- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Baker Academic (November 15, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801097940
- ISBN-13: 978-0801097942
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ Paperback – November 15, 2016
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"Westfall provides much-needed clarity for those of us who are often perplexed and even alarmed at the apostle Paul's remarks about men, women, authority, and gender roles. She introduces readers to ancient views of marriage and family, provides solid exegesis of key Pauline passages, and instructs us on what Paul is and is not saying in these controversial texts. This book is guaranteed to inform and challenge readers to think of gender and sexuality in light of a genuinely biblical worldview."
--Michael F. Bird, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia
"This is not another book about the 'women's issue.' Westfall breaks new ground in Pauline studies by attending to gender concerns in light of sociohistorical context, formal and semantic features of the text, and literary constructs. She tackles the tough passages head-on, providing clear and at times provocative arguments as she builds her case that Paul upends his culture's gendered stereotypes in light of the gospel mission."
--Lynn H. Cohick, Wheaton College
"After the deluge of literature on gender roles in the Bible, can anyone add anything distinctive and persuasive to the discussion? Westfall has demonstrated that the answer is a resounding yes. This is one of the most important books on the topic to appear in quite some time, and all Westfall's proposals merit serious consideration. The approach does not replicate standard contemporary complementarian or egalitarian perspectives but charts a fresh course in light of first-century cultural history and informed linguistic and discourse analysis. A must-read for anyone serious about understanding Paul on this crucial topic."
--Craig L. Blomberg, Denver Seminary
"Context is the key to interpretation as Westfall makes abundantly clear in this important book, which is essential reading on Paul and gender. She provides insightful, contextually sensitive readings of the major biblical passages that are too often used against opponents in cavalier and potentially harmful ways. I highly commend this book to both egalitarians and complementarians."
--Stanley E. Porter, McMaster Divinity College
"In this wide-ranging study, Westfall draws on her expertise in linguistics and ancient sources to offer new and intriguing perspectives and insights on Pauline texts concerning gender. This work will prompt many of us to revisit these passages with fresh questions and challenge all of us with new and well-argued interpretations to address."
--Craig Keener, Asbury Theological Seminary
About the Author
Cynthia Long Westfall (PhD, University of Surrey) is assistant professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. She is the author or coeditor of several books and is a member of the editorial board for the Common English Bible.
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I specifically like that she calls for the development of a Protestant theology of the body for women founded around beauty of the heart from good works rather than glamorous outward appearance or the physical ability to continue the species as the message of faith is for all women and not those that fit into culturally mandated cliches of beauty or fertility. Westfall goes on to state that a Protestant theology of the body for young men instructing them to be countercultural in choosing friends and spouses based on good works indicating beauty of the heart would be beneficial to the Christian community.
I found the author to be intelligent, insightful, and well worth reading for her contributions to the current scholarly discussion concerning Paul and gender. She is kind to those she disagrees with, while clearly discussing the areas of their statements that she feels are unsupported by the evidence. Finally, her careful presentation of studies, logic, and evidence are irrefutable and therefore her conclusions are difficult to dispute. I look forward to reading more work by Westfall, she is very interesting.
Of course, the debate is 2,000 years old and embraces all church traditions: the general interpretation has been that Paul was sexist and in favor of women's subordination and male superordination. Yes he may have "improved' things a little bit from contemporary models and Judaism, but the consensus has been that he still retained a man-centered theology - one that, oddly, looked remarkably like his secular contemporaries. Like others, Westfall contends that this has been one of the greatest misunderstandings in the history of interpretation.
A few highlights of her biblical observations/arguments, which I generally found compelling (there are several I didn't find compelling but they are relatively minor):
1. It was husbands in Corinth who were tempting women to take off their veil (to display their beauty), not the women themselves. Veils in a first-century context had to do with general respect and dignity (not subordination to men), while showing your hair in downtown Corinth (equivalent to today's Las Vegas) was signalling sexual availability (as if a prostitute). Paul's command for *all*, not some women, to wear veils elevated women in the church and protect them from predation because many of them were underclass slaves and former prostitutes - who weren't allowed to wear veils.
Her conclusion: “If women were resisting taking off their head coverings, Paul was supporting them, their judgment, and their honor within the house church and within the community, possibly even against the church leadership.” (43)
2. Ephesians 5:21ff uses a remarkable number of domestic, womanly metaphors to describe husband's role (washing/laundry, spot-ironing, providing food, etc.), which I was entirely unaware of until putting it all together in the original context. Very interesting and provocative for Paul's larger audience, as that was not really expected. It was, however, a clever way of bringing man and woman together in a counter-cultural vision of godly marriage. (And of course she mentions some of the absurdities of the ESV and other translations in jamming a paragraph break and header between v 21 and v 22, which is syntactically impossible; but this is just in passing as that observation has been made several times before..)
She says: “Women’s work and responsibilities in the domestic sphere had a lower value and status in Greco-Roman culture: making clothing (spinning and weaving), laundering (washing and ironing), bathing children and men, providing and serving food, and last but not least, bearing and nurturing children…The nature of Christ’s action toward the church and the husband’s actions toward the wife in Ephesians 5:25-33 would have been understood as ‘women’s work.’…Paul is subverting male privilege in the home and church. He promotes a model of servanthood and low status.” 23
3. 1 Tim 2 is not a worship context, isn't addressing ministries in general, and can hardly bear the ethical weight that many have given the text in supporting a global, eternal ban on half the church from preaching. To state the obvious, she says: “there is nothing in 1 timothy 2:1-8 that would narrow the context to a ‘public worship service,’ without even considering that worship services took place in the domestic sphere of the home, not in a public location.” (287) Her conclusion on the text, then, is that it is "better understood as a type of household code, whereby the heresies involving women that had invaded the household were to be corrected in each household by the husband, who was in the best position to take responsibility for the spiritual formation of his wife. Rather than prohibiting women from participating as leaders in the church, Paul addresses the lacuna in discipleship that is holding the Ephesian women believers back from maturity and sound teaching.” (310-311)
4. 1 Tim 2:13-15 is addressing misunderstandings surrounding virginity and birth, because of Christ’s virgin birth - esp given fertilility goddesses and Artemis, etc. in first century, which Ephesian women apparently had trouble with. She says: “A woman may think, ‘It is clear from the virgin birth that a man’s involvement in the birth process is dispensable in divine providence, so why would God need or want to make man first?’ And so, and old wives’ tale could be born that would begin to circulate…” (73) She gives six reasons “saved through childbirth” means “a promise that a woman will be brought safely through childbirth is a strong reading" (140).
Along the way she draws some notable theological/contemporary implications. Her tone is snarky but not apologetic; she does have to engage in dealing with some dumb claims because of their popularity. Keep in mind these are not main arguments but just passing remarks in her book:
A) the type of authority complementarians/patriarchalists ascribe to men in general far surpasses the authority either Paul or Jesus ascribed to themselves, or even aspired to attain. Note also that women had authority over men in the Greco-Roman culture if men in their households were slaves; this shapes our understanding of power structures, etc. She says:
“The teaching that the authority of men and the subordination of women are biblical is an overrealized eschatology in which the execution of male authority far exceeds Christ’s authority during his incarnation, or even the authority that he exercises over men in the present age. In this teaching, men exercise authority over women in a way that is not contingent on their submission to Christ—they do not earn it. On the other hand, Christ’s humiliation, suffering, and obedience during his incarnation were the grounds for his exalted authority (Phil. 2:8-11; cf. Heb. 5:8-9).” (89)
B) The whole rhetoric of "role distinctions" was off-base from its inception in the 1970s: “… ‘role distinctions’ are a euphemism for role restrictions of the disadvantaged party; in the traditional paradigm, men have no ‘role distinctions’ because they can theoretically fill any service slot in the church, even kitchen duty and nursery if they are willing to do it. Pragmatically, only women have assigned and specific ‘role distinctions’ in the church.” 171-72
C) In contrast to Douglas Wilson's careless remarks on men's sexual position (colonizing, planting, etc.) and women's passive position (inert soil), Westfall says, "Paul “contradicts the Greco-Roman belief that the man shows dominance through penetration and the wife is submissive through being penetrated; in Paul’s model, both exercise authority and have power while they are equally mastered by each other, as in Song of Songs.” (196)
D) In contrast to John Piper's subjectivism about a man's call to ministry, Westfall says, "“In practice, a man’s experience and emotions are treated as normative in his call to ministry, but a woman’s emotions and experience are treated as suspect and can be invalidated if they lead her to a place that is outside of wherever the male authorities draw the line delimiting the appropriate sphere of ministry for women.” (215)
Her chapter on 1 Cor 14 was rather nondescript, and I didn't understand the relevance of women's veils in Islam today being a basis for interpreting first-century Christian veils, but whatever. She did address larger subjects about gender at large - athletics in the ancient world and Paul's metaphors for this, Paul's being a like a "mother" who nursed the Thessalonians, and other biblical feminine metaphors that Paul regularly implements to describe the church and ministry. So the book is what it says: Paul and Gender, not another regurgitation of the "problem" texts, which is much appreciated.