Critics have used the term misogyny to describe some of Paul's statements. The reason? Virtually all the statements in the New Testament describing women as submissive partners in marriage and subservient to male leadership within the church, come from Paul.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

1 Cor 11:3

Women are to be silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they wish to inquire about something, they are to ask their own husbands at home; for it is dishonorable for a woman to speak in the church.

1 Cor 14:34-35

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Eph 5:22-24

A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was deceived and fell into transgression. Women, however, will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

1 Tim 2:11-15

And here's one ascribed to Peter.

Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your husbands, so that even if they refuse to believe the word, they will be won over without words by the behavior of their wives when they see your pure and reverent demeanor.

1 Pet 3:1-2

I don't know why Paul said the things he did. There are some statements made by Paul that are simply bizarre and hard to understand - such as his comments on "head coverings" in 1 Cor 11:1-13. I suspect he's dealing with something specific here, likely cultural, that we don't have all the background information on. So there may not be a practical application for us today. Remember that many of Paul's epistles were letters directed towards a particular community at a particular time in history.

What we do know from other New Testament accounts is that there were women in leadership positions within Pau'ls immediate sphere of influence. Priscilla and Aquila were a prominent husband and wife team that occupied a leadership role within the early church (Acts 18-19, Rom 16:3-5; 1Cor 16:19). And remember that all of this was occuring in a culture that was deeply patriarchal.

If you need a further proof text, consider the statements recorded by John (the apostle) describing Jesus' disciples reaction when He is talking with a woman - let alone a Samaritan woman - at Jacob's well:

Just then His disciples returned and were surprised that He was speaking with a woman. But no one asked Him, “What do You want from her?” or “Why are You talking with her?

John 4:27

It's that kind of context that needs to be considered when measuring statements like these. Were some of Paul's and Peter's statements influenced by their culture? I think so! Should we transfer this patriarchy into the modern family or the church? I believe that would be a huge mistake! And yet it happens in many church cultures today.

It's in Genesis 3 that things begin to go sideways in terms of the relationship between men and women and their roles within marriage and the church.

I believe patriarchy was a byproduct of the fall - see links at bottom. I don't think it's something Christians should aspire to in their marriages, or in the church. Consider the systemic culture of abuse that plagues many church cultures. If Jesus were to speak on the matter today, I believe He'd point us back to Genesis 1 & 2. Just as he did when He was confronted with the matter of divorce - in Matt 19.

So, what do we make of Paul's (and Peter's) statements above? They are likely very unfortunate reflections of the patriarchal culture of their day. 

When I read Genesis 1 & 2, I don't see a hierarchy of relationship between men and women.

“Let Us make man [aw-dawm] in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.”

Gen 1:26

The Hebrew word for "man" here is "aw-dawm" (translit). It means mankind. It's the same word used later to derive the proper name "Adam" - the first human, or the first of mankind.

So God created man [aw-dawm] in His own image;
     in the image of God He created him;
     male and female He created them.

Gen 1:27

Both male and female were created in His image. There is no suggestion of hierarchy here in Genesis 1 or later in Genesis 2.

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he slept, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the area with flesh. And from the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man, He made a woman and brought her to him. And the man said:

“This is now bone of my bones
     and flesh of my flesh
;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
     for out of man she was taken.”

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Gen 2:21-23

Note that God took one of the man's ribs - from his side. Then the two were to become united.

No indication of a hierarchy. The one does not exercise authority over the other.

The LORD God also said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make for him a suitable helper.”

Gen 2:18

But something bad does happen in Genesis 3 to alter that relationship. See the links at the bottom of this post.

There's also a good article from Eugenie Andruss Leonard that adds some important context to many of Paul's statements.

It's only about 10 pages and it's free.

Create a free JSTOR account to read this and other articles.


For more background info see: