By Bob Allen
A Bible commentary by women and for women is now out in Old and New Testament volumes that seek to counter a prevailing view of women’s equality in the church and home.
The two-volume Women’s Evangelical Commentary, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, starts with the premise that most modern Bible translations and commentaries are distorted by “21st century social agendas,” particularly feminism.
“God has created men and women equal in worth and value but very different in our role and function,” managing editor Rhonda Kelley said in an interview promoting the newly released Old Testament volume Dec. 31 on the radio program Richard Land Live. “Rather than fighting that as Christian women, we need to understand that God created us to be women for a very special purpose.”
A product description says that other women’s commentaries advocate an “egalitarian” theology of the sexes — that men and women are created equal in every way. The Women’s Evangelical Commentary counters with a “complementarian” view of gender — women and men are equal before God but in the home and church husbands are to lead and wives submit.
Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley and daughter of the famed “chaplain of Bourbon Street” evangelist Bob Harrington, said the intent is to instruct modern women in “what biblical womanhood is all about, not just what the world says about women.”
Kelley said many females arriving to study at Southern Baptist seminaries today have no biblical framework to prepare them for what they will learn there about women’s roles.
“Not only do they not have a framework, but in many situations our women students have been raised by mothers who were a product of the feminist movement,” Kelley said. “And so even their Christian mothers didn’t fully understand what it meant to be biblical women and they were rebelling with the world, with the culture, against a role that they thought women were being forced into.”
Kelley said when confronted with the contrast between “what the Bible teaches about us as women” and “what the world’s perspective has been,” students often “are just “stunned” by the difference. “Really, feminism has crept within our churches and even into our seminary homes,” she said. “And so many times there is great freedom as they discover who really God created us to be.”
Along with learning aids for use either in individual devotion or group Bible study, the women-to-women commentary gives attention to passages that general commentaries would consider obscure.
For example, the Women’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament treats passages in the Old Testament that forbid boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. “There are not many people who even care about that, but it does have to do with maternity,” said co-editor Dorothy Patterson, wife of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson.
Patterson, professor of theology in women’s studies at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said another example is a women’s reading of the Book of Esther. On the one hand, she said, there is “a section on beauty treatments and what Esther went through and the archeological evidence that shows exactly what that is.” Then turn the page, “and you find our first excursus on submission.”
“Most people don’t think about submission as being a topic in the book of Esther, but it is clearly in the text,” Patterson said. “I think our readers will find it interesting to see how you take the Old Testament roots for something that is very heavily discussed in the New Testament.”