Okay, be honest… I’m sure I am not the only one!
You don’t even have to be female to wonder along these lines. Paul is a phenomenal person, whose mark on Christianity is second to none – except Christ of course, whose name we all bear! Yes, Paul’s legacy and impact is probably felt more than Peter’s because of the many books he wrote in the Bible, and how he constructed what is regarded as Christian doctrine today.
Love him or hate him, we respect Paul! Agree with him or not, we admire him.
But Paul was not the easiest person to get along with. Even within the accounts of the Bible, his personality shone through. You could see that he was someone who was fearsome to some people, misunderstood by a lot of people, and loved by not that many. He had fall outs in the Bible, he challenged Peter on at least one occasion, and publicly too, and he wrote “threatening” epistles to the Churches, talking about how “I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, 3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you” (2 Cor 13:2-3).
He was a FULL personality, whose world was defined by his heritage as a Jew, his privilege as a Roman, and his rebirth as a Christian. Even as the Spirit of God used him to teach mightily, we can still distinguish Paul’s personality from his writings. He never tried to be a nice guy. He was zealously about his Father’s business. He saw what needed to be done, and that his time was short, and he went all out for it.
In as much as he had a strong personality, I know also that I have a strong personality. This is not just a speculative post, because I have actually lived in community with other Believers before, and I know how personalities can clash, even when we both love and fear God. In the beginning, when you join such a fellowship – or when you are a newbie believer, everyone tends to handle you with kid gloves…
But soon enough, as you begin to come out of your shell, and as you grow in maturity, you begin to interact more with the “Big Boys” of the Faith, who will not take kindly to your lack of awareness of proper order and conduct for all things spiritual. You will find yourself challenged spiritually, and you will just have to be mature enough not to take it as a personal attack, but God’s mode of pruning and humbling you, as you submit one to another.
So, I have thought to myself… If I was born in the time of Paul, and had met him, and even had the chance to live in community with him, would I have been able to get along with him? Would I have been kicked out of his fellowship, like I was kicked out of the Jesus Christians? Paul is remembered for his strong words to the Corinthians, saying to “…deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5), so my speculation is not so unreasonable.
Would I have taken offense at his attitude towards women, or would the culture of that time mean that I would never question him on such statements as “women are to be silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they wish to inquire about something, they are to ask their own husbands at home; for it is dishonorable for a woman to speak in the church. Did God’s word originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Cor 14:34-36).
And I wonder, if Paul lived in our time, would he still be of this mind, that women are not permitted to speak in Church? Could it be that his understanding of this and many other things were growing, as we can see that the Church grew in their understanding of what was clean and unclean?
I am encouraged and inspired by his statement that “…there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). It may have been like a light bulb moment, like when Peter observed how the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his family, without them being water baptised, and he remembered that Christ’s baptism was of the Spirit, while John’s was of water (Acts 10-11). However, the Church continued in water baptism, not fully grasping this revelation. And we see yet another inspired writing by Paul on this issue: “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” (Eph 4:5).
How much of his writings were based on his cultural perspective and how much were from his own understanding, and how much was truly the word of God in him, is hard to tell. I always appreciated the times he made a distinction, but I still find this one about women speaking only through their husbands hard to accept as truly inspired, though he said in 1 Cor 14:37 that his teaching in that chapter was the commandment of the Lord.
I believe culture and religion, and our own prejudices, have always presented a hindrance to discerning the word of God. I also believe that Paul was not exempt from this. I didn’t observe this attitude towards women in Christ. I also didn’t perceive from Christ that He was so particular about religious observances, like woman covering their heads while praying, which was something Paul wrote much on in 1 Cor 11:5-16, even drawing upon culture for understanding on why it is shameful for women not to cover their heads.
But with all that said, I love and respect my Brother Paul very much, and value his contribution to our Faith! I know that he would never want me or anyone to follow him in error, and he was humble enough to say “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), and that I shall. I know that when we finally meet in Heaven, neither religion, culture nor personality will be a hindrance to our understanding and fellowship.
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