Was Paul a feminst?

I’m often amused by objections to Christianity on the basis of the faith somehow being anti-female. Often, when I hear these objections, the accuser points to Ephesians 5:22-24:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

What they often leave out is what follows in verses 25-33:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

When you read what Paul demands of husbands, you start to get a picture of someone who thinks very highly of women. In fact, his reverence of women is found throughout the New Testament and in its day, would have been quite radical.

Paul wrote many of the books of the New Testament in the form of letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, and to individuals like Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. These 13 letters (or 14, if you include Hebrews, which Paul may have authored) are known as the Pauline epistles. Paul often included in his letters personal greetings to members of the church he was writing to. These greetings are at times, shocking!

Romans 16: 1-7:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Who does Paul mention first? Phoebe, a wealthy woman who was known to be a servant and a helper.

Who does he mention next? Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple. But why does he list Priscilla first? After all, Paul lived at a time when women were not considered equals to men. You might even say that they were considered property. Paul could have very easily said “Aquila and Priscilla” or just “Aquila,” but he chose to list the wife first. If Paul hated women, as some claim, he never would have bothered acknowledging them in his letters. If you read on, you’ll see that Paul mentions other women in this same passage including Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis. His inclusion demonstrates that he felt women had an important and vital role to play in the church.

Paul’s view of women being equal is found again in Galatians 3:26-29:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

So how do I, as an independent, modern, Christian woman reconcile Paul’s command to submit to my husband? I wait. I wait to get married until I meet a godly man who is going to love me like Christ loved the church, one who is worthy of my respect and yes, my submission. Until I meet that person, it is better I remain single. The idea that God gave men and women different roles within the church and within marriage does not indicate that one role is superior to another. It is time to embrace a new feminism that not only accepts, but also celebrates, our God-given differences.

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