Twelve Conclusions From Reading Paul’s Epistles in Full
My reading of the epistles is first and foremost looking for bias — a critical job for any historian. Who was Paul? What did he believe? What biases and bigotries did he possess? Here are my opening conclusions and impressions from reading the epistles as a whole:
1) Paul genuinely had one or more visions that affected him profoundly.
2) Paul’s legalism from his time as a pharisee did not go away. He believes in the written “word of God” as he experienced it as a pharisee.
3) Paul believes God has inspired him to write down what God wants for everyone. Because it comes from God, it must absolutely be obeyed without question or intellectual scrutiny.
4) Paul did not believe in individual liberty.
5) Paul believed in absolute obedience to authority without question. Especially slaves must obey masters. Women must obey men. Neither groups are persons with their own human rights.
6) Philosophy (the educational systems of his time) is bad. It leads you away from God and into sexual perversions.
7) Anything that takes you away from his view of Truth and God is bad and must be avoided at all costs. That includes people who do not believe or live as you do (though Paul contradicts himself on this point at times, depending on the letter).
8) God made women and slaves inherently inferior.
9) Women are innately perverse, sinful, lusty creatures.
10) Women need men as masters in order to be saved from Satan and hell.
11) Women lack the innate morality to lead men, especially in religious matters.
12) Sex and sexual desire, especially for a woman’s pleasure or between two men is gravely sinful.
The final point about sex is especially important. Paul spends probably more time on sex and sexual mores than any other specific topic he covers. It is almost an obsession for him.
For example, 1 Timothy 5 verses 11 and 12 says, “11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.”
This theme continues in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he writes regarding all people, “3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”
Paul sees sexual pleasure as a perversion that keeps men (males) from holiness and living godly lives. Women, seducers that they are, must therefore be tightly controlled and silenced because they through their sexuality are Satan’s tools who will sabotage men at every turn.
This belief that women are seducers and Paul’s incessant missives to control women, to keep them away from places of influence and power, may be at the core of why church leaders in Alexandria were able to ignore Exodus 20:13 and command Hypatia’s murder.
It was not the first time the Bible was used to kill an innocent. It was not the last. But perhaps we can chart a different future, one where religion is no longer the excuse for the inexcusable. Perhaps then we shall have peace.