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Bible Commentaries

September 15, 2014

I couldn’t sleep today so I got up way too early and, after getting coffee, did a little online research on Bible commentaries.  I’m sure you’ve done that a lot of times too.  No?  Oh well, I guess I was wrong.

I’ve always been suspect of commentaries.  It’s not because they are useless, in fact some are very good and many are very helpful.  It is just that, over time, my mind has difficulty recalling the difference between the things I read in the actual Bible and the things I read in the commentary.

I remember a woman who quoted a “passage from the Bible” to me that I had never heard of.  Opening my Bible I didn’t read anything like what she was saying.  When I told her I couldn’t find it she said “You have to read it down in the stuff at the bottom of the page, not just the stuff at the top.”  It dawned on me that she was quoting the commentary from her study Bible as if it was the Bible itself.

But, nevertheless, there I was on the net scrolling through the list of Bible commentaries.  I was down to about 50 when a pattern dawned on me so I went back to keep track.  Starting over, I went through 250 listings before I stopped out of sheer boredom.  But the pattern I thought I saw was confirmed.  Out of the 250 commentaries, 11 were authored by women.

Eleven.

Glancing through the comments section of those 11 I noticed that the words “liberal” and, even more, “feminist” repeatedly came up as critical observations.  The average star rating was significantly lower than those for most of the other commentaries.  I can’t help but think that there are only three possible explanations for this.

  1. Women really are not good at understanding and commenting on the Bible, or…
  2. The church at large has a bias against women commentators, or…
  3. Our churches and seminaries are structured to deny women opportunities to develop their Biblical education.

I’m afraid both 2 and 3 may be right.  The whole thing reminded me of this article written by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham.  Having heard her speak many times I can tell you that she is good, really, really good, in her understanding of and, commentary on, the Bible.  Yet she has this to say on issue of whether the church is biased against women Bible commentators:

“I have experienced this discrimination firsthand. I am a woman. And I am a preacher. That combination has cost me privileges and position in the man’s world in which I have moved. I have stood up to speak and had men turn their backs on me. I have been offered a seminary professorship, only to have the offer revoked when I refused to sign a statement that said women were to submit to men. I have had invitations withdrawn because of the threatened furor my presence on the platform would create. Multiple times, I have been directed to speak from a microphone positioned on the sanctuary floor of a church because I was not allowed into the pulpit”

Yesterday, in my adult Sunday School class, some of the most thoughtful and insightful comments on a difficult Bible book (Hosea) came from the women in the group.  How much damage do we do in creating systems and structures that make it hard for untold numbers of women speak into a wider audience?

Long ago St. Augustine made this comment:

“Whoever, then, thinks that [they] understand the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as [they] ought.”

Maybe listening to more women commentators could help us avoid that problem.

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From → Christianity

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