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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Paul and Clement: Egalitarian Champions?

Codex Boernerianus, also known as G, relocates 1Co 14:34-35, and in their place has a single word, διδασκω, a verb meaning "teach."

Reading 1 Clement for the first time, I ran across a passage which I find historically interesting. For those who may not know, tradition holds that Clement was Bishop of Rome c.92-c.99 AD, and wrote a letter to the Corinthians c.95, here denoted as 1 Clement. While scholars dispute its authenticity, the date is largely uncontested, making this text a very early witness for Church doctrine. I quote the surprising passage from chapter 21:

06 Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us; let us esteem those who have the rule over us; let us honour the aged among us; let us train up the young men in the fear of God; let us direct our wives to that which is good. Let them exhibit the lovely habit of purity [in all their conduct]; 07 let them show forth the sincere disposition of meekness; let them make manifest the command which they have of their tongue, by their manner of speaking; let them display their love, not by preferring one to another, but by showing equal affection to all that piously fear God. Let your children be partakers of true Christian training;[1]

Of course we can interpret this passage in several different ways. Should men also "show[] equal affection to all that piously fear God," or just women? What sort of discrimination is Clement condemning? Does he wish us to overlook classes and socio-political influence? Or is he merely referring to the preference of one doctrinal faction over another? However we read it, though, clearly the notion of a oneness in Christ has the potential to fuel an egalitarian spirit. Therefore we refer back to that famous passage of the New Testament, in Galatians 3 (ESV), where Paul articulates that very sentiment:

24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Yet while Paul's most explicit endorsement of gender equality appeared as above in Galatians, we may glean additional insight from examining his epistle to the Romans.[2] In chapter 16 of that letter, he extends greetings to a number of churchpersons, among them a woman called Phoebe, "a patron of many and of" Paul, that the Romans "may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints." He thanks the couple "Prisca and Aquila," naming the woman Prisca before the man Aquila, and calling them both "fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks" for Paul's life, and in whose house the Romans are expected to meet.[3] Paul also mentions a certain Mary, "who has worked hard" for the Roman church, and Junia, his "kins[woman]" and "fellow prisoner[]," who was "well known to the apostles." He also gives the names Tryphaena, who may or may not have been the same as one Antonia Tryphaena, a Thracian princess from the first century, and Tryphosa, who he describes as "workers in the Lord." He further greets the mother of a Christian man named Rufus, the sister of another man Nereus, and a woman named Julia. So, we can see that whatever Paul's view of women in the church, he deems them honorable, worthy of respect, and valuable in their contributions to the community.

Sadly, this all stands in stark contrast to the demeaning comments of 2 Timothy chapter 2 (ESV):

8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness---with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing---if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

If we regard the Pastorals as authentic epistles of Paul, then this passage demands we temper our interpretations of Galatians 3 and Romans 16. If not, and if the Pastorals were written as might be supposed in the late first century, about the time of 1 Clement, then we see that egalitarianism could not have completely dominated the proto-orthodox movement. However, it is certainly possible that the Pastorals date from the early-to-mid-second century, in which case we would observe the beginnings of a framework of evidence showing that the beginnings of proto-orthodoxy began with the ingredients for an egalitarian movement, and then drifted later away from that laudable tradition, at least with respect to gender.

On the other hand, we must not overlook the infamous passage from 1 Corinthians 14 (ESV):

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

One immediately notices the parallel to 2 Timothy 2. How can one argue that the Pastorals depart from the usual theology of Paul if it explicitly reflects his teachings from 1 Corinthians? Unfortunately, this matter is not quite as simple as we might like it to be; for as it happens, we have a textual problem in 1 Co 14:34-35 (the italicized words above). For while no manuscript actually omits the passage altogether, several Western text-type witnesses place it after v40.[4] Thus our text is not perfectly stable, and given the disparity between this theology and Paul's opinions from Ga 3 and Ro 16, we may have reason to doubt its authenticity. Nevertheless, our doubt must not necessarily be so strong as to reject it outright. While scholars such as Gordon Fee regard it a later interpolation,[5] others like Daniel B. Wallace accept it as authentic.[6]

Furthermore, the theological problems with vv34-35 ought not be overstated. For in 1 Co 11:2-16 Paul relates his opinions that women must keep their heads covered while praying, emphasizing that "man was not made from woman, but woman from man" (11:8, ESV). While not as radical as demanding their silence in the church, it does demonstrate that Paul recognized distinct gender roles. I am therefore inclined towards the view of Wallace, which in turn undercuts any objection to the authenticity of the Pastorals on the grounds of theological disharmony between 2Ti 2 and Ga 3.

In sum, the author of 1 Clement almost certainly didn't have some grand egalitarian vision in mind when he wrote his offhand comment from 21:7, but his dedication to a unity in Christ may yet speak to an albeit limited spirit of equality among the earliest Christians. Whatever the truth of Paul's feelings, the opinions expressed in Galatians 3 and Romans 16 make it abundantly clear that he shared Clement's apparent predilection towards Christian unity. I expect this pleases Christians, as well as Western non-Christians such as myself, whose culture has roots in the Church.


[1] Tr. John Keith.

[2] The ensuing quotations come from Ro 16:1-15, ESV.

[3] We find further discussion of this couple in Ac 18, 1Co 16:19 and 1Ti 4:19. For more information, cf. the wikipedia page Priscilla and Aquila.

[4] "Most MSS (including P46 A B K Ψ 0243 33 81 1739 Maj) include these verses here; they are found after v. 40 in D F G 88* a b d f g Ambrosiaster Sedulius-Scotus, thus the entire Western tradition." Gordon Fee, The First Epistle To The Corinthians, p699 ISBN 0-8028-2507-9 (

[5] Fee, p705: "On the whole, therefore, the case against these verses is so strong, and finding a viable solution to their meaning so difficult, that it seems best to view them as an interpolation."

[6] "We are thus compelled to regard the words as original, and as belonging where they are in the text above." Daniel B. Wallace, "The Textual Problem of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35" (

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