…should be read by any person who wants to understand just how radically different Christianity was regarding women.
One of the things that people forget about inspired scripture is that with the possible exception of Moses, when it was actually written the author, (in this case Paul of Tarsus) didn’t sit down, pen in hand to say: “Ok time to write the scriptures”. Each author was in fact writing for a particular reason.
In the case of Paul this is more pronounced than any other example. Paul’s letters were in fact, letters. Specific instruction and advice for specific churches for both general instruction and to handle individual issues.
One of the biggest dangers in scripture is the tendency to take specific quotes out of context to make an individual point. I see a lot of this particularly when debating non-catholics and atheists. In scripture it can’t be over stated that things need to be in context. Joy Addresses this:
The lines must be interpreted in the context of a Church that did place women in leadership. As J.R. Kirk has pointed out, Romans 16’s long list of early church leaders included some female names: Phoebe (whom Paul referred to as a deacon, though the word is often translated as “minister”), Prisca, Julia, Mary, and Junia, who is referred to as “relative and fellow prisoner” of Paul’s. Along with Adronicus, Paul says, Junia was “prominent among the apostles,” and was in Christ before Paul’s own conversion. (Junia is often translated as “Junius,” a masculine name.)
Paul did not want Christians to conform to the dictates of the world, nor did he want us to violate them. We are to transcend them. He was brought into faith directly by the Lord, the same Jesus Christ who first explained that it was as much adultery for a male to break the bonds of matrimony as for a female; the same Lord who showed himself first to women when he rose from the dead; the Lord who ate with female prostitutes. And it was this Lord who admonished Martha that learning the Word was more important than cooking or housework (Luke 11:38-42).
Let’s take another example Ephesians 5. I’ve actually written about this before but lets do it again. Most people who want to cry misogyny in the church look at verses 22-25 but lets look at the verses 21-33 in context. All Emphasis mine:
21: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The concept of being subordinate to each other suggest equality, something very radical for the time.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. v22-24
This is the verse that gets people all a twitter. For its time there is nothing odd about it. The subordinate place of women was well established in culture for centuries at this point. It is often made optional when it comes up for reading. My parish priest’s tackled it a few years ago. I want you to remember the text in italics it is very important.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. v: 25-27
Note that As Christ loved the church. Can you measure how much Christ loved the church? That in itself is a radical statement but the next one is even more radical:
So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. V 28
That is the ultimate statement of equality. The wife is the same as the husband, and must be loved as one loves oneself.
For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, v:29
“No one hates his own flesh.” Paul is breaking the rules of centuries here. He is re-writing culture in an absurd way for his time. Can you imagine how this must have sounded in the 1st century?
because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” v:30-31
This is significant because by this line he directly links Christ’s words to this whole argument. He shows that this is not just his opinion but the command of Christ.
This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. v32
To a first century person this would be a great mystery, this whole idea is a great mystery.
In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.V33
And the big finish. Repeating what was already said. Reinforcing it.
In conclusion taken for its time this was an incredible statement. Paul is making the case for the respect for woman in the 1st century and it is from that base that western civ has reached the point it has.
And just one other note. Remember in the dark ages it was the Church and the monks who copied scripture that kept it in place and decided what was inspired scripture. If the Catholic Church was as hostile to women as some pretend how easy would it have been for the Catholic church to in that first millennium to exclude that from scripture or drop or it declare it wrong. Who could have stopped them? It was within the church that scripture and literacy was the most prevalent. Yet guided by the Holy Spirit it did not.
It is not a coincidence that the Koran although it steals a lot from the Bible it never quotes Paul. It’s misogyny would have a hard time coping with it.