Reader Questions Answered –
Isn't it true that the Apostle Paul hated women? (5/02/08)
More Reader Questions Answered
Copyright information, disclaimers, and sponsors
Return to homepage
Summary: No, when taken in context Paul's directions regarding women are clear that all Christians should be kind and loving toward each other, like Christ, and that all, including male and female, are one in Christ Jesus. In fact, Paul expresses accolades of women in many letters.
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.
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):
- Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord (vs. 22); husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church (vs. 25);
- Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord (vs. 1); parents, never drive your children to resentment … but guide them as the Lord does (vs. 4);
- Slaves, be obedient to … your master… as you are obedient to Christ (vs. 5); employers, treat your slaves in the same spirit, … remembering that they and you have the same Master in heaven and he is not impressed by one person more than by another.
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
- I want the men to lift their hands up reverently…, with no anger or argument (vs. 8).
- I direct that women are to wear suitable clothes and to be dressed quietly and modestly…. (vss. 9-15).
- The episkopos (roughly, bishop) must have an impeccable character. … (vss. 1-7).
- The diakonos (roughly, deacon) must be a respectable man …(vss. 8-10, 12-13).
- In the same way, the women must be respectable (vs. 11). Note that while this is usually taken to mean the wife of a diakonos, various commentaries raise the possibility that the verse refers to women who are themselves a diakonos; particularly in the light of Romans 16:1 (see below).
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.
- Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ (vs. 3) [note that head is a pun on leader in Greek, as in English];
- For a man to pray or prophesy with his head covered is a sign of disrespect to his head (vs. 4);
- For a woman, however, it is a sign of disrespect to her head if she prophesies unveiled (vs. 5);
- To anyone who might still want to argue: it is not the custom with us, nor in the churches of God.
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 always made a point of earning his own living, but for Lydia he made an exception (Acts 16:14-15).
- In Romans 16:1, Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a diakonos of the church at Cenchreae. Give her a welcome worthy of saints and help her with anything she needs.” Diakonos is exactly the same word Paul used of the church leaders in 1 Timothy 3, Philippians 1:1, and elsewhere.
- Paul attributes Timothy’s faith to his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5).
- In his letters, Paul sends specific greetings, often with commendations, to a number of women; this often goes unrecognized because our translations don’t indicate that the names are feminine:
- Prisca, a fellow worker who risked death to save Paul’s life; Mary, who worked so hard for the Romans; Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who work hard for the Lord; the mother of Rufus, who has been a mother to Paul; Julia; the sister of Nerius; and Olympas (Romans 16);
- Evodia and Syntyche, who were a help to Paul when he was fighting to defend the gospel, and whose names are written in the book of life (Philippians 4:2-3);
- Nympha, who had a church meeting in her house (Colossians 4:15); and
- To Prisca and from Claudia (2 Timothy 4:21).
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.
Copyright 2004, 2008, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
St. John’s United Methodist Church,
2626 Arizona NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110
St. John's Music Ministries now has a YouTube channel, bringing you free concerts and choral music. Check it out!
Traditional worship services are held Sundays at 8:15 and
11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary. Casual worship services are held Sundays at
9:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center.
are held monthly on the second Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. St. John’s feels especially called to the worship of God and to the service of our neighbors through our music program
Storm Dragon SoftwareTM
Get a free demo of our computer adventure game, full of hidden-object puzzles, tiling and jigsaw puzzles, cycling puzzles, and more. Plus computer games that children can play all by themselves
Ducks in a Row, Inc., developers of
Keep It SafeTM
- Home inventory software so easy anybody