Paul: Apostle, Misogynist?

HawkgrrrlAsides, christianity, curiosity, feminism, history, Humor, inter-faith, LDS, Leaders, marriage, missionary, missions, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, obedience, orthodox, prophets, questioning, religion, scripture, sexuality, testimony, theology, thought, women 24 Comments

I’m not bad.  I’m just drawn that way.”  Jessica Rabbit

Plenty of criticism is heaped on post-restoration church leaders.  There seems to be a tendency to hold them up against an impossible and inaccurate standard of perfection while giving a pass to figures in the Old and New Testaments.  But is that fair?  Wouldn’t OT & NT leaders have the same shortcomings when viewed from our “enlightened” modern perspective?

Paul’s writings are some of the best literary achievements in the Bible.  His writings are poetic, ambiguous, and reveal a fascinating picture of emerging Christianity in far-flung parts of the globe.  However, there are also many cringe-worthy statements about women attributed to him, leading me to believe that either Paul did not like women or his statements were altered by misogynistic editors.

Here are some of the statements about women attributed to Paul:

  • 1 Cor. 14: 34-35:  Let your awomen keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to bspeak; but cthey are commanded to be under dobedience, as also saith the law.  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to aspeak in the church(Maybe I could tell the exec secretary this next time I am asked to give a talk!)
  • 1 Cor. 11: 5-13, 15 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is aeven all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a ashame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.  For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.  For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.  Nevertheless neither is the aman without the woman, neither the bwoman without the man, in the Lord.  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.  Judge in yourselves: is it acomely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?  But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering(Archaic fashion advice?  Temple reference?)
  • 1 Tim. 2: 11-12 Let the woman learn in asilence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to ateach, nor to busurp authority over the man, but to be in csilence(Can we just go home during Relief Society?)
  • 1 Tim. 2: 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being adeceived was in the btransgression(But of course, in our enlightened perspective, we believe that Eve was the brains of this outfit.)

Yet, to be fair, we also have evidence that he was very successful in terms of female converts:

  • Acts 17: 4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout aGreeks a great multitude, and of the chief bwomen not a few(The important women, probably those with the best self-esteem, found his preaching valuable).
  • Acts 17: 12  Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.  (So, honourable Greek women believed his preaching).

And he has quite a few interesting things to say about marriage as well:

  • 1 Cor. 7: 9-10 aBut if they cannot bcontain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to cburn(On a given day, though . . .) 
  • 1 Cor. 7: 28  But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.  (“Trouble in the flesh” doesn’t sound promising.  I hope there’s a cream for that.)
  • 1 Cor. 7: 33-34  But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.  (Really?)  There is difference also between a wife and a virgin.  The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  (Really??  This leads me to believe that Paul was not married.)
  • 1 Tim. 5: 11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry(So, unmarried people are naturally more spiritual, and young widows are all sexed up?)
  • 1 Cor 7: 1-2 (Paul answers special questions about marriage among those called on missions—Paul extols self-discipline). (I find this preface to chapter 7 unconvincing based on a lot of what follows, but maybe that’s just me.  I agree that it makes more sense if you limit the context to that, but I am not convinced that is upheld by what is written.)  Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: aIt is good for a man not to touch a woman.  (Cooties?)  Nevertheless, ato avoid bfornication, let every man have his own cwife, and let every woman have her own husband.  (Ever the romantic . . .)
  • 1 Cor 7: 35-39  And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.  But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry(Say what?  Flower of her age – is this menopause?  This sentence makes more sense if it you substitute “if she be deflowered” instead of “if she pass the flower of her age.”  Is this a mistranslation?  Does this mean you should get married if you break the law of chastity?)  Nevertheless, he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. aSo then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. 
  • 1 Cor 7: 39-40 The awife is bound by the blaw as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will (I think I saw this episode of Law & Order); only in the Lord.  But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.  (This sentence seems like the byproduct of paper being expensive and having no erasers).
  • 1 Cor. 11: 3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the ahead of the bwoman is the man; and the chead of Christ is God.  (Sounds like typical patriarchal order talk; it also sounds like Paul was single).

But, on the flip side, Paul comes out in defense of marriage, sort of, by saying that a sign of apostacy in the latter days would be “aForbidding to bmarry”  (1 Timothy 4: 3).  (So, it’s not better to abstain after all?  Or did someone else edit Timothy than edited Corinthians?  Yes, they did).

Paul also said some very progressive things about equality in marriage, including inter-faith marriages.  1 Cor. 7: 12-16  But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an ahusband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.  For the unbelieving ahusband is bsanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is csanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us ato peace.  For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt asave thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?  (This is an example of Paul’s writing at its best.  He uses symmetry to hold women and men equally accountable and to show how marriage blesses lives).

So, does Paul hate women?  Does he think celibacy is superior to marriage?  Was he just an insufferable young single guy when he wrote this and he shaped up later?  Was he just a byproduct of a less enlightened era?  Or was he just edited that way?  Given the contradictory evidence, my own opinion is that he was either edited by a misogynistic cleric trying to make a case for celibacy/hating on women in a DaVinci Code way, or that Paul was a snot-nosed punk when he wrote some of this and then grew up.  Otherwise, the constant shifting between reasonable sweetheart of a guy and “worst. boyfriend. ever.” are too hard to reconcile.  Your thoughts?

Comments 24

  1. This might go a little way towards answering your question, but there is actually quite a bit of evidence that Paul did not write either of the first two scriptures you quote. The same may be true of the third, since it is so close in meaning to the first. We certainly don’t want to heap more condemnation on his head than is necessary. With those taken care of, I think it is much more difficult to characterize him as a misogynist.

  2. This logic sometimes comes up when anti-mormon Christians attack the church for lack of evidence of the book of mormon or various other issues. The conversation goes like this:

    Anti-mormon Christian: “There isn’t any evidence that the events in the book of mormon actually happened”
    Mormon apologist: “Almost all the events in the Bible lack any real evidence also”

    The normal outcome is:

    Anti-mormon Christian: “Yes, but the Bible is God’s word and Book of Mormon was fabricated by Joseph Smith.”
    Mormon apologist: (Thinking to himself) “I really need to get into a new line of work–I can’t believe how dense these people can be.”

    Perhaps after the Savior returns and the lamb and the lion are getting along, the conversation will change to:

    Anti-mormon Christian: “You are right. They are both equally lacking in evidence.”
    Mormon apologist: “They must both be false.” “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

  3. I really need to get into a new line of work–I can’t believe how dense these people can be

    Isn’t that the truth. It was one of the reasons I tired of apologetics. All I saw were the same old chestnuts, over and over again.

    Though I like what Hawkgrrrl is doing here.

    Too bad Mormon Matters doesn’t end up being covered on talk shows.

    Any of you in New York? I’ll be there tonight around 9:30 p.m., and free around lunch time on Wednesday when I’ll be eating breakfast before I fly out and back to Dallas.

    Take this as a quick hello to all. I’ll be back for vacation and visiting later this year.

  4. AHLDuke said, “This might go a little way towards answering your question, but there is actually quite a bit of evidence that Paul did not write either of the first two scriptures you quote.”

    Are you talking about the 1 Corinthians citations? I Cor is strongly considered one of Paul’s authentic epistles. There is some minor transposition of some verses between manuscripts, but from what I know there is not missing content between sources. 2 Corinthians, on the other hand, does have debate on Pauline authorship.

  5. Regarding Hawkgrrrl’s raising the issue of silence for women in 1 Cor 14. First, I agree it is an anachronistic passage to our modern sensibilities, and problematic when one tries to form a whole, unified picture from the various perspectives that epistles, gospels and apocalypse form in the New Testament canon. It seems so strange when so much is said in this epistle on the matter of Christian Liberty, yet Paul affirms these more strict gender roles when it comes to collective church gatherings.

    There are a couple cultural contexts that appear to help explain: 1) in Greek culture women were not allowed to speak in public forum gatherings. 2) We have elsewhere in Paul’s works, and the Acts, women mentioned as functioning as prophetesses, teaching, ministering, anointing, serving in roles such as deaconess, etc. Women definitely were active in the ministry — in homes, informal gatherings, person-to-person ministry for sure — except where it appears to function on meta leadership with the male Elders (even male Deacons don’t appear to be permitted to these leadership meetings) and large church gatherings of the local Body. 3) Plus, we don’t have this prohibition for women speaking appearing in epistles directed to non-Grecian faith communities, though we don’t have contradictory affirmation that they did speak publicly for such meetings elsewhere. This may have been only a Corinth-area community law. But, again, it may also have applied elsewhere. The record is not unequivocal.

    While I admit it is problematic when all epistles are reconciled together to always form a unified picture of what that “entire Church” then did abide by, and what we, today, should abide by, especially where community “holiness laws” are concerned, it seems more practical to me to err on the side of the historical record. The apostolic church never was unified in the ideal way we sometimes wish it were, especially on matters of practice. It differed from community to community, culture to culture. I applaud the ideal unity for which the apostles and church fathers pursued, especially in foundational beliefs, but “denominationalism” appears to be a challenge (and a blessing?) the church encountered from its most early days. Some holiness laws like circumcision were very divisive in some communities.

    Today, a unity of faith is a worthy ideal for us to keep pursuing, and denominational apartheid is hard to imagine as desirable to the Lord, but I don’t think we have to devolve to such blanket generalizations like Bill (2) did in order to try to reconcile debates and differences. There can be healthy reasons to be separate and have variety in worship and cultural manifestations of faith practice, especially since the New Testament is not unequivocal on all matters. Could the Lord have intended this for us?

  6. Okay Stephen M (6). I understand better. Thanks. Well 14:34-35 is one of the transpositional verse sets in various manuscripts of the 1 Cor epistle — though I understand it still appears in all manuscripts we know of. So some debate considers they were added later because it seems to contradict the earlier Christian Liberty teachings, describing of women prophesying, and etc. Then, again, there is Greek cultural precedent for establishing why Paul could be less or more strict depending on context. (And it is also possible Paul was merely a misogynist prick at times.) We have many manuscripts that include the verses, both Western and Eastern, though in different locations within the epistle. So the clerical transpositional error is also a valid explanation. Either way, I do think it is fair to not establish a rigid and inflexible faith policy on the matter when it is difficult to find complementary support for the teaching in other Pauline works.

  7. I enjoyed your interlineated blue commentary.

    Regarding your question on the translation of 1 Cor. 7:36:

    The expression “past the flower of her age” is an attempt to translate a single Greek word, huperakmos, derived from huper “beyond” and akmE “point, edge, flower, zenith, time, etc.”

    There are two broad approaches to understanding this word in this verse. The more traditional is to take it as referring to a girl who is the daughter to a father or the ward to a guardian. In that context the word probably means a girl who has passed puberty, who is sexually well-developed, who is “ripe” like a fruit. The KJV is a little ambiguous but it appears to be following this tradition.

    The second approach, favored generally by modern scholars, is that the passage is talking about a single man deciding whether to marry the woman to whom he is engaged. Under that approach, the word refers not to the woman but to the man and means something like “he is past the critical point; his passions are too strong.” (I’m sure many an engaged young BYU coed can relate to that concept!)

    BTW, here’s an old post of mine that examines an interesting take on one of your passages above:

  8. Very well presented, hawkgrrrl. JfQ, I also believe that much of Paul’s writing is directed specifically and uniquely to the audience being addressed – that each congregation had its own “denominational issues, and that it is a mistake to extrapolate meaning to all from most of the epistles to a targeted group.

    Paul is a complex figure to try to understand – and it is very difficult for us in an age of highly coordinated ministry and correlated message to understand the relative autonomy of the ancient apostles. There is obvious disagreement among the authors of the epistles of the NT, and it is merely by sheer volume of canonized output that Paul is seen as such an authoritative figure now. for example, to hearken to the other discussion about historical information, I have no doubt the general Christian understanding of faith, salvation, grace and repentance would be different if James or John had been the writer of the majority of the NT epistles. It’s certainly worth considering, anyway.

  9. Kevin Barney – great link! Actually, it reminded me of that line in the Harold & Kumar trailer in theaters now – “Bottomless! It’s the new topless!” It does go a long way toward explaining the strange notion of hair covering in worship. Thanks!

  10. Ray (9): Yeah, I’m sure we’d have a different understanding if James had composed the majority of the New Testament. We Gentiles wouldn’t be Christians 🙂

    I think it is fascinating the apostolic autonomy, the unity and friction, the dynamic fluidity, that existed in the early church. Often sounds much more like early Mormonism than modern Mormonism. In my past as an LDS teacher I found my students were often very confused by this; it made it hard to reconcile the way they imprint present LDS governance back in time as an assumption on how things worked then. They viewed Peter as the prophet who had his tidy governing board of assistants in twelve apostles. When you find apostleship not contained to 12 persons and discipleship sometimes described with a very similar role, then it even elevates what it can mean to be a disciple and nuances what it means to be an apostle. In sum, a confusing challenge to those LDS who have an unreasonable presentist understanding of the apostolic church.

    This autonomy is a fundamental way that Protestants see the role of apostles still continuing today: they were those whose role it was to embrace the missional call of Jesus and start new communities of believers, get them established in sound doctrine. In that way, we Protestants have our apostles, too, though they be less monastically inclined like you can find the complement in Catholicism or title-oriented and hierarchical like in the LDS faith.

  11. The inherent tension between such autonomy and constantly fighting division and “apostasy” fascinates me, JfQ. I probably will post about it at some point.

  12. Kevin (8): I found your BCC hair/testicles thread an enjoyable read. However, as interesting as it is, Paul’s injunction still seems more of evidence of a cultural behavioral norm than anything much broader e.g., extrapolating Gospel import to it.

    If the female hair were seen as “genitalia” to be covered before God it seems, from a symbolic angle, counter-intuitive to that which we see in the Genesis narrative. When humankind existed with God it was naked, unashamed and fully known. When it exercised its individual will to supplant God’s will, we tried to hide our nakedness. Thereafter, separated from God, we are clothed to represent our fallen and continued separation before God. To come before Him in prayer, symbolically clothed, seems contrary to symbols of removing ourselves from the earth, filth, material-orientation, for example, by removing shoes. Seems opposite to the abiding love imagery that is used in scripture to describe our affection for God and His affection for us, the Church, the Bride. As we seek intimacy with a personal God how can that not be most close and abiding than to be symbolically and spiritually “naked” before Him — unhidden, vulnerable, dependent?

  13. Well, some of Paul’s letters are translated rather poorly. 1st Cor. Ch. 7 is probably one of the worst.

    Also, it’s almost certain that Paul was married since in Philippians Paul addresses a woman as his wife. (Although the King James version translates it as “yokemate”)

  14. Cicero,

    I don’t think it is remotely certain that Paul was married — at best inconclusive. The Greek “syzygos” in Phil 4 can refer to a person who shares a common work or effort, though it could mean spouse. Given how much Paul addresses the status and needs of the single and widowed, maybe that could mean that he identified with them more because he was also single or widowed. (Maybe they were just a more needful bunch.) Either way, 1 Cor 7 certainly doesn’t do much to clearly settle the issue of whether Paul was married. If he wasn’t then, or had never been, he was practical in dealing with marriage as a useful sexual-behavior checking system for most people, and humane in his suggestions for Christian interfaith marriage.

  15. Hawkgrrl,

    Plenty of criticism is heaped on post-restoration church leaders. There seems to be a tendency to hold them up against an impossible and inaccurate standard of perfection while giving a pass to figures in the Old and New Testaments. But is that fair? Wouldn’t OT & NT leaders have the same shortcomings when viewed from our “enlightened” modern perspective?

    You hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t agree more.

  16. I haven’t read all the responses yet, someone else may have already pointed this out, but Paul had a mother-in-law; therefore, he was married or a widower. As to what parts of Paul’s writings can be attributed to him and what parts were written by someone else (translator), if we start this game it allows us to pick and choose only those scriptures that we agree with. Not a healthy choice. It places all scripture in question. Not that many people already do this when reading the holy texts.

  17. Re 1 Cor 11: “Nevertheless neither is the aman without the woman, neither the bwoman without the man, in the Lord.”

    If you read this verse in the LDS scriptures, the footnote takes you to TG Eternal Marriage. Reading this verse in its context or with the other verses Hawkgrrl has cited do not give one the impression that Paul is attempting to make a case for marriage being a celestial principle. Unless you view that one quote stating ‘it is better to marry than to burn’ in the same way another scripture teaches that it is better to pay tithing than to burn. 🙂

  18. Lee (8): Can you tell me where you find support for Paul having a mother in law? I know of Simon Peter in Mark 1 being mentioned as having a mother in law, whom he heals. As for Paul I don’t know of any support so clear.

    Rigel (19): I still keep my LDS KJV version in my regular Bible reference library because some of the Topical Guide references are so oblique and distinctive. Ran into this a week or two ago when discussing Psalms 46 in Ray’s thread on “Be Still and Know.” The TG reference of “Silence” doesn’t contextually frame the scripture so well — though the direct cross ref to D&C 101 was pretty good. I think TG references regularly support the contention that LDS “proof text” study the Bible rather than try to let internal and historical context be the guide. (I know LDS aren’t the only people who “proof text” the Bible, I just haven’t found a Christian study concordance yet that is quite so oblique as the LDS version can be.) I wonder who created the LDS TG and how it came to be? I’ve never studied that out.

  19. If it does not refer to marriage as a celestial princple though, what is that sentence saying? What is the phrase ‘in the Lord’ referring to? Is it supportive for Christian marriage being equated to one man and one woman? I remember well hearing this verse spun into a song by Stephen Kapp Perry for his “Come to the House of the Lord” production with a man/woman duet singing. (Playing it repeatedly could be useful for extracting confessions from criminals)

    ” Neither the man without the woman,
    neither the woman without the man,
    we will go on — finding at last
    what all love songs reach for but never can grasp! “

  20. Here is an explanation to this verse from FARMS. Interesting, it doesn’t tie it directly to Eternal Marriage. It also seems to address the verse out of context from the rest of the section.

    “While the roles of men and women are separate, they are unified through Christ. “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). The position of the Church in this regard was beautifully stated by President Joseph Fielding Smith:

    I think we all know that the blessings of the priesthood are not confined to men alone. These blessings are also poured out upon our wives and daughters and upon all the faithful women of the Church. These good sisters can prepare themselves, by keeping the commandments and by serving in the Church, for the blessings of the house of the Lord. The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons, for neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.(Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1970, p. 59; also “Magnifying Our Callings in the Priesthood,” Improvement Era, June 1970, p. 66.)

  21. Rigel — Your post made me cue up Peter Gabriel’s “Blood of Eden.” That was much more pleasurable than imagining myself listening to a Stephen Kapp Perry song.. 🙂

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