Disclaimer: This is not a full treatment of the subject in any sense, more of a response to reading several widely different perspectives on Paul and trying to make sense of them in light of scripture.
Christianity is neither Feminist or Patriarchal, because both demand rights, and we are the bondservants of Christ.
In a previous post of 1st Corinthians, I mentioned that the world Paul lived in was centered on the male. If ever a patriarchal society existed, it was Rome. It was also a classist society. Male Roman citizens were at the top of the ladder. The worst possible crime was infringing on the rights of a male Roman citizen. Women, slaves and non-citizens had few rights.
Comparatively, the law of Moses was downright progressive. There were allowances made regarding property rights for women, the treatment of slaves, and the kind treatment of foreigners. When Jesus came, he reminded the Jewish people of an even higher calling they had been given by their God:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn.
Jesus touched the unclean. He valued women. He fed and ministered to the poor. The Christian God took on the form of the humblest servant in order to reach all.
Paul compares marriage to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a prophecy, not a partnership.
The prophets of God, at least in the Old Testament, where often commanded to do some very humbling things in order to paint a picture of what God was trying to say to his people. (Isaiah and Ezekiel and Hosea come to mind). Notice that in the picture God paints with marriage, it is the groom that takes the place of Christian humility.
Paul never says that the place of a Christian wife is to be Donna Reed, Betty Crocker, or to wait on their husband hand and foot like a slave. Paul did not believe in genital mutilation. He did not say women had to wear veils. He did not say that women could not prophesy or pray in church. He did not say that women shouldn’t pursue higher education. He didn’t say women couldn’t have a career. He did not say that women couldn’t have an active role outside the home.
What Paul did say was that husbands should love their wives with the same sacrificial love as Christ had for he church. He said that they should bear with her in weakness, work for her good, care for her as if for his own body, and love her without condition.
In return, wives are told to respect their husbands.
We don’t need to explain Paul away as a bitter single man belonging to antiquity. He was more progressive than both the society of his day and the society of ours.
To the man whose wife is suffering from post partum depression or any other malady, Paul says: Bear with her in her weakness
To the man whose wife has “let herself go”, Paul says: Love her anyway.
To the man whose wife is _________________ (fill in the blank any way want), Paul says: Love her as you love yourself.
To the wife Paul says: Respect him. Don’t let your anxiety overwhelm you so much that you try to control him. Submit to your own husband. (Note: this is not “all women submit to all men”, this is not “women have less value than men”, but this is “each wife submit to her own husband”- yeah, it’s still in there, so, ladies if you don’t want this one to be too onerous, don’t marry an ass)
How counter cultural is this, even today? Our society says that each partner should contribute equally, all while maintaining their rights to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”. Our society acts as if it is acceptable to dispose of another human being as soon as the become a burden or infringe upon our happiness. Paul sees a world where the law is fulfilled in “bearing one another’s burdens”.
To the church, male and female, Greek and Jew, slave and free, Paul writes:
“therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord and one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” Philippians 2:1-7
The issue never was about one kind of person being of more value than another. It was always about each person looking to the good of the other. It is also about working as part of One Body, whose head is Christ.
While we are not called, as Christians, to fight for our own rights, we are called to work on behalf of the oppressed. The church should be known for our help to the victims of human trafficking, as the defender of the abused, and for our care for the fatherless and the poor.