“Without the burden of bitterness . . . safe for those exploring the issue for the first time”— Mimi Haddad’s back-cover recommendation for On Purpose struck me as I eagerly drank in the new book in my hands. Bitterness often piggybacks as an undesired and unexpected result as women and men begin to see the world, faith, and Scripture in new ways. Dr. Haddad makes the apt observation that bitterness is not safe for those new to considering a wider lens.
Welcoming safety pervades On Purpose through each chapter’s opening passage of Scripture. Readers are invited into factual discussion in an easy-to-read fashion. Scripture is explained simply but with key pieces of scholarship inserted throughout. This book is designed for those new to egalitarian understanding; its narratives and presentation of facts will benefit those with background as well.
Snippets from Julie Zine Coleman’s life are inserted tastefully through the work, moving concepts into practical reality. 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 will identify with experiences shared in the book; others are invited into a new perspective.
What does a young woman looking carefully at Scripture see? On Purpose reveals Deborah was judge over Israel, Priscilla taught Apollos, and Mary Magdalene first witnessed the risen Lord with a commission to “go and tell” (Matthew 28:10). Missionary women and women in some denominations preach, yet a few verses seem to limit leadership to men. Was God inconsistent? On Purpose shares the timeless scriptural principles that address women in God’s family.
“Interpreters are always affected by their core beliefs,”2 yet God is not constrained by our cultural preferences. On Purpose provides exegesis and interpretation for readers to examine these tightly held assumptions; this is the first step in taking personal responsibility to discern what the Word of God says. We risk unnecessarily limiting women, thereby “endeavoring to walk on only one leg, when we were given two.”3
On Purpose dives 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? See Chapter 1.
“Is this the consequence of the fall, that even though I have an opinion, [my husband] should determine every outcome?” a friend asked Julie,4 which leads into Chapter 2’s look at Genesis 3. Here we find insightful observations into Eve’s conversation with Satan and the relational disaster that follows. Julie advises spouses to let go of their own agenda and tune in to the same God to guide them “out of their own heads and into the mind of Christ.”5
If God ordained men to benevolently lead, why would God call Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, Phoebe, etc., with no indication of an exception? Chapter 3 asks, “Wouldn’t that be directly leading that woman into sin?”6 Human nature prizes physical power, yet the many women empowered by God to lead are “examples shining through the dark veil of sin’s effect.”7
How did Jesus talk about and interact with women, and what was typical treatment in the culture of his day? As we find in Chapter 4, Christians rightly call God’s kingdom “Upside-Down” in comparison! On Purpose challenges the reader to consider if the love—and respect—Jesus showed women would still be counter-cultural in our churches today.
Paul’s education and sophistication are paramount when looking at a difficult text like 1 Corinthians 11 in chapter 6. Peter even noted that “the untaught and unstable distort” Paul’s true intent (2 Peter 3:15–16). While teaching how to understand Paul’s writing style Julie 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. On Purpose highlights Paul’s key point coming with the phrase “However, in the Lord . . .” in verse 11 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.”8 Chapter 7 teaches background that was new to me including how sigao,“keep silent,” is used elsewherein 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 instructions for women exercising the leadership gift of prophesy in chapter 11. “Imagine what could happen in the world if every one of us in the church were encouraged to use our gifts for his glory,”9 Julie offers, followed by her church’s example of transformation.
“Should Women Be Allowed to Teach Men?” asks Chapter 8, which 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 were different than those faced in modern contexts.
Chapter 9 faithfully explains submission from 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.”10
In Chapter 10 find out how Peter (and Paul’s) instructions interact 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.”11
Read On Purpose to find complex teaching in Scripture explained 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.”12 How can a person stave off the continual tug toward bitterness? Continuously return to our Source of Life. This Life is what I sense when reading On Purpose, for “if we don’t do it in love, what are we? A clanging symbol.”13 On Purpose invites you in to experience life-giving truth that reveals God’s love!
- Julie Zine Coleman, On Purpose: Understanding God’s Freedom for Women Through Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications), 11.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 13.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 15.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 34.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 42-44.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 49.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 58.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 115.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 129.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 165.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 173.
- Coleman, On Purpose, 187.
- Julie Zine Coleman, personal communication at the 2022 CBE International conference, August 6, 2022.