The Bible’s Viewpoint
Was the Apostle Paul Against Women?
THE apostle “Paul’s teachings have been used as the basis for much of the anti-female bias within the Christian . . . church.” So said Judge Cecilie Rushton of Auckland, New Zealand, in a paper presented early in 1993 to the Commonwealth Law Conference at Cyprus. “His Epistle to Timothy,” she added, “reveals his thinking: ‘But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’”—1 Timothy 2:12, King James Version.
When Paul wrote with respect to the role or station of women, was it simply his personal opinion that was being expressed, or was he divinely inspired? Viewed in their entirety, do the epistles, or letters, of Paul truly reflect an antifemale bias? In what context do the words of Paul to Timothy quoted above apply?
Of the 27 books of the Christian Greek Scriptures, 14 are attributed to Paul. Indicative of the operation of holy spirit upon him was his miraculous ability to speak in many tongues. Additionally, he attested to supernatural visions. (1 Corinthians 14:18; 2 Corinthians 12:1-5) His self-sacrificing, whole-souled, and loving example engendered a close bond of warm brotherly affection between him and his Christian contemporaries. (Acts 20:37, 38) His writings, including what he said about women, form part of the “all Scripture . . . inspired of God and beneficial for teaching.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
Women in Paul’s Letters
Paul’s recognition of and regard for women are in ample evidence throughout his writings. Repeatedly, he makes reference to them in their varied congregational and family roles. In one of his letters, he likened the desirable qualities of a Christian shepherd to those displayed by a nursing mother.—1 Thessalonians 2:7.
Many of the apostle’s Christian sisters, mentioned by name in his letters, are the subjects of his warm commendation. Included in his greetings to members of the congregation in Rome were those addressed specifically to certain women “working hard in the Lord.” (Romans 16:12) With reference to Euodia and Syntyche, he encouraged the brothers in Philippi to “keep assisting these women who have striven side by side with me in the good news.” (Philippians 4:3) In his letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledged the exemplary faith of that young man’s grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice.—2 Timothy 1:5.
In turn, is there any indication as to how Paul’s Christian sisters felt about him? Gratefully, he testified concerning Aquila and Prisca, a married couple with whom he had close personal association, that not only Aquila but also his wife, Prisca, “risked their own necks for [his] soul.”—Romans 16:3, 4.
“Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Do not these words of Paul to Timothy reflect a wholesome respect for womankind? Paul assigned to men and women in the Christian congregation an equal measure of honor. “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” he wrote, “there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28.
With respect to the God-assigned roles in marriage, Paul wrote: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body.” (Ephesians 5:22, 23; compare 1 Corinthians 11:3.) Yes, the respective roles of husband and wife differ, but this does not imply that one mate is inferior. The roles are complementary, and the fulfillment of each constitutes a challenge that promotes family well-being if met. Further, the husbandly exercise of headship was not to be oppressive or unloving. Continued Paul: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies,” being willing to make major sacrifices for them. (Ephesians 5:28, 29) Children were to obey both father and mother.—Ephesians 6:1, 2.
To be noted, too, are Paul’s words with regard to marital intimacies. It was with impartiality that Paul wrote: “Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband. The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does.”—1 Corinthians 7:3, 4.
“Woman . . . to Be in Silence”
In reference to Paul’s words at 1 Timothy 2:12, quoted in the opening paragraph, did his advocacy of womanly “silence” stem from an antifemale bias? No! The “silence” called for was in relation to teaching and exercising spiritual authority in the congregation, this out of regard for the earlier-mentioned divinely prescribed man-woman relationship.*
This does not mean that women cannot be teachers of divine truth. Paul encouraged older women to be “teachers of what is good” to younger women. In following the example of Eunice and Lois, who instructed Timothy, Christian mothers are to train their children in godly ways. (Titus 2:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:5) Today, in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hundreds of thousands of Christian women find spiritual fulfillment in following the examples of Euodia and Syntyche in preaching the good news publicly and in making disciples of men and women.—Psalm 68:11; Matthew 28:19; Philippians 4:2, 3.
Thus, what is your assessment? Do Paul’s writings, viewed in their entirety, justify the charge of antifemale bias?
In regard to the expression “full submission” at 1 Timothy 2:11 (New International Version), Bible scholar W. E. Vine states: “The injunction is not directed towards a surrender of mind and conscience, or the abandonment of duty of private judgment; the phrase ‘with all subjection’ is a warning against the usurpation of authority, as, e.g., in the next verse.”