Reader Questions Answered –

Isn't it true that the Apostle Paul hated women? (5/02/08)


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Strictly speaking, today's question was not asked by a Reader. It is a question that has been asked numerous times in my Bethel classes, however, and I know some of you are thinking it. (Wooo – ooo. Swami Regina: Knows all, Sees all. Readings, $5.) I wrote this up a few years ago, so I'm sending it out this week while we are reading Paul's letters.

Answer: No.

The idea that Paul was a misogynist seems to be based primarily on three passages: Ephesians 5:22-24 (and a parallel passage in Colossians 3:18); 1 Timothy 2:9-15; and 1 Corinthians 11:7-16. Let’s look at these one at a time.

Ephesians 5:22-24 can be interpreted as anti-women only if it is completely removed from the following context, which says that all Christians should be kind and loving toward each other, like Christ (Ephesians 5:21-6:1-9):

Give way to one another in obedience to Christ (vs. 21): Colossians 3:16-4:1 has a nearly identical structure.

1 Timothy 2:9-15 is part of a much longer passage about the behavior of church members. The point is that worship in particular and the church in general must be respectable. With regard to the specific sentence, “I do not permit a woman to teach” (vs. 2:12), note that Paul does not invoke God, Jesus, or the Church here. He just says that he, Paul, does not allow this. I interpret this to mean that in the churches Paul founded, women should not teach. Everywhere else, it is up to the authorities in that church to decide. (This idea is not original with me. I got it from an extremely conservative young man who was a Hebrew classmate of mine.)

A large portion of 1 Corinthians is made up of answers to specific questions that the Corinthians had sent to Paul (see 1 Corinthians 7:1); however, first he addresses a number of topics that they had not written about, but which were reported to him. It is clear that the Corinthian Church was one that had much to learn. Reports of political differences, possible gnosticism, incest, lawsuits, and fornication were of great concern to Paul, and he comments on these in Chapters 1-6. Then he goes on to answer their written questions. One of the difficulties in interpreting this latter material is that we don’t have the questions: we only have the answers. 1 Corinthians 11:7-16 is again a portion of a longer passage, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, that seems to center on the topic of respectability. Note that the “anti-woman” argument is essentially that man is the head of woman. Does this mean that Paul is also “anti-Christ,” since God is the head of Christ? Obviously not. In this passage, Paul is not debasing women. Instead he is saying to a troubled congregation: Be respectable! Be decorous! Follow our customs in worship!

Paul’s accolades of women must be ignored in order to make the argument that he hated women, disliked them, or even had less respect for them than he did for men. Paul’s real attitude about women is this (Galatians 3:26-29):

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but you all are one in Christ Jesus. And if you are in Christ, you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.


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