You wrote: it always made me wonder about how reliable the writings of Paul are.
In regard to that question I posted the following article in another thread dealing with this same general subject matter. You may find it to be of interest.
Women Equal In The Church
My recent study of the scriptures has convinced me that the words written by the apostle Paul which are most often criticized as being "sexist," though they were in fact written by Paul, did not actually reflect the apostle's own beliefs about how women should be treated in the Christian Church. Instead, I believe that the context of all of Paul's allegedly "chauvinistic" words shows that they actually reflected the beliefs of false teachers, beliefs which Paul quoted because he felt they needed to be corrected, and teachers whom Paul turned his attention to because he felt they needed to be rebuked. The words written by Paul to which I here refer are those recorded in 1 Cor. 11:3-10, 1Cor. 14:34,35 and in 1 Tim. 2:8-15.
These words in the New International Version of the Bible read as follows:
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (1 Cor. 11:3-10)
"Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (1 Cor. 14:34,35)
"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (1Tim. 2:8-15)
Many Christians have long had a very hard time understanding how the apostle Paul could have written words such as these. Why? Because Paul encouraged Christians to, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1) And the Bible reveals that Jesus always treated women with respect and gladly discussed spiritual things with them. ( Luke 10:36-42; John 4:7-27) And because Paul was the same man who said that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) And because we know that Paul accepted both women prophets and women deacons. (Acts 18:26; 21:9 Romans 16:1) And, we can't help but ask, how did Paul expect women to serve as prophets if he did not allow them to teach or even speak in church, as 1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Tim. 2:12 would seem to indicate?
With these things in mind, I will here discuss what I believe is strong evidence which clearly indicates that Paul was, in these passages, actually citing false teachings then being promoted by others for the purpose of correcting those false teachings.
I believe that Paul's words in 1 Cor.11:3-10 described a teaching promoted by some in Corinth which the Corinthians sent to Paul for his critique. Paul's words in verse 2 serve as an obvious tip-off that Paul was about to directly quote and then comment upon a false teaching that was then circulating in the Church. For in that verse Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings just as I passed them on to you."
I believe the next words he wrote, recorded in verses 3-10, were those in which Paul then quoted the false teaching which the Corinthians had sent to Paul for him to comment on. That teaching was this: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head."
The contents of the next several verses, 11-16, clearly show them to be Paul's rebuttal to the false teaching he had just referenced. For the words in these verses clearly rebut the arguments advanced in verses 3-10. Thus they can only be understood as being Paul's own explanation of the true Christian position on this issue, the position which Paul was really promoting. That position was this: "In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God."
After quoting those who demanded that women wear head coverings to show their submission to men Paul said, "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? ... LONG HAIR is given to her AS a covering." So, Paul was saying women do not need head coverings as some false teachers were demanding. Furthermore, Paul clearly pointed out that men and women were equal in the faith. "For as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God." (verse 12). This argument by Paul clearly refuted the false teachers' statement made in verses 3 and 8 that, "The head of woman is man," because "man did not come from woman, but woman from man."
I am convinced that the now common "male chauvinistic" understanding of Paul's words developed in large part due to the way in which Paul wrote. Paul's use of sharp contrasts in place of clear transitional phrases is largely responsible for causing some of what he wrote to be widely misunderstood. However, Paul's words would have been perfectly understandable by those to whom he originally addressed his letters. For they knew what Paul had previously taught on such matters. And they knew the teachings of others which they had asked Paul to comment on. However, when a third party, such as ourselves, reads the letters which Paul wrote they do not have such "inside" knowledge. And without it, it is sometimes difficult to recognize when exactly Paul was quoting false teachers and when he was actually setting forth true Christian teachings. Because of such difficulties in understanding Paul's letters many of the words Paul actually wrote for the purpose of refuting false doctrine later became widely used to promote false doctrine. And in the process Paul, God and the New Testament have acquired very undeserved reputations as being "anti-woman."
I'll now comment on 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 35. Though I normally use the NIV, I'll use the KJV here because in this passage the NIV is missing an important element. (The Revised Standard Version and others may also be used here. For they contain the same important element.) There we read: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the Church."
Here again, like 1 Cor. 11:3-10, we can see that Paul was quoting the words of false teachers for the purpose of rebuking them. How can we see this? By simply reading the three following verses, 36-38. There Paul wrote: "What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant."
Paul identifies false teaching with either strong rebuke or by clearly pointing out the error and correcting it. Or by doing both. But he does so, as I mentioned earlier, while using minimal transitional phraseology. Here that transitional phraseology is extremely minimal. In fact, it consists of only a single word. But for Paul it only took one word to identify a false teaching. That word was one very strong word of rebuke. In case you missed it, that word was, "What?"
Though missing from the NIV, this "particle of distinction between two connected terms," as Strong's Greek dictionary defines the Greek word used at the beginning of verse 36, is translated as "What?" in the KJV and the Amplified Bible and as "What!" in other translations of the Bible. By Paul's use of that Greek word to begin his thoughts recorded in verse 36 it certainly appears that Paul was expressing both shock and outrage at the blatant sexism which some false teachers were then promoting as Christian doctrine. For those who question if that is truly the sentiment which Paul meant to convey by the first word he used in verse 36, the many words of rebuke which followed Paul's "What?" show beyond a doubt that he was disgusted that such chauvinistic teachings were being promoted in Christian congregations. And he reminded the Corinthians that, unlike the false teachers who were demeaning Christian women, "The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." (verse 37) One of the things to which he obviously here referred was his consistent teaching that in Christ, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)
It is also worth noting that the content of this passage (1 Cor. 14:34,35) itself clearly indicates that the sentiments expressed therein could not have been those of Paul. For verse 34 says that women "are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law." But, as I am sure you know, Paul was the apostle who continually preached Christian freedom and how Christians were not under either the Mosaic law or the pharisaic oral law, to which Paul must have here referred since the Mosaic law contains no such commands. Thus the idea that Paul would have used the authority of Jewish law to support his teachings seems, to put it mildly, most unlikely. So it seems quite clear, that when discussing here and elsewhere the idea that women should be treated differently than men within the Christian Church, Paul was citing the false teaching of some legalistic Jewish Christians. He was not presenting his own beliefs and teachings.
This also raises an interesting question. How was the text in Paul's letters originally formatted? Though I don't believe the actual text of any of Paul's letters has been corrupted over the years, I do believe it is entirely possible that Paul may have differently formatted, "italicized" or bolded some of his original written words. (The Greek language in Paul's day did not use punctuation marks.) I believe he may well have done so in a way that made it perfectly clear to any who read his original letters, when exactly he was writing his own words and when he was quoting the false teachings of others.
Imagine, for instance, if Paul had written his words in a way such as this:
Let your women keep silence in the churches
For it is not permitted unto them to speak
WHAT Was it from YOU that the word of God first went forth or has it come to
Though the words have not changed, it is much harder now for us to miss what Paul was clearly saying to such false teachers. And I tend to believe Paul's original letters employed a similar means of making his meaning quite clear, a means which was lost, not in translation but in transcription.
The evidence also indicates that 1 Timothy 2:8-15, like 1 Cor. 11:3-10 and 14:34 and 35, were words written by Paul quoting false teachers. In the last verse of 1 Timothy chapter 1 the apostle Paul was explaining to Timothy about Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he "handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme." Thus we have reason to believe that in the early part of 1 Timothy chapter 2 Paul was actually refuting some of the teachings of these men. Then in verse 7 Paul pointed out forcefully that, "I am telling the truth, I am not lying - and am a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles." These words of his in verse 7 indicate that he was there contrasting his position as a teacher of truth with the false teachers he had just been discussing and whom he would now quote.
With this in mind, Paul's words in 1 Tim. 2:8 through the end of Chapter 2 can be seen to be a false teaching he was quoting for the purpose of exposing it as such. There Paul wrote, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
In the very next verse (1 Tim 3:1), in referring to what he was next to write, Paul wrote, "Here is the trustworthy saying." With these words, "Here is the trustworthy saying," Paul clearly indicated, as he did elsewhere when using that same phrase (1 Tim. 1:15; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11), that he had previously been referring to either people or ways of thinking which were not trustworthy.
As mentioned earlier, Paul's scant use of transitional phrases, clearly distinguishing his own teachings from the false teachings he sometimes cited for comment, is largely to blame for the problems we now have in understanding the passages we are here discussing. And Paul's use of such transitional phrases is certainly quite scant in this passage of scripture. Fortunately, however, we here have additional reason to understand that Paul must have here been citing the doctrine of false teachers. What reason is that? We know that Paul could not have here been presenting his own beliefs because he had already shown in 1 Cor. 11:12 that the argument, "Adam was formed first, then Eve," (1 Tim. 2:13) in no way proves that man is superior to woman. For, as Paul there pointed out, "As woman came from man, so also man is born of woman." So, why would Paul present an argument which he himself had previously shown to be flawed? ( 1 Timothy was written after 1 Corinthians ) The evidence shows that he would not and that he did not.
Thus we must conclude that 1 Timothy chapter 2:8-15 contain the false teachings of Hymenaeus and Alexander, and that Paul there quoted their teachings for the purpose of indicating to Timothy that he considered them to be neither "true" nor "trustworthy."
Something which also helps us to identify the teachings recorded in 1 Tim. 2:8-15 as being those of false teachers is the fact that they are full of regulations and restrictions typical of legalistic Jewish-Christian sects which were already beginning to spring up in the first century. Such sects promoted a form of prayer, during which the men only raised their hands, common to the first century Jewish religion. They also promoted a dress code for women but not for men and in effect dictated a women's lifestyle, (leaving more money for the men or contributions for the leaders by eliminating expensive jewelry) all on the pretense that God was being served by such.
As I read the words of 1 Tim. 2:11,12, "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent," I recall the movie "Yentyl" with Barbra Streisand. Anyone who saw that film can appreciate the effect such doctrine had and has on women and why Paul would condemn those who promoted it.
These are the passages in the New Testament which are most often criticized for allegedly containing "sexist" thinking. Other passages which are sometimes attacked as being sexist are, I believe, very unfairly criticized. In such passages women are encouraged to be good wives and mothers and are instructed to willingly submit to their husbands at home and in their own personal lives. By doing so it is said Christian wives might be able to help win over their unbelieving husbands and be a good example of Christian humility to all. However, women are never told that they must submit themselves to men within the Church. Wives willingly submitting themselves to their husbands within their homes and women submitting themselves to men in general are two very different things. It should be remembered that Christian slaves were also encouraged to continue willingly submitting themselves to their masters. (Eph.6:5, 1 Pet.2:18) This did not mean that Paul and Peter considered slave masters to be superior to their slaves in any way. Neither does it indicate that Christian slaves were not allowed to hold teaching positions in early Christian congregations. For within the Christian Church Paul said there was "Neither slave nor free." (Gal. 3:28)
Paul's intent in instructing Christian wives to continue submitting themselves to their husbands and Christian slaves to continue submitting themselves to their masters was to cause Christians and Christianity to become well spoken of among the nations. Paul asked Christian wives and Christian slaves to willingly surrender outside of the Church what they were given inside of the Church, full equality with their husbands and their masters. He asked them to do so in order to help spread the good news of Jesus Christ, who, as Paul and the other apostles reminded them, also suffered unjustly for them. (See 1 Pet. 2:18-21)
The scriptures reveal that in the early Church men usually took the lead in most matters, as they still tend to do today. And Paul's letters were written with that fact of life in mind. But this does not mean that women were then or should be today excluded from being appointed as servants in their Churches. This can be seen by reading 1 Tim. 3:8,11. There Paul wrote, "Deacons are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine .... In the same way, their wives (or "deaconesses" as in some manuscripts- see footnote in some Bibles) are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." This, of course, reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Romans: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (or "deaconess") of the Church which is at Cenchrea." (Romans 16:1)
Some use Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:2, where he said that "an overseer must be ... a husband of but one wife," to support their teaching that, though Paul may have permitted women to serve as "deacons" in their congregations, he did not permit them to serve as "elders." To this I say, Bunk! Why? Because it is obvious from their context that Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:2 did not exclude women from serving as "elders." How is this fact obvious from that verse's context? Because the context of 1 Tim. 3:2, namely verses 1-7, clearly shows that Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:2 were meant to be understood only in a very general way.
We can see this by the fact that he said, "An elder must be ... the husband of one wife." Thus those who say that this verse proves that an "elder" must be a man must also say that an "elder" must be married. However, very few of those who say that this verse proves Paul only permitted men to serve as elders say that it proves that Paul only permitted married men to do so. For those who say that would also have to believe that Paul did not permit widowers to serve as elders. For a widower is not "the husband of one wife." Also to be considered is the fact that Paul said that an elder must have "children who obey him." (verse 4) So, according to the "an elder must be a man, because Paul said they must be husbands" logic, all elders must also have children, but not just any children, children who still live at home. For only such children are required to "obey" their parents. But is it really reasonable to believe that in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 Paul was saying that all elders had to be married men with young children? No, it is not. For to believe this we would also have to believe that Paul required that elders give up their positions in their congregations when and if their wives ever died and when and if their children ever died or grew up and moved out on their own. For then those elders would no longer be "husbands of one wife" and then they would no longer have "children who obey them."
These things show that the only reasonable way to understand 1 Timothy 3:2 is to understand that in that verse Paul was simply indicating that the majority of the time elders were going to be men. Why? Because at the time Paul wrote his letter to Timothy few women had enough education to be "able to teach," which is what elders largely did. (verse2) Also in the first century, before the advent of birth control, disposable diapers, clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers and TV dinners, the vast majority of women were far too busy at home to be able to take on the responsibilities of teaching and shepherding a congregation. Because of such things Paul knew that few women in the first century would be able to serve as "elders." However, as I have here shown, Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 no more disqualify women from serving as elders than they disqualify widowers and men without small children from serving as elders.
With these things in mind we have no reason to believe that women were prohibited by Paul from serving as elders in early Christian Churches.
The fact of the matter is that, despite the efforts of false teachers to the contrary, we know that women did serve as teachers in first century Christian Churches. For Jesus Christ Himself told us so. He did so when He instructed His apostle John to write to the Church in Thyatira and chastise them for tolerating the false teachings of a woman named "Jezebel." Though Jesus said that He was displeased with what that woman was teaching, He did not say that He was displeased with the fact that a woman was teaching. That the Church in Thyatira had allowed a woman to hold a teaching position for what was apparently a long time clearly shows that women were allowed to teach in first century Christian Churches. (Rev. 2:18-25) In fact, Paul seems to indicate that there was at least one woman who was even called an apostle. At Romans 16:7 he tells Christians to "greet Andronicus and Junia" who he says were "notable ones among the apostles". The name Junia is feminine (not masculine as many translations would have it). Furthermore, the normal way of reading the Greek would suggest that she was one among those called an "apostle", not just one who was highly respected by them.
The fact that women did at times serve as "elders" (aka "Bishops" or "overseers") in the early Church is also supported by strong historical evidence. Consider the following: An early mosaic in a Roman basilica portrays a female figure titled "Bishop Theodora." A Christian inscription from 2nd or 3rd century Egypt reads: "Artemidoras...fell asleep in the Lord, her mother Paniskianes being an elder (presbytera)." The bishop Diogenes in the 3rd century set up a memorial for Ammion the elder (presbytera, feminine form).
Other passages which are sometimes said to brand Paul as a sexist are Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Tim. 5:11-14.
Titus 2:3-5: "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."
These do not appear to me to be sexist remarks. Though I can see that there here exists an opportunity to take offense, if one is looking for such an opportunity.
1 Tim. 5:11-14: "As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander."
The early Church had the custom of financially supporting widows. Here Paul was advising Timothy to no longer put young women who had lost their husbands on the list of widows who would be supported by the congregation. Why did he so advise Timothy? For one thing, when this was done it gave younger widows who were fully capable of supporting themselves too much time on their hands, time which often ended up being used in nonproductive ways. For another thing, Paul felt that many of the younger widows who were unable to support themselves were capable of finding new husbands who would support them, and by so doing they would no longer pose a financial burden to the congregation. Paul could have, and probably would have, made similar comments about young widowers, if young widowers were being supported by their congregations. But they were not. So he did not. With these things in mind, I do not feel it is fair to label these comments by Paul as "sexist."
Some have asked, if this understanding of Paul's words is correct, why do the writings of many of the early "Church Fathers" indicate that they treated women as second class citizens of the Church? The answer to this question is that even during Paul's lifetime false teachers were busy trying to corrupt what Paul taught concerning full equality of the sexes within the body of Christ. By the time the early "Church Fathers" wrote on this subject the thinking of the false teachers who had been so busy promoting sexism in Paul's day had infiltrated most Christian Churches. This should not come as a great surprise. For the fact that a corruption of Christianity would take place after Christ and His apostles left the earth was predicted by both Jesus and Paul. In fact, it is clear from Paul's writings, that prophesied corruption had already begun to take place during Paul's lifetime. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29,30; 2 Thes. 2:3,7; 1 Tim. 4:1,2)
I now firmly believe that the man God used to write much of the New Testament did not, as is often alleged, promote sexism. Rather, I am convinced that the apostle Paul was actually a very strong promoter and defender of full equality of the sexes within the Christian Church.
I wrote earlier that I believe Paul's original letters most likely employed some means of making the fact that he was at times quoting false teachers quite clear, a means which I believe was most likely lost, not in translation but in simple transcription. That is what I continue to believe.
However, when discussing this subject matter with others it has been suggested to me that I consider the possibility that false teachers who were very active in the Church from the very beginning may have deliberately edited out such "quotation marks" when copying Paul's letters. It has also been suggested to me that I consider the possibility that they may have even edited out a few of Paul's own words, which in his original letters may have very clearly identified which words were the words of the false teachers and which words expressed his own beliefs. I have been reminded that when we are
looking at any ancient copy of Paul's writings ( which is, at best, a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy ), and we do not then have Paul's original "autograph" copy to compare it to, we cannot say for sure how many words, if any, may have been deliberately removed from, or even added to, Paul's writings by corrupt copyists with an agenda.
Many Christians I have spoken to believe that
God only inspired the writing of the Bible writers' original manuscripts, and not the later copying of those manuscripts. That is what they say accounts for the fact that some minor corruptions have found their way into the text of our Bibles over the years, a fact which is acknowledged by nearly all Bible scholars. However, all Christians I have discussed this subject matter with have told me they are absolutely convinced that
God saw fit to perfectly preserve in the Bible all the information that anyone needs to find salvation through Jesus Christ.