Was The Apostle Paul A Woman-Hater?

By Brian Reynolds

Those who think Paul hated women say there is plenty of evidence to support their theory. Their argument is that Paul’s pre-conversion rabbinical training in the strictest school of the Pharisees and the culture in which he lived formed his thinking (Acts 26:5; Phil. 3:5). The first century sect of the Pharisees had very low, even disparaging, views of women. The fact that Paul was not married is hinted at as being suggestive of his alleged dislike for women. Proof of this, it is said, can be found in Paul’s own statements: Women are to be silent in the churches; they are not to preach or teach; they cannot take the position of an elder, and they are to have their heads covered in the meetings. Beyond this he taught that the Christian wife is to be submissive to her husband. These facts, say the opponents of Paul, are indisputable and such views are not acceptable today.

Back To The Beginning
The best place to begin is in the beginning, which is where both the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul turned when discussing the man/woman relationship (Mt. 19:4; 1 Cor. 11:8-9). Man and woman are equal in creatorial standing – they were both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). The fall of man has not changed this, although there was a disruption of the role and relationship because of sin. Man and woman are also equal in the redemptive work and purpose of God: They are “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 KJV) and “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).

However, the roles of man and woman are different, whether in the natural or church relationships. It is evident that, even before the fall of man, the woman was to be man’s helper, a complementary role (Gen. 2:20). This should not be hard to understand for there are biological differences that are found in the very nature of things. But that does not mean that there is inequality, which is the crux of the issue. The critics of Paul and of the Bible think that equality means there must be sameness, and that equal means the same.

Sounds Like The Serpent To Me
Therefore there is a very strong effort today to blur or deny gender distinctions – a Satanic attack upon God’s prerogative. He has made them male and female, and He has made them different.

In Christianity, these distinctions are to be maintained as Paul insisted. Rather than the apostle, it was his critics who hated. They clearly hated him and what – even who – he represented. Paul was familiar with being attacked and persecuted for preaching the gospel of grace. In fact, his life was in jeopardy. So he would not be surprised today to be ridiculed on the subject we are now discussing.

Fairly Friendly Friends
There are those today who are not as unfriendly towards Paul, but they still try to undermine his teaching. They are fairly favorable to Paul when it comes to the doctrine of salvation by grace; they would agree with him that in Christ “there is neither male nor female” and that we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). But they say some of Paul’s other teachings are the product of his culture and therefore have no authority upon Christians today. His teachings regarding, for example, “headship” (1 Cor. 11:1-16) or the place of women in public ministry (1 Tim. 2:8-15) are often viewed wrongly as local situations of Paul’s day, having no bearing on our modern world.

So What Did Paul Teach And What Exactly Did He Mean?
Let’s look at some Scriptures for which Paul is spoken evil of or that are often explained away as irrelevant. Rather than giving a detailed exposition, my thought is to show Paul’s teaching was connected with what was “in the beginning” and was through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

• 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
There have been many fanciful and twisted explanations of this passage, even among evangelical believers. It appears all the fancy footwork is an effort to explain away the obvious. The theory of some is that the Corinthian culture of that time period necessitated the woman’s head to be covered: Since temple prostitutes let their hair hang down in the open, the Christian women should cover their head or otherwise shave all their hair off. Others try to force the passage into having to do with submission in the husband and wife marriage relationship: The wife has to give some evidence of submission. This theory goes on to say that since head covering is not typical of our society today, then other ways of a wife’s submission can be practiced. Unfortunately the English Standard Version, which is generally a very reliable translation in all other respects, has given some credence to this by translating “woman” as “wife” in 1 Corinthians 11.

However, the passage is not dealing with either prostitutes or the marriage relationship as such. The subject is headship in creation. The head of the woman is the man, and the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God. The man is the image and glory of God and the woman is the glory of the man. The covered head of the woman declares that the glory of man has no place in the meetings of the saints and the uncovered head of the man declares that the glory of Christ alone is to be seen. Only one Man is on display and His glory expressed: Christ.

What I want to stress is that instead of having to do with the culture, Paul removed this subject from that sphere altogether and took it back to the beginning in the original creation. He stated his point in the most definite way possible: “The man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (vv.8-9). Even though the believer is in Christ and a part of the new creation, the order of the first creation is to be acknowledged as long as we are in this world.

• Ephesians 5:22-33
In this passage Paul dealt with the marriage relationship. The submission of the wife and the love and care for her by the husband is a picture of Christ and the Church. Paul said that this is “a great mystery” (v.32). There is nothing at all of inequality here, but there is certainly a different role for the wife than for the husband, and likewise in relation to the Church and Christ. We are one with Him, yet He is the head.

Even within the Godhead itself there are different roles; They are one in essence, co-equal, yet distinct persons. As stated before, equality has nothing to do with being the same or usurping the role of another. Again the apostle Paul did not base his teaching on anything found in his day. In fact his teaching would have been very shocking to some of that time period by giving the woman such an exalted place! Rather, he based it on the creation of man and woman, quoting Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31.

The apostle Peter was in agreement with Paul. Peter lifted the woman higher than anything seen in his day of Roman and Greek paganism. He taught that if husbands are not considerate or understanding of their wives, God will not hear the man’s prayers. In other words, if you are nasty or impatient with your wife, God will not listen to you! He said that the husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). She is spiritually absolutely equal; and because she may be physically weaker, the man must be considerate, or he will not get far with God.

• 1 Timothy 2:8-15
This is one of the most contested passages, yet it could not be clearer in its bearing. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (vv.11-12 ESV). The subject has to do with ministry in the house of God, which is restricted to men. The cry is immediately, “This is inequality!” But the woman’s role is to learn in silence while the men are given an audible role – each has their part. The apostle, as always, went right back to the garden of Eden, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived” (vv.13-14) – and this is exactly what happened. You may protest the Genesis account or Paul’s reasoning upon it, but you cannot say he took it from the culture of his day or that he hated women. There may be women in a congregation more gifted, more intelligent and more devoted than any man present, but God has established an order.

Consider what J. N. Darby wrote: “The part that women take in all this history is very instructive, especially to them. The activity of public service, that which may be called ‘work,’ belongs naturally to men (all that appertains to what is generally termed ministry), although women share a very precious activity in private. But there is another side of Christian life which is particularly theirs; and that is personal and loving devotedness to Christ. It was a woman, who anointed the Lord while the disciples murmured; women, who were at the cross, when all except John had forsaken Him; women, who came to the sepulchre, and who were sent to announce the truth to the apostles who had gone after all to their own home; women, who ministered to the Lord’s need. And indeed this goes farther. Devotedness in service is perhaps the part of man; but the instinct of affection, that which enters more intimately into Christ’s position, and is thus more immediately in connection with His sentiments, in closer communion with the sufferings of His heart – this is the part of woman: assuredly a happy part” (Synopsis Of The Bible, Matthew 27).

Despite all of the devotion and spiritual intelligence shown by the women disciples, not one of them was chosen by the Lord to be of the Twelve. When He sent out the twelve disciples they were all men; and as if to confirm this, when the disciples sought a replacement for Judas after the ascension of Christ, a man was chosen. There were 120 disciples in that upper room and many of them would have been women, but Peter said they were to choose one from “these men” who had accompanied the Lord in His ministry (Acts 1:21 KJV). So if we are going to charge Paul with hating women, we must also charge Peter and the Lord Jesus Himself.

• 1 Timothy 3:1-2
The choosing of elders for the work of overseer is the same as we have seen already – it is confined to the men. Here Paul did not mention the order in creation, but clearly there is no inkling that he is copying the pattern of the culture. Just the opposite, for many of the pagan temples had women priests. One important thing to note is that Paul said that the overseer, among other qualifications, must be “the husband [a man] of one wife [a woman]” (v.2). The ordaining of women elders is in clear defiance of the God’s order. The fact is that believers are being influenced by their own culture, the very thing with which they charge the apostle. There is not one iota of evidence that Paul’s church order is based on cultural patterns. He told us himself where he got his doctrine: “The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).

A Final Thought
It could seem to be self-serving for a man to be writing this, but I assure you that my heart’s desire is to simply present the Lord’s truth no matter what the subject. May we each, whether man or woman, find grace to live out the Lord’s commands for His glory and our blessing!