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Power, Sexism, and Gender: Factors in Biblical Interpretation.

This study assesses individual social attitudes and ideological beliefs regarding systems of power and sexism (i.e., Authoritarianism, Conservatism, Traditionalism, Social Dominance Orientation [SDO], Hostile Sexism [HS], and Benevolent Sexism [BS]) in relationship to Bible interpretation choice about passages related to gender. Data were collected from 216 conservative Protestant Christian churchgoers. It was hypothesized that individuals with higher levels of Authoritarianism, Conservatism, Traditionalism, SDO, HS, and BS would prefer interpretations that endorse gender hierarchy. The results supported these hypotheses, finding Traditionalism and HS to be the primary factors related to interpretation choice. Additionally, it was hypothesized that any significant difference between men and women regarding interpretation choice would be explained by individual differences in these social attitudes and ideological beliefs. Men were significantly more likely than women to prefer Bible interpretations oriented toward gender hierarchy, and this difference was primarily explained by Traditionalism and HS.


In the sixteenth century, the reformer Martin Luther stated, "No believing Christian can be forced to recognize any authority beyond the sacred scripture, which is exclusively invested with Divine right" (Bruce, 1977, p. 30). Since that time, the Protestant branch of Christianity has encouraged individual believers to read and understand the Bible for themselves. This has, understandably, led to a wide variety of interpretations of the biblical text. Even when scholars promote a strong epistemological hermeneutic (an interpretive method in which the meaning of the biblical text is understood according to its historical and literary context), conflicts arise regarding scripture's intended message. Research increasingly shows that individual differences contribute to these interpretive differences. The purpose of this study was to understand how individual differences in attitudes and ideological beliefs are related to interpretation of scripture. Specifically, this study explored how men's and women's social and ideological beliefs about systems of power within a given cultural context may influence biblical interpretation of scripture.

Individual Differences and Biblical Interpretation

Johnson (1983) suggested that personality factors influence the interpretation of both sacred and secular texts, even when an individual attempts to read a text on its own terms. However, the body of research supporting this statement is quite small. Personality may be understood either according to psychological types or psychological traits. Psychological types may be described in terms of distinct representative categories, while psychological traits are individual personality characteristics that may be described along a continuum and possessed to varying degrees (Allport, 1937). Some studies have explored psychological type in relationship to interpretation choice, suggesting that people have a tendency to prefer interpretations of scripture that are consistent with their particular psychological type (Bassett, Matthewson, & Gailitis, 1993; Francis, 2012; Francis & Jones, 1998; Francis & Jones, 1999; Village, 2014; Village & Francis, 2005). Most of these have utilized the Myers-Briggs typology. The sensing/intuition and thinking/feeling dimensions appear primarily influential in biblical interpretation preference (Bassett et al., 1993; Village, 2014; Village & Francis, 2005). For example, Feeling types are inclined to prefer interpretations of an emotional nature, while Thinking types are more inclined to choose interpretations of a more logical and detached style (Village & Francis, 2005). Sensing types prefer literal interpretations over symbolic interpretations, and the reverse is true for Intuitive types (Village, 2014). Village (2012) also found a positive relationship between Sensing and biblical literalism in a sample of clergy.

Bassett et al. (1993) studied problem-solving styles (locus of control tendencies in relationship to belief in God) along with the Thinking/Feeling dimension of Jungian typology in relationship to biblical interpretation. Problem solving styles included Deferring, Collaborative, and Independent problem solving, designed to identify locus of control tendencies in relationship to belief in God. For example, individuals with Deferring styles wait for God to resolve issues. Feeling types demonstrated a clear preference for Feeling types of interpretations, while Thinking, Independent, and Collaborative participants demonstrated a preference for clusters of interpretations consistent with their particular typology and problem solving style. Only Deferring individuals indicated responses that were clearly not within the expected relevant interpretation, indicating that Deferring types may have a tendency to defer to interpretations expected at the given religious institution rather than preferring a specific Deferring interpretation.

The research evaluating personality traits in relationship to subjective elements in the interpretation process is more limited than the research exploring type theory. In addition to Bassett et al.'s (1993) study on locus of control, The Big Five model has been studied in relationship to elements involved in biblical interpretation, such as identification with Bible characters and literalism. Witheridge (2010) showed that individuals who were more gregarious and excitement seeking (facets of Extraversion), and had an openness to values (facet of Openness), were less likely to view biblical passages as literal, while those who were more straightforward (a facet of Agreeableness) and dutiful (a facet of Conscientiousness), were more likely to endorse biblical passages as literal.

In summary, very few studies have explored the contribution of individual differences to the interpretation of scripture. The few existing studies have examined Jungian typology, the Big Five, and locus of control. The focus of the present study is on individual differences that to this point have not been explored in relationship to biblical interpretation: attitudes toward power within social structures, with a specific focus on power dynamics related to gender.

Gender and Biblical Interpretation

In her seminal 1960 article, The Human Situation, Goldstein argued that since men have primarily contributed to theological literature, Christian theology is often representative of men's experiences, upbringing, primary sins, and deepest needs. Therefore, attention to women's experience will likely yield alternative theological understandings of scripture. For example, Goldstein suggested that the contemporary theological definition of sin (i.e., pride and will to power) addresses the experiences of men rather than women. In contrast, Goldstein summarized women's condition as one of "underdevelopment or negation of the self' (p. 109).

Scholer (1987) explained how a societal exaltation of power influences scripture interpretation, and he defined feminist hermeneutics as "a reading of the biblical text in light of the oppressive structures of patriarchal society" (p. 408). He identified powerful "personal issues of sexuality, power, and personal identity" (p. 418) as one of the primary interpretive issues in this regard. Therefore, feminist biblical interpretation aims to interpret the Bible in a manner that accounts for the differing ways that men and women experience the Bible text as a result of androcentric-kyriocentric language in the Bible, the patriarchal culture from which the Bible emerged, and the patriarchal influences within the reader's culture.

Schussler Fiorenza (2001) introduced the rhetorical-emancipatory paradigm for approaching and interpreting scripture, which identifies ways biblical texts exercise power over social and religious life. Schussler Fiorenza stated, "working within this paradigm we learn to investigate how the Bible is used to inculcate mindsets and attitudes of submission and dependency as 'obedience' to the will of God that dispose us to accept and internalize violence and prejudice" (p. 44). In conclusion, these authors suggest that women's and men's lived experiences lead to different ways of understanding Scripture, a hypothesis that the present study examines.

Power and Sexism

The social structural variable explaining the power differential in society is referred to as hierarchy or patriarchy. Historically, the term patriarchy has referred to male governing rule within a family. However, the term is also used to describe social structures in which men hold primary power. Patriarchy is commonly used in research to describe an "ideological characteristic of society that permeates social institutions as well as more micro-facets of social life" (Ogle & Batton, 2009, p. 174). While patriarchy is a social level variable, it represents beliefs and practices that are perpetuated by individuals. Ogle and Batton identified two key components of patriarchy: (a) male domination over women both as individuals and as groups and (b) institutionalized male domination, which permeates society and is maintained at systemic levels (e.g., family, education, religion, economy, and state).

There has been little consensus when operationalizing patriarchy as a variable (Ogle & Batton, 2009). Research has typically used one or two item measures for respondents to indicate individual and partner influence in the relationship, such as who makes decisions in the household (Gordon & Chen, 2013; Morash, Bui, Zhang, & Holtfreter, 2007). Only recently have researchers begun to identify the structural variables that impact patriarchal endorsement (Crittenden & Wright, 2013), revealing both individual and societal level factors as meaningful contributors. Several of these studies have used census micro-data (e.g., singulate mean age at marriage; proportion of female household heads) to identify how individual, family, and societal level characteristics influence patriarchal endorsement (Crittendon & Wright, 2012; Gruber & Szoltysek, 2012). These kinds of measures are of limited usefulness in identifying patriarchal attitudes and beliefs. While the measurement of patriarchy remains ambiguous, researchers have developed measures to assess individual experiences and ideological belief regarding power within social structures. While these measures do not address all aspects of patriarchy, they do operationalize a core component of patriarchy--an emphasis on hierarchical power dynamics in general and gendered power dynamics in particular. These measures are Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA), Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), and Ambivalent Sexism.

Right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance. Previous research has established both RWA and SDO as variables that independently predict conservative beliefs and prejudiced attitudes, including a wide range of political, ideological, and intergroup phenomena (e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1988; Christopher & Mull, 2006; Duckitt, 2006; Feather & McKee, 2012). Research has shown that the two variables predict prejudice differently and are related to different ideological systems (Duckitt, 2006).

Duckitt (1989) was the first to propose a non-individualistic model of RWA and prejudice with his group cohesiveness hypothesis, which suggested that authoritarianism reflects "the intensity of individuals' group identification" (p. 71), especially in response to perceived outgroup threats. Duckitt (2001, 2006; Duckitt, Wagner, du Plessis, & Birum, 2002) later proposed a dual-process, cognitive-motivational model of individual differences in prejudice in order to attempt to identify the mechanisms through which RWA and SDO influence prejudice. According to Duckitt's model, RWA influences prejudice through the motivational goal of group security and order. Group members attempt to establish order and stability by establishing a closed system, where the outside social world is considered dangerous and threatening. While an individual's worldview is relatively stable, the relative level of threat or danger in a given social environment influences both RWA and SDO. For example, environments that are perceived to be more threatening will increase the level of authoritarianism while environments with more inequality and competition over power will result in increased social dominance.

Therefore, RWA is a construct that focuses on intra-group perceptions and ideologies (Duckitt et al., 2002), and people high in RWA are more likely to submit to legitimate authority, to use punishment as a means of controlling behavior, and to conform to traditional norms of society. RWA has been utilized extensively in prejudice research and has been shown to be a predictor of prejudice and negative attitudes toward outgroups in several cultures. For example, Ekehammar, Akrami, Gylje, and Zakrisson (2004) found that, in Sweden, RWA correlates with negative attitudes toward African-Americans, gays and lesbians, women, Jews, and immigrants.

Kreindler (2005) proposed that SDO and RWA are related to individual expression of prejudice in terms of group processes. Kreindler explained the standard features of SDO in terms of maintaining categorical differentiation and social hierarchies among groups. Individuals high in SDO evaluate others based upon group membership and desire to prevent redistribution of social resources. In contrast, Kreindler explains RWA in terms of "normative differentiation, which involves the evaluation of ingroup members on the basis of their prototypicality" (p. 90). Therefore, while Kreindler's theory conceptualizes SDO as a desire to maintain social hierarchies between groups, RWA is an incra-group phenomenon, rooted in submission to beliefs of established religious institutions, and aiming to reject perceived threats to valued social norms.

Ambivalent sexism. One of the key components of patriarchy is male domination over women at both the individual and group levels. Ambivalent sexism is a variable that measures two different forms of sexism: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism is a more overt form of sexism associated with hostility toward women, reinforcing traditional gender roles, and limiting the social status of women. Glick and Fiske (1996a) introduced the concept of benevolent sexism based on an understanding of three distinct components: protective paternalism, gender differentiation, and heterosexuality. Benevolent sexism represents sexist attitudes toward women that reinforce traditional gender roles and women's lower social status in ways that are more subjectively positive. These benevolent sexist attitudes elicit prosocial helping behavior and dependency in women and describe women as a weaker sex who needs to be cherished, protected, and provided for by men. Research across 19 different countries has shown that benevolent and hostile sexism are different constructs that exist cross-culturally (Glick et al., 2000).

Research in a Christian population has shown that sexism is related to religiosity and scriptural literalism. Specifically, intrinsic religiosity, extrinsic religiosity, and scriptural literalism have been found to be positively correlated with benevolent sexism, but not hostile sexism (Burn & Busso, 2005). Religiosity's positive relationship to benevolent sexism, but not to hostile sexism, has been observed across Spanish and Turkish cultures as well as Christian and Muslim faiths (Glick, Lameiras, & Castro, 2002; Tasdemir & Sakalli-Ugurlu, 2010). Within a Christian undergraduate population, men were significantly more likely than women to endorse items of benevolent sexism and protective paternalism (Maltby, Hall, Anderson, & Edwards, 2010). Benevolent sexism's positive relationship with religiosity suggests that individuals with deep spiritual convictions (i.e., intrinsic religiosity) and a literal interpretation of scripture may be more likely to believe that men should protect and provide for women. Burn and Busso (2005) suggested that sociocultural contexts, especially contexts and religious beliefs that promote aspects of benevolent sexism, likely account for this relationship.

Research has also shown that benevolent sexism is positively correlated with fundamentalism (Eliason, 2014), and protective paternalism is positively correlated with Christian orthodoxy in men but not women (Maltby et al., 2010). These results paralleled those found by McFarland (1989), showing that gender moderated the relationship between religiosity and sexism. These results further show that gender is an important variable to consider when evaluating sexism within a Christian population.

Allport (1966) suggested that committed and internally motivated religion promotes religious teachings of universal acceptance and compassion, and is therefore not compatible with prejudice. Additionally, many theologians are committed to promoting gender equality and women in leadership positions, and have used religious texts to promote these positions (Scholer, 1987). Therefore, the Christian religion is not intrinsically opposed to gender equality. However, research indicates that benevolent sexism is related to religiosity (Burn & Busso, 2005), and many religions teach that women should remain subordinate to men. In this case, benevolent sexism may be used to justify traditional gender roles, and gender inequality may be masked as a form of "chivalry" (Burn & Busso, 2005, p. 417). For example, many hold the belief that men need women and should protect and cherish them (Glick & Fiske, 2001a, 2001b). While it is possible that literal scriptural interpretation may contribute to benevolent sexism and gender inequality, it is also possible that this relationship is reciprocal, as sexist beliefs may also influence how scripture is read and interpreted.

The Present Study

The purpose of this study was to evaluate how power and sexism variables are related to biblical interpretation. Specifically, this study considered how individual social and ideological beliefs regarding RWA, SDO, and Ambivalent Sexism were related to Bible interpretation preference. This is the first study to assess how individual social and ideological beliefs related to systems of power and sexism influence Bible interpretation choice. As noted above, feminist theologians have been arguing for decades that gender differences in biblical interpretation exist and that these dynamics contribute to hierarchical interpretations of the Bible; this study constitutes the first to empirically test the relationship between power dynamics and biblical interpretation. Based on the literature reviewed, we hypothesized that individuals with higher levels of RWA, SDO, Hostile Sexism, and Benevolent Sexism would be more likely to choose interpretations that are oriented toward power and hierarchy. Considering previous theoretical work suggesting that men and women interpret Bible passages differently, we hypothesized that there would be a significant difference in Bible interpretation choice between men and women. Theories suggest that men and women have different experiences related to power and sexism, which influence their reading of the Bible. Consequently, we hypothesized that significant differences between men and women regarding interpretation choice could be accounted for by endorsement of ideological belief, particularly beliefs related to RWA, SDO, Hostile Sexism, and Benevolent Sexism.



Using the snowball technique, we recruited 267 participants from conservative Protestant denominations. Leaders within faith-based institutions and students at Christian schools and seminaries disseminated the survey on our behalf to members in their respective groups. The data analyses used only survey data gathered from individuals who endorsed identification with the Protestant Christian faith and church attendance two or more times per month. Twenty-nine participants did not meet these criteria and were excluded from the study. Participants who did not answer all items from the Bible Interpretation Questionnaire were also excluded from the data analyses (22 cases). Additionally, one case was excluded due to observed outlying data. Of the remaining 216 participants, 45.6% were male and 54% were female. Regarding ethnicity, the majority (89.8%) self-identified as Caucasian/European American. The remaining participants represented various ethnic groups, including 1.3% Hispanic/Latino/Latina, 1.3% Black/African American, 3.2% as Asian/Asian American, 3.7% as "mixed"/multi-ethnic, and <1% did not endorse ethnicity. Ages ranged from 18 to 81 years with an average age of 38.

Regarding level of education, 3.7% had a professional degree, 5.1% had a doctorate degree, 38.4% had a master's degree, 38.9% had a 4-year college degree, 3.2% had a 2-year college degree, 7.4% had some college education, and 3.2% had a high school diploma or GED. Thirty-eight percent of participants reported receiving formal theological training either in a church, undergraduate, graduate, or seminary educational setting, with 25.9% having earned theological degrees. Specifically, 2.8% of participants reported having earned a bachelor's level theological degree, 20.8% a master's level theological degree, and 2.3% a doctoral level theological degree. While a wide variety of Protestant denominations are represented, most of them appear to be conservative. Denominational representation included 33.1% Baptist, 32.8% Presbyterian, 10.65% Non-denominational, and 23.45% various other Protestant denominations. Regarding church attendance, 12.5% of participants reported attending church two to three times per month, 37% at least one time per week, and 50.5% two or more times per week. Participants represented 27 states, although most of the participants resided in the southeastern United States. Participants were given the opportunity to enter their email address for a chance to win one of four $40 Amazon gift cards for participating in this study. Data were collected through an online survey.


Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). We measured RWA with Duckitt, Bizumic, Krauss, and Heled's (2010) 36-item Authoritarianism-Conservatism-Traditionalism Scale (ACT). The ACT scale measures the three primary components of RWA: Authoritarianism, Conservatism, and Traditionalism. Examples of items include, "What our country really needs is a tough, harsh dose of law and order" (Authoritarianism), "Our leaders should be obeyed without questions" (Conservatism), and, "It is important that we preserve our traditional values and moral standards" (Traditionalism). Each ACT subscale and the total scale are balanced and contain equal numbers of positively and negatively worded items. Each subscale represents motivational goals to maintain different, though related, collective social security values or motivational goals. Responses are measured on a 9-point Likert scale (-4 very strongly disagree to +5 very strongly agree). Eighteen of the items are reverse scored. High scores indicate high levels of ACT, and scores are computed as means across all items for each scale. In the present study, coefficient alpha values were .93 for the total ACT scale, .83 for Authoritarianism, .86 for Conservatism, and .88 for Traditionalism.

Social dominance. The SDO is a 16-item measure that assesses attitudes of intergroup relations as well as one's tendency to endorse hierarchy-enhancing myths (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). Examples of items include, "Some groups of people are more worthy than others" (SDO-D) and, "It would be good if all groups could be equal" (SDO-E). Responses are measured on a 7-point Likert scale (1 very negative to 7 very positive). Eight of the items are reverse scored. High scores indicate high levels of SDO. In the present study, the coefficient alpha value was .85.

Ambivalent sexism. The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI) is a 22-item questionnaire designed to assess beliefs and attitudes of benevolent and hostile sexism (11 items each; Glick & Fiske, 1996b). Hostile sexism reflects hostility toward women, reinforcing traditional gender roles, and limiting the social status of women. Benevolent sexism involves three components: protective paternalism, gender differentiation, and heterosexuality. Items include a variety of statements such as, "Feminists are seeking for women to have more power than men" (Hostile Sexism) and, "Women should be cherished and protected by men" (Benevolent Sexism). Participants are asked to answer each item on a Likert-type scale (0 disagree strongly to 5 agree strongly). Six of the items are reverse scored, and the scores for both the hostile and benevolent scales are computed as means across all items for both scales. A high score indicates endorsement of sexism. The ASI has strong construct validity and reliability that has been demonstrated in a number of studies (Begany & Milburn, 2002; Feather, 2004; Glick & Fiske, 2001a). In the present study, coefficient alpha values were .80 for Hostile Sexism and .75 for Benevolent Sexism.

Bible interpretation. The Gender Hierarchy scale is a 5-item measure that assesses a person's preference for Bible interpretations emphasizing hierarchy in gender relationships (Orme, 2015; see Appendix A). Each item presents a separate Bible passage that contains power dynamics and differentials related to gender. Each response choice represents a different interpretation of the passage and represents legitimate theological positions found in biblical commentaries or a potential understanding of the passage based on a lay person's plain reading of the text. For each item, participants are asked to read a Bible passage and then to choose the interpretation that best represents their understanding of the Bible passage. The number of response choices for each item varies, reflecting the number of common interpretations available for each passage, and represents hierarchically-oriented interpretations, mutual interpretations, or neutral interpretations. For example, one item presents Ephesians 5:22, "Wives submit to your husbands." Interpretation choices for this passage include, (a) This verse refers to a general principle of mutual submission by all spirit-filled Christians. This is a voluntary submission or subordination to act in a loving considerate, self-giving way to one another or (b) This verse has in view submission to appropriate authorities. It is not referring to mutual submission (coded as an interpretation representing gender hierarchy). An overall score is obtained by summing the gender-hierarchical interpretations endorsed across the five items. Possible scale scores range from 0 to 5; high scores indicate a tendency to choose more power or hierarchy oriented interpretations for Bible passages related to gender roles. In the present study, the coefficient alpha value for Gender Hierarchy was .63. The low alpha coefficient for this factor is likely due to the small number of items that make up the factor.


Data Preparation

We assessed all scales for normality. With one exception, all scales fell within normal limits for kurtosis and homoscedasticity. The ACT subscale Traditionalism was negatively skewed. Before the transformation was conducted, this measure was reflected by subtracting the mean of each score from the highest score attained, plus one. This reflected the data so that they became positively skewed and thus able to be transformed. It should be noted, however, that reflecting the data this way changed the meaning of the scores for this measure. In order to avoid confusion when interpreting results, the scores for this measure were re-reflected after being transformed. The transformed scores were used in all subsequent analyses. All non-transformed scale descriptives and intercorrelations among the transformed items are listed in Table 1.

Predictors of Interpretation Choice

Correlational analyses revealed small to moderate significant positive relationships between the measures of social and ideological belief and interpretation choice. The correlational analyses also revealed that all of the measures are highly correlated. Given these findings, and in order to avoid the high likelihood of a Type 1 error, two multiple regressions were run. The first regression evaluated the contributions of RWA and SDO. The ACT subscales, Authoritarianism, Conservatism, and Traditionalism, and the SDO scale were entered as the independent variables, and the Gender Hierarchy scale was entered as the dependent variable. The regression was significant, F(4, 211) = 6.90, p < .001, indicating that attitudes toward power explained 12% of the variance in interpretation. When all subscales were entered, only Traditionalism significantly predicted interpretation choice as measured by the Gender Hierarchy scale ([beta] = 1.48, p = .001). Results can be found in Table 2.

The second regression evaluated the contributions of Benevolent and Hostile Sexism. Benevolent Sexism and Hostile Sexism were entered as the independent variables. The regression was significant, F(2, 213) = 6.40, p < .001, indicating that Ambivalent Sexism explained 5% of the variance in interpretation. Only Hostile Sexism significantly predicted interpretation choice as measured by the Gender Hierarchy scale ([beta] = .18, p = .02).

Gender Differences in Interpretation Choice

In order to test the hypothesis that a significant difference between men and women regarding interpretation choice would be explained by level of ideological belief, we ran an independent t-test to see if a gender difference emerged. There was a statistically significant difference in mean Gender Hierarchy interpretation score between men and women, t(213) = 1.91, p = .03. The mean Gender Hierarchy interpretation score was 2.64 (SD = 1.61) for men and 2.25 (SD = 1.38) for women, indicating that on average, men endorsed more hierarchical interpretations. To evaluate whether these differences could be accounted for by discrepancies in theological training, we ran a t-test comparing groups who reported formal theological training to those who did not on the Gender Hierarchy interpretation score. The results indicated that theological training does not have an effect on choice of interpretation, t(212) = 1.31,p = .25.

Next, we ran two Univariate ANCOVAS. The first ANCOVA controlled for Authoritarianism, Conservatism, Traditionalism, and SDO. We entered these variables first, followed by gender. Results showed that, after controlling for the effects of Authoritarianism, F(1, 209) = 1.24, p = .27, Conservatism, F(1, 209) = .66,p = .42, Traditionalism, F(1, 209) = 10.22, p = .002, and SDO, F(1, 209) = .02,p = .89, there was no significant effect of gender on Gender Hierarchy interpretation choice, .F(1, 209) = 2.37, p = .13.

The second ANCOVA controlled for Hostile and Benevolent Sexism. Again, we entered these variables first, followed by gender. Results showed that, after controlling for the effects of Hostile Sexism, F(1, 211) = 5.87, p = .02, and Benevolent Sexism, F(1, 211) = .31, p = .58, there was no significant effect of gender on Gender Hierarchy interpretation choice, F(1, 211) = 1.76, p = .19. Together, these results show that gender differences in interpretation can be accounted for by ideological beliefs about power, with Traditionalism and Hostile Sexism emerging as the strongest predictors.


This study examined the relationship between social and ideological beliefs regarding systems of power and sexism and biblical interpretation choice. Previous research has evaluated personality types in relationship to biblical interpretation, the relationship of personality traits to various religious variables, and the relationship of personality traits to theological beliefs. However, this is the first study to assess how social and ideological beliefs about systems of power and sexism influence biblical interpretation choice.

Correlational results supported the hypothesis that Authoritarianism, Conservatism, Traditionalism, SDO, Hostile Sexism, and Benevolent Sexism, were significantly and positively related to interpretation choices oriented toward gender hierarchy. The correlations were in the small to medium range (Cohen, 1988), yet indicated that higher scores for each factor were related to interpreting biblical passages about gender in a hierarchical manner. While each of the subscales were significantly related when individually correlated with interpretation choice, only the ACT subscale Traditionalism and Hostile Sexism remained significant when the subscales were evaluated together.

Theoretically, the ACT scale conceptualizes the subscale constructs as multi-dimensional, social attitudinal, or ideological dimensions, rather than unidimensional personality dimensions as Altemeyer originally defined them. Each ACT subscale represents motivational goals to maintain different, though related, collective social security values or motivational goals. Heightened scores on these scales represent a "threat-activated need for social conformity, group cohesion, societal stability, or collective stability" (Duckitt & Bizumic, 2013). Traditionalism is defined as an attitude favoring traditional, old fashioned, religious social norms, values, and morality as opposed to more modern, liberal, alternative norms, values, and morality. Traditionalism is associated with traditional and religious social norms and morality, which further explains its significance in relationship to biblical interpretation choice. Examples of items on the Traditionalism subscale include, "It is important that we preserve our traditional values and moral standards" and, "The 'old-fashioned ways' and 'old-fashioned values' still show the best way to live." In contrast to Traditionalism, Authoritarianism is understood as favoring either strict punishment opposed to leniency and permissiveness to violation of social norms, and Conservatism is defined as respect and obedient support toward existing authorities as opposed to more critical, questioning, and rebellious attitudes toward them. Considering that hierarchical interpretations regarding biblical passages about gender roles are seen as more traditional interpretations, these findings are consistent with the theoretical model of RWA as rooted in submission to beliefs of established religious institutions (Kreindler, 2005).

The role of Traditionalism in biblical interpretation may be related to its role as a coping strategy for dealing with uncertainty. The variable tolerance of ambiguity was developed in an attempt to better understand the authoritarian syndrome (Frankel-Brunswik, 1949), and research has confirmed the relationship between Authoritarianism and intolerance of ambiguity (Budner, 1962). In fact, these variables are so closely related they appear to be measuring a similar construct. Budner suggested that religion is a way that individuals cope with uncertainty and cope with ambiguous situations. However, the present study indicates that religion may serve different functions for different individuals depending on their comfort with ambiguity and how readily they perceive outside threats. For instance, rather than religion itself being used to cope with uncertainty, some individuals who are less comfortable with uncertainty, especially regarding issues of gender, may be more likely to adopt a more traditional (hierarchical) view of scripture, and may cling strongly to these traditional views in response to perceived outside threats. Conversely, individuals with more tolerance of ambiguity may feel less threatened by alternative views and perceive fewer outside threats, thus being more open to considering alternative views of scripture. Further research directly testing tolerance of ambiguity is needed to confirm this interpretation.

However, it should be noted that causality cannot be established with the current study design. It is also possible that more hierarchical interpretations of scripture influence attitudes toward power--in line wich Schussler Fiorenza's (2001) assertion that hierarchical interpretations are internalized and lived out in the form of gendered power dynamics. The directionality of this influence is an important area for future research, given its potential implications for gender equality. It should also be noted that not all individuals who are high in traditionalism hold to hierarchical interpretations, nor do all individuals high in hierarchical interpretations endorse high levels of traditionalism. Clearly, traditionalism is not the only factor affecting choice of interpretation, though our results indicate that it is a statistically significant factor, accounting for approximately 11% of the variance in interpretation choice. Further research is needed to identify other factors that influence interpretation, particularly in light of our finding that formal theological training did not predict interpretation choice.

Given that SDO is concerned with inter-group phenomena and RWA is associated with maintaining order within groups, it appears that in this sample, interpretation of passages in a hierarchical manner may, in individuals high in traditionalism, serve to reinforce social norms that protect the group's security, group cohesion, and collective stability from outside threats, more so than to establish hierarchy, dominance, or power between groups. This is consistent with social dominance theory, which suggests that one of the ways that groups establish order and minimize group conflict is by creating consensus on ideologies that promote the superiority of one group over the other (Pratto et al., 1994).

One of the perceived outside threats motivating RWA may be feminism. While the Hostile and Benevolent subscales both were significantly related to interpretation choice when individually correlated, only Hostile Sexism remained significant when both subscales were evaluated simultaneously. Several of the items on the Hostile Sexism scale measure an antifeminist stance, supporting the notion that feminism is perceived as a threat best responded to by endorsing more hierarchical interpretations. Again, it should be noted that this possibility cannot be confirmed, given the correlational nature of the data. Future experimental research might manipulate perceived threats from feminism in an attempt to establish causality.

Results also showed that men and women differ in interpretation choice, with men having overall more hierarchical interpretation choices. While this study found a difference between genders, men and women's differing ideological beliefs about systems of power and sexism, and more specifically Traditionalism and Hostile Sexism, accounted for the difference. Gender was no longer significant once Traditionalism and Hostile Sexism were accounted for. These results suggest that women are less likely to interpret passages related to gender in a hierarchical manner because of different ideological beliefs related to RWA, specifically Traditionalism, since it is the primary one related to interpretation choice. The results give further support to the significant social structural influences that contribute to the differences that do exist between men and women (Buss et al., 1990; Eagly & Wood, 1999). On average, men and women have different lived experiences, and these are reflected in the ways they approach the interpretation of biblical passages.

Data for this study were collected from largely conservative Protestant Christian churchgoers, primarily from the southeastern United States, and of Caucasian/ European American ethnicity. The snowball method of data collection limited the distribution of various ethnicities in the study as well as the diversity within the religious community in respect to conservatism. Research has shown that United States church congregations tend toward overall internal homogeneity, especially racial similarity (Emerson & Smith, 2000). Due to the limited distribution of participants, the generalizability of the findings is limited. Future research including more diverse demographic representation is needed.

Overall, the findings of this study suggest that personal attitudes and beliefs regarding sexism and power, specifically Traditionalism and Hostile Sexism, are significantly related to the biblical interpretation process. These findings are consistent with Scholer (1987) and Schussler Fiorenza's (2001) feminist biblical hermeneutic, which theorized that patriarchal influences within the reader's culture impact the interpretation process. The findings further support previous research suggesting that individual difference factors considerably impact the reading of the biblical text. The findings of this study identify Hostile Sexism and Traditionalism as the dimensions of power most significantly impacting the experiential reading of the interpreter.

Goldstein (1960) hypothesized that Christian theology is often representative of men's experiences, and attention to the female experience will likely yield alternative views of scripture. This study provides support to Goldstein's hypothesis by showing that men and women have a tendency to interpret passages in the Bible differently. Furthermore, their different perspectives on scripture are related to their social attitudes and beliefs, which are likely shaped by their different social-contextual experiences, especially those related to Traditionalism. Therefore, these results highlight the importance of gaining a female perspective in scripture interpretation.

Overall, readers approach the Bible with various pre-conceptions shaped by social and cultural experiences and beliefs. It is impossible for pre-understandings not to influence the reading of scripture. By acknowledging that each reader has a social-contextual experience, a story of his or her own that influences Bible interpretation, each person is better equipped to discern the scriptures and to enter into dialogue with others about the meaning of scripture in an open and non-defensive manner. Having open dialogue in the church regarding interpretation of scripture promotes unity among believers and, ultimately, may promote more accurate understandings of the biblical text.

Laura M. Northrop Orme, M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall, Tamara L. Anderson, and Jason McMartin Biola University

Author Note: Laura M. Northrop Orme, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University; M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University; Tamara L. Anderson, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University; Jason McMartin, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Laura M. Northrop Orme, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Ave. La Mirada, CA 90639. Email:


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Author Information

ORME, LAURA M. NORTHROP. PhD. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Ave., La Mirada, CA 90639. Email: Degrees: PhD (Clinical Psychology), Biola University.

HALL, M. ELIZABETH LEWIS. Ph.D. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Ave., La Mirada, CA 90639. Email: Title: Professor of Psychology. Degrees: PhD (Clinical Psychology), Biola University. Specializations: Integration of psychology and theology, Gender issues.

ANDERSON, TAMARA L. Ph.D. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Ave., La Mirada, CA 90639. Email: Title: Professor of Psychology; Dean of Administration. Degrees: BA (Psychology), Biola University; MA (Clinical Psychology), Pepperdine University; PhD (Clinical Psychology), California School of Professional Psychology Los Angeles. Specializations: Professional ethics; Gender and women's issues.

McMARTIN, JASON. Ph.D. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Ave., La Mirada, CA 90639. Email: Title: Associate Professor of Theology; Dean of Administration. Degrees: BA (Biblical Studies), Biola University; MA (Philosophy of Religion), Biola University; MA (Philosophy), Claremont Graduate University; PhD (Religion), Claremont Graduate University. Specializations: Religious epistemology, Theological anthropology.


Bible Interpretation Questionnaire

Instructions: Read the following passages and choose the interpretation that best fits your understanding of the passage.

1. According to Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Lord God approached them in the garden and described consequences for their sin. God stated to the woman "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (NIV). Which of the following interpretations best fits your understanding of the word desire in this passage?

A. A romantic desire for her husband. (N)

B. A desire to control her husband. (P)

C. A desire for mutuality and intimacy. (M)

2. 1 Corinthians 14 states "The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church" (NASB). Which of the following interpretations best fits your understanding of what is meant by keep silent in this passage?

A. Women are prohibited from teaching or having authority over a man. (P)

B. Women are prohibited from any form of speaking in church. (P)

C. Women should remain silent in church because according to social standards of the time, women's speaking in public was shameful and inconsistent with accepted standards of modesty. (M)

3. 1 Corinthians 11:3 states "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (NASB). In this passage, the use of head means...

A. Authority, Supremacy, Leader, or Ruler (P)

B. Origin or source, implying subordination. (P)

C. Origin or source, without implying subordination. (M)

D. A metaphor drawn from the physiological head. (N)

4. Ephesians 5: 22 states "Wives submit to your own husbands" (ESV).

A. This verse refers to a general principle of mutual submission by all spirit-filled Christians. This is a voluntary submission or subordination to act in a loving, considerate, self-giving way to one another. (M)

B. This verse has in view submission to appropriate authorities. It is not referring to mutual submission. (P)

5. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 states "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety" (NIV). In this passage

A. Roles in the church are established based on an appeal to the creation plan of God. Therefore, these roles are for all people, for all times. (P)

B. Paul is addressing a uniquely complicated situation in Ephesus. Therefore, these particular roles are not universally applicable. (N)

Note: Three Bible translations were used in the creation of the Bible Interpretation Questionnaire. The translation used for each item is cited at the end of each text: NIV = New International Version; NASB = New American Standard Bible; ESV = English Standard Version.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations for all Variables

Scale           M       SD       1         2         3

1. GHIER       2.43    1.5
2. ACT         0.64    0.94   .29 ***
3. AUTH        0.15    1.11   .25 ***   .88 ***
4. CONS       -0.02    1.08   .15 *     .83 ***   .6 ***
5. TRAD        1.79    1.12   .33 ***   .86 ***   .66 ***
6. SD          2.89    0.81   .12 *     .36 **    .33 ***
7. SEXISM      2.29    0.65   .25 ***   .63 ***   .49 ***
8. HOSTILE     2.22    0.77   .23 ***   .59 ***   .48 ***
9. BENEV       2.37    0.74   .18 **    .5 ***    .36 ***

Scale            4         5         6         7         8

2. ACT
5. TRAD       .54 ***
6. SD         .30 ***   .29 ***
7. SEXISM     .49 ***   .61 ***   .41 ***
8. HOSTILE    .43 ***   .57 ***   .47 ***   .9 ***
9. BENEV      .40 ***   .5 ***    .23 **    .85 ***   .53 ***

Note. GHIER = Gender Hierarchy Interpretation scale;
ACT = Authoritarianism-Conservatism-Traditionalism
scale; AUTH = Authoritarianism subscale; CONS = Conservatism
subscale; TRAD = Traditionalism subscale; SD = Social Dominance
scale; SEXISM = Ambivalent Sexism scale; HOSTILE = Hostile Sexism
subscale; BENEV = Benevolent Sexism subscale;
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.

Predictors of Gender Hierarchy Bible Interpretation

                    [beta]    p     [DELTA]     F      p

                                      .12      6.90   .00
Authoritarianism     .08     .42
Conservatism        -.07     .38
Traditionalism       .32     .00
Social Dominance     .02     .73
                                      .05      6.40   .00
Hostile Sexism       .18     .02
Benevolent Sexism    .09     .27
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Author:Orme, Laura M. Northrop; Hall, M. Elizabeth Lewis; Anderson, Tamara L.; McMartin, Jason
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Date:Dec 22, 2017
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