PW Bible Study on Genesis
If one is looking for an example of radical feministinterpretation of significant passages of Genesis then this 2006-2007 Horizons Bible Study, “In the Beginning: Perspectives on Genesis,” may be of some interest. However, we offer a cautionary note:
While we may appreciate the poetic imagery of the study and the author’s invitation to engage not only our technical intellect, but our imagination in the study of Scripture, this series of lessons is seriously flawed. The entire study is under girded by radical feminist assumptions, which run contrary to Reformed Biblical principles for the interpretation of Scripture.
The author of this year’s study, Celia Brewer Sinclair, approaches the text using basic feminist strategies for Bible interpretation which she posts at http://episdionc.org/schoolofministry/biblesaysmodule4.htm . It will be helpful to look at these strategies alongside the guidelines offered by Voices of Orthodox Women for critiquing the worthiness of Bible studies:
Voices of Orthodox Women’s Guide
1) Does the author take the Scriptural “context” seriously? That is to say, does she carefully note when the passage was written, why it was written, and to whom it was written? Further, does she set forth the clear and plain sense of the passage before she attempts to apply its meaning to the lives of women today?
2) Is there a contemporary political, philosophical, or theological “agenda” that the author “reads into” her understanding of the text, or is the text allowed to speak for itself?
3) What speaks with the most authority to the author — the plain meaning of Scripture itself, or other, extra-biblical sources?
4) Does the writer consistently write from a Trinitarian perspective, lifting up the one God who has been revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
5) What is the mission emphasis of the study? Does it hold up the person and work of Christ, and His power to transform individual lives, as of equal importance to political, social, and economic change?
6) When you have finished studying each lesson, do you have a deeper understanding of what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus Christ?
Sinclair’s strategies for doing Feminist interpretation
1) Be alert to expressions of patriarchy in the texts. Watch for presumptions of privilege that go unquestioned.
2) Listen to what is communicated by the silences in the text, by what is not talked about. Women in scripture are often unnamed, silent, or ignored. Creatively re-imagine, remember, lift up these women out of the text and breathe life into them once again.
3) Biblical texts are often androcentric. For instance, Exodus 20:17 reads: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife …” Who is the intended audience here? Step outside the androcentric ideology and critique it. Read “against the grain” and question the text’s assumptions.
4) Interpretation is always a political act, which is to say that reading the text always calls for action and change. Interpretation involves creative imagination, vision, and transformation.1
Using this radical feminist perspective, which insists that the text must be studied from women’s experience, the editors and authors, in fact, hint of a conspiracy against women by the authors of Genesis. They write: “This study also will call your attention to stories that are less familiar. The study recognizes that there are stories embedded within larger stories, that there are characters whom (sic) have been ignored, and that there are voices in the text that are muted, if not outright silenced” (2) (Emphasis added.)2 Beginning with this feminist point of view brings an alien agenda to the text. Here are some primary examples:
Use of Jewish Midrash as the Major Interpretive Lens for the Text:
Sinclair opts for using Midrash to explain passages from Genesis rather than offering a Christological interpretation. While the Hebrew text should be first understood and studied within its context as Jewish history, writings and prophecy, for the Christian, the application must be centered in Christology. This is hardly the case with these studies. For instance, in lesson six, “Perspectives on Sacrifice: Abraham,” the lesson concludes with commentary from the Genesis Rabbah. The commentary suggests that Abraham misheard God; what he thought was a request to sacrifice Isaac was simply a request to take Isaac up the mountain. The application then is: when we hear God speak, “ stop, listen harder, reflect” (43). With this commentary not only is the faith of Abraham lost but the beauty of Isaac as a symbol of Jesus Christ is simply buried in moralistic silliness.
Misuse of Jewish Midrash
Professor John Goldingay points out in an article on hermeneutics, that there are two different ways the Rabbis come to the text; one way is called Haggadah and means that one is, “relaxed about the existence of various answers to questions raised by texts.” The other is Halakah and occurs when one, “studies the Torah in order to know what is the right thing to do, what is the will of God.” Goldingay sees this way of coming to the text as more in line with the “exegetical approach,”3 and writes, “When we want to know what to do, there is no space for the equivocal. We need one answer.”4 It is obvious that Sinclair is not using Halakah but Haggadah. This allows her to change freely the meaning of the text in the name of “filling in the gaps.” Note it is not the biblical text itself that changes the theology; it is the interpretation which changes the theology.
Blatant Promotion of Radical Feminist Literature and Progressive Theology:
Sinclair has reinforced the feminist perspective with the use of several radical feminists’ texts, Delores S. Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk; Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror, and mention is given in the endnotes to the novel, The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. Along with these feminists’ books, Sinclair uses progressive theological articles. One progressive article referred to is “Reinterpreting the Binding of Isaac,” by Marsha Mirkin. It is from the magazine Tikkun which is a product of the Jewish Renewal Movement which incorporates “Hasidism and Kabbalism. It encompasses elements from Sufism, Buddhism and Native American religion in order not only to achieve inner healing for the individual but also to effect tikkun olam (the healing of the world.)”5 Although the magazine certainly is concerned with the spiritual, and the editor Michael Lerner offers various writers from different faiths, it is not a commentary intent on leading women closer to Jesus Christ.
In one instance, Sinclair has written a paragraph without any citation of a source where she has undoubtedly used an article entitled, “Eve and Pandora Contrasted,” by William Phipps in Theology Today (vol. 45, no 1, April 1988). Phipps has an incorrect footnote and Sinclair duplicates it. Phipps quotes from both Augustine and John Chrysostom. Sinclair uses the same quotes. Phipps in the older article attributes the Letters to the Fallen Theodore to Augustine although they were written by Chrysostom. Sinclair does the same. In another article mentioned in the text and footnotes (17), author Adrien Janis Bledstein writes, “Addressing the first woman as a responsible agent, J’s YHWH points out that her sex appeal is powerful and the man has the capacity (not the license or authority) to dominate her.”6 Several sentences after the footnote, Sinclair writes, without quotes, “Addressing the first woman as a responsible agent, God points out that the man has the capacity (not the license or authority) to dominate her.” Not only does Sinclair slightly twist the original meaning of Bledstein’s writing to fit her point, but she also copies her words without giving her credit. Sinclair also takes many of her quotes from secondary sources rather than primary sources, showing a lack of careful research. In addition, she uses only one narrow perspective when she considers the sources of the text of Genesis and the date and manner of its authorship.
Inadequate Definition of Human Sin:
Sinclair defines sin in line with Paul Tillich as separation not disobedience. It leads her to say of Eve and her desire to be like God, “(why it is that being godly or godlike is problematicisn’t godliness a characteristic we desire for ourselves and our children?)” (16). The author ignores the fact that Eve’s sin was not wanting to be like God so much as it was wanting what only God could haveultimate knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-6; Heidelberg Catechism Part I [Book of Confessions 4.003-11]; Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter VI [Book of Confessions 6.031-36]).
These are just examples of basic flaws with this Horizon’s study that make it suitable for tearing apart the biblical faith of many women and that make it unsuitable for the encouragement of Christian discipleship.
1. Sinclair, “Module 4: Primeval History,” in, “ The Bible says’ Biblical interpretation through the ages,” School of Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, 4.
2. The page numbers in parentheses throughout this document refer to page numbers in the Horizons 2006-2007 study.
3. Exegesis is the art of examining God’s Word in the context of the totality of Scripture in order to discern its plain meaning.
4 . John Goldingay, “Hermeneutics,” Dictionary of the Old Testament, T. Desmond & David W. Baker, Editors, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2003), 396, 397.
5 . Shirley Lucass, “ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal,” in New Religions A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities, editor, Christopher Partridge (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004.), 117.
6. Adrien Bledstein, “Was Eve Cursed? (or Did a Woman Write Genesis?),” Bible Review, February 1993:42-45, found at Bible Review website.