Women are looking for answers. They want to know they have the same rights as the men standing next to them do. They want to know when they march, they’re being heard. They want to know someone is for them. Essentially, they’re asking: Do I have value? Does my voice matter? Does anyone care? And yet in all of it, I wonder if they’re getting answers to their questions.
Wendy Alsup’s new book, Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture, asks a different sort of question, but it’s the one we need to be asking. And she answers it through a “Jesus-centered understanding of Scripture.”
Creation and Woman’s Purpose
She underscores the fact that “personhood preceded womanhood”—that is, God created humanity first and then differentiated between male and female. By doing this at the outset, Alsup challenges those with preconceived notions about how God views women.
Alsup then unpacks the word many women struggle to appreciate: ezer. Helper. Many seem to think the word means “less than” after hearing this God-given purpose: “It is not suitable for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). But Alsup does an excellent job presenting an in-depth study of “helper” to show that God never intended “less than.” Noting that ezer is used 16 times in the Old Testament to describe God himself, she writes:
If we hold on to the dominant cultural attitude that being a helper is a substandard identity, we mock the name of God and his character. . . . He created woman to show compassion, to support, to defend, and protect those in her care, to deliver from distress, and to comfort. . . . Women were designed to be like God himself. (48–49)
Alsup ultimately shows a woman’s purpose is equally significant to a man’s in the eternal purpose of God.
Need for Redemption
Alsup also explains the consequences of the fall and how it distorts our understanding. We can’t fully understand why things are the way they are if we don’t understand how we got here. I appreciate the ways Alsup painstakingly recognizes the mental and emotional struggle some women experience when they read the Bible.
After copious research and consideration, she concludes God’s curse on man and woman in Genesis 3:16 boils down to this: “Man’s root problem from the fall leads to a frustrated idolatry of work, while the woman’s lead to a frustrated idolatry of man” (66). She provides substantial evidence of this pattern throughout countries and cultures. Yet, she also reminds us, the fall isn’t the end of the story. Christ came to free us from the curse, and we should make his redemption the highlight of our story.
Alsup takes her time before answering the question of her book: Is the Bible good for women? When she finally gets to it, though, she jumps right in. With “the Bible is the best commentary on itself” as her mantra, she emphasizes the importance of either accepting Scripture wholly for what it is or throwing it out altogether. There’s no picking and choosing when it comes to God’s Word. We can all recognize there are some deeply troubling stories in it concerning women. Alsup does a fabulous job explaining the original context and historical background (including details we might not grasp as modern-day readers), and offering helpful personal commentary.
Addressing the stories of Hagar and Sarah, Ruth, Dinah, various Old Testament laws, and Paul and Peter’s instructions to women, Alsup gives us tools to use when assessing these difficult passages. She also explains the differences between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” texts to help us rightly understand what we read.
Ultimately, our interpretation of these stories depends on how we view Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross:
With an eternal, redemptive backdrop, we start to see an arc of story in Scripture that gives meaning both to troubling passages regarding women as well as the ones with which we traditionally prefer to identify. (96)
There were a couple of times in the book that Alsup made a statement to the effect of: “The application for you in your denomination or church may be different.” While I wish she would’ve been clearer on the ways various interpretations play out in different situations, she does a good job of being gracious and not drawing a line in the sand where unneeded.
Better View of Women
Is the Bible Good for Women? doesn’t just equip women to interpret Scripture correctly; it helps us gain a right understanding of a woman’s value. God made all of humanity in his image, and his ultimate purpose for his creation is to live in a world where both man and woman are mutually responsible to each other and their Creator. Crafted in the divine image, women find strength and dignity—God hears them and is for them.
For this reason, Alsup claims a better view of women not built on Western values and views, but on God’s goodness and justice. She points us to Christ’s redemption, where men and women alike find ultimate value.
At the cross, the answer to our questions is yes. Yes, women have value. Yes, their voice is needed. Yes, Someone cares.
Wendy Alsup. Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2017. 224 pp. $15.99.