Was Paul a Sexist? NT Wright explains…

Was Paul a Sexist? NT Wright explains… December 19, 2013


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  • Evelyn

    I actually object to the question. My first training was as an historian, and from that foundation I have difficulty with applying modern terminology and concepts to others eras. Sexism simply didn’t exist as a concept in the first century AD, and so I don’t think it’s fair to measure Paul against our concepts of sexist / not sexist. We can study ideas about gender / maleness / femininity / etc. in the C1st to see how they seemed to be understood, and then ask how Paul compares. Was he being radical? In what ways were his teachings on these issues ‘good news’? But to judge him on sexism is both simplistic and unfair. FWIW, my take would be that he broke through the conventions of his time occasionally, but was, for obvious reasons, never able to break free completely from his culture.

    • Ned

      I disagree. The idea of Evolution wasn’t present for most of geological history, but that doesn’t mean we can’t apply it to the fossil record. Say rather, we shouldn’t make the same MORAL judgements about his purported sexism as we would about a modern person. But the question in and of itself is a valid line to explore. And if, the conclusion is that he was, in fact, sexist, we simply need to bear in mind that that was the norm, and the culture he was in. If most people in the 1st century wore sandals, that just means a researcher into the history of footwear needs to understand that the presence of lots of sandals at a dig site may not be unusual. It’s certainly not a reason to conclude there must have been a beach nearby… 🙂

      • Evelyn

        There is no comparison between evolution as a concept and sexism. The first is a binary scientific theory (and in my view proven correct), the latter is a gray-area value judgement. We’re kind of saying the same thing, actually, at least if I understand you right in your point about making moral judgements.

        I think the key point is this: Paul was inevitably a product of his time and its understandings of womanhood, gender, masculinity etc. Those understandings were scientifically inaccurate to say the least, and as a result misogynistic and not conducive to encouraging social and political equality. Unless we want to go back to that world wholesale, there is no good reason to accept Paul’s arguments about the place of women.

        Faith lives, and is interpreted afresh in each generation. To fossilize it at some perceived ideal point in the past (If only we cold go back to the Acts 4 church, if only we could treat women as Paul did) is to miss the Spirit’s ongoing work in the world. To ask whether Paul was sexist is in some ways beside the point.

    • Sexism simply didn’t exist as a concept in the first century AD?

      According to Peter Stearns, women in pre-agricultural societies held equal positions with men; it was only after the adoption of agriculture and sedentary cultures that men began to institutionalize the concept that women were inferior to men.[9] Definitive examples of sexism in the ancient world included written laws preventing women from participating in the political process; for example, Roman women could not vote or hold political office.[10] /wiki/Sexism#Ancient_world

      • Evelyn

        You’re missing my point, I think. I’m not saying that by our more enlightened standards the ancient world wasn’t wildly patriarchal, sexist, misogynist, whatever. Obviously it was, and i’m very grateful to be a western, middle class, educated woman NOW rather than at, well, any other time in history really, I’m hopeful that my daughter will have even less sexism to contend with than me. But I’m not sure it’s helpful to judge previous ages by our modern, western norms. KWIM?

  • brianbrianbrian1

    I agree with Evelyn.

    I would add that the comment that all are equal in Christ overlooks that Paul here is talking about spiritual equality. Islam has similar comments. What Paul violates elsewhere and what we have today is the move towards *social and political* equality, not in the next world, but in the here and now. Paul does not advocate for this, neither does the New Testament. Those gains are modern ideas.

    • Ned

      And that is an important distinction. While one can find a single verse to support almost ANYTHING in the Bible, the fact remains that the entire body of work must be considered.; and that while Paul may have thought men and women were “equal” in a sense, the entirety of his writings make it clear he was a misogynist. That that was the norm in his time doesn’t make it less true; only that he wasn’t as radical in his stance as many might otherwise believe.

      I’m not accusing Paul of anything but being a creature of his time and understanding. If there is only one verse in the whole boy of his writings to cite when you look for signs that he might not be sexist, then I’d say that’s a fair indication that he was. What we may derive from that is a different matter. After all, most of Paul’s letters were to specific groups, and addressing specific issues. To propose a solution so far out of the social norm as the equality of the sexes would be to propose an unworkable solution. So was his misogyny philosophical, or practical? That’s a topic for a broader analysis than we see here.

      • Ken Steckert

        A misogynist? I do not see where Paul singles out hatred or distrust of women, or ever mistreats them. As for their roles in society, Paul seems to be very much in line with the culture of the day, but I think misogyny is much too strong of a word to use based on what we have from his letters and actions in Acts.

  • From reading the six comments already here, I wonder if any of the commenters bothered to watch the video before commenting. They all seem to be commenting on the title of the blog entry (which presumably N. T. Wright didn’t write). So far as I can tell, not one responds to anything that N. T. Wright says in this clip. When a blogger invites comments on a video, isn’t the idea to watch the video first, then to comment on the content of the video?

    I did watch the video and thought it was excellent.

  • It sure is nice being able to say Paul was an imposter, instead of having to try to defend his corruptions of Jesus’ ethics.

    “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)