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Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down: Paul Was Not an Evil Misogynist – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
May 122011

"This archaeological photograph of a mosaic in the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome shows, in the blue mantle, the Virgin Mary, foremother of women leaders in the Church. On her left is St.Pudentiana and on her right St. Praxedis, both leaders of house churches in early Christian Rome. Episcopa Theodora, 'Bishop Theodora' is the bishop of the Church of St. Praxedis in 820 AD." Photo and description from Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

You got your first peek at Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down last week. Here another sneak peek before the book comes out May 17! (The first sneak peek is here.)

Corinthian Christian Women and Paul

How women should act in church gets more confusing the further we read in 1 Corinthians. There were several issues Paul dealt with regarding women and worship: whether or not married women should have their heads covered, as well as suggestions made for women who prayed and prophesied during the service. Wait, you may be wondering, didn’t Paul say women could not speak at all in church? But he also gave instructions for how women are to pray and prophesy?

Before we come to our verses in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul deals with women praying and prophesying during the worship service, and whether or not they should have their heads covered in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Paul does not condemn women for taking an active part in the service, including authoritative prophetic utterance of Godde’s word. There are two different ways to interpret the instructions Paul gives in these verses. Let’s look at this passage from the New Revised Standard Version:

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head– it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone is disposed to be contentious– we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

The first way to interpret these verses is that Paul exhorts the women to pray and prophesy in a manner that will not be scandalous to outsiders. If they are married, they are to keep their symbol of marriage on–their head was to be covered with a veil or worn up, as was the custom for married women in that day. This way they would not be confused with the temple prostitutes who were numerous in Corinth due to the temple of Aphrodite-Melainis. The temple prostitutes were identified by wearing their hair loose or shaving it off. Christian women were not to bring shame onto their husbands by looking like prostitutes, but were to keep their “wedding rings” on, and prophesy and pray in a socially acceptable manner.

The second way to interpret these verses is that Paul is countering a custom in the Corinthian church that he does not consider to be Christian. Now let’s look at these same verses from The Divine Feminine Version:

Now I praise you, sisters and brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.

<You say:> ”But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christa, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christa is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and radiance of Godde, but the woman is the radiance of the man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man; for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

But the woman ought to have liberty over her head because after all she will judge the angels. The point is, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from Godde. Judge for yourselves. “Is it appropriate that a woman pray to Godde unveiled?” Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her instead of a covering. But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do Godde’s communities.

When we read the verses this way the Corinthians are the ones who want to impose a gender hierarchy and want to limit the freedom that the women have in Christ. But Paul counters that women, like men, will judge the angels, and that whether her head is covered is irrelevant because nature has given women a natural covering: their hair. Women are free to pray and prophesy however they want because “the woman ought to have liberty over her head.” Paul also counters the argument that Godde created man to be the head of the woman; therefore, women are just “the image of man,” not made in “the image of Godde” as men are. In contrast Paul says that men and women are interdependant on each other because Godde made woman from man, but since the first woman, men come from women, and both sexes were created by Godde. If we translate these verses in this way then there is no contradiction with what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28: There is no longer male or female because we are all one in Christ.

From these verses we know that when Paul later says “It is shameful for a woman to speak in church” he cannot mean all speech, because he just endorsed women praying and prophesying in the church. He not only endorsed women speaking but women as leaders in their congregations.

Edited to add:

For a very insightful overview and explanation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-6, please read Mark Mattison’s “Because of the Angels” at The Christian Godde Project. I interviewed Mark about these problem passages in 1 Corinthians. The podcast will be posted on May 17. The full 30 minute interview is one of six podcasts you get free when you buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down by June 1.


Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down is now for sale! Remember, if you sign up for my newsletter, you will receive a 20% discount on Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. This newsletter will only be letting you know about new products and discounts.

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  2 Responses to “Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down: Paul Was Not an Evil Misogynist”

  1. […] © 2007 Francois Bester | more info (via: Wylio)Last week I posted on why the Apostle Paul was not the evil misogynist he’s cracked up to be. I looked at the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 that are normally used to […]

  2. Hi Shawna,
    Please keep your blog going, because it is fantastic.

    I wonder if I could ‘speak’ to you regarding your Christian feminism. I’d doing a huge study of Jewish theology, and oh boy does that wind you up! I thought it was bad for us women Christians but what Orthodox Jewish women are facing is staggering.

    Anyway, I’m in England and really stuck about moving forward with my faith journey without being comfortable in a church. It would be nice to run the issue by you (and talk a little theology in the mix!).

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