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Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Bible through her eyes

The Bible through her eyes
Scripture scholar Barbara Reid says women have something powerful to offer when interpreting the Bible.

Scripture scholar and Dominican Sister Barbara Reid took her first Bible course when she was a junior in college. It was an elective. "I was just so amazed at how it opened up a whole world for me," she says. "I was also a little angry and thought, 'Why didn't anyone ever teach me anything about the Bible?'" 

She'd attended Catholic schools her whole life but had never been encouraged to do more than listen to the stories of scripture. That course in her junior year changed everything. Later that year, she joined the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids and dove into all the scripture courses she could find. She also joined a charismatic prayer group and was unsettled by some of the ways scripture was being interpreted. She knew that wasn't the way the Bible ought to be read. So she pursued a doctorate in scripture because she wanted to learn good biblical interpretation.  

Reid is now the general editor of the Wisdom Commentary, a series of feminist commentaries on every book of the Bible, the first of its kind to offer feminist interpretations of the entire Bible. Contributors hail from around the globe and bring experience and expertise from a variety of traditions and cultures, something Reid says is crucial to reading and interpreting the Bible. She's quick to point out, however, that there are many forerunners to the Wisdom Commentary: "This is not a modern day phenomenon. Women have been interpreting the Bible through their own experience and their own lenses from time immemorial."

What does it mean to do feminist biblical interpretation?

Feminism is a perspective and a movement that begins by recognizing that there are great inequities toward women in the church and in society. The movement advocates for changes in not only interpersonal relationships but also the structures that keep all people from flourishing. It's not only about women. All of us benefit when the inequities against women are addressed.

Feminist biblical interpretation approaches the Bible with the consciousness that the Bible was, for the most part, written by men, for men, about men, and to serve men's interests. 

Now, as I say that, I am not trying to denigrate men. It's very important to recognize the historical contexts from which our scriptures come and that, for the most part, the perspectives represented in the scriptures are not women's.

Feminist biblical interpretation starts from that basic recognition and then approaches the Bible with a set of questions such as: Where were the women? What was their experience? How would they have received what was being said about them or addressed to them? What do we know historically about what women were doing? What do we know about the cultural mores of the day?

For example, if Paul says women should keep silent in churches, what did the women think about that? What was the precise situation he was addressing? Clearly women had to have been speaking out if Paul is saying, "You shouldn't speak out." 
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