Is There A Biblical Feminism? -- By: Rebecca Pentz

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 03:4 (Fall 1989)
Article: Is There A Biblical Feminism?
Author: Rebecca Pentz

Is There A Biblical Feminism?

Dr. Rebecca Pentz

Yakima, WA

Reprinted from “Presbyterian Communique”. Used by permission.

I am not proud of Christendom’s track record on sexism. Many male interpreters of the Bible lead one to believe that Jesus had little or nothing to do with women. Only in the last two or three decades have scholars unearthed the integral part women played in Jesus’ ministry. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her book In Memory of Her tells the story of one of the three main characters in holy week, the woman who anoints Jesus’ head. Jesus is so moved by what she does that he exclaims “And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Yet, prior to Fiorenza’s work, this woman was viewed as an extra in the Gospel drama penciled into the margins of the New ‘Testament. It is the male characters of passion week, Judas and Peter, whose stories have been told.

The church historically has been a patriarchal hierarchy with men at the top and women at the bottom. Religious history is dotted with arguments like the following: Women cannot be priests because there must be physical resemblance between the priest and his Lord; the female sex must be the inferior sex because God chose the male sex for his incarnation; Paul says in Eph. 5:24 that wives are to be subject in everything to their husbands, so it is clear that God intended that there be a divine hierarchy here on earth with men lording it over women and children. Such arguments have led to radical feminist outcries like Mary Daly’s “the idea of a unique incarnation in a male... is inherently sexist and oppressive.” Or more pithily “Since ‘God’ is male, the male is God (“The Qualitative Leap Beyond Patriarchal Religion,” Quest, I, p. 21).

Whereas I see no need to defend, only to lament, the sexism of Christendom, I do think feminine Christians should think again about what Jesus himself taught. Jesus was a man. How did his maleness affect how he related to, and what he taught about, women?

Before I began my research into feminist Christology I thought that feminists argued that men and women are equal, i.e. that we women can do anything men can do just as well as they can. But no, the research today points to how different men and women are. We differ not only biologically but intellectually. We reason differently. Take, for example, our approach to moral problems. Men and women, suggests Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice ), work within different value structures, women valuing relationships, men valuing individual rights. We even sin ...

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