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Paul the Misogynist? The Alternative Perspective

Based on what I said in previous posts, from Paul’s own (authentic) letters, his attitude toward women in the church may seem inconsistent, or at least ambivalent.  Women could participate in his churches as ministers, prophets, and even apostles.  But they were to maintain their social status as women and not appear to be like men.  This apparent ambivalence led to a very interesting historical result.  When the dispute over the role of women in the church later came to a head, both sides could appeal to the apostle’s authority in support of their views.

On one side were those who urged a complete equality between men and women in the churches.  Some such believers told tales of Paul’s own female companions, women like Thecla, who renounced marriage and sexual activities, led ascetic lives, and to taught male believers in church.  On the other side were those who urged women to be in complete submission to men.  Believers like this could combat the tales of Thecla and other women leaders by portraying Paul as an apostle who insisted on marriage, spurned asceticism, and forbade women to teach.

Which side of this dispute produced the books that made it into the canon?  Consider the Pastoral epistles from this perspective, letters allegedly written …

It’s a major issue: does the New Testament slight and belittle women and their participation in the Christian community?  Did Paul himself?   To keep reading, you’ll simply need to join blog.  And why not?  You benefit and so do the charities we support.  Little is more important these days!

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Did Paul Really Have *That* Exalted a View of Jesus?
Paul the Feminist? The Thecla Legends

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  March 18, 2020

    This is somewhat comparable to the situation with the Qu’ran and the Hadith. Muhammad’s views on women were hardly what we’d call feminist (which would be true for basically anyone writing then), but there is reason to think he thought women could be on the same spiritual plane as men, and there’s little basis for what we now see practiced in fundamentalist Islam. Some of the Hadith writers were unquestionably misogynist in their views (also didn’t like dogs much), and insisted the Prophet would agree with them on all things.

    The difference is that in Islam, the originator of the faith was also known to be its first writer (whether he wrote himself or dictated). In Christianity, the first writer we have is Paul, not Jesus. It was widely known Jesus had left no writings, but Paul had (and the exact number of works he left behind could never be determined). Hence the forgeries. Which for many today continue to be accepted as canon.

    The written word carries special authority in all three Abrahaminic faiths, so there is impetus among those who wish to shape the direction of each to claim special authority–which sometimes involves invoking the names of people who are no longer around to disavow any opinions others may impute to them.

    Islam had a more ordered beginning, since it very quickly became the governing faith of its origin point. This meant there was great danger to civic order if people were allowed to write as Muhammad, or even depict him after the very early days–poor Salman Rushdie), and so the Hadith don’t claim to be Muhammad’s writings, but they do claim to accurately convey what he believed. It’s quite impossible that all of them are making accurate claims.

    I think you’re saying that Paul was probably neither as pro or anti woman as later Christians claimed him to be, because each faction was borrowing his authority to shape the faith, as it became evident the Kingdom wasn’t coming anytime soon.

  2. Avatar
    nacker84  March 18, 2020

    Have you ever read “Paul Among the People” by Sarah Ruden? Using some of the same kinds of analytic tools as you, the author reinterprets the way Paul has traditionally been interpreted, to argue that the real Paul was not the puritanical, misogynistic homophobe he’s usually made out to be.

  3. Avatar
    doug  March 18, 2020

    So much harm has been promoted by these misogynist views in the Bible. It makes an honest evaluation of what is said in the Bible all the more essential.

  4. Avatar
    anthonygale  March 18, 2020

    Was there an ancient equivalent of feminism?

    If there is a discrepancy in Paul’s views of women, it isn’t hard to image why women’s roles might be surprised. But how about the flip side? Were there educated women who might have written a text (say Acts of Paul and Thecla or Gospel of Mary) to advocate for an improved status? Or sympathetic men who might have on their behalf?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2020

      There certainly were (a few) female authors and lots of women, authors and otherwise, who were dissatisfied with their roles and wanted them to improve!

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  March 21, 2020

        How likely, or at least plausible, do you think it is that Gospel of Mary or Acts of Thecla may have been written by women?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 22, 2020

          I’d say it’s possible, but not at all likely. Very few women could write, even fewer Christian women at the time (none that we actually know of, depending on whether the allegedly autobiographical part of the Passion of Perpetua is authentic), and nothing in the books tips in favor of a woman having written it.

  5. stevedemarco
    stevedemarco  March 18, 2020

    Did the author of the pastoral letters have a issue with Luke-Acts?

    Look at 1 Timothy 2:15 and then look at Luke 23:29. They tell different visions of the role of women. So I wanted to know if the author of the pastoral letters wrote 1 Timothy 2:15 after he disagreed with Luke 23:29?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2020

      The author probably didn’t know the books. But the interesting thing is that Luke has sometimes been proposed as the author of the Pastorals! They certainly seem to have very different views of women!

      • stevedemarco
        stevedemarco  March 20, 2020

        Really! Luke as the author of the Pastorals! Who came up with that idea?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 22, 2020

          Hmmm… I thought I covered that in my book on Forgery and Counterforgery, but I can’t find it just now. And don’t recall off hand. It was one of those views that seemed so weird to me I never pursued it much….

          • stevedemarco
            stevedemarco  March 23, 2020

            That’s OK. I’m sure you encounter so many weird ideas about the New Testament that its hard to keep track of all of them. But I will take your word for it.

  6. Lev
    Lev  March 19, 2020

    I think NT Wright, who is normally reluctant to question the authenticity of biblical books, concedes ground on 1 Timothy and Titus. I believe he recognises them as deutero-Pauline and warns others not to place much weight upon them for building a theological argument. When do you think these epistles were likely written?

    On another matter – I hope you and yours are safe and sound. University of Manchester closed down on Tuesday. Is UofNC still open? Have lecturers moved to teaching online?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2020

      I might be wrong, but my sense was that Wright continues to think that the Pastorals were *probably* written by Paul, but that it is not enough of a certainty to be able to build a case fo Pauline thought from them. Again, maybe I’m wrong.

      I’m safe but have moved to self-isolation. UNC is closed, and all teaching is remote. I’m on leave this year, so that bit of it isn’t affecting me yet….

  7. Avatar
    WLFobe  March 19, 2020

    Did the same author write one or more of the Pastorals?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2020

      I’m pretty sure he wrote all of them. I lay out the arguments at some length in my book Forgery and Counterforgery.

  8. Avatar
    veritas  March 19, 2020

    As I read the recent posts, mainly on Paul, I am beginning to see how human behaviour has progressed into our present time. Whether legend or historically accurate, various beliefs were carried forward by all sorts of people. Whomever believed on a particular story, that group came together and followed that system to our present day. Cultures today express some of the same sentiments displayed 2000 years ago. Everyone worldwide believes in something. These practices originated way back when and continue to press us today through traditions. Whether fake/real some were obviously attracted to various beliefs and these moral/ethical views are still all around us. History truly repeats itself, whether good/bad we were all influenced in some way. I always ask myself, how can anyone get it right and can we have universal peace/harmony in such a diverse world? Bart, thank you for sharing your extraordinary research in our evolution. You make religion easier to understand with so much literature out there. I am glad I have personally discovered you no matter how complicated and messy our journeys are !

  9. Avatar
    fishician  March 19, 2020

    Any opinion on why the Catholic church keeps the restrictions on women in the Pastoral epistles while ignoring the advice that church leaders should be married? (1 Timothy 3:2-5)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2020

      Ha! My guess is that the advice that bishops should be married to “one” woman is taken to mean not that every bishop should be married but that polygamy is not allowed. But maybe someone else on the blog has more insight into the intricaces of RCC doctrine on the point!

      • Avatar
        AstaKask  March 21, 2020

        I think they would point to 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. A bishop should be able to control himself, therefore they should be unmarried.

  10. fefferdan
    fefferdan  March 20, 2020

    “Some scholars have argued so — that the Pastorals are directed against the views later embodied in the Acts of Paul and Thecla.” This opens many fertile avenues! I may have missed it in an earlier post, but could you provide a reference or two for this? I’d be particularly interested in studies relating to the evolution of Paul’s preference for celibacy into the stories that cast even married sex in a strongly negative light [Acts of Thomas and Acts of Paul/Thecla for example].

  11. Avatar
    rivercrowman  March 21, 2020

    Look forward to your next post on this topic. Is it possible an early Church father inserted 1 Cor 14:34-35 into one of Paul’s authentic letters? Wouldn’t that be a forgery?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2020

      It couldn’t be a church father — it would have to be someone copying the text — that is, a scribe. It is certainly closely *related* to a forgery, in that it is claiming that your own words were actually written by some other named, famous person. But “forgery” is usually reserved for entire compositions, not textual alterations of existing writings, just to keep the terms straight. I go through all the terms in my books on forgery if you want to look deeper into it.

      • Avatar
        rivercrowman  March 22, 2020

        I have that book, so I’ll have that reference handy for future study. And thanks for your recent replies to my comments. A modest donation to your Foundation is imminent.

  12. Avatar
    clerrance2005  March 22, 2020

    Prof Ehrman, this verse in 2Timothy 3:16 which says – ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:’ KJV.

    What is ‘Scripture’ in this contest. Does it refer to the Hebrew Bible (O.T) or the Christian Bible (OT + NT) since the writing of this book most likely predates the canonization of the NT or did the Writer at the time hold some particular books as ‘canon’ and if so what books were they?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2020

      It is definitely the Jewish Bible, since the NT was did not exist as a canon of Scripture yet.

  13. Avatar
    clerrance2005  March 22, 2020

    Still on Scripture,
    Q1. please what was the original language of the Apocrypha?
    Q2. Is it likely that it was authored by Greeks instead of Jews if the original language in Q.1 comes as Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2020

      It depends which books of the Apocrypha you mean. But most Jews in the Roman world who could write wrote in Greek not Aramaic (which was only the home land language of Palestine); Hebrew was not written in much at all at the time, and again….

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