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Two Entirely Different Study Bibles For Women Reviewed

March 1, 1997

The Woman's Study Bible: Opening The Word Of God To Women, Ed. Dorothy Patterson (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995; $39.99). Reviewed By Karen O'dell Bullock: Reprinted By Permission From Magazette Vol. 7, No. 4 (1996): 3-4.

Study Bible For Women: The New Testament (NRSV), Ed. Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary Evans, And Elaine Storkey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995; $29.99). Reviewed By Mary A. Kassian.

A Complementarian Study Bible

Just as the original translators of the 1611 King James Version sought to "promote the common good'' by their effort to "make a good [translation] better,'' the collaborators of the Woman's Study Bible offer a new and useful tool for hungry students of the Bible.

Spanning a production process of more than five years, and involving more than 80 women of ethnic and denominational diversity, the volume speaks clearly to Christian women standing on the brink of the twenty-first century. Women comprising the editorial team, headed by Dorothy Kelley Patterson, general editor, are professors, homemakers, artists, counselors, corporate executives, pastors' wives, missionaries, medical personnel, and authors. Some are grandmothers; others are singles, wives, and mothers. All are actively involved in ministry leadership, and almost one-third hold earned theological degrees.

Eminently practical, the Woman's Study Bible serves a wide range of purposes; however, its overarching theme is to be a "unique tool for opening God's Word to women through a comprehensive study of Scripture prepared by women for women on subjects important to women.'' The Woman's Study Bible uses the New King James Version and includes the "Word from the Translators of the New King James Version,'' which follows the text and speaks to the reader concerning purpose, "complete equivalence'' in translation, style, format, notes on decisions concerning Old and New Testament manuscript usage, and explanations of textual footnotes. These helpful and critical discussions remind readers of the King James Version to ask why the 1611 translators' notes have rarely been printed since 1821. What translators have to say to their readers is vitally important.

Stated guidelines provided the parameters for this study tool prior to research and/or manuscript preparation as follows:

"A distinctive exegesis pulls out the meaning of the text instead of reading into the text personal whims.''

"Intuitive scholarship combines the discernment of intuition with the discipline of scholarship, bringing a new dimension to evangelical interpretation.''

"Nurturing sensitivity brings new and exciting ways to encourage and inspire.''

"Mentoring friendships undergird spiritual bonding, finding more common ground than polarity in a quest to understand and interpret Scripture.''

"Creative service links mind to heart to present inspiration and guidance that is fresh and relevant.''

The Woman's Study Bible creates upon these foundations a wonderfully fresh and fascinating tool for Bible study. A user-friendly and extensive referencing system helps Bible students to connect ideas, doctrines, and topics. The use of more than 325 topical notes seek to apply scriptural truth to such life situations as commitment, rape, priorities, promises, blended families, step parenthood, depression, and ecological concerns. In addition, sidebar annotations add clarity to difficult passages and help to identify and connect places, people, and events.

The volume's freshness is enhanced by four well-written articles which deal with issues Bible students will find invigorating: "What They Left Behind: Women, Archaeology, and the Bible,'' by Marsha A. Ellis Smith; "The Balanced Life: Reconciling Personal Faith with Practicing Dogma,'' by Hilary McFarlane; "Women and Children in Biblical Narrative,'' by Eleonore Stump; and "God Cares for Women,'' by Eta Linnemann. Each of these articles explores issues of theological, scientific, emotional, or practical significance in vivid, perspective-changing dialogue.

Each biblical book is prefaced with introductory materials exploring background, author, date, setting, purpose, audience, literary characteristics, themes, and overall outlines, which supplement the reader's general and technical knowledge. Other beneficial study helps include colorful maps ranging from "The Nations of Genesis 10'' to "The Holy Land in Modern Times.'' Charts and graphs contain such interesting information as colors and numbers and their meanings; money, weight, and length equivalents; the names of Jesus; exegeses of critical passages, such as 1 Peter 3 and Ephesians 5; discussions of millennial views; women in the parables of Jesus; and how the Bible answers difficult questions.

Over 100 portraits of biblical women bring the text to life. Cameo biographies of such characters as Abigail, Anna, Huldah, Cleopatra, Dorcas, Esther, Eve, and the Marys are sprinkled throughout the text and demonstrate how the responses of women have figured prominently in God's redemption story.

Dotted throughout the text are hundreds of inspirational quotations intended to encourage, support, and challenge readers to live "a more excellent way.''

An alphabetized index, complete with color and symbol coding, brings all of the special features together. The reader will quickly find all topical notes, portraits, charts, maps, and annotated subjects with ease. Textual references cite book, chapter, and verse. All of this is followed by a selfsupporting 66-page concordance.

Although goodly appearance is not required, this volume is aesthetically pleasing and artistic, with sidebar delineations, illustrations, and two-color page designs, all in shades of blue and gray.

Christian women will cherish this new and marvelous tool for personal Bible study. There appears to be but one slight hesitation; that is, that because the word Woman is on the cover of the book, many will feel that only women should read its contents. Yet timely insights affect all of us as "humanity'' and edify the Body of Christ. Perhaps this is a work, then, worthy of corporate study, as men and women of God seek to know and obey Him most fully.

An Egalitarian Study Bible

I have a number of study bibles in my library that I have acquired over the years: a Believer's Study Bible, a Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible, and a Student's Study Bible, among others. I myself have participated in the writing of notes and annotations for a study Bible. Therefore, when I see a new study Bible, I have certain expectations for what such a work ought to look like. I expect certain standards of style, presentation, clarity, logic and scholarship. This new Study Bible for Women, published by Baker Book House, did not meet my basic expectations.

To begin, the introductions to the books are inconsistent. Some are long, some are short, some are sub-divided to provide information on author, date, audience, purpose, some do not provide any of this information. One introduction has personal application questions, one book failed to include an introduction altogether.

The work is also stylistically inconsistent. Some sections are written in a scholarly manner, while others merely present personal experience and opinions. For example, one author voiced her disappointment about her ministry being "closed'' to her by reason of her gender, and tells the story of how she subsequently began instructing handicapped students in swimming lessons. In my opinion, such musings are appropriate in a biography, popular, or devotional work, but not in a work claiming to be a study aid. I expect a study Bible to point the reader to the text of the Bible for answers, not to personal experience.

Another expectation I have of "study'' Bibles is that the contributors substantiate claims and cite sources. In this, I was also disappointed. In a discussion of the meaning of the word "head,'' one author proclaimed that "the early Greek Fathers went to great lengths to insist that this is the sense in which ‘head' should be understood here'' (p. 343). But this claim is unsubstantiated. I, as a reader, need to know which Greek Fathers, and what "great lengths,'' and whether the sources of the contributor's information are reliable. Furthermore, when theological authorities such as John Chrysostom and Justin Martyr are quoted to substantiate the contributor's arguments (p. 321), the source of the quotation ought to be referenced so that I can go and see the quote in its original context. These are, in my mind, minimal standards for scholarly accountability and excellence.

In reading through the annotations and notes, I often had difficulty following the contributor's line of reasoning. A typical example is the note discussing the lilies of the field in Christ's Sermon on the Mount (p. 28). The contributor points out that the lilies of the field do not "toil and spin,'' but that women DO toil and spin linen and wool. She goes on to state that Jesus argued against assigning housework a higher social value than the gospel-the Kingdom is more important that a woman's responsibility to provide food and clothing. She ends by concluding that Jesus supported the earliest Christian women as they extended their ideas of service beyond the family "to teaching, preaching, prophesying, and other recognized ministries.''

This connection is totally illogical. I cannot understand how the contributor got from point A: the lilies of he field neither toiling nor spinning, to point B: women teaching, preaching, prophesying. Perhaps I am missing something, but this, and many other notes, made absolutely no sense to me.

I expect the level of scholastic integrity to be higher in a work that claims to be a "study'' aid. To me, scholastic integrity demands consistency of style, citing of original sources, substantiation of one's statements and logical reasoning. All of these I found deficient in the NRSV Study Bible for Women.

The second major criticism of this work I have, is the tendency of the authors to use Scripture as a springboard to inundate readers with a feminist worldview. Regardless of textual content, the contributors seem to gravitate towards lamenting the victimization of women and the abusive nature of men.

For example, a note on the spiritual discipline of fasting only mentions the discipline in passing before moving on to discuss society's poor view of women and women's resultant problems of anorexia and bulemia (p. 27). A note on the blessedness of motherhood becomes a discourse on how society's view of women-"attractiveness, thinness, relationship,''-make it difficult for women to worship on Sunday mornings (p. 149). The note on glorifying God with one's body (1 Cor. 12:20) argues that women's bodies do not make them "sex objects, status symbols, baby machines, clothes horses, or beasts of burden.''

An accompanying topical note states that presenting one's body as a living sacrifice to God "requires that we refuse to conform to the present standards and lies of our age'' (about women's bodies) and "speak out against the abuses of the bodies of women and girl children… to face the oppression of such practices as eating disorders… genital mutilation, shunning due to menstrual flow, selling and trading of young girls for sexual slavery, bride-burning, under-nourishment of female children, female infanticide, silencing of women in churches, and other behaviors which shame and immobilize the bodies of those born female, made in God's image'' (pp. 333-34).

Finally, a note on church leadership, based on Titus 1:7, becomes a three- column dissertation on wife-battering and rape (pp. 461-62). Certainly the issues of rape, wifebattering and abuse are important issues for women, and issues I care about deeply, but I found that this work has a maddening tendency to go off on a tangent and end at this point regardless of what topic it began to address.

Indeed, it appears to me that the entire work promotes a victim-abuser stereotype of female-male relationships.

For example, according to one contributor, John 8:3, the story of the woman caught in adultery, "almost certainly expresses his (Christ's) indignation at the exploitation of a woman by men'' (p. 197). The "obscene, silly, and vulgar talk'' referred to in Ephesians 5:3 is a statement on how women are victims of sexual harassment. Circumcision, according to another contributor, was a covenantal sign that ought to have served men as a physical reminder that they were not to use their sexual organ "in aggression and exploitation of others'' (p. 410).

A note on Paul's suffering (2 Cor. 1:8) attributes female depression to the "stereotyped roles of women in society,'' woman's "powerlessness'' and "dependency,'' and the "emotional abuse and interpersonal violence'' women "frequently'' experience. A note on the Fatherhood of God is careful to point out that Father-God is "neither a wife-beater nor a child-abuser… not a tyrant or a dictator.'' As, obviously, the author regards the majority of earthly fathers to be. The note explains that the reason Jesus was male, is that "an image of a suffering female would not challenge the powers of this world because she would merely be one more victim'' (p. 358). Even Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is interpreted in light of a victimization. Readers are told that they can apply Christ's prayer to the "many times'' they "find themselves in situations in which they beg God to stop the evil of the abuser….'' (p. 171).

The NRSV Study Bible for Women is written from an egalitarian perspective and thus contains the expected arguments for an egalitarian view of women in ministry. However, the heavy focus on abuse, victimization, and other aspects of feminist philosophy was more than I would have expected in an evangelical work.

I was also mildly irritated at the belabored emphasis on the "inclusion'' of women. Readers are continually and repeatedly pointed to the obvious: the term "believers'' includes women, the term "brothers'' includes women, women are included in the crowds, women are included in parables, women's names are included in the book of life (p. 413), women are included in ministry, Jesus included women.

In fact, one contributor surmises, the only reason women were not at the Passover table with the disciples, was that Jesus had "a clear premonition of the approaching danger and may have chosen not to expose women to the possibility of violence'' (p. 169). Their insistence on the inclusion of women at times borders on the absurd. One contributor argues that women were also "included'' in the old covenant of circumcision, for circumcision "touched a man at the point of intimate sexual contact (with a woman), so within marriage and family life, circumcision would have been part of women's experience too'' (p. 295).

This overstatement of the obvious truth of the biblical worth and value and "inclusion'' of women saddens me, for the only reason for insisting so vehemently on women's inclusion that I can see is that deep down these women do not feel included at all. They appear to be trying to convince themselves of a fact they don't quite believe. And that is very sad.

The NRSV Study Bible for Women begins and ends with a number of essays on various topics: Inclusive Language and the NRSV, A High View of Scripture (inspiration and authority), Interpreting the New Testament (hermeneutics), Asking Questions of an Authoritative Text, The Doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, Men and Women in Relationship, and the final essay The Occupations of Women.

In these essays, as well as in the notes and annotations, the work is fundamentally evangelical, and for this I am glad. However, when the authors focus on a victimizationabuse philosophy, when they suggest that we must incorporate more inclusive references to God in the Church's language, when they imply that the maleness of Jesus is theologically insignificant, and when they insist that the "message of Christ as liberator of the poor and oppressed'' must especially be applied to the oppression of women (p. 584), I worry that they are being distracted from the essence of the Gospel.

The Word of God is powerful. And I am always glad for the publication of more Bibles. But the drawback, indeed, danger of this work, is that women who sincerely want to study the Bible are drawn into the study of feminism instead. 

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