A Minute of Biblical Manhood: Where Have the Biblical Men Gone?

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After reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I started thinking about what it would look like to live a year as a biblical man. The more I thought about it, I realized that I would maybe last a minute as a truly “biblical” man if I tried to apply the relevant passages in the same way the Bible is applied to women. Longer than a minute and my wife would probably leave me and the cops would come to arrest me.

It’s tempting to look at the women of the Bible and to say, “Look at their quiet, humble, godly spirits! Isn’t that what we should do if we want to be biblical?”

In light of this, I’ve been looking at their husbands and asking, “If we expect women today to imitate these women from ancient cultures, what would happen if we asked men to truly imitate the biblical men married to these biblical women?”

I mean, if we’re looking at Esther, a woman forced into a harem, as a model of a “godly” woman, isn’t it fair game to ask what the King has to teach men?

If we’re taking our cues from Sarah, then what should we make of Abraham?

And that’s where we shrug such an idea off.

Oh no, no, no, we’d never expect men to marry multiple women, treat their wives like property, marry a servant girl in order to have children, or own slaves. That’s a totally different culture.

But then some read Proverbs 31 and it’s like, “Boom! Blueprint for women!”

As a follower of Jesus who is committed to applying scripture to my life, it’s often my practice to make the New Testament more binding on my life, but even then, we find plenty of cultural puzzles to sort out. In a predominantly agrarian society, the men and women were both working at home, and there really wasn’t a middle class.

You were generally a slave or a dirt poor farmer. Many cities had more slaves than free people.

Women generally had zero education, though there were some exceptions in urban areas where some women emerged as business leaders and even societal leaders. Still, speaking broadly, we don’t have many equivalents to modern family life.

Families tended to live together with extended relatives rather than striking out on their own.

Men enjoyed significantly more privileges than women.

So even if we want to make certain parts of the New Testament binding on women or men today, we have to ask about the layers of cultural and societal differences that could have come into play for the NT writers.

We have to ask whether the Bible was being more culturally restrictive or more liberating than the standards of the time. We have to ask whether those trends matter.

When we toss “biblical” in front of anything, we run the risk of oversimplifying a very complex book that speaks across cultural boundaries and thousands of years.

If we find ourselves inclined to apply a particular part of the Bible more literally than another, it is only sensible to ask ourselves, “Why am I inclined to read this passage more literally than the ones I choose to not apply like a blueprint?” When it comes to the roles of men in society, this tension comes into particular clarity.

For a man to truly live as a “biblical man” today, in the same way that we expect women to live like “biblical women,” he would have to roll back hundreds of years of progress for women’s rights.

I’m not saying that we can’t apply the Bible to our lives. I’m just saying that it’s really hard to do in some cases. That we’re willing to wrestle with these complexities testifies to our commitment to scripture.

To uncritically apply the Bible to our lives without this wrestling fails to honor the Bible. Let’s not forget about the Psalms, where the different writers ask God why he’s abandoned them or why God allows the wicked to prosper. Let’s not forget the hard questions in the books of Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, and Lamentations.

The Bible not only welcomes hard questions about following God, it also poses them for us.

What does it look like to live like a biblical man?

I have some thoughts, but I’m not really sure. THAT gap of uncertainty is one of the reasons why the Bible is still living and active… it’s always on the move, pushing us to think deeper.

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12 thoughts on “A Minute of Biblical Manhood: Where Have the Biblical Men Gone?

  1. Caris Adel

    The one thought I had about men when I was reading it, was, instead of all these talks for men at church on being a leader, I would love to see a talk on reciting Prov 31 to your wife. I loved Dan’s thoughts on leadership and wisdom.

    1. ed Post author

      Dan was such a wonderful voice throughout the book. And yes, we need more men who understand what Proverbs 31 is all about and less “sword play.”

  2. John Stonecypher (a.k.a., ShackBibleGuy)

    I think of how “Israel” means “The one who wrestles with God,” and I wonder if that is the truest meaning of “biblical”? That the biblical man/woman is the one who wrestles with God and doesn’t give up. From what I’ve seen, Rachel Held Evans fits that bill nicely.

    1. Caris Adel

      That’s why O Come O Come Emmanuel is one of my favorite songs ever. God With Us shall come to thee, O wrestler with God. The invitation to wrestle is what keeps me sticking with it.

  3. Mallory

    What are some examples of how the Bible’s direction to men couldn’t be practically applied today? It’s easy to think of ones for women–head-coverings and such.

    I haven’t read Evans’ book, but I am a little suspicious since, from what I’ve read about it, she gives the same weight to OT and NT directives to women. I think you have to at least give some consideration to genre and context, in this wrestling through the text.

    1. ed Post author

      Right, we don’t apply quite a bit of the Bible to men because doing so would make them ogres! Most of the time we take stuff about Joshua being a warrior and apply it to men, which I guess can be fine, but when it comes to being part of a household, we generally don’t touch the OT for men.

      I encourage you to read Rachel’s book, because she doesn’t give them equal weight. You’ll see when you read her book. And her book and my post are all about genre and context. For example, she digs into what Proverbs 31 means as a poem rather than a template, which is what some have made it to be.

    2. John Stonecypher (a.k.a., ShackBibleGuy)

      From how I understand what Rachel was trying to do, she noticed how few Christians can agree on what from the OT applies and what doesn’t, so for purposes of this experiment, she just dispensed with the distinction. In doing so, she makes solid contact with the Bible in its fullness of its message to women. The OT texts, odd as some of them are, have SOMETHING to say to modern women, and it’s that something to which Rachel wanted to listen. And I have found the results worthwhile.

  4. Jessica

    I hadn’t even considered if Rachel’s experiment was reversed. That WOULD be interesting.

    But yes, I think we’ve definitely over complicated these things. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s always going to be the 1st and 2nd greatest commandments, right?

  5. Scott Allen Rauch

    Good food for thought. The question is interesting.

    Maybe the answer is in emulating those qualities/actions that the New Testament (or perhaps the whole Bible) states clearly we SHOULD emulate. E.g,. women are told to emulate Sarah’s respect toward Abraham, but they are never told to emulate Sarah’s actions with Hagar or her laughing at God’s promise.

    Likewise we are told to emulate Abraham’s faith and obedience, never his marital status and sexual mores.

    1. Caris Adel

      Funny you pick that section about being told to emulate Sarah’s respect – Rachel actually does do that. The verse says that Sarah called Abraham Master. So she called her husband master. So the Bible does not clearly state what we should emulate. And that’s the whole point. We can reason out that it would be wise to respect each other, but not call each other master or mistress. But we figure it out, because the Bible isn’t clear.

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