A Spirituality blog from our Community

St. Paul on Women

( ^A woman bishop^, if that was unclear )

In this session we look at some unsavoury passages in Paul, by which I don’t mean ‘sweet’ but misogynist. What are your thoughts on the following? (Click on the headings for a link to the relevant chapter.) Below are a selection of the responses we had.

Galatians 3: 26-8

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NSRV)

  • If this is misogynist it is equally misandrist.
  • Jesus abolishes distinctions in identity.
  • There are no relations between men and women because there is no such distinction. (Note this  means they cannot be equal either. There is solidarity, however.)
  • Because this is a result of baptism it is unlikely it is meant just to refer to an afterworld.

1 Corinthians 11:3-12

  • Context: the regulations of church services. Clearly, at this time women were speaking/praying in church. It is not known whether there were any women priests in the early Church but their certainly were some female deacons.

  • The word for women [gyne] and the word for men [aner] also meant wife and husband respectively.  So we don’t know whether Paul was refering to everyone all just those who are married.

  • This passage emphasises interdependence of men and women.

  • These hierarchical images imply governance, not inequality per se, especially as we are told that both men and women come from God. Indeed, Christ’s kingship consists of servitude, so a fair interpretation is that because he is the head of the wife, the husband has to serve her, more than the other way around.

  • Head coverings? – fear of orgies breaking out as in pagan worship (implicit assumption that women don’t have sexual desire too).

  • These issues are very relative to the culture and needs of the relevant legal-political system.

1 Corinthians 14:27-40

  • Context: people living together in a relationship.

  • This contradicts (the above) chapter 11.

  • Scholars worry about (the crucial) verses 33-5 being an interpolation because they are incoherent with the flow of the passage and there is a lot of variation in them in the earliest manuscripts we have.

  • It might not be saying that it is un-Christian or strictly wrong for women to speak at a service but rather advising against it to avoid fighs breaking out. This would have been to protect the image of the (contemporaneously persecuted) Church.

1 Timothy 2:1-15

  • This  contradicts 1 Cor 7:1 where Paul advocates celibacy.
  • The description of  ‘the Fall’ is biblically illiterate (in the Genesis story Eve is no more to blame than Adam) and is incoherent with other things Paul says on the matter, e.g. 1 Cor 11:11-12: “For just as woman/the wife came from man/the husband, so man/the husband is born of woman/the wife. But everything comes from God”. (NRSV)
  • If  Paul really was the author of this piece, then perhaps this change of mind is due to: i) him getting depressed about being persecuted, ii) Christ not having come again (as he expected), iii) him getting right-wing with age.
  • Like 1 Corinthians 14, this passage could pertain to practical pastoral problems -or indeed socio-political ones- rather than absolute principles of theology.

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

  • In the Greek manuscripts we have there is no punctuation, paragraphing or headings. Notice that the editors of this (the most popular) version have put the created the section entitled ‘Wives and Husbands’, beginning “Wives, submit to your husbands” after the preceding “Submit to one another” to make the it seem like a self-contained message about women.
  • There is a strong emphasis on the interdependence of man and woman.
  • As elsewhere in the Epistles, Jesus’ parables and Revelation, the analogy between marriage and the relation of Christ to the Church is strongly emphasised. As the church of course contains men and women there is then a sense in which male Christians have to be effeminate.


See the Next Part of Bible for Bluffers.


Comments on: "St. Paul on Women" (1)

  1. Here’s a good little article covering sexism in the rest of the Bible, including the Gospels: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sexism.html

    Often it is the attitudes to homosexuality justified by appeal to the Pauline epistles that generate more concern than those about women- I have written a caustic but succinct critique of such an exegesis here: http://vibrantbliss.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/against-evangelicalism-homosexuality/

    It is interesting that while Paul is also often criticised for condoning slavery he makes the radical demand with Ephesians 6:9 that slave owners treat their slaves as if they were Christ himself. More on that issue in section 7 here: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150377486870554

    But personally, I’m most worried by 1 Cor 11:14.

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