Well, we’ve made it to the end.
30 days of Paul turned into something more like 41 days of Paul, thanks to illness and work and birthdays and just life in general.
But this is it. The last piece.
I’ve learned a lot about Paul and his writings over the course of this series. I’ve found him to be funny, intelligent, moving; his personality really shows through in his letters. I’ve also been able to dispel myths about him that I had before, and that I think a lot of progressive Christians carry around.
In wrapping up, I want to address one of those misconceptions one more time. This is the big one, the one that really trips folks up when they read the Apostle: Paul’s views on women.
Now, Romans 16 is, I think, a really good place to tackle this subject. This chapter is really just the postscript and signature line for a long, important letter. He greets a bunch of people, sends some greetings from his compatriots, and signs off. But look more closely at those greetings.
27 names are listed.
10 of those names,
are the names of women.
The stereotype of Paul is that he held a decidedly anti-woman view of the world, and of how the church should be organized. This is based on several verses from his letters, or letters attributed to him. The most commonly cited are 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Colossians 3:18, Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
Now those last three verses cited, from Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Timothy, are relatively easy to dismiss from this argument, because if you haven’t noticed, they aren’t included in this study and thus are not considered to be authentic writings of Paul. So they are not indicative of his views on the sbject.
The 1 Corinthians verse is a little trickier. That letter was most assuredly written by Paul. But many Biblical scholars no longer think those verses, and a whole raft of others in the letter, were actually written by Paul.
I didn’t touch on this much when were going through 1 Corinthians, but this scholarly consensus on this stuff is almost unanimous. And for 14:34-35, the view is that this was inserted by a later editor to advance an agenda that prioritized the leadership of men in early churches. This assumption is made because these two verses break up a flow of commands about keeping order and peace within the church, related most likely to the subject we tackled yesterday, Paul’s desire for the church to not stir the waters too much in light of the imminent return of Jesus.
So, we’ve determined that the texts justifying Paul’s exclusion of women are no such thing. How do we get from there to seeing Paul not just as a typical mysoginistic first century male, to a radical believer in gender equality?
Back to those 27 names in Romans 16.
Like I said, 10 are women.
Prisca (or Priscilla).
The mother of Rufus.
The sister of Nereus.
All are prominent enough to get called out by name.
Some get special attention.
Prisca is a well-known associate of Paul, along with her husband Aquila, and is said to work with Paul.
Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis also get a shout-out for their work. In fact, the Greek word used here for work, “kopaio”, is a word Paul uses to describe himself in Galatians and Corinthians, and indicates specifically apostolic work.
Junia is noted for being “prominent among the apostles.”
And finally, Phoebe is called “a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” and a “benefactor” of Paul’s, indicating she was a patron of sorts to him. It is Phoebe who is entrusted to deliver this letter for Paul to Rome.
I think in light of Romans 16, it is hard to paint Paul as someone who doesn’t value women, or doesn’t see a place for them in active church leadership. Paul saw women as key actors in the early Christian movement, and was never afraid to associate with them, commission them or place them in leadership.;
This really helps highlight what I feel is the key takeaway from this study. Throughout these seven letters, the impression I have gotten of Paul is of a universalist, a radical, an egalitarian. Paul sees all people as equal in the eyes of God. He wants all people brought into the church, to be made whole in the ever present love of God. Paul didn’t care if you were “Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
What a great summary of Paul the Apostle.
Next: There is no next! This is it. Thanks for sticking with me through this study; it’s been a lot of fun and very informative. I have some exciting plans for the next few months going forward here on the blog, which I will lay out in more detail in the next couple of days, so keep checking in to see what’s in store!
For a PDF of the 30 Days of Paul reading plan, click here.