Times are changing and today, traditional gender roles are being let go. The traditional female role included responsibilities within the household. Women are responsible for child bearing, as well as raising children, household chores, etc. Paul’s message on gender roles is rather ambiguous, although it could due to numerous authors attributing their writings to him. One attribution was “The acts of Paul and Thecla”, this account was not canonized, but it was very popular. Are Thecla’s actions, as described in this account, legitimized by the views and teachings of Paul? In the canon there are numerous accounts of Paul mentioning the role of women in what is now Christianity.
Gender ideologies in ancient Rome established the inferiority of women. According to Ehrman, “Women were on the lower end of the scale for biological reasons: they were ‘men’ who had only been partially formed in the womb”. In this time the Romans believed that women were men who had not formed penises. In the sexual scenario, men were the penetrator, thus they were dominant. Women, since they did not have a copulatory organ, were the penetrated, thus inferior. This is translated into social status as men were responsible for providing for the family, and for political attribution along with counsels of other men. Women were placed in the home, they did not expose themselves outside very often. In order to keep them inside were placed the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, teaching children, and other home chores.
The uprising of Paul’s message called the interest of many females in this time. The onset spread of Christianity included gatherings in local follower’s homes. Paul did not preach his teaching is social establishment such as a temple, rather in the privacy of people’s homes. Females have jurisdiction in their homes, it is their full responsibility to upkeep their home. Early Christianity allowed women to actively participate in the gatherings and teachings. An example would be Agape Meals, these were meals that replicated the events at the last supper. Women would prepare the meal as well as the table for the gathering. Men and women together would pray, the purpose of the meal was to commemorate Jesus. Within a typical synagogue or Jewish temple where woman are restricted as well as silenced, when they are allowed inside. The openness and active participation caught the interest of many women.
The Acts of Paul and Thecla was a popular account of a young female who abandons her responsibilities in order to follow Paul. Thecla is engaged to marry, but after hearing Paul’s message of celibacy, she refuses to marry as well as participate in any sexual acts. Her mother and Fiancé report Paul for blasphemy and he is put in prison. Thecla bribed the guards in order to see Paul, when her mother and Fiancé realized this, they bring them to the authorities. Her mother suggested that they burn Thecla, in order to bring fear onto all women who follow Paul. Miraculously she was not burned by the fire, and so she was released. She went to Paul and together they went to Antioch. When an influential citizen of Antioch embraced her amicably she tore his cloak. She was then put on trial where she was charged with being sacrilegious. She was put in arena to fight with beasts, and again she left untouched. She was set free, and then she continued her life preaching the word of Paul. She cut her hair, and dressed like a man, it could have been for safety or it could have been a statement against social norms.
Thecla claimed that she was following the teachings of Paul, were her actions dignified according to Paul’s teachings? In the cannon, Paul writes in regards to women’s roles, this includes being submissive, being silent, and not having authority. In Ephesians 5:22 it states, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord”. In Colossians 3:18 it states, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly”. These two quotes are very similar to each other. According to Levine it is likely that Colossians, Ephesians, and 2nd Thessalonians were not by the original authors of Corinthians and 1st Thessalonians. Although Paul could have contributed to them. In these two passages, it is emphasized that women be submissive to their husband. In regard to both quotes, the passages explained that the wife should be subject to the man, as man is subject to Christ. In the Household codes, the hierarchy placed reflected that of the roman hierarchy. God, with man or husband subsequent, woman after, then children, a then slaves.
Thecla was inspired by Paul’s preaching or celibacy. In first Corinthian’s Paul does in fact promote celibacy in both male and females. Specifically in 1st Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul explains that if you have urges that you cannot control, then it is acceptable to marry. Although, Paul does say that it is better to remain celibate, like he is. This is because Paul believes that the end is near, and there is no need to procreate if the time of judgment is coming soon. Not only does Thecla not marry her fiancé, but she had a sudden aggressive outburst against a male citizen. She also began preaching on her own and teaching the views of Paul. In 1st Corinthians Paul explains how women should be silent.
This goes against Thecla’s subsequent actions. 1 Corinthians 14:34, “(As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says)”. This line is also found in 1st Timothy, but it is a very peculiar quote. According to Erhman, neither of the two were written by the authors of Paul, but were inserted by scribes in order to make Paul and the Pastoral Epistles seem parallel. According to Erhman, the Pastoral Epistles were written long after Paul’s death. It is in parenthesis because, it was that that this was a side note, but then was put into the canon. This specific quote seems out of context, because before and after this quote, Paul is lecturing about false prophets.
In first Corinthians Paul states that women were made for man, this statement would make women inferior to men. “but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man”, 1st Corinthians. In Timothy Paul suggests that Eve was created from Adam, and that she was deceived by the devil. This passage suggests that the first sin was caused by Eve trying to teach Adam. “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent”, Timothy 2:9. The letters of Paul are very ambiguous and some are not legitimate, including the Pastoral Epistles. In 1 Peter 2:13, an important moral is explained. One must follow government and institutional rules. Rules are set to decipher right from wrong, and by doing right one is doing right by God. Christian followers must blend in with the environment and follow social regulations. Thecla did not do this, she went against government authority and publicly declined social norms.
Traditional Roman gender roles established that women were inferior to men. Thecla did not marry her fiancé, aggressively humiliated a man, and publicly preached with authority all in the name of Paul’s teachings. Paul’s overall view on women’s role in society is ambiguous and difficult to decipher from numerous canonized accounts. Although, assuming all canonized accounts were by Paul, her actions were not justified based on the teachings and views of Paul. For a female to publically overpower a male, and teach with authority, was not in accordance with Paul’s teachings.