“Misogynist” and “sexist” are popular words today. Often times, these words are used in their proper context and describe actual injustices, biases, and inequalities which need our attention. But when such words are used to describe the apostle Paul, I raise my eyebrows. Not because I am so blindly biased as to think that such would be impossible, but when I read Paul’s writings in the New Testament I do not come to the same conclusion.
Yet, if the charge is true, I want to know. I want to examine the evidence. I have no interest in being a womanizer, a misogynist, or a sexist; nor do I want to follow a religion with a sexist lead contributor to its holy book. Let us examine what the Bible, Jesus, and especially Paul actually have to say about women and their roles.
The Bible and Women
First, we will look at the larger context of Paul’s writings—the Good Book in general. From the beginning (literally), men and women are described as equals. Genesis 1:26-27 records: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.’ God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (NET).
Thus, even on the first page of the Bible, men and women are equal in the eyes of God. Accordingly, both men and women are made in the image of God and intrinsically parallel in worth and personhood. In fact, the reality of women and men being equals in God’s image is a concept unprecedented by any other religion in the Ancient Near East . Also, two books in the Old Testament are named after and focus on women portrayed as strong, faithful servants of God (Ruth and Esther). Even in the Old Testament, we see a portrayal of women that is without equal in contemporary schools of thought.
Likewise, in the New Testament women are portrayed in a positive light. From the first chapter of the New Testament, women are playing a vital role in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, being listed in the genealogy of the Savior (Mt. 1:3-6). This is significant because—per cultural practice—the naming of women in Jewish genealogies in the first century was unheard of.  Even the female prostitute Rahab is repeatedly described as a role model for Christians (Heb. 11:31, 39-40; Jas. 2:24-26). Certainly, a book that is inherently sexist will not portray women in the same light that the Bible does.
Jesus and Women
Before we examine the words of Paul concerning women, we will examine Jesus’ interactions with women. Jesus’ interactions with and treatment of women was incomparably better than any religious leader in first century Palestine. On one occasion, Jesus met with a Samaritan woman at a well (Jn. 4:7-42). Samaritans (especially Samaritan women) were often viewed at a sub-human level in first century Israel.  Yet, not only did Jesus have a spiritual discourse with her, He offered her “living water” which will “spring up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:10, 14). Jesus showed no partiality based on gender or nationality, offering this woman divine forgiveness, eternal life, and reconciliation.
On another occasion, Jesus was confronted by some of the Jewish religious elite. These men had a woman in their custody they were planning to stone because she “was caught in the very act of committing adultery” (Jn. 8:4 NRSV). The Law of Moses did prescribe stoning as a punishment for those caught in the act of adultery, but the Law dictates that “both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Lev. 20:10). An opportunity to hastily enact the “justice” these religious leaders sought by stoning a woman wouldn’t cause a misogynist to think twice before hurling a stone. But what was Jesus’ response? Jesus “stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’” (Jn. 8:7).
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The woman’s accusers left one by one until only the woman and Jesus were left. Then, “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (Jn. 8:10-11). Jesus’ treatment of women was merciful, compassionate, and loving; not sexist, misogynistic, or anti-women.
Paul and Women
Now that it has been established that both the Bible and Jesus are not anti-women, let us examine the man in question—Paul. First, we will examine some of the verses frequently cited to support Paul’s misogyny. Most frequently, Paul’s discussion on the role of women in both the home and the public assembly is highlighted as sexist. Some of these verses include the following:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim. 2:11-14; cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35).
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22; cf. Col. 3:18).
Before we examine the above verses in their context, one question must be asked: “Is a differentiation and definition of roles/responsibilities inherently discriminatory or unfair?” The obvious answer is no. Imagine if a manager with two employees delegated different responsibilities to his employees in order to do work more efficiently and effectively. Would one employee be inferior to the other? Would the manager be discriminating against one of the employees? No, and in the same way, God (our Manager) delegates different responsibilities to His children (employees). Paul is expressing and defining roles for God’s people (both in the home and in the church) and is in no way implying that women are inferior to men.
When examining First Timothy 2:11-14 as quoted above, it is necessary to emphasize that Paul is writing these things to Timothy that he may “know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul explains that women cannot teach or exercise authority over a man in the assembly, not because she is an inferior human being, but as a consequence of Eve’s sin (cf. Gen. 3:16). Some still may take this as sexist, but once again, let us ponder the questions above.
Defined roles do not necessarily express inequality or discrimination. If Paul wrote that women cannot speak in the assembly because they are women and women can’t handle it because they’re weak and dumb—this article would be a waste of time. But the basis of Paul’s restriction is not an allusion to inferiority, but rather to natural consequences.
Moving on to the passage from Ephesians, some may believe that Paul is advocating an arbitrary and complete submissiveness from wives to their husbands because they are inferior. But, let’s look at the verses in their context:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-32).
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them (Col. 3:18-19).
Notice that the same responsibility wives have to submit to their husbands, husbands have to love, cherish, and selflessly sacrifice for their wives. Husbands have a God-given responsibility to respect and cherish their wives unconditionally. Paul does not condone anything less than the utmost love and selflessness from husbands to their wives (cf. 1 Pet. 3:7).
Husbands are told to love their wives in the same way that Christ loves the church. How much does Christ love the church? More than anybody has ever loved anything. Jesus gave His life by excruciating death for the church, and He is returning again to take the church to heaven with Him (Mt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; 2 Thess. 1:10). “Greater love has no one” than what Christ did for the church, and husbands are expected to do likewise for their wives (Jn. 15:13). Paul does encourage wives to be submissive to their husbands—not because they are inferior, but because such a relationship models the most beautiful relationship in the universe: Christ and the church.
Does Submission Equal Inferiority?
A common misconception in today’s society is that submissiveness is to be frowned upon as a weakness. Submissiveness is not a bad thing, nor does it imply inferiority. In fact, every Christian is to be submissive, no matter their gender. Christians are to be submissive to authorities (Rom. 13:1; Tit. 3:1), their elders (1 Pet. 5:5), God (Jas. 4:7), and every Christian is to be submissive to one another “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). Even Christ was submissive (1 Cor. 15:27-28).
Jesus was even willing to empty Himself and become a servant so that we may have eternal life through Him (Phil. 2:7), and every Christian—no matter their gender—is to have that same mindset (Phil. 2:5). After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5), “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt. 23:11), and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Indeed, every Christian ought to be eager to submit to and serve one another, seeking to “Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 12:10 NIV).The unity and lack of partiality found in Christianity was, and is, revolutionary. Click To Tweet
Within Christianity and Paul’s writings is not found sexism, misogyny or anti-women sentiments. There are defined roles, but such does not imply inferiority. Indeed, the unity and lack of partiality found in Christianity was, and is, revolutionary:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:26-29).
Christianity does not support any attempt to mistreat anyone based on their gender. Likewise, when the writings of Paul are viewed in their proper context, it is clear that he is not anti-woman; for he serves a God Who is not anti-woman.