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IV. Evaluating This “Memory”: An Evangelical Response

After we have tried to some extent describe her approach to the text, now we should evaluate it from a conservative evangelical approach, which assumes that the Bible is the Word of God in the fullest sense, namely that He divinely inspired authors to write infallible Scripture, that is infallible to the letter, without overriding their personalities. It views what is put down in the Bible as ultimate truth that is normative as well as descriptive, thus having an impact on our daily lives.

In this section we will first evaluate Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza’s presuppositions and then her hermeneutic.


A. Evaluating the Framework of Her Memory

Perhaps the most painful thing to the evangelical mind is her rejection of the inspiration of the Bible. Once the basis of an infallible, inspired Scripture is dropped, then any external authority is gone and there is absolutely no limit to what you can do to it. From the very beginning Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza pulls out all stops and gives herself the liberty to do anything she wants with the text. Her acceptance of the HCM is simply another subset of this rejection of biblical authority.

As liberation theology is basically an implanting of your own agenda upon the corpus of Scripture, and a picking and choosing of “relevant” texts, it will naturally grow out of a rejection of authority.  It ends up laying words into Jesus’ mouth that He never spoke, or twisting what he and others said to a measure that it has very little to do with the intelligible meaning of Scripture. These people forget that the Bible tells the Christians that they must suffer (see for instance, Jn. 16:18-21) and that we are called to witness Christ under suffering. It is not speaking about social egalitarianism, the way some people would like to make it sound. And these liberation theologians are not doing anything new. During the time of Martin Luther there were groups of farmers who called upon the Scripture to support their fight against their superiors. It all ended in a rather bloody battle.

Feminist theologians are doing pretty much the same thing in trying to “liberate” women. If we go back far enough, we will find that the feminist agenda is basically anti-family, which is the most coherent unit of the biblical viewpoint. Using the Bible to destroy that is something that is definitely not biblical. The misuse of Scripture is nothing new.

We must concede, however, that Scripture has been misused in the past to bash women and to subordinate them in unscriptural ways. But the way that this was done, was in exactly the same way that the feminist theologians are working: only selective passages of Scripture were read, and the authority lay not just on the Bible, but also on the Tradition of first the rabbinical interpretation and then on  the Tradition of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church, none of which taught the full extent of Scripture, but neatly circumvented things that they didn’t want to accept. Though she wouldn’t admit it, Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza is doing precisely the same thing.

There is no excuse for the oppression of women, and it is true that in Christ there is no difference between man and woman, but this is in a spiritual sense only, not in a physical sense or in view of their divergent roles in everyday life. Men and women’s being equal before God is no question. Their having exactly the same roles before God isn’t. As a man reading this book written by a woman, the author must note that there are certain things in her logic that he does not understand. That is because women do see things differently from men, as men see things differently than women. This does not mean, however that we cannot see eye-to-eye. It simply means that we have a different perspective of life that compliments the other and, if used properly, helps us to understand life better.

Gen 2:18 describes woman as a “helper” to a man in his task as the image of God upon earth. This passage does not seem to imply that they have the same roles, nor does it say that because woman is a “helper” she is any inferior to man.22 Dr. Ferris McDaniel notes that this term for helper (‘ēzer) is predominantly used of God elsewhere in Scripture.23

The way man and woman are made, makes sure that they cannot exist without each other, which naturally presupposes that man and woman are different in their make-up. The immensely popular secular book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus24 clearly delineates this and it is a pity that these women can’t understand that this diversity in roles is something that is “very good”, as God put it in Genesis 1:31.

It is true to some effect that Christianity is an egalitarian religion, though not in the radical sense of egalitarianism. What Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza is trying to get Scripture to say is that the equality of men and women spans roles as well as worth. The Bible itself teaches difference in the roles of the sexes, though not in worth. As mentioned above, the favorite passage of Gal 3:28 is taken to spread into all life against the point that Paul is trying to make. He is pointing out the position of believers in Christ as children of God. The reason he uses “sons” is to denote that Christians are full heirs to the blessings of God. There is no mention of roles in that chapter. Once more it is a reading of ones own views into the text.

Perhaps the most striking problem she has is where her authority lies. It lies within herself and within her views. The authority has been moved from the Bible to the individual, with the result that the Bible gets changed rather than the one who reads it! This is the next logical step of rejecting the Bible as inspired and so it should not be surprising that she would do such a thing. However, from an evangelical viewpoint it is untenable, since the Bible is viewed as authoritative over the person.

Finally, we must address the issue of her presupposition that women were once in leadership in the church and later forced out. The examples cited are always the same: Phoebe in Romans 16:1, Priscilla (or Prisca), the wife of Aquila of Acts 18, and perhaps the Junia (or Junias) of Romans 16:7.

Priscilla is always mentioned in conjunction with her husband Aquila, and so they find themselves as a coherent unit, functioning as a role-model to present day married couples of how they should work together in ministry, so undermining the feminist argument.

Phoebe can be explained simply as a servant of the church in Kenchrae, though if the deaconess position existed, it would be similar to that of a deacon’s: namely to wait on tables and handle the every-day logistical things in the community. It would not necessarily presume leadership, though a good example would be mandatory. Aside from that fact nowhere else in Scripture is there an undisputed reference to the office of “deaconess”, thus making it untenable to argue that Phoebe would have been a leading figure in the church, especially if it is only done from this one passage.

As to whether this Junia is male or female, would make a more difficult argument to refute. If Junia were a “she”, she would be the only woman to be titled an apostle. But as this person is mentioned in conjunction with Andronicus (who is unquestionably male), it could be argued that they formed a coherent unit such as Priscilla and Aquila were, thus making another example of husband and wife working together. But other than this argument it is too sketchy to base anything on the one verse, which seems to be what the feminist theologians are doing.

In summary: All of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s presuppositions are out of line with evangelical thinking. The only possibly redeeming factor would be that her calling for equality among men and women in the Church would be embraced to teach the equality of worth and also to define in what way Christianity might be an “egalitarian” religion from a biblical perspective as an answer to her criticisms.


B. Evaluating the Form of Her Memory

Her methodology is also counter to what evangelical Christianity would use. Her simple acceptance and use of the HCM is a logical result of not believing that the Bible is inspired at any rate. If we could summarize our answer to her hermeneutic, it would be that she is using faulty tools to achieve an anti-Christian goal. This may seem a bit harsh to say, but the author by no means wishes to discredit Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza as a person. This is merely a judgment of her methodology. Let’s then take a look at the components of her methodology.

What must be commended, however is that she does view the Word as powerful. However her view of power is the wrong kind. The Bible is not power to subvert anyone, whether woman or man, but it is power to change lives for their good and for the goals of God.

First of all she neither wants to fully reject nor totally accept the Bible. The not wishing to reject the Word of God is commendable. It is also understandable as she searches for something that she can hold on to, so that she can still be part of the society she is in, which is the academic circles of liberal Christianity. However, her rejection of parts of the Bible, due to her presupposition is something that is not tenable from the perspective of people who regard every word as authoritative. To reject that authority is to reject God and what He says.

If we ask who decides what to accept and reject, there is only one answer left: the expositor of the Word. So the focus of Authority shifts once more from the Word of God to the mind of woman. Her rejection of all traditions and texts “that perpetuate, in the name of God, violence, alienation, and patriarchal subordination, and eradicate women from historical-theological consciousness”25 shows what she wants to blot out parts of the Scriptures so they will conform to her view. Who is the person that decides what perpetuates violence, alienation, etc.? It is the exegete.

There is no hint whatsoever in Scripture that the command of God to destroy the Caananite civilizations, for example, is something that would be unbecoming to God. It is a clear example of his justice. The view that Yahweh is only the God of the oppressed is expressed by liberation theologians26 , but that view is found nowhere in Scripture. Yahweh is both the God of the rich (Job) and of the oppressed (Lazarus in Lk. 16). It seems to the author that the liberation theologians, including feminist theologians, have an incomplete view of God, projecting their wish for a particular god or goddess into the clouds, and not taking time to compare it to the Lord of Hosts, King of the earth, in the Bible.

As a part of the acceptance of the HCM, it is logical to assume that the Bible was created over long periods of time. Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza, as a scholar of New Testament studies, assumes this, as is clear from her descriptions of early Christian reconstructions. She will even go so far as to say that the New Testament was redacted to include these patriarchal views. For her the pastoral letters never came from the pen of Paul.27

For an evangelical such a view cannot be held and still stay true to the belief that the Bible is inerrant. If inspiration is true, then Paul must have written the corpus that is attributed to him. Also there is a more or less significant argument by German papyrologist Carsten Peter Thiede, that especially the Synoptic Gospels were written at an earlier time in history than assumed.28 The Gospels are among the most contested documents around. If Thiede’s theories are true, then it would deal a very severe blow to the redaction criticism surrounding the creation of the Synoptic Gospels and would rob the feminist theology of one of their prized extrapolations of how the texts came to be so “patriarchialized.”

While Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza is careful to point out that Christ was egalitarian, she never mentions that He speaks very highly of marriage (which she views as “patriarchal”) as a God-given design (see Mt. 19:4-6 and parallel passages). Once more texts are omitted, because they don’t fit the agenda.

Another very dangerous “tool” that Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza uses is the “imagination.” Where there are gaps, they must be filled, and it is true that the imagination of the human being is powerful enough to do so. What results, however is fiction, even if it is based on fact. This can get very dangerous, because the exegete can then spin any tale he or she wishes to without regard to whether it was really true or not.

Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza’s goal of building theoretical frameworks rather than relying on the biblical texts is simply an extension of her using imagination as a tool. Fact becomes unimportant. What becomes important is building up the other. If someone is encouraged by a lie, the lie remains untrue, no matter how good it makes the person who has been “picked up” feel. Truth is essential and truth will then correspond to fact, whether this fact must first be apprehended by faith before it is comprehended by reason or whether it is first comprehended by reason so as to produce faith. We cannot build faith upon “theoretical frameworks that” will topple, we must build it on truth.

What we must take into consideration, however is the fact that our language is to some effect what she calls “androcentric.” It is true that masculine pronouns are used to address a mixed group (such as “guys” can be used of women in the northern United States). However, though this consideration is necessary for exposition, knowing where the mixed group is meant rather than just the men, it must be remembered that just about every language will do just that: use masculine pronouns for a mixed group.29 This is especially true of the greater European and Semitic languages, of which Greek and Hebrew are two. If the feministic theology wishes to change the English language so as to accommodate for women, so be it30 , but they must also remember then, that there are cases in the original language that may seem ambiguous, since that language uses the same system of plurals that ours does now. A literal translation of the Bible (such as the New American Standard Bible) will not change where it says “brothers” to “brothers and sisters,” because that is precisely against the idea of literal translation. Perhaps a paraphrase (such as the New International reader’s Version) may do that, but we must remember that it is not written thus in the original texts and the paraphrase should at least remark that in the footnote.

When Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza’s views are summed up, they are essentially anti-Christian, even though she denies it. The reason for this harsh statement is that, when taken as a system, liberation theology has little in common with Christianity. It would certainly figure with Christendom, but not within the locus of Christianity, which is those who believe in the death and resurrection of Christ as the only way to restore the relationship to God. When you substitute this “metaphysical” salvation for the physical, earthly salvation of the individual as seen by liberation theology, or even deny that God reaches into the world or even exists, as most historical-critical and textual-critical scholars do, then you are not Christian any more.

As Christ Himself said: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Mt. 12:30). The Pharisees — that is the scholarly class of Christ’s time — were certainly not with Him, judging from all their strange injunctions upon the Tanakh corpus and their lack of heart-faith. The author would go so far to say, that most liberal and liberationist scholars, including Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza are not believers, and so not for Christ. Thus they would be scattering.

  • 22It is interesting to note that the word translated as “suitable” in English is mentioned in the NASB footnote as literally being “corresponding to him”, which the German tranlations support in footnotes.
  • 23Ferris McDaniel, Old Testament Theology (Columbia, SC: Columbia International University, 1998), p 30.
  • 24John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus:a practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships. (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992).
  • 25Fiorenza, ibid. pp 32-33.
  • 26“The basic insight of all liberation theologies, including feminist theology, is the recognition that all theology, willingly or not, is by definition always engaged for or against the oppressed.” (Fiorenza, ibid., p 6).
  • 27Ibid., p 55.
  • 28This argument is heavily contested by liberal theologians. There is a good, brief summary of it to be found in John Elson, “4/8/96 Eyewitnesses to Jesus?”, Time Magazine, vol. 147, no. 15 (April 8, 1996) [article on-line]; available from < time/magazine/archive/1996/ dom/960408/archaeology.html>; Internet; accessed December 15, 1998.
  • 29The exception to this are the languages who have no grammatical gender, such as Turkish and probably also its related languages, such as Korean. Perhaps such a language should be the language of choice, since we would all have an even more difficult time determining whether groups are mixed or not. It would certainly quell a lot of angry voices demanding a gender equal Bible.
  • 30Bork complains that radical feminists have been weakening the English language by creating alternate spellings of words (see Bork, ibid., p 217). This would be another instance of imposing such a weakening not only on the English language, but also on the Koinë Greek, though it is not quite as apparent, since the feminists aren't changing the spelling, but insisting on broadening a meaning which could finally result in an expansion in places where it is not meant to be so!
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Copyright © 1998 J.M. Diener. All Rights Reserved.