Last updated: June 17, 2019
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There is long held desire by the Christian church to maintain one, solitary stan ce on each issue that is presented to them. The dilemma here however, is that the bible a s a source of information does not always seem to hold one consistent view. This is even m ore so an Issue when looking at the letters written by the apostle Paul. Paul is known in his wr itings to have somewhat confusing opinions which are not always clear cut.

While on some i SSues Paul is very clear, such as his opinion on the necessity for circumcision, other issues have been the cause of disagreement among churches and scholars and even sources of heated deb te. One of these widely discussed issues is that of the status of women in the church. In analyz ing Paul’s letters, particularly the letters to the Galatians and to the Corinthians, scholars and c hurches alike have come up with widely differing interpretations of how Paul views the status of women.

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It is important when evaluating this issue to 100k at all sides ofthe argument and t o analyze the sections which have caused the most heated debate. Among the most crucial things to understand when grasping the letters of Paul is that these are not written as general pass ages which apply to ll of the christian community, but should be put in the context the time at wh ich they are written and the recipients of the letters. Even after analyzing all of these things thoug h, there are still vastly differing views held on the subject and to varying degrees of severity. he result has been an ongoing struggle of churches and individuals to formulate their own stanc e on the subject and to find a niche which best suits their opinions. Popular opinions held of women’s involvement and status within the church, and particularly how they relate to men can be divided into two categories, egalita rian and omplementarianl . The former view focuses on the equality of men and wom en in the church while the latter emphasizes the idea that men and women hold complementa ry roles and that each gender has their place in a marriage and in the church, often leaving the woman in a subordinate position.

Neither side outwardly argues the other’s ideals, but rat her stresses their own ideals on the subject. There are others still who remain undecided on the issue and 1 genuinely seek answers . Paul is probably the most cited source surrounding the issue of women’s involvement in the church and also the most widely debated. Since Paul’s opinions can be viewed to hold each extreme, both for and against the status of women, it is crucial to look at each side of the issue.

There are a number of scholars who maintain the idea that Paul’s writings are fully against the status of women in the church. In his paper on The Politics of Heaven , Joseph A. Marchal sees Paul’s letter. particularly the letter he writes to the Philippians, a s very gendered2. Gillian Beattie also maintains a similar view in her book “Women and Marriag e in Paul and his Early Interpreters”. Beattie looks at 1 Corinthians, particularly at the passage hich states that women should be silent in the church and states that this comes from Paul’s i ssues with female prophets.

He believes that Paul is attempting to give female prophecy an ulti matum: either stop speaking and making prophetic claims , thereby maintaining their prophetic s tatus, or renounce their status and continue with inspired speech, without the support of Pau13. Beattie maintains J. David Miller, “Translating Paul’s Words About Women”, Stone Campbell Journal 12 (spring 2009): 6171. 2 Brigitte Kahl, review of The Politics of Heaven: Women, Gender, and Empire in the Study of Paul (Paul n Critical Contexts , by Joseph A. Marchal, Atlas Book Reviews (2008): 21 3 Joseph A.

Marchal “Atlas Book Reviews 3 Gillian Beattie, Women and Marriage in Paul and His Early Interpreters , (London: Clark International, 2005), 1961. that while Paul does see that there is no way to avoid female prophecy altoge ther, he does not like or support it. She believes that Paul is using this passage to lay the groun dwork for “true prophesy’ to be only that of a gendered male4. While these among many 0th er scholars have very firm opinions on the patriarchy of Paul’s writings and the chauvinism of Paul’s ritings, there are many others who view quite the opposite.

One of the most cited bible passages In support ofwomen un she church is in Galatians 3. 28. It states here “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor fe male, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Alexander Loveday asserts that this passage introduce s a radical idea that there is now a new creation and that nothing matters on the same plane any longer. This brings an entirely new possibility for the concept of equality5. This passage is obvious fuel for pauline egalitarians, as it supports the notion that there is no difference in the role Of men and women.

As mentioned above however, it is important not to make assumptio ns about the intentions of Paul based on his writings alone, as they are specific letters, inte nded for a single audience. For this reason, many scholars instead analyze Paul’s actions and tr eatment towards women, according to the new Testament. Paul’s support of Phoebe in Roman s 16 is often seen as an affirmation of women’s involvement in the early church. Paul clearly name s Phoebe as a leader and asks the members of the church in Corinth to follow her leading6.

While there is some debate as to the meaning of the title that Paul attributes to Phoebe, diakonos eaning ‘the 4 , (London: T&T Clark International, 5 Alexandar Loveday, “Women as Leaders in the New Testament”, Atlas Serials : 1422 6 Jesse A. Hoover, “Thy Daughters Shall Prophesy: The Assemblies of God, Iner rancy, and the Question of Clergywomen”, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 21, no. 2 (2012): 22139 servant”, and how that term may apply differently to women7, it is neverthele ss clear that Paul sees this woman to hold authority in his church.

While some scholars such as Beattie adhere to the notion that Paul was fully against the concept of women speaking in tong ues, other scholars iew Paul’s recognition of their speaking in tongues at all to be a radical notio n. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that he takes seriously the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues and Of prophecy and that the gift is a status marker even for women within the churc h giving them authority over men in the church setting8.

Other passages also make it evide nt that women are holding positions of leadership within Paul’s church. Women such as Pricilla a nd Aquilla, who are not women of particular wealth, hosted an entire church in the back room of a rented workshop9. In 1 Corinthians 7. 7, Paul mentions that Peter travelled with a “sis ter wif‚’ or “wife sister” implying that there were some women considered to be a part of their apostolic team10. Furthermore, there is numerous evidence which indicates that women of mea ns often acted as financial benefactors to local churchesl 1.

Beyond evidence inside of Paul’s writings of his support of women, many scho lars have analyzed deeper into the motivations behind Paul’s writings from a perspectiv e of gender. In Tathia Wileys “Paul and The Gentile Woman” she claims that one of the reaso ns that Paul was o clearly against circumcision was that it would bring up social constriction is sues for women as women can clearly not partake in the act, giving them significantly less status. In fact she claims 7 Ross S. Kramer, “Women in the Religions of the GrecoRoman World”, Religious Studies Review 9, no. (1983): 12739. 8 Lee A. Johnson, “Women and Glossolalia in Pauline Communities: The Relatio nship between Pneumatic Gifts and Authority’, Bible Interpretation 21, no. 2 (2013): 196214. 9 10 11 that the thing that Jewish men found most offensive in Paul’s teachings was th e offer of covenant equality’ that he made to Pagan womenl 2. There is a suggestion fr om some scholars that part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid growth within the first century was the appeal to women, laid out in passages such as in Galatians 3. 813 . This is a discernible indication that Paul and his message of early christianity were at the very least a closer path for w omen to equality than other religious options at the time. In looking at the evidence in this light, it seems undeniable that Paul does hol d a certain amount of reverence for women and their involvement in the church, even to he point where they are considered equal with men. These however aren’t the only points in which Paul has had an affect on the treatment and status of women in the church.

The question t hen becomes, how do we reconcile the contrast between statements attributed to Paul, such as t hat of Galatians 3. 28, and the points in which his opinion seems to be in contrast? Scholars study tw o major points in the epistles of Paul when looking at the more complementarian views Of wom en in the church. the first is in the book of 1 Timothy. This book contains the most references w hich seem to ndicate Paul’s dislike of women’s involvement, in the church particularly in Ie adership roles. The Chief among the statements in 1 Timothy of these statements is in 1 Timo thy 2. 2 which states “l do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (ESV)14. The are a couple of issues that scholars take up with th is particular 12 13 14 Jesse A. Hoover, “Thy Daughters Shall Prophesy’: The Assemblies of God, Iner rancy, and the Question of Clerg?»women”, passage. primarily, most scholars do not concede that the book was written b y Paul at all. Rather, t is assumed that the letter was written by someone else and later attributed to pau115.

The second Issue that scholars generally take with the passage is that, even if the reader does attribute these writings to Paul, the must, like any other writings in the bible, be put int o context. Those who study the issue, such as the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God assert that this passage of the letter should be interpreted along with the rest of the letter wh ich seems to be dealing with the underlying issue of an outbreak of heretical teachings in Cori nth which was headed by women at that time.

The assumption is that Paul may have banned women from speaking for the time being, but that such an exclusion was not a standard of his practisel 6. The second point on which scholars focus the bulk of their attention on the is sues of Paul and women in the church, is found in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1 1, Paul writes on the importance of a woman covering her head in church and while she prays, and specifically exempts a man from such a requirement. At face value this is a clear indicatio n of a lack of equality viewed by Paul towards women.

However, in this passage again we 10 k at the passage not as a general fountain of information for all christians over all time, but rat her as a letter designed in context for a specific group of people. Paul was a fundamental re source of the building of the church in Corinth and upon building the church, remained wit h the people for some time, according to the book of Acts it was approximately eighteen mont hs. Paul would have undoubtedly taken a certain role in the church attire at that time and it was evidently not 15 16 leading in a direction that Paul had been expecting17.

Putting the issue in the context of the recoRoman world in which Paul was living brings more clarification to the iss Conventionally, for a woman to be uncovered, without a headpiece and veil in the GrecoRoman world was used as a source of humiliation and shame associated with masculi nity, lesbianiam, and prostitution. eadcoverings there would have generally been required at r eligious functionsl 8. In a Jewish context the unveiling of a woman would have brought on scandal and was often used as a tool to bring women to shame and disgrace19.

Wearing a headpiece as a woman on the other hand, while it was a source of subjection in many cases, was also a point of ho or and “mastery of self’ as the wearer would be indicated as a respectable woman which no m an approached without risk20. The Corinthian church however seems to have let women rem ove their veils while exercising authority.