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What are the pink passages of the Bible?

What are the pink passages of the Bible?

You may have heard the term ‘pink passages’ before, or it may be a completely foreign concept to you. It’s a term that has made its way through circles of evangelical Christians questioning a certain narrative of biblical manhood and womanhood. So what are the pink passages?

What are the so-called pink passages of the Bible?

The term ‘pink passages’ is a euphemism for specific Bible verses referenced by proponents of Complementarianism and Patriarchalism that speak directly to the dynamic between men and women. Take note, it is not referring to every verse that speaks to or about women, or even about the dynamics of men and women. The pink passages are verses only referenced that serve a particular narrative. It’s hard to say exactly who coined the term, but it may very well have been the late Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

The pink passages are a specific selection of Bible verses that fit a particular narrative concerning gender roles. Those that don’t fit the narrative are conveniently ignored, or treated as “exceptions to the rule.”

The term ‘pink passages’ is meant as pejorative shorthand

It’s used by critics of Complementarianism and Patriarchalism. Describing them as pink is a spin off from the term ‘red letter verses.’ Similar to red lettering, the pink passages are often lifted out of Biblical and historical context and interpreted in isolation, often projecting onto them one’s own prejudices and ill-conceived notions.

Additionally, pink is a reference to the practice of evangelical book publishers and parachurch organizations to literally color pink anything intended for Christian women.

Here are a list of the Bible verses most commonly associated with the ‘pink passages’:

Genesis
1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,”
2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
3:16* To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”
Deuteronomy
22:5 “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, … for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
Psalms
127:3 “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.”
Proverbs
31

Description of a Worthy Woman

10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.

**

12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.

13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.

14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.

15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.

**

17 She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.

18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.

19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.

20 She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.

26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:

29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.

1 Corinthians
7:4a,5 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; … 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
11:3, 7-9; 14-15 3 Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

14:34-35 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
Ephesians
5:22-24 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Colossians
3:18 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
1 Timothy
2:9-10 “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”
2:11-14 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
2:15 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
3:11 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things
Titus
2:3-5 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
1 Peter
3:1-6 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;

4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;

6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

4:9 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
Hebrews
13:2 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

This is not necessarily an exhaustive list of what some take to be the pink passages, but this covers most of them.

It’s worth noting that while the term ‘pink passages’ is meant as a pejorative, that is not to say that one speaks pejoratively of the passages themselves. That is, not all who criticize Complementarianism and Patriarchalism stand in opposition to the passages themselves, but rather certain interpretations of them. Of course, there are critics who do stand in opposition to the passages themselves such as some Egalitarians and Christian Feminists.

RELATED: What is Feminism in Simple Terms?

The negative impact of the pink passages

Many of these passages, such as 1 Corinthians 7:5, have been used to persuade women that they have no choice in things like sex thus implying that a husband can never be accused of raping his wife.

There is typically a reactionary response from both sides of the complementarian/egalitarian debate to even the listing of these passages. It is assumed that you either buy into the misuse of these passages wholesale, or that you reject the passages wholesale. And if you try to properly exegete them, then you are simply “giving aid” to whichever side someone opposes.

This phenomenon has given rise to the evangelical deconstruction movement. I explain a common pattern I’ve observed is pastors who hold to the traditional views (whether they’ve properly interpreted the passages or not) react to women asking questions about them, as though that woman is being devious and is not to be trusted. This is a shame given that women have been the majority demographic in Christianity since the ancient church … until now.

What we need from faithful Christian theologians, is a serious and proper exegesis of these passages that is devoid of reactionary responses that imply women are just offended, discontented, secret usurpers, etc.


* NOTE: This verse has caused such consternation that some (not all) ESV Bible translators changed the English translation to something contrary to historic English renderings. There are also four distinct interpretations of this passage throughout church history with the Complementarian iteration, the one found in the aforementioned ESV translation, only coming about in the 1970s with Susan Foh’s dissertation. 

** Pr 31:11, 16 are conveniently ignored

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Kerry Baldwin
B.A. Philosophy, Arizona State University. My writing focuses on libertarian philosophy and reformed theology and aimed at the educated layperson. I am a confessionally Reformed Christian orthodox Presbyterian in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)

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