Why a Women's Bible Commentary?

The majority of commentaries available to today's readers of Scripture are written from the perspective of white, Western, classically educated, middle-class males, and the questions asked and issues raised are almost always dealt with from that perspective. Usually the work is done with integrity, insight and good scholarship, and the usefulness of the commentaries is by no means limited to those who share the same background as the writers. The answers found in Scripture to questions asked by men often bear great relevance to women; their insights are likely to be genuine insights into what Scripture is saying. Nevertheless, inevitable limitations arise from their curtailed perspective. Many insights into the text are never revealed simply because the questions that might have revealed them have never been asked.

This commentary seeks to redress this imbalance. While it stands in its own right as a commentary on the biblical text, it serves as a complement rather than as an alternative to other commentaries. It unashamedly approaches the text from a particular and identified perspective, seeking to provide a resource for the whole church—both women and men—that will allow readers to notice and identify issues within Scripture that relate to women or reflect their unique perspective. It seeks deliberately to ask women's questions. It is not written simply "for" women as opposed to men; it is rather written "from" women. In other words, this commentary doesn't just look at passages about women, it looks at all of Scripture from a woman's perspective.

Women need the opportunity to have the Scriptures explained in ways that are relevant to their lives. The Old Testament bears witness to the importance of the Scriptures being read and interpreted to all God's people (Deut 31:12; Josh 8:34-35; cf. 2 Kings 23:2). Just as Ezra made sure the Word was not only read but also interpreted for both men and women (Neh 8:1-8), so today the Scriptures need to be read and interpreted for women. But all too often the interpretive voices of women have been lacking.

In the process of working on this commentary, we have found it exciting and encouraging to note how much there is in the Bible that has not been identified or expounded before—material that, once noted, can clearly be seen as coming from the text and not being read into it. Scripture attests to many women who received and interpreted God's Word within their own contexts—Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, Elizabeth and Mary among them. This commentary seeks to follow in their footsteps, perhaps fulfilling the psalmist's words "The Lord gives the word: great is the host of women who proclaim it" (Ps 68:11 ERV, cf. NASB; the feminine plural "host of women" is obscured in many contemporary versions).

We hoped that we might give women freedom to write from the broadest possible range of their experience. Our contributors were encouraged to reflect both in their university offices and at their kitchen tables, from serious exegetical study to rumination on the real world in which women live. How does the Scripture speak to their sisters as they birth and breast-feed, bandage and console, earn their daily living, survive intolerable conditions, hold high office, and contemplate their own failures and shattered hopes? We want this commentary to address readers in the most common experiences of everyday life.

At the same time, we could not ignore recent challenges presented to women of faith. Much contemporary feminist criticism has viewed the Bible as hostile to women because it has been used for unjust oppression in contemporary societies. Some feminists have understandably viewed the Bible as inimical to the concerns of women and have employed what has been called a "hermeneutic of suspicion." Frequently efforts have been made to subvert the text in order to recover an underlying stratum that is supportive of women. This stratum is held to have been deliberately distorted by the biblical writers in order to yield a patriarchal message detrimental to women.

In contrast to such efforts, this commentary is written by women of faith who believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and given for the benefit of all humanity. The contributors have examined the difficult texts from a "hermeneutic of faith," a conviction that the Scriptures are meant for healing rather than hurt, for affirmation of all persons, especially those who are oppressed. Our contributors have examined the hard texts, the seeming contradictions and the paradoxes regarding women, and they have sought to move in new, faith-filled directions without minimizing the negative attitudes of individual biblical authors. (Jonah, for instance, had no sympathy for his audience, though he delivered a life-giving message; other figures in biblical history also learned that God had a far nobler and more gracious design than they had originally contemplated.) The Bible is God's Word, and we must deal with both its divine and human authorship—the God of truth communicating through frail and fallen human beings. Faithful believers may appropriately ask some very hard questions about text and context, original intention, and enduring significance.

Although much relevant material comes through the main commentary sections, certain areas of interest to women cannot be expounded thoroughly in the commentaries on individual books. For this reason a range of articles have been included, enabling major doctrinal issues (such as the Trinity and monotheism) and everyday concerns (such as parental influence, sibling rivalry and menstruation) to be looked at from a woman's point of view.

The chosen perspective is that of women, but the work of scholars from all around the world and from different denominational backgrounds have been included in recognition that we need to hear from those of different cultures and different backgrounds. Because we have been seeking to provide a voice for women and to ask new questions, the work of some younger and lesser known writers has been included alongside that of more recognized experts. There are a small number of male contributors, included not simply as a token but as a model, reflecting the conviction that, with effort, it is possible to set aside one's own perspective and to ask questions wearing, as it were, someone else's spectacles.

Because of the unique nature of this project, both a complement to other commentaries and an opportunity to ask different kinds of questions of the biblical text, each writer has been given a great deal of freedom. Some have chosen to discuss every paragraph of text within their assigned book; others have chosen to discuss major themes throughout their assignment; still others have focused on just a few significant passages, allowing other commentaries to fill in the gaps. For each book, however, the contributor has supplied an outline of its contents. There is considerable variety in points of view and style—not all agree, and not all reflect the views of the editors or the publisher. What all contributors do share is a conviction that the Scriptures can speak meaningfully to women's lives today. Difficult questions relating to text, context, content or significance have not been avoided; paradoxes and seeming contradictions have been honestly faced.

This commentary should be an invaluable asset for those who wish to gain an understanding of women's approach to Scripture as good news for themselves and others. Here is a commentary on the entire Bible that envelops the manifold experiences of and attitudes toward women. It argues for the full inspiration of the Bible and the full equality of women. Here is a resource that allows qualified evangelical women to interpret Scripture from their own stance. This will be an important contribution to feminist hermeneutics, albeit from a more conservative position than some other materials. Nevertheless it affirms the significance, power and essential dignity of women in all aspects of life. We offer this work in the conviction of the Puritan divine John Robinson, who proclaimed, "God has yet more things to break forth from his holy Word."

Catherine Clark Kroeger

Mary J. Evans