Why we’ve missed the mark -- By: Frances F. Hiebert

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 12:1 (Winter 1998)
Article: Why we’ve missed the mark
Author: Frances F. Hiebert

Why we’ve missed the mark

Frances F. Hiebert

Missiologist and author Frances Hiebert is a member of the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions/Services. Reprinted from The Christian Leader 26, April 1988. Priscilla Papers 3:2, Spring 1989.

Biblical feminists, as opposed to other feminists outside and within the church, accept the full authority of all Scripture for alt the people of God. But they recognize, with all modern people, that we do not absorb Scripture in its pure form into our understanding. Like anything else we read, reading Scripture is an interpretive process. In other words, while Scripture is perfect, our understanding of it is limited. It is limited by the tradition in which we receive it—how it has been interpreted for us by others. It is limited by human incapacity to completely understand God. In other words, there is no error in the Word of God, but there may be error in how we interpret it.

How else can we explain the fact that sincere Christians disagree on the interpretation of certain biblical passages? Surely, we cannot accuse all those who disagree with us on any minor point in Scripture of being insincere. Most of us realize that honest Christians do disagree. The real wonder, and the evidence of the work of God’s Spirit, is that on the fundamentals of faith, there is so much agreement. Neither those fundamentals, nor the authority of any part of the Bible is in question for biblical feminists. Their questions are about how the Bible has been interpreted and understood, especially regarding the relationship between women and men. By searching the Scriptures, they found in them a different perspective on women from the one handed down to them by tradition. The Bible itself caused these people to embrace biblical feminism.

It might help us to take a look at some of the factors involved in translating and interpreting the bible. Some of these factors apply to the interpretation of any written material. But the first applies only to Scripture because we approach it with certain theological assumptions.

Hermeneutical Principles

We believe that the Holy Spirit inspires the writer and guides the interpretation of the reader, but without the kind of suspension of human faculties that people claim for the book of Mormon, or the Koran, for instance. Our second theological presupposition is that nothing outside Scripture can interpret it as well as the whole body of Scripture itself. In other words, when something is hard to understand, we look for other parts of the Bible that might shed light on that part. Scripture interprets Scripture. Third, we assume that the responsibility of interpreting the Bible is best accomplished in the gathered community of believers. In that way...

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