Biblical Femininity Is A Lie

Laura Martin just posted a review of Biblical Femininity, Discovering Clarity and Freedom in God’s Design for Women. She ably discusses the book’s premises, pointing out that its reliance on weak exegeses leads to weakly supported conclusions on the role of women in the kingdom of God.

I think there is another weakness to the book that can influence even those who merely read the title and never look inside. The problem?

There’s no such thing as “Biblical Femininity”.

That’s because the Bible doesn’t say we are created feminine and masculine; it says we are created male and female.

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27.)

Being feminine or masculine is a cultural concept, while being male or female is biological. To oversimplify the biology of sex, if you have two X chromosomes you’re female and if you have an X and a Y chromosome you’re male. Acting feminine or masculine might reflect your gender, but it won’t affect your sex:

50px-Mars_symbol_svgA man can act with what some people call feminine traits but it won’t change his Y chromosome into an X chromosome.

50px-Venus_symbol_svgA woman can act with what some people call masculine traits but it won’t give her a Y chromosome in place of one of her X chromosomes.

What are feminine and masculine traits anyway? Each culture has traits or behaviors it assigns generally to one sex or another, and other cultures in a different place or time can take those same traits and behaviors and assign them to the opposite sex.

The Bible itself shows differences in gender expectations over time and place:

  • In Proverbs 31 the woman (who is actually a personification of Godly wisdom) is an entrepreneur in the Israelite community and manages all the household finances and personnel.
  • In Paul’s letters and travels to various cities in the Roman Empire (heavily influenced by Greek culture and not at all looking to Jewish history for its guidance) he commended a women who taught a man (Priscilla in Acts 18:24-26, 1 Corinthians 16:9), sent greetings to a woman who was a fellow apostle (Junia in Romans 16:7), and specified that in Ephesus – a city with a centuries-long preexisting matriarchal cult – women in the church should learn about Jesus quietly (1 Timothy 2:11).
  • And on returning to Judea, Paul enjoyed the hospitality of an evangelist whose daughters each had the gift of prophecy (Philip and his four daughters in Acts 21:8-9).

So I wonder where anyone thinks the Bible dictates particularly feminine or masculine traits people must adopt today in order to live “Biblically”.

Perhaps they mean this passage:

Greet each other with a kiss of love. (1 Peter 5:14.)

OK men, when you show up at the men’s breakfast next weekend make sure you’ve got plenty of lip balm because you’re going to be smooching … a lot.

Or perhaps they mean this passage:

… a man must not wear women’s clothing. (Deuteronomy 22:5.)

You hear that Scottish men? I don’t care how tough Braveheart was, no more kilts!

Kilts and swords? An abomination!

Kilts and swords? An abomination!

And Maori warriors, no more piupiu!

Or shawls either!

And American male judges, no more robes!

I'm sunk

I’m sunk

All those flowy things are women’s wear! But wait a second … men back in the days of Deuteronomy wore flowing robes, so perhaps we should outlaw pants today.

But the femininity/masculinity proponents will tell us that those Old and New Testament passages must be understood in their contexts, that what men and women wore in Bible times was culturally informed.

I completely agree.

So let’s have no more nonsense about femininity and masculinity being the key to understanding how to be women and men in Christ, because the Bible doesn’t teach masculine and feminine traits. It doesn’t even tell us how to be Biblical men and women.

Rather, the Bible tells us we are:

… growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15.)

That’s not feminine and it’s not masculine, but it sure is Biblical.


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42 Responses to Biblical Femininity Is A Lie

  1. janehinrichs says:

    Amen Tim. Thanks! Wish I had more to comment but short on words today. Just thanks for sharing.

  2. govpappy says:

    Good word. Making distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language in the Bible is critical to not ending up in the looney bin. It’s hardly a textbook on the subject, so Biblical _______inity ends up being a fluid nebulous concept.
    Growing up, the logic was something like, “This way of life was good enough for one of the most Godly generations we’ve ever had, the Puritans, so that is what we’re going to do.” So, for my family, Biblical living (and biblical ______inity) was largely dictated by a segment of Christianity 400 years ago. Culture sneakily became an idol.

    • Tim says:

      That’s an excellent example of why it takes more to understand the Bible than just reading words on the page. Satan knew the words but he did not follow the Spirit. He’d like us to follow idols while the Spirit wants to live in us and through us as he builds us up in Christ.

    • XianJaneway says:


  3. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for highlighting Laura’s review. She is such a clear and logical writer! I also appreciate the distinction you’ve gone on to make here, between male/female and masculine/feminine. Trying to argue, based on Scripture, that there are specific “masculine and feminine” character traits that are true across times and cultures just doesn’t work.

  4. Isabella says:

    Lol! What a great piece. This concept of an ideal biblical femininity has bugged me for a while. Ironically, I was watching a bible cartoon show with my son and thought to myself “those guys are wearing mini skirts (kilts I guess).” They were quite masculine and sang so happily I didn’t detect any hang ups.

    Biblical Femininity is really a cultural construct that put an unnecessary and unrealistic burden on women in the church.

    • Tim says:

      “ideal biblical femininity” – it really should bug us, Isabella. the only ideal we find in the Bible is Jesus. That’s why we are to focus on him rather than on pursuing the idols of femininity and masculinity.

  5. keriwyattkent says:

    I loved Laura’s review, and appreciate the insights you’ve added to the conversation. The image of God is both male and female, as you point out from Genesis 1. Could it follow, then, that God is both a Father and a Mother? (both those terms being metaphors for God’s character and care for us). I wrote today about my Mother’s Day experience, which included a wonderful worship/liturgy experience reflecting on the mothering images of God.

    • Tim says:

      The Bible certainly doesn’t present the dichotomy that some people would like to argue. God is called our heavenly Father, and God describes himself as a Mother nursing her child at her breast.

      Now I’m off to your place to read your MD post!

  6. keriwyattkent says:

    Did you know that the name El Shaddai can be translated “the breasted one”? Meaning, a nurturer, a sustainer, all sufficient to care for us? A very feminine image of God.

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  10. Neal Rhodes says:

    This argument is fundamentally flawed — 1. No serious exegete or translation considers Junia an apostle, certainly none before the 19th century. — 2. At no point is Pricsila credited with teaching any male apart from her husband Aquila; — 3. How does Paul receiving hospitality from a man whose daughters have the gift of prophecy demonstrate anything other than that women can receive the gift of prophecy? — 4. And, of course, Proverbs 31 is a personification of Godly wisdom, even from a complimentarian point of veiw – just not a complete one. Only in the combination of both men and women can we even come close to seeing the full image’as borne by humankind. ——- I would suggest studying the Bible itself, along with serious scholarship regarding Biblical masculinity and feminity, such as the “Danvers Statement,” then attempting to refute that, rather than the tired old strawman of a masaginistic version of feminity – which Bible, also, clearly refutes.

    • Tim says:

      I appreciate your points, but I would not say they are all as cut and dried as you posit. For example, on #4 I have read and heard many (e.g., some who write for CBMW) who say Proverbs 31 is a guide for women and refute that it is a personification of wisdom.

      • Neal Rhodes says:

        1. How is that lack of scholarly support for Junia being an apostle before the 19th century not cut and dry? Is there some kind of revolutionary manuscript evidence that surfaced in the 19th century that radically changed the way scholars translate the verse in Romans regarding Junia? —- 2 – 3 . Unless there is a clear example of a woman alone teaching or having authority over a man, not in conjunction with a man, to contradict the explicit teaching of Paul to Timothy, (the one old testament example is of Deborah – as a judgement against her husband, a clear exception, not the rule) the scales must tip in favor of complimentarianism. 4. I never said that all complimentarian scholars affirm Prov 31 as an example of Godly wisdom, I simply asserted that it does not lend credence to egalitarianism, as it in no way falsifies complimentarianism.

        • Tim says:

          The text does not support Deborah’s appointment as judge being a form of judgment on her husband. Her husband is barely mentioned, in fact. Where does it say he did anything worthy of God’s judgment, anyway? It’s just not there.

    • Lee says:

      The Danvers statement doesn’t produce fruit.

      If gender roles were important at all, Jesus would have mentioned them. He didn’t.

      As far as Priscilla only teaching when her husband was present, the point is, Paul didn’t tell her to stop talking and let the man handle it. As far as not having an example of a female “pastor”, you don’t have one name of a male pastor in the NT, either. Admitting that women have the gift of prophecy has to mean you admit they got it to use it.

      When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, the verb used in the original text is laleo. It’s the same verb used when Anna “told all who were there in the temple” that the baby there was the long-awaited Messiah. If Anna can speak the Word of God in a house of worship to men, any woman today can do the same. If you’re going to bring up that tired, “she didn’t do it from behind the pulpit,” the pulpit didn’t exist until many years later. Jesus didn’t need one on the Mount, or anywhere else.

      In fact, I find it interesting that the three most significant pieces of news in the NT were given FIRST to women: 1) Mary, you’re pregnant with the savior. (So much for her “spiritual covering” of Joseph.) 2) Anna, this is the Messiah, tell all the people (men and women) here. 3) Mary, He is Risen.

      If you are interested in serious Bible scholarship on gender roles, I suggest you go to Amazon and read anything from Bob Edwards. He was in a complementarian (not complimentarian–“compliment” is a nice saying) seminary when God called him to egalitarianism, and his books are top-notch. They say it better than I can. “A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs”, “Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded”, “The Equality Workbook: Freedom in Christ from the Oppression of Patriarchy” are my favorites.

      You’ll probably feel the need to answer these here. I won’t be following this topic so type away. I do hope you realize that gender roles have nothing to do with salvation or Christianity, and Christianity has better things to do than worry about who is in charge. My favorite chapters of the Bible are Matthew 25:31-40, where Jesus tells us what we WILL be judged on (it’s not putting women “in their place”).

      Until Jesus comes, no woman needs the permission of any man to do what God calls her to do.

  11. David Layzell says:

    BTW Maori wear shorts or underwear under their grass skirts and that is a feathered cloak (korowai) that the warrior is wearing. (I sometimes teach in a Maori bilingual class in a New Zealand High School.)

    • Tim says:

      Good insights, David. I know a lot of women who wear shorts under skirts too. I wonder if fashion conscious patriarchists consider that unwomanly?

  12. Because masculinity and femininity aren’t defined in the Bible, people have felt free to assign their own definitions to the concepts. More often than not, those definitions are modeled after fallen, worldly stereotypes of men and women. We’re called to something higher.
    I belong to a discussion group that is going over this idea in our next meeting. Thanks for the succinct and helpful post.

    • Tim says:

      “We’re called to something higher.” Precisely, Emma. I hope your group’s discussion is rich in bringing people to grow in their understanding of God and what it means to belong to him.

  13. Barb says:

    You always have good and practical insights, Tim. And always my thanks! I especially like your comment about the “holy kiss” verses…..I think there are 5 verses that reference this ‘kiss’. I grew up under that as a church-member rule, I believe it came from Europe, and it still exists today in my home denomination (men kiss men and women kiss women–on the lips). They have apparently not considered the culture of the time in which it was written–not surprising since pastors/ministers do NOT attend any kind of Bible school or seminary. Methinks that it could apply today as a “holy handshake”. Needless to say, I don’t do any of that unless it a quick hug to greet a VERY close female friend.

    • Tim says:

      I flat out don’t want to shake hands or whatever with people in that meet-and-greet time at church. I’m too introverted!

      • Lisa says:

        Tim, speaking for myself, my introverted friends, and every other introvert alive, I wish they would cease forever that awful “turn and greet your brothers and sisters with the love of Christ”. It’s just painful. It’s awkward and contrived and unnecessary. The people who are friends have already greeted each other.

  14. A refreshing article as always, Tim Fall. Just quickly on introversion. Environment conditions certainly elicit different responses. Over the years I have undergone various personality-typing and behavioural analysis systems. I quite liked the one that likened me to Martin Luther King/George Washington (which seems quite appropriate for this piece of yours) and classified me as a ‘Chancellor/Judge/One Who Upholds Truth’. But back to Myers Briggs – in the space of a weekend I went from being classified as an introvert to an extrovert. For me it was strongly related to fear of what others thought. Now, I’m kind of over that 🙂 Realizing that others are, often, more preoccupied what I think of them. I still prefer depth of thought and am content with my own company, although I cherish interactions with like-minded people. Thanks for sharing !

    • Tim says:

      I’ve come to the same realization: people aren’t thinking of me hardly at all most of the time!

      • I’m not specifically sure who “people” are. If, in my ignorance, I am guilty of self-centeredness, thoughtlessness or insensitivity etc. (which is possible at times), then I am sorry. That should have read *environmental* sorry, not environment. And I should have specified “what I/*others* think of them”. Personally, I don’t think God designed us to be excessively classified/contained in little boxes – although it obviously helps with certain diagnoses/predictions etc. I haven’t been subjected to Myers Briggs for a few years now, so I may even be an ‘introvert’ again??? 🙂 Anyway, I endeavour to simplify life by remaining committed to embodying the qualities of the holy spirit and love. And yes, I agree with recognizing culturally-constructed notions/conceptions (including of femininity and masculinity) for what they are and becoming more Christ-like e.g… “growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15.)”. Therefore pink/blue are interchangeable here when it comes to fashion. .

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  16. Laura says:

    Hey Tim, the above pingback – share of YOUR post – is bringing MY post much traffic. Thanks again for referencing my book review.

  17. Thanks, Tim. So glad to see someone saying this.

  18. Janet kingly says:

    Hey there. I read your article and was immediately struck by some of the incorrect statements you made, because you have not read the texts properly that you have quoted in your arguments.

    First of all Junia was not an apostle, but a fellow prisoner. Look at some different translations… And secondly Junia is a man. Not a woman.

    If you are going to engage in theological debate, make sure your side of the argument is well researched. At this point you have lost credibility. You rant about someone else’s studies being wrong after they have written books on it, and probably done some hard work on the topic. Engage with well researched hard work, not just an opinion that you have then scratched around for texts to support.

    • Tim says:

      I’d be interested in seeing your support for your positions. Can you send me a link, for example for them, such as Junia being a man?

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