“A Feminist Biblical Theology” by Phyllis Trible

Summary of “Five Loaves and Two Fishes: Feminist Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology”

Phyllis Trible writes to make a case for a “Feminist Biblical Theology.” (Trible, 289-95). She organizes her argument in four movements. Trible starts with a historical recollection of North American feminism as it arises in the 20th century (279-82) and then addresses the coinciding yet earlier emergence of the Biblical Theology movement (282-85). From there she takes us to the foray of Feminist Hermeneutics into Biblical Studies (285-89) and finishes with their salutary merger in her section entitled, “Overtures for a Feminist Biblical Theology” (289-95).

Feminism’s Waves

adam:eveTrible’s introduction required an overview of feminism’s development in two waves with the landmark year, 1963, marking the commencement of its second wave. (Trible, 279) Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique contributed from the wider society and Mary Daly’s The Church and the Second Sex addressed feminism from a religious standpoint. (Trible, 279-80) As this feminism was reconvened, its public platform and identity matured, and its hermeneutic of “interpreting existence” was established. This interpretation focused upon gender, an alterable element, and sex, and unalterable element. (Trible, 280) Because gender can be constructed, it can also be deconstructed, begging the question of male dominance and female subordination. As such, patriarchy[1] became feminism’s swear word, though its claim was that any paradigm of domination and subordination in human affairs was wrong. (Trible, 280-81) Theologically, male rule over females violated the integrity of creation and was understood to be sinful, causing both sexes to suffer, requiring sexism and patriarchy to be exposed and rejected. Feminism saw itself as a prophetic movement that:

1) advocated,
2) promoted multiple perspectives and
3) understood its own limitations (sin). (Trible, 281)

The Biblical Theology Movement

From there Phyllis moved to the history of biblical theology movement, focusing specifically on the emergence of Old Testament Biblical Theology. Her overview included the history of religions approach, O.T. theological approaches by Eissfeldt, Eichrodt, von Rad and Brevard Child’s uncanny claim that the movement had come to an end in the same year that Feminism’s second wave began – 1963. (Trible, 284) Her critiques are

1) their methodology was overshadowed by the limitations of seeking an identity without resolution,
2) the dominance of “white, Christian males of European or North American extraction, educated in seminaries, divinity schools, or theological faculties,”
3) their interpretations that were only open to a patriarchal point of view, and
4) their mistake of disconnecting hermeneutics from theology. (Trible, 284-85)

Feminism’s Foray into Biblical Studies

trible1Because she believed biblical studies had to begin interacting with hermeneutics from multiple angles,[2] feminism had to join the conversation and did in ca. 1970. For Trible, feminism’s entrance “exposed the androcentric bias of Scripture and scholarship” where there hadn’t been such a critique prior. (Trible, 285-86) As a result, a number of feminist scholars began offering affirmative and negative evaluations of Scripture that sought to employ the conventional methods of biblical studies, yet through a feminist hermeneutic.[3] In her evaluation, the feminist study of Scripture through the lens of gender opened up previously unknown and needed advances that were necessitated by “the perennial rethinking of biblical theology.” (Trible, 288-89)

Phyllis then finished with a salutary overture for a Feminist Biblical Theology. It’s beginning needs to account for three points of reference. 1) The Bible is viewed as constantly engaging new settings without being locked in past paradigms 2) A Feminist Biblical Theology needs to belong to a diverse set of communities that aren’t only Christian, and 3) No single methodology, organization or exposition can own this discipline.

A Feminist Biblical Theology

With these three considerations in place Trible started with exegesis. The feminist approach to exegesis needs to recognize the female depictions of Deity,[4] the neglected texts that highlight women[5] and needs to re-examine familiar passages that favor a patriarchal perspective, yet shouldn’t.[6] She does leave room to critique the actual patriarchalism present in the text.[7] (Trible, 289-92) After exegesis, Trible argues that the contours and content of a feminist biblical theology should focus upon “the phenomenon of gender and sex in the articulation of faith.” (Trible, 292) She includes the categories of

1) male and female in creation,
2) the purveyance of Scriptural women embedded in their contexts,
3) the primary role of women in Israelite folk religion,
4) the subversion of androcentric idolatry and imagery,
5) the allowance made for women to wrestle with these issues as Scripture holds potentially new meanings beyond current conclusions, and lastly
6) the ability to ascribe authority to the whole of Scripture without entailing the whole be prescriptive. (Trible, 292-94)

In her efforts to depatriarchalize the text, she proposed that these steps lead to a merger between feminist hermeneutics and biblical theology, focusing then on exploring all the avenues that gender and sex would lead one down. Trible believed that through the lens of gender and sex and the subversion of patriarchy, those aforementioned constructive approaches could be like five loaves and two fishes – that though initially overtures, they may result in a substantial and fruitful yield. (Trible, 295)


[1] Patriarchy according to Trible – the institutionalization of male dominance over women in home and society at large. (Trible, 280)
[2] Liberation Theology, Indigenous Theologies, Ecology, Medical Ethics, Creationism, Racial, Religious & Sexual Perspectives, etc… (Trible 285)
[3] Phyllis Bird, Jo Ann Hackett, Carol Myers, Esther Fuchs, J. Cheryl Exum, Toni Craven, Claudia V. Camp, Athalya Brenner, Renita J. Weems and Alice L. Laffey. (Trible, 286-288)[4] Ps. 22:9; Deut. 32:18; Is. 66:13; Jer. 31:15-22; Hos. 11:3-4, 9. (Trible 289-90)
[5] Ex. 1:8-2:10; 14:1-21; 15:20-21; Num. 11; 12:15; 20:1-2; Mic. 6:4; Jer. 31:4 (Trible, 290-91)
[6] Gen. 2:4b, 21-24; 3:15 (Trible, 291-92)
[7] Hos. 1-3; Ez. 23; 36:17; Zech. 5:7-11; Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21. (Trible, 292)

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