Is an orthodox understanding of the Bible threatening or harmful to women? How should difficult Bible passages regarding women be properly interpreted? How does God view justice and equal rights for women?
Bible Gateway interviewed Wendy Alsup (@WendyAlsup) about her book, Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture (Multnomah Books, 2017).
What’s the attitude among some people that the title of your book is reflecting?
Wendy Alsup: There’s growing distrust of the Bible around women’s issues in western cultures affected by the 2nd and 3rd waves of feminism. As cultural Christianity fades (which is not necessarily a bad thing), women in particular are examining the Bible more for themselves (a very good thing), and with that examination comes an awareness of stark stories that aren’t normally the subjects of Sunday sermons in Christian churches.
Without careful study, a first reading of the stories of Hagar or Dinah, for instance, can cause women examining the Bible for themselves to believe that it’s not good for women. But by understanding Luke 24 in which Jesus sets himself as the point of the Old Testament, we have tools for understanding the long, hard story of the Old Testament, including harsh stories of women in light of redemption through Jesus and his coming restoration of all things.
What do you mean, “the Bible is the best commentary on itself”?
Wendy Alsup: The Bible explains the Bible to us. It’s a big, complicated book about a very long story of God’s relationship with his people from creation to the end of time as we know it on earth. Often, well-meaning preachers and teachers draw a lesson from short passages from Scripture without noting their place in God’s longer story.
We understand the Old Testament law much better when we cross reference it to Jesus’s and Paul’s teaching on it in the New Testament. We understand the point of Rahab‘s story in Joshua when we see her name show up in the lineage of Christ in the new. We better understand the woman caught in adultery in John 8 when we read the laws she violated in Deuteronomy 22.
This tool of allowing the Bible to explain the Bible to us is key for understanding hard passages on women that on their own, without context in the larger story of Scripture, have no resolution or hope.
You write that the story of the Bible has womanhood as a major theme and driving force in the narrative. Please explain.
Wendy Alsup: God created man and woman in his image. Then woman ate the apple, followed by the man, and everything changed. To some, it seems woman was marginalized from that moment on; a bit side-player in the story of Scripture. But God’s words to Satan immediately after the fall give a different perspective altogether. God blames Satan, “Since you have done this…,” and then tells Satan that he will have enmity (or warfare) with the woman.
Though the fall of man was ushered in through the woman, the savior from that fall would come through a woman as well. Instead of appearing as an angel, Jesus was born of a woman which makes her role in the long story of Scripture as crucial as anything else.
In the Old Testament, we see many women that God used to protect his people and move forward the story of the coming Savior. Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Rahab, and Ruth stand out to me in the Old. Then Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary of Bethany, Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, and others stand out to me in the New. They pointed to Jesus’ coming from the Old and took the good news of his salvation forward in the New. They’re all integral to the progression of the good news of Jesus.
How does God view justice and equal rights for women?
Wendy Alsup: Because woman, as the man, was created in the image of God, she’s fully deserving of all human rights and justice. God’s justice extends to men and women of all backgrounds, ages, and races. Though women have often experienced the harshest consequences after the fall, God bestows on them equal dignity with the man and put into law protections against their sexual exploitation in particular that other cultures apart from him did not recognize at all.
How did Jesus approach the Old Testament and how does that help us read difficult passages today?
Wendy Alsup: Luke 24 is key. There, Jesus teaches us that the primary message of the Old Testament was his coming rescue of humanity. He didn’t give great detail in that chapter, but he prompts us to ask questions when we read the Old Testament: “How does this show our need for Jesus?” “What does this teach us about his coming sacrifice?”
Judges in particular is a good example of descriptive stories that show us our need for the Savior. Unwilling and unable to keep God’s law, Israel does what’s right in their own eyes, and the results are often horrifying. They needed God’s standard of righteousness exhibited in King Jesus. When we read the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ coming in the New, we have the lens through which we can correctly interpret hard passages that make no sense apart from the coming Messiah.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Wendy Alsup: I’ve used Bible Gateway for years and appreciate the ease of Bible research through it. The Bible is the best commentary on itself, but it takes knowing the cross-references to make use of that truth. Bible Gateway makes it easy to cross reference Scripture. What a great privilege we have as modern believers to study the Bible with such technology!
Bio: Wendy Alsup is the author of Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture, Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives, The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood Through the Lens of the Gospel, and By His Wounds You Are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman’s Identity. She began her public ministry as deacon of women’s theology and teaching at her church in Seattle, but she now lives on an old family farm in South Carolina, where she teaches math at a local community college and is a mother to her two boys. She writes at theologyforwomen.org and gospelcenteredwoman.com.
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