Pointing at the bulletin letter's date (link) at left will display it's title.
November 30, 2008
St. Paul and the Issue of Women
There is no debate on the topic of St. Paul being a great preacher and teacher. He was also one of the most passionate men, save Peter, with respect to his commitment to spreading the Good News of Christ. Paul suffered imprisonment, physical and emotional abuse, hunger and loneliness. He did all of this for the love of Christ. Paul was indeed a model disciple. However, one issue that has long hovered over Paul’s exemplary life. This is the issue of Paul’s thinking about women.
When carefully listening to Paul’s letters however, we hear contradictory information with respect to his thoughts on women. If we simply take everything at face value we could easily be led to believe that Paul was at once an egalitarian and a chauvinist. Is it possible to be both? Probably not. What, then, is the truth about Paul and women? Barbara Reid, O.P., professor of NT studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, can help us out on this topic. The following was paraphrase from her writings.
First, let’s look at the women in Paul’s letters. There is mention of Phoebe, referred to as deacon who is best translated minister or servant. The title can also refer to financial ministry. It is very possible that Phoebe was well to do and spent much of her money helping Paul and his ministry. Then there was Prisca, Nympha, Mary, and Lydia. All of them were given the title heads of house churches. Paul calls many of them his co-workers. Paul even goes so far as to say that Andronicus and Junia who were in prison with him were apostles before he was. Only Paul refers to women with the title of Apostle.
Now let us look at the other side of the story. In several of the letters that bear Paul’s name such as the letters to the Corinthians and to the Ephesians, we hear Paul saying such things as “Women should be silent in church, if there is something they wish to know, let them ask their husbands at home” or “women should be submissive to their husbands”. How does this correlate with Paul’s view of women being deacons and apostles and co-workers.
One possibility for this confusion is that biblical scholars now agree that Paul did not author every letter with his name. It is highly probable that someone else wrote the more derogatory remarks about women hoping that the recipients of the letters would take heed and obey. The letter to the Ephesians, e.g., was not written by Paul himself but by a later leader who assumes Paul’s mantle of authority.
A second point for us to understand is that many of the statements previously mentioned were not instructions original to Paul. Many of these were household codes in a patriarchal society. They were simply adopted by the writers of the Epistles and signed with Paul’s name. The main purpose of this practice was not to fool people but to infuse Christian values and motivation into the society and political structure that functioned in the Greco-Roman world. In short, we must be careful to assault Paul’s views of women before we know the whole truth.
Lorette P. Nault