Can 21st-Century Feminists Find Common Ground With a 1st-Century Feminist?
The Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament and had quite a bit to say about the role of women in the church, family, and society. Paul is almost universally thought to be very anti-woman because of what he has written, but millennials, who are less likely to be involved in church than previous generations, may be surprised to find out just how pro -woman Paul actually was. To prove just how much of a feminist Paul was, let's take a look at three of his controversial statements.
1. A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. (1 Corinthians 7:4a)
Before anyone throws something at their screen, there is a part b to this verse that we need to consider: "In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does." Certainly there are those who will bristle at this sort of thing, but if our concern is equality, then nothing is more equitable than what Paul has said here. Within the marriage relationship a husband and wife belong to each other and should put the needs of the other ahead of self. Furthermore, Paul would have understood that husband and wife are more than equal, they are one.
2. Wives, submit to your own husbands. (Ephesians 5:22)
This might be the most well known saying by Paul on this subject, but it is also the most misunderstood. There is a whole lot more to this passage. Yes, there are instructions given to the wife, but the husband has also been given instructions: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." How did Christ show his love for the church? He was tortured and ultimately gave his life for his bride. Yes, the wife and husband have been given different instructions, but if we step back just a little we see that both are to honor the other sacrificially.
3. Women should be silent in the churches. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
This is another oft-cited passage by Paul and one that is quite problematic due to the assumptions that Paul makes that we are not privy to. There are certain specifics that are not given because they would be obvious to the intended audience, the church at Corinth, but are not to us. Without going into great detail about what we cannot know, let us instead focus on what can be known.
Yes, the women are told be quiet, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the women were allowed —even expected — to be in church so that they could worship and learn alongside the men. Let's face it, even today there are cultures in which this would not be allowed much less encouraged. Additionally, in chapter 11:5 it is expected that women will indeed pray and prophesize.
To be fair, I understand that there are many more instances in Paul's writings that feminists take issue with, but to discuss each one is beyond the scope of an article such as this. I also understand that even if my points are accepted, a millennial feminist may still find cause to not think highly of Paul's position on women. But let's not forget Paul's writings are old. I do not expect that if Paul were alive today he would be invited to speak at a feminist convention. What I do hope is that a thoughtful millennial feminist would not, after reading this, be as ready and willing to cast the first stone.