Any attempt to gain a thorough insight into the person, ministry and writings of Paul on this website would be in vain. The reader needs to locate some respected books, articles and courses if he or she hopes to develop a reasonable understanding of this man and his contribution. A place to start would be “Paul” by the esteemed Australian Catholic scripture scholar, Michael Fallon. See http://mbfallon.com/paul.html
Here we content ourselves with making some introductory remarks, and with addressing one ongoing controversy concerning Paul’s teaching: the place of women in the Church.
The significance of Paul to the theological foundations of Christianity, as well as to its early proclamation and widespread establishment, is unparalleled. It leads to an ironic (and spiritually very interesting) situation: that there are twelve Apostles, among whom Paul is not numbered, and yet in the mind of the Church, Paul is THE Apostle. This young upstart goes on to outshine them all – with perhaps the possible exception of Peter.
Unlike the original twelve, Paul was not a disciple of Jesus. He did not receive Jesus’ teaching directly. Paul did not experience Jesus’ miracles. Paul was not present at the Last Supper or in the garden of Gethsemane. And unlike the final eleven, Paul was not present in the Upper Room at Pentecost. In fact, Paul is more like you and me from that point of view.
We should not overstate the case, but we can think of Paul as the ‘outsider’ Apostle. The early Christian community was suspicious of him. Not only because of his brief history of persecuting Christians but because he was not one of the original team. Paul provoked controversy in what he said and in what he did. He upset the status quo.
Paul the misogynist – an ongoing controversy
Paul was not perfect – a fact that he acknowledges on several occasions in his letters (see 2 Corinthians 12). Again, like you and me, he was a person who did his best with what he was given. Yes, his views on marriage (“wives be subject to your husbands” Ephesians 5:22) and women in general (“women should be silent in the churches” 1 Corinthians 14:34) can worry us now. That is understandable. However, it is important not to take things like this out of context. Paul was a man of his time, and yet he was also before his time. Too easily we can forget that in an age where women had no rights whatsoever, to teach that “husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28) was to fly in the face of the prevailing culture. For the men of Paul’s time, women were chattels to be disposed of at will. Paul stands up and challenges that view.
Like Jesus before him, Paul was comfortable with the company and leadership of women (e.g. Pricilla, Phoebe and Lydia). Could he have gone further? Perhaps. Should his legacy be in doubt simply because he did not do and say everything that some, with the benefit of hindsight, might think he should have done or said? Perhaps not. Allowing Paul to be dismissed as a misogynist may be one of the greatest injustices in contemporary Christian theology.
A concluding thought
How could this man who had caused so much trouble, who was not one of the twelve, and who had taken it upon himself to spread the Christian message beyond the borders of Israel, have become so influential? The answer to that is a ‘faith’ answer. It was because he was chosen. He learned something that all Christians are called to learn and experience. That no matter who you are and no matter your background, the invitation to ‘live in Christ’ and to be transformed as a result is offered to you.
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of Hands on Bible by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019