5 Paul and Women
Paul believed in women's basic equality with men. He does not deserve the primary credit for this attitude. It was given to him in the practice of the Diaspora gatherings he first joined, as in the baptismal formula whose hymn form he records:
Baptized into Messiah you are clothed in Messiah, so that there is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, "man and woman," but all are one, are the same in Messiah-Jesus. (Gal 3.26-28)
The hymn does not keep perfect symmetry by saying "man or woman," since this is a quotation from Genesis ("man and woman he created them," 1.27). There is no more "man and woman" as originally divided, since they are now united in Messiah—a concept Paul would expound when he said that the reborn Brother and Sister are "a new order of being" (ktisis, 2 Cor. 5.17).
The early gatherings of the Brothers were the most egalitarian groups of their day. Paul worked with, paid tribute to, and received protection from his Sisters in Messiah. There would be a concerted effort, over entire centuries, to hide or diminish this fact. There is no more spectacular instance of this than what was done to Junia, his fellow by background, his prison mate, his fellow emissary, and one who joined the Brotherhood before he did (Rom 16.7).
In the long list of people Paul greets at the end of his letter to the Romans, he gives special notice to the husband and wife evangelical team of Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16.6-7), whom he calls "my kindred" (suggeneis mou). That could mean his fellow Jews—he used the term in that sense earlier in this letter (Rom 9.3)—though Wayne Meeks thinks it meant Paul's countrymen, from Cilicia or even from his hometown of Tarsus. By stressing that he knows of their baptism before his—they were "reborn before me in Messiah"— Paul may be referring to the early days when he was meeting those already in the Diaspora gatherings where he was inducted, in Syria and Cilicia. At any rate, he feels a special bond with these two, since they have been his fellow prisoners (synaichmaldtoi). That word could mean that they were actually incarcerated with him (at Ephesus or Philippi) or simply that they too had been prisoners at some time. The former seems more likely here, since he is stressing their kindred closeness. The supreme accolade comes when he calls them "outstanding among the emissaries."
Though there are no offices in the early gatherings, only functions, and though Paul stresses the equal dignity of all gifts of the Spirit, he does list emissaries (apostoloi) first in the "big three" charisms—emissaries, prophets, and teachers (1 Cor 12.28). For Junia to be included not only among the emissaries but among the outstanding (episemoi) ones was a high honor, as John Chrysostom recognized in his commentary on Romans: "How great this woman's love of wisdom (philosophia) must have been, to merit her inclusion among the apostles." She and her husband had a liturgy devoted to them as married saints and apostles in the Byzantine church. Most early commentators and fathers of the church, including Origen and Rufinus, celebrated her extraordinary eminence.
But sometime in the Middle Ages, apparently before the ninth century, it was decided that a woman apostle was unthinkable. This offended the male monopoly of church offices and honors that had grown up by that time, so Junia had to be erased from history. It took only a little smudging to do this. Paul uses her Greek name, Iounia, in the accusative case, lounian. A mere change in accent markings (a circumflex over the last vowel) would make it the accusative form of a hypothetical male name, Iounias. But there is one problem here. "Junias" is only a hypothetical name—it never occurs in all the ancient literature and inscriptions—whereas lounia is a common name, occurring hundreds of times. Besides, the other teams Paul mentions in Romans 16 are male-female ones—Aquila and Prisca, Philologus and Julia, Nereus and Olympas—with the exception of a female-female one (Tryphaena and Tryphosa, probably sister Sisters).
We know from Paul's reference to Peter and the Lord's brothers, who traveled with their wives, that male-female evangelical teams were common (1 Cor 9.5). Only the most Soviet-style rewriting of history could declare Junia a nonperson and invent a new team, Andronicus and the philologically implausible Junias. Paul was generous to his female coworkers, a title he proudly gave them.
Paul begins his long list of those he greets in Rome with Prisca and Aquila, another wife-husband team of Jews baptized before he was. He had met them after their earlier expulsion from Rome under Claudius (49 C.E.), evangelized with them in Ephesus and Corinth, and worked in their tent-making firm (Ac 18.3). While he was in Ephesus, he sent greetings to Corinth from their house-gathering there (1 Cor 16.19).
His present salute to them, at the top of his long list in Romans 16, suggests that he had sent them back to Rome to prepare for his visit there—though they have been there long enough to have a gathering in their home (16.5). Paul's knowledge that other acquaintances of his had reached Rome probably came from Prisca and Aquila, his primary correspondents, who also informed him of the local problems addressed in this letter, to a place he had not visited himself.
Prisca is usually listed first, before her husband, in Paul's letters and in the Acts of Luke (who seems to have had good sources on Prisca and Aquila).
In the status-conscious Roman world, this prior listing meant higher dignity, on some ground or other. Meeks says that a freeborn woman would be listed before a freedman husband, or a noble one before a commoner. Prisca might have been the wealthier holder in their tent-making firm—her dowry, for instance, could have included slaves to work the business. Some opine that she preceded her husband in baptism and helped instruct him, or took the lead in their evangelizing activities; Luke puts Barnabas before Paul in the early days of their evangelizing, which may indicate that Paul was the junior partner at that point (Ac 11.30,12.25,13-2). It has even been claimed that Prisca had a hand in the Pauline pseudepigrapha or in composing the Letter to the Hebrews. But the egalitarianism of the Brothers counts against thinking that she "outranked" her husband in theological terms. Probably it was a social convention of their past—in Pontus, according to Luke (Ac 18.2)—that gave her a priority.
Paul sends his letter to the Romans by way of the woman he introduces in it, emphasizing her importance both to him and to the Brothers in general, so that she may get any cooperation she asks for in Rome. He has had an important history with her, as with Prisca and her husband.
I commend to you our Sister, Phoebe, an attendant (diakonos) of the gathering in Cenchraeae, for welcome in the Lord as one of the Holy. Please support her in anything she may require, since she has been the protectress (prostates) of many others besides myself. (Rom 16.1-2)
Cenchraeae is the port of Corinth, so Phoebe had stood with Paul in his very troubled dealings with Corinth. Her importance in the busy port city, where she was clearly efficient (as diakonos) and able to champion Paul and "many" (as prostates) indicates that she would not be leaving that sphere unless she could perform important services in Rome. Was she going there on some errand of her own, while Paul just used this chance occurrence to send a letter along with her?
That idea does not fit in with the convergence of so many other important associates of Paul upon Rome. It has always puzzled people that Paul could send greetings to so many people with whom he had ties in a city he had not seen yet himself—twenty-five Brothers or Sisters already in Rome are named in the conclusion to his letter.
These are not casual acquaintances. Two of them are, like Paul, emissaries. Three are "fellow workers in Messiah" with Paul. Four (all women) have been "hard workers" for the Lord. Two have been imprisoned with him. One is his protectress. One he calls "my mother too." Two are dearly loved friends (and one of these was "the first harvest for Messiah in Asia"). One (Apelles) is "tested in Messiah." Another (Rufus) is "the Lord's chosen one." This is a crack team, in effect the best possible muster of Paul's operatives who are free and able to join him when he gets to Rome.
Scholars are right to think that this assembly cannot be a mere chance gathering. But some of them draw the wrong conclusion.
They believe that the list actually contains greetings Paul sent to other places as well as Rome (Ephesus is the top contender). The names became affixed to this letter by some accident.
But there is good reason to think that Paul has assembled these people for a grand project, whose scale is suggested by the length and ambition of the letter that announces the project—his plan to take the revelation to Spain (Rom 15.20-24). Paul's operation has now reached a stage where he can coordinate the resources, skill, and dedication of many helpers to take on a vast new region, one that was very important in the Roman empire but where "Messiah's very name is unknown" (Rom 15.20).
Rome was to be the staging area for this vast endeavor. He means to raise support there while he mends his fences with Jerusalem, to anticipate and prevent any opposition or interference to the whole new front he is opening. As we shall see, he uses a dispute in Rome to recast the harsh rhetoric against Jerusalem employed by him during the earlier clash at Antioch. He no doubt hopes that the Romans will support him when they send their delegates with the collection for the needy. He will also circulate copies of this very letter in Judaea, through intermediaries and finally in person. Rome is the fulcrum on which he will balance what is, in effect, a "worldwide" reach, toward Jerusalem in the East and toward Spain in the West. Phoebe, Prisca, and her husband, along with the other members of Paul's assembled team, are to organize the elements for this campaign while Paul goes to solidify support in Jerusalem. It is all to be the climax of Paul's mission—one that is tragically cut short by the dark outcome of his eastward trip.
Phoebe was not the only woman of some resources giving support to Paul in Corinth. He heard reports of trouble there from traveling members of "Chloe's establishment"— literally, "they of Chloe" (1 Cor 1.11).
Since Chloe herself did not send the report, it is supposed that she had some business or family at Corinth, and slaves or workers were traveling either to her or to her other holdings. Chloe was probably a well-to-do widow, like another businesswoman Luke mentions—Lydia, the dealer in precious dyes (Acts 16.14), who had a gathering at her house in Philippi (16.40).
The troubles reported by Chloe's establishment were deep and complex, as we shall see, and they afforded plenty of occasions for prophecy, the gift of the Spirit Paul lists just after that of emissaries.
Prophecy is now popularly thought to mean prediction of the future. But the Jewish prophets were inspired denouncers of those who lapsed from the Lord's ways, reformers and purifiers.
The faults of Corinth had their excoriaters, and some of the prophets were women. Paul writes that in the gatherings there a woman "should not pray or prophesy with her head uncovered" (1 Cor 11.5). He is addressing a squabble that had arisen about clothing in the gathering, but the important point for us to notice is that Paul takes it for granted that, bareheaded or not, women are prophets in the gathering. He is just as strict in saying that men should not have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy. Since we do not have the grounds for the departure from custom that was causing bitterness, we cannot say how serious they were, or what they were supposed to signify— apparently the arrogantly spiritualist party was introducing a daring innovation. At any rate, Paul obviously thinks of them as deliberately offensive, and the cause of needless ridicule from outsiders. He says that the head covering is a "sign of authority for a woman in respect of the angels" (1 Cor 11.10)—who veil their faces before God (Is 6.2).
Though Paul is adjudicating a situation that is merely a matter of social practice, he backs up his argument on theological grounds that are sexist. Man can go uncovered because he is the direct image of God, while woman is the image of God's image—man—created after him and meant to be his helpmate (1 Cor 11.7-9). It was impossible for a man in that culture, patriarchal in both its Jewish and Roman societies, to shed every remnant of sexism. But the important thing is to notice that Paul gives every kind of honor to the women he works with—as emissaries, as prophets, as attendants (di-akonoi).
They are not second-class citizens in the gatherings he knows or in the ideals he holds up for them.
If that is the case, how did Paul get a reputation for misogyny?
He owes that principally to his impersonators and interpolaters. The supposedly Pauline letters, written late in the first century, reflect a church that is cutting back on the radical egalitarianism of its early days. Male church officers are emerging—married overseers (episkopoi) and deacons (di-akonoi)—and patriarchy is being reimposed (1 Tim 3.1-7). The First Letter to Timothy is especially blunt in telling women to shut up: "A woman must be an entirely submissive learner. I forbid a woman to teach, or to take the lead over her husband— she should hold her peace" (1 Tim 2.11-12). But here there is a great objection to be made. In a letter universally admitted to be authentic, Paul also tells women to shut up:
As in all gatherings of the Holy, women must be silent in the gatherings. They are not to speak up (lalein) but to be submissive, as custom dictates. If they would learn, let them seek knowledge from their husbands at home. It is a disgrace for a woman to speak up in the gathering. (1 Cor 14.34-35)
Earlier in this very letter, Paul had told women to cover their heads when speaking up and prophesying. Paul can be accused of contradicting himself, but not so blatantly in the confines of a single document. This fact has led a great many scholars to condemn this passage as an interpolation, added to the letter when the policy of the letter to Timothy had been adopted. The pseudo-Paul has intruded upon real Paul.
[THE AUTHOR DOES NOT TRY TO EXPLAIN ALL THIS HE BRINGS OUT FROM PAUL; IT IS A SUBJECT FOR ANOTHER LONG STUDY; AND YOU WILL FIND IT ALL COVERED IN SOME DETAIL ON THIS WEBSITE, UNDER THE “CHURCH GOVERNMENT” SECTION - Keith Hunt]
"As I Am"
Some may suspect Paul of misogyny since he is opposed to marriage. He writes that he would prefer that the unmarried remain that way, "as I am," saying that married people are busied with concern for each other, which can drain away concern for the Lord (1 Cor 7.32-34).
[CERTAIN WORDS IN THE CONTEXT GIVE THE ANSWER TO PAUL’S RECOMMENDATIONS; HIS ADVICE IS NOT AS SOME TRY TO SAY WHAT HE SAID; THERE IS A CONTEXT TO IT ALL. SEE MY EXPLANATIONS AS I COVER 1 CORINTHIANS UNDER “THE NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE STORY” WHERE I GO THROUGH ALL OF THE NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS - Keith Hunt]
Did Paul never marry?
Even Catholic Bible scholars, like Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and Joseph Fitzmyer, think that highly unlikely. In the second century, Clement of Alexandria thought that Paul had been married but was separated from his wife, and other early authors held that view. Apparently Paul was a mature man by the time the risen Lord appeared to him, and a Pharisee was usually obliged to marry. Paul was probably married in his twenties, though he is no longer by the time he writes. His wife could have died, left him, or been sent away under Jewish Law. Even in the new gatherings, he says that a nonbelieving spouse can be let go if that spouse is opposed to the religion of a believer (1 Cor 7.15).
Of course, Paul cannot make his opposition to marriage a requirement, since Peter and the brothers of the Lord traveled about with their wives (1 Cor 9.5).
In the Brotherhood, marriage is the normal way of life, even for emissaries. In the later letters to Timothy and Titus, marriage is usual for "bishops" and "elders" (1 Tim 3.2, Tit 1.6). Thus Paul can only recommend his preference. He repeatedly emphasizes that this is not a teaching he has from the Lord.
[AS THE CONTEXT SAYS “….FOR THE PRESENT DISTRESS” (7: 26). PAUL GAVE HIS ADVICE, BUT HIS ADVICE WAS FROM THE SPIRIT OF GOD (V. 40), SO UNDER THEIR “PRESENT DISTRESS” IT WAS GOOD SPIRIT LED ADVICE - Keith Hunt]
I give this as a recommendation, not a direction: I prefer that all men be as I am. But each has his own spiritual gift (charisma) from God, so one will act this way, another that. (1 Cor 7.6-7)
This is I speaking, not the Lord. (1 Cor 7.12)
[HE HAD NO SCRIPTURE TO QUOTE IS WHAT HE IS SAYING, BUT VERSE 40….. HE HAD THE SPIRIT OF GOD - Keith Hunt]
I have received from the Lord no requirement concerning virgins, but I offer my opinion as one in a position of trust by the mercy of the Lord. (1 Cor 7.25)
I suppose (nomizo), then, that it is a good thing in this imminent crisis, that it is good for a man to remain in the same condition [neither to dissolve a marriage nor to undertake one]. (1 Cor 7.26)
I say this for your benefit, not to tie you up. (1 Cor 7: 2,5)
This is just my opinion, though even I have the Spirit of God, too. (1 Cor 7.40)
In saying that he has no instruction from the Lord on celibacy, Paul either does not know the saying of Jesus about those "castrated for heaven's reign" or does not take it as an instruction. All that Jesus says in the Gospel is "Let one who can yield to (chorein) this, yield to it" (Mt 19.12). Paul's only reference to castration is a sardonic comment on enthusiasts for circumcision. If they are so intent on it, he says, they should cut off not only the foreskin but the whole member (Gal 5.12).
[PAUL IS GIVING THE OVERALL TEACHINGS OF THE BIBLE, AND NOT ENTERING UPON THE “EXCEPTIONS” TO THE GENERAL TRUTH OF THE FAITH—— ONLY THE VERY FEW ARE GIVEN THE GIFT OF CELIBACY FOR THE WORK OF THE LORD - Keith Hunt]
Paul's own opposition to marriage is not misogynist but eschatological.
He is against women marrying as well as men, and that does not make him a misanthrope. His stand is part of his general social passivity. He says that slaves, though they may welcome freedom if it is given them, should not agitate for it (1 Cor 7.20-21). "As a person was when called by God, so let him continue" (7.24). In the same way, he is against political agitation or reform (Rom 13.1-7). The spread of the revelation is so pressing a duty, as history reaches its conclusion, that all else is to be considered a distraction from that single concern. Paul has enough trouble with the Roman authorities just in carrying out his mission. He does not want to get entangled in any other concerns.
[AGAIN SOME TEACHING MUST BE UNDERSTOOD WITHIN THE CONTEXT; SOME WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF LIFE AT THE PRESENT TIME SUCH AS “PRESENT DISTRESS” - Keith Hunt]
I tell you this, Brothers: the crisis impends. During what time is left, let those with wives be as if they had none, let those who mourn be as not [having time for] mourning, let those celebrating be as if not celebrating, let those who buy be as if not possessing, and those using this world be as if not using it. For the whole frame of this present order is about to go. (1 Cor 7.29-31)
In this eschatological context, Paul can imagine only one condition where he thinks marriage preferable—if one is so en-flamed by passion that this in itself is a distraction from the work of the revelation: "Better to marry than to stay en-flamed" (1 Cor 7.9).
Neither here nor elsewhere does Paul connect marriage with having children, the later Christian rationale. Since history is ending, the raising of children is no longer a concern in Paul's eyes. The only reference he makes to children is to say that the child of one Holy parent can be considered Holy, even if the other parent is a nonbeliever (1 Cor 7.14).
Paul's frame of thought is far from what would be ascribed to him in the supposedly Pauline letters to Timothy and Titus, where the disciplining of bishops' children is addressed (1 Tim 3.4-5, Tit 1.6).
Despite Paul's preference, he himself gives evidence that married people were able to be intensely devoted to the Lord.
Prisca even went to prison with him. In his Letter to the Romans, he names four married people who "worked hard" for the Lord. In Philippians, he adds another two, Euodia and Syntyche, who were his "fellows in the struggle" (Phil 4.3). Phoebe is his protectress. Another Sister is like his mother. Chloe's establishment keeps him informed. His crack team assembled in Rome for the Spanish campaign includes ten women, at least three of them married. He knows a woman emissary (apostolos), a woman attendant (diakonos), and women prophets. He knows two women leaders in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, who have become rivals, and he begs for their reconciliation (not their condemnation) at Philippians 4.2-3.
The later misogyny of the Christian churches would never have occurred if the spirit of Paul had continued in them.
THAT INDEED IS THE OVERALL ATTITUDE AND TEACHING OF PAUL TOWARDS WOMEN. FAR FROM THE IDEAS SOME HAVE ABOUT PAUL AND WOMEN.
MY STUDIES ON “CHURCH GOVERNMENT” TOGETHER WITH SAMUELE BACCHIOCCHI PhD STUDIES, ARE VERY IN-DEPTH AND COVER THIS WHOLE SUBJECT VERY THOROUGHLY.