biblical-hermeneutics

Dianna Newman

Introduction

Emerging in the academic literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, feminist theology has captivated the interests of men and women involved in theological studies over the last several decades due, in part, to the widespread acceptance that the biblical text is nothing more than a tool of oppression used to oppress women systematically. In today’s culture, no longer does there exist a majority who believes the biblical text to be the whole counsel of God or who hold to its authority as a legitimate tool to inform the lives everyday people live. Instead, the vast majority today relegates the biblical text and Christianity, in general, to the mire—they consider it a vestige from an undesirable and primordial past. The way forward, many opines, involves deconstructing the text to find new meanings that thousands of years of church history have been too obtuse to uncover.

Those who live in feminist theological circles are a diverse group of women; so much so, that it would be a mistake to think feminist theology is monolithic. At one end of the spectrum, there are radical and/or post-Christian feminist theologians whose work belies the notion that Christianity cannot be redeemed since it cannot meet the standards of the feminist critique of the text. These feminists are content to reconstruct Christianity with a hermeneutic that honors women’s experiences of and location within the biblical text. Other feminist theologians—those of a more liberal and/or reformist-leaning—believe that some aspects of Christianity are salvageable and can, therefore, be redeemed.[1] In Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities, Rosemary Radford Ruether writes from the perspective of “religious feminists who seek to reclaim aspects of the biblical tradition, Jewish and Christian, but who also recognize the need both to go back behind [italics mine] biblical religion and to transcend it.”[2]

Even with such widespread differences, however, feminist theologians are unified by several key ideas, not the least of which is the one echoed by Letty M. Russell, that “the Bible needs to be liberated from its captivity to one-sided white, middle-class, male interpretation. [In addition it] needs liberation from privatized and spiritualized interpretations that avoid God’s concern for justice . . .”[3]

The last two hundred years have seen a good number of women whose work set the stage for feminist theology as it’s studied and taught today. And while it would be far reaching to suppose that those who lived near the beginning of the theological shift were themselves feminist[4], their work absolutely set the stage for the type of scholarship that proliferates today. Antoinette Brown (d. 1921), for instance, was the first woman to be ordained a minister by a recognized congregation in the United States. Brown was an avid believer in God and in the Scriptures and fought for women’s equality, abolition, and temperance. Sarah Grimke (d. 1873) was a Quaker and woman’s rights advocate whose understanding of Scripture set the stage for the abolition of slavery in the United States and brought attention to the idea of women’s equality with men. On the other end of the spectrum was Elizabeth Cady Stanton whose scholarship resulted in The Women’s Bible­—a book where she served as both editor and contributing author. The Woman’s Bible was published in 1895 and was written on the premise that religion served as the ideological justification for the continued oppression of women. The differences between the early suffragists (like Brown and Grimke) and early feminist theologians like Stanton are strikingly apparent just by looking at Stanton’s views of the Bible in relation to women. In the introduction of The Women’s Bible Stanton writes:

The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire . . . Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.[5]

The primary purpose of this chapter is to offer a critique of the feminist critical method. I will argue that the feminist critical method is an inadequate one, as it is burdened with unavoidable difficulties. This critique falls into two parts. I will begin the first by locating feminist theology within its broader context of Liberation Theology. Tethering feminist theology to liberation theology serves to reveal the former’s ideological assumptions. Following this will be a discussion on Hermeneutics, which will lead into a discussion of feminist theory’s hermeneutic with which critical analysis is employed.

The second part will focus exclusively on, arguably, the most contentious topic in feminist theology today—God language. It is argued that the language used to describe God is distinctly and intentionally male language and its use throughout Christian history, feminist theologians argue, has caused both theological and psychological oppression of women that manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Here I will incorporate an analysis of the reforms suggested by feminist theologians they believe will curtail the effects of oppression. I will demonstrate how such reforms will ultimately prove ineffective.

One word of caution is in order before we begin. In no way should this chapter be taken to suggest that Christian history is absent of woman oppression at the hands of men. To suggest such a thing would be patently dishonest and ignorant. All religions, not just Christianity, have been guilty of some form of oppression. In fact, history has shown that religion is not a necessary ingredient for woman oppression or any other type of oppression to occur. Throughout all of the human history, oppression has happened at the hands of irreligious men, irreligious governments, and irreligious institutions. It seems to be the case that humans will find a way to oppress other humans, whether religion is involved or not.

basics-of-biblical-criticism_2nd-edition

Gary Deddo, echoing the same sentiments in This is My Name Forever: The Trinity & Gender Language For God writes, “that Christianity in general terms has been used to justify wrongdoing is not in question. This is a matter of record, and of regret, which ought to lead to a repentance embodied in action by all those who give their allegiance to the Christian faith.”[6] Yet Deddo goes on to rightly point out that “the problem of the abuse of good and true things is not just a problem confined to Christianity . . . It is a universal problem facing humanity as a whole in all its existence. This wider issue is . . . fully acknowledged in Christianity . . . [and] is a primary tenet of Christian conviction about the perennial fallen state of humanity.”[7] That said, when it comes to Christianity as Christianity, there exists (and rightly so) a reasonable expectation that man and woman ought to exist together in mutually constructive and complementary ways, as they both love and serve the One who created them both in his image and his likeness. Yet, the reality of the situation lurks ominously in our consciousness that Christians do not always form their beliefs and practices congruent with the biblical Christian ethic that they claim.

Suffice to say that as we begin to discuss feminist criticism of the Bible, we must remember to acknowledge the credible reasons that feminist theology exists today, and understand the forces that inspired women to launch their valiant endeavor, to begin with.

Feminist Theology as Liberation Theology

What is liberation theology? And why should a discussion of feminist theology be set in its context? Liberation Theologies began to take shape in the United States in the 1960s as theologians of the time wrestled to reconcile the social realities of the day with their theological commitments and expectations. As a result, these theologians came to believe that true faith was immediately and actually redemptive—not just eschatologically so. They began to promote the view that true theology must have “as a point of reference the experience of the poor and their struggle for liberation.”[8] Liberation theologians hold that the sine qua non of true faith is liberation from all forms of oppression. Therefore, any faith that lacks this as its telos, by definition, must be reinterpreted or abandoned altogether.

For instance, Latin American Liberation Theology has as its central focus the experience of the poor classes in Latin America who have been subjected to institutionalized social and economic oppression resulting in gross levels of poverty.[9] Black Liberation Theology has as its central focus the socio-historical experience of black people in America—a people who possess a history riddled with the most malicious forms of racial oppression. Feminist Theology, properly speaking, is also a liberation theology because it focusses on the experiences of women as an oppressed sex. Feminist theologians call for a theological framework that liberates women from the oppressive ways the Bible has traditionally been interpreted and reinforced by Christian tradition.

All liberation theologies focus on a particular group within a given society that have been oppressed and/or marginalized, and they proceed by taking the experience of oppression in these groups to craft a theology that aims to end the experienced oppression and alter the structures in place that give oppressors their power. Feminist theology emerged on the heels of the broader feminist movement and just like the feminist movement, feminist theology identifies men as the oppressor and male-dominated structures as men’s vehicle.

One salient note to be made at this juncture is to highlight the fact that the culture is eerily silent about women’s experiences of oppression, not the hands of men, but from other women. The culture fails to treat systems/institutions that advantage females in the same way that it treats systems/institutions that advantage males.[10] For instance, while the academic literature has been addressing for some time now the inconsistencies between feminism and the beauty industry, it’s interesting to note that the culture has not picked up on this, causing the beauty industry to proceed with very little cultural resistance.[11] Outside of the beauty industry, United States culture is deafeningly silent about the justice system, which is a system that advantages women on the basis of their sex, while disadvantaging men on the basis of theirs.[12]

The feminist movement, broadly, and feminist theology, specifically, rarely performs the reflexive task—one in which scholars apply the standards they use to critique others on themselves. The reflexive task is one that insulates academicians from the charge of hypocrisy—from the charge of faulting others for doing the very thing being done. It will be interesting to see whether feminist theologians and writers ever take up the charge of addressing this reflexive void.

Returning to liberation theology, Anthony Bradley (writing on black liberation theology) comments about the self-assumed and often loudly proclaimed identity[13] that members of oppressed groups typically adopt. He writes, “victimology is the adoption of victimhood as the core of one’s identity.”[14] It is important to emphasize what Bradley is not saying in this sentence just as much as what he is saying. He is not making the point that the recognition of victimhood is the thing that ought to be discouraged. Nor is he making the claim that oppression does not work in powerful ways to impact how the oppressed view themselves. No serious scholar would dare suggest that the experiences of oppression by marginalized groups do not impact their collective cognitive psychological state. Instead, Bradley is making a more nuanced claim by bringing light to the idea that victimhood, in liberation theology, becomes the core of one’s identity in the world; it becomes essential to one’s humanity.

However, in reality, the exact opposite is true. Expressions of oppression are accidental, not essential. [15]

The reason for that is this: here in the United States some women experience oppression in certain contexts but at the very same time are not oppressed in other contexts. Some women experience oppression in ways that other women do not. The presence or absence of oppression is not core to what it is to be a woman. Feminist theology seems to suggest otherwise by making the bold claim that part and parcel of what it means to be a woman is to be oppressed. To make this point even clearer: women over the past several hundred years have been fighting long and hard to rid society of oppression against women. And because of their efforts, some forms of oppression have been removed. The very fact that forms of oppression have disappeared over time proves that oppression is accidental. Because if it was essential to woman, woman would have disappeared along with the oppression. In the end, feminist theology commits the classic confusion between essence/accident categories; and in doing that, their discussion of oppression’s centrality to womanhood becomes a philosophically absurd one.

 Bradley goes on to say that “it [victimology] is a subconscious, culturally inherited affirmation that life . . . has been in the past and will be in the future a life of being victimized by . . . oppression.[16] Feminist theology is no different from black liberation theology in this regard. It, too, begins with oppression and “tries to articulate adequately the Christian witness of faith from the perspective of women as an oppressed group.”[17]

In his book, Bradley highlights several key problems with tethering a victimhood identity to racial identity.[18] Suffice to say here that in the context of feminist theology the resultant problems are equally problematic. Number one, to have as one’s view that women’s experiences are identical to oppressive experiences is to “suggest that women have a vested interest in maintaining victimhood [italics mine]; without it both women’s identity and their ability to do theology . . . collapse.”[19]  Number two, tethering victimhood to one’s core identity ignores the fact that women have a myriad of experiences by which they form their self-identities as human persons in the world. And number three, self-identifying as a victim suggests women are incapable of and helpless to produce their own meaning in the world. Instead, they are reliant on the meanings imposed on them by the men who run patriarchal society.

Prima facie, it seems that such a view of woman proves contrary to the entirety of the feminist movement premise that women are just as capable as men to live “fully human.”

Feminist Criticism

So far, we have been speaking about feminist theology as if it and feminist criticism are two sides of the same coin. In addition, this is true, inasmuch as wherever feminist theology exists, feminist criticism has been present to inform the theological conclusions reached. Be that as it may, very few are familiar with the working assumptions of feminist criticism; they are unaware of the principles of interpretation used by feminist theologians as part of their process. That being the case, before we delve into feminist criticism, let us first give attention to the vitally important subject of hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics

When a person picks up a book and aims to read it in order to understand what it means, they first must be able to interpret the book. This is because, in all communication, both verbal and written, interpretation precedes meaning, which then leads to understanding. People who have been reading books in their native language for many years easily lose sight of this interpretive process—they rarely are conscious of the thought, “what rules or judgments am I going to make in order to interpret what I am about to read?” This is because of their familiarity with the process, due to their repeated experiences with reading texts in their native language. Yet the interpretive process can be easily seen in small children as they are learning to read. As children struggle to interpret the words in storybooks, they quickly learn the benefits of sounding words out that they’ve never seen before. They tend to read long sentences with short words or short sentences with long words over and over again so that they get the “thought” of the sentence. Not only that, they often read the same books repeatedly. Children learn to do these things as a means of interpreting their storybook, and they are motivated to do these things because of a desire to understand what their storybook means.

In all communication, interpretation precedes meaning, which then leads to understanding.

As adults who have learned how to navigate this, we still apply certain principles in an effort to interpret things we read. The interpretive process for adults is more complicated as texts become more complicated—but adults still undergo the interpretive process.

Properly understood, hermeneutics is the “term used to identify the study of the principles [italics mine] of interpretation”[20] and it assumes, without controversy, that a text means something. Things that lack meaning need not be interpreted. For instance, the sentence “her ingbatosh cried over the orange showaniyat arewisopate” need not be interpreted since it means nothing. But if a text can be interpreted, the act of interpretation itself assumes the text has meaning. This is because texts consist of grammatical sentences, which are the most fundamental units of meaning. In turn, sentences are made up of words that have their own definitions and or grammatical functions. Textual objectivity simply means that a text has a singular meaning precisely because words strung together in grammatically correct ways convey singular meaning.

Objectivity, in turn, assumes that reality is a real thing. That is to say, communication between persons occurs because reality is real, and people wish to interact with one another about it.[21] When the passenger in a vehicle gently reminds the driver that a police car is behind them, the passenger is communicating to the driver that something real exists—the police car. When the passenger communicates to the driver “a police car is behind us,” the statement has a singular meaning; it may hold several implications and/or be significant to the driver on different levels, but the statement itself has one singular meaning. Words, in this sense, act as symbols and they point to real things—whether those things are conceptually real or actually real.

Again, children in the process of learning to read, illustrate this idea perfectly. Because of their lack of exposure to English words—and in many cases, their lack of exposure to things in reality—children have to make as many connections as possible between words and reality in order to obtain the meaning of a story. Therefore, for instance, an insightful adult will point to a picture of a cow and then point to the word cow so that the child can make the connection and understand that the word cow has a referent—in this case, the reference is the picture of the cow. Or an adult will point to a picture of a red streak and then point to the word red so that the child can make the connection and understand what red is. The whole enterprise of learning how to read assumes reality is real, and it involves making connections between words and the objects or concepts they point to.

No longer children, adults who have been reading English for quite sometime bring to interpretation their understanding of how words work in relationship to one another and to reality. The principles of interpretation can often be a more involved process when it comes to complex pieces of literature, but the process is, in some respects, still the same. Adults, for instance, bring their understanding of English grammar rules and the principles that govern metaphor, simile symbols, etc. They also bring their principles of how to distinct between materiality and immateriality when reading. All of these hermeneutical aids are part of the interpretive process—they help one find meaning in the text, which hopefully leads to understanding.

It is important to say that hermeneutics, in this case, biblical hermeneutics, is not an option—it is necessary in order to ascertain meaning. To this end, Thomas Howe notes “theologians and philosophers through the centuries have studied the practice of interpretation and endeavored to establish principles that would lead the interpreter to the meaning of the text.”[22]

Meaning

It has already been stated that hermeneutics concerns itself with the principles of interpretation, but to be sure interpretation, by itself, is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of interpretation is meaning. Hermeneutics has in view this question: “what does this text mean?” For decades now, literary theorists, hermeneutic theorists, and philosophers of language have had lively discussions on the topic of meaning. What does meaning mean? For the purposes of this discussion, the question is a pointed one: Where is meaning found? When two people communicate, where is meaning located? Is it in the mind of the person speaking (or writing)? Is it in the mind of the person listening (or reading)? Or is it in neither, could meaning be located in what’s being said or the thing being read? [23]

For instance, as you read this chapter on Feminist Criticism, ask yourself: is the meaning of this chapter in the mind of the author (Dianna) or is it in your mind, the reader? If it is neither of those things—neither the author or the reader—could it actually be located in the text of the chapter itself. Is the meaning of this chapter somehow “in” the text?

There is no consensus among linguists today where the locus of meaning is to be found. Those who hold to the traditional view of meaning have understood it to be found in the text. They have opined that texts have objective meaning and words point to objective realities outside any one person’s mind. Reality, they say, makes texts meaningful—without it, texts would be meaningless. Therefore, for instance, when the passenger says “a police car is behind us” that statement means something because there is a police car behind the vehicle, and that statement remains objectively true as long as the police car remains behind the vehicle.

Since meaning has traditionally been understood to be in texts, principles of interpretation have traditionally proceeded via historical- critical methods. Historical-critical methods are all predicated on the belief that, one, the biblical text has objective meaning and two, people who approach the biblical text can find out what that meaning is. Historical-critical methods seem intuitively true; it seems intuitive that literature has objective meaning, but as we will soon see, most modern minds are doubtful of this very notion.

Literary Criticism

Literary Criticism of the biblical text began to become popular in the latter part of the twentieth century as scholars began to implement the insights of literary theory into interpretation. Literary theory, when applied to the biblical text, led to biblical scholars attending to the processes of a text’s production and interpretation.” Christina Bucher notes,

Influenced by reader-response approaches, biblical interpreters have for the most part abandoned the position that there is a single, correct interpretation of a biblical text, which can be discovered if one employs correctly the tools of the historical-critical method. . . . [reader response] interpretation depends upon both readers and texts and, therefore, interpretation is multivalent.[24]

With the advent of literary criticism, the traditional view that biblical interpretation was objective slowly began its demise within biblical scholarship. Today, most biblical scholarship employs methods of interpretation that stem wholly from literary theory and its reader-oriented approach. Reader-oriented approaches are ones in which “readers do not search for a text’s meaning; they create meaning through the act of reading. . . . [literary critics] argue . . . biblical texts are processes, not products.”[25] Feminist literary criticism, or feminist criticism, is one of the many approaches to textual interpretation using literary theory. Biblical feminist criticism is an approach to biblical interpretation that employs a particular feminist method to critique the biblical text. Because of its views of objectivity, feminist criticism challenges the idea of an objective method of biblical interpretation and questions that objective biblical truth is possible.

Dr. Norman Geisler notes that all forms of biblical criticism (including literary criticism) in the late twentieth century questioned seriously the notion of authority generally, and biblical authority specifically.[26] Having been influenced by Immanuel Kant’s views that objective reality was inaccessible to the human mind, literary criticism’s main focus was a concern for the sources the biblical authors were alleged to have used, and it also dealt with questions relating to authorship unity and dating. [27]

While the guiding philosophical assumptions of literary criticism are outside the scope of this chapter to discuss in detail, suffice to say here that it ultimately led to biblical scholarship either outright ignoring or downplaying the text’s cultural and historical context;[28] eventually, literary critics embraced the idea that pieces of literature were not in the business of making truth claims about reality.

This rejection of historical-critical methods of interpretation led to the view that meaning was found in a reader’s response to the text. Reader response theories of meaning are ones which posit that meaning is located in the mind of the person reading a text—or the mind of the person receiving the verbal communication. Feminist theologian Barbara Brown Zikmund writes “in current biblical study it is almost as important to examine the contemporary situation of the reader [italics mine] as it is to know the particular milieu that produced a text many centuries earlier.”[29] Christina Bucher summarizes the shift well, pointing out that

Biblical interpreters have for the most part abandoned the position that there is a single, correct interpretation of a biblical text, which can be discovered if one employs correctly the tools of the historical-critical method. Rather, interpretation depends upon both readers and [emphasis added] . . . interpretation is multivalent. . . . Readers do not search for a text’s meaning; they create meaning through the act of reading.[30]

Feminist theologians admit their rejection of textual objectivity. In Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Liberation, Mary Daly clarifies her methodology through which she hopes to deal with questions surrounding “religious symbols and concepts.”

I will begin my description with some indications of what my method is not. First of all it obviously is not that of a “kerygmatic theology,” which supposes some unique and changeless revelation peculiar to Christianity or to any religion. Neither is my approach that of a disinterested observer who claims to have an “objective knowledge about” reality. Nor is it an attempt to correlate with the existing cultural situation certain “eternal truths” which are presumed to have been captured as adequately as possible in a fixed and limited set of symbols [words]. None of these approaches can express the revolutionary potential of women’s liberation for challenging the forms in which consciousness incarnates itself and for changing consciousness.[31]

One may be wondering why a discussion of hermeneutics and meaning have been inserted into a discussion of feminist criticism of the Bible. The reason is because it’s important to know that feminist criticism of the Bible, as evidenced by Mary Daly’s remarks above, embraces a reader response view of the text, rather than the traditional historical-critical method of interpretation. As we begin to discuss the feminist hermeneutic, as expressed by some of the most notable feminist scholars, it is instructive to remember that reader response theories of meaning are treated as incontrovertibly correct in feminist criticism of the Bible.

Before we turn to feminist hermeneutics, the author’s opinion in this matter should be clear. It is the opinion of the author that all reader response approaches to meaning are both philosophically and intuitively insufficient. A comprehensive philosophical critique cannot be given at this time, but think about the complications—practical and otherwise—that result from the view meaning is not objectively found in a text.

Number one, imagine being in a bookstore and upon perusing all the different sections, you land in the Astrology section—a topic you enjoy. As you walk down the aisle, a book with a very attractive cover catches your eye, so you decide to pick it up. After skimming through it very quickly, you come to realize the book is entirely about a very remote astrophysical thesis, and that there are whole chapters in it about the complex mathematical and chemical equations that make the remote astrophysical thesis a very probable one. What do you do? Do you continue skimming the book with the intent to purchase, or do you not? The vast majority of people will do the latter. They will place the book back on the shelf not because it isn’t attractive and not because they aren’t interested in Astrology; most people will put the book back where they found it because they know the chances are slim to none that the book will be meaningful to them—they don’t believe they’ll be able to understand all of the math and chemistry to make sense of anything. This is because, intuitively, people know that they derive meaning from text; this is why they flip through the book and skim the pages. People intuitively know a reader does not decide the meaning. Rarely will a person purchase a book she knows she has no chance of understanding but buys anyway because she plans to assign her own meaning to it. Practically speaking, we order our lives on this concept every day. Practically, we think the text has objective meaning every time we read cookbooks in the kitchen, traffic signs on the road, or poison warning labels on bottles.

Number two, we can also think about this in the context of verbal communication. When one person speaks to another person, she uses the words that she thinks are sufficient to convey a precise and specific meaning. In other words, people make deliberate choices about the words they use in order to convey the specific meaning they intend. When person A accuses person B of miscommunicating, the accusation being made by A is that B has failed to use words adequately, and doing that has resulted in a meaning that was never meant by B. Doing this creates the need for a clarifying conversation between A and B. It is never acceptable in verbal communication for person B to tell person A that her communication was altered by B to fit B’s internal motivations. On the other hand, when person C and person D are talking with one another, it is never acceptable for person C to assume that D has access to her mind, and can, therefore, read C’s intentions. If person C wants person D to understand her, C will do well to learn how to communicate meaningfully by using appropriately meaningful words.

The simple point being made is that we sense every day that meaning resides in words. Any time miscommunication takes place; people lay blame on the misuse of words (or not using enough of them) for the mixed messages that cross between people. If this were not the case, then no one could ever be charged with “sending mixed messages,” “misspeaking, being mean, rude, insensitive, etc., with their words.”

In addition, number three, notice the self-defeating position that feminist critics place themselves in when they proceed off the premise that texts lack objective meaning. Feminist critics go to great lengths to write commentaries and/or books on various scripture passages or aspects of Christianity because they feel those things are detrimental to women. Feminists throughout the ages have worked long and hard to present their views intelligently and articulately, hoping that their perspectives are understood and accepted as viable in the wider community. Feminist theologians hope that people will read their work and amend their perspectives about the Bible based on the persuasiveness of the arguments. It is hard to imagine a feminist theologian using valuable resources (time, money, effort) to write something that she has no expectation will be persuasive to other people.

Nevertheless, the question that arises from that desire is a poignant one, given their view that texts do not have objective meaning: why take the time to write if literature (their books and their articles) has no objective meaning? Are feminist critics the only ones who write objectively and meaningfully about their topic? Feminist critics of the Bible expect, and they should, that their words will be read and interpreted in a way that is consistent with the meaning they wished to convey when they wrote. So, for instance, when someone reads Rosemary Radford Ruther’s Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology and they come away from it with the understanding that her critical principle of feminist theology refers to her views on locomotion, for example, that would be an incorrect understanding—[32] an objectively incorrect understanding of what Reuther meant by the concept. In fact, it is quite likely that if Reuther had the opportunity to correct someone’s misunderstanding of her critical principle, she would say her critical principle has been misunderstood, or that her work has been misinterpreted.

Mary Daly’s comment above from Beyond God the Father displays this self-defeating phenomenon just as well as Reuther’s does. She writes, “neither is my approach that of a disinterested observer who claims to have an “objective knowledge about” reality. Yet, Daly does have an objective view of reality.  Her working assumptions as a feminist theologian assume an objective view of reality that insists traditional Christianity is both patriarchal and abusive. Her views about traditional Christianity being patriarchal are not just true for her; Daley thinks they are true even if one chooses to ignore them.

Though feminist critics go to great lengths to oppose textual objectivity, the notion is not as easy to get rid of as they imagine.

The Feminist Hermeneutic

The issues taken up by feminist theologians, just as the issues taken up by feminist philosophers, are varied. What unites the assumptions of both is recognition that (1) history has not been favorable to the acknowledgment of woman, and (2) men have had a direct role in shaping that history. In Sexism and God-Talk Ruether’s overall premise is that patriarchy has dominated all aspects of society, not the least of which is Christian theology; the book is her attempt to redeem basic biblical principles that are appropriate to feminist theology. Right in line with the thoughts of liberation theologians, Ruether believes any theology that diminishes the full humanity of women (and other oppressed groups) is not a divine revelation. That being the case, she wishes to extract from biblical principles alternative principles that are appropriate for the promotion of the full humanity of women.

Across a representative sample of feminist theologians, the thing that diminishes the full humanity of women is the same—it is the lack of recognition of women’s experiences. Ruether writes, “the uniqueness of feminist theology lies not in its use of the criterion of experiences but rather in its use of women’s experience, which has been almost entirely shut out of theological reflection in the past. The use of women’s experience in feminist theology, therefore, explodes as a critical force [italics mine].”[33] Feminist theology is extremely committed to the notion of the value of experience as that relates to its essential role in the acquisition of human knowledge. The accusation levied against classical theology is that it has denigrated the role of experience, preferring to elevate “objectivity” instead. Ruether notes the disdain for objectivity well when she writes:

It is generally assumed by traditional theology that any experience let alone “women’s experience,” is merely a subjective and culture-bound source of ideas and cannot be compared with the objectivity of scripture, which discloses the “word of God” outside of, over, and against the subjectivity and sinful impulses of human experience. As a narrow and contemporary source, experience cannot compare with the accumulated weight of theological tradition. It is sheer impertinence to suggest that “women’s experience” can be used to judge scripture and theological tradition,”[34]

Classical theology—with its claim to special revelatory experiences, its canonization of certain scriptures that are based on a hierarchy of acceptable experiences, its stance that adherents of the faith can “experience the divine”—imbibes, for feminist theology, the notion that human experience is infused within the Christian tradition at all levels of its existence. Since the interpretation of a text both begins and ends with human experience, she proposes the critical principle upon which Christian texts and traditions should be judged.

The critical principle of feminist theology is the promotion of the full humanity of women. Whatever denies, diminishes, or distorts the full humanity of women is, therefore, appraised as not redemptive [italics mine]. Theologically speaking, whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of women must be presumed not to reflect [italics mine] the divine . . . This negative principle also implies the positive principle: what does promote the full humanity of women is of the Holy.

She goes on to say that:

This principle is hardly new. . . . the correlation of original, authentic human nature (imago dei/Christ) and diminished, fallen humanity provided the basic structure of classical Christian theology. The uniqueness of feminist theology is not the critical principle, fallen humanity, but the fact that women claim this principle for themselves. Women name themselves as subjects of authentic and full humanity. . . . [it has been the] naming of males as norms of authentic humanity [that] has caused women to be scapegoated for sin and marginalized in both original and redeemed humanity.

There is a lot that can be said about Ruether’s claims since they are fraught with unavoidably problematic conclusions and difficulties that undermine the veracity of feminist critical studies of the Bible. The first difficulty is a logical one; specifically, the self-defeating nature of the claim that experience is both the starting point and ending point of interpretation. Do you see it?

Ruether’s belief in a hermeneutical circle entails the notion that all knowledge begins is amended and ends with experience. Yet it seems Ruether fails to see how such a hermeneutical circle undermines her own objectives—as she advances all of her scholarly knowledge by critically assessing Christian texts and traditions and as she writes books and articles aiming to legitimate her experience of Christian texts and tradition as objectively true for everyone. Presumably, Reuther expects that those who do not share her experience of a particular data set—presumably, should accept her views she thinks her views should be accepted even by those who do not share in her experiences of “woman’s experience.” Yet at the very same time, she claims everyone’s knowledge of things begins with one’s personal experience.

Yet even with that said, Ruether’s position is not an unredeemable one since it turns out to be half-way correct. That is to say; the Christian tradition has been delivered through the experiences of certain individuals. Reuther says as much when she writes “what have been called the objective sources of theology; Scripture and tradition, are themselves codified collective human experience;”[35] her point is that subjectivity has driven the formation of Christian tradition and canonization. Specifically, it has been male subjectivity that has driven the formation of Christian tradition and canonization.

Yet what Ruether misses is this: the entire process is not one that begins and ends in subjectivity simply because “Scripture and tradition” always refer back to some data that exists independent of the experience. Scripturally, the validity of reported experiences derives from whether they reflect and/or whether they focus back to an objective truth about a real reality. In a sense, it can be said that Scriptural tradition communicates real truth via human experience—authentically biblical revelation is never quite content communicating human experience just for the sake of communicating human experience.[36]

At the base of this issue is category confusion between experience and propositional truth claims. Experiences, in themselves, are neither true nor false—they just are. If person A reports his experience of a thing to person B, B has no access to the experience and is consequently unable to verify it for herself. All she can do is either trust or distrust that A is reporting accurately of an experience that is meaningful to him; she makes a choice whether to act or not act on said experience based on her trust of A. But if person A makes a truth claim—claims that something is true or that it is false—tied to an experience, person B has the ability corroborate the claim since she has access to reality, enough to conclude that A’s statement (and probable/improbable experience) of it is “true” or “false.” Experiences, by themselves, are neither true nor false, they just are—unless said experiences are somehow tethered to reality in a meaningful way.

One caveat should be made at this point: an experience, which cannot be tethered to objective truth (reality), can still be a meaningful experience. But only for the one who experienced it. Individuals can and do have subjectively meaningful experiences; there are biblical instances in which individuals had experiences that were deeply meaningful to them.[37]  Notwithstanding, individual experiences are not the grounds upon which Christian theology or tradition rest—experiences serve, in some sense, as evidence and/or supplements to claims that assert themselves as objective truths.

This, then, leads to the next point, which is this: an experience of an event is not true or false by virtue of it being expressed by a certain gender. In other words, feminist theology sees it as very problematic that the Scriptures appear to codify male experiences as if male experiences are intrinsically false or illicit by virtue of being male. On the opposite side, feminist theology sees women’s experiences as inherently valuable and legitimate just by virtue them belonging to women.

It bears repeating: an experience of an event is not true or false by virtue of it being expressed by a certain gender.

In fact, the very notion of women’s experience is arguably the most contested concept of feminist criticism. There simply is no consensus among feminist theologians what constitutes “women’s experience.” Reuther’s view is that it describes more than just the biological differences between men and women; she sees it as that which is “free” from male bias and/or patriarchal influence given that patriarchal society continuously imposes a male hermeneutic upon women causing women to interpret their experiences as women through male dominated culture.”[38]  (Notice once again the portrayal of women as “victims” unable to move as free agents in the world except for the guiding force of patriarchal culture to “help” them sort through their experiences as women. One might even suggest their perpetual references to women as “helpless” and “dominated” effects the very treatment/image that feminists are fighting against!) Even within the ranks of feminist theologians, there is no consensus concerning the concept of women’s experience. Grace Jantzen (d. 2006), a feminist philosopher and theologian, had “little time for the work of the pioneering feminist theologians . . . [because of their] philosophically naïve appeals to “women’s experience’ as privatized and . . . [their failure] to acknowledge the “irreducibly diverse” nature of the many variables in women’s lives (race, class, sexual orientation).[39] Linda Woodhead notes that the “uncritical dependence upon ‘women’s experience’ gives the impression that the nothing is unproblematic and uncontested. Nothing, I think, could be further from the truth.”[40] Further critiquing the notion of women’s experience, Woodhead goes on to say:

Feminist theologians assume that religion comes after experience. They believe this to be true of language too. Both, they say, represent the process whereby concepts and symbols are imposed upon experience in an attempt to understand and to communicate it. . . .  Moreover, concepts and symbols have authority primarily for the individual who imposed them—other individuals must be free to ‘concretise’ (sic) their experience in their own ways and to ‘re-image’ concepts and symbols at will. But this conception of experience as private and pre-linguistic fails to account for the complex and diverse ways in which knowledge is actually acquired, and it ignore the essentially social (or ‘textualised’) (sic) nature of the process. It is by being members of communities and by being formed by texts and traditions that we come to knowledge: contrary to the belief of much feminist theology, we do not have pre-social, pre-linguistic and pre-cultural ‘experiences’ and then shape tradition, texts and community of them. I do not spin God out of my own private experience of the divine; I know God because he was manifest in Jesus Christ, and because the scripture, tradition and community which formed me bear witness to Him. I may indeed be blessed with ‘a religious experience,’ but I only know it to be such . . . because I am able to ‘test the Spirit’ against what tradition and community tell me of God. Never could the latter [experience] be entirely private in the way which feminist theology suggests.[41]

All this notwithstanding, feminist theology remains content to implement women’s experience as the basis of its textual critique. Aware of the elusiveness of the concept, feminist theologian Margaret A Farley attempts to offer another means of criticizing the biblical text. She writes,

for those who are reluctant to bring to scripture what seems to be a measure for its meaning and authority,[42] [women’s experiences] one solution suggests itself in the face of a seeming dilemma. That is, it might be argued that scripture itself [italics added] provides the basis for feminist consciousness. True discernment of the biblical witness yields feminist insights, which in turn become principles of interpretation for the rest of scripture. In other words, convictions regarding the full humanity of women emerge precisely from the bringing of women’s experience to the address of scripture [italics added].[43]

Yet Farley’s attempt to validate the methodological efficacy of “women’s experience” fares no better than Reuther’s. The first problem with her solution is this: if interpretation of scripture is necessary in order to know what the text means—and it is necessary—then it cannot be true that “scripture itself” provides a basis since “scripture itself” is the very thing that needs interpreting. In other words, how would one know which scriptures provide a basis for feminist consciousness without first interpreting the scripture to make sure they are sufficient? Farley’s argument is a circular one. The second problem with her solution is equally problematic since it begs the question.[44] “Women’s experience,” as a critical method, entails the idea woman has been excluded from full humanity. So it comes as no surprise that when one brings women’s experience to Scripture, one will emerge with convictions regarding her full humanity. Begging the question always brings the expected conclusions, but those conclusions are not in any way logically compelling—since they have been brought about by committing a logical fallacy in the argument.

Thus far we have seen the failure of feminist criticism to produce a viable methodology, since it falls short on multiple grounds: (1) its inability to reach methodological consensus on what woman’s experience is, (2) its inability to produce a body of work free from the objectivity it claims has tainted the western theological tradition, and (3) its inability to avoid lines of argumentation that are fraught with informal fallacies. These are all legitimate reasons that ought to give pause to the discipline as an academically valid one.

What is His Name?

In the previous section, it was demonstrated that the hermeneutic employed by feminist theologians is driven by a number of working assumptions including but not limited to: (1) a belief that texts communicate subjective experiences rather than objective knowledge (2) a belief that meaning is primarily driven by how readers respond to a text given their subjective points of view and (3) the inherent oppressive structures of religion work to promote patriarchy and the oppression of women in male dominated society.

Granting these beliefs, it stands to reason that the most contentious issue in feminist theology today concerns language; specifically, the male-dominated images and words traditionally used to describe God promote both social and psychological woman oppression. Biblical references to God such as King, Son, Father, Master, Ruler etc. further demonstrate a tacit approval of patriarchy and oppression. In Beyond God the Father Mary Daly writes

The symbol of the Father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered service to this type of society [patriarchal society] by making its mechanisms for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in “his” heaven is a father ruling “his” people, then it is in the “nature” of things and according divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated.[45]

Those committed to the idea that biblical language engenders intrinsic patriarchal structures believe that by replacing male dominated God-language with new metaphors and images, woman oppression can be reversed.

Such reformers come with four types of proposals: (1) all references to the Divine should reflect a female deity; (2) female imagery should be incorporated along with male imagery when talking about God; (3) non-gender images and/or language should be used exclusively of God and (4) a composite of the former two options.[46] Before we begin our discussion of male-dominated language, we would do well to unpack more this notion of oppression, since inherent within the very notion of the idea is an observation that derails the feminist cause from the outset.

Oppression

Broadly speaking, two ideologies stand behind the notion oppression, such that looking at the ideologies themselves allow for a thorough understanding of the concept. The two ideologies that stand in the back of the concept are what may largely be construed as (1) Humanistic or Darwinian ideologies and (2) a Christian theistic ideology. By looking at each of these, the goal is to find out whether one, both, or neither promote the feminist claim that Christian Scriptures and tradition endorse female oppression.

I will begin by looking at the issue of oppression through the lenses of Humanism/Darwinism. Roughly speaking, Darwinism is a collection of ideas, which posit that in any given environment the strong survive to future generations while those who are weak in that given environment do not survive to future generations. Known by the moniker, “survival of the fittest,” Darwinism hinges on the notion that not only is this “weeding out” of the weak a natural process, but it is also a necessary one. Social Darwinism posits the same idea that biological Darwinism does—that in the social world, those who “rise to the top” of the social ladder do so because they possess something inherently stronger that the weak don’t.

On a Darwinian view, those who rise to the top are to be expected to rise to the top.

Yet when stated this way, immediately one sees the difficulty that Darwinists run into. If, according to Darwinism, it is natural and necessary that one group will “outlast” another group or one group will become “subject” to a stronger one, then what basis do the weak have for complaining that they are being outlasted? In the context of social Darwinism, why would there be angst when Darwinian principles run their course and a certain group experiences oppression? Darwinians should expect for a group in society to be oppressed, and truth be told they should expect female oppression since history has shown that, as a group, men are stronger than women to the extent that they can effect change by force, if necessary.

The irony is that most Darwinists do have a problem with oppression. They believe—and rightly so!—that oppression is wrong and that women should not be oppressed.

A Christian theistic view envisions the nature of oppression differently. A Christian theist perspective believes that all forms of oppression are wrong and that people ought not to use or abuse other people for personal gain. The differences between men and women are clear—there are emotional, psychological, cognitive, behavioral and biological ones—but those differences are meant to be complementary. Differences, in themselves, do not entail oppression. And while feminist theologians eschew Christian theism, in theory, it is not always easy to ascertain which aspects of Christian theology they accept and which aspects they question. It seems “common,” notes Woodhead, “for feminist theologians to hold it [their feminist commitments] as a more basic commitment than their commitment to Christianity . . . [where their critique] becomes a rather formalistic exercise in weighing up Christianity against [italics mine] an externally imposed, externally derived and unquestionable standard.”[47]

What does all this mean for feminist theologians who propose that by changing the ways in which we talk about God, oppression will be eradicated? The Christian theistic view seems to suggest that because sinful nature is the cause of oppression—and every human person has a sinful nature—the subjugation of another for one’s own benefit is likely to continue. If on the chance men lose the ability to oppress, the task is likely to be taken up by women. But surely the oppression of men is no better than the oppression of women. With all this being said, I will now consider the proposal offered by feminist theologians that the exclusively male language used to talk about God promotes oppression and if changed, will lead to its extinction.

Is Israel’s God a Man?

According to feminist theology, the gender of Israel’s God is decidedly male. Number one, the divine name YHWH is consistently translated into English in the masculine gender; and number two, the imagery and titles used of God in the biblical text are decidedly masculine. For instance, God is referred to as a heavenly father, not a heavily mother.

Any discussion on the consistent practice of translating God’s name using male language requires a working knowledge of linguistics and how language works. The Hebrew language, just like Latin and French, is grammatically gendered languages—in other words, the nouns in Hebrew are assigned a grammatical gender—either masculine, feminine, or neuter. In gendered languages, it is customary that nouns indicating male beings are masculine in grammatical gender, and nouns indicating female beings are feminine in grammatical gender. However, outside of this, there exists no necessary relationship between the grammatical gender of a word and the sex of the object. In other words, there is no relationship between actual gender and grammatical gender in Hebrew or any other gendered language.[48] By way of example, French is a moderately gendered language; its nouns are either grammatically masculine or feminine. The term le chien is masculine, and it means “the dog.” But dogs are sexed, and in reality exist as either male or female. This illustrates the point that in a gendered language, grammatical gender is not ever a statement about an object’s biological sex.

English, unlike Hebrew, is not a gendered language. While English recognizes the same three genders that Hebrew does (masculine, feminine, and neuter) the gender of a noun in English is notional as opposed to grammatical. The sex of a noun usually coincides with the sex of the object. To this end, English employs certain words (3rd person pronouns) to indicate a noun’s sex and has grammar rules that reinforce the idea. So for instance, we all remember the grammar rule which states that the gender of a pronoun must agree with the gender of the noun it replaces. We know this rule so well that we immediately notice when it’s violated. The sentence “Mark and her friend John went to the library” is noticed by the ear because a pronoun (her) and noun (Mark) are in disagreement with one another and the sentence forces us to wonder if Mark is female. We immediate know that a grammatically correct sentence should read “Mark and his friend went to the library.”

Suffice to say that in English there are a group of words (her, his, him, he, she, it) that have no content on their own; instead, they grammatically point to their noun-antecedent.

What does all this mean for feminist theology? The first thing that must be acknowledged is grammatically masculine words do not entail actual sex. This is a simple linguistic rule of all gendered languages. The fact that the word for God in Hebrew (YHWH) is grammatically masculine does not in any way entail that God’s sex is male. Responsible translation requires that a word of a certain grammatical gender in one language be translated with personal pronouns that agree with the grammatical construction in the original language. And it isn’t controversial to say that translation should never be violated to conform to ideological and/or political commitments.[49]

Yet even while this is the case, it is glaringly true that the Scriptures portray God as masculine, and that when feminine imagery is used of God, such imagery is subordinate to the masculine characterizations.[50] While that is uncompromisingly true, feminist theologians would do well to remember that the clear theological teaching of the church has never been obfuscated by the linguistic necessities of written language. Both Scriptures and Christian tradition assert that God is not a man and that he transcends biological classification.[51]

Feminist Theology and Jesus

Many feminists reject the Trinity on the grounds that it exemplifies another instance of predominately male imagery. Equally problematic for feminist theology is that Christian theology images the Trinity as a hierarchical ordering where the Father is “over” the Son and the Son and Father are “over” the Spirit.[52] Both of these things, in feminist theological circles, promote patriarchy and the continued existence of institutional structures of oppression so that men can continue to exert authority “over” others.

Feminist theology is divided when it comes to the second person in the Trinity, Jesus. Feminist theologians acknowledge there are instances in which he treated women well,[53] but there are also instances in which he acts less than “divine” in his treatment of women.[54] No matter what end of the spectrum one places themselves on, it does not go beyond notice to feminist theologians that Jesus’ sex reinforces the charge of patriarchy in Christianity, given that a male is “sent” to save woman, redeem her, and “name” her as part of the new Christian community.

The fact of Jesus’s maleness is often viewed as a negative. Some wonder if God is beyond male and female, why could Jesus not come to Earth as a woman to show that both male and female are accounted for in divinity? In my final point of this chapter, I would like to suggest that Jesus’ maleness holds implications that are in the interests of women, and communicate something about the worth and value that God ascribes to them.

It is a historical truth that the second person of the Trinity came to the Earth as a male baby who grew into a man. Throughout his life, Jesus was committed to performing the works he was sent to do. His ultimate assignment was to secure salvation by way of his substitutionary death. In the last week of his life, an all-male Jewish council condemned him to death, and he was subsequently stripped, brutally beaten, whipped, and adorned with a crown made of thorns, all this done by men of the Roman guard. Forced to carry a cross that he ultimately could not bear the burden of, Jesus arrived at the crucifixion site where soldiers methodically and expertly drove nails through his wrists and feet. Hanging on the cross for several hours, one last death blow was felt when a spear was plunged into his side.

The interesting and relevant question to ask is this: what if Jesus had been a woman? Would feminist theologians today really be content with a female Jesus enduring the type of suffering seen above? For the sake of gender equality in the Trinity, would they support the idea that a woman’s brutal death and victorious resurrection now serves as a sign of redemption? I humbly submit the answer is a resounding “no.” I contend that feminist theologians would be united in the view that no woman should have to endure the type of suffering and agonizing death that Jesus endured. Charges of Christianity instantiating the most horrific forms of misogyny would abound if Jesus had been a woman, not to mention the message it would send as that relates to violence against women and all that that entails. In the end, feminist theology leaves itself in a “no-win” situation as that relates to the gender of God incarnate.

In this chapter, I have shown that feminist criticism of the Bible creates problems that are impossible to solve given the working assumption of its critical method. It is my contention that these working assumptions are too faulty to be of any redeemable value. As noted by Linda Woodhead, “feminist theology has failed to be sufficiently theological” and only time will tell whether feminist theology will orient itself to the problems of its working assumptions, or ultimately surrender its viability as a functional option. The hope is that it will be the former and that feminist theologians everywhere would find the life-giving meaning and significance in what is held to the unabated Word of God.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[1]Linda Woodhead, “Spiritualising the Sacred: A Critique of Feminist Theology,” Modern Theology 13, no.2 (April 1997): 197.

[2]Rosemary Radford Ruether, Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), 3-4.

[3]Letty M. Russell ed., Feminist Interpretation of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 12.

[4]In A Scripture of Their Own: Nineteenth-Century Bible Biography and Feminist Bible Criticism, Rebecca Styler makes the important point that the suffragists maintained a belief that women and men were essentially different, that they had differentiated gender roles, and they also took as true that the whole Scriptures were the words of God.

[5]Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Women’s Bible (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993), 7.

[6]Alvin F. Kimel Jr., ed., This Is My Name Forever: The Trinity & Gender Language for God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 9.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olsen, 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age (Downers Gove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 211.

[9]Ibid., 210.

[10]In Feminism and Pop Culture: Seal Studies, Andi Zeisler makes the point that the culture is quite content to perpetuate actions that are ultimately damaging to women. Zeisler refers to a beauty industry—dominated, consumed, and maintained by women—that survives only through the perpetuation of women’s’ insecurity.

[11]For further reading on how culture manifests oppression, see Paula Black’s article, “Discipline and pleasure: the uneasy relationship between feminism and the beauty industry” in Feminism in Popular Culture, edited by J Hollows and R Moseley. In addition to this, Chapter 5 of Stacy Malkan’s book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, Malkan writes about the ways in which corporations are knowingly using toxic chemicals in beauty products that have unquestionably been linked to various cancers and diseases. It is largely women who buy into the beauty standards created by a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry. And it is women, in most cases, who judge other women on the basis of those same standards.

[12]See Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases by Sonja B. Star, University of Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper, No. 12-018.

[13]Bradley takes his cues from John McWhorter, author of Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, whose description of victimology broaches upon member’s self-assessment of victimology.

[14]Anthony B. Bradley, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 19.

[15] The term essential is here used in a philosophical sense. It refers to “what” a thing is, or its essence.  When philosophy refers to accidents, accidents are things, that if absent, do not in any way affect “what” a thing is—accidents don’t affect essence. So, for instance, my hand is an accident in the sense that, if I lose it, the loss in no way affects what I am—a human. A person can lose (and every year many people do) a limb and still be human persons. What persons cannot lose is their humanity and still remain human. This is because one’s humanity is essential.

[16] Liberating Black Theology, 19.

[17]Pamela Dickey Young, Feminist Theology/Christian Theology: In Search of Method (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1990), 60.

[18]For those interested in the parallels between feminist theology and black liberation theology, Bradley’s book will be essential reading.

[19]Linda Woodhead, “Spiritualising The Sacred: A Critique of Feminist Theology,” Modern Theology 13:2 (April 1997): 199.

[20]Thomas A Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, (CreateSpace, 2015), 2.

[21]The term real is not to be equated with the term material. I am not here espousing a Materialist worldview which claims the material world is all that exists. As one committed to Theism, I am making the point that immaterial realities can be just as actual as material realities can be. I am saying that tangibility is not a necessary condition for actuality.

[22]Ibid.

[23]For insightful commentary on hermeneutics, see Thomas A. Howe, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation

[24]Christina Bucher, “New Directions in Biblical Interpretation Revisited,” Bretheren Life and Thought 60, no. 1 (Spring 2015), 36.

[25]Ibid.

[26]Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 434.

[27]A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 434-436.

[28]New Directions, 35.

[29]Letty M. Russel, ed., Feminist Interpretation of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westiminster, 1985), 22.

[30]New Directions, 36.

[31] Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), 7.

[32] What should be understood about Reuther’s critical principle of feminist theology when she uses the term is that it’s a hermeneutic principle whose only concern is the full humanity of woman.

[33]Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), 13.

[34]Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, 111.

[35]Sexism and God-Talk, 12.

[36]Here, I am only speaking about Christian scripture, since Reuther’s comments are directed to Christian scripture. One should note as well that Scriptures do include experiences (such as dreams/visions) that are subjectively experienced and solely meaningful to the person who experienced it. individuals external to subjective experience are never required to appropriate the experience for themselves—they are expected, however, to acknowledge the objective truth said experiences often allude to.

[37]In 2 Cor. 12, Paul speaks of a personal revelation experience in which he was “caught up” to paradise. Such an event impacted Paul greatly, yet there is no indication that Paul’s experience had to be appropriated by the community of believers in his day.

[38]Feminist Interpretation, 113-114.

[39]William J Wainwright, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (New York, Oxford University, 2005), 498.

[40]Spiritualising the Sacred, 197.

[41]Ibid., 198.

[42]Here in Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, Farley is making the case that interpretation of the Bible is necessary in order for the Bible to be understood. She attempts to make the case that a feminist interpretation of the Bible calls for a standard by which to perform the interpretational (hermeneutical) task. This standard is women’s experiences.

[43]Spiritualising the Sacred, 48.

[44]The informal fallacy known as begging the question is committed when the conclusion of an argument is used as one of the promises in the argument. In other words, the conclusion is as a premise to drive the argument to its (obvious) conclusion.

[45]Beyond God the Father, 13.

[46]Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, ed., After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 153.

[47]A Critique of Feminist Theology, 197.

[48]Frederic M. Wheelock and Richard A. Lafleur, Wheelock’s Latin, 7th ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), 15.

[49]This Is My Name Forever, 67-69.

[50]Ibid., 71.

[51]Ibid.

[52] After Eden, 148.

[53]For instance, his treatment of the Samaritan woman he met at the well.

[54]An example would be Mark 7:24-29 where Jesus seemingly refers to a woman as a dog.