Thinking Out Loud

March 31, 2022

Patriarchy’s Historical Roots

I originally thought that The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr was a book that needed to be read either in tandem or serially with Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes DuMez. I’m now of the opinion that at least the first third of A Church Called Tov by Scott McKnight and Laura Barringer should be thrown into the mix.

So I hope you don’t mind if I discuss the book in comparative terms with the other which I reviewed here about a month ago.

It took me a long time to finish this — I read J&JW in the middle of the process — and also due to various interruptions, and complicated by the fact that due to certain deficiencies in my high school education, I have problems processing things related to history. (It’s a long story.) Beth Allison Barr is a historian, and she takes a historical approach, not a theological approach. Her concern with today’s popular patriarchy, which is best expressed by organizations such as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), is understanding how we got to this place, something that she contends did not happen overnight, though its meteoric rise to a default doctrine in Evangelicalism is relatively recent.

I’m continuously drawn back to a quotation I can no longer source where it was said that the purveyors and propagators of today’s patriarchal culture, and the pastors and authors which helped promote it, these people never dreamed they would be the object of historical or sociological study, they never imagined that they would be the focus of academic or scholarly research. They never expected their motivation and actions to be dissected and analyzed. They didn’t foresee books like TMBW and J&JW becoming part of the conversation.

Barr’s book goes back much further than DuMez’ however, back into medieval Times, to show both that some of this thinking did not emerge yesterday, and yet at the same time to show that historically women have occupied a much larger and more active place in the history of Christianity. In the most general sense, the current situation does not have strong historical precedent, even if there are glimpses of that attitude.

Beth Allison Barr also makes this story personal, inserting places where studying the historical timeline has intersected her own story. It genuinely puts a face on what might otherwise be a dry academic research paper. It matters. It matters to her. It matters to the women who have been completely marginalized by patriarchy in the church, and more than a few men who have suffered trying to defend them.

Because I’m late getting to this review, I’ll keep it short, except to reiterate that I really think it and J&JW really do need to be read together, perhaps along with others that are yet to be written, as those of us with a different understanding of scripture try to compassionately and gracefully put an end to misogyny within the church, including conditions with which many of us were raised.


The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr (Brazos Press, 2020, paperback 2021); page at Baker Publishing Group.

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