ceb-womensI’ve never owned a “Women’s Bible.”

It’s a residual objection to the gender-targeting Bibles that I saw on bookstore & church shelves when I was a teen: pink floral ridiculousness for girls, blue camo covers for boys. As if I would find the Bible more relevant and engaging because its bookmarks had little beads and butterfly gems on their ribbony ends. It felt gimmicky and binary.

So when Abingdon Press asked for reviewers of The CEB Women’s Bible (Common English Bible 2016), I was intrigued by the opportunity to find out what a Bible published for women is all about. After all, my relationship to pink has changed with age…although I still back away slowly from floral patterns.

The short answer: decor aside, it’s your basic study Bible.

More specifically: this one is a good study Bible.

Regardless of its mechanisms for appealing to women, what I appreciate about The CEB Women’s Bible are the well-executed practicalities that enhance any Bible’s readability:

  • pages that dare to be heavier than the pale film on which so many Bibles are printed;
  • book introductions that are clearly & concisely written with helpful overviews of historic context;
  • indexes that are abundantly useful for both praying & preaching: quick topical references, outlines for the liturgical year, reading schedules, and (let the heavens sing alleluia!) a list of named & unnamed women in the Bible;
  • synopses of sections and highlighted themes throughout the volume that not only orient the reader to content but also support the reader’s reflection on personal, social & theological implications.

I remain unconvinced that certain font types and splashes of maroon (matured from teenage pink) hold any particular appeal to women, as though we all have the same experience of womanhood regardless of race, sexuality, gender identity, reproduction experience, and social location. It’s noteworthy that The CEB Women’s Bible makes an effort to tread carefully & to recognize the diversity of women’s experiences. Historic cultural norms of male/female roles are explicitly named, for example, so that readers can consider and test whether those norms still hold value for the modern day. And I’m relieved to read a Bible that is honest about the violence against women and girls throughout scripture.

Still there are places and passages where I would’ve preferred that the commentators not to tiptoe at all but boldly claim women’s empowerment and directly challenge patriarchal assumptions not only in their historic context but also in the 21st century Church. There are also missed opportunities when the commentary not merely tiptoes but leaps entirely over passages that are problematic in our modern context — including those verses that condemn non-heterosexual intimacy, with only one article in the whole volume written in direct affirmation of an inclusive love ethic. Clearly as a Church we are still contending with gender norms, and The CEB Women’s Bible reflects that struggle.

Publishing a Bible for women still puzzles me.

But publishing a Bible by women editors, a Bible about women’s experiences of God & of their faith communities, a Bible with women’s commentary on the many & varied dynamics of gender throughout scripture — that’s a Bible I can recommend as the Church continues to perceive, unpack and dismantle the patriarchal worldview that shapes our reading of scripture and our theological understandings. Beyond its maroon text boxes and bubbly fonts, The CEB Women’s Bible strives to be a text that asks good questions, encourages thoughtful study & discussion, and highlights the social complexities that are not separate from our faithful living.

I received a free copy of The CEB Women’s Bible
from the publisher with the request to write a review.

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