This article first appeared on CBE International’s blog, Mutuality, on 10/28/2021

By Katie McEachern.

Katie works for CBE International as publications and educational manager as well as executive assistant to the president. She holds an MA in theology from Fuller Seminary and a desire to help people bridge the gap between theology/biblical studies and real life. A Michigander originally, Katie currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her cat, Mazel.

7 Ways You Can Dress Up As “Biblical Womanhood” For Your Church’s Harvest Festival

For those of us who live in the United States, Halloween is quickly approaching. Before I get into the snark you knew was coming when you saw the title, I first want to acknowledge that this is kind of a big deal. At this time last year, any kind of gathering was strongly discouraged due to the pandemic (and lack of a vaccine). But as the CDC has given us a tentative OK to celebrate Halloween this year, it’s quite likely that at this very moment your church is prepping for its annual harvest festival or trunk-or-treat extravaganza.

All of this also probably means, if you’re a procrastinator like me, that you still have to come up with a costume to wear. Well you’re in luck, because I’d like to propose that this is the year we are free to have some subversive fun. Let me explain.

Earlier this year, The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr took the evangelical world by storm, opening countless readers’ eyes to the harmful constructs that modern, complementarian “biblical womanhood” and its counterpart, “biblical manhood,” are. Praise God!

It also prompted numerous rebuttals and reaffirmations of these unified complementarian models. Sigh.

While I deeply value Barr’s book, watching this conversation unfold exhausted me. Why do we still have to combat the complementarian notion that (1) there is a unified biblical concept for womanhood and that (2) it is quiet, docile submission, while biblical manhood is, well, “muscular, bold, and weighty”?

The truth is, I’m tired! And I am guessing you are too. So this year, I petition we use your church’s harvest festival to show rather than tell why biblical womanhood (and biblical manhood) is not as clear or monolithic as complementarian leaders would have Christians believe.

Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with to get the ball rolling:

Symbols of Biblical Womanhood

1. A bloody tent peg, complete with dangling human brains

This one’s great because not only is it biblical, it’s also spooky! When asked what on God’s green earth you are by your confused, probably horrified fellow congregants, simply say biblical womanhood. When they inevitably question you further, tell them the story of Jael from Judges 4, who welcomed Israel’s enemy general into her tent, lulled him into a false sense of security, and then killed him with a tent peg through the head, delivering victory into the hands of the Israelites. And if they have any questions about whether this is something the Bible praises, read them the song that follows in Judges 5, where Jael is called “most blessed of women.”

If you have a friend or partner you can rope into dressing up with you, you can make this into a two-person costume, where one person is Jael (I suggest her costume feature a glass of milk and a blanket) and the other is Sisera, with a tent peg sticking through his temple.

2. A signet, a cord, and a staff

To best pull off this costume, you’ll need to recruit two friends. When asked what you are, you can again simply say biblical womanhood. When inevitably pushed, you can tell the story of Tamar in Genesis 38—one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Tamar was unfairly relegated to early, childless widowhood by her dead husband’s family, specifically her father-in-law, Judah. Instead of accepting her futureless fate, she tricked Judah into making her pregnant by dressing as a prostitute. In the process, she also requested he give her his signet, cord, and staff.

Later, when Judah found out Tamar was somehow pregnant, though unmarried, Tamar used his signet, cord, and staff to turn her impurity back on him, revealing his injustice. If your friends have any question about whether this is something the Bible looks favorably on, share how Judah himself says Tamar “is more righteous than I am” (Gen. 38:26) and how Tamar and the children she conceived with Judah through this story are included in Jesus’s genealogy (Matt. 1:3).

3. A Proverbs 31 woman, a.k.a. a working mom

For this costume, you can channel the spirit of the valiant woman in Proverbs 31 by dressing up as a working mom—whatever this looks like to you. Granted, if you are a working mom, perhaps the last thing you want to do is play-act it for your church. But for the rest of us, this costume offers a unique opportunity to expand the conservative notion that the woman depicted in Proverbs 31 is a complementarian, submissive wife. When asked what you are, say biblical womanhood. When pressed for proof that a working mom is “biblical womanhood,” cite Proverbs 31, specifically verses 16–18 and 24. You can read it for them, there, on the spot, if they need a refresher.

Biblical Women Living Out Biblical Womanhood

4. Lydia

I have to say, I love Lydia. She was such an important person on her own that Luke didn’t even bother to mention if she had a husband (Acts 16:11–15). Instead, she is defined by her business savvy. She was also powerful enough that her entire household converted to Christianity when she did. For these reasons, I recommend breaking out your purple pantsuit for this one (and if you don’t already have one, this is a perfect excuse to purchase one).

5. Deborah holding court

What did Israel’s judges wear? While this costume may not be as easy as finding a power purple pantsuit, I’d probably go with a gavel and some kind of flame insignia. What’s up with the fire, you ask? Well Judges 4:4 says Deborah was a judge and a “woman of lappidoth” (literally eshet lappidot). Many people have pointed out that while this could be (and has been) translated “wife of Lappidoth,” making the assumption that lappidot is referring to a man, it could just as easily be understood to mean “woman of torches” or “fiery woman,” because lappid means torch. Including fire in your costume could serve as a great learning opportunity about sexist bias in Bible translation for your church community.

To really hammer home the idea that the Bible wants us to remember Deborah as a fiery woman (with or without a husband), you could make this into a couple’s costume, where your partner dresses as the palm Deborah ruled under.

Couples’ Costumes Demonstrating Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

6. Priscilla and Aquila

One of my favorite questions to ask is, if God ordained it so that women are the submissive complements to dominant male leadership, where are all the shining examples of this model of marriage in the Bible? I have yet to find one that doesn’t require some sort of qualification. There are, however, examples of egalitarian couples which require no qualification—and Priscilla and Aquila are the gold standard. Always named together, with Priscilla named first a number of times, these two were a God-honoring couple and clear team.

You can get creative with how you want to convey this egalitarian marriage through costume, but I recommend part of your schtick include, whenever possible, gently correcting mansplainers—ideally on biblical/theological topics. While I admit it may not be entirely fair to categorize Apollos as a “mansplainer,” Acts 18:26 makes it clear he was “boldly” preaching on topics he didn’t really know enough about, which is at least mansplaining-adjacent.

7. Elizabeth and Zechariah

This costume idea is simple—one person dresses as an elderly pregnant woman and the other dresses as an elderly man. The person dressed as Elizabeth does the talking for the couple for the night, per the story we find in Luke 1. I recommend Elizabeth emphasize, as she explains the costume to your friends, that the impact of this story is not that Zechariah is unable talk for the time Elizabeth is pregnant. No, the impact of this story is found in the fact that it is Elizabeth who, due to her faith, is given the privilege of speaking for the couple by God while their miracle pregnancy unfolds—something that is specifically acted out in Luke 1:56–57.

These ideas are just a start; you are strongly encouraged to brainstorm your own “biblical womanhood” costume ideas to add to this list. If you think of a good costume, let us know! Better yet, tag us in your pictures @CBEInt!

Be encouraged that the underlying theme connecting these costume ideas, and the real point of this article, is that true biblical womanhood and biblical manhood is not monolithic. The Bible demonstrates that God uses us based on our gifts and strengths, not based on our gender. I hope we can communicate this to our church communities this year, whether through fun costumes worn to harvest festivals (or making jokes about potential costumes) or through conversations and relationships.