I never liked the Apostle Paul very much.
(Apparently you can type a sentence like that and not be struck by lightening. Who knew?)
Like many Christians, I am drawn towards certain personalities or characters within Scripture. My heart has always aligned itself with the Apostle John. My sister has always had a soft spot for Peter. Someone else identifies with David or Mary or Leah perhaps.
I had Some Big Thoughts and Feelings about the Apostle Paul.
He wrote a lot of the Scripture that is used against women’s full equality. To me, he was a misogynist. He was narrow-minded and bossy. He was snippy. As a feminist, I was suspicious of Paul. I even avoided his words in Scripture.
I mean, sure he wrote a lot of the New Tesatment but instead I camped out in the Gospels, in John’s epistles, in Hebrews, in the Psalms and Proverbs. Kelley taught me how to love Exodus and Isaiah and the Old Testament prophets. As I grew in the faith, of course I began to read the whole canon of Scripture but I almost had to forget that Paul had written it – it was easier to receive the words, if I forgot that Paul was the one who dictated or scribed them.
Paul, late have I loved you.
Late, perhaps, but not too late.
As I was writing Jesus Feminist though, the strangest transformation took place: I began to love Paul. Really, truly love him, as a brother.
Yes, it was actually precisely because I was writing about life on the other side of the gender debates, advocating for the full equality of women, that I rediscovered, appreciated, and began to love my brother, Paul.
It started with those clobber verses – you know the ones, 2 Timothy, Titus 2, Ephesians 5, and so on. I had already done my research long before the day came to write, but as a refresher, I dug out the commentaries and books again. Responsible author, I wanted to make sure I had my hermeneutical ducks in a row.
But as I worked my way through the passages of Scripture that I used to hate, I began to see Paul more clearly, to understand Scripture even better. I began to see his wisdom, his subversion, his heart. When I looked at his full ministry – how he praised and esteemed women in leadership in the Church, how he turned household codes within a patriarchal society on their head, how he used feminine metaphors, how he subverted the systems, how he passionately defended equality – the verses that used to clobber me began to embrace me.
The truth broke through. I wasn’t fighting AGAINST Paul – I was fighting WITH him.
I read Paul’s words in Scripture and I began to realise I had not known him. I had been silenced or shut down by people putting words in his mouth or intent in his words that he never intended and I had missed so much. I had to repent.
Now I think that if Paul knew how a few of his words had been twisted, misinterpreted, and misapplied to be used against women, he would be broken hearted.
After all, this is the apostle who wrote these words:
I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us (Romans 8:39 MSG)
I’m not going to walk around on eggshells worrying about what small-minded people might say; I’m going to stride free and easy, knowing what our large-minded Master has already said. (1 Corinthians 10:29)
Love never gives up, Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t struct, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies. (1 Corinthians 13:3-7)
I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
And on and on and on….Galatians has been my home for months now and I will never be the same. Never.
In fact, that is my new assignment for fundamentalists: read Galatians 5 and 6 every day. That should cure it.
Page after page, word by word, the theology of freedom is settling back into my bones again.
Oddly, I began to love Paul for the very humanness of him: his frustrations, his love, his exhaustion, his passion, his intelligence, his impatience. All of it.
I’m so thankful for his unedited self.
He wasn’t perfect. He was complex, yes, but oh, such diamond-like multi-faceted brilliance. Poet theologian, evangelist and pastor, leader and thorn in the side. A radical contradictory shit-disturber, a truth-teller to power and a tender father heart, a broken and humble servant, all Paul.
His crazy beautiful words about freedom with responsibility, about mutual submission, his trust in Christ and not the law, about loving one another, about our Jesus …. he is my brother, indeed. His story is changing me. I love Jesus better because I’m hearing about him from Paul.
Maybe you either love him or you hate him. Either way, this Jesus feminist loves Paul.