THE APOSTLE PAUL AND WOMEN?
From the book "What Paul Taught" by Garry Willis
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 (re-
begotten in actual fact - Keith Hunt) 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. 1
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 (synaichmalotoi). 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, Iounian. A mere
change in accent markings (a circumflex over the last vowel)
would make it the accusative form of a hypothetical male name,
lounias. 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.
Paulbegins 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 CE), evangelized with them in Ephesus and
Corinth, and worked in their tentmaking firm (Acts 18.3). While
he was in Ephesus, he sent greetings to Corinth from their
house-gathering there (1 Cor 16.18). 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. 2
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 (Acts 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 (Acts 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.
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 notthe 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
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,
(No, it was not about clothing at all. You will find on this
Website a full in-depth study devoted to this topic of "veiling"
of women found in 1 Corinthinas 11 - Keith Hunt)
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
(This difficult section of 1 Corinthians 11 is expounded in
various studies on this Website - Keith Hunt)
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 (diakonoi). 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? (the hated of women). 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 (diakonoi) - 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.
(There is no "pseudo" Paul in any of Paul's writings. That is
just a way of getting around taking the trouble to understand
fully what Paul taught about women in the different situations
within the church. HOW and WHEN they were to use the gifts of the
Spirit and their calling to evangelize and teach the word of God.
All of this so-called "pseudo" passages are explained and
expounded in full detail in my studies on "Church Government" and
under the books of Corinthians and Timothy in "The New Testament
Bible Story" - 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).
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.
"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
"This is I speaking, not the Lord" (1 Cor 7.12).
"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 7.35).
"This is just my opinion, though even I have the Spirit of God,
too" (1 Cor 7.40).
(The KEY is the phrase "imminent crisis" - it was so serious a
crisis, whatever it was, we are not given any details, but
serious enough for Paul to recommend people stay single during
that crisis, but he allows there maybe reasons to marry - Keith
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
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.
"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
In this eschatological context, Paul can imagine only one
condition where he thinks marriage preferable - if one is so
enflamed by passion that this in itself is a distraction from the
work of the revelation: "Better to marry than to stay enflamed"
(1 Cor. 7.9).
Neither here nor elsewhere does Paul connect marriage with
having children, the later Christian rationale. Since history is
(Paul knew that certain prophecies needed to come to pass before
Christ would return, but he possibly thought those prophecies
were close at hand in being fulfilled, and so the end of the age
was near. By the time he wrote to Timothy and Titus, Paul knew he
was not going to live in the flesh to see Christ return - Keith
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).
(Yes, because when writing to Timothy he knew he was soon to die
and was not doing to live to see the prophecies fulfilled that
would bring the return of Christ back to this earth - Keith Hunt)
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
The later misogyny of the Christian churches would never
have occurred if the spirit of Paul had continued in them.
1. Wayne Meeks, "The First Urban Christians: The Social World of
the Apostle Paul," second edition (Yale University Press, 2003),
2. Ibid., pp.20,59.
3. Eusebius, "History of the Church" 3.30.1.
It is clear from what we have seen that the idea that the apostle
Paul was "against" women, is completely FALSE!! Paul was
ANYTHING BUT against women. He knew they were often used by the
Lord as any man could be used. It was the Lord's calling of any
man or woman to do His work, within the confines of HOW and WHEN
to function in that work. All of this I've covered in many
studies under "Church Government" on this Website.
It has been my pleasure and my blessing to have worked with Jesse
over the 5 or so years I knew her before her death. And it is my
pleasure and blessing to now work with Tara Chapman, whom the
Lord has bought into my life for the further proclaiming of the
Gospel of Christ and the way of living in hormony with God and
His physical creation.
Entered on this Website March 2009