Did Paul's Thinking on Women Change? by Dale Martin


Scholars, mostly in the latter 20th century have been very hesitant to do a biographical reading of Paul as having evolution in his development. Part of it is, we just don’t know. We don’t know which letters are earlier or later, it’s all guesswork. And so one person’s evolution is another person’s devolution; and we don’t know how to do this.

I personally believe that you can trace some of this, because in First Thessalonians, Paul is talking to what he considers an all-male club…he knows that there are wives and daughters, but he addresses only men in 1 Thessalonians…and I think 1 Thessalonians is one of his earliest letters. And so I think what he was thinking was that these new church groups, Jesus clubs—because of course “Christianity” wasn’t existent at the time—these ekklesia, these “town meetings” as he calls them, hadn’t formed really into a separate religion called Christianity; Paul never uses the term ‘Christian’ for example, because he didn’t think there were any Christians, just Gentiles and Jews who were members of the New Israel.

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I think in 1 Thessalonians, he doesn’t actually think that women are there; but then of course by the time you get to First Corinthians, and Romans, and other letters women are very much a part of the assembly; so I think that may be a place where Paul develops from thinking these new groups were going to be all-male clubs to which women could be hangers-on, but not such active members, to then having them as not only active members but leaders by the time you get to Corinthians and Romans.



Dale Martin
Professor, Yale University

Dale Martin is the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. He specializes in New Testament and Christian origins, including attention to social and cultural history of the Greco-Roman world. His books include: Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity; The Corinthian Body; and Pedagogy of the Bible: an Analysis and Proposal. He currently is working on issues in biblical interpretation, social history and religion in the Greco-Roman world, and sexual ethics. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Apostle Paul

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