As far as I know, very few Christian women frequently study the Bible.
I’m afraid there’s an unspoken precedent that is keeping women from embracing the fervent study of Scripture. And this is a problem with farther reaching results than we might think.
It seems that in the Anabaptist realm and beyond, there’s this ubiquitous belief that it is the men’s job to really dig deep into Scripture, and the women’s job to receive their teachings and interpretations. In a church scenario, yes, the men teach and the women listen. However, the rewarding act of exploring Biblical truths isn’t a “no-girls-allowed” zone. I propose that women too should be eagerly engaged in deep Bible study. I will share several thoughts here with the hope of inspiring a new perspective on this matter for both men and women.
It isn’t only men who need to understand the theological foundations of our faith; women as well are making theological choices throughout life. This is one weak spot in our Christian womanhood teachings that we aren’t hearing much about. We should be encouraged, maybe even expected, to explore on our own the Scriptures we hear preached on Sunday (and the ones that we rarely hear preached). Everyone has a God-given intellect to exercise on the written Word of God, under the Spirit’s guidance. This isn’t a spiritualized feminist appeal for equality. Rather, I want to help daughters of God view Bible study as having a valuable place in our regenerated femininity. Going beyond routine Bible reading and applying our minds to study will make a difference in the depth and impact of our lives.
Along with this, maybe there shouldn’t be a dichotomy in our minds between studying the Bible and studying theology. I will be treating them here as a unified subject. Theology is in essence the study of God, and God gave us His Word as a means to know Him. So if our theology diverges from what the Bible says, we’re thinking too much and studying the Bible too little. There is also the very possible mistake of turning to shallow devotionals or watered-down Bible study guides, while considering ourselves serious students of the Word. Humility and guidance by the Holy Spirit are essential here.
You might be thinking. “I’m just an average girl, why does it matter that I study God’s Word?” Well, we “average” women shouldn’t leave all the Bible study to prayer group leaders, pastor’s wives, or Sunday school teachers. Every woman, not just the prominent few, has a right and, I believe, a need to study God’s Word. As Janell Garwood points out in her article to women, “Having a solid, deep understanding of God’s Word matters because it will affect how we act and how we love. Just one wrong doctrine can affect our choices and actions.” Of course, some personalities are more studious and theologically-minded, which makes it easy and enjoyable to dig into the Bible. But God gave us the Words He did for a reason, and a non-bookish personality shouldn’t hold one back from diving in and grappling with them. This is not just a book we’re reading, it is the Book. The Bible is life-giving, God-breathed, and invaluable to our Christian walk.
Why should women study the Bible?
- To know the God we serve
I’ve been amazed at how powerfully our view of God shapes our lives, for better or worse. The best way to learn how He thinks and what He wants for us is to read the Bible, with childlike faith and an open mind. No one but Jesus has a full-orbed understanding of God and His nature. But it is safe to say that the more we abide in and explore His written Word, along with living in fellowship with Jesus the Living Word, the fuller our knowledge of God will become. Knowing Him is what eternal life consists of here and now (John 17:3). Studying Scripture, particularly the Gospels, will also provide a clearer picture of what God’s Son is like. Can we expect to be conformed to an Image that we haven’t beheld? Things like exploring the meanings of key words and following themes through the whole Bible are eye-opening. We will understand a little better how glorious and holy God is, resulting in increased humility and worship from the heart. We will come to love Him more, and see what perfect sense it makes to obey Him and live His way.
One concept, introduced to me by authors Eric & Leslie Ludy, has really expanded the way I view Bible study. They call it “the endless frontier”; that is, there is no limit to the things we can learn from Scripture, and the heights of oneness with Jesus we can achieve. We’ll never find the end of His fullness or reach the maximum amount of knowing God. So why don’t we aim high— to explore and learn and love God and His Word with all our might!
- To increase discernment
Deception and half-truths will come at us sooner or later, in large or small ways. Are we ready to recognize and combat with Scripture things that aren’t true? Whether we are exposed to flawed theology in the form of a devotional, music, books, or a friend’s comment, we need to have a Biblical “filter” in our minds to know what is true. Occasionally I come across a popular but flawed theological perspective, and I’m only able to recognize it as such through the lens of a renewed knowledge of what God really says. The best way to know the difference between truth and falsehood is to study the truth. Principles for timeless discernment are abundant in the Bible, if we seek it diligently as Proverbs 2 exhorts, and ask God for heavenly wisdom all the while.
- To be equipped to teach other women
Are we ready to pass on the precepts of our faith to others? It’s hard to help others understand what we haven’t grasped yet. We have to study the Bible in order to understand it enough to share God’s truth clearly. Plus, teaching others is a tremendous way to establish truth deeper in our own hearts and minds. And each one of us has someone following us, looking up to us, or a friend new to following Jesus. By going to the effort of studying God’s plan for humanity, or other such foundational precepts, we are prepared to expound Scripture to those in our circle of influence. Whether they are new believers, curious children, or hurting women with hard questions, there are many who will be blessed if we are equipped to share the truth— and willing to step outside our comfort zone to do it.
- To soundly answer unbelievers
Once while at a grocery store in the Northwest, a man asked me, “Are you practicing to be a nun, or why do you look like that?” I forget the exact answer I gave, but I later wished for a thought-out answer that wouldn’t just satisfy curious people, but feed a curiosity to learn what God’s Word really says. I think we should have something more to offer non-Christians than a pat answer so we can be on our way. There are so many people in the world hungry for truth. When they see a heavenly difference in the way we live and behave, we owe them solid, Scriptural answers to their questions. Having a deeper knowledge of the Bible is extremely helpful if we want to make plain the things of God, and challenge those who doubt. The deeper we go in the Bible, the fewer concerns we ourselves will have about any seeming contradictions. We’ll be more assured of its continuity and integrity, and the Holy Spirit will work through it to instruct and enlighten our hearts, so we can help others in the same way.
Edith Schaeffer’s life is an exceptional example of this. She, along with her husband Francis, imparted truth to the hearts and minds of countless questioning young people. This happened largely because she knew God and His Word so well. She maximized every opportunity to explain the Christ-centered theology that held satisfactory Biblical answers to every question.
Bible study is also a good way to be prepared for criticism. Living in these times, Christian women often get flack for choosing to be keepers at home, having a family, respecting their husbands, etc. How can we give a sound, thought-provoking answer unless we have a grip on what God’s Word says and why He said it? And when we are well-versed in the Word, we’ll challenge the long-held stereotype of being simple housewives who don’t actively study the Bible.
- To understand our place, value, and roles
Studying the Bible’s instructions and encouragement especially to women, whether daughters, sisters, wives, or mothers, is helpful on many levels. It shows that our place in the home, the local church, and the Kingdom at large is beautiful and irreplaceable. It gives an energizing dose of truth if we feel purposeless, under-appreciated, or discontent. Try going through Jesus’ interactions with women, and remember that’s exactly His heart toward you as well. Study the women of the Old Testament and their stories and songs. You’ll see that God has a purpose and task for you, too, and He is the same Source of strength today that He was for them.
But remember, a verse doesn’t have to include feminine pronouns to apply to you! You, too, are a new creation clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, and you, too, are part of the royal priesthood following in Jesus’ footsteps. Dig into the epistles and explore how God sees you as you live in Christ. Identity struggles or unbalanced self-esteem can begin to heal when you’re immersed in God’s perspective of His children. Even a study of the atonement, spiritual gifts, Christ’s second coming—you name it—is a powerful way to clarify and strengthen one’s beliefs, and will enrich life in the Kingdom. All believers are told to exhort and encourage each other with Scripture—this will come naturally when we’ve been spending time in deeper investigation of God’s Word. Something about exploring a text for ourselves helps it sink in and come alive, perhaps more than hearing it taught.
The classic women-specific topics are infused with fresh meaning when you study the context, definitions, and cross-references of a given verse. Ever since I did in-depth studies of topics like headcovering and modesty, these principles are a joy to embrace, no longer vague traditions or burdensome. Of course, we need to obey the Word whether or not our minds comprehend why. But I think God wants us to learn His heart behind His commands, which Bible study, along with ongoing relationship, can facilitate. And as we obey in faith, He will reveal to us even more of Himself (John 14:21).
- To withstand negative influence
Once the truth gets inside of us, deeply rooted in our hearts as well as our minds, we’re unmovable. But when Biblical principles are only put on us from external influences, we’re easy prey for reasoning that allows us to wriggle out from under imposed rules or traditions and think God still approves. Non-conservative friends may challenge our reasons for sticking to “legalistic” choices—and what do we say? Our answer shouldn’t be merely “This is how my church does it,” but rather something like, “This is the best way I know how to obey and please King Jesus”—as long as we can say it truthfully. Obedience to God’s Word needs to come from a trusting, Spirit-led heart in order to weather the shifting winds of doctrine and influence. We need to, in the words of Oswald Chambers, “get in to soak in the great fundamental truths of God’s Redemption” and as a result we will “remain true to Him no matter what happens.”
- To know the Bible well
I trust that all of us read the Bible frequently, and that’s wonderful. But are we taking the time to go even deeper? It doesn’t seem healthy to feed our souls with mainly the familiar, comforting Psalms, or plod through Leviticus (without a new covenant perspective) just to say we did. There is goodness and relevant truth to be had in every book of the Bible, if we’ll take time to search it out. It’s important to study the ‘meat’, too. Think, the less comfortable sayings of Jesus and the Apostles, or how about the complex drama of Revelation? Take time to slow down and zoom in, and grapple with passages that you might not “get” in a cursory reading.
Amy Carmichael’s poetry and books (not to mention her life) have been particularly inspiring to me in this area. They plainly show that her heart and mind were thoroughly steeped in the Bible. Phrases from Scripture and the insights of a woman who knew her Lord closely show up everywhere. We would do well to likewise be so steeped in the Bible that it infuses everything, even the art forms we engage in.
Dedicated, focused time is essential to let the Word penetrate our hearts and stretch our minds as we study. While knowing the triune God is more important than knowing the Bible, I’m not sure the two are separable.
I think that most of the current generation of Anabaptist youth, myself included, is relatively unfamiliar with the Bible. Perhaps we aren’t as hungry for the Bible as we should be. It is after all vital to our life in Christ (Matt. 4:4). Perhaps we aren’t drawn to study the Bible because we can’t understand parts of it—which will be resolved if we set our hearts and minds to study anyway. We affluent American Christians too easily take the Bible for granted, and women in particular aren’t usually excited to or expected to study it. Just think “how firm a foundation… is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!” It shouldn’t take hardships or persecution to increase our appreciation of the Bible. We’re missing so much if we go through life just scratching the surface of the bottomless treasure God’s Word holds. Psalm 119 is saturated with expressions of David’s love for God’s Word— I have to wonder if we love and long for it to the same degree. Besides, David had only the Torah then. We have now the whole Bible “given by inspiration of God”; we should cherish and value it all the more!
There are countless more reasons and rewards, but I hope these have inspired you to get started! There are many helpful Bible apps and study guides out there— maybe we ladies aren’t using these tools to prepare a sermon, but they’re rich resources for our personal or group Bible studies. Using Bible reference books and commentaries written by previous students of the Word is often very worthwhile, as long as we keep in mind just that; those men were only men. Their own theological frameworks can limit our minds, and shape our beliefs differently than the Bible alone would.
My discovery of a complete volume of the works of Oswald Chambers, forgotten among our other dry-looking books until a couple of years ago, marked an exciting season of deepening spiritual understanding in my life. I’ve been able to “attend” his Bible Training College (a century late), and benefit from his Scripture-based lectures and rare spiritual insight. And I now appreciate parts of the Bible and aspects of Christianity that I might have overlooked. Other experiences like extended Bible schools and Dr. Lamicela’s excellent class have opened to me brand new realms of theology and Bible knowledge, and I’d strongly suggest you consider them. But what matters most is that through those studies, whether at home on my own or in a classroom setting, I’ve grown to love God and His Word even more.
And that should be the primary motivation for this deeper Bible study I’m encouraging you to do. Let us depend primarily not on our own or others’ intellects, but on the Holy Spirit, when we go to the Word in search of better understanding. Yes, it is good to use our God-given intellect, but whether or not we can make sense of a passage, we need to simply believe His Word with childlike trust.
Let the results that matter most to us be increased love for God and others. Without love, the efforts of the most well-studied woman are empty. But if she has God’s love, along with a desire to dwell in and live out God’s Word, beyond the sky is the limit.
I leave you with this quotation from George MacDonald:
Read [the Bible] with the highest aim of all, the enlargement of reverence, obedience, and faith in God… Turn your face full in the direction of infinite growth— the primal end of man’s being is that he may return to the Father, gathering truth as he goes.
Chambers, Oswald.(2000) The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Discovery House Publishers.
MacDonald, George. (1988) A Daughter’s Devotion. Bethany House Publishers.
Schaeffer, Edith. (1981) The Tapestry. Word Books.