Gender roles: timeless or timebound?

Jonathan Merritt asks whether gender roles are timeless or a cultural phenomena at Religion News Service:

Yesterday, I wrote about the growing gender debate in society and among evangelicals. One point of discussion with the individuals I interviewed was the history of these debates. Some felt the Bible prescribes timeless, universal, complementary roles for men and women, while others argued that these discussions have been influenced by culture and history.

Rachel Held Evans, egalitarian author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, holds to the latter position.

…we also can’t pretend that we read and interpret the Bible in a vacuum. As E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien state in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, “In whatever place and whatever age people read the Bible, we instinctively draw from our own cultural context to make sense of what we’re reading.”

All Bible reading is contextual, and there is no one who encounters the text with complete objectivity. So we must bring our historical and cultural contexts into conversation with our interpretations. A quick review of history seems to support the notion that prior to the industrial revolution, women shared the family workload and decision making. Accounts of 18th and 19th century home life shows that women asserted leadership within those settings as often as men. Agrarian societies are often even more egalitarian in this respect. And who will deny that American evangelicals have reacted against second wave feminism? Something more seems to be at work in this discussion than “because the Bible says so.”

What do you think?

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