Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Teaching Of Paul Concerning Women (Part 1)

AP: Someone wrote me an interesting question about the apostle Paul a little over a year ago. I wanted to share with you what I shared with him in response to his question about women and the teachings of Paul. By the way, feel free to send Thomas and me some questions in English. It would probably be best to direct those questions to Thomas and he can share them with me, or simply post them in the comments section. That reminds me: I wanted to encourage everyone to post comments in the discussion section. We review the comments regularly and we would like to see some discussion. If you've been to my personal blog, you know it's always interesting to see what people write in the comments––people write a lot of comments, and substantive ones too. I'd encourage the same on this page as well.  So I hope you'll join the discussion here on Across the Atlantic as well.

The following is taken largely from my book GuĆ­a para entender a Pablo. Una interpretaciĆ³n del pensamiento paulino (which translated means "Guide to Understanding Paul: An Interpretation of Pauline Thought"). This book was published by Trotta in 2015. You can get a copy of it here.

I'm going to present the ideas dealing with women that are found in Paul's thought, even though the undeniable participation and influence of women in the Pauline communities, as we shall see, did not have a clear theoretical foundation in Paul's ideology. Both ideological "worlds" to which he belonged, Jewish and Greek, undoubtedly influenced him.

With the exception of the fundamental, Christological, eschatological, and non-sociological declaration of Gal. 3:28 ("there is no male or female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus"), we do not find in Paul a formal statement that ideologically and socially supports the participation and influence of women in the groups founded by him. Regarding the situation of women and their role in society, the apostle maintains a position that is keeping with the normal social-juridical ideas regarding his Judeo-Christian environment and the Hellenistic-Roman world, without wielding against them any kind of argument.

The underlying ideas as we consider woman in Paul's thought are found in his Bible. We have seen that when Paul speaks of the creation of the woman by God at the beginning of time, he hardly alludes to the rather egalitarian text of Gen. 1:27 (to which we can add Gen. 5:2). This is different than Jesus who did, according to Matt. 19:4–6 (Gen. 1:27; 2:24). He turns his attention to the long narrative of Genesis 2 in which the woman goes astray, as a second-class being who was created secondarily from and to male. For Paul, even where he functions in collaboration and promotion of the "gospel," the male is the glory of God and the woman is the glory of the male, as he says in 1 Cor. 11:3.

During the brief existence that remains in this material world, before the end, there is no reason to change the difference of degree between man and woman that is almost ontic, essential. The kingdom of God in Paul will not come on this earth, but in an ultramundane and spiritual paradise where social differences will not count. Everything will be new and, in his opinion, is soon approaching. Therefore, it is not necessary to take time from the tasks of the proclamation of the Word to change anything here with regard to social structure in this material and ephemeral world.

The situation of women and the valuation of marriage and celibacy in Paul appears––apart from the texts of 1 Cor. 11:2–15 and 14:33b–36––exclusively in 1 Corinthians 7. That's where you'll find the basic text that directly affects the theme of "Paul and women," although he focuses on marriage and celibacy.

Marriage, the supreme social and religious institution and relationship between men and women in Judaism, seems to more good than bad in Paul's thought. But he does not express its goodness in a resounding way. Of course, we should point out that it looks like, according to Paul, the institution itself needed no defense, except to a certain group of "enlightened" ascetics in Corinth. But, considering how the vast majority of women in antiquity contemplated marriage primarily to have children, this somewhat indifferent position of Paul might be strange. What mattered to Paul in marriage was this idea he developed of "in the Lord" that has saved us (v. 39).

Of the Gentile converts Paul thinks as follows: To some faith comes as singles and others as married. The states of singleness or marriage do not have in themselves and of themselves any salvific value (v. 17). From that moment everything depends on how the spouses relate to the Lord. The apostle tries to be balanced, however, and defends the institution of marriage (v. 2), but he especially appreciates virginity (vv. 7–8), since he allows himself to devote himself entirely to the things of the Lord without worldly, material, and useless distractions (vv. 32–34). From that Pauline point of view, that of the imminent closeness of the end, Paul arrives at a very remarkable relativization of eros and marriage, which does not leave women indifferent.

We'll pick up here tomorrow.

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