Review of ‘Man and Woman, One in Christ’ by Philip B. Payne

man-and-woman-one-in-chirst Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009). Paperback

In feminist criticism of Christianity, the apostle Paul often emerges as chief among sexists. He subordinated wives to husbands in the home and women to men in the church, enjoining females to be “submissive” to and “quiet” before males. Sometimes, it is conceded, Paul made noises in an egalitarian direction, e.g., Galatians 3:28. On the whole, however, he advocated patriarchy, or as contemporary advocates call it, complementarianism.

In Man and Woman, One in Christ, Philip B. Payne argues that Paul has been misread. Far from being an advocate of patriarchy—in home or church—Paul is an egalitarian. Or rather, to state the matter positively: “Paul repeatedly affirms the equal standing and privileges of women and men in the church and in marriage.”

Payne reaches this conclusion through

  • an examination of the Hellenistic, rabbinic, Old Testament, and early Christian backgrounds to Paul’s teaching (chapter 1);
  • a survey of women Paul names as ministry leaders (chapter 2);
  • an outline of Pauline theological axioms that imply sexual equality (chapter 3);
  • and a painstaking exegesis of the relevant Pauline texts: Galatians 3:28 (chapter 4); 1 Corinthians 7 (chapter 5); 11:2–16 (chapters 6–13); 14:34–35 (chapter 14); Ephesians 5:21–33 and Colossians 3:18–19 (chapter 15); 1 Timothy 2:8–15 (chapters 16–23); and 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9).

Some of the arguments Payne makes will be familiar to anyone who has kept up with the literary debate between egalitarians and complementarians, which has been ongoing among evangelicals for several decades. Indeed, Payne’s own scholarly output on the topic has made a signal contribution to these debates. He states that Man and Woman, One in Christ has been 36 years in the making. (It was published in 2009.)

Payne presents these familiar arguments for egalitarianism with precision and care. They include, among others, the egalitarian implications of Galatians 3:28, the meaning of kephale as “source” rather than “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, the mutuality of submission between husband and wife in Ephesians 5:21–33, the contextually limited (rather than universal) prohibition of women assuming authority to teach in 1 Timothy 2:18–15, and the openness of the offices of overseer and deacon to women in 1 Timothy 3:11–13 and Titus 1:5–9. (English translations do not always make this openness clear.)

He also makes several fresh arguments, however. Commentators often note the sexism that underlies some rabbinic teaching, famously epitomized in the daily prayer, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me…a woman.” They presume that Paul shared this attitude, at least prior to his conversion and call. Payne notes that the “surviving sayings of Rabban Gamaliel I,” Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3), “indicate a favorable attitude toward women in sharp contrast to the rabbinic tradition as a whole.” Could it be that Gamaliel shaped Paul’s more positive assessment of women?

With Gordon D. Fee, Payne makes the argument that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is an interpolation into the text that was not written by Paul. The early Western textual tradition places verses 34–35 after verse 40, whereas the majority textual tradition places it after verse 33. Fee (and Payne) argues that the best explanation for this is that the verses are an early interpolation. What Payne brings to the table now is a fresh examination of distigme in Codex Vaticanus, scribal markings around verses 34–35 that indicate an interpolation, as well as several other early manuscripts that do not have the verses in them. Payne’s argument is impressive, though I must note the countervailing argument: Whether placed after verse 33 or verse 44, verses 34–35 are present in nearly all extant manuscripts.

One final example of a fresh argument (there are other examples, of course): Payne argues that the word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 means “to assume authority,” not “to exercise authority,” and that the Greek word oude in that verse conjoins “to teach” and “to assume authority” as two aspects of a single action, namely, “to assume authority to teach,” rather than to be granted authority to teach by an appropriate body. To my mind, Payne’s lexicographical and grammatical arguments in this regard are probative and definitive.

As noted above, Man and Woman, One in Christ was four decades in the making. Payne, who has a Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge, started out with complementarian assumptions regarding marriage, but changed those through close investigation of the relevant Pauline texts. Far from explaining away Scripture, Payne’s arguments assume its inerrancy and authority. This is important, because it demonstrates the possibility that egalitarianism is not an ideology imposed upon the New Testament text, but a social practice that arises organically from the text, which has the status of God’s infallible Word to humanity.

Some time ago, my neighbor and I fell into a discussion about Christianity. One of her misgivings about the faith had its source in the practice of patriarchy in the Bible and among contemporary evangelicals. As a well-educated, intelligent woman—a writer, in fact—she seemed offended by the notion that men/husbands should possess authority over women/wives simply by virtue of their sex.

I wonder how many women and men share my neighbor’s misgivings about Christianity. Increasingly, women are advancing into leadership at all levels of society—except, it seems, in the church, where leadership is reserved (whether by explicit biblical interpretation or by implicit cultural custom) to men. Is it any wonder that some find the church sexist and hence the faith untenable?

Those of us who minister and teach the Word of God need to exercise due diligence when it comes to controversial passages in the apostle Paul (or anywhere else in Scripture). We need to make sure that our conclusions are thoroughly rooted in the Greek text, not in English translations, let alone contemporary prejudices of one sort or another. What is impressive about Man and Woman, One in Christ is the thoroughness, depth, clarity, and charity of Payne’s scholarship. If I were to recommend just one book to pastors and Bible teachers regarding Paul’s theology and practice of male-female relationships, this book would undoubtedly be it. At times, it is a tough slog to read because it is so thick in its discussions of textual criticism, grammar, lexicography, and syntax. Nonetheless, the intellectual reward is worth the slog. More important, however, is biblical foundation it lays for the equality of women and men in Christ.

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