Friday, December 07, 2007

Paul and Women: A Query

I am teaching a course on Paul and today we covered the topic of Women and Ministry. Perhaps "covered" is much like saying one has "done Italy" having only spent a week on the Amalphi coast; better said, we "broached the subject".

In thinking about the topic I wrestled with an idea that has me quite curious and I thought I would raise it and see if others, more widely read and studied, would comment.

My question arises from the fact that in Paul’s context the “church” was inextricably linked with the home; he never envisaged the contemporary situation of a church as an organization outside the home. Thus, is it conceivable that his restrictive comments concerning the woman's role in the gathering which are geared to the function of the church in the household structure, would not apply to the current ecclesial situation? If this is the case then perhaps much of the current debate is wrongheaded.

It would quite possible then for one to hold to a loving patriarchy in the home based on Paul's teaching, but not translate that patriarchy to the present day church leadership structure, at least where it exists outside the context of the household. This approach would hold in tension the duality of Paul’s view of women.

Perhaps and assuredly this has been suggested already, but I have not read widely enough on the issue to know; thus input would be useful.


Susan said...


I think you are correct in observing that the church structure is inextricably linked to the household structure. But it seems to me that the observation only forces us to another question. Is Paul's household structure set forth as normative and/or ideal in his conception of the church? I think the answer to both of those questions is "yes," which means that the question of hierarchy in the home and in the church cannot be treated as separate questions.

In sum, the patriarchy that Paul commends for the home is grounded in something deeper than culture (Eph 5). The patriarchy he commends for the church is grounded in creation itself (1 Timothy 2:13). Thus, I don't think an appeal to cultural differences will be able dissolve the link that Paul makes between the two spheres.


Joel Willitts said...


Thanks for offering your thoughts; they are appreciated. But I think you too quickly assume an easy application of Paul's instruction to house churches and their conduct to that of the post-Constantine ecclesial situation. Your secondary question, about whether "Paul's household structure set forth as normative and/or ideal in his conception of the church" cannot be asked in that way, because the entity and the context indivisible in Paul's letters. Thus your second summary statement "The patriarchy he commends for the church is grounded in creation itself (1 Timothy 2:13)" cannot be separated from the context of the first: "the patriarchy that Paul commends for the home is grounded in something deeper than culture (Eph 5)".

The Post-Constantinian church divided them. In a divided context, the function of ministry is no longer under the auspices of the house and it is possible that Paul's comments would be different if they were. We simply don't know.

Rick said...

Joel —

I'm fairly sure I've read something similar to what you're saying applied to First Timothy 2 but don't have references handy.

As I recall, I've heard the idea that the ανηρ/γυνη interplay in 1Ti 2.8-12 as a relationship between a specific man and a specific woman, thus a marriage relationship, thus the section may be taken as haustafeln. I'm not sure I agree with that; but I'm fairly sure I've read it as a possibility and even remember looking at sections of Paulines that switch from ανηρ to γυνη in close proximity to see if there was an easy way to determine whether it was general (men & women) or specific (man & woman). I don't recall coming up with a silver bullet, though.

Hope it helps.

Rick Brannan

Eric Rowe said...


Could you explain what you mean when you say, "My question arises from the fact that in Paul’s context the “church” was inextricably linked with the home; he never envisaged the contemporary situation of a church as an organization outside the home." The phrase "inextricably linked" seems uncomfortably equivocable.

Clearly, churches met in houses. But I don't see any clear evidence in the NT about how the church that met in someone's house was precisely related to the people that lived there. They could have functioned as two separate entities just like most house churches today do. When Paul speaks of Aquila and Priscilla together with the church in their house, how much can we assume about the makeup of that church and others like it and how Christians who lived in households of mixed faiths were integrated into the churches that met in other peoples' houses?

If the pastorals are admissible as evidence for Paul, then we have to consider that when he instructs Timothy and Titus to appoint elders who meet certain criteria, that presupposes that Christian communities existed out of which those elders could be selected, and that it is not a given who those elders would be. If the elders were automatically equated with the heads of the households with which their churches were "inextricably linked", then I would think that such appointments would be redundant.

JosephMinich said...

Mr. Bird,

I am no expert on this issue, but I have heard excellent things about this article, ( which deals with this very connection.


Denny Burk said...

Oops! I was signed in under my wife's Gmail account when I posted my comment above. Sorry.


Doug Rutter said...

I don't think it's accurate to say that Paul's conception of church was so esoterically linked to the home as to preclude any comparison to the modern, organizational conception of church. Recall the Jerusalem church had a recognized leadership (Apostles and Elders), regular large group gatherings (Solomon's Porch, etc.), a functional benevolence ministry (Jewish & Greek widows), etc.

We should assume that as other churches established themselves in Antioch, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, they would have adopted similar structures...

Therefore to create dichotomies based on a bifurcation of house and organizational church may not be as obvious as one thinks...

Joel Willitts said...


Thanks for the comments. I am not sure what you mean by esoteric as a characterization of my question. Since what I am asking is far from esoteric, at least in my view. I am in fact wondering, given the very concrete--in contrast to esoteric--situation of the Pauline churches which singularly met in houses. The Jerusalem situation is interesting but even here there is no suggestion of an entity that met as an outside organization. You mentioned that they met in the temple, but that is no help becuase they were Jewish and they continue to practice Torah observance and temple centered worship. Acts 2 tells that in addition to temple centered worship the met house to house. So in addition to the temple practice they also met in houses as the ekklesia.

So I don't believe I am creating "dichotomies based on an [invalid] bifurcation of house and organizational church". Paul would not have thought in these categories since he did not envisage what I suppose you mean by "organizational church". Obviously the ekklesia was organized in a home, but what is an organizional church?

Furthermore, the churches that were established in Antioch, etc were also house churches since no group of Jesus followers would been able to own an official building for the church.

John Mark said...

I haven't read it in a while, but ch. 6 of Fee's Listening to the Spirit in the Text, might say something similar to what you are suggesting.

Charles said...

I am not sure that I understand completely what you are arguing for, but how would the instructions to Titus to appoint elders relate to your point. Would you suggest that the church (or churches) in Crete would be led only by the husband of the home in which the church met. It seems to me that the church(es) were established first and the elders were appointed later and presumably at least some probably would have been someone other than the husband over the house in which the church has met. This would certainly be the case if you understand that such churches were lead by a plurality of elders (assuming that polyandry is not an option). One might also ask where Paul's concept of elders originated.If it is Jewish then it cannot likely be limited to the home structure.

Joel Willitts said...


Thank you for your comment. Actaully as yet I have not argued for anything; I am thinking about the implications of the observation that Paul's ekklesia were in the context, physical and social of a household. I do not mean, as I have pointed out above, that there would not be others participating who were not biologically members of the household, although presumably one of the distinctives of these communities would be that the idea of household has been expanded to include these. I assume Paul means by his instructions to Titus to appoint a leader over each of these localized expressions of the ekkelsia, which I would think would likely be a head of a household given the instructions to Timothy in 1 Tim 3 (husband of one wife; able to take care of his own household, etc). But again these instructions are given for the context of the home where the ekklesia met. If it did not meet in a home, would the instructions have been the same?

Eddie said...

Hi all,

Perhaps the "criteria" for Eldership given in 1 Tim 3 and Titus for example, are given precisely because Paul assumed(?) that the Christians would meet in the house of the Elder who was appointed. In this case already established house churches would then move to meeting in the house of the newly appointed Elder.

If I may re-express and clarify some questions being asked:

Did "houses" merely function as locations for meetings or did family and/or guest social conventions have an impact on what occurred in a meeting and how it was carried out? Would a different context have changed the dynamics of these meetings and thus Paul's instructions (if they are so linked)?