Is the Bible good for women?
It is definitely a question worth asking. For many women reading some parts of the Bible can be a hazardous task. Amongst stories of great women in the Bible there are also many stories of women being mistreated, as well as laws and instructions which seem to our 21st century eyes to be misogynistic and just unfair.
So I was interested to see what Wendy Alsup had to say about this. Although I talk about her all the time, I had only ever read her blog. So I was curious to read her in the longer format of a book.
I wasn't disappointed!
I'm not acquainted with all the literature out there on what the Bible says about women, but I've read a bit, and as far as I have read, Claire Smith's 'God's Good Design' is still the best one I have read on the topic (from a complementarian position).
But this book 'Is the Bible Good for Women' comes a pretty close second. I only have one gripe which I'll get to in a moment.
This book does a bunch of things pretty well.
Alsup starts this book by acknowledging the difficulty some people in our culture can have with how the Bible talks about women. I think this is a great place to start because it shows that she gets it. And she has also struggled with questioning whether the Bible really is good for women or not. She encourages readers to 'check their baggage'before reading, to be aware of the presuppositions and suspicions they carry into how the Bible approaches gender. She also encourages readers to check their motives, why are they reading this book, and what are they expecting to get out of it?
She then gets stuck into an explanation of Biblical Theology, aka. the way that the whole Bible has a cohesive story which runs all the way through it, rather than being a collection of separate and relatively unrelated files. She calls this 'The Scarlet Thread', the thread which runs through the whole Bible referring us to Jesus. It's a great place to start as many people, me for a long time, don't realise that the Old Testament of the Bible actually tells the story of Jesus and is relevant to Christian life beyond just being moral lessons.
Alsup spends the next few chapters talking about men and women being made in the image of God and what it means to be image bearers, and what our responsibilities are together in God's purposes on earth. She also goes into an in-depth discussion of the Hebrew word for helper, 'ezer', which is used of the woman in creation, but also of God and the Holy Spirit at various points in the Old and New Testaments.
This is an interesting idea, and I gather than some find it a bit controversial. But given the way that 'helper' is often taken to have some kind of sense of second-best, I think it is actually a distinction worth making and talking about. It helps both men and women see that to be the helper is not to be relegated to a lesser role, which surely we should know by now given all of Jesus' instructions to his disciples be servant leaders. Anyway, the fact is that this word 'helper' has often meant that women have been limited in their roles in both the family and the church in a way that is not actually set out in the Bible.
From creation, she moves onto the fall and how God's intentions for men and women have been disordered along with the rest of creation. Alsup uses the discussion of the problem to point again to Jesus and how his ultimate victory over sin gives us hope for the new creation and helps us live better lives now, which is great! She then talks about how God's version of good is better than our perceptions of good because He has the whole picture.
So by this point you might be wondering, ok, so when is she actually going to deal with the tricky parts of the Bible? Well finally in chapter 6 Alsup starts dealing with women in the Old Testament.
This is where things really get interesting. Alsup does a great job at showing how the story of Dinah, when considered in the context of the Old Testament law, as well as ancient culture shows God's care and concern for women who were abused by men in that time and so would lose any sense of security outside of the community of Israel. This discussion, along with pointing towards how Jesus fulfils the law and how he dealt with the woman in John 8, results in a sensitive and gentle handling of how the Bible is actually good for women, and shows God's love, care and practical intervention in the mistreatment of women.
The next chapter gives a great overview and discussion of the different types of texts are prescriptive and which are descriptive. This is not only important when looking at the terrible abuses of women in the book of Judges, but also at handling the Old Testament as a whole. So I really appreciated that she put this in here.
Then we finally move on to the most contraversial passages about women, which are found in the New Testament. Alsup discusses 6 difficult passages of 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Ephesians 5, and 1 Peter 3 under the headings;
- Women Teaching with Authority
- Women Speaking in Church
- Women Saved through Childbearing
- Women Wearing Headcoverings
- Women Being Subject to Husbands
- Wives Living with Disobedient Husbands
She then asks the question after the discussion under each of these headings, 'Is this passage good for women?'. I found the way she handled these passages to be pretty good. Although I think I need to do some more thinking about her handling of the headship and headcoverings passage in 1 Corinthians 11...it was an approach I haven't come across before, but I liked it and found it intriguing!
She didn't really discuss how other people have understood these text differently, nor go into as much detail as Claire Smith in 'God's Good Design' does. But nevertheless I found it helpful and refreshing to read how she explained them.
One of my favourite parts of the book comes in her chapter called 'Are Instructions to Men Good for Women?'. Here she does an extended study of Peter and Jesus instructions to him about servant leadership which I loved. She also traced it all the way through to Peter's own exhortations to leaders in 1 Peter and I thought it was a beautiful way of showing Peter as a model of godly male leadership.
I mentioned earlier that I had a issue with this book. Well, it's really only an issue with the last chapter. Well, it's really only an issue with one word in the chapter. And that word is 'feminist'. For people who know me, or who have read my previous posts on feminism this may come as a surprise. Let me give you a quote;
'Gloria Steinem famously said a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Is God then a feminist by her definition? If feminism in its purest sense is the quest for justice and equal rights for women, then, yes, God was the first feminist. God created woman in His image and bestowed on her equal dignity with man.'
As much as I like feminism and think that it is a useful tool in our society, as is the black lives matter movement, I take issue with God being called a feminist.
Not because I don't think He values women, of course He does - he created us! I have an issue with it because God's sense of justice, dignity and equality is so much better than any human movement. So much better.
Although Alsup does go on to give this qualification;
'By a woman’s mere existence, God has bestowed on her dignity and privileges that transcend race, economic status, and physical ability. But sin entered the world, and the inherent dignity of men and women has often gotten lost as corrupt people with power oppress others without it. In Christ, whether we hold power in our culture or not, God equips us once again to live as image bearers of Him, living in light of our inherent dignity in Him while treating others in the hope of their own. God’s feminist ideals don’t correlate one to one with the world’s secular ones; in fact, it is nearly impossible to value women and put forth their needs and rights correctly without first valuing the God in whose image they were made. But understand that any rights we should demand for women worldwide arise from the fact that God created them with those rights and that only He can rightly limit them'
Most of the rest of what she says about God's value for women is really spot on (after she is finished talking about how God's feminism is better than worldly feminism). And she ends with showing that the only way that men and women can live bearing God's image properly is through faith in Jesus, laying down our rights for each other, and we walk in alliance together for the end goal of the new creation where our relationships will be perfect as they ought.
Despite the calling God a feminist thing, I really liked this book. Alsup not only seeks to answer concerns about tricky passages of the Bible, but she also sets out how to read the Bible well and I think it's this that sets it apart from other books on the topic.
Ultimately I finished the book feeling like the Bible is good for women, and you can see that without compromising good Bible reading or an orthodox understanding of the perspicuity and authority of Scripture.
I would recommend this book if you want to try to answer the question 'Is the Bible Good for Women?'. I would recommend this book if you are looking for an apologetic for how to explain that the Bible is good for women to others too!
You can also win a copy of the audio-book by going to my Facebook page and liking this post! I'll be choosing a random winner 8pm, Thursday 6th April.