Feminist Perspectives on Biblical Authority (Part 3)

Continued from Biblical Authority or go to Table of Contents


Many groups with special theological interests found considerable fodder in the development of this multiplicity of investigative approaches to scripture, among them various kinds of “Third World” liberation theologies and, of particular interest here, feminist theologies. It is difficult to represent a norm for feminist theology, since there are several schools of thought. The common denominator, as expressed by Letty Russell, is a theological approach of advocacy for women that “represents a search for liberation from all forms of dehumanization … advocating full human personhood for all.”[1] 

Not all feminist theological approaches, however, are appropriate for discussion in this paper – certainly not based on preconceptions of value, but simply on the basis that the nature of this discussion revolves around those feminists who are trying to wrestle with scripture, and its authority. Some feminist approaches reject the Bible as a foundational basis for faith on the grounds that it is irredeemably sexist, while others abandon Christianity outright as the unhealthy product of patriarchy and abuse.[2]  The latter have no interest in the Christian religion at all and the former see no value in trying to resurrect an ‘original’ meaning or norm from scripture.

 This essay, then, is attempting to engage in the theological discourse that is seeking to retain some vestige of authority or value for the Bible. Based on what has already been discussed, it is apparent that maintaining the authority of all that is considered scripture by Christians may not be possible, since the Bible contains not only original theologies of Judaism and the early church that may be flawed, or as close as we can get to original at this point, but also interpretations and redactions of original works that inherently contain biases and hidden agendas.

 Feminist theology and hermeneutics is not a recent field of interest. The Society of Friends or Quakers seemed to be conducive to feminist thought with Margaret Fell, in 1667, writing Women’s Speaking Justified, Approved and Allowed of by the Scriptures. In 1837, another Quaker, Sarah Grimké, publishing Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women.[3] In 1895, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a committee of co-workers published The Woman’s Bible, an effort at demythologizing and liberating the Bible from male hegemony in both authorship and interpretation, and liberating women from their political domination by males as a result.[4] As early as 1934, Henriette Visser ‘T Hooft, engaged in debate with male theologians, including Karl Barth, largely battling the concepts of gender inequality of creation and leadership evident in traditional theology. She brought to bear considerable knowledge of modern scientific approaches to theology including cultural criticism, psychology and sociology.[5] 

 In discussing ‘second wave’ feminism, Zoë Bennett Moore describes rather broad approaches for feminist hermeneutics, apart from those who reject the Bible outright. The Liberationist Approach, argued for an understanding of Christianity as an eschatological (Reign of God) faith working towards the yet unrealized future of creation. Like other liberation theologies, this group considers God’s preference for the poor and marginalized and the call for radical action to accord all in society equal value as integral to the message of scripture.[6]  Phyllis Trible, Letty Russell and Rosemary Radford Ruether, among others, share an attitude that the prophetic strain of scripture, with its criticism of all forms of oppression, naturally leads to a critical feminist hermeneutic to interpret the message in the modern context.[7]  

Continued: Deconstruction – hermaneutic of suspicion 

Or Return to Table of Contents


[1] Russell, Letty M. 1993. Church in the Round – Feminist Interpretation of the Church. (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press), 22.

[2] Moore, Zoë Bennett. 2002. Introducing Feminist Perspectives on Pastoral Theology. (London: Sheffield Academic Press.), 54 ff.

[3] Richardson & Bowden, 210.

[4] Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler, Editor. 1993. Searching the Scriptures Vol. I – a Feminist Introduction.  (London: SCM Press), 4 ff.

[5] Moltman, Jurgen. 1999. “Henriette Visser ‘T Hooft and Karl Barth.” Theology Today V.55 #4 – January, 1999. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Theological Seminary.) Accessed online at  http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jan1999/v55-4-article3.htm], 529.

[6] Moore, 55 ff.

[7] Op cit.

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... or, preaching from both ends


That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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