Sometimes it’s a bit amusing, I feel as if I’ve been living under a rock, and I really have, thank God, The Rock that is higher than I. So, I had no idea that the Apostle Paul caused so much controversy. In some circles He is considered very politically incorrect. Non believers try to claim he suffered from temporal lobe problems, if he existed at all. Some feminists try to claim his contributions to the bible were forged at a later date. I was a bit baffled by all the fuss, until I stumbled on some rather false teachings about Paul a few years ago and began to catch on. Good grief, there’s some real ugliness falsely attributed to Paul, mostly about the alleged vast superiority of men and the need for women to remain subordinate at all times. If I thought that was the essence of who and what Paul was, I’d shy away too.
Actually that really breaks my heart. I love the Apostle Paul and have been so blessed by his teachings. Ironically it’s his great love for women, and for people in general that charmed me, that has kept me studying him and things he has taught.
In the process of one of these discussions on the internet, a kind soul suggested I read, “Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time” by Sarah Ruden
I haven’t finished it yet so I cannot give a proper report, but I like her tone ( and her humor) and especially the way Paul is put in the context of the times he is living in. There is so much misunderstanding of the bible because words are taken out of context, out of history, and perceived thorough modern, Western eyes. Slavery for example, the bible does not condone slavery, it outlines some rules about more humane behavior during a time when we actually crucified people and slaves were not even regarded as human. Homosexuality too, today some perceive it more as a choice between consenting adults, and completely forgotten is the historical context of forced sodomy with young boys, and the culture of sexual excess practiced in both Roman and Greek culture.
One needn’t read this little book to understand that Paul actually liked women a great deal. That seems to come through loud and clear to me within the pages of the bible itself. Lydia of the purple cloth for example, one of his first converts. Women were all over the early church and Paul and his followers are often to be found meeting in their homes, writing letters to them, working together to build the early church.
One thing I have always enjoyed about Paul is his understanding of classism and power issues. In the context of the time he was living in, this speaks so clearly to me. Veils for women in church for example, actually created equality between prostitutes and married women. Women were under protection within the church, and veils rather than being oppressive, were a cultural marker of status. You wore a veil as a symbol of being redeemed, claimed, now equal to the women of higher status. Later we learn about not adorning yourself with jewels and fancy garb, not a puritan call for plainness and submission at all, but as a way of creating equality among the members of the church and avoiding hierarchies. The early church was filled with former prostitutes, women married to non believing husbands, wealthy merchants, former slaves. Wealth, poverty, status, racial, and cultural strife. Paul is an architect, he is building unity and creating a new way of doing things that is completely counter cultural and surpringly respectful of human dignity.
Paul is often quoted as nothing more than “wives submit” but so often forgotten are all his recommendations on, “husbands love your wives.” Love was a radical idea in a world of cultural excess, ruled by human hierarchies, and dominated by brutality.
It still is.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28