Shuck and Jive

Friday, May 25, 2007

Paul and Gender

On my last post on Paul, Paul and Slavery, I briefly summarized John Dominic Crossan's work in his book God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. His fourth chapter is on Paul, and it is a summary of his larger work In Search of Paul that he co-authored with Jonathan Reed.

Scholarship on Paul has demonstrated that not everything attributed to the historical Paul was written by him. Six of the 13 letters of Paul are disputed. This simply means that not all scholars agree on whether all, some or none of these letters are by Paul. The consensus by scholars is that seven are authentically Paul:

I Corinthians
II Corinthians
I Thessalonians

These seven are written between 50-60CE. Crossan calls these seven authentic letters "The Radical" Paul.

Crossan takes the position that the other six are not by Paul. Three letters,
Colossians 50-80 CE
Ephesians 80-100 CE
II Thessalonians 80-100 CE

are "The Liberal" Paul.

I Timothy
II Timothy

are "The Conservative/Reactionary" Paul. These are written between 100-150 CE. You can dispute this information of course. A handy chart and description of these works and their dates can be found at Earliest Christian Writings. Paul is dead around 60, so anything after 60 wouldn't be Paul. Obviously, none of these works has dates attached. Scholars using various tools and methods try to make their best guess. I am not so worried about the dating, except to suggest that there is a time progression. This should come as no surprise. There are many works attributed to folks who did not write them and legends about figures that did not make it into the canon. For instance, there is the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Apocalypse of Paul.

To illustrate, what are Paul's views regarding women (ie. in relation to who should be master of the house and in regards to women's participation and leadership in the community?)

If you look at the practice of the vast majority of the Christian church today, with some notable exceptions, you find that women do not serve the church with equity. You find also that much teaching that comes from many churches suggests that men are or should be the head of the household. Much of this practice is due to an interpretation of Paul. Paul gets either credit or blame, depending upon your point of view, for the position of women in church and society today.

Crossan's view and I agree with him is that the earliest communities were far more egalitarian than what they turned out to be. You can witness this change within the New Testament itself. You can witness it in the letters attributed to Paul. The later letters especially reflect the views of the second century church when patriarchal norms asserted influence. Crossan writes:

We have already seen how Colossians 3:22-4:1 and Ephesians 6:5-9 contradict Philemon on the subject of Christian owners and their Christians slaves. We now see a similar but even more complicated situation with regard to patriarchy. In all of this --be it slavery, patronage,, or patriarchy--you will recognize the drag of Roman normalcy pulling hard against the vision of intra-Christian equality. Watch, then , hwo the radical Paul is once again changed before our eyes, first into the liberal Paul, and then into the conservative or, better, reactionary Paul. (p. 172)

The authentic Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28:

28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
This is radical egalitarianism. This subverts the oppressive systems of the Roman world. Crossan writes that the place to start is with the list of names in Romans 16:1-15. Of the 27 names, 10 are women and 17 are men. Five women (Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, and the unnamed mother) and six men are singled out for special praise.

Paul's word for dedicated apostolic activity is kopiao, meaning "to work hard." He uses it of himself twice, in Galatians 4:11 and I Corinthians 15:10, but four times in Romans, an exclusively for women (Mary, Tyrphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis). (p. 173)

The first person mentioned in the list is a woman, Phoebe, of whom Crossan writes: "A Pauline letter carrier would also have had to circulate, read, and explain the letter among the Christian communities at Rome." (p. 173).

Crossan gives an example of two other women (Prisca and Junia) who with apparently their husbands, are apostles:

Two couples (presumably married) are singled out for extraordinary praise: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles" (16:3-4); and "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives [fellow Jews] who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (16:7). (p. 173)
In other words, for Paul, women were not to keep silence in church. They held community leadership with the full authority of and in full partnership with Paul.

Ephesians and Colossians represent the liberal Paul, according to Crossan. Here there are separate (and hierarchical) roles for wives and husbands. However, there is a concern reciprocity and mutuality. Colossians is brief:

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. (3:18-19)
We certainly have a theological problem. Let it not be missed that for the "liberal" Paul of Colossians and Ephesians, wives are to be subject to their husbands.

Ephesians is a bit more lengthy and there seems to be a larger concern for husbands to act correctly than wives. Wives are to be subject to husbands as the "church is subject to Christ." Yet more admonitions are given to husbands to care for and love their wives than there are for wives. It would be a huge improvement for husbands to do this much.

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. 24Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (5:22-33)

This is the liberal Paul. Less radical than the authentic Paul but more egalitarian than the Roman culture at large. Crossan writes:
A Roman paterfamilias, for example, would probably have been willing to accept the instruction for wives, but not those for husbands--even absent the Christian language. But of course, these instructions from the liberal Paul, directed specifically at Christian couples, are ver much couched in Christan language. (p. 174)
Now we move to the conservative or reactionary Paul of I Timothy 2:8-15:

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Did you get that? Obviously, women were teaching in the church. Crossan writes:

Clearly, of course, pseudo-Paul would not bother to forbid what never happened. That prohibition therefore tells us that women were praying and teaching within the community's catechetical practice and liturgical worship. But this text dismisses women from those functions and relegates them to home, silence, and childbearing. (p. 177)
Now, there is a passage in I Corinthians (14:33b-36) that is a later insertion into the original authentic letter of Paul. In the NRSV the text is bracketed to show that there are manuscript problems. This section was considered a problem very early. Crossan writes:

It was probably inserted by a copyist who approved strongly of I Timothy 2:8-15 and included it first in the margin of I Corinthians 14, whence it was later copied, by another scribe into the text itself.

Here is the text inserted into a larger argument regarding prophecy and interpretation:

(As in all the churches of the saints, 34women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)
In two cases (slavery and gender), we have seen how the radical egalitarian message of Paul is tamed and finally reversed within the New Testament itself.


  1. It just occurred to me how often 1 Timothy has been quoted to me in support of a conservative position. I should watch this more closely, and keep in mind the theoretical authorship here.

  2. Yes, good observation. I would say the pastorals are about the least valuable theologically in the New Testament. I would suggest that they are not Paul and are even anti-Paul. Colossians, Ephesians, and II Thessalonians may or may not be Paul, but for sure, scholarship as a whole has rejected the pastorals (except of course for the inerrantists).