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Was Paul a Misogynist?

Now I can consider whether Paul himself actually wrote 1 Cor 14:34-35 — a passage that tells women they are not allowed to speak in church — or if it was, instead, inserted into his letter by someone else later.  It’s an important issue: if Paul did write the passage, and if he also wrote 1 Timothy (widely thought to be written by someone else *claiming* to be Paul) then by modern standards, at least, he would not be considered to have a, well, liberated view of women.

I begin with a paragraph that ended my post two days ago, to set the context for the rest of what I have to say:

***********************************************************************

Paul’s attitude toward women in the church may strike you as inconsistent, or at least as 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 to support their views. On one side were those who urged 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 activity, led ascetic lives, and taught male believers in church. On the other side were those who urged women to remain 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. These letters were allegedly…

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Is Paul Given Too Much Credit?
Paul and His Female Disciple Thecla

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ddorner  January 18, 2018

    Is there any indication there were women’s groups then? Perhaps in 1 Cor 11:5 Paul is referring to meetings between women only? And absent the authority of their husbands they wear a veil as an example of authority to the angels, the only males present?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      No, there aren’t any indications that Christian women had their own meetings (I think that’s what you’re asking)

      • Avatar
        ddorner  January 20, 2018

        Yes that answers my question, thank you.

  2. Lev
    Lev  January 18, 2018

    I think you’re right Bart, this wasn’t Paul.

    It sounds like some 2nd-century misogynists who wanted male dominance in the church.

    Are you familiar with Gordon Fee’s essays on 1 Cor 14:34-35, arguing against it on textual grounds?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Yes indeed. His arguments can be found in his commentary on 1 Corinthians.

  3. webo112
    webo112  January 18, 2018

    Bart,
    Do you go over the role of woman in the early Christian(s) church in your upcoming book Triumph?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      No. I have a chapter on the topic in my textbook on the New Testament.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  January 18, 2018

    Sad that early Christianity could have been more progressive about the role of women in society, just as it could have been with slavery, but chose to maintain the age-old traditions. I can’t think of any early Christian authors, or significant leaders (aside from those brief mentions by Paul), who were women. Can you name any?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      The first woman author that we (may) know about is Perpetua, in 203, who left us a diary while in prison awaiting martrydom. But some scholars (increasingly) question whether the diary actually goes back to her or is simply written to make it appear to do so.

  5. Avatar
    Steefen  January 18, 2018

    Were Jews supposed to be eager to read the Gospel of Matthew? Were Jews eager to read the Gospels and Acts or only Gentiles?

    I’m thinking your Early Christianities would show Christians eager to read the gospels.

    We apparently had the church of James before the Jewish Revolt. What Jewish Church, eager to read the gospels, Matthew at least, after the Jewish Revolt?

    The followers of Paul and Peter may have lived to see the publication of Matthew and tried, in Rome, to pull together Jews around the “history” of a Jewish hero told in the gospels.

    Prof., is there any evidence that from, say AD80 into the second century any Jewish communities appreciated Jewish history as told by the gospels? (If you reference your coverage in any of your products, please mention.)

    Thank you because it would be quite unfortunate to have literature about Jews of AD 27-33 unread by Jews when finally published.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking when you ask about what Jews were “supposed” to do. Or which Jews you’re talking about.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  January 21, 2018

        I was at the Great Courses website looking at your products. I rolled over a lecture or did something and the description was something to the effect of Find out why Christians were eager to read the gospel. That’s how I came to ask you, if we can find out why Christians were eager to read the gospel, shouldn’t we be able to find out why Jews would have been eager to read the gospel, given a Jewish protagonist?

        I just saw that you say the Ebionites maintained Jewish practices vs. other communities that did not. Is a gospel connected to the Ebionite community after AD70, perhaps with Matthew?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 22, 2018

          We don’t have any record of non-Christian Jews reading the Gospels from the early years of Christianity; and yes Ebionites had Gospels, one of which was reportedly a version of Matthew.

        • Avatar
          HistoricalChristianity  January 22, 2018

          Some Christians passionately hate some writings with Jesus as protagonist! Jews would find nothing objectionable about the portrayals of Jesus as a sage of Second Temple Jerusalem in the synoptic gospels. They would of course challenge the claims of his widespread fame. Except for divorce, nearly all his sayings could just as well have been copied from sayings of Hillel. They would rightfully object to any claims (such as in John) that he was God, and to claims that he fulfilled any role as a messiah (he didn’t). The synoptics do show him aspiring to that role, as many others did. None succeeded.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  January 20, 2018

      As others noted, few Christians (or anyone else) outside the elite were literate. They had things read to them. An assembly would be lucky to have 1 or 2 people able to read. Dr. Ehrman, do we have any record of what they actually did during their assemblies? Early Corinth was so dominated by ecstatic utterances that Paul had to challenge them to tone it down and insert some discipline and respect and even love. That’s the context of the famous 1 Cor 13 love chapter. Love was the opposite of touting your own horn by outdoing others with utterances. In general, Paul’s assemblies didn’t have leadership. Some had communal meals.

      By late first century, a circular letter was written in Paul’s name by people who followed Paul’s theology. That implies there was some interest in writings by Paul or his students. Gospels were a very popular genre in the second century and beyond, as evidenced by the existence of at least 50 of them. Otherwise, I have no clue how interested ordinary Christians were in any of these writings.

      Judaism was the only religion of the book at the time. Polytheists had Homer, but I think they considered them entertainment rather than as sacred scriptures. It took time even for Christians to consider any writings sacred. Paul never thought he was writing scripture.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 18, 2018

    Thanks!

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  January 18, 2018

    Paul is an apocalypticist of course, not a social reformer, so in Gal 3:28 is he saying that in the kingdom it won’t simply be that there is no discrimination between men and women but that sex itself will disappear?

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Yes, that’s roughly how I read it.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  January 20, 2018

      The way I think about it is that early Christians and like-minded apocalyptic Jews imagined that those who are saved and enter the Next Age would be like the angels: sexless, ageless, immaterial, immortal, etc.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 18, 2018

    Clearly, the most important goal of my childhood church was to be as scripturally correct and, hence, as much like the earliest church as possible, even to the point of having no pianos. In fact, my childhood church was absolutely obsessed with this goal and I heard the two scriptures that you reference above, about women remaining “silent,” quoted over and over again. Eventually, I learned that the earliest Christians did not even have a New Testament and then when Christians finally developed a New Testament canon most Christians were illiterate. Then, centuries passed before an English translation was even allowed. So my question: Were the early Christians really that focused on a sentence or two in a given scripture? Or do we just assume that they were that focused because a lot of us are that way and so we assume that they must have been like us? Another way of asking the same question: When did Christians become so focused on the literal interpretation of the Bible and being as scriptural as possible? In other words, did early Christians just consider Paul to have an important opinion or did they consider him to have the absolute truth? Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Some Christians were, starting toward the end of the second century and beginning of the third (e.g. Tertullian; Origen); but most Christians probably not.

  9. Avatar
    ardeare  January 18, 2018

    One of the passages we’ve looked at in the past few days is 1 Cor: 11:10 ” For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” It’s such an ‘oddball’ verse. The chapter flows much better if it’s just left out. I’m particularly struck by the first 3 words, “For this reason.” It seems to me that this may be the work of an editor.

    I mention this because, as I understand it, the ‘Book of Enoch’ would have been widely known amongst early Christians. One of the primary premises within this largely forgotten book is that fallen angels came down and took a human form in order to fulfill their lusts for earthly women. Could the editor have been alluding to this book and injecting a theological point of view? Perhaps he believed the fallen angels would return to corrupt the Christian seed before the triumphant return of Jesus. Therefore, keeping a “symbol of authority” on a woman’s head would serve as a sort of protection for her.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Yes, it’s a widely debated passage adn there are lots of opinions about what it is referring to (“good” angels who established the structure adn order of the world? “bad” angels who might cause harm to these women?) or what Jewish writings might illuminate it (Genesis 6? 1 Enoch?)

  10. Avatar
    AnotherBart  January 18, 2018

    When reading Paul, one has to remember that what he wrote was intended for a specific audience at a specific time. His in-person, verbal word preceded the letter, and the letter would be followed by someone like Timothy, Barnabas, or Peter, if not Paul himself.

    They didn’t ‘over-read’ his letters like we tend to do.

    They weren’t comparing his letters to each other, saying “Wait. He’s for women speaking in church here, but not here.”

    They knew the specific situation he was addressing, and knew that he wasn’t a fellow who walked around strapping duct tape over the mouths of women as they entered the church.

    He just wanted them to pipe down, and quit disrupting.

    They “Got the message”. Meanwhile here, in the 21st Century, we have our microscopes out, trying to dissect sentences fixed on paper.

    The best way for us to ‘get the message’ too, is to put away the microscopes, and read the letters, out loud, the way they did back then.

    Read them over and over and over. All of them.

  11. talmoore
    talmoore  January 18, 2018

    Of course, this all ignores the main issue, which is: if the person who interpolated verses 14:34-35 into 1st Corinthians didn’t have the authority to do so, why does Paul have the authority to demand whatever he demands? Because the interpolater is anonymous and Paul is not? That is to say, each writer is claiming a sui generis authority, “given” to them by no one but themselves. Whether or not the sentiments of 1 Cor 14:34-35 are Paul’s or not is, in reality, irrelevant as to whether they should be taken seriously. Unless, of course, you’re a dedicated Christian, which makes such a trivial concern suddenly of greatly exaggerated importance.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      I would say they are both claiming an authority for themselves. But the interpolator’s authority is borrowed from and based on Paul’s.

      • Avatar
        HistoricalChristianity  January 20, 2018

        Paul was granted authority because he was well-known and a founder of many of the assemblies. All the variants of earliest Christianity claimed apostolic authority in some way or other. A common way was pseudepigraphy, writing in the name of someone famous. Those selecting the proto-orthodox canon were fooled into including several texts because they thought Paul wrote them. But somehow I don’t think the author of 1 Enoch expected people to believe it was written by Enoch. I don’t think anyone thought Isaiah was written by Isaiah.

        Once you get beyond the basics of Jesus as the universal sacrifice, everyone was expressing his own philosophical ideas.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  January 24, 2018

        Wouldn’t (didn’t) Paul say his authority came from his having seen the risen Jesus?

  12. Lev
    Lev  January 18, 2018

    Off topic question: Have you ever considered writing a novel on Jesus?

    I understand you read a lot of novels, but I don’t know if you’ve ever written fiction before. I would *love* to read your take on who Jesus was, where you could go off-piste from the historical rail lines and tell us what you imagine happened in detail.

    You strike me as someone who is a fan of the historical Jesus, where you consider much of his wisdom to be honourable and true, but his predictions and belief in himself to be false. I don’t think I’ve read or seen any depiction of Jesus that held him in a sympathetic light, yet also portray him as the disappointed and agonised man who was shocked at his betrayal and death sentence, ultimately ending his life with that dramatic and heartbreaking cry of dereliction.

    It would be a terrific read! Maybe a network or studio would pick it up? You have the international profile and you sure can write – why not give it a go?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Ha! I wish I could. But I’m afraid it would be completely third-rate as a novel. Not part of my skill-set…..

      • Lev
        Lev  January 20, 2018

        I’m not so sure – all the popular material you’ve written are real page turners. But if you’re right, perhaps you could co-write it with someone who has the literary skills of a novelist? You could provide the story and they could provide the colour?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 21, 2018

          I’ve thought about it. Just can’t do it I”m afraid!

      • Avatar
        Leovigild  January 20, 2018

        Hey, it worked for Lew Wallace…

        • Bart
          Bart  January 21, 2018

          Good point!! And I’d have to make sure to get the movie rights….

    • Avatar
      SidDhartha1953  January 24, 2018

      I think Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ is sympathetic to Jesus.

      • Lev
        Lev  January 26, 2018

        That’s my favourite Jesus movie! Yes, Kazantzakis was sympathetic to his Jesus, but in his book and film his Jesus arranged for Judas to betray him. Bart’s reading of the historical Jesus has him in shock that he has been arrested and turned over to be executed.

  13. Avatar
    HistoricalChristianity  January 18, 2018

    To me, it’s most plausible that Paul never assigned women a lesser status or role. That’s consistent with the bulk of his undisputed writings, especially his most egalitarian bold expression, there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek etc. That’s not a position or attitude you’re likely to change later in life, especially as Paul increasingly favored the egalitarian attitudes which are so helpful to empire.

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 20, 2018

      I think it’s like the early attitude toward slavery. It’s part of the society that exists now. It’s not our job to reform society. God will attend to that when the Kingdom comes–at which time all who are accepted into that realm will be equals. There will no longer be male nor female, rich nor poor, slave nor free.

      Paul could have absorbed the sexual attitudes of his culture. But to him, the most important thing would have been whether or not you shared his overall beliefs about how to live, and his reverence for Jesus. A woman who lived what he considered a holy life would matter more to him than any man who didn’t. And we see this in many other religious movements.

      However, once a religion simply becomes a social institution, belonged to by most people, most of whom are leading more materialistic existences, the prevailing social attitudes will, you know-prevail.

      Leaving a memory of an aspiration unfulfilled–that future generations can work for. If they wish.

      • Avatar
        HistoricalChristianity  January 22, 2018

        Throughout their history, Israel did reform their society, and even their religion. You can trace that in Tanakh as well as in later Jewish writings.

        Paul did adopt the morality of his culture. He offered no uniquely Christian moral standard, and never cited Torah as his standard. He just expected people in his assemblies to behave according to the standards of their societies.

        Religion always was, and always will be, a social institution.

  14. Avatar
    Jana  January 18, 2018

    I will think about your blog more .. It seems not just ambivalent or inconsistent views but conflictive. I can easily grasp the separation of church roles where women can be leaders and social roles where they are to maintain the cultural role. I see no conflict here etc. But reading Timothy and Corinthians seems conflictive and if it is conflictive perhaps than both are later additions ? Even tracing inherent female weakness back to Eden, temptation etc seems forced with a political agenda in mind. Certainly Paul’s actions of designating women in powerful leadership positions would refute the subordination contained in both Tim and Corinthians … No? This is a question Dr. Erhman as I try to wrap my mind around new material and work it out for myself.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Yes, that’s why there’s so much debate about what Paul’s views actually were, at the end of the day.

  15. Avatar
    Silver  January 19, 2018

    Do you feel that 1 Cor 9:5 “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” suggests that Paul may have been married?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      No, given what he says in ch. 7 it appears clear Paul is single and celibate. He’s saying that he *could* have a wife to take around with him if he wanted to.

  16. Avatar
    Silver  January 19, 2018

    An ‘off-thread’ question if I may please.
    I have recently encountered a number of references to Herod burning genealogical records. Do you believe this happened? If it did would this not count against the possibility of Matthew and Luke being able to produce their Nativity genealogies?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      I”m not aware of any records of this. What are the ancient sources?

    • Avatar
      Silver  January 20, 2018

      The sources cited re Herod burning genealogical records are all from Eusebius’ “Historia Ecclessiastica” (I do not have access to this and so have been unable to check for myself.)
      The references are: 1.6.2-3; 3.18.19 & 3.18.20 (I trust these figures mean something to you).
      Seemingly Eusebius is citing Julius Africanus.

      • Avatar
        Silver  January 21, 2018

        Further to my query re Herod burning genealogical records, the following website:-
        https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vi.vii.html
        appears to give a translation of Eusebius’ work entitled ‘Chapter VII.—The Alleged Discrepancy in the Gospels in regard to the Genealogy of Christ.’
        If this is drawing directly on Eusebius this passage mentions the burning in these words:
        “,…Herod, inasmuch as the lineage of the Israelites contributed nothing to his advantage, and since he was goaded with the consciousness of his own ignoble extraction, burned all the genealogical records,133 thinking that he might appear of noble origin if no one else were able, from the public registers, to trace back his lineage to the patriarchs or proselytes and to those mingled with them, who were called Georae.134”
        (The numbers within the text give pop-up boxes which give notes expanding on the passage)

      • Bart
        Bart  January 21, 2018

        Are you sure those are the right references? The first is about Herod, but doesn’t say anything (so far as I can see) about him burning records; and the seoncd and third are not about Herod.

        • Avatar
          Silver  January 22, 2018

          Thank you for pursuing my query re Herod burning genealogical records.

          The references I gave earlier were certainly copied correctly from books with end notes suggesting these evidenced the burning. It is frustrating that this proved not to be the case.

          Salutary lesson: ‘Don’t believe everything you read in books!’

          However further digging indicates that the quotation I noted in one of my other blog comments –
          “,…Herod, inasmuch as the lineage of the Israelites contributed nothing to his advantage, and since he was goaded with the consciousness of his own ignoble extraction, burned all the genealogical records…”
          – was taken from Eusebius ‘ Church History’ 1.7. This, in turn, was to be found in Julius Africanus ‘The Epistle to Aristides’ (Section?) ‘V/5’

          If you have the time I should be very grateful if you could follow this up for me and should this prove abortive I promise I shall cease to trouble you on this issue again.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 22, 2018

            Ah, yes, that’s the correct passage. This is the passage that influences everyone (not knowing it) who thinks that all Jews kept records of their genealogies. That’s certainly not true. Julius Africanus was not a contemporary of Herod and was not even Jewish. He was a Christian writing about 230 years after Herod had died, and is simply repeating a rumor he had heard — he is giving it to explain why in fact we don’t have any genealogical records if everyone kept them.

  17. Avatar
    1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  January 19, 2018

    Paul covered a wide area in which there were various cultural mores so rather than being inconsistent I believe he was adjusting his instructions to the cultures. It was not necessary for him to have a universally applicable teaching in many of the controversial areas. It is unfortunate that churches argue about these teachings today and some individuals have abandoned Paul’s teachings altogether.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  January 20, 2018

      Good point. Paul rejected Torah as his moral authority, and never appeals to it as a standard. He never offers a specifically Christian moral standard. Instead, he just expects people in his assemblies to behave themselves. He wants his religion to be attractive. He is very broadly egalitarian, a philosophy that works very well to build empire.Think of other people as candidates for cooperation and commerce, not for warfare.

  18. Avatar
    Tempo1936  January 19, 2018

    Paul was not an attractive man, possibly disfigured with a significant “thorn in the flesh“. May be the reason he recommends not to marry

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2018

      Unfortunately, we don’t have any clues to what he actually looked like — until the later (second century) Acts of Paul, which portrays him in unattractive terms. But there’s nothing to suggest the author had any sources of information bout it (a century after Paul’s death, in an age before photography!)

      • Avatar
        Jim Cherry  January 20, 2018

        Would the principle of dissimilarity support the description of Paul as possibly accurate?
        Rather than tall and handsome, he is described as short, bow-legged, balding, eyebrows that met, rather large nose, but full of grace.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 21, 2018

          There has been a good bit of speculation about the passage: I’ve read some scholars who have argued that hte details in fact are *positive* rather than *negative” in implication, connoting intelligence and wisdom. But I don’t remember the precise details .

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 20, 2018

      Augustine of Hippo was extremely successful in amatory exploits (even if he exaggerated in his Confessions, there’s no reason to doubt his prowess), and while he may have been less down on marriage than Paul, he strongly advocated celibacy for those who wanted to avoid sin.

      So that argument doesn’t really hold water. People of many religious beliefs, and none, have spoken of sex as a serious distraction to higher mental and spiritual pursuits. You know why? It is. 🙂

  19. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 20, 2018

    I don’t think Paul wrote these two sections either. When Paul arrived on the scene of Christianity, he witnessed men and women receiving, what he called the gifts of the Spirit, equally. There was no distinction on a spiritual level, but culturally he didn’t see any reason to change things for the most part.

    I’m assuming when the Christian movement began, people met in each others’ homes? If so, would Paul or anyone else have had the audacity to tell a woman not to speak in her own home? So I’m wondering if part of the reason for the shift in attitudes toward women was the result of assembling in designated places outside of members’ homes to church buildings. Once they began gathering in a neutral place, men began to take over all leadership roles and exercised more control over what women could and could not do inside the church.

  20. Avatar
    bknight  January 20, 2018

    Bart, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “marginal notes” which a later scribe included in the text. Do you mean that the marginal notes would have been added to the margin by a reader who disagreed with the original text, and that a later scribe somehow mistook them for original text which had inadvertently been left out?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 21, 2018

      What scholars typically have in mind is a note that the scribe thought would help illuminate the passage in some way, that a later scribe thought had inadvertently been left out of the text and then placed in the margin; that later scribe then inserted the marginal note into the text thinking it belonged there. Some have argued that for 1 Cor. 15:34-35; and for the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8, etc.

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