Weak and Silent Vessels: The Impact of the English Bible on Christian Women

Team Members/Contributors

Beth Allison Barr Baylor University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

From Wayne Grudem and John Piper to Darrell Bock and Ben Witherington, Christian pastors and scholars alike are engaged in a heated debate about the 'biblical' role of women in the church. What is missing from this debate is an understanding of how much the English Bible has shaped our current view of women. For example, it was the 1526 publication of William Tyndale's New Testament that launched the phrase "the weaker vessel.” Not only did discussions of women as "the weaker vessel" explode in early modern sermons, but the phrase continues to define women in modern sermons and literature today, even appearing in a 5 March 2009 blog (Over My Dead Body, Son) by John Piper ministries which encourages young men to consider themselves as “protectors” because women are “the weaker vessel.” In short, modern debates about women's roles in the church could be enriched by a more complete understanding of how the English Bible has influenced our perception of women.

Weak and Silent Vessels: The Impact of the English Bible on Christian Women examines how the English Bible changed conversations about women in early modern sermon literature. First, it demonstrates how “falsely universal language” (masculine language which obscured female experiences) rose to dominance in sermons drawing liberally from English Bibles while feminine pronouns, inclusive sermon salutations, and female-oriented examples (which flourished in late medieval sermons) disappeared. Second, it analyzes the significance of these changes: namely, that the biblically-sanctified masculine language of sermons helped push women out of even ancillary leadership roles in the church and contributed to a redefining of their primary “biblical” role as domestic helpmates. Thus Weak and Silent Vessels deepens our understanding about the historical roots of Western attitudes towards women in the church. As such, it can help open the door in modern America to more productive conversations between academics and pastors and even between conservative Christians and feminists about Christianity, gender, and the historical context of 'biblical womanhood'.

Image Title Year Type Contributor(s) Other Info
  Women and the Bible in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Sermons 2014 Journal Article Beth Allison Barr
Volume 94 (2014), pp 297-315
  she hungered right so after God's word: Female Piety and the Legacy of the Pastoral Program in the Late Medieval English Sermons of Bodleian Library MS Greaves 54 2014 Journal Article Beth Allison Barr