Recently I have been thinking more about women and reflecting on the drubbing some of them are giving the Apostle Paul for certain of his supposedly infelicitous comments. One would think the great apostle was a male chauvinist who consigned women to the kitchen when they were not barricaded in the bedroom.

For the moment I mention only First Timothy 2:9–15, which recently erupted in family devotions and then in our neighborhood Bible-study group. The Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon, 1955) tells us that “few passages in the Bible … have aroused more heated discussion than these verses” (II, 404).

If some feminists see here an opportunity to scorch Paul, they will not lack for ammunition from religious commentators. The Interpreter’s Bible itself suggests “solutions” that bankrupt the evangelical heritage. The Apostle, we learn, is not to be taken literally; his argument is based on cultural conditions (the apostle “fastened divine authority upon particular mores”); Paul presumably clung to objectionable rabbinical interpretation; his reference to Adam and Eve “seems far fetched and unconvincing”; and the supposed anti-feminist passages are in any case not really Pauline in origin.

The expositor finally appeals to “Jesus’ attitude” and “the spirit of Christ” to outweigh the epistle’s teaching. This same device is now widely used to provide leverage on many moral issues. Jesus exalted love, and therefore (for example) divorce is justifiable if marriage turns sour. Indeed, much that the New Testament explicitly condemns is currently approved as expressing “Christian love” or “the spirit of Christ.”

Not that Paul’s precise intention in First Timothy is easy to determine. Even Kittel’s monumental Theological Dictionary of the New Testament ...

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