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Reflection November 27, 2016
Did Paul Really Write This?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Sunday, November 13, I preached a sermon titled “Say Again?” in which I explored a serious problem with some of the letters attributed to Paul. I place some of that sermon in this week’s Advance.
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent … (1st Timothy 2:11-12)
This passage from the 1st Letter to Timothy sounds nothing like the radical Paul who wrote: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Here’s the problem: whoever wrote 1st Timothy, as well as 2nd Timothy and the Letter to Titus is not Paul. Paul was already dead for some 40 years when the three so-called “Pastoral Letters” were written (most probably by the same person). Paul had nothing to do with these three letters.
And yet many of our fellow Christians point out such passages to deny women the right to ordination and ministerial leadership! But Paul never wrote these instructions! Someone writing in Paul’s name, a common occurrence in those times, wanted to “correct” the more radical Paul. Whoever this deceiver was, wrote against Paul and against Paul’s egalitarian message.
The subordination of women in ministerial leadership continues. Only in the past 40 years or so have most mainline Protestant Churches, such as American Baptists, begun ordaining women as clergy.
Yet the largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, continues refusing to treat women equally by allowing them ordination and pastoral leadership. Many very conservative Protestant churches agree with the Catholics on this, especially regarding allowing women pastors. Much of this refusal is erroneously laid at Paul’s feet!
In the New Testament, there are 13 letters attributed to Paul. According to most scholars, Paul actually wrote 7 letters: 1st Thessalonians, Galatians, 1st Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, 2nd Corinthians, and Romans. He most assuredly did not write 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus. There are three letters that are disputed regarding Pauline authorship: Ephesians, Colossians, and 2nd Thessalonians. I personally believe these 3 “disputed letters” were not written by Paul.
So what are we to make of all this? Paul, as we have learned through our “Fall Full of Paul” series of sermons, was a radical Jewish Christ mystic. His views were so radical that he was opposed (and persecuted) at every turn even by many in the early church.
Now I know this presents a conundrum to us. Is not the Bible as a whole to be trusted? Yes, we trust the Bible to help us learn how to live and come to God. God’s fingerprints can be found all over the Bible.
But we also find Paul’s fingerprints and the fingerprints of the anonymous author of the Pastoral Letters who felt compelled to “correct” the real Paul by writing against what the real Paul actually believed.
Paul also argued against slavery as we see in the Letter to Philemon, especially with regard to slaves who became followers of Christ. Paul tried to convince Philemon to essentially free the slave, Onesimus.
But we read in Titus 2:9: “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back …” And 1st Timothy 6:1: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor.”
This is not Paul! This is anti-Paul! Yet how many suffered for so long because of these misguided and, frankly, ungodly texts? Too many used such passages to condone slavery - all in Paul’s name!
How sad, how terribly sad! What our brother Paul had to endure after his martyrdom for the faith! The radical equality of Paul is distorted into the submission of slaves and the subjugation of women.
When I explained this to my beloved Beth some months ago, she was outraged! We also should share her outrage! Paul was betrayed even after his execution.
As we learned in our Bible study, even in the true Pauline letters, we find additions being added. I’m happy that in our Bible translation (New Revised Standard Version) the passage in 1st Corinthians about women being silent in church (see 1st Corinthians 14:33-36) is placed in parentheses to highlight the fact that it’s most probably a latter addition - not from Paul himself.
Paul was a believer in the equality of all before God. Paul believed that in Jesus Christ, the oppressive Roman hierarchical system of emperor worship and patriarchy, was leveled to the ground. All were equal!
But this message was too radical - too upsetting - to too many. So even though Paul gave his life for this radical vision of equality in Christ, those who came after him were too timid, too bound-up with Roman authority models, too fearful of those who held power, that they distorted Paul’s vision and forever muted his courageous voice.
Paul believed without question that husband and wife were equal in marriage. Paul believed without question that everyone in the Christian assembly was equal. No priests, bishops, popes, for Paul! All have the same standing in Christ.
Unfortunately, the early church adopted the hierarchical structure of the Roman world and the church has paid a price ever since. Paul brought us a radical message, stemming from his encounter with the Risen Christ. But it was too prophetic so it was watered down and changed by those who felt Paul needed correcting.
Our church has always struggled with the meaning and message of Jesus Christ. It always will. But if we read the 7 true letters of our courageous brother Paul, I believe we’ll be transformed as he was on the road to Damascus!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister