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Published Date: June 23, 2023

Book Info

Book Review: On Purpose: Understanding God’s Freedom for Women Through Scripture

God’s design for women and men is a contentious topic. Numerous voices attempt to offer biblical interpretation, leaving an array of options that can be difficult to navigate. In a relatable way, On Purpose presents the biblical case for women’s equality with men by combining serious scholarship with present-day scenarios people face. Welcoming safety pervades the book through each chapter’s opening passage of Scripture. Contested verses are explained simply with key pieces of scholarship inserted throughout. This book is designed for those new to an egalitarian interpretation of Scripture, although its narratives and presentation of facts will benefit those with an extensive knowledge of the egalitarian-complementarian debate as well. 

Snippets from Julie Zine Coleman’s life are tastefully inserted throughout the work, offering each concept a practical application. Julie wrestled as a young woman who felt God’s calling to ministry: “I often wondered why God would have made me the way he did, if I had to worry every time I used my spiritual gifts.”1 Many women will identify with the experiences shared throughout the book; others will encounter new perspectives. 

So, what will a reader discover through Zine Coleman’s careful exploration of Scripture? They will find that Deborah was judge over Israel; Priscilla taught Apollos; and Mary Magdalene, first witness to the risen Lord, received the commission to “go and tell” (Matt. 28:10). The inclusion of women leaders in Scripture appears to contradict the few verses that seem to limit leadership to men. Was God inconsistent? On Purpose shares the timeless scriptural principles that address women in God’s family to help the reader clear up any confusion. It provides exegesis and interpretation for readers to examine tightly held assumptions and core beliefs; this is the first step in taking personal responsibility to discern what the Word of God says. If we don’t do this work, we risk unnecessarily limiting women, thereby “endeavoring to walk on only one leg, when we were given two.”2 

The book begins by diving headlong into questions of nature and identity in Genesis 1–2. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? What does “helper” mean in Genesis, and how does birth order play in? Hagar named God El Roi (the God who sees me) in Genesis 16:13. How does this aspect of naming relate to the man calling the one “taken out of man,” “woman” in Genesis 2?  

“Is this the consequence of the fall, that even though I have an opinion, [my husband] should determine every outcome?” a friend asked Julie,3 which leads into Chapter 2’s look at Genesis 3. Here we find insightful observations about Eve’s conversation with Satan and the relational disaster that follows. The author connects these insights to practical applications for couples today, advising spouses to let go of their own agenda and tune in to the Holy Spirit to guide them “out of their own heads and into the mind of Christ.”4 

Chapter 3 asks, if God ordained men to benevolently lead, why would God call Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, etc., to lead with no indication that they are an exception to God’s divine design? “Wouldn’t that be directly leading that woman into sin?” Julie asks. Fallen human nature prizes physical power for leadership. Though often physically weaker than men, the many women empowered by God to lead are “examples shining through the dark veil of sin’s effect.”5 

Next, Coleman contrasts the typical treatment of women in Jesus’s day to the way Jesus interacted with women. She notes that Christians rightly call God’s kingdom “Upside-Down” in comparison and challenges the reader to consider if the love—and respect—Jesus showed women would be counter-cultural in our churches today. 

Paul’s education and sophistication are paramount when looking at a difficult text like 1 Corinthians 11. Peter even noted that “the untaught and unstable distort” Paul’s true intent (2 Pet. 3:15–16). While teaching how to understand Paul’s writing style, Zine Coleman notes some confusing features of the text. She explains how to understand Paul’s words through cultural knowledge and the background of Paul’s missionary journey to Corinth. Paul’s key point is highlighted in verse 11 in the phrase, “However, in the Lord . . .” which indicates a correction being made from the Corinthians’ previous understanding. Invaluable content is found in the text and footnotes for readers who are interested in understanding what Paul taught. 

God’s gifts are distributed for the common good; “we were designed to need each other.”6 Chapter 7 provides background that may be new to readers, including how sigao, “keep silent,” is used elsewhere in Scripture. Four passages discussing the Spirit’s granting of gifts with no gender limitations are examined. Paul teaches strict mutuality in 1 Corinthians 7 and in the instructions for women exercising the leadership gift of prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11. Zine Coleman says, “Imagine what could happen in the world if every one of us in the church were encouraged to use our gifts for his glory,”7 The chapter finishes with her church’s example of transformation. 

Chapter 8, “Should Women Be Allowed to Teach Men?” explores the grammar and context of 1 Timothy 2. A helpful table lists Gnostic teaching alongside Paul’s corrections and, therefore, the implied content of false teaching in Ephesus. As we learn the false teaching, we can understand why Paul wrote what he did to Timothy. The concerns of the church in Ephesus were different than those faced by churches in modern contexts. 

In Chapter 9, Coleman faithfully explains the meaning of submission in the verses where the word is found. The only time that “authority” is used by Paul regarding marriage was Paul’s direct statement that women and men both surrender their authority to the other (1 Cor. 7:4). If mutual authority is the case for the most intimate part of a relationship, “we can assume that mutuality should pervade the rest of the marriage,” superseding modern notions that “head” means “leader.”8 

In the final chapter, Coleman compares Peter’s (and Paul’s) instructions with Aristotle’s “household codes” that governed society. Any religion that hinted at changing the status quo was carefully watched, “especially when it urged the upward mobility of what were inferior elements in society, like . . . women.”9 

Read On Purpose to find complex teachings in Scripture clarified by the wider contexts of Scripture and the real-life situations addressed. The Holy Spirit may use On Purpose as a tool to meet you in your quest to understand more of God’s truth. Be encouraged! “When we align ourselves with God’s agenda, he will use us for his glory.”10 On Purpose invites you in to experience life-giving truth that reveals God’s love!