Looking at Paul and Gender through a Wide Lens

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Editors’ note: 

This excerpt is from Themelios 43.2. The new August 2018 issue has 170 pages of editorials, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three formats: (1) PDF, (2) web version, and (3) Logos Bible Software.

Cynthia Long Westfall, a well-known New Testament scholar, especially for her work in linguistics, has written a fascinating book on Paul and gender, focusing on both males and females. Westfall places Paul within the context and culture of his day as she constructs what she calls a coherent and consistent interpretation of Paul. Westfall doesn’t simply interpret individual texts, but she looks at the matter broadly, considering culture, gender stereotypes, creation, fall, the body, calling, and authority, and closes by providing an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8–15. The distinctiveness of her approach and the wide lens by which she approaches the matter makes her book a significant achievement. She surveys the whole matter of gender from a fresh perspective.

Westfall claims in the introduction that the traditional view on gender embraced philosophical Greek notions instead of adhering to the biblical witness. Where Paul appears to be traditional, such a stance can be attributed to his missional concerns. If we truly understood the literary, cultural, and theological context in which Paul wrote, we would realize how he both challenges and accepts particular views of gender. Traditional readings aren’t coherent and actually they represent a power move on the part of men. It makes little sense, she avers, for scholars to say they uphold the traditional view since the latter propounded the ontological inferiority of women.

A brief survey of each chapter will help us set the landscape for Westfall’s view, and the summary of some chapters will be longer than others if the argument is particularly important. A summary of Westfall’s reading is sketched in so that readers can hear her view before I offer an evaluation.

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