I can remember quite vividly the first time I really wrestled with the “terror” passages about women in the Bible, specifically the New Testament ones like 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, and all of the passages detailing the household codes. I was 18, it was my freshman year at a Christian university. The environment at this college was much different from what I was used to. I’d grown up attending an evangelical church that was more egalitarian than not and located in a liberal college town. I went to a school where I was one of the few practicing Christians. My mom was (and still is) a university professor and my dad was a full-time stay-at-home dad. Egalitarianism was assumed in my worldview; it was the baseline. It was all I knew.
So, when I got to college and a friend I had just made mentioned offhand that she didn’t believe women should preach or be pastors and that they also probably shouldn’t work after they had kids or at the very least that their careers should take a back seat to their husbands’, I was floored. People still believe that? I thought. When I pressed her about why, she cited verses from the Bible almost exclusively written by Paul to back up her point, and I had my first enemy. No, not my friend (who has since changed her mind), but Paul. Paul, the great persecutor of the church turned great apostle and missionary, remained the great persecutor of women, at least in my mind.
After that conversation I remember spending a significant amount of time pouring over texts like 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11. I had never paid much attention to these verses before because they had never been wielded as weapons against me before. But these verses seemed, as I read them, to support my friend’s point. The thought that ran through my head was almost exclusively, If this is true, I can’t believe in this God.
This issue of Mutuality is titled “Making Peace with Paul” because I am not the only person who has wrestled with the words of the apostle. I am not the only person who has felt how sharp the edge of 1 Timothy 2:11–15 feels when it is turned into a sword and brandished to keep women away from church leadership or teaching the Bible. I am far from the only one; there are millions of us, maybe even billions of us, who have experienced Paul as enemy rather than Christian brother.
The good news contained in the pages of this magazine can be boiled down to this: the good news of Jesus brings equality, and Paul clung to this good news of Jesus above all else. He held it above Roman custom and law, he held it above social hierarchy, he held it above power itself.
Regardless of where you are in your journey of making peace with Paul, this issue will offer something to take with you for the road. You’ll be given space to walk through the grieving process of wrestling with Paul’s words. You’ll be invited to imagine yourself sitting in the Colossian house church when the letter Paul wrote was read aloud, hearing the implication of his words from an entirely different social location and mindset. You’ll be introduced to women Paul admired and empowered like Phoebe and Priscilla, invited to see them not as exceptions but reflections of the rule. You’ll be given tools to think critically about how tradition has grouped verses in the Bible, and why that could obscure for us today what Paul was saying then. You’ll be asked to redefine how you think Paul thought about power. And finally, you’ll be given an example of an early Christian movement that believed what Paul said in Galatians 3:28 meant women could and should be ordained, just like we do today.
One of the articles in this issue ends beautifully by asking you to remember Phoebe first when you read words Paul wrote that seem to oppress women. I want to reaffirm and widen that sentiment: Remember Phoebe, and remember Priscilla, Lydia, Junia, and the many other women Paul called his coworkers, his equals. Remember Galatians 3:28. Remember the gospel of Jesus that Paul gave everything else up for.
Maybe, eventually, we will come to see Paul not as our enemy but as our brother in Christ and an advocate in the fight for our equality.
This article appeared in “Making Peace with Paul,” the Spring 2021 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.