Yahweh the Patriarch: Ancient Images of God and Feminist Theology

By Futato, Mark D. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Yahweh the Patriarch: Ancient Images of God and Feminist Theology


Futato, Mark D., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Yahweh the Patriarch: Ancient Images of God and Feminist Theology. By Erhard S. Gerstenberger. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.

Yahweh the Patriarch is a translation of Jahwe-ein patriarchaler Gott? Traditionelles Gottesbild und femininistische Theologie (Kohlhammer, 1988). The thesis of the book is twofold. On the one hand, the monotheism of the Bible is thoroughly patriarchal and therefore unacceptable in our day. Accordingly, the ancient image of God as Father/Patriarch is "scarcely usable in theology today" (p. 11). We need images that express God's solidarity with humanity, e.g. sister, brother, friend. On the other hand, holding fast to the monotheism of the Bible provides the most liberating possibility for a trull egalitarian theology. "At least in theory, belief in one God includes the greatest possible openness to the justified claims of the equality of all people.... A plurality of' deities contradicts the principle of equality because it gives new theological life to the differences that must be overcome" (p. 110).

Yahweh the Patriarch in its main thrust will be of little use to evangelicals, owing to the faulty view of the Bible upon which the thesis is constructed. Underlying Gerstenberger's thesis is a view of Scripture that is out of accord with the Bible's own view of itself (as well as the articulation of that view in the ETS statement of faith). Some representative quotations make Gerstenberger's view of the Bible clear. "The Bible cannot provide us with a timeless and universally binding image of God" (p. 81). "The so called `dissolution of mixed marriages' (Ezra 10; Nehemiah 13) was only the first episode in a long history of Judeo-Christian hatred of women" (p. 92). "Both creation stories are an insult to today's self-conscious woman" (p. 127). "In retrospect, the Judeo-Christian tradition has come to be recognized as more or less inimical to women . . . the roots of this discrimination lie in the normative biblical texts and the predominantly patriarchal images of God they present" (p. 151). Can a "Biblical theology" in any meaningful sense of that phrase arise from such a view of the Bible?

There are some ironic benefits in reading this book, as Gerstenberger with refreshing candor effectively undermines some false starts by feminist interpreters. For example, readers seeking support for an egalitarianism before the fall will find little, if any, support in this volume. With regard to Genesis 1-2 Gerstenberger says (p. 88), "It is scarcely difficult to recognize here a reflection of a male worldview, with its patriarchal hegemony and its higher valuation of male functions such as protection and work. …

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