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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Was the apostle Paul a Misogynist?

XYZ University
What did Paul look like?
I had the enlightened misfortune of studying Biblical Studies at XYZ university. Enlightened because I became aware of how unbelievers interpret the Bible. Although we are not called to judge the heart, most of my teachers were probably not believers because they had little respect for the authority of the Bible. I choose my words carefully. They had respect for the Bible as a literary composition (and indeed they should: Hebrew narrative, for example, is remarkable for its skillful composition, as boffins like Robert Alter have explained) but they had no respect for the divine authority behind Scripture. The Bible for many of them had no more  binding authority than Uncle Tom's Cabin.

What was most interesting during my years there was the particular loathing many lecturers had for the apostle Paul. John was cuddly, Peter OK, James a bit thick, but Paul - he was beyond the pale.

Apostle to the Gentile world
Understanding why he was loathed begins with a recognition of  Paul's specific role as "apostle to the Gentiles"(Romans 11:13). While cuddly John and Peter worked largely among Jewish circles, Paul's very specific task was to explain the Gospel of God's remarkable Grace to the Gentile (pagan) world.

There can be no greater message of love than the Gospel, which offers free pardon to undeserving sinners, so whence the loathing?

John and Peter did not have to say much about gender or sexuality, because in a Jewish culture that was assumed: there is a divine order between the male and female and any sexual behaviour beyond heterosexual marriage was sin.

Paul preached in a radically different environment, one where the ethics were unshaped by the Bible and where "anything goes" was the order of the day.

So it fell on Paul's shoulders to outline God's universal creation ethics to a pagan world ignorant of how God made men and women.

So when Paul says things like, homosexual practise is shameful, indecent and unnatural (Romans 1:26-27), or, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2:12) or, "Wives submit to your husbands" (Ephesians 5:22), he is simply bringing the newly converted Gentile Christians into line with the ethics of God's unending created order.

Because these ethical standards and codes are so different from those of the world, Paul is hated above all the apostles!

But we must hold onto the authority of the apostle Paul, for, as an apostle of Christ, when Paul writes we hear Christ speak.

What is astounding is that no New Testament writer so exalts or cares for women like Paul:
  • Men and women are equal in salvation - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28)
  • Men and women both may serve Christ in the church - Paul's list of Gospel helpers in Romans 16 is filled with the names of sisters in Christ
  • Paul extols the caring role of a mother, "we were gentle among you, like  a mother caring for  her little children" (1 Thess 2:7)
  • Paul orders special provision to be made for widows (1 Timothy 5)
  • Most dramatically of all, Paul's insistence that Christian husbands love their wives in a sacrificial way (Ephesians 5)
The charge of misogyny against Paul is radically unjust, and you wonder therefore why it sticks.

Here's the reason: Satan hates the order God has wired into the created world and so he hates anyone who upholds that order.  He hates the Gospel and so he hates those who preach that Gospel and it's life-fruits. Above all Satan hates Christ and so he hates the apostles of Christ.

Anyone who preaches the Gospel faithfully today will also be called a misogynist
Any preacher who decides to be faithful to the Gospel message and its ethical outworkings  in the home and church  will alos be called a misogynist - and that is very costly. It explains why so many preachers are running away from Paul - in the end they don't want the reproach of Christ.

But Christ will honour those who are faithful to Him, even though they are despised in this passing world.

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