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February 21, 2005



I think you're wrong when you talk about the favorite bible of American Christian conservatives--they LOVE the King James, and not even the version with the updated language. They believe this translation was divinely inspired, and no subsequent ones are correct or needed. This is particularly true of Baptists.

Hugo Schwyzer

Well, to be fair, there's no painting American conservatives with a broad brush. Intervarsity (the largest evangelical student organization in the world) recommends the NIV. For more evidence of the NIV's popularity, even among Southern Baptists,

Click here

Southern Baptist ministers are split almost equally among four versions: 26 percent NIV, 25 percent New King James, 23 percent King James, and 22 percent NASB.


Read any version of the Bible you want, and place the header anywhere you want, but it won't change the fact that Paul clearly made the man first among equals, even to the obscene level of analogizing that man:woman::Christ:church - and chastising any correspondent churches that strayed from that orthodoxy. While I am generally skeptical of modern feminists' railings about "sexist" this and "patriarchal" that, I think their critique applies in spades to the writings of Paul. His blatant sexism, along with his defense of slavery (see Ephesians 6) is one of the main reasons I am not a Christian today.

Hugo Schwyzer

I'm not sure that it's obscene to make that analogy, XRLQ, even from a feminist standpoint. If men are called to be like Christ to His church, that means unlimited sacrifice of time and energy to the point of death itself. Jesus also makes it clear that he calls his followers friends, not servants; the analogy may be far more equal than we would like to admit.


C'mon, Hugo. If "I'm God, worship me" doesn't amount to an unequal relationship, then there is no such thing. Yeah, it was really nice of Jesus to die for my sins and all, but that doesn't make us equals, not by a long shot. Indeed, the lingering theist in me worries that I'd be struck by lightening if I suggested otherwise.

Hugo Schwyzer

Sure, but Paul doesn't say "Men are (literally) Christ to their wives." He says men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, which is a different thing. Men are to emulate Him, but of course can't be Him. Christ is a model for masculine behavior, but that doesn't make husbands divine.

La Lubu

Hot damn! And here I thought there were only three things Xrlq and I could agree on: the sky is blue, grass is green, and his baby is cute! ;-)


I blogged about this too. And I agree with the above. The church has used Paul's writings for centuries to maintain the lower social status of women. Paul's sexism is a big reason why I'm also not a Christian.

Hugo Schwyzer

But to read Paul as sexist is to read selected passages out of context and to concede the battle to social conservatives. You can't read Ephesians 5:22 except in the context of 5:21, and you can't read anything he wrote except in the context of Galatians 3:28. Win we call Paul sexist, we allow those who embrace traditional patriarchal values to define our relationship with Scripture.


Nope, when we call Paul sexist, we call a spade a spade. Putting 5:21 and 5:22 together does not address the problem, as the former is a general directive for all Christians to submit to all other Christians, while the latter is a specific directive for one sex to submit to the other, just as slaves are to submit to their masters once you skip ahead to the next chapter (which, to borrow your logic, probably didn't carry a separate chapter number in the original, either).

What Paul should have written - and would have, were he a genuine apostle of God rather than a self-important crank - is an Ephesians 5:22 1/2, mirroring the language of the verse preceding it but with the roles of husbands and wives reversed.

I think I've commented enough here that all of your regular readers know I'm not one to make hair-trigger charges of sexism. This is not a hair-trigger charge. This is the proverbial example of "sexism if it bit you on the ass."

Hugo Schwyzer

Well, Paul often does make just such a reversal. Check out my beloved 1 Corinthians 7:4:

The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.


I agree with you, Hugo, although throwing patriarchal around is unhelpful. One must read Scripture in the light of all the rest, and remember that in the ancient Roman world, one of the most common charges against Christians was that they were too kind to women. Paul in fact was being appallingly liberal to his contemporaries. And ditto to Hugo's decent explication of "Christ and the Church"; Christ loved the Church so much, he died for her. So also, husbands are to protect and cherish their wives. I adore Paul. Then again, I'm a good Tory, so I would. To write off Paul is to place oneself above the Bible; something I am not willing to do. Full stop.

As for the NIV, I think you over-rate its importance. It's taken a beating with Evangelicals over the last while; not only for the bizarre inclusive language, but for changing things like "Lord of Hosts" because it was too military. ("The Lord Almighty" is apparently more inclusive). I think also from memory, the NIV says "By faith Abraham", when the text clearly says "By faith, Sarah", but my memory may be faulty. I was in retreat with about 90 young conservative Christians of all stripes; the NIV was called "The nearly Inspired Version", and the NKJV came out clearly ahead. Zondervan has also been taken over by Harper Collins; something which adds to the suspicion; Thomas Nelson's reputation is intact. You can trust Thomas Nelson. Indeed, all the scholars on the NKJV signed the Innerancy Statement; the NIV is slightly more equivocal. It's reputation is in severe decline.


I think what Paul did was to take these traditional structures and relationships (husband/wife, slave/master) and to subvert them, so that while from the outside they may seem traditional, from the inside they are so totally transformed that they aren't the same as before at all. If you look at it today and say why didn't he advocate complete equality, you're missing the radical nature of what he did say. Mutual submission? Outrageous! I don't think Paul was as interested in overthrowing institutions like patriarchy as in making them obsolete, somehow, through transforming the people inside of them - i.e. by telling men to love their wives as Christ loved us (obviously a very sacrificial love) or by telling Philemon to treat Onesimus as a beloved brother. Not what some would advocate today, but I think it's anachronistic to expect that. Also, the fact that the women are addressed as moral agents by Paul, and addressed first, is radical in and of itself. He could've just written to men, saying, hey, remind your wives to be submissive! But that wasn't what he was about.

That's my take anyway. I do think there are some cultural norms that sometimes sneak through in the Bible that don't always apply to us (like women covering their heads and such). And of course many churches preach sexism, but to say, oh that's what Christianity is all about is to miss the point, in my opinion.


Not good enough. It's fine that Paul made some things reciprocal, but others he did not, and anyone who could analogize to Christ and the church - the biggest inequality of all - is beyond rehabilitation.

I agree with John to a point - to write off that sexist screwball Paul is indeed to place oneselves above HIS part of the Bible - but it doesn't necessarily put you above the rest. At worst, it puts one above the Council of Nicea, which took it upon itself to determine determine which allegedly sacred writings should be regarded as scripture, and which ones should be written off as apocrypha. Paul didn't write any of the four Gospels, so it's at least theoretically possible to believe every word they said Christ said without believing a word of Paul's.


There are many metaphors about the relationship of Christ and his Church, one being bride/bridegroom but the other is that the Church is Christ's own body.

Paul had a direct revelation from the resurrected Christ. Also, Paul's letters were written before the gospels were written. They are the earliest accounts of the Christian life that we have.


Actually, the canon was accepted long before the Council of Nicea. There were controversial books; but none of them were Pauline. And in fact, if you accept Luke, you must accept Acts, since they were originally one account. And if you accept Acts, you must accept Paul's authority as an apostle.

Your first point is faulty also, XRLQ. You portray the relationship between husband and wife, and between Christ and the Church, as an unequal power struggle. Not so. It is a relationship of love and respect, not to mention intimate communion, and we are called to emulate it. I also agree with Jennifer that relationships that can be abusive, like slave/master and marriage, are redeemed by Christ, and transformed, just like people are. Christ is in the business of redeeming all creation, and restoring broken relationships between people. Behold, he makes all things new.

Hugo Schwyzer

John and Jennifer are saying it better than I ever could. If Camassia would come over and comment, she could work in John Yoder's theories on domestic relations and Paul.

Michael Williams

XRLQ pointed me to this thread, so I'll toss in a few cents. First, a link to my own post on marriage and submission.

I think there are two issues here. First, that a wife should submit to her husband doesn't imply (as XRLQ says) that a wife is supposed to worship her husband. The wife submits becuase of her reverence for Christ, not because of her husband's own magnificence. Also, a husband is supposed to love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church: not because the wife is super-fantastic, but because of his reverence for Christ.

Second, as I point out in my post, the controversy surrounding this issue is entirely a matter of pride, and the mistaken belief that the one who submits is "lower" than the one with authority. That's a very humanistic approach to power, but not at all what Jesus taught. Humility should guide both partners.

And yes, both husband and wife are supposed to love each other and submit to each other, but the special charges given here are different for each. Is that "sexist"? In the sense that the genders are treated differently, yes of course. Anyone who knows both men and women should be able to attest to the fact that they tend to be very different, so it makes perfect sense that they should be treated differently.


A large part of Paul's writings were to make church communities assimilate into their surrounding cultural context. In fact, one might say that a large part of Paul's mission was to bowdlerize Christ's doctrine so that existing ruling structures wouldn't find it so threatening. For instance, Paul focuses much more on one's interior belief than on one's outward actions (though he doesn't by any means exclude these). Think about the doctrine of justification by faith alone and what it meant to those who might otherwise have been called to do something about their unjust and inegalitarian world. Augustine is pretty much right up there with Paul in this sens . . . But that's probably a radical view.

I don't know whether Paul was personally sexist, he clearly respected powerful females within his mission churches, however, it is very true that his words have been used for centuries to lower the social status and legal and property rights of women. Certainly, those who studied Paul for centuries seemed to have had views closer to Xrlq's than Jennifer's. Of course, modern day apologia tries to make the best of it for reasons that Stephanie more or less encapsulates.

The NIV is a sense translation. It butchers the original in many material respects in service to the "sense" (or interpretation) that certain protestant denominations have made of certain theological points, the eucharist being the most noteworthy.


As the magnificent Slavoj Zizek has opined, wishing for Christ without St. Paul is like wishing for Marx without Lenin. He means this dismissively, but in both cases I'm inclined to say ... if only!!


Barbara, I respectfully disagree with your analysis of Paul, and I think that many scholars of Paul would also. I'm not sure what you mean by "scholars through the century" - certainly, yes, the church has perpetuated sexism sometimes, but I don't know any scholar who says we can ditch Paul in favor of the gospels.

If Paul was trying to make Christianity less threatening, he sure didn't succeed, considering he spent so much time in jail himself, and considering how many early Christian martyrs there were. What are we to make of his exhortation not to conform to the world, to live as the children of light and not as the Gentiles do, etc.?

N.T. Wright, a bishop and New Testament scholar, has many articles on Paul and what justification by faith means in the context of which Paul was writing. A quote:
"Justification by faith itself is a second-order doctrine: to believe it is both to have assurance (believing that one will be vindicated on the last day [Rom. 5.1-5]) and to know that one belongs in the single family of God, called to share table-fellowship without distinction with all other believers (Gal. 2.11-21). But one is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus. 'Justification' is thus the declaration of God, the just judge, that someone is (a) in the right, that their sins are forgiven, and (b) a true member of the covenant family, the people belonging to Abraham. That is how the word works in Paul's writings. It doesn't describe how people get in to God's forgiven family; it declares that they are in. That may seem a small distinction, but in understanding what Paul is saying it is vital."

I don't think that Paul is only concerned with interior belief than outward actions. That's kind of a modern, individualistic reading that can exist only in a society where we separate belief and action. Early Christians did not. To believe in Christ was to belief "into" him, as my preacher said yesterday - to act and behave in a certain way.

Your first point is faulty also, XRLQ. You portray the relationship between husband and wife, and between Christ and the Church, as an unequal power struggle.

Not a power "struggle," but definitely unequal power. That's what the "sub" in "submit" means, for crying out loud. Equality between God and the church is neither attainable nor desirable. And this provision, along with many of Paul's other wrtings (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, 1 Timothy 2:9-15) suggests that from Paul's persective, neither was anything approaching equality between the sexes.


I don't understand what you mean by the doctrine of justification by faith "and what it meant to those who might otherwise have been called to do something about their unjust and inegalitarian world." Think about how Paul admonishes the rich Christians in Corinthians not to be such pigs at communion table fellowship and eat all the food before the poor get there, and how his metaphor of the body says that there is no part of the body that is less important than another. No, Paul doesn't advocate revolution in a sense, but the "doing something" about the unjust world is not to change it through protests or violence (which is not what Jesus did either) but to transform it by creating a new community - of Gentiles and Jews together! How radical that was. So to join this community was "doing something" - it was joining a new family where the rules and traditions of the outside world were turned topsy-turvy, a family who acknowledged that Jesus had already changed the world and dealt with evil, injustice and violence - we have only to live into that and await its final fulfillment.


Jennifer, you have taken the words from my mouth. N T Wright is excellent on the subject of St. Paul.

Hugo Schwyzer

And he is bishop of Durham, which means he is in my favorite cathedral in the whole world.

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