PAUL AND GENDER: RECLAIMING THE APOSTLE’S VISION FOR MEN AND WOMEN IN CHRIST, by Cynthia Long Westfall

Published on January 11, 2017 by Joshua R Monroe

Baker Academic, 2016 | 348 pages

Reviewed by Samuel D. Ferguson

In her recent study on Paul and gender, Cynthia Long Westfall aptly concludes, “A number of issues that face Christianity and the church in contemporary society are embedded in the issue of gender” (315). She’s right. Whether roles in the church and home, sexual ethics, or questions about transgenderism, a theology of gender—what the Bible teaches about humanity as male and female—is a pressing matter for today’s church.

Assistant professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College, Westfall is a capable scholar and engaged member of the church. In Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ she offers an in-depth analysis of Paul’s treatment of gender, treating texts across the traditional Pauline canon.  Two interrelated themes dominate her study. First, she aims to demonstrate that when Paul’s treatment of gender is understood in relation to its Greco-Roman milieu, it becomes evident that while Paul at times adopts the gender norms of ancient Greece and Rome, he ultimately subverts them. Second, it is argued that the creation and destiny of humankind, understood in light of Paul’s soteriology and eschatology, point toward total equality between men and women.

A book of this length and rigor is not easily, nor thoroughly, reviewed. A helpful approach seems to be (1) to overview the main points of the chapters, engaging her arguments minimally along the way, then (2) offer broader and summary comments in a critical engagement that follows. It will be evident shortly that I disagree with certain arguments and conclusions; however, I hope that a deep respect for this author’s scholarly ability and contribution to the study of gender is evident as well.

 

Overview

Rather than developing her argument on a text-by-text basis, Westfall organizes her study thematically, so that the key gender passages—1 Cor 11:3–16; 14: 34–35; Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 2:9–15; Eph 5:22–33—are treated throughout, depending on their relevance to these eight themes: culture, stereotypes, creation, the fall, eschatology, the body, calling, and authority. A ninth chapter focuses entirely on 1 Tim 2:11–15.

 

Culture (Chapter 1)

Why were there tensions about veiling in Corinth? Traditional interpretation holds that the women were misbehaving: whether because of newfound liberty in Christ, or for convenience, women wanted to remove their veils (26). This created a problem, as it was distracting to men and subversive—the veils symbolized authority, so the argument goes.

Westfall says this reading is backwards. By situating the text in the Greco-Roman culture, it is argued that the women weren’t “burning their veils,” but they wanted to keep them on. It was the men, whose prerogative it was to set the “veiling restrictions,” that wanted the veils off (32; cf. 37). But veiling, according to her culture analysis, was not a symbol of being under authority, but a social symbol of status and modesty, and pious women, aware of the “honor and shame” dynamics of their culture, understood that their integrity was bound up in this accessory. The women wanted to keep their veils on.

The exegetical payoff of this “cultural scenario” for Westfall is found in her interpretation of 1 Cor 11:10, which she renders, “because of this a woman should have authority over her head” (35). The more traditional reading states, “a woman should have a sign of authority over her head” (see NRSV, ESV, NIV ’84). Thus, in Westfall’s treatment the meaning is inverted. Women are the ones exercising authority by choosing to wear a veil. The grammar further seems to support her case: in the phrase, ὀφείλει ή γυνή ἐξουσίαν ἒχειν, the woman is the subject of the infinitive and therefore “the one who has authority” (35).

Turning then to the term κεφαλή, which appears nine times in this passage, Westfall renders it as “the source of life” rather than “authority” (more on κεφαλή below) and further removes the idea of female subjection from the passage. Her analysis, she writes, “disproves the presupposition in biblical studies that the veil symbolized a woman’s submission to her husband” (42) and further proves that “Paul’s direction for all women to veil”—bearing in mind that slaves and prostitutes were not allowed to wear a veil in Greco-Roman culture—“was countercultural and favorable toward women” (43).

The more robust understanding of why women wore veils in the ancient world is insightful, and certainly, if the veil communicated status and modesty, we might imagine that if Paul commands all women to wear a veil he is protecting the honor of the least of these. However, a closer look at the grammar and context of verse 1 Cor 11:10 finds her interpretation unconvincing: Paul is clearly unpacking an ordering in the relationship between man and woman (vv. 7–9) where the man is first/primary. The “for this reason” (διά τοῦτο) beginning v. 10 suggests that vv. 7–9 ground v. 10, and it would be odd for Paul to support a command for women’s authority on the fact that “man was not made for woman, but woman for man.”

 

Stereotypes (Chapter 2)

This chapter has in mind Paul’s frequent use of metaphors that assume Greco-Roman gender stereotypes: spiritual warfare, athletics, maternal imagery, bridal imagery, etc. While most readers, Westfall fears, see Paul’s use of these stereotypes as affirmation of Greco-Roman gender norms, she finds that he uses them in both formational and transformational ways.

For example, “Athleticism … was considered part of the masculine Greco-Roman gender role” (48). However, Paul applies it to all Christians, male and female. In this sense, “rather than approving or appropriating the gender roles and hierarchical structures common to Hellenistic culture, Paul seeks to purposely create dissonance in the minds of his audience … in order to construct new identities and relationships for both males and females in Christ” (46). This logic is applied to Paul’s use of the bridal metaphor in Eph 5: 32, which Westfall sees as another instance of Paul fitting both genders into one cultural stereotype: “When Paul takes certain metaphors that are stereotypical for one gender and applies them to all believers I suggest that he is employing an important strategy in constructing new identities” (46, emphasis added).

This is one of the most unique aspects of her study, analyzing Paul’s use of gender-embedded metaphors. There may be rich possibilities here for understanding how Paul and his associates understood masculinity and femininity. However, it seems Westfall is perhaps stretching the function of a metaphor. Applying a metaphor to someone or something, especially when it functions as an analogy, does not “construct a new identity” but rather leverages inherent difference to highlight a surprising (often paradoxical) equality. If a sport commentator says that a girl on the basketball court has a large “wingspan,” “soars” to the rim, and has “eagle-like” court vision, a new avian-identity is not being constructed; a comparison is being made.

 

Creation (Chapter 3)

One of the longest chapters, this section deals with an all-important background to Paul’s theology of gender, the Genesis creation account. Westfall’s key points are that (1) Eve was created in the image of God to the same degree as Adam (65, 67) and therefore readings of 1 Cor 11:7 that suggest otherwise are faulty. (2) The traditional arguments for male headship that were predicated on primogeniture and the ordering of creation do not accurately reflect Genesis or Paul.

Paul explains in First Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim 2:12–13; cf. 1 Cor 11:8–10). This “ordering of creation” is integral to traditional views of gender, where views of male leadership have read Genesis 2 as either communicating the ancient code of primogeniture—privilege goes to the firstborn—or as simply describing an ordering that persists between males and females. It has seemed to many that Paul leverages this “ordering” and “primacy” as evidence for an abiding degree of male authority.

Westfall argues against this view on several counts: (1) 1 Corinthians 15 paints a negative view of the first man’s origins (“a man of dust,” 1 Cor 15:47); (2) the Genesis narrative subverts primogeniture when God chooses second- and third-born; (3) Paul says Christ is the firstborn of all of us; (4) and the inverted sense of “first” and “last” in Jesus and Paul’s theology (70–79).

She then turns to the topic of headship, referring to Thiselton’s summary of the multiple meanings of “head” which include (1) authority, supremacy, leadership; (2) source, origin, temporal priority; and (3) synecdoche and preeminence, foremost, topmost” (Thiselton, Corinthians, 811–12, cited in Westfall, 79 n. 47). Westfall argues against Paul’s usage implying “authority,” suggesting that it “did not mean ‘authority’ in idiomatic Greek” and rarely did so in the Septuagint (81). Rather, κεφαλή in Paul should be read “as a metaphor for life, source/origin, and identity, all of which are related to one’s heritage” (83). Integral to her interpretation is noting that “κεφαλή occurs distinctively” in “language used for family, paternity, and ancestry” (82). In a cultural setting where a woman was dependent on men (father or husband) for her sustenance, protection, and identity, Westfall finds that “source” is a plausible reading of the term.

This all begs the question: if the idea of headship does not mean authority, and if Adam’s priority in creation is not evidence for authority, then why is Paul bringing up Adam’s priority in creation in his arguments in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2?

Again, Westfall finds clarity in the Greco-Roman background. She suggests that an early version of a gnostic myth may have been circulating among women which taught a “reversal” of the creation account, so that Eve was created first and Adam, not Eve, was guilty for the fall. Women were independent from men and could forgo the duties of childbirth. Thus, Paul’s invocation, “Adam was created first,” was to quell false teaching circulating among the women, and “to support a prohibition against a woman or a wife teaching and acting like a materfamilias who controls/dominates her husband” (74, emphasis added).

 

The Fall (Chapter 4)

As Paul goes on in First Timothy, he refers to Eve’s deception (1 Tim 2:14–15). Typically, as Westfall notes, treatments of gender focus on the female implications of these verses, neglecting “to fully and coherently address the implications for men” (107). As a corrective, she locates this verse in the larger contours of Pauline theology and finds that for Paul, deception is no respecter of persons. Because “all believers” are “in danger of deception by sin” (e.g. Rom 7:11; 16:18; 1 Cor 3:18; 6:9; 15:33), Adam’s lack of deception in First Timothy, and Eve’s susceptibility, cannot be normative for one’s understanding of gender (109). This is welcome balance for interpreters to bear in mind, along with Paul’s location of guilt squarely on the shoulders of Adam in Romans 5. Clearly, both genders stand guilty of sin, subject to depravity.

In the case of her treatment of deception, however, one wonders if Westfall is not guilty of creating a false disjunction, whereby either, all women and no men are deceivable, or there is no distinction between vulnerability toward deception. Rather, Paul may have degrees of deception in mind, and how the different dispositions, typical to genders, are uniquely susceptible.

 

Eschatology (Chapter 5)

Final things reflect first things in Christian theology, and Westfall should be commended for bringing together gender and eschatology in her study. Central to this section is a treatment of Gal 3:28, which reads that text as referring to a totalizing equality—i.e., men and women are equal before God and in all social and ecclesial constructs. Related to this point is the then eschatological claim that “the underlying assumption of Galatians 3:28 is that in Christ, men and women will become what they are created to be” (145). The main question then becomes: Was Eve/women created to be in subordination to Adam/man?

Westfall begins addressing this question by considering humanity’s collective destiny to rule:

According to Paul, there is no differentiation in humanity’s destiny on the basis of gender, race, or status. Women, as well as gentiles and slaves, have a shared destiny of authority and rule. If this is consistent with the purposes of God at the foundation of the world, with the creation of Adam and Eve, and with the new creation in Christ, then women could not have been created to be subject to men (147, emphases added).

Westfall’s own reading of Genesis 1–3 finds no evidence for hierarchy or headship prior to the fall and therefore “being in Christ” cannot entail anything less than a woman’s destiny for shared authority.

There are three possible problems, however, with Westfall’s reasoning in this chapter. First, her argument about destiny may rely on a false premise: Genesis 1–2 may very well describe a world were Eve/woman was created with a view of male headship in mind (“for man,” and “from man,” is Paul’s language). An exegete would need to adequately explain why Eve is created second and from Adam, is called by God Adam’s “helper,” and that Adam names her. In the ancient Near Eastern setting of this text, it would be hard to deny that readers would see a form of male hierarchy in this text.

Second, throughout Westfall compares Jew-Gentile to male-female without drawing proper distinctions:

During [Paul’s] ministry he was devoted to working out the implications of this great theological insight [i.e. Gentiles have access to the same salvation as Jews], which should inform us about the implications of the equal salvation of the other two pairs of master-slave and male-female … the greater context is how Jew-gentile and male-female are entwined elsewhere in Pauline theology (168, emphasis added).

Sharing union with Christ does not mean that all distinctions are cancelled; and it is certainly not the case that the dynamics being worked out between Jews and Gentiles neatly map onto gender distinctions. This is what D. A. Carson calls a “failure to recognize distinctions” (Logical Fallacies, 97–98).

Third, in an abovementioned quote, Westfall suggests that if her thoughts about humanity’s destiny, and its origins in equality, are true, then “women could not have been created to be subject to men” (147). However, this cannot be the case, for according to Christian eschatology, everyone was created to be subject to a man, Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5–10). It may be the case that gender roles, like the institution of marriage, have from their origins an element of typology to them. Human marriage does not persist in heaven (Matt 22:30), but its function now points to the eschatological marriage of Christ to the church. Likewise, Eve’s creation out of Adam, for Adam, in a relationship where Adam has headship over her, may very well point, typologically, to Christ’s (Adam’s) headship over the church (Eve). If this were true, a woman being created to be subject to man would be part of her origin and would have much to do with eschatological destiny.

 

The Body (Chapter 6)

Noteworthy here is Westfall’s treatment of sexual ethics, where she notes that Paul “did not adopt the Greco-Roman view of the body, but rather brought Jewish sexual ethics to the Greco-Roman culture.” Therefore, “the only sexual options for Paul are marriage with ‘natural relations’ (male-female) or abstinence” (177, 200).

Elsewhere in this section, she considers the aspects of circumcision and bodily purity and how they related to “office” in the OT and church; she notes correctly that in the gospel, these bodily markers are no longer necessary. However, from this the conclusion is drawn that because gentile men don’t need to be circumcised to function in any role within the church, and therefore “physical bodies/gender” no longer qualify one for office, then women should be able to fill any role. With similar logic, she notes that in the OT women were restricted by several purity laws and therefore were “unable to perform priesthood duties because they would be disqualified for much of their adult lives” (188). In both cases—circumcision and ritual purity—she is committing the fallacy of causal reduction. Although purity was a cause for eligibility for the priesthood, it was not the only cause: priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, of a certain age, and male. Likewise, in the New Testament, circumcision is no longer a necessary mark for church leadership, but leaders still must meet a plethora of other criteria (see 1 Timothy 3; Acts 1:21–22).

 

Calling (Chapter 7)

Taking another unique angle, this chapter considers the relationship between gifts of the Holy Spirit, gender, and calling. “Paul’s theology of spiritual gifts plays a crucial role in determining the call and service of the believer,” Westfall writes (206). In light of this, Westfall begins by considering the hermeneutical relationship between texts such as First Timothy and key passages on spiritual gifts (Eph 4:7–13, Rom 12:1–8, 1 Corinthians 12–14). Taking Romans 12 as her key text, she reasons that it should have hermeneutical priority over First Timothy in matters of church leadership because it is the “least occasional of his epistles,” the most “systematic in argumentation,” and written earlier (206). She notes, “if there had been essential constraints on women in the exercise of spiritual gifts, [Romans] would have been the time for Paul to make such constraints clear. He did not do so” (206–7).

The hermeneutical relationship she draws between First Timothy and Romans is not conclusive and suggests a problematic paradigm for biblical theology (i.e. creating a canon within the canon). However, this chapter draws important attention to the bearing of spiritual gifts and the function of gender in the church. Regardless of where someone comes down on the women in authority question, Romans 12 does address everyone (παντί τῷ ὂντι ἐν ὑμῖν, Rom 12:3), implying that the gifts enumerated, which include teaching (ὁ διδάσκων, Rom 12:7), are possibilities for everyone. The conclusion this reviewer draws from this is that regardless of where one falls on the question of women and positions/offices in the church, there needs to be adequate space for women and men to function in gifts of teaching. However, it is equally important to note that calling is not dependent on office, and gifts may be exercised in various arenas, official or non-official positions.

 

Authority (Chapter 8)

Gender norms within the Greco-Roman culture were “indivisibly linked to the power and authority of the entire hierarchy of the Roman Empire,” Westfall writes, and too often Christian interpreters have not adequately distinguished between Paul’s “missional use” of these norms and his deeper subversion of them (244).

Westfall makes valuable insights regarding how subversive some of the Christian language would have been in this milieu. Slaves occupied the lowest rung socially, yet that is how Paul referred to followers of Christ. Similarly, inside the walls of the church, social hierarchy was flattened, “men and women were brothers and sisters as equal heirs” (249). Moreover, Paul offered the person of Christ as the paradigm for “mutual submission” (Phil 2.5–8) and emphasized God’s choice of the weak and foolish things to shame the strong (1 Cor 2:1–5).  Both Jesus and Paul rejected the forms of domineering leadership amongst the Gentiles (see Matt 20:25–28; cited on pp. 250–51).

Having established that Christianity rejected the domineering leadership of the Greco-Roman world, Westfall then suggests that it seems unlikely that, given this reversal in power structures, Paul would argue that church leadership should be exclusively male:

What should be considered strange, given the mismatch between masculinity (cultural and biological) and the biblical description of leadership in the church, is that the traditional teaching and praxis of the church have been that only men may exercise authority by leading and teaching in the church community. Yet the dominant teaching in the Pauline corpus and the teaching of Jesus exposes several problems with the traditional position (259, emphasis added).

These problems include: “the traditional concept of authority in the church does not reflect Jesus’s or Paul’s teaching;” “the power behind legitimate authority in the church comes from the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, not form personal power of the individual”; these “manifestations of the Spirit, on which positions in the church should be based, are given to all as the Spirit wills”; Paul is concerned that “believers not get puffed up in relationship to their own leadership” (259). The chapter concludes by highlighting the many women at the end of Romans, who, in Westfall’s reading, include in their ranks an apostle, deacon, prophet, fellow worker, and hard worker (270–75).

 

1 Timothy 2:11–15 (Chapter 9)

Westfall finally turns to treatment of the most debated text, 1 Tim 2:11–15. One of her most significant exegetical choices is rendering αὐθεντέω with a negative sense—“usurp,” “dominate,” “control,” “initiate violence”—rather than positive or neutral, “exercise authority” (291). She is clearly familiar with the scholarly conversation on this issue (as her footnotes attest), as well as new opportunities in linguistics for accuracy and depth in research (294). In conclusion on this point, she feels that the “church has reached its age of accountability; it is time to assume responsibility (or liability) for excluding women from church leadership based on the word αὐθεντέω” (294). Scholarly opinion is varied on translation of this important term; however, it bears mentioning that two studies appearing in 2016, both done by capable biblical scholars, argued for the traditional and “positive” rendering, “exercise authority” (see Al Wolters, “The Meaning of Aὐθεντέω,” in Women in the Church, 3rd ed. [ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner; Wheaton: Crossway, 2016], 65–116; and Denny Burk, “New and Old Departures in the Translation of Aὐθεντεῖν in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church, 3rd ed.,279–96). Failure to interact with these studies (which may have appeared in print too late for her to take note) limits Westfall’s study and render it out of date at this point.

A second significant exegetical decision is related to background scenario: Paul’s references to the creation narrative and admonitions for women not to speak are connected to cultural issues involving false teaching among women, which was common in Ephesus (298–311). Notably, Westfall argues that the context is not church gatherings but the home and bases this on several reasons. Two of these are the ubiquitous practice of prayer in society (e.g. 1 Tim 2:1, 8 does not demand a church setting) and the shift “from the plural groups of ‘men’ and ‘women’ to the singular ‘woman (γυνή) in 2:11 and Paul’s prohibition of two things that a ‘woman’ might do to a ‘man’ (ἀνδρός) in 2:12” (288). In other words, Westfall feels these latter verses suggest a setting where a woman would address a man, which would most likely be the home, not the church (289). She is not alone in arguing for the home setting for this passage (see Gordon P. Hugenberger, “Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis? A Survey of Approaches to 1 Tim 2:8–15,” JETS 35 (1992): 341–60). However, it is worth mentioning that these early churches gathered in the home, so Westfall’s reasons don’t necessarily rule out a (home-) church gathering. Also, Tom Schreiner provides a capable refutation of this view in the above-mentioned volume, Women in the Church.

 

A Few Summarizing Remarks

Thorough and Balanced

Westfall’s treatment of gender should be commended for its thoroughness: she covers the major contours of the Pauline corpus, navigating scholarly question of canonicity with tact but without distraction, and no passage is treated in isolation from the larger landscape of Paul’s personal narrative and theology. A book like this is an exhaustive and exhausting feat, I am sure, and Westfall’s skills as a scholar are evident as she moves from texts to context, from linguistics to history.

Her effort to not merely address gender passages related to women but also men is commendable. For example, when treating the fall, she writes, “the gender discussion has tended to focus on the fall’s implications for women and has neglected to fully and coherently address the implications for men. This study will begin to address that lacuna and then reinterpret the implications for women” (107). She also remarks with surprise how little attention is paid between the relationship between masculinity and anger in 1 Tim 2:8 while so much attention is devoted to the female issues that follow.

This study also demonstrates the importance of interpreting words and texts in their social and historical context; it is clear that Westfall is widely familiar with the Greco-Roman background and grasps its import for reading the Pauline Epistles.

 

Exegesis

The treatment of Genesis 1–2 would benefit from closer attention to both textual and thematic elements. Dismissing outright the possibility that Paul may not have viewed women as the image of God in the same way as he did men, Westfall argues that Gen 1:27 clearly presents woman as God’s image (61–66, 65, 71, 151). However, the Hebrew and Greek text, along with Jewish interpretive tradition, are not as obvious. There is a shift in person from singular to plural between Gen 1:27b and 1:27c that suggests at least to some interpreters a differentiation between man and woman. Citing the NRSV (the translation she uses on p. 63), the relevant Hebrew and Greek terms are as follows:

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them (אתוֹ; αὐτόν);

male and female he created them (אתם; αὐτούς).

The NRSV translates the masculine singular pronouns with the gender-neutral plural, “them,” in verse 1:27b. However, reading the Hebrew or Greek versions, both Second Temple and rabbinic exegesis noted the shift between these two clauses, and fit the Genesis 2 account into this space, so that Adam was created in the image of God (1:26–27b; 2:7–21), and Eve was created from Adam, and therefore either bore the image in a derivative sense or not at all. Westfall is certainly aware of exegetical traditions that suggest as much, but her treatment of 1 Cor 11:7 should at least entertain the possibility that Paul is interacting with this tradition.

As mentioned, a strong argument can be made based on the pre-fall material of Genesis 2, that Adam and Eve exist with some type of hierarchy: Adam’s priority in creation, naming of the animals, Eve’s creation from his rib, appellation as “helper,” and Adam’s naming the woman, within the context of the ancient Near East, certainly allow for this reading.

 

Methodology

While this study demonstrates a tremendous handle of Greco-Roman background, it leaves the Jewish background to Paul’s understanding of gender nearly untouched. This is a significant lacuna.  The tension that Westfall creates throughout the text is that traditional Christianity has naïvely seen Paul as espousing Greco-Roman gender norms because he doesn’t outright dismiss them in the text. However, irrespective of the relationship between Paul’s view of gender and the Greco-Roman world, Paul’s gender norms are Jewish.

In every respect, from head coverings, to speaking or not speaking in church, to ideas of headship, it is Paul’s Jewish background that provides the right context for interpreting his theology of gender. Peter J. Tomson, in his book, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakah in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles, treats the gender passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 by situating them in Paul’s Jewish background. Noting first Paul’s use of the technical terms “traditions” (παραδόσεις) and “custom” (συνήθεια) in 1 Cor 11:3 and 14:34, Tomson concludes regarding Paul’s assertions about gender:

[T]he traditions involved are closely related to ancient Jewish custom. As has been stated they are explicitly introduced as “traditions” (παραδόσεις) and “custom” (συνήθεια) followed by all “churches of God” or “churches of the holy” (1 Cor 11:3, 16; 14:34). … Indeed these passages well illustrate that Paul is no expectation to the general affirmation of patriarchy in antiquity and in this sense he appears to be firmly rooted in ancient Jewish tradition (Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakah in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles, [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990], 132).

In her brief treatment of sexual ethics, it is Paul’s Jewish background that provides the interpretive key; in matters of gender—obviously deeply connected to sexual ethics—the same method may prove equally illuminating.

 

Presuppositions and Tone

In her conclusion, Westfall writes, “the practice of a rigid hierarchy based on gender in the church and home is not consistent with the cultural move to a democratic worldview and its privileges” (313). This comment is consistent with a subtle, but abiding, tone throughout the book that suggests: either one accepts an egalitarian view of gender or they are “engaged in a gender power struggle” (157) and even anti-democratic. “Women must resist,” Westfall writes, “any effort to squeeze their strengths, gifts, and abilities into a mold that hides them in the ground and quenches the Holy Spirit” (212). Statements like this give the reader little emotional (not to mention scholarly) space to disagree with the author’s argument.

Considering all the abuse women have endured at the hands of men, frustration and outrage over the misuse of authority are understandable. This book is a clarion call for men everywhere, whether egalitarian or complementarian, to understand the profound mutuality in the gospel, and to embrace the fact that any authority within the church must be imbued with the humility of Christ (Phil 2:5–10). However, participants in gender conversation must be careful not to create a false disjunction where the only alternative to egalitarianism is abusive authority. This either/or view is predicated upon the unwarranted premise that all hierarchy is inherently bad and unbiblical.

Christians on both sides of this discussion are deeply committed to Christ, sincere in their exegesis, and desirous for both genders, male and female, to fulfill their callings in Christ.  I know this is the case with Cynthia Long Westfall, and although I have disagreed with aspects of her book, I have been deeply engaged by it, and provoked to read Paul in fresh ways in trying to further grasp his vision for male and female.

 

Samuel D. Ferguson is assistant pastor for research and teaching at The Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, Virginia. He is also pursuing a PhD at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where his research interests include biblical anthropology.

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Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ

Baker Academic, 2016 | 348 pages