Paul on Women

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus.  He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord.  And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24-26)

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1-2)

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. (Romans 16:3-4)

Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. (Romans 16:6)

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.  The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  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.  Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor. 7:1-5)

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor. 7:10-11)

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.  But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.  Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is.  And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:39-40)

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.  But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short.  But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.  For a man ought not cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.  Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God.  Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered?  Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  For her hair is given to her for a covering.  If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor. 11:2-16)

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor. 14:33-35)

Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. (1 Cor. 16:19)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Husbands, love our wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33)

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (Colossians 3:18-20)

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. (1 Timothy 5:1-16)

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. (2 Timothy 4:19)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house. . . (Philemon 1-2)

I have collected all of the passages in Paul’s letters where he mentions women in some significant way.  I may have missed some.  I also included a passage from Acts because I think it gives context to the passages where Paul mentions Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila. It’s often said that Paul or the Bible in general is sexist, so I thought I’d look at the whole of what Paul said about them.

First, there are many places where Paul seems to honor women like Phoebe (Romans 16), Mary (Rom. 16), Prisca/Priscilla (Rom. 16, 1 Cor. 16, 2 Timothy 1 and 4, Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1) and Apphia in Philemon.  He recognizes that women are a big part of the church and that they work hard for it.  Paul also says to honor widows in 1 Timothy 5.

Second, there are some passages that seem to place men and women on equal footing.  In 1 Cor. 7, Paul says that the wife’s body belongs to the husband and the husband’s body belongs to the wife.  It’s not just the wife that belongs to the husband, which is probably how people thought back then.  Also, they are both to give each other their conjugal rights. Paul doesn’t seem to think that the man can behave sexually however he wants, but the woman cannot, as the Greco-Roman culture likely thought about it.  The wife needs to stay faithful to the husband and vice versa.  Paul also states that the man should not divorce his wife.  Back then men could divorce their wives all they wanted, but women could not divorce their husbands (though there were some exceptions).  Paul tells men that they cannot divorce their wives.  This would probably have added stability to the woman’s life, since she’d be vulnerable without the support of a family. In verses 39-40 Paul says that if a woman is widowed, she can remarry or stay single if she wants.  She does not have to remarry if she doesn’t want.  He even states that she’d be happier if she didn’t.  This shows that the woman’s happiness is a concern on Paul’s mind.

The passages that are likely to bother people are 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Timothy 2, where Paul says that women should keep silent in the churches or that they shouldn’t have authority over men.  Not only does this look sexist, but people say that Christians pick-and-choose what to believe in the Bible because we obviously do not follow these rules.  So we are being inconsistent.  I think the force of these objections is diminished when we look at the whole context of what Paul says.  When we take into account that Paul says women are praying and prophesying in the church (1 Cor. 11) and that Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul stayed with in Corinth, BOTH taught Apollos (Acts 18), and that women do have teaching roles to play (Titus 2), the passage on women keeping silent in 1 Cor. 14 is likely not a universal command that women cannot speak AT ALL in the church.  Paul probably has a very specific situation in mind when he says they should keep silent, which would make sense since he says that in the context of church order and who should speak when.  My understanding of 1 Timothy 2 is that the passage can be plausibly translated “husband” and “wife” instead of “woman” and “man,” which does make a difference.  But until I learn more I will withhold insight on this passage.  I think it is worth noting that we shouldn’t make the passage say more than it does.  Even if it is the case that a woman cannot have authority over a man in church, that doesn’t mean she cannot have authority over a man in other areas of life, such as work, law, politics, etc.

Other passages that are likely to bother people are Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18 where Paul says that women should submit to their husbands (he mentions this in Titus as well).  This seems to place women on a lower pedestal.  I think the force of this objection is diminished when we consider that in each case, Paul tells men to love their wives “as Christ loved the church,” which, if anything, is a greater call to servitude than Paul gives to women.  Christ came “not to be served, but to serve,” and Christ washed the feet of his disciples.  Christ is the head of the church, but he exercises this by serving.  These passages aren’t teaching that men have a kind of totalitarian control over their wives.

And then there’s 1 Cor. 11:2-16, which is just difficult to understand, at least without a good understanding of the historical context.

Those are some initial thoughts.  I’ll study this more.

Update

Gaysubtlety just gave me a link to a talk on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 by N.T. Wright.  Check it out.

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