Monday, 18 March 2013

The Pauline Concept of Women: Androcentric or Christocentric?

By Shawn Wilson (NCU Religion Student)
Copyright © 2013

In popular hermeneutics of the corpus paulinum,[1] that is, the Pauline Epistles, there has been much accusation against the apostle Paul for being an androcentric chauvinist, rather than being Christocentric. These accusations arose because of certain texts that seem to suggest that Paul had a Patriarchal misogynistic outlook on women, especially as it relates to them performing certain functions in the church. Quotes such as, “the man is the head of the women” (1 Cor. 11:3, AP),[2] “women should be silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34, AP; cf., Eph. 5:22; Col 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Tim. 2:12),[3] and so forth, are often used by those who advocate a chauvinistic structure of church leadership; while these same texts are used by feminist to point out that Paul was a sexist. However, recent scholarship has recognized that there are numerous problems with the chauvinistic use of the Pauline epistles, as well as the ad hominem attacks on Paul. Here, I will highlight some of those problems. 
Firstly, it has been widely recognized among contemporary scholars that the traditional negative misogynic picture of Paul is exegetically untenable. One of the reasons for this conclusion is that, of the fourteen letters said to be Pauline only seven of them were actually written by Paul. These are: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The other letters are said to be Deuto and Trito-Pauline i.e., pseudepigraphical works of second-generation followers of Paul.[4] Given the truth of these findings, it therefore follows that certain radical patriarchal scriptural injunctions like, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she should keep silent” (1 Tim. 2:12, AP), and so forth, should not be ascribed to Paul. Now if this is true, then it begs the question, “Why did the followers of Paul do such a thing?” The answer lies in the simple fact that the first century socio-cultural worldview was utterly patriarchal, and misogynistic. Hence, the followers of Paul simply inherited the prejudice of their time. 

As for 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, which also mentions the silence of women in church, scholars have recognized that this portion was not in any of the earliest of manuscripts, but seems to have been added to the texts by a later redactor.[5] As Reimund Bieringer points out,
At some point early in the process of copying the text, someone added these lines as a gloss in the margins. Later in the process of the text’s transmission, a copyist included these words in the actual text of the letter. There are a number of important arguments that lend support to this hypothesis, but one is of particular importance: the obvious contradiction between 14:33b-35 and 11:2-6. If women pray and prophesy in the assembly, as is taken for granted by Paul in 11:5, then they must be allowed to speak.[6]
Secondly, contrary to the views of many today, the apostle Paul held women in high regards. This is evident in Romans 16, where Paul recognizes Phoebe as a diakonos of the church of Cenchreae (Romans 16:1-16).  Plus, in his greetings to Aquila and Prisca, Paul addresses Prisca first, then Aquilla (Rom. 16:3). This particular detail is important because in first century Palestine, it was not customary for women to be greeted first.
In conclusion then, even though the first century cultural milieu was patriarchal and androcentric, that does not necessarily entails that Paul himself shared those sentiments, and also, we should not use his epistles to support a present chauvinistic church structure, because any such application would be thoroughly anachronistic. Finally, the quintessential passage that shows that Paul was Christocentric, rather than androcentric is Galatians 3:27-28. He outlines, “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Thus, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28, AP). Here it is especially evident that the authentic Pauline epistles show that the gospel Paul preaches supports an egalitarian Christianity that is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ.


[1] Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa, “Women According to Saint Paul” (2007). Taken from: (accessed March 7, 2013).
[2]  All scripture passages labeled AP, means Authors Paraphrase.
[3] Barbosa, “Women According to Saint Paul” (2007).
[4] Reimund Bieringer, “Women and Leadership in Romans 16,” East Asian Pastoral Review, Volume 44 (2007), Number 3: 221-237. Taken from: (accessed March 7, 2013).
[5] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.  New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. 183-184.
[6] Bieringer, “Women and Leadership in Romans 16,” (2007), Number 3.