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Paul, the Pastorals, and Women

Based on what I said in the previous post, Paul’s 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.

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The Non-Pauline Oppression of Women
Paul’s View of Women in the Church



  1. Avatar
    proveit  July 31, 2013

    When I was in first or second grade, a slightly older red-haired boy said the following to me:

    “I am a boy, you are a girl. God made man in his image. When I grow up I will be a man, but you will only be a woman.”

    This was over fifty years ago yet it is as though it was yesterday. I suppose if this were said to me today, I would say, “You mean men are imaginary too? Glad to be a real woman!” I’m not generally very clever on the spot though.

    As an adult I attended a Methodist Church where they had adopted inclusive wording. I respected their good attempt, but for me it only emphasized this “problem” with the bible.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 31, 2013

    Good review. Nothing can sour one on Biblical literalism faster than seeing a congregation of people argue about the role of women in the church with both sides quoting scripture. Such debates are still occurring.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 31, 2013

    P. S. How could the author of the beautiful 13th chapter of First Corinthians write verses 34 and 35 of the very next chapter?????

    • Avatar
      bobnaumann  August 3, 2013

      I think it is generally accepted that Paul didn’t write these verses but they were inserted later.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 31, 2013

    Out of context here, but I want to comment on the other issue of Paul’s condoning slavery. I’m certainly not defending it, but I think we have to remember that slavery in Paul’s day was nowhere near as horrible as it would later be in the Americas. Masters and slaves in Paul’s world would usually have been of the same race, and slaves were sometimes able to purchase their freedom.

  5. Avatar
    EricBrown  July 31, 2013

    If 1 Tim 3:2-5, 12 directs that pastors are to be married, out did the church ever justify its (later) manditorily celibate priesthood? Did they rely on another (contradictory?) passage? Is there some dodge they are know to have used (continue to use) to get around 1 Tim 3:2-5, 12?

  6. Avatar
    gavm  August 1, 2013

    speaking of women, your wife Sarah is English I believe Prof Ehrman?
    Tell her one of your readers from Australia say “The Aussies are you smash the poms in the 3rd Ashes Test”
    She will know what it means

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 1, 2013

      Actually I’m in London now, as we speak, so I get it myself! I have to say, though, my wife is not following the Ashes.

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