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Exploring the Role of a Canon-Within-the-Canon in Biblical Interpretation, part 3

Recent Feminist Interpretive Approaches
Those critical of attempts to find a feminist interpretive framework to the Bible often criticise proponents as operating with an inner canon. It is easy to see why, as like all contextual theology, feminist theologies start with a specific concern. Abraham, however, praises feminist interpreters in the sense that that, in his judgement, they have reversed the harmful post-Fathers’ trajectory of shifting Scripture from a means of grace to an epistemic norm. He argues that fundamental to such approaches is the recognition that the canon must be a ‘means of healing and liberation’.[1] However, surely such an approach becomes an epistemic one in the sense that the Biblical canon is inevitably narrowed either by discarding, in some manner, those texts that are ‘dark’ to a feminist agenda or by relativizing them by texts more conducive to such an approach? Either way there is not only an inner canon but it functions epistemically.

Even those who count themselves as feminist interpreters recognise that some such approaches do indeed operate with an inner canon. For example, Schüssler Fiorenza defends herself against such a claim,[2] but accuses the feminist biblical interpreters, Cady, Stanton and Russell, of just such a mistake.[3] We might go further and argue that even this appraisal of Russell, for example, is an optimistic one in that Russell would separate the Bible into script and Scripture.[4] Script here is so historically relativised as to be normative in no sense at all; it becomes essentially a piece of background literature like extra-biblical texts such as the Didache. In this way there is an inner canon, but in the sense that it becomes the canon.[5]

It has been suggested that whilst Schüssler Fiorenza might be judged on this basis as more moderate, her proposals also amount to an inner canon by the canonisation of her historical reconstruction.[6] Ng goes on to argue that all attempts to deal with texts like Galatians 3:28, that challenge the traditional interpretation of male headship are based a priori on an inner canon and are thus not legitimate.[7]

Can the claims of such critics of Schüssler Fiorenza be judged to be fair? Given the topics she is most concerned with, will not any historical reconstruction make explicit, or at least implicit, decisions about gender issues in both society and the early church? Schüssler Fiorenza’s approach is illuminating however in that she is openly critical of those who argue for a neutral stance.[8] Her approach is one of integrity in that her presuppositions are made clear in her work. Indeed her methodology is essentially a critical realist one along the lines suggested by Wright.[9]

[1] Abraham, Canon, p.434.
[2] Schüssler Fiorenza, Her, p.xxi.
[3] See Schüssler Fiorenza, Her, pp.13-15.
[4] Schüssler Fiorenza, Her, pp.15-16.
[5] See, for example, Ng, Origins, p.368.
[6] So Ng, Origins, p.329.
[7] Ng, Origins, p.390.
[8] See Abraham, Canon, p.448.
[9] See Wright, People, pp.32-46.

2 responses to “Exploring the Role of a Canon-Within-the-Canon in Biblical Interpretation, part 3”

  1. Your titles for all these posts in the series have a spelling error. cannon instead of canon. You have not done this in the body of the posts.


    1. Thank you Bob. I am very embarrassed about this persistent typographical error which has now been corrected. I am on holiday with a handheld device and limited connectivity.


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About Me

This blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.

To this end it will also include book reviews on the Book of Psalms and related topics.

Some posts will reflect more broadly on biblical interpretation or hermeneutics.

If you like what you see here and want to arrange for me to give a lecture, run a teaching event or a short retreat based around The Psalms then contact me so we can discuss how this might work.

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