Was Paul an Egalitarian?

Was Paul an Egalitarian? September 9, 2019

Andrew Bartlett, in his new book Men and Women in Christ (MWiC), asks if Paul was actually a kind of 1st Century egalitarian?

Bartlett focuses on 1 Corinthians 7. What are his conclusions?

1. Despite the prominence of 1 Corinthians 7 as the longest discussion of marriage in the New Testament, and despite its containing the only explicit New Testament mention of a husband’s authority, complementarian analyses have tended to overlook it or downplay it.

2. Paul’s view of the world is Christ-centred. Creation remains in view, but redemption and new creation are in the foreground. His perspective on marriage takes into account that the Messiah has come and the end is in sight. This relativizes all the present circumstances of believers’ lives, which become unimportant in comparison with what is to come. In this light, he commends singleness and offers a strikingly equal view of marriage.

3. According to Paul in verses 3—5, husband and wife have equal authority. He repudiates unilateral decision-making. Leadership by a husband that is conceived in terms of one-way authority over his wife is in direct conflict with the apostle’s teaching.

1Cor. 7:3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

4. Verses 3—5 cannot justifiably be regarded as a special exception to a husband’s unilateral authority, applicable only in the areas of sexual intercourse and joint prayer.

5. As far as can be determined from verses 1—16, 25—28, 32-40, Paul envisages complete equality of personal relations between men and women. If Paul believed in a hierarchical, unilateral authority of husband over wife, it appears inexplicable that he wrote these words.

6. This does not mean that Paul is an egalitarian in the modern sense. He is not calling for individuals to exercise their rights within marriage; rather, he is calling each equal partner to yield in submission to the other, in line with Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 2:3.

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