By Femi Aribisala
Some months ago, Jimi Sonuga introduced me to two of his female neighbours. “Do you write a column in a newspaper?” enquired one of them. “Yes,” I replied. “Oh,” she smiled, “you are the man who hates Paul.” “I would not put it that way,” I protested, “I don’t hate anybody.” Then the lady did something interesting. She came nearer and whispered to me in mocking confidentiality: “Don’t worry about that. We can’t stand Paul too.”
The word of Paul about women being silent in the churches has passed away precisely because it is not the word of God.
Why should a Christian lady’s aversion for Paul be confidential? I would never presume to speak for Christian women. Nevertheless, I have discovered that most of them cannot stand Paul. However, their distaste for him is not expressed publicly in Christian circles because the bible is used to browbeat women, and the official Christian doctrine, even against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is that everything in the bible, including the epistles of Paul, is the word of God. Never mind that Paul’s “word of God” about women is often ignored in churches.
Nowhere did Paul do as much havoc to Christianity as he did on the issue of women. Paul belonged to the mainstream male Jewish cultural tradition that despised women. The apocryphal book of Sirach says: “Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; it is woman who brings shame and disgrace.” The Talmud says: “a hundred women are no better than two men.” Josephus echoes this: “The woman is inferior to the man in every way.”
Without a doubt, Paul is a misogynist who contributes in the bible to this contempt for women. Speaking with characteristic double-mindedness, Paul says: “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Then he contradicts himself by saying: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
Can this be the word of God? Certainly not! Only the words of Jesus are the words of God. Indeed, Paul does not even pretend here, as he sometimes does, that he received this bizarre injunction from Jesus. He is simply laying down his own law to be enforced by the authority he confers on himself. Note his words: “I do no permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” Who does not permit this? It is male-chauvinistic Paul.
What about God? Does he permit a woman to be in authority over a man? Yes he does. God appointed a woman, Deborah, as judge in Israel. (Judges 4:4-5). In that capacity, she exercised God-given authority over all Israel; male and female. That authority was not given to Lapidoth, her husband. It was given to Deborah, his wife. Today, some women exercise authority over men in all walks of life. There is absolutely nothing ungodly or unrighteous about this.
God says: “I am the LORD, I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6). Therefore, we know the same God who gave Deborah authority over men in the Old Testament gives it to women in the New Testament. If the case of Deborah had been a mistake, Jesus would have corrected it. He did not.
Paul’s was expressing his personal prejudices. This might be of importance to men like Timothy, after all, he claims to be their father. But Paul is not our father, so we don’t have to listen to him. Jesus says: “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9). Neither is Paul our teacher. Jesus says furthermore: “One is your teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10).
Paul continues his diatribe against women in another scripture, using new arguments to buttress his position. He says: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-38).
You know this is balderdash almost immediately because the same Paul who insists Christians are no longer under the law, now finds it necessary to seek refuge in the law as the authority for this invective. But here, Paul is hoping his Gentile audience is not well-versed in the law, because his statement is an outright lie. Nowhere in the law are women required to keep silent in the synagogue. Paul just fabricates this out of thin air.
This kind of male chauvinism should not be confused with the word of God. Why would God give women voices and then insist they cannot speak? Paul’s maliciously-phrased injunction means women cannot even sing aloud in church, or read scripture aloud, or pray aloud, for that would violate the commandment of “Emperor Paul” who insists they must be silent.
When you read between the lines, you realise that Paul anticipates that some would take great exception to his outrageous injunction that women must not speak in church. Therefore, he found it necessary to fabricate additional justifications, the better to ram his jaundiced point of view down the throat of Christians. He declares: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).
This is nothing short of manipulative witchcraft. Jesus says we should beware of false prophets. (Matthew 7:15). But nowhere did he say the yardstick by which we would determine a true prophet is by his conformity to the capricious words of Paul. Paul is not Jesus, and Jesus does not speak like Paul. When a woman interrupted Jesus while he was preaching by shouting: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you,” Jesus did not tell her to keep silent. He merely replied: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28).
But Paul adds insult to injury. He says furthermore: “If (women) want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:35). This is preposterous. Can Paul speak for women? Who tells him it is shameful for a woman to speak in church? Is it shameful for Paul or is it shameful for women? This position is even asinine. What about widows and single women who don’t have husbands? Who should they ask at home?
Many Christians insist Paul’s word is the word of God. If so, why is it that no church abides by this word of Paul today? The word of God is timeless. It is so in the beginning and ever more shall be. Jesus says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). But the word of Paul about women being silent in the churches has passed away precisely because it is not the word of God.
(To Be Continued).