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Was Paul a Misogynist?

Posted Aug 13, 08:14 AM | 6 comments | by Steve Knight | Link

By J. R. Daniel Kirk, re-posted from reclaimingpaul.org:

When I spoke to the Philadelphia Emerging Cohort about Paul, one of the biggest gripes was Paul’s view of women. Texts bearing Paul’s name, especially 1 Timothy 2:8-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, have a long history of undergirding a patriarchal view of church leadership.

But there is a countervailing strain in Paul’s letters as well, one much more inclusive of women.

Before looking at the data, I want to underscore one important aspect of Paul studies that will be a focal point at the conference: Paul’s theology is not a “systematic” theology, he doesn’t expound eternal principles of a timeless system. He draws from his understanding that the narrative of God’s commitment to Israel has come to its climax in the death and resurrection of Christ, and that the church is the continuation of that story.

This perspective on Paul is crucial, because different presuppositions about what scripture is lead to different conclusions about what we should do with the data. If the Bible is, at its core, a revelation of the True Theology, then our job is to figure out what true principle can account for all the data we find. If the Bible is, at its core, the Rule Book, then our job is to figure out which rule applies at all times and places. If the Bible is, at its core, a narrative which we continue to play out, then we have to look not only at theological statements and rules, but also indications of how the script was played in the past and then try to figure out what it looks like to play the script faithfully in our time and place. (My previous post on Paul as missional theologian is important here!)

So what is the data of the Pauline letters?

Romans. Romans 16 is a tremendously important witness to the role of women in the early church. A major problem we have to get over is that many of our Bible translations were sponsored by more conservative legs of the church, and so many of the female names have been rendered in masculine forms. Two of the most important indicators of women’s roles are Phoebe who was a deacon and Junia who was an apostle. Although some translations indicate that “Junia” is “Junias” or some other masculine name; or, that “Androncius and Junias” have good reputations with the apostles, the evidence in favor of a woman apostle is decisive (see E. J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle).

1 Corinthians. In striking contrast to 1 Corinthians 14, based on which we would anticipate finding a consistent moratorium on women speaking in Corinthian church, 1 Corinthians 11 indicates not only that women were speaking, prophesying, and praying, but that they were welcome to do so just as long as everything was handled properly. Recent studies in text criticism have led many scholars to argue that the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 excluding women’s participation in worship was a later addition, not part of Paul’s original letter to Corinth.

Galatians. Much has been made of Galatians 3:28, “in Christ Jesus there is no longer Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.” While I don’t agree with every argument that has been hung on this verse, it can be an important piece of evidence. It is part of a baptismal formula that pronounces an end within to the church to the divisions which mark the world around it. Although the implications of this formula were not fully realized in the first century (there was still slavery in the church, there was still patriarchy within the church), it testifies to the nature of the Christian community that is properly living out its calling to be witness to the new creation God has brought about in Christ.

This post is already too long, and there are myriad other issues that need to be dealt with in forming an idea of Paul’s view of women, but where does all this leave 1 Timothy 2?

Continue reading this article on reclaimingpaul.org

Learn more about the “Reclaiming Paul” conference (Oct. 22-24 in Kansas City, MO) and register online now


Daniel KirkDaniel Kirk is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in San Francisco, California.

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Welcome to the Reader's Forum

1The Redding Brothers 08/13/2008 11:44 PM

I think Paul’s statements about women have been misunderstood. One crucial realization is that “wife” and “woman” are not distinguished in the text. Thus, many statements perceived to be about women’s church roles are actually about how wives are to behave towards their husbands, given the social arrangements they had willingly entered into.

1 Corinthians 11, for example, is purely about respecting marital customs (and thus respecting your spouse). I believe the same is true for 1 Corinthians 14, etc.

2Kai 08/14/2008 01:04 AM

It is helpful to note that there are “countervailing strains” in Paul’s letters towards women that are largely unappreciated in traditional Pauline scholarship. Thanks for that.

However, not just in these texts, but in others, Paul does rely on ‘expounding eternal principles of a timeless system,’ especially when he appeals to the so called ‘created order’ in many of his arguments. Many of his thoughts are then nearly systematic (in your negative sense).

You will have to honestly wrestle with those things before you can completely rely on a narrative framework for your encyclopedic dissection and conclusions about his thought.

3Mike L. 08/16/2008 01:31 AM

Sure he was! The degree of the prejudice could be debated, but at a minimum he showed severe discrimination. It would have been impossible for him, given his time and place, to think of gender equality the way we do today in the West. I’m not suggesting his worldview forced him to mistreat women, but it is highly probable that he saw women as less capable and subjected by God to lesser roles.

The same could be said about Jesus. Either Jesus saw women’s roles very different from men or else his narrators skewed the accounts of those he chose to train.

We shouldn’t read texts written by ancient people and assume their cultural perspectives and views are to be followed for all time and all places. There is a high degree of possibility that he also thought the world was created in 6 literal days. You can’t write off our sacred texts just because their authors were limited by their ancient worldview. I’m sure we have cultural norms today that will be seen as barbaric 2000 years from now. Actually, I hope it doesn’t take another 2000 years to fix a few lingering issues!

4linda 08/16/2008 09:49 AM

these are very important points to remember when interpreting scripture. there is a group blog devoted to this subject with extensive biblical study on this issue: christian feminism

5bob 09/07/2008 10:10 AM

Oh yeah – I’m totally down with re-assessing interpretations that have been held for centuries. After all, who is more likely to understand the intent of the text? Those who lived in the time, or we who are 2000+ years removed! Why, the answer is “us” of course, you silly goose! See, we are smarter today than people used to be! Too bad God didn’t wait until OUR time to write the Bible! We would have TOTALLY made everything make more sense!

Lucky for Him we can just “re-imagine” what the texts mean in light of our current, superior understanding! Yes, women are no longer to be under their husbands! Forget the fact that Paul lays out an entire argument for this based NOT on culture, but on the SCRIPTURE of Genesis (I said FORGET it because if you just “forget” it, it is no longer truth!)

Hey, feel disenfranchised by the Bible? Don’t worry – we are currently working VERY hard to re-define homosexuality as being God’s preferred sexual preference. And stick around, because we are going to keep lowering the age at which children can be considered ready for sex with adults! After all, pedophilia isn’t really bad, it was just “cuturally unacceptable” in that time! If Paul had written today, he’d have totally allowed it!

Hooray for higher criticism! Thanks to it, we no longer have to strive to live up to God’s laws – we just change the laws to match the level we are already at!!

6sophia 03/17/2009 07:39 AM

Bob, I’m reminded of a line from the Wizard of OZ(for shame wizardry is a deadly sin) I’d give you a piece of my mind, but as a good christian women, I just can’t. Oh well, Jesus will forgive. Women were not meant to be under their husbands; that came as a result of the first sin. Prior to that, Adam and Eve were partners. Don’t you dare try to defend misogyny as the divinely dictated law of life. As for homosexuality, we’re supposed to love our neighbors regardless or their sins, and whether we are to judge it a sin or not, is not our place; it’s God’s. Peddle your fundamentalist excuses for living like women-hating muslims elsewhere. You sorely test the patience of brotherly love in Christ, and even Jesus only took the vileness of the temple desecration for so long before he threw over the tables and stands!

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