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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

Was Paul a Misogynist? (2)

Updated: Apr 29

A misogynist dislikes or is prejudiced against women. Is there evidence that Paul accepts or even promotes a hierarchy with women ranked below men? Does Paul confirm or promote patriarchy as God's design? This is part 2 of a 4-part series on the Apostle Paul.

The Acts of Paul describes Paul as short and bald. Photo:,_St._Paul_the_Apostle_Orthodox_Church,_Dayton,_Ohio.jpg

Many people agree with Paul and are not hurt by his perceived messages. However, others are personally impacted, with hands tied and voices silenced, and may disagree with Paul. Some disagree so strongly that they reject Jesus and the church because of Paul and what is taught by those loyal to Paul. If these objections to Paul are left unaddressed, people may reject Jesus and the Bible.

In this post, I'll be talking about why many people don't like Paul. We will look at what might make them perceive him as sexist or misogynist. Try not to get upset! Here I take the role of the devil's advocate criticizing Paul. In the next post, I address these criticisms and share how I have come to see Paul in a more positive light.

Today I will look at five reasons people may not like Paul:

  1. Prejudicial views against women, slaves, and homosexuals, promoted male hierarchy

  2. Paul was muddled in his thinking, unclear and countering his own words

  3. Perceived arrogance, overconfidence

  4. Preaching a different message from Jesus's closest disciples

  5. Practices and teachings counter to Jesus

1. Prejudiced against women?

Did Paul show he dislikes women or is prejudiced against them? That is the definition of a misogynist. Did Paul show opinions about women based on preconceived notions rather than reason or experience? That's the definition of prejudice. Did his words or actions show that he believed women do not have equal rights or freedoms? It is easy to find passages that seem to show Paul believed women are inferior to men and should rank below men, or that seem to put down women, slaves, or anyone outside the norm. For example:

a) Wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5)

b) Slaves, obey your human masters, serve them though you were serving the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-7, Colossians 3:22-23, Titus 2:9)

c) Those who are sexually immoral or impure won't inherit the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5, Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-8, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

d) Women should keep silent and not speak in church, but learn quietly and submissively; a woman must not be permitted to teach or have authority over a man (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12); a man is a woman's head (1 Corinthians 11:3); overseers, bishops, elders and deacons must be male (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6).

Church leaders through the centuries have followed Paul's apparent view that women have a subordinate role and must be subject to males. Even if the passages in Timothy and Titus restricting women were not written by Paul, but by a follower of Paul, they still are part of the Bible. Church structures support male hierarchy, also called patriarchy. The group that coined the term complementarian in the church (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) defines complementarian as the same as patriarchy.

If there is unity and peace because some people are subject to authoritarian or autocratic leaders who decide whether or not the subjected person may speak or act, that is not unity, it is a dictatorship. A person in authority can love a pet dog, while still keeping it on a leash and controlling its freedoms. A boss can love an employee while controlling their actions. Church leaders claim they value women, and at the same time restrict women's freedoms. They may also restrict men's freedoms to be gentle, patient, kind and self-disciplined. This can lead some people to resent and reject the church.

However, Jesus lifted up those who were oppressed. Jesus treated women as people and showed the kind of respect that generates peace and unity. Most women do not want to be loved like a pet dog, a bird in a gilded cage, or a porcelain doll. Loving a person means listening to them, accepting them and respecting their choices. It means being vulnerable, sharing your secrets or your faults and trusting they will still love you. This kind of love only works if both parties love the same way in return. To love as you would like to be loved means giving others the freedoms you would like to have.

2. Paul had muddled thinking, countering his own words

We know Paul was academically brilliant, advancing in his education faster than his peers (Galatians 1:14). Paul talks about how he could put confidence in the law if he chose, being circumcized on the eighth day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a zealous Pharisee (Philippians 3:4-7). Paul could read and write in several languages, studied under a famous teacher, Gamaliel, was thoroughly trained in the Scriptures and the oral law, and had the advantages of being a Roman citizen (Acts 22:2-3, 27-28).

However, some of Paul's thinking seems muddled and unclear because Paul seems to contradict his own words.

  • His apparent instructions by gender, status and rank seem to contradict where he says there is no more dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14-16); for those in Christ, there is no longer differentiation by slave/citizen, Jew/Gentile, or male/female (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11)

  • Paul teaches that circumcision will alienate you from Christ (Galatians 5:3-4) and he does not circumcize Titus (Galatians 2:3-5), yet he circumcizes Timothy (Acts 16:3)

  • In contrast to his instructions for one-way female submitting to male, Paul writes all believers should submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 16:15-16); Men are not independent of women, nor women of men (1 Corinthians 11:11); Wives are to fulfil duties to husbands and likewise husbands to wives (1 Corinthians 7:3). Jesus also taught all his believers to serve one another (John 13:12-17)

  • First, he gives one-way instruction for slaves to submit to masters, then he tells masters likewise treat their slaves as brothers in Christ since you share the same Master in heaven and God shows no favouritism (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1)

  • Saying those who act or speak immorally won't be saved seems to contrast with Paul's teaching that we are saved by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 5:1) and all we have to do is to believe in Jesus and we will be saved (Acts 16:30-31, Romans 3:28, Romans 10:9).

  • Saying women should keep silent and not speak in church conflicts with his instructions in the same chapter telling women how to behave when speaking, prophesying, and praying aloud in church (1 Corinthians 11)

  • Saying men are to be overseers or church leaders with authority seems to conflict with Paul's actions in authorizing women to lead in many churches. Paul credits many women as co-workers, giving women and men the same descriptors as deacons, apostles, overseers, and church leaders. He called Phoebe a deacon and overseer (Romans 16:1), Priscilla a co-worker and teacher (Romans 16:3-4, Acts 18:26), Junia an apostle (Romans 16:7), Lydia, Euodia, and Syntyche his coworkers who serve the church (Acts 16:13-16, Philippians 4:2), just as Timothy serves (Philippians 2:22) and he asks all of them to be likeminded with Paul (Philippians 4:2) as Timothy is (Philippians 2:20).

Theologians have sought out ways of understanding these differences. Some may say Paul's pragmatic concerns about cultural appearances (1 Corinthians 11) override his principles of equality (Galatians 3:28).

"Whether we see these two sections juxtaposed as evidence of Paul's pragmatism, his muddleheadedness, his latent misogyny, or the gentle patriarchy he is unable to relinquish, we still have to find some way of reconciling two different accounts of the relations..." (Lucy Peppiatt, page 60, Women and Worship at Corinth, ©2015, Cascade Books).
"Paul's vacillating approach is part of his overall strategy of mediation in 1 Corinthians... It is also likely due to his own ambiguous position" (Margaret M. Mitchell, page 476, Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of named and unnamed women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament, ©2000 Houghton Mifflin Company).

Where there are differences, Bible readers may choose preferred passages and interpret other passages accordingly. Bible commentaries and creeds may start with their view that women are subordinate and massage or emphasize other passages based on that. Mark Ward defended how the English Standard Version (ESV) translators modified certain ambiguous passages to match complementarian views, saying, "You should try to fit what you read in the Bible in with your existing tradition."

3. Perceived Arrogance

Paul intimates that he can speak for God, claiming he got his message and commission directly an