian men and women who were taught that women should be submissive to men .

What is the Big Take Away from this book – Rather than being rooted in any sort of counter-cultural narrative of scripture, Biblical womanhood (complementarianism) is a recent invention more in line with the patriarchy of the ancient Roman world than anything close to what Jesus desires.

And a quote – “Biblical womanhood is Christian patriarchy. The only reason it continues to flourish is because women and men – just like you and me – continue to support it. What if we all stopped supporting it? What if, instead of letting denominational difvides and peripheral theological beliefs continue to separate us, we stood together as people of faith who believe that God has called us to change this world? . . .

What if we stopped forgetting our past and remembered that women – just like us – preached their way through the landscape of Christian history? WHat if we remembered that we are surrounded by a cloud of female witnesses and that we will never stand alone. . . What if we realized that God has never stopped calling women to do his work – as preachers, teachers, missionaries, evangelists and authors? What if we realized when we look at the whole of the global world, it simply doesn’t make sense to define occupations by gender? . . .

Complementarianism is patriarchy and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus” (216-218)

Beth Allison Barr mixes her own experience with her expertise in medieval history to deliver a brilliant and necessary book. Like many women in the evangelical Christian world, she grew up believing she had a role as a woman that was different from that of a man. Even after receiving high academic honors and securing a teaching position at a university, she still was unable to teach in her own church.

How absurd is that? Why would eminently qualified women be able to use their gifts and knowledge to teach in secular spaces, but they cannot share with their fellow Christians.

Because patriarchy. Barr traces the history of patriarchy through the ancient world (starting with the Gilgamesh epic!) and early church, on through the medieval church and Reformation and up to present day. At some point in there, quite recently actually, it was rebranded as “complementarianism”, but its just patriarchy. Millions of Christian men and women think it is God’s ideal for both home and church. It is neither. Instead, it stands on a shoddy scriptural basis and though patriarchy never goes away, the form it has now is quite new.

What does Barr mean when she writes, “Christian patriarchy mimics the patriarchy of the non-Christian world” (12). One of the oldest stories in existence, the Gilgamesh Epic, includes women just as helpers. This system of male authority and female submission is found here and is the historical practice of the world. Patriarchy’s continuity throughout time should cause Christian proponents of it to question:

“Instead of being a point of pride for Christians, shouldn’t the historical continuity of a practice that has caused women to fare much worse than men for thousands of years cause concern? Shouldn’t Christians, who are called to be different from teh world, treat women differently?” (25).

That’s the point – Christians should be different. Patriarchy is not what God wanted, its a result of the first sin in Genesis 3. From this point on, the scripture story accepts patriarchy as the reality while also undermining it over and over. Barr demonstrates this by showing how to read Paul differently, and not just differently but better, than the patriarchal view. For example, there is nothing shocking in his day for Paul to tell women to submit. What is shocking is that he tells the husbands to love their wives and begins the whole section (in Ephesians 5) with a call for mutual submission. That’s not reinforcing patriarchy but subverting it.

Barr especially excels when telling stories from medieval church history. She shines light on stories that have been erased and are unknown, stories of women preaching and leading the church. In the medieval world women had to transcend their sex to gain authority, becoming seen as less feminine. This shifts during the Reformation, as women are more celebrated for their roles as wives and mothers. In this she makes the stunning point that “Reformation theology might have removed the priest but it replaced him with the husband” (117). In other words, during the medieval era there was more of an emphasis on the spiritual sameness between men and women. Most men, Barr points out, would never be priests so the spiritual headship of a husband didn’t matter. Medieval sermons would lift up women as exemplars of faith, examples for all women. Both men and women had to go to the priest for the sacraments.

During the Reformation, sexual difference came to the forefront. Paul’s words were used to reinforce gender submission both in church and in the household. Priesthood of all believers lifted all men above all women as men became priests of a sort within their own household.

As she discusses the Reformation, she moves into a discussion of Bible translations in what may be the most stunning, and important, chapter of the book. Barr disproves some commonly held myths, such as that medieval people did not know scripture. Through this, she shows that patriarchy was written into English translations, especially the ESV:

“The ESV was a direct response to the gender-inclusive language debate. It was born to secure readings of Scripture that preserved male headship. It was born to fight against liberal feminism and secular culture challenging the Word of God” (132).

“Gender-inclusive language is restoring scripture from the influence of certain English Bible translations” (148).

Wait, did I say that was the most stunning chapter? It is even more stunning to see how evangelicals, so intent on propping up patriarchy, have even built it into their understanding of God through something called “the eternal subordination of the Son.” This is just a return to the early church heresy Arianism which taught Jesus was a second, lesser deity. Barr writes:

“What early Christians were so adamant about teaching, that no hierarchy existed within the Triune God, modern evangelicals seem adamant about forgetting. . . It should also not surprise us that evangelicals resurrected Arianism for the same reason that evangelicals turned to inerrancy: if Jesus is eternally subordinate to God the Father, women’s subordination becomes much easier to justify” (195-196)


This may be a top-ten book of the year for me. Like with Jesus and John Wayne, as I read I both saw things she was describing as familiar and I was also grateful that I was never as immersed in this world as I could have been. But I know plenty of Christians, men and women, who think complementarianism is what God wants. Barr not only shows it does not fit scripture but that its actually more in line with broken human history. Believing women should be subordinate is as counter-cultural as believing violence solves problems. Jesus demonstrated a different way.

Of course, plenty of Christians still love violence! I guess that’s the challenge. We have a gospel, a Jesus, a story of scripture, that present a counter culture way of life in regards to EVERYTHING! Yet we keep going back to violence and consumption and racism and materialism and the rest.

That cynical point made, I hope people read Barr’s book. If the scripture points alone are not enough, the points on theology (patriarchy supports Arianism), translation (they write it into English Bibles) and church history paint a picture that is as clear as it is distressing: patriarchy is not God’s dream for the world. Its a new idea that corrupts women, men and the church as a whole.

One note that stuck out to me from that quote at the beginning – she refers to God as “he” which seemed odd in a book about patriarchy. I didn’t notice it throughout, but the masculine pronoun would seem to reinforce patriarchy, if anything does. I’d be curious if that was intentional.
Profile Image for Mary McCurdy.
Author 3 books4 followers
April 30, 2021
This book was intense. But it left me uncomfortable. Sure, sure, maybe it was supposed to do that. But it wasn't the good kind of uncomfortable. I agree with this author up to a point. Men and women were created equally in the image of God, mutual workers and helpers in the work that God has placed before us all. I believe that it is biblical for women to be deacons. I believe that women should be able to teach a class to teenagers, college students, and even speak among pastors. I believe that women have equal calling in missions and sharing the gospel. However, I still do not believe that women should be allowed to preach from the pulpit. I know, I know. But the reason I say this is because there are boundaries. I cannot deny what Paul said in Scripture, and I cannot deny that Paul DID make an argument from creation with this denial of women to preach from the pulpit. This one single denial doesn't make men and women any less equal. I admit that I could be wrong. But I would rather hold to these convictions and be proven wrong in the end, than deny those convictions and be incredibly uncomfortable (again, not the good kind) forever.

Now that I've expressed where I didn't feel good about this book, let me give some positives. I'll reiterate that there is a lot that I agreed with alongside the bunch that I disagreed with. I agreed with her calling out of what complimentarianism has become. I think that her writing, while somewhat more academic, was accessible to the average person, a decently easy read, and, since I listened to the audio book, whoever chose the reader did a good job. I listened to this all in one morning and finished at lunch time. So it's not an extremely long book.

In all, I'm looking into potentially more theologically sound books on this topic. This is a good read, and informational. It is sort of sound up to a point, where then, I believe, that the author jumps into the other end of the spectrum. She calls herself a Christian, and a feminist, which I personally do not believe the two can or should be mixed because of a multitude of ungodly things that feminism has stood for and fought for. So ... I honestly dont know if I can recommend this book.

If you are going to read it simply to gain information and understanding - yes. I can recommend.

If you are going to read it in order to have your eyes opened to something you did not know about until recently - partial yes. I can recommend, but it may also leave a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach, like it did for me.

At the end of the day, it's your choice on reading this or not.
Profile Image for Rachel Miller.
54 reviews
May 5, 2021
If you start with incorrect definitions of your terminology (defines complimentarianism using the definition for misogyny) and you have to argue your point outside of Scripture using medieval mythology to have any coherent argument then you are not going to win me over. She says multiple times that she is a historian not a theologian so I don’t know why she has any credibility to speak on theological concepts.

I was hoping I would learn something from this book. I was hoping this would be a helpful and enlightening discussion of the origin of Biblical Womanhood. It was not. I do not recommend.
Profile Image for Lydia.
16 reviews4 followers
August 18, 2021
If I could give this book negative stars I would. For someone who touts her credentials as much as The Office’s Andy talks about Cornell, her presentation of history is woefully limited and skewed. Her misrepresentation of Katie Luther having “house parties” while ignoring how she housed refugees and helped Luther in his work is just one frustrating example of her many oversimplified, misconstrued and incomplete presentations of historical figures and events.
Profile Image for Drake Osborn.
46 reviews7 followers
May 6, 2021
Barr argues that an understanding of men and women having differing roles in church or home is not biblical at all, but a historical construct borne out of a continual shape shifting of and defense of patriarchy. This she does without much substantial engagement in key Biblical texts, which means her premise is inherently shakey at best, even while showing great historical chops. While her work draws us towards the continual need for theological retrieval and pre modern exegesis, it ultimately fails to address any substantive biblical, philosophical, or theological arguments well.

To put it simply, I found the historical examples helpful and grew in understanding of different examples of unhealthy and abusive attitudes towards women in history (as well as some modern ones), but the overall argument of the book stated in the beginning (all complementairianism=patriarchy) was very unconvincing. Also, for a book aimed at Christians, there is little biblical encouragement or upbuilding to be found, apart from any that comes from deconstruction, including no positive egalitarian arguments as to how men and women are meant to relate in the church or in marriage.

Longer review to come.
Profile Image for Jackson Ford.
74 reviews1 follower
August 10, 2021
Just add Beth Allison Barr to the list of female theologians/historians that you absolutely must read. Her work as a historian is incredibly illuminating, as well has her utilization of remarkable exegetical insights from the tradition of Bible scholars like Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Frances Young, Phyllis Trible, Ben Witherington III, Richard Bauckham, and Anthony Thiselton. This book needs to be used across churches and seminaries alike to begin introducing pastors and theologians to the problematic history of Christianity’s convergence with patriarchy. There are powerful moments of testimony in this book alongside robust historical scholarship. It is well worth your time to read, engage, and learn from.
Profile Image for Christopher Babcock.
42 reviews2 followers
April 8, 2022
7.5 out of 10. This is a fascinating work that, while not without flaws, should be mandatory reading for all seminary students. I think that you can poke holes in some of Barr's arguments, but her central ideas are hard to shake. The most challenging argument she makes is that the church has got its role within our culture backwards. We have taken our call to be "in the world but not of it" and to not "conform to the patterns of this world" as a command to embrace the patriarchy even when our culture becomes more and more feminist. But, given the stifling presence of the patriarchy throughout history, would being "a people set apart" not require us to stand apart from the patriarchy and challenge it? What if we took it as part of our Christian mission to correct sinful cultural patterns like the patriarchy and racism that have persisted over millennia, rather than always attacking more recent trends like feminism and critical race theory?

As a historian (readers of the book will recognize my irony in using that phrase), Barr does bring a very interesting perspective to the complementarian vs. egalitarian debate. She convincingly demonstrates the various stages of female leadership within the church, from antiquity to the Middle Ages, and from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and from there to the Victorian era, finally settling on evangelical history. The thrust of her argument is that women have always been leaders in the church, despite patriarchal opposition and attempts to androgenize history. Most interesting for me, however, was her analysis of Paul's command for women not to teach as being sarcastic and ironic, built around a paraphrasing and critique of Ovid's views on gender roles. How wrong the church has been if this is true! Barr strikes a beautiful balance of defending the veracity of scripture and even the character of Paul while also showing that we have been interpreting both incorrectly. I was afraid that she would take the old line of "Paul was a misogynist and we need to take his writings with a grain of salt," but instead she upheld him as a model of how men should support and work with women despite patriarchal systems. God bless you, Dr. Barr.

Barr is certainly not a lackluster historian or writer, and unfortunately her enthusiasm for the cause does sometimes lead her into fallacies. She often treats her opponents (including beloved evangelical leaders like James Dobson) as strawmen, presenting their (relatively mild) arguments for male headship and then putting words into their mouths and comparing them indirectly to the worst sex offenders in church history. In other words, she often falls prey to the same "slippery slope" fallacy that she constantly points out in complementarianism. She also has the tendency to twist all of history into her paradigm, whether or not it fits. All evidence of the oppression of women within the church is taken as evidence of the harm done by complementarianism and church patriarchy, while all evidence of female leadership is taken as proof that women should be leaders. It's a "heads I win, tails you lose" argument where any and all historical evidence is immediately converted into ammunition.
Barr also sometimes whitewashes history to make her points. For a woman who prides herself in her historical accuracy and her ability to critique power structures, I find it strange that she never acknowledges the very real political factors behind the Arian-Nicaean split. Rather, she follows the typical evangelical model of painting the conflict in monolithic terms. "All Christians," she says (and I paraphrase here), "recoiled at the ideas of Arius as soon as he questioned the equality of Father and Son." Well... yes, "all Christians" recoiled at the idea if you don't count Arians as Christians! Barr also praises the example of one early woman in the church who abandoned her children to translate the Vulgate, while remaining totally tone-deaf to the fact that had a man abandoned his children for the same cause, she would have (rightly) painted him as abusive.

So is this book perfect? No. But it would be a very patriarchal move of me to attack this entire book because of its shortcomings. Barr makes some fascinating and valid points, and I hope that her work stimulates fresh and honest conversations among laypeople, pastors, and scholars alike. If nothing else, this is a chance for complementarians and fundamentalists to re-examine their own views and whether they stand up to scrutiny. If you read this with a critical mind, you have nothing to lose and much to gain.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,556 reviews395 followers
December 19, 2021
Despite what the title will lead you to think, The Making of Biblical Womanhood is, primarily, a memoir.

As such, my overriding emotion at the moment is sympathy. Dr. Barr clearly attended a very unhealthy, dysfunctional church. They fired her husband for daring to question the church's position on women teachers. As someone also raised in complementarian religious environment, I can sympathize with her frustration and even her silent rebellion while within the church. And I never attended a church so extreme as to forbid women from teaching teenage boys. (Eek.) I can't imagine.

As a specific, narrow look at one white, middle class woman's experience in an extreme Southern Baptist Christian tradition, her story will unfortunately echo with many of similar backgrounds.

Unfortunately, this book aims to be more than a memoir. A lot more, actually. Dr. Barr attempts to dismantle the modern "subjection" of women within the church, primarily by tracing the role of women throughout church history. And she does it in 256 pages. (256 pages that include lots of random pauses for her to talk about her own "ah-ha!" moments as she reached perfect enlightenment on the issue.)

It simply is not enough space.

Are there good arguments in here? Oh, yes. Do I even agree with many of her conclusions? Certainly! But I also feel like she breezes over things a little too glibly for me to take her research as seriously as I would like.

Yes, the religious tradition she came out of sounds downright heretical at times. Certainly dysfunctional. But she paints all of modern Christianity with the same broad brush and gives only a nod to the fact that other denominations have handled women preachers and teachers differently.

(Also her claim that Dorothy L. Sayers did some brave thing by "standing up" to C.S. Lewis when he asked her to speak against women ordination was both overly repetitive and inaccurate if you believe the analysis of Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis.)

This book has garnered many high ratings here on Goodreads and perhaps rightly so. It illustrates one woman's experience in a church that applied the doctrine of "Biblical Womanhood" quite problematically. And unfortunately, it is a story that echoes with many women who feel sidelined by the church. But it also aims to be much more than a memoir. In fact, from the title and marketing it packages itself as more than a memoir and that is where it left me wanting a much deeper analysis. This might encourage those who already agree with Dr. Barr, but I'm not convinced it will change any minds or revolutionize "the church" (however you want to define that) the way the author clearly wants it to.
Profile Image for J.L. Neyhart.
414 reviews146 followers
May 20, 2021
"Patriarchy wasn’t what God wanted; patriarchy was a result of human sin."

"The patriarchy that continues to appear in the biblical text is a “mere accommodation to the reality of the times and culture; it is not a reflection of the divine ideal for humanity.”35 Patriarchy is created by people, not ordained by God."

"Hierarchy gives birth to patriarchy, and patriarchy gives birth to the abuse of both sex and power."

"Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus."

"This book is for the people in my evangelical world. The women and men I still know and love. It is to you I am speaking. And it is you who I am asking to listen. Listen not just to my experiences but also to the evidence I present as a historian. I am a historian who believes in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A historian who still identifies with the evangelical tradition—as a Baptist. I confess it was experiences in my life, my personal exposure to the ugliness and trauma inflicted by complementarian systems in the name of Jesus, that tipped me over the edge. I can no longer watch silently as gender hierarchies oppress and damage both women and men in the name of Jesus. But what brought me to this edge was not experience; it was historical evidence. It was historical evidence that showed me how biblical womanhood was constructed—brick by brick, century by century. This is what changed my mind. Maybe it will change yours too."

"A gender hierarchy in which women rank under men can be found in almost every era and among every people group. When the church denies women the ability to preach, lead, teach, and sometimes even work outside the home, the church is continuing a long historical tradition of subordinating women."

"So here is my question for complementarian evangelicals: What if you are wrong? What if evangelicals have been understanding Paul through the lens of modern culture instead of the way Paul intended to be understood? The evangelical church fears that recognizing women’s leadership will mean bowing to cultural peer pressure. But what if the church is bowing to cultural peer pressure by denying women’s leadership? What if, instead of a “plain and natural” reading, our interpretation of Paul—and subsequent exclusion of women from leadership roles—results from succumbing to the attitudes and patterns of thinking around us? Christians in the past may have used Paul to exclude women from leadership, but this doesn’t mean that the subjugation of women is biblical. It just means that Christians today are repeating the same mistake of Christians in the past—modeling our treatment of women after the world around us instead of the world Jesus shows us is possible."
Profile Image for Rosh [busy month; will catch up soon!].
1,361 reviews1,216 followers
November 16, 2021
This. Was. Enlightening!

Most staunch Christians will tell you that the role of women in a Christian household is third in the family hierarchy. (God and men come first and second respectively.) The refrain is always that a woman should be submissive, she must support her husband in everything he does, she must take pleasure in being a satisfied homemaker, a joyful wife, a virtuous and patient mother. (Writing this makes me wonder if I am going to hell because I am none of these! 😂)

The fact, however, is that the biblical narrative has been twisted to suit the needs of the male congregation. (And this isn’t something that has happened recently; everyone knows how the various canonical councils have time and again edited the original text to impose a male-biased dogma on believers. The same way the so-called faithful evangelicals twist biblical words to pursue numbers and convert more and more to the Christian faith, by hook or by crook. But that’s a topic for another day.) There are many impactful women in the Bible. But their role is consistently underplayed. What’s worse is that the many passages in the Bible that stress on gender equality are ignored and the lines that highlight the dominance of males are the ones that people focus on. This book is determined to get the balance right once again, as it was in the initial days of the church.

I must admit, I am not exactly the right audience for this book as it is aimed more at Evangelical/Protestant/Baptist Christians and I am a Catholic. (and a liberal one at that, and belonging to a somewhat liberal church. My church allows women to teach and preach. I was surprised to see that this isn't the case with evangelical churches.) But as the content is mainly based on the Bible, I still fit into the second tier of target readers. As a practising Catholic, I have met many who go blindly by what the Bible says. No harm in that, I suppose. What is actually dangerous is seeing biblical verses only a line at a time without understanding the historical context or the overall meaning, and without remembering the fact that though the Bible may be the Word of God, it was still written by humans (read, men) and thus is bound to be erroneous or outdated in places.

Beth Allison Barr is a professor of medieval history at Baylor University, a Christian college in Texas. She has also a doctorate in religious studies. Both of these qualifications are put to optimum use by her in this book. Her knowledge shows itself in every chapter, and the way she intertwines her disappointing, sometimes frustrating, personal experiences with conservative Christians with her research into what the biblical text actually means is eye-opening. Her revelations on complementarianism are particularly striking. But what I appreciate even more is how she doesn’t shy away from any topic that is traditionally shunned by most theological books. Be it the need to continue in abusive relationships to ensure the sanctity of love/marriage, sexual abuse by the ordained, racism, or slavery, every single debatable topic is raised forth and argued upon. (Editing to add: every single debatable topic that falls within the purview of a conservative faith. She doesn't talk of divorces or homosexuality. I wish she had. But I doubt her views on these would have been in sync with mine.)

The main crux of her argument is in showing how Jesus never differentiated between his male and female followers, how women had an important role to play in the early church but those roles have been sidelined by modern translations, and how patriarchy misreads/misuses certain biblical passages to justify male dominance and female submission As Barr says, none of this is justified because “Christian patriarchy is still patriarchy… Does it make a difference whether Christian women submit to all men (societal/pagan patriarchy) or only to Christian men (Christian patriarchy). If both empower men and teach women that they are less than men, both systems are wrong.”

The book does get a bit theologically intense at times, but I guess the topic is such that it can’t be entirely avoided. She is countering the claims based on the Bible, so she must obviously present the correct interpretation and the connected verses first. Her examples range from saints to preachers, from Gilgamesh to Marvel superheroes to The Da Vinci Code. Every point is made in such a logical way that she left me impressed.

It goes without saying that I recommend this book with all my heart, to every Christian but especially to the evangelical denominations. I am fortunate that my church is a bit more progressive than some of the examples that Barr provides in the book, but we still have some way to go. And there are plenty of historical examples to learn from; we just need to find them where they have been side-lined or demoted in the Bible. As Barr says,
“The problem wasn't a lack of women leading in church history. The problem is simply that women's leadership has been forgotten, because women's stories throughout history have been covered up, neglected or retold to recast women as less significant than they really were. Because women couldn't be written out of the story.“

4.5 stars.

Join me on the Facebook group, Readers Forever! , for more reviews, book-related discussions and fun.
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,055 reviews100 followers
September 2, 2021
Biblical womanhood is Christian patriarchy. The only reason it continues to flourish is because women and men—just like you and me—continue to support it. What if we all stopped supporting it? What if, instead of letting denominational divides and peripheral theological beliefs continue to separate us, we stood together as people of faith who believe that God has called us to change the world? . . . Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus. (216, 218)
Beth Allison Barr’s challenge to her fellow evangelical Christians is the perfect conclusion to her thoughtful, sincere, well-researched book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood. I found her arguments compelling, and I thoroughly enjoyed her tour of Christian history and the role women have played.

This book would seem to be a companion to Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, which I also read recently. And they do work together really well—Barr references Du Mez’s book a number of times, and there’s almost an assumption that someone who reads Barr’s book will already be familiar with Du Mez’s. I recommend both of them, but I might recommend The Making of Biblical Womanhood just a bit more highly. The main reason is the focus of each book. Du Mez ranges across a large spectrum of topics, and I sometimes felt that the book suffered for trying to do too much. Barr, on the other hand, maintains a precise focus on the role of women in the church throughout history. The way Barr draws together discussions about theology, Bible translation, social trends in various eras of history, and church practice always made sense to me, never feeling that the individual pieces are unrelated or being forced to support a point.

A second difference between the two books is the scope of history they consider. Du Mez looks primarily at 1970 through the present, and Barr takes the reader from the apostle Paul to the Middle Ages to the Reformation, and on through the Industrial Revolution and the twentieth century up to the present. That’s a huge panorama for 218 pages, and I felt that it gave me a more complete understanding of the issue. It also seemed less claustrophobic than I sometimes felt while reading Jesus and John Wayne. (I found Jesus and John Wayne a much more challenging, uncomfortable—though still totally worthwhile—read.)

Finally, Barr frames her book around her own experience—abuse in a Bill Gothard–influenced relationship years ago, and her husband’s recent loss of a job because of their views on gender roles. Throughout the book, Barr also brings in anecdotes from her teaching experience at Baylor. All of this lends a personal-narrative tone to a difficult topic.

Barr’s main point is that current ideas about gender roles among some evangelical Christians support a hierarchical, patriarchal model of public and home life that prevents women from fully participating in the work of God. In arguing that this view is unbiblical, she opens up history to show that what some have come to regard as “biblical womanhood” is a recent phenomenon. Not only is it not the way the church has always viewed gender roles, but it actually works to affirm some of the very aspects of secular society that the church should be actively working against! Her argument is thus much more robust than just “What did Paul really mean?”—which is where the conversation about gender roles in the church so often begins and ends.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood originated in Barr’s regret that she had supported a church framework that she knew was wrong. In this book, she speaks out, based on her experiences in church and her expertise as a historian. She is an excellent teacher and communicator. I found the book entirely convincing and enlightening, and I recommend it highly. Book such as this one and Jesus and John Wayne give me hope that perhaps we’re seeing the end of one era of evangelicalism and the beginning of something new—of course not free of all problems, but at least discarding some of the wrong things that have been built up during my lifetime.
Profile Image for Tanya Knepp.
49 reviews4 followers
February 5, 2022
I was excited to read this book based on the claim on the back of the book that the author "shows that 'biblical womanhood' isn't biblical but arose from a series of clearly definable historical moments." I was disappointed for several reasons.
1. In addition to the brand of so-called "biblical womanhood" with which I am familiar, which includes the elevation of domesticity to women's highest calling and authoritarian marriages, the author's definition of "biblical womanhood" is any exclusion of women from positions of leadership and instruction in the church. Most of the book was consequently spent arguing for why women should be allowed to preach and pastor.
2. With some exceptions, the author did not show how biblical womanhood evolved from a series of clearly definable moments. Instead, while making several interesting and thought provoking points, she jumped all over the place, referencing her own church trauma more than anything else. For instance, on page 106 she mentions reading a compelling argument that the reformation changed the church and culture's teaching on women's roles, but she does not go on to make a compelling case herself. Instead, she hops all over the place making insignificant points. I felt this was a missed opportunity, since other books not even on this topic (such as Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey) do show clearly definable moments in history which shaped the cultural ideals of womanhood more than scripture.

There were several thought provoking moments, such as the description of how recent bible translations and teachers have reinterpreted things to fit their narrative.

My issues with this book were really not about the differences between the author's theology and mine, but how difficult it was to read and the roundabout way in which she tried to make her points. I'm not sure if my true rating is three stars or two stars, since I really wasn't even sure if I wanted to finish it.
Profile Image for Suzannah.
Author 27 books464 followers
April 3, 2022
FINALLY, someone who loves Christine de Pisan as much as I do!!!


One of my goals for this year has been to read some more books on matters of faith and Christianity, and Beth Allison Barr's THE MAKING OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD is already a standout. This book is basically what it says on the tin - a look at ways women's roles have changed throughout the history of the church, built around the argument (which Barr proves pretty conclusively) that today's conservative evangelical complementarianism is actually pretty new to the church. Highlights of the book include the chapter on Paul (in which his reference to the law in 1 Cor 14:34, which even patriarchalist teachers admit seems to relate to no OT law, is connected pretty convincingly with pagan, patriarchalist *Roman* law); the chapter on medieval women (which resoundingly confirmed and reinforced the impressions I had already received after seven years' study of medieval crusader history); and the chapter on the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) controversy (which I had heard people connect to heresy but didn't have the church history quotes condemning it - let's just say that if you're going up against the Athanasian Creed you're pretty far off the reservation).

This would have been a five star book if not for some occasional gaps in the author's chain of reasoning - it's not that I disagree, but rather think the book could have been more persuasive had it had been reasoned a little more tightly. Of course, this may be more a function of my own patchy attention span rather than a problem of the author's. Overall, I enjoyed and HIGHLY recommend this book, and will be buying my own hard copy when I have the opportunity.
Profile Image for Ellen Vosburg.
12 reviews
April 18, 2021
Beth Allison Barr in The Making of Biblical Womanhood argues persuasively that “Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is power. Neither have ever been about Jesus” (218). Barr asserts from the beginning that “Christian” patriarchy merely baptizes the patriarchy of the world that demeans and devalues women, and thus adopts the ways of the world rather than living in the freedom and equity of God’s intentions for women and men. Barr’s argument is multi-faceted. She reexamines contemporary interpretation and uses of Paul’s letters, brings to light an oft-overlooked tradition of medieval Christian women’s leadership, and exposes the modern innovation of “biblical womanhood” as just that, an innovation with little basis in truly Christian theology. Patriarchy is a Hydra that will continue to find fresh expression until Jesus returns to bring his Kingdom fully. But The Making of Biblical Womanhood is a big nail in the coffin of evangelical complementarianism, which will have to answer Barr’s arguments if the movement desires to stay relevant. Freedom for God’s women (and men) is well on the way and, indeed, is already here.
Profile Image for Jessica - How Jessica Reads.
1,847 reviews180 followers
September 22, 2021
This was phenomenal. As a Baptist preacher's kid who spent sooo much time of my teenage years fighting about 'submission' with my parents I was thrilled to find clear historical and Christian precedent for my own egalitarian views.

It's always been a bit of an uncomfortable area for me -- I'm firmly an egalitarian, but there are 'those' verses in the Bible, so do I just gloss over those? As my friend Alisa put it in her awesome review of this book -- 'are some parts of the Bible less Bible-y than others?'

I'm happy to see Barr contextualize the Pauline passages often weaponized against women in a way that makes a ton of sense. Why have I never heard the context of Paul's Roman rhetorical training, and the comparison of 1 Corinthian passages to the Oppian Law? Oh wait... the patriarchy.

HIGHLY recommend this book.
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,406 reviews81 followers
April 21, 2021
The Making of Biblical Womanhood bridges a gap in works about women’s place in the evangelical church. Beth Allison Barr concisely outlines the history of women in the church in Western/European/American history, and raises the question: is complementarianism/Christian patriarchy biblical, or capitulation to culture?

One of my favorite things about being a Christian is the endless rediscovery of just how countercultural my religion is. Belief in the virgin birth of Jesus depends on people trusting the word of a young woman (who do you think told Luke the story?). The resurrection was first reported to the disciples by women whose word was not viable in court. Married Jewish couples would not even speak to each other in public for propriety’s sake, yet Jesus frequently spoke with women in public, even alone. Barr applies this countercultural method of Christianity to complementarianism, which many card-carrying members have called Christian patriarchy.

The “biblical womanhood” that Barr attacks here is not simply being female and living a godly life. Instead, it’s the argument that patriarchy is biblical, that subjugation of women is divinely ordained, and that sexual roles (wife/mother) are the only appropriate routes for women to take. Barr argues that patriarchal mandates are read into Scripture rather than read out of Scripture. History (not to say orthodox theology) simply doesn’t support the complementarianism of Piper, Grudem, and their compatriots.

Barr is a medieval historian, and makes copious references to medieval history in each chapter. Her view, stretching past the Reformation (where church history begins and ends for too many Protestants) to the medieval era, provides a helpful corrective. I would love to see a similar book from an antiquities scholar, too. Along the way, she banishes a few myths about the medieval era, and pushes Christine de Pizan way up in my reading priorities.

I really appreciated how Barr connects the Protestant banishment of monasticism to the development of patriarchy. Monasteries, for centuries, have given Catholic and Orthodox women a chance to live spiritual lives in many different ways--scholarly, missional, contemplative, active--without having to marry and bear children. Virginity is prized, not because of purity culture, but because of its identification with Christ. The Protestant church has been missing something valuable all this time: a third space, outside parish ministry and the family as such, for unwed Christians to live in an intentional, deeply spiritual community. I’ve heard of a few places that do this in different ways, but they’re centered on ephemeral experiences like retreats, conferences, and education, and encourage romantic relationships. Imagine being a single Christian artist, not having to starve because you work in a community that supports you, as your work supports them. Imagine being a single Christian who doesn’t fit a “normal” vocation, and your service, which others might consider demeaning, is your ora et labora. Imagine being a social, single Christian who could consistently find a wealth of conversation partners without having to schedule coffee dates or juggle roommate preferences. I’m way off topic here, and I’m married, but still--dream a little here. Things can be better than they are.

I just really like this book. I’m really excited for the conversations I’ll have stemming from it. It’s already enriching my life and faith, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Of course, it’s not perfect. Barr doesn’t offer a well-defined alternative vision for the church. Yet, that’s where the conversation should begin. “What if we’re wrong?” she asks at the beginning. And where do we go from here?

“Patriarchy exists in the Bible because the Bible was written in a patriarchal world. Historically speaking, there is nothing surprising about biblical stories and passages riddled with patriarchal attitudes and actions. What is surprising is how many biblical passages and stories undermine, rather than support, patriarchy.” (36)

“Doesn’t the world of Galatians 3 seem more like the world of Jesus? Patriarchy may be a part of Christian history, but that doesn’t make it Christian. It just shows us the historical (and very human) roots of biblical womanhood.” (37)

“Gender-inclusive language is restoring Scripture from the influence of certain English Bible translations.” (148)

“It should also not surprise us that evangelicals resurrected Arianism for the same reason that evangelicals turned to inerrancy: if Jesus is eternally subordinate to God the Father, women’s subordination becomes much easier to justify. Arianism, like inerrancy, proved the perfect weapon against women’s equality, the perfect prop for Christian patriarchy. Except it is still heresy. Arianism repackaged.” (195-196)

“Evangelicals believe that biblical womanhood is the only option because we have been taught that it is tied to our trust in the reliability of God’s Word as well as embedded in the Godhead itself.” (197)

“What if our Sunday school and Bible study curriculum correctly reflected Junia as an apostle, Priscilla as a coworker, and women like Hildegard of Bingen as preachers? What if we recognized women’s leadership in the same way Paul did throughout his letters--even entrusting the Letter to the Romans to the deacon Phoebe? What if we listened to women in our evangelical churches the way Jesus listened to women?” (214)
Profile Image for Persis.
179 reviews13 followers
April 20, 2021
There are quite a number of topics that Christians disagree about, but one that generates far more heat than light is the subject of "biblical womanhood." Lines in the sand have been drawn, and people have taken sides. There is more talking past one another than dialogue and reading for the sake of owning one's opponents rather than respectful engagement. So I give a lot of credit to Baylor history professor, Beth Allison Barr, for entering into the fray with her book, "The Making of Biblical Womanhood."

As a specialist in medieval and woman's history, Barr approaches this topic as a historian primarily but also as a Christian and Baptist pastor's wife. Thus the book traces the history of how the world and the church have treated women down through the ages. This is to demonstrate:

- Although the subordination of women is historical, it may not necessarily be biblical.
- Historically the church has not uniformly nor consistently forbade women in leadership.
- We may be influenced by our culture more than we realize or want to admit, and we may have imported those ideals and preferences into our views of women and men. We may have called "biblical" that which is secular in origin.

The book begins with ancient near East history, looks at Paul's writings on household codes, the life of women in the church during the Medieval period, the Reformation's effect on women, how translation of the Bible has shaped our understanding regarding the place of women in the church, a brief history of women preachers and teachers in the early 20th century, the sanctification of modesty and domesticity, and the recent controversy over tweaking the Trinity to support a particular view of marriage. Quite a bit of ground is covered for a relatively short book, but it's not just a history text. The author weaves the story of her journey out of Christian patriarchy into the chapters.

Although, this book has not convinced me to change my position on female ordination (a 2nd tier issue IMO), I learned quite a bit. My knowledge of Medieval history is next to nil so it was fascinating to learn about Margery Kempe and other godly women in that era. It was also interesting to read the stories of female evangelists during the early 20th century in Baptist and black denominations. It was also more than a little disconcerting to read that Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's view of women could have come verbatim from the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Incidentally, Barr's take on the Apostle Paul's household codes is very similar to my pastor's view that these were radical compared to the Greco-Roman culture.

I do wish the book was a bit longer, though. I would have loved greater exploration of how the Enlightenment influenced gender and the stereotyping of emotion as feminine and rationality as masculine. It would have also been interesting to get a historical perspective that was non-European. Maybe the author will favor us with a 2nd book.

However, my main takeaways are the questions that this book has raised about historical and cultural biases and misperceptions that have been baptized as biblical. If we are to be people of the truth, we should be challenged if we are making our cultural preferences transcendent for the global church. We should be willing to learn from those who have gone before us and learn from fellow believers who we may disagree with in some areas. And I think you will learn from "The Making of Biblical Womanhood."
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,956 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.