This week we take up the debate in Christian circles about whether Paul was supportive of women in the church, or whether he thought women should be subservient to men.
- Equality for Women. In Corinthians and Acts we see certain passages where Paul says women should be able to teach in the church. Paul also talks about everyone being equal in the eyes of God. Further, Paul was big on sexual abstinence. Although that was not a big selling point for men, it likely appealed to more women at that time because of the male-dominant cultural expectations within the home.There is even a second-century novelistic work called The Acts of Paul and Thecla. As the plot develops, Thecla’s fiancé (in cahoots with her mother, who is set to lose a prosperous retirement from the deal) turns on her and prosecutes her, eventually seeking her execution. Ultimately, Thecla wins out and gets to follow Paul. Yes, it is a fictional account, but written by an author who must have believed that Paul had certain pro-feminism leanings.
- Segregation for Women. The epistle Timothy is filled with references about keeping women in a subservient position. It’s pretty hard to argue the intentions of these passages from I Timothy 2:8-15:
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
- Which is it? There’s a problem here: Timothy was not written by Paul, but by someone else (apparently not liking what was happening the the early church) who wanted to claim the authority of Paul. Unfortunately, over the centuries, not many of the antagonists who argue against the power of women in the church likely know that Paul’s letter to Timothy was … a … forgery.