Regarded by some as a misogynistic crank, others maintain that Paul was ahead of his time when it came to women in leadership and equality in general. But what do we make of passages like “women are to remain silent in church,” and “wives are to be obedient to their husbands”? For centuries Paul was cited to support slavery: “Slaves be obedient to your masters” (just like wives to husbands!). Yet his short letter to a slave owner, Philemon, is a brilliant (and cunning) dismantling of that heinous practice. Women, slaves, Jews, and homosexuals are just some of the groups who can point to Paul’s writings as providing fodder for those who seek to defend an unjust and cruel status quo.
I think Paul gets a bum rap. Often he’s not taken seriously or despised on account of pronouncements he likely didn’t make. It was customary in antiquity to affix a name of significance to a document to lend an air of authority. Such was the case with many letters bearing Paul’s name; he simply didn’t write a lot of things attributed to him.
On the other hand, we are indebted to Paul for some of the most sublime discourses on matters of love and gratitude and faithfulness. How impoverished our world would be without expressions like:
Do not be conformed by this world but transformed by the renewing of your minds.
In everything give thanks.
Let us not grow weary in doing good.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
In all things God works for good.
So now faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
So was Paul “an appealing or appalling apostle?” That’s the way John Dominic Crossan phrases the question. Beginning January 23rd, I’ll be leading a class on the Epistles of Paul with a video series featuring Crossan and Marcus Borg. We’ll meet for six weeks on Mondays at 6:30pm (repeated
Thursdays at 10:00am and Tuesdays at Friendship Village at 1:30pm). I hope you’ll join me on a journey of discovery as we determine for ourselves whether Paul is in fact appealing or appalling.
Grace and Peace,