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The Bible Now – A Book Review


The Bible Now


Richard Elliott Friedman

& Shawna Dolansky


Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

In their thought-provoking book, The Bible Now, Friedman and Dolansky delve into the Hebrew Bible, exploring its relevance to contemporary social and political issues. The authors meticulously examine what the Bible actually says—or doesn’t say—about a wide range of topics, including homosexuality, abortion, women’s status, capital punishment, and environmental concerns.

The Bible has long been a touchstone for moral and ethical debates, but it is often misused or misunderstood. Friedman and Dolansky aim to rectify this by shedding light on the biblical texts, revealing their true intent and context. Here are some key insights from their work:

Homosexuality: Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not clearly condemn homosexuality. While the story of Sodom is often cited, it does not specifically address same-sex relationships. Additionally, David’s lament over Jonathan’s death is not a definitive endorsement of homosexuality.

“The Hebrew Bible does not explicitly address homosexuality.” (p. 181)


Abortion: Surprisingly, the Bible is practically silent on the topic of abortion. Except for one extraordinary exception, there is no explicit prohibition or endorsement. This lack of clarity underscores the need for nuanced interpretation.

“The Bible does not directly discuss abortion.” (p. 183)

"...that the only explicit reference to abortion in the Hebrew Bible is rarely cited in debates. Also surprisingly, it occurs in poetry, in the book of a prophet, not in a story or a law. The prophet Jeremiah, in anguish, wishes that he had been aborted. (pp. 46-47).A broader factor to consider is how life is determined in the Bible. The usual biblical understanding is that life is judged in terms of respiration." (p. 52). [See Genesis 2.7]
"If one were to draw an inference, then, from the biblical authors of when they thought life began, it would be difficult to make the argument that they thought it began at conception or at any point prior to the birth and drawing of the first breath." (p. 53).

Women’s Status: The Bible contains diverse portrayals of women, ranging from powerful figures like Deborah Judges 4-5) to more submissive roles. Understanding these narratives requires careful consideration of historical context and cultural norms.

“The Hebrew Bible portrays women in diverse roles, including leaders, prophets, and mothers.” (p. 186)

"the first time in which we find Israel as a people existing in its land, it is led by a woman." (p. 69).

" and women are created equal in the first account of creation. The second account is different. It pictures God creating a man first, then plants, then animals, and then a woman last. Some might take this fact—that woman is created later than man—as showing women to be lower: created only as a companion for men. So woman is created second. So what? That does not make her lower or less important?

More relevant to the question of woman’s significance in the Bible is the fact that woman is created, according to the Hebrew, as an ‘ēzer kĕnegĕdô. 23 Interpreters have long taken this phrase to mean a suitable helper, or a help appropriate for him. In the King James translation it is “an help meet” (not a helpmate!). This is another case in which knowledge of the range of meaning of the original Hebrew is crucial. The Hebrew word that is taken to mean “help” there actually has two meanings. Besides “help,” it also means “strength.” (p. 78).

Capital Punishment: The Hebrew Bible does endorse capital punishment for certain offenses. However, interpretations vary, and the authors emphasize the importance of discerning the underlying principles rather than rigidly applying ancient laws.

“The Bible contains instances of capital punishment, but it also emphasizes mercy and justice.” (p. 190)

"There are more than twenty-five of these capital offenses in the Bible. They are of two kinds: (1) crimes of a social nature, mostly involving either taking life or sexual matters; and (2) crimes of a religious nature."  (p. 126).


"The second kind of offenses that include the death penalty are what we have called broadly religious offenses. All involve crossing some boundary. The boundary may be in time or space." (p. 132).


"The Bible’s first chapter narrates creation of humans in the divine image. We truly do not know what this means." (p. 133).


"The most likely reason why the Bible has execution for so many crimes is that there were no prisons. Archaeologically, we have never found evidence of prisons in ancient Israel." (p. 140).


Environment: While the Bible does not explicitly address environmental issues, it provides a foundation for ethical reflection. Stewardship and care for creation emerge as essential themes.

“The Bible encourages stewardship of the earth, but it does not provide a comprehensive environmental ethic.” (p. 194)


I recommend reading  The Bible Now  because it offers a different perspective on the Bible than is commonly heard from fundamentalist and evangelical sources who have a large public presence. Of course, this means that Friedman and Dolansky’s interpretation of the controversial issues will not be well received by those who offer more conservative perspectives.

In their exploration, Friedman and Dolansky encourage readers to engage critically with the Bible, recognizing its potential for both good and harm. Since Christians do not agree on how to interpret the Bible—especially when it comes to contemporary moral issues, may I suggest we approach this and all other views with humility.



Friedman, R. E. & Dolansky, S. (2011). The Bible now. New York: Oxford. [On Amazon]

Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2024, March 13). The Bible now-A review. Interdisciplinary Journal of Book and Film Reviews. Retrieved from


For more perspectives on most of these topics, see A House Divided

Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is


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