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Women in the Churches of Paul

QUESTION:

Looking back to June 14 you listed 7 topics you were discussing at the Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center. I don’t believe we have discussed much of anything on feminism. It seems a broad subject for rich discussion. Were women disenfranchised later or were they denied any major roll right from the start? Of course, Dan Brown could be brought into the subject!

 

RESPONSE:

I’ll probably keep Dan Brown out of it! J Well, unless I feel inspired to talk a bit about Mary Magdalene and what we really do and don’t know about her, later on. But maybe it would be good to devote a few posts to the question of women in the early church. Our earliest author, of course, is Paul, and Paul’s views of women are widely misunderstood.

In my NT course I have every student participate, as part of their grade, in a formal debate on this or that topic. The topics are meant to be controversial, and one of them, years ago, was “Resolved: The Apostle Paul was a Misogynist.” Students had to choose a side to argue (I would often assign them to argue the opposite side of the side they said they preferred arguing!), they spent weeks doing research on the topic, and then they would present their debate before their small group recitation class. It was a great topic, made even more interesting by the fact that some students didn’t know what the term misogynist meant and didn’t bother to look it up. (!) Since then I’ve changed the topic to: “Resolved: Paul’s Views of Women Were Oppressive.” I think this too is a great topic, especially because of the tense of the verb: “were” (not “are”). It leads to some great debates.

So, I will give some posts over to the question of women in the early church, starting with Paul. I’ve written about this in various places, but most of those places will not be familiar to members of the blog, unless they’ve used my text book on the NT for a class. And so I will shamelessly steal some of my passages from there.

 

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    proveit  July 26, 2013

    Thanks, Bart!

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 26, 2013

    Great subject. Keep going. For decades, I attended a church that quoted two of Paul’s scriptures to conclude that women should not preach or be elders. It really affected the women in the church.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 27, 2013

    Your final paragraph strikes me as a non sequitur. I take the preceding paragraphs to indicate that Paul and his followers *weren’t* misogynists…though the advocacy of chastity, the whole attitude behind it, seems psychologically unhealthy today.

    For real Christian misogyny, check out the Wikipedia article on the Catholics’ recently canonized saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. Her Indian tribe had been *forced* to accept French missionaries. The missionaries converted Kateri and a number of other young women, encouraged them to live together in a group, and to physically torture themselves and one another. Then a priest went over to France and brought them back some nice “presents”: new and improved instruments of torture! Sick. And to my knowledge, the Church has never condemned this sort of thing – the Catholic Encyclopedia article says merely that Kateri practiced “mortification.”

  4. Avatar
    charlesb  July 29, 2013

    Bart, your comments about Junia are fascinating. When I looked up Romans 16:7 in the ESV the translation was very different from the statement on this blog: “Most impressively of all, there is Junia, a woman whom Paul names as “foremost among the apostles” (v. 7). The apostolic band was evidently larger — and more inclusive — than the list of twelve men of common knowledge.” Versus from the ESV: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen[1] and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.”
    Very different translations. Which brings me to a question. What english version of the Bible do you consider most accurate?

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