This semester I am taking the New Testament course ‘Paul’s Social Network’ with Sister Joan Campbell. A main component of the course will be looking at the women in Paul’s ministry and the roles they played.
This being week one… here is the question of the week and my response:
QUESTION: Share your present view of Paul’s teaching on women. In your opinion, was Paul positive, negative or otherwise with respect to women and their involvement in the Jesus movement? On what do you base your present opinion?
I am of two minds regarding Paul and his teaching on women. Paul’s statements that “…the husband is the head of his wife“ (1 Cor 11:3) or “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (Eph 5:22) are quite inflammatory to feminists if read literally. One of the important things to keep in mind is that the cultural norms of the society at the time are not those that we have today as was discussed in “Rediscovering Paul” (Capes, Reeves and Richards). Equality was set in a different way; perceptions of equality were set within a class structure that was not based upon balanced gender-based roles. The references that we see today as being negative towards women are based upon our current Western society.
On the other hand, I can see Paul in a positive light with respect to women and their involvement in the Jesus movement. Paul believed his role to be missionary and evangelist after his conversion/call on the road to Damascus. In this role of missionary and evangelist he was aware of his leadership responsibility and the need for networking in order to build the church as the ‘body of Christ’. Networking required people committed to the same mission. Women such as Lydia (Acts 16:11 – 15) and Phoebe (Romans 16:1 – 16) who became patrons of Paul and leaders in the Jesus movement were committed and able to be financially supportive because of their status in the culture. They were not bound by any male family member who had authority over them to control decision-making. Further, the Jesus movement gatherings were first held in homes. These women of substance would have households large enough to hold these gatherings quietly. It would have been anticipated that there would be people coming and going in this type of household making gatherings of new Christians invisible to the authorities. These women would also have their own networks that could assist in church growth. The fact that Paul is associated with women in spreading the Gospel and their leadership roles speaks louder than those few words above taken in a modern literal sense.
I am sure there will be much more revealed as we proceed through the semester so that my thoughts on Paul will be more definite.