Genesis and Paul on Women

Friday, May 02, 2003



I apologize in advance for the length of this post. There have been so many arguments by conservatives referring to Paul’s statements on women based on Adam and Eve that a detailed exposition is needed to address why I am not buying any of this.


Even if we assumed a "fundamentalist" reading of Scripture, and we accepted the widespread historically popular belief that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch (or Torah), Moses would live approximately 2,800 years after the time of Adam and Eve, and about 800 years after Abraham.

While we could theoretically argue that God “dictated” to Moses what he should write, or made some sort of special revelation to Moses, God would have been forced to use communication styles Moses understood. This is not due to a limitation on God. Rather, the limitation is inherent to the recipient of God’s revelation. God can do anything, but if he chooses to communicate to human beings in human language, the language must be comprehensible to a human being. This raises legitimate questions about how to interpret Genesis, because even if the entire Torah was revealed verbatim to Moses, we who live in another culture about 3,200 years after Moses do not speak the language or think in the same thought patterns as Moses!

What if the Torah was not revealed to Moses, per se?

Contemporary Biblical scholars suggest that Genesis is a compilation of oral traditions that were gathered and edited by a priestly cult during the time of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the sixth century BCE. The traditions “behind the text” likely formed from four sources, commonly known as J,E,D and P. The J source is the Yawhist cult: a group of Jews who were devoted to a warrior god spoken of in anthropomorphic terms. The E source is the Elohist source, another Semitic cult that worshipped a transcendent spirit god. The D source is the group behind the Book of Deuteronomy, and were city dwellers under king David who compiled J and E and reworked the traditions of their wandering nomadic ancestors into a rough draft of what would become the Torah. Finally, during the Babylonian captivity, the priestly source, called P, re-worked everything and put the finishing touches on what we know as the Torah and Prophets.


As pointed out above, even if we maintained that Moses wrote the whole Torah, God would have condescended to speak to Moses in language Moses understood. In other words, even a theory of direct divine dictation requires an historically and culturally conditioned text.
Since it is inevitable that any means of divine revelation would be historically and culturally conditioned, there is absolutely no reason to assume it necessary that only one author wrote the text. Indeed, given that all writing is somewhat historically conditioned, assuming multiple authors permits us a wider range of viewpoints about the God who we believe inspired the whole text. In other words, God works through the process of history to progressively develop doctrine.

The multiple authors and editors theory better explains insistencies in the text, shed light on how specific words change meaning in context, illuminates what might have been the historical issue being addressed by a divinely inspired author or editor and so forth. This is why even His Holiness, Pope John Paul II has provided some tacit support for the multiple source theory by referring to the Yawhist and Elohist sources in some of his papal writings that refer to Genesis.

Though the Pope has shown his openness to modern theories of authorship, the Church does not dogmatically hold to any particular theory of authorship. Rather, she does hold dogmatically that the Holy Spirit inspired the texts through human agency – through people who were sometimes unaware they were writing under inspiration (Saint Paul explicitly says this in 1 Corinthians 7: 12). The authors used their own ways of thinking, speaking, writing, and so forth. Furthermore, while the Church teaches that the New Testament texts are of “apostolic origin”, she does not dogmatically state that the Apostles wrote the texts. For example, the Gospel of John may have been authored by a school of disciples who trace a lineage to the Apostle, John, rather than being authored by John, himself. Divine inspiration is established by the Church as she discerned which texts of apostolic origin stood the test of time and popularity among the People of God – the Body of Christ – the community of faith which is the Church.


This is a poem with rhythm and meter, having a chiactic structure with a choral refrain. Each line ends with “God saw…and God said it is good”. The world is created in a progressive order form lowest and simplest forms to highest and most complex. Humanity is created last in the divine image. God creates by bringing order to pre-existing formlessness. This order is imposed through the power of God’s word. Interestingly, the word for “abyss” in the opening line is the name of a Babylonian god of chaos spelled backwards. Literary analysis suggests that this is a Hebrew hymn to the goodness of creation created by a God of order juxtaposed against the Babylonian god of chaos.

Day 1: God hovers over an abyss and made light and darkness
Day 2: God made the dome to separate the waters
Day 3: God made the dry land appear and made it spring forth with vegetation
Day 4: The sun, moon, and stars are made to measure days and nights
Day 5: The sea creatures then birds are made
Day 6: The land creatures are made with humanity last
Day 7: The first Sabbath


A stream wells up in the land, and God makes the first man by breathing into clay. This is God’s first creature in what appears to be a separate account with a different literary style. In this account, the fruit trees come next. Then God makes animals form the ground with the woman last, being made from the side of the man. This is an older story, with origins that may be older than the Exodus, since the first of four rivers in Eden are in the land of Egypt. These are the Pishon and the Halilah in the land of Cush.

On a side note, we know from Exodus 12: 38 that the Hebrew people were of mixed ancestry, and many African-American scholars see evidence here that Eden lies in Africa according to an older oral tradition behind the text, and the original Jews were people of color who were gradually lightened during various stages of contact with Europeans: the third century BCE Greek occupation, the Roman occupation, and the later European Diaspora.

Interestingly, some Jews did flee to Ethiopia during all these various occupations, hinting at a possible ethnic or racial identification with these people prior to European conquest. Evidence of this turn to Africa can be found as the prophet Jeremiah warns the people about turning to the gods of southern Ethiopia during his own life-time (see Jeremiah chapter 44).

A genetic trait specific to the Levite priesthood has recently been discovered among Black Bantu tribesmen who claim Jewish origins in their oral traditions among the South Africans. Revelation 1: 14-15 makes a reference to Christ with hair like wool. It is argued by some that this is not a reference to the hair color, but to its texture. With feet of bronze in the same passage, we have further evidence that first century Jews may have been much darker than the twentieth century European counterpart.


The two creation accounts seem to be combined and edited together into one tale during the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century before Christ. Even Pope John Paul routinely makes reference to “Yahwist” and “Elohist” accounts in Genesis to distinguish the two traditions. We saw already that chapter One pokes fun of the Babylonian god of chaos, named Tiamet. Chapter Two, in addition to mentioning two rivers of Africa, mentions the Tigris and the Euphrates, in the land of Abraham’s origin later in the narrative. Apparent contradictions in the text can be explained as a weaving together of two older traditions that originate from different sources. Each tradition has its own theological points, and the combined text reveals the theology of the final redactors.

Where the Greeks saw humanity as merely a rational animal, and the surrounding Semitic and African cultures saw humanity as the pawns of gods of chaos, the combined Hebrew texts make the point that humanity is the height of creation who images God. The texts is monotheistic, and portrays God as a benevolent being who guides history to form a people peculiarly his own.


Woman is either created simultaneous with man, or after man. In the final redaction, humanity appears as the last of the created order, made in the image and likeness of God. The woman is bone of bone and flesh of flesh with the man – full equality, or perhaps even a higher being as the one created last!

Only after the fall will woman take a subordinate role to man. Sexism is a result of sin, and not God’s original intent. Indeed, in the redemptive order, the full equality of man and woman is restored, as we will see in Galatians 3: 28 and other passages of the New Testament.



Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1: 26-27)

This verse, taken from the first creation account outlined above, demonstrates that humanity is the height of creation. The human person is God’s own image. This is sometimes taken so much for granted by modern Christians that forget how radical – how “revelatory” – the Jewish concept is. The pagans saw humanity as pawns of the gods, with so little dignity that human sacrifices were acceptable. Even the Greeks, with their most advanced philosophy, saw humanity merely as “the rational animal”. The Jew saw humanity as the image of the infinite and transcendent God who created the universe!

It should be noticed regarding male and female roles that neither sex is placed above the other in the original act of creation. Neither is subordinate to the other. Neither is said to serve the other. Yet, only as both male and female does humanity image the divine!

What we see here is John Paul II’s notion of the complementarity of the sexes: the two genders need each other to image the divine. Yet, the complementarity is not expressed as one over the other – but the two standing side by side as full equals.

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. (Genesis 2: 7)

In the second creation account, man and woman are created separately, with man being first. Yet, the priestly editor places this account after the progressive account in chapter one. The implication remains that humanity is the height of creation (otherwise, the editors would have switched the ordering of the accounts). Thus, by placing the older Yahwist account after the later Preistly account, the Priestly editor is making a point. What is shocking thereafter is what comes later:

The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." (Genesis 2: 18)

Woman is going to be made last – implying she is the height of creation! No argument from the original creation accounts can place woman as subordinate to man!

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame. (Genesis 2: 21-25)

This verse drives home the point that woman is the height of creation. The man, Adam, was made from clay, but she was made form a living being! She is last in the progressive order. The man instantly rejoices in her presence! She will draw men away form their fathers and mothers in days to come! The fact that the first woman comes from a man is not an indicator of an office under man, or a derivative dignity form man. Rather, it is a literary device that expresses the theme already established – woman is the penultimate of creation!

Yet, as the two give themselves to each other full self-donation, they will become full equals. Woman will lift up man by giving herself to man, and the man is absorbed in her as he penetrates her being – as expressed in creation in the conjugal act. The two will complete one another and become one flesh. The man, who is incomplete by himself, will find fulfillment in this life by joining with the one made after him.

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" The woman answered the serpent: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3: 1-7)

The serpent, perhaps realizing that woman is the height of creation, decides to attack her head on in his assault against the human race. He starts his temptation by introducing a distorted notion of God’s warning to humanity.

God had actually said that humanity could eat of any fruit, except the tree in the middle of the garden. The serpent, knowing the power of scrupulosity, asks the woman if God really said not to eat any fruit in the garden.

It should be pointed out that God had already warned humanity what would happen if they ate the fruit. God is not a cosmic kill-joy putting humanity to an arbitrary test. The tree in the middle of the garden serves a purpose – but that purpose was not human consumption. God’s command regarding this tree was no different and no more cruel than a loving parent telling a child, “Don’t touch the stove or you’ll burn you’re hand”.

Eve responded appropriately to the serpent, clarifying that God did not forbid all fruit, but only the tree in the middle of the garden. Note, however, that by making God’s commands extend further than reality, the serpent has now planted a seed of mistrust in Eve’s mind.

The serpent has implied subtly that God is an arbitrary dictator in the very suggestion that God would make an irrational command. There is a warning here to all of us not to call things sin that are not really sin. In the teachings of Christ, the test for sin will be revealed as the two great commandments and the golden rule. The devil uses scrupulosity to plant doubt about true moral absolutes, suspicion of God, despair, judgementalism of others, or to force us toward the opposite sin of presumption.

With this seed of doubt, the serpent is able to directly contradict God – “You certainly will not die.” Then the serpent mixes a half truth with the lie, “God knows that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and bad.”

It is true that in the act of disobedience, Adam and Eve will discover the consequences of not trusting God, and they will be like “gods” – like the demons – who know right from wrong. Scripture frequently calls demons “gods”, or “gods” demons. Note that the serpent does not tempt people to believe they are THE God. Our fulfillment is found precisely in union with the one true God. The serpent tricks us into believing there are many gods, and that we are among those gods – completely independent of the one true God.

Eve does not seem to care about the enticement to be like a god per se, but curiosity is getting the best of her after doubt has been planted. Besides, the fruit looks tasty. So she takes it and eats it, and she hands it to her husband! The text explicitly says that he “was with her”, and the implication is that this all happening very quickly. In the instant he eats, the two who have already been made one both have an eye opening experience. This experience is shame! In lack of trust – disobedience – to God, they feel naked for the first time – exposed. Nakedness, itself, is not a sin – for they were naked prior to eating the fruit. Rather, their awareness of nakedness is a result of sin.

Then the LORD God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." To the woman he said: "I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master." (Genesis 3: 14-16)

Man becomes the head of woman as a result of sin. The consequence of sin is a distortion in relationships. The one who is the height of creation will be made subservient to that which came before her. We see later than the man becomes a slave to that which was beneath him as well – “By the sweat of the brow” he will reap the goods of lesser creation from which he came.

The fact that women’s subordination is a result of the fall, rather than the original plan of creation, should point us to what will occur in the redemptive order of Christ. In Christ, full equality will be restored!



Paul is a fantastic pastoral theologian. He acts as a sort of poetic marketing agent for the early Christian cause. However, as the Second letter of Peter (2 Pet 3: 15-16) attests:

“…our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.”

Paul, himself, also explicitly tells us at times that he was unaware he was writing divine revelation. For example, on marriage to a unbelieving partner, he says, “To the rest I say, not the Lord: if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her.” (1 Corinthians 7: 12) We need to be careful when reading Paul to make sure we understand his intent and style.

Paul often uses humor, words with double meanings, and generally plays with language to make his point. He is not what the Church traditions calls a “systematic theologian”. In Paul, we do find the fine distinctions of a Thomas Aquinas. Rather, we find a powerful use of rhetoric to make practical points. In his own words, Paul always tries to be “all things to all people” (See 1 Corinthians 9: 20-22).

For example, when Paul speaks with pagans so often, where rather than telling the accurate truth that there is only one God, he says "For sure there are many gods, but one Lord over all" (See 1 Corinthians 8: 5)

Paul walks into the town square and points at the statue of an unknown god, and says, (in effect) "This god you worship that you do not, let me tell you the real truth about him" and then he proceeds to tell them the gospel. (See Acts 17: 22-24).

Rather than saying their god is false, Paul grants them that their own presumptions may be true, and adds a new twist to those presumptions that eventually will overturn their belief system!

Paul uses this same style to address celibacy, where he says "Now for the matters you wrote about, 'It is good for a man not to marry'." and then reverses himself just a few verses later by stating "it is better to marry than to be on fire". Grammatically, most scholars believe the first statement is a quote. He is saying, "So you say it is better for a man to never touch a woman". (See 1 Corinthians 7: 1 and 9)

Paul does the same thing with many issues, including kosher laws, vegetarianism, circumcision, works righteousness, etc....He is always presenting the opposing argument or assumptions of his listeners first, then overturning their beliefs.

Furthermore, he uses literary plays on words. In Titus 1: 12-13, the only Cretan who told the truth was the one who said all Cretans are liars. In another bit of humor, he says: I wish that those Jews commanding circumcision would slip with the knife and castrate themselves (See Gal 5: 12)


But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5: 14)

This passage does not support a theory that sin entered the world through Adam, or that Adam is responsible for sin. Nor does this passage imply Eve is responsible for sin. Indeed, the passage seems to imply that there may have been some people who avoided sin (perhaps committing no “mortal sins” ) in the Old Testament period. All that this passage demonstrates is that sin had power in the world (reigned) from the time Adam lived, until the time Moses lived – which is before the written law. The passage is not about male or female roles. Rather, it is about the law of conscience that is written on our hearts!
For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, …(1 Corinthians 15: 22)

It has been proposed to me once by a conservative layperson that since death came through Adam, rather than Eve, and life came through Christ, rather than Mary, man has a role or office of responsibility for salvation that is not inherent to woman.

I believe this is a stretch. The text makes no such implication taken by alone. If we take this argument seriously, we have two problems to resolve.

First, the implication of such a stretch would be that women cannot be responsible for their own sins, which is absurd.

Second, the actual entry of sin in the world is physically through Eve, and the actual entry of new salvific life in the world is through Mary. In both cases, the woman is chronologically first.

Two points can clarify this. Remember that Paul uses words in such a way that they sound good. He is an extraordinarily gifted master of rhetorical style. His point is that Christ is the savior, and he is not trying to make a point about women at all. The literary parallelism comparing one man and another flows in literary artistry better than a compare of a woman to a man.

Furthermore, we already saw that Adam and Eve were together at the fall and are complementary to one another. What began in Eve was completed in Eve. Yet, both are equal and complementary participants in the Fall.

Likewise, Mary is always with Christ: at birth, when he begins his ministry, at the foot of the cross, and even at Pentecost after the resurrection! What begins in Mary is completed in Christ, and the two – like Adam and Eve – work together in a complementary fashion. Thus, the Church can call Mary our mediatrix and co-redemptrix in a meaningful way, hinting at just how deeply each of us can be drawn into the mystery of the incarnation as we participate in the divine nature (see John 1:12-18; 17:3; Romans 8:14-17; and 2 Peter 1:3-4 and Par 1996 of the CCC.)

So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15: 45)

It would seem that the notes outlined on our last reference apply to this verse as well. Interestingly, we see that Adam was first in chronological order of creation and being first was sort of inferior in Genesis. Jesus is the “last Adam”, coming after the new Eve and as the weaker of the human complementary pair – even so subordinate as to be the child his complement!

Overall – any assertion that a specific role for men based on responsibility for sin in the person of Adam seems unfounded.


There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3: 28)

Paul could not be any more explicit that the redemptive order reverses the consequences of the Fall. In Christ, there is no more distinction of subservience in any human relationships. The walls between Jew and Greek have collapsed. The slave is no longer subject to the free person, or vice-a-versa. Men and women are equals. We are all one in the Body of Christ!
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5: 21-33)

This verse is difficult for many contemporary Christian women, especially in verse 22, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”

However, remember that Paul often starts an argument by quoting his opponents, and then overturning their assumptions. The Jews at the time of Christ did not allow women to enter inside the synagogue or temple. Women sat in what we might call the nave, and watched the men worship through a grill. The men prayed thanking God that they were made men, and not women. Women were considered inferior to men from the time of the Fall, within Judaism and in most pagan cultures. As we saw from Genesis above, this blatant sexism was a result of the Fall, but even God’s chosen people seemed to have distorted the sin into a notion that this was God’s original blueprint. Paul, based on Christ, will overturn this assumption!

Look at what Paul actually does here (I color coded it and places sections in different fonts so that it jumps out better).

In verse 21, Paul gives us a very short foreshadowing of what he is about to do: “Be subordinate to one another…” Then he quotes the popular Jewish (and pagan) belief that wives should submit to their husbands, which had been “christianized” by those who used the Body of Christ metaphor to imply man was head and women were below the head. At this point, all the men in the audience are saying “Amen!” – but we’re only four sentences into passage.

Suddenly, Paul does a reversal. He tells the husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church – handing themselves over to their wives (in total self-sacrifice unto death)!

In effect, what Paul has done has said is “OK guys, you say you are the head of women, because Christ is head of the Church. Fine. Let’s assume that’s true. Let me tell you what it means to be head as Christ is head. It means you lay down your life for the other”
In this single sentence, Paul has completely turned the notion of headship upside-down. The gospel according to John makes a similar point when Christ washes the feet of the disciples, saying that the master is to be one who acts as a servant!

To drive home the point Paul is making, he spends seven more sentences (as translated into English) pounding the message into the heads of the men. This passage in context does not support any idea of men having positional authority over women. Rather, the passage supports the exact opposite conclusion. In Paul’s theology, women submitting men is not important – the point is that men must submit to women unto death! There must be mutual submission or no submission at all!

As an aside, each time Paul speaks of the Church as Christ’s bride, he does so by contextualizing the metaphor in the Body of Christ metaphor that he uses so much more frequently. The wedding imagery points to union (the two becoming one), and deeper reality of what the Church is in essence is always the Body of Christ!

But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11: 3-16)

This passage makes another reference to the husband as head of the wife, tying the notion to Christ as head of women. The issue addressed in this passage, however, seems to be one of modest dress in first century culture. Paul is starting with the assumptions of his audience once again, but this time he is arguing for a distinction between men and women to justify why they should dress differently.

The argument is strained from our contemporary viewpoint (what does Paul mean when he says, “for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels”? Does this imply a veil is a sign of submission or authority? What do angels have to do with it? Is it really shameful for a man to have long hair, and a woman short hair? What about Sampson in the Old Testament?

Precisely because the argument presented is beyond our understanding, the Church does not ask women to cover their heads anymore at Mass. This is a perfect example of the fact that some Biblical teachings are bound to a particular time and culture in a manner that cannot be easily translated into our modern context. The best we can say is that dressing modestly is a good idea.

The third sentence regarding women praying and prophecying in church is placed in bold to highlight that women spoke in the assembly. Indeed, the role of “prophet” was an official position of instruction, and according to ancient sources, the Apostle, Phillip, had four daughters who held this office. This is significant because in first century Judaism, and in the African and Western parts of the Empire, women were not permitted to worship with men. Yet, here we see women were not only permitted to worship with men, but they were permitted to pray out loud and offer instruction to men!

I placed the word “independent” in bold (Woman is not independent of man). The Greek is choris, and you can check any Greek lexicon to see that the word can be translated accurately as “distinct from” (Woman is not distinct from man.). The thought ends with “but all things are from God.” In other words, Paul is admitting that he is struggling a bit here.

He feels women should wear veils, but he’s having a hard time articulating why he feels this way. Remember, Paul is not aware that whatever he is saying will become part of a Bible!

Paul’s difficulty comes from the fact that he recognizes that even though people like to say man is the head of the woman, he knows women is not really distinct from man in Christ, and all things are form God. He knows that just as woman came from a man in Genesis, man now comes from woman in birth. So he knows there is no real good argument, and concludes by stating, “But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.”

Rather than offering a compelling reason, he simply appeals to the common practice of other churches – what we would call the sensus fidei!

Does the sensus fidei still hold to the practice Paul proclaims? Of course not!

Women do not wear veils in many, if not most, Catholic cultures today. If the sense of the faithful was Paul’s only good argument for what he was saying, we see now that the Holy Spirit has guided the Church to a less culturally bound understanding. Women (and men) should continue to dress with modesty, simplicity and propriety. However, this general principle will take different forms in different times and cultures.

So what is to be done, brothers? When you assemble, one has a psalm, another an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything should be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be two or at most three, and each in turn, and one should interpret. But if there is no interpreter, the person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others discern. But if a revelation is given to another person sitting there, the first one should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets' control, since he is not the God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God go forth from you? Or has it come to you alone? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or a spiritual person, he should recognize that what I am writing to you is a commandment of the Lord. If anyone does not acknowledge this, he is not acknowledged. So, (my) brothers, strive eagerly to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues, but everything must be done properly and in order. (1 Corinthians 14: 26-40)

Within context, this passage is addressing rules for worship in a Christian community that is charismatic in nature. This letter provides some good Catholic apologetics against some extremely charismatic Protestant groups who believe that those who do not speak in tongues are not saved (Paul sees tongues as the least worthy gift, and faith, hope, and love as the gifts that matter most, with love being the greatest.

Throughout chapter 13 and 14, Paul is arguing against those who speak in tongues in middle of public worship services, and become “a noisy gong”. He is also correcting some misunderstandings about the nature of the gift of prophecy, which is a gift that should edify the community within the context of careful discernment. He upholds proper liturgical forms of singing Psalms and reflecting on Scripture.

There is no mention here of relations of wives to husbands, or male headship over women. However, verses 33-35 (the second bolded section above in red font) clearly seem to imply women are generally subordinate to men and should remain silent in public worship.

However, a few points must be made here. First, we must remember that this is the exact same letter we were just examining a moment ago. In 1 Corinthians 11: 5, already quoted above, we saw that women did prophecy in the church. Whatever this passage might mean, it cannot be understood as an absolute rule of silence for women. Indeed, if it were, women cannot say the responses at Mass today!

Second, verse 28 (the first sentence in bold) exhorts the general community to be silent at times, including the men. If verses 33-35 are not absolute since women did prophecy in church, and verse 28 imposes silence on men as well as women, we can begin to see that what is happening here is not a general rule aimed at all women in the Church for all times.

Rather, the issue here is a specific problem of order in the Corinthian community that Paul is addressing throughout the letter. In this particular church – not the worldwide church, but this particular one – there were people getting carried away with ecstatic charismatic gifts to the point where they were open to what we call cult like behavior. This is something like the modern day Brownsville revival or “Word-Faith” movement, and it appears that women in this particular church were causing more problems than others.

A third point is that the text in bold red is not in some of our oldest manuscripts, or in others, it is placed at the end of the section, rather than the middle. Indeed, if we omit the three verses all together, the passage still makes perfect sense, and flows more coherently form a literary perspective.

This leads many scholars to speculate that Paul did not write the passage at all, and it certainly does not fall in the category of a “commandment from the Lord” as implied in verse 37. Furthermore, the implication that women are to be subordinate to men as a general rule does not fit consistently in Paul’s thoughts on women as we have seen in Galatians 3: 28, or his mutual submission theology in Ephesians, or his struggle to describe why women should wear a veil when they are not “distinct from” men.

The verse has been accepted in the Canon, so I am not arguing we can ignore it. However, we must be cautious of seeing this verse as a reflection of Paul’s overall thoughts on women. We must be cautious about claiming this comes directly form the Lord. Finally, we must be cautious about seeing the intent of whomever authored it as being an absolute rule!

The best reading based on the evidence is that this is a later interpolation intended to address a specific issue of disorder in a highly charismatic community. To go beyond this is to read too much into an ambiguous interpolation in the text that would not be well supported by the manuscript evidence.

It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument. Similarly, (too,) women should adorn themselves with proper conduct, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hairstyles and gold ornaments, or pearls, or expensive clothes, but rather, as befits women who profess reverence for God, with good deeds. A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Further, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2: 8-15)

The entire letter of 1 Timothy may not have been written by Paul at all. The text is part of the canon, and therefore is considered inspired, regardless of who wrote it. However, whatever the author is saying about women may or may not be a reflection of what Paul believed about women.

Many scholars question Pauline authorship because the hierarchical nature of the Church is far more clear in this letter than those letters known to be written by Paul. There are also other stylistic and linguistic clues that Paul may not have been the author. On the opposing side of the debate, there is evidence in the dead sea scrolls that the language and church structure very well could place composition in Paul’s life-time, and therefore even if he did not write the letter with his own hand, he may have authorized it.

Regardless, the passage is selected because it clearly seems to prohibit women from speaking in the church once again. On the other hand, the verb epitrepsein/epitrepw which is translated in English as “I do not permit” in the bold sentence can be translated in this context as “I do not permit for now”.

Indeed, in most places this verb is used in the New Testament, such a rendering is either definite, probable, or a possible alternative. In the context of the letter, this makes the most sense. Some examples include Matt 8:21, Mark 5:13, John 19:38, Acts 21:39-40, 26:1, 27:3, 28:16 and 1 Cor 16:7.

Note that the preceding sentence speaks of women receiving instruction. What about after a woman has completed instruction? Is she still bound to silence after this?

On the one hand, the appeal to Genesis might seem to indicate that this command is rooted in nature, and applies to all women for all times. This is the strongest support for arguments made by conservatives regarding a link to women’s subordinate role in the New Testament that would tie back to the original creation account.

However, note that in this appeal to Genesis, the author is saying the reason women are subordinate is that sin comes through Eve – not Adam, and Paul says so often elsewhere. This is the type of literary evidence that leads people to doubt Pauline authorship.

Furthermore, we shall see that this same author is about to demonstrate the strongest evidence in the New Testament that women were once ordained presbyters – which will force us to adopt the more temporal reading of the prohibition on women speaking!
From this same letter, 1 Timothy 5: 17 is translated in the New American Bible as follows: “Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching.” In verse 22, we see that this office is conferred through the laying on of hands!

The word “presbyter” in the letter is clearly a title for ministry of the Word, though its secular meaning is “elder”. Indeed, the use of the word “presbyter in First Timothy is quoted twice at the Second Vatican Council as evidence of the establishment of priesthood in the New Testament era: The references are Lumen Gentium no. 28 footnote 183, and 1 Timothy 4:14 is referenced in footnote 155 of LG 20,21.

The opening two verses of the very same chapter we just quoted (1 Tim 5: 1-2) is as follows: Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters with complete purity.

The original Greek reads as follows:

Presbutero me epiplexes alla parakalei hos patera, neoterous hos adelphous, presbuteras hos meteras, neoteras hos adelphas en pase alneia.”

Note that what is translated as “elder women” is a presbyter in its feminine form – one who possibly instructs young “sisters”. The young people are referred to as “neoterous” and “neoteras”, which is a word that is more accurately translated as “recruit”, “neophyte” or “novice”. In other words, the temporal reading that women are to receive instruction silently “for now” makes the most sense of the text if we wish to use this text as a reference to the existence of ministerial priesthood in the New Testament era – which we have done, and to some extent, must do, because only in the pastoral epistles is the role of presbyter this clearly defined!

On the other hand, if we switch back and forth in translating the word as “elder” in some places, and “presbyter” in others, we are guilty of inconsistent translation based on anachronistic isogesis. The Protestants (who deny priesthood) consistently translate the word as elder even in verse 17 of chapter 5 (see the RSV or NIV).

Also, in 1 Timothy 3: 8-13, it is implied that women were deacons. This is from a footnote in the New American Bible on the passage:

Deacons, besides possessing the virtue of moderation (1 Tim 3: 8), are to be outstanding for their faith (1 Tim 3: 9) and well respected within the community (1 Tim 3: 10). Women in the same role, although some interpreters take them to mean wives of deacons, must be dignified, temperate, dedicated, and not given to malicious talebearing (1 Tim 3: 11). Deacons must have shown stability in marriage and have a good record with their families (1 Tim 3: 12), for such experience prepares them well for the exercise of their ministry on behalf of the community (1 Tim 3: 13).

The letter also makes mention of the bishops, but there is no evidence of women bishops. Thus, we can derive the probable meaning of the original passage on women that we were examining. Women are to remain silent while under instruction. After this, they could progress to the office of deacon or presbyter.

However, this author, who is not likely Paul, seems to believe that a woman should not be a bishop – explaining what the author meant by stating that she is to have no authority over man, even though he acknowledges presbyteresses. This author sees a justification for excluding women from episcopacy in the fact that sin came through Eve, which is different than the pure Pauline notion of sin coming through Adam.

In response to the issue of a possible prohibition against women bishops, it must be pointed out that the letter to the Romans is undoubtedly written by Paul. In Romans 16: 7, a woman named Junia is referred to as an “Apostle”, and in Romans 16: 1-2, Phoebe is called a deacon. It seems that authentic Paul had no problem with women holding positions of ministry and authority in the Church whatsoever – completely consistent with all we have seen of his thought on women in general.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. (Colossians 3: 18)

Keeping this comment simple, it seems Paul is speaking of mutual submission in this singular verse, given all that has been previously said.

…older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, under the control of their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. (Titus 2: 3-5)

Titus is another letter probably not written by Paul. Yet, we see here another reference to “older women”. Once again, the Greek is “presbyter” in its feminine form. In this passage, the younger women are not “neoteras”, but “neas”, which can only be translated as “young woman”, rather than novice. This passage seems to be a general exhortation to women priests to be upright people – the same sort of advice given to male ministers.

Let’s turn away form Paul for just a second to look at one passage raised by conservatives. The passage is by the author of the Petrine letters:

Likewise, you wives should be subordinate to your husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives' conduct when they observe your reverent and chaste behavior. (1 Peter 3: 1-2)

It must be pointed out that this same letter justifies slavery, telling slaves to be obedient to their masters. Since my focus is on Paul, rather than Peter, I only wish to point out that we recognize already a certain cultural conditioning on this author, and do not see any of his other teachings on submission as justification for creating a legal structure demanding submission. Rather, there is a spiritual exhortation to find meaning in those situations where we are under oppression, without necessarily accepting the permanency of the structure itself.

BOTTOM LINE: There is no justification in Paul for excluding women from deaconate and ministerial priesthood. Indeed, the Pauline corpus seems to prove that women were ordained in the early Church. There may be some fuzzy justification for excluding women from the episcopacy in 1 Timothy, but then we have to deal with the fact of a woman “apostle” in authentic Paul.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 7:39 PM

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