Book Reviews

Book Review: “Discovering Biblical Equality” Third Edition edited by Ronald W . Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical Theological, Cultural, & Practical Perspectives is a massive tome defending the equality of women in the church and home from a Christian standpoint.

The book is organized around 31 chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. The chapters are broken up into four parts: Looking to Scripture: The Biblical Texts; Thinking it Through: Theological and Logical Perspectives; Addressing the Issues: Interpretive and Cultural Perspectives; Living it Out: Practical Applications. There are highlights in each section, and each essays has its own strengths. Linda Belville’s “Women Leaders in the Bible” goes through many names readers might be familiar with, but also dives into details about some of the specifics, such as the background info we can see in the text for the importance of Huldah (p. 73) and some surprising examples readers might be unfamiliar with (74-75). The discussion of both marriage and singleness with regards to mutuality in Ronald W. Pierce and Elizabeth A. Kay’s chapter (“Mutuality in Marriage and Singleness: 1 Corinthians 7:1-40) is refreshing because so often the discussion centers entirely around marriage. The so-called “clobber passages” of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 each get their own passage, as do many other related passages.

Kevin Giles’s chapter on “The Trinity Argument for Women’s Subordination” shows the lengths to which some have gone to try to ground women’s inequality. Jeffrey D. Miller’s chapter on gender accurate Bible translation was fascinating and shows how the issues that are often dismissed regarding translation issues can have real, spiritual implications. Mimi Haddad’s chapter on global perspectives and why gender equality matters helps demonstrate the real-life applications of theology.

The book is the third edition of this collection. I own the second edition, which I read some years ago. I compared the table of contents for the two editions, and there is in the third edition a significant overhaul of the included essays. There are 31 chapters in the new edition vs. 29 in the previous one. Several chapters have been entirely replaced, and several new topics are introduced in the third edition. For example a chapter on “Gender Equality and Homosexuality” by William J. Webb in the second edition appears to have been replaced by “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” by Ronald W. Pierce in this third edition. The third edition also addresses race and gender, a topic that I don’t recall or see a chapter dedicated to in the second edition. In other words, readers interested in knowing whether it’s worth re-purchasing should rest assured that it very much is. This new edition has a huge amount of new content. I cannot comment on whether essays that appear in each are revised in any way from the original.

The chapter on “Biblical Equality and Same-Sex Marriage” is written by Piece, who is non-affirming in his stance on same-sex marriage. The thrust of the chapter seems to be that one can be a fully committed egalitarian while not affirming same-sex marriage. Such a topic is certainly of interest to the many people who are caught in the middle on these issues. For my part, I’d have liked to see another chapter from an affirming perspective, though I wonder if it wasn’t included because that’s a less controversial pairing. The chapter on race and gender is fascinating and shows how these topics often intersect and overlap.

Discovering Biblical Equality is unquestionably the standard text for those wishing to explore the basics of egalitarian theology on a scholarly level that remains accessible. Every chapter has something to add to the discussion. The depth and breadth of some of the chapters is truly remarkable. I recommend it extremely highly as among the best books on the topic.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


One thought on “Book Review: “Discovering Biblical Equality” Third Edition edited by Ronald W . Pierce, Cynthia Long Westfall, and Christa L. McKirland

  1. Hi JW.

    I’ve lightly skimmed parts of DBE3, but have not yet delved in deeply. A few comments based on that:

    — Not a shock that there is no “affirming” article on LGBTQ issues. The book is from IVP with a lot of input from CBE. From what I can tell, neither is “affirming.” (FTR, I am also not “affirming,” and I think the affirming case is much harder to make from Scripture compared to the egalitarian case.) DBE is largely an evangelical product, and may reflect a different ethos and approach to interpreting and applying Scripture as opposed to Lutheran.

    — Much as I respect Dr. Keener and his work, I’m disappointed to see that his treatment of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 was again chosen. I just don’t think that is the best explanation. I think Bartlett (in “Man and Woman in Christ”), building on Payne and Fee, makes a good case that the verses constitute an interpolation, but I’m even more impressed by the “quotation-refutation” idea mentioned rather briefly by Beth Allison Barr in “The Making of Biblical Womanhood” and presented in some detail by Kirk MacGregor here:

    — I’m disappointed that neither the previous version nor the current one include a chapter specifically devoted to the “clobber passages” in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. Phillip Payne did a great job with them in “Man and Woman, One in Christ,” and IMO Bartlett did even better by presenting the work more concisely and readably. (This may get some coverage in the chapter on Bible translations, but I think those passages merit specific treatment.)

    — Good as Belleville’s chapter on the clobber passage in 1 Tim. 2 is, Bartlett’s (MAWIC) has the virtue of being the *only* explanation I’ve seen that gives a solid plausible “why” for Paul’s use of “authenteo.”

    — One of my favorite parts of the previous edition was the historical section comprising several chapters devoted to different eras, showing that the acceptance of women in ministry and leadership positions was not some newfangled 20th-C phenomenon derived from compromise with “the world.” Hopefully Mimi Haddad’s historical section in the new edition does a similarly good job.

    Posted by NorrinRadd | March 16, 2022, 11:43 AM

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