“Is the Apostle Paul Sexist?” Guest Post by Nicholas Rudolph Quient

In thinking about how Paul has been interpreted throughout the centuries, I originally came to his writings with a heavy heart, for I was wary of George Bernard Shaw’s famous dictum about Paul being the “eternal enemy of women.” As it turns out, I now struggle to find a more pro-woman writer in the New Testament. Within the space I have, I want to sketch some key themes within Pauline theology that will hopefully get you to either further agree or perhaps rethink your own perception of our beloved apostle [1]. 

Women Leaders Named

Paul seemed adamantly aware of his own privilege within the ancient world, especially within the confines of early Christianity. However, he used his social standing to advocate for a woman apostle named Junia (Rom. 16:7) [2], a deacon named Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2; also possible references in 1 Tim. 3:11) [3], female co-workers (Phil 4:2-3), fellow-workers such as Prisca (Rom. 16:3) and female workers [4] in the Lord (Rom. 16:6, 12).

There are also several oblique references to other women within the Pauline corpus. Apphia is mentioned appositionally as “the sister” (?? ??????; Philemon v.2), possibly indicating her status within the house church or ????????. [5] Chloe is mentioned obliquely in 1 Cor. 1:11, with “her people” (??? ?????) [6], and one wonders how Paul could have known of the quarreling in Corinth without her “people.” I know of no ancient writer who mentioned women with such self-confidence and with such gratitude. Those who labor with Paul do not seem to be esteemed on the basis of their gender, but on their being in Christ and working alongside Paul.

The Unity of the Body

The emphasis in Galatians and Ephesians revolves around the unity of the people of God. For instances, Eph. 2:14 states, “having made both [Jews and Gentiles] one” (? ??????? ?? ???????? ??). The previous verses (v.11-13) are driven by Paul’s argument about a former state and what Christ has done now. The use of the participle suggests that this “oneness” is still awaiting completion.

However, in Gal. 3:26-29, we see the divisions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and male and female (????? ??? ????: a possible quotation of Gen. 1:27). In Christ, which is almost always meant in terms of the broader body of Christ—that is, the Church—is a set idiomatic phrase for Paul: it essentially means that one is included in the people of God as a justified human person. Gentiles, slaves, and women could always be saved, so this text is not exclusively about soteriology but is rather about new life in Christ. The previous reference to

baptism (v.27: ???????????) includes Church life, life in the Spirit, and the likely overlap of the household and the church broadly.

Mutual Love in Marriage

Paul writes about submission in Col. 3:18-19 and Eph. 5:21-33, with the former mention being far more general. However, we are not left in the dark as to it’s meaning: one could ask if wives are not to love their husbands according to this text. Of course not! Rather, the command is gender-specific but not gender-exclusive. As Eph. 5:21 points out by the use of the reciprocal pronoun (????????), husband and wife are to submit to one another in the fear of Christ [7]. The lack of a verb in v.22 strong suggests that v.21 is meant to supply the action of “submit.” Thus, the submission of the wife to her husband is one aspect of mutual submission. The husband’s “headship” is explained appositionally as “savior” (?????), not “leader.” Thus, “leadership” is most likely not the appropriate analogy being put forth by Paul, but rather the husband, who was revered culturally as preeminent is told to imitate Jesus as ?????, not as “leader.” He is not told to lead, or rule, or make the final decision, but rather to “nourish” and “cherish.”

We also see a magisterial text in 1 Cor. 7, where Paul states that, “For the wife does not have authority (??????????) over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority (??????????) over his own body, but the wife does.” Neither is given preeminence, and the mutuality of the language—especially of “body” (???????) indicates that the whole person is in view. Paul’s intent is holistic mutuality, submission grounded not in a gender-based hierarchy, but in a gender-infused egalitarianism.

The “Restrictive” Texts

It is impossible to talk entirely about 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12, so I shall attempt a whirlwind tour. Based on manuscript evidence, it is most probable that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is a later addition to the Greek text [8]. If you look in the footnotes of your Bible regarding these verses, there is likely a comment about textual movement.

1 Tim. 2:12 does not use the standard word for “authority over” (???????; c.f. 1 Cor. 7:4 above), but an incredibly rare infinitive (?????????) which seems to be more likely referring to an authority that is assumed or taken, and would thus be a negative word instead of a positive (thus, “exercise” or “have” authority is most unlikely). The syntax of “to teach…and assume authority over” indicates that this is one prohibition, not two. The reference to Eve is given as an analogy, not as a prescription that all women are trapped in Eve’s sin. Thus, 1 Tim, 2:12 would not only be contradicted by Paul’s words elsewhere, but here his language is best suited for a present prohibition that is not eternal, but rather contextual—false teaching being his primary concern, and not the eternal restriction of women [9].

Conclusion

The significance of Paul is not his alleged hatred of women, or his view of them as equal in dignity but functionally subordinate. Rather, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and spurred on by his vision of the risen Jesus, he speaks powerfully to us today—the Church—which has been given a spirit of liberation that demands right action. Far from the oppressor of women, Paul is key to their full and necessary participation in the community of faith.

*See Sources Below Bio

nick

Nicholas Rudolph Quient is an MAT student at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he studies the New Testament, Early Christianity, and Greek. He holds a BA from Biola University, is married to his lovely wife Allison, and loves both bottled coke and coffee: cream, no sugar. He hopes to pursue a PhD in New Testament upon completion of his MAT. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickQuient. 

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Sources

[1] For a great overview of Paul and women, see Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

[2] See Eldon J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005. Epp has shown that Junia was a woman and an apostle, and this is beyond dispute. There is simply no good historical reason for asserting that Junia was a man, or not an apostle, or well known to the apostles.

[3] Jamin Hübner, A Case for Women Deacons (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015).

[4] The Greek verb ?????? signifies difficult work or labor. These women most likely were not serving tea and crumpets, but rather were involved within the fledgling Christian movement that gestated beneath the shadow of the Roman Empire.

[5] I argue elsewhere that Apphia is most likely a leader in the church. “Apphia the Sister.” 2015. Manuscript.

[6] The article is in a different gender and case: genitive masculine plural. ????? is genitive feminine singular, indicating her priority.

[7] I’m of the opinion that the household code actually begins in v.18 with a series of participles that stretch into v.21 and onward, but that is a different discussion.

[8] See Payne, Man and Woman, 217-267.

[9] See Payne, Man and Woman, 319-397. Also Jamin Hu?bner, “Translating ???????? (authente?) in 1 Timothy 2:12,”Priscilla Papers 29.2 (2015): 16-26 and Cynthia Long Westfall, “The Meaning of ???????? in 1 Timothy 2:12,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10 (2014): 138-173.

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