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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

Was Paul Misquoted? (3)

Updated: May 17

Does the Bible promote or oppose equal freedoms for all people? Can the church lead instead of lag in the movement for human rights for all? In my previous post, I outlined why many people may not like the Apostle Paul or may consider him sexist or a misogynist or arrogantly enforcing the idea of women in subordinate roles. Today, we will examine whether Paul is misquoted. Part 3 of a 4-part series on Paul.

Is Paul's real message about mutual dependence and equality? Is Paul discussing false doctrines enforcing distinctions between people, or is he promoting unity? Where we thought we were quoting Paul, are we quoting the incorrect doctrines that Paul is refuting? Is Paul promoting hierarchal practices, or is he flattening hierarchies by telling those in positions of power and privilege to lower themselves? Instead of quoting Paul, are we quoting the pagan hierarchal practices that Paul is correcting? Is Paul's apparent subordination of women a misquote or misunderstanding? Maybe Paul's intent is to oppose pagan hierarchy and promote equality and mutual dependence as a guide for living. Maybe Paul quotes pagan practices or false doctrines in order to correct them. I will address the five charges against him in my previous post and we will see Paul in a fresh, positive light:

  1. No Prejudicial views; no promotion of a hierarchy

  2. Not muddled: clear in his thinking, example, and actions

  3. Not arrogant or overconfident

  4. Preaching the same message as Jesus's closest disciples

  5. Practices and teachings match those of Jesus

Let's dig in.

Wikimedia commons:

1. Paul has No Prejudicial views and does not promote a hierarchy

a) In Ephesians, Paul begins by saying that all believers should submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), as wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:22). Husbands can learn how Christians can submit to one another by looking at the familiar example of wives in the pagan household code. Paul quotes the familiar household structure developed by the Greek philosophers and overturns them by undermining the power of the husband. Paul moves husbands from their position of power in the pagan household code to a position where they love and serve their wives as they would their own bodies (Eph. 5:25-30, Col. 3:19, Titus 2:6). While Paul may have taught that man's head was Christ and woman's head was man, he corrects their understanding of that teaching, explaining that the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3). Both sons and daughters are cornerstones (Psalms 144:12 KJV). Jesus is the foundational head of the corner, (1) the origin, source, and beginning (Matthew 21:42, Luke 20:17, Isaiah 28:16 KJV). The head supports and holds together the body (Colossians 2:19). The head and torso are united, reliant on one another, as men and women depend on one another (1 Corinthians 11:8). Paul tells us plainly that he refers to the mysterious union of husband and wife for the express purpose of explaining the profound mystery of the union between Chris and the church (Ephesians 5:32). In my study of Ephesians, I find Paul is not teaching about gender roles, (2) but about unity in Christ. Paul does not refer to the pagan household codes as a hierarchal model for those who are 'in Christ." In Paul's longest passage about married life, he insists that both spouses yield to the other and practice mutual consent (1 Corinthians 7:4-6). Paul does not support submission by one spouse and not the other.

b) Paul quotes the familiar pagan treatment of slaves and upends it by telling Masters to treat their slaves in the same way that slaves treat their masters. Paul reminds slavemasters that they are in fact fellow slaves, serving the same Master in heaven (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1, Philemon 1:15-17). Paul teaches believers how to live united in Christ without disobeying earthly authorities. Those who are 'in Christ' are equal heirs, adopted as children of Abraham with the full rights of sons. Jesus has destroyed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and citizen. The passages contrast pagan hierarchies with unity in Christ, affirming that for those 'in Christ', there is no distinction by race, gender, or class (Ephesians 2:14-21, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:26-29).

c) Paul tells believers that they are free but pleads with them not to use freedom for selfish indulgence but to serve one another and love one another (Galatians 5:13-14); he tells them to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). Paul explains they are new creatures and must live as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8), filled with the Spirit, men and women speaking to one another (Ephesians 5:18-19). Paul encourages us to set our hearts on things above (Colossians 3:1-2), taking off our old self and putting on our new self (Colossians 3:9-14). Paul reminds believers that they have been washed clean by Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul quotes the Corinthians and their rationale for following their immoral practices - they have a right to do anything, the body is made for food and for sex (1 Corinthians 6:12-13) and Paul corrects them and reminds them that they are temples of the Holy Spirit and sex unified them as partners (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul does not write these passages as threats or punishments, but to contrast the old, selfish ways with the new, Spirit-filled ways. These passages give us a vision of hope as those who are 'in Christ' love and serve one another.

d) Paul quotes questions from 'Chloe's people' (1 Corinthians 1:11) and answers them in his letter called 1 Corinthians. Paul quotes incorrect beliefs such as "I have the right to do anything" and corrects them by saying not everything is beneficial. He quotes them saying "I have the right to do anything" and corrects them by saying they should not be mastered by anything. He quotes them saying "Food for the stomach" (apparently a euphemism that sex is needed for the body), and Paul corrects them by saying the body is not meant for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:12-13). Paul quotes them saying "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" but corrects them by saying each husband and wife should have sexual relations with their spouse, by mutual consent (1 Corinthians 7:1-7). He quotes them discussing women who pray or prophesy aloud in the gathered assembly and does not tell them to stop; instead tells them the churches have no such requirement on how women dress while speaking publicly (1 Corinthians 11:5, 16). He quotes them saying "We all possess knowledge" and corrects them by saying that knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul goes on to say that love is more important than gifts of prophecying, teaching, miracles or speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:27-13:1). In her work The Making of Biblical Womanhood, (3) Beth Allison Bar points to verses about women keeping silent in the churches as quotes from the Corinthians, with Paul's bold criticism being "What? came the word of God out from you?" (1 Corinthians 14:34-36 KJV). In fact, Paul tells women how to behave when they pray and prophesy aloud in the gathered assembly, and does not tell them to stop (1 Corinthians 11:5).

Lucy Peppiatt, in her book Women and Worship at Corinth (4) , suggests there are additional, longer passages where Paul quotes the incorrect beliefs and corrects them. He quotes them incorrectly saying that men must uncover their heads and women must cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:4-5) and corrects them, ridiculing them that if it is a disgrace for a woman to uncover her head, she may as well have it all shaved off, a sign of shame (v. 6). Paul quotes the incorrect beliefs that a man is the glory of God and the woman is the glory of man and a woman ought to cover her head (v. 7-10). Paul corrects them, saying a woman ought to have authority over her own head since men and women depend on one another, God created both, and none of the assemblies of God requires women to cover their heads (v. 11-16).

Bruce C. E. Fleming (5) author of The Book of Eden, agrees that 1 Corinthians quotes and refutes incorrect practices and that the passage aims to build unity among believers.

Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall, (6) the author of Paul and Gender, explains that the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 is not about women being submissive to men; it is Paul giving women agency and authority over their own head covering.

Theologian Marg Mowczko (7) explains that Paul corrects problems in the Ephesian church. This passage corrects both men and women and does not address women in ministry. In fact, Paul encourages both men and women to use the gifts God gives them to build up the body of believers (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:23, Ephesians 4:11). In 1 Timothy, Paul is addressing three groups: (8)

  • angry, quarrelling men (1 Timothy 2:8)

  • wealthy women showing expensive hairstyles and clothing (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

  • an individual woman (v. 11-15)

This individual woman needed to stop teaching until she submits to learning the correct doctrine. Many Ephesians worshipped the goddess Artemis, and the woman may have been teaching false doctrines (9) to new believers. Some Artemis worshippers believed Eve was formed first, and assisted in the birth of Adam, making Artemis the protector of women in labour. Artemis saw women as wiser than men because Eve sought knowledge in the Garden of Eden, while Adam was deceived. Paul corrected these false doctrines.

Artemis honoured chastity, so the woman in question may have been bullying her husband into abstaining from sex because she believed giving birth would make her impure or could put her life or salvation at risk. Paul may be reassuring her that she will be saved [by Christ] even through the [ritually unclean and physically risky] birth process.

Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall points out (10) that Paul may be encouraging the women to tu