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Paul and Gender

Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ

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In this volume, respected New Testament scholar Cynthia Long Westfall offers a coherent Pauline theology of gender. Westfall interprets passages on women and men together and places those passages in the context of the Pauline corpus as a whole. Her inclusion of the entire Pauline canon enables her to address the issues effectively, and she reads the texts in light of their own claims of authorship, recipient, and circumstances. She also gleans new insights by making sense of the passages in the context of the Greco-Roman culture.

Paul and Gender includes fresh perspectives on the most controverted texts, offering viable alternatives for some notorious interpretive problems in certain Pauline passages. The author reframes gender issues in a way that stimulates thinking, promotes discussion, and moves the conversation forward. As Westfall explores the significance of Paul's teaching on both genders, she seeks to support and equip males and females to serve in their area of gifting, regardless of social status, race, or gender.

This book is a call for all who study Paul and gender to learn to distinguish between their assumptions and the presuppositions they use to make sense of the texts. It will be of use to New Testament scholars, professors and students in courses on Paul, and pastors and church leaders.

1. Culture
1.1 Paul's Hellenism and Palestinian Judaism
1.2 The Pauline Relationship with the Church and Greco-Roman Society
1.3 Contrast between Rhetoric and Practice in the First Century
1.4 Gender and Greco-Roman Values
1.5 Gender and Public and Domestic Spheres
1.6 First Corinthians 11 and the Head Covering

2. Stereotypes
2.1 Male Metaphors Applied to All Believers
2.2 Feminine Metaphors Applied to All Believers
2.3 Feminine Metaphors Applied to Men

3. Creation
3.1 Gender and the Image of God
3.2 The Glory of God and the Glory of Man
3.3 The Purposes and Destiny for Gender in Creation
3.4 Gender and the Order of Creation
3.5 Creation and Headship
3.6 Woman Created for Man

4. The Fall
4.1 Gender and Deception
4.2 Gender and the Origin of Sin and Death
4.3 A Woman Is Saved through Childbirth

5. Eschatology
5.1 Pauline Eschatology and Transcendent Norms
5.2 Eschatology and Creation
5.3 Eschatology, Resurrection, and the Representation of Christ
5.4 Eschatology and the Destiny of Humanity
5.5 Eschatology and Life in the Christian Community
5.6 Eschatology and the Household
5.7 Eschatology and Galatians 3:28
5.8 Is There a Problem with Overrealized Eschatology?

6. The Body
6.1 Gender, the Flesh, and the Body in Paul
6.2 The Body as Male/Female
6.3 Sexuality
6.4 Marriage and Singleness
6.5 Sex and Children
6.6 Separation, Divorce, and Remarriage
6.7 Sexual Immorality (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:12-19)

7. Calling
7.1 Gender, Call, Service, and the Priesthood of the Believer
7.2 The Relationship between Marriage and Calling
7.3 Women in Service or in Silence?

8. Authority
8.1 Gender, Authority, Power, and Status in the Greco-Roman Culture
8.2 Paul's Theology of Authority, Power, and Status
8.3 Men and Authority
8.4 Women and Authority

9. 1 Timothy 2:11-15
9.1 Broad Exegetical Choices
9.2 The Purpose of the Letter
9.3 Antidotes to False Teaching (2:1-15)



"Westfall provides much-needed clarity for those of us who are often perplexed and even alarmed at the apostle Paul's remarks about men, women, authority, and gender roles. She introduces readers to ancient views of marriage and family, provides solid exegesis of key Pauline passages, and instructs us on what Paul is and is not saying in these controversial texts. This book is guaranteed to inform and challenge readers to think of gender and sexuality in light of a genuinely biblical worldview."

Michael F. Bird, lecturer in theology, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

"This is not another book about the 'women's issue.' In Paul and Gender, Westfall breaks new ground in Pauline studies by attending to gender concerns in light of sociohistorical context, formal and semantic features of the text, and literary constructs. She tackles the tough passages head-on, providing clear and at times provocative arguments as she builds her case that Paul upends his culture's gendered stereotypes in light of the gospel mission."

Lynn H. Cohick, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

"After the deluge of literature on gender roles in the Bible, can anyone add anything distinctive and persuasive to the discussion? Cynthia Long Westfall has demonstrated that the answer is a resounding yes. This is one of the most important books on the topic to appear in quite some time, and all Westfall's proposals merit serious consideration. The approach does not replicate standard contemporary complementarian or egalitarian perspectives but charts a fresh course in light of first-century cultural history and informed linguistic and discourse analysis. A must-read for anyone serious about understanding Paul on this crucial topic."

Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

"Context is the key to interpretation, as Cynthia Westfall makes abundantly clear in this important book, which is essential reading on Paul and gender. She provides insightful, contextually sensitive readings of the major biblical passages that are too often used against opponents in cavalier and potentially harmful ways. I highly commend this book to both egalitarians and complementarians as both will benefit greatly from Westfall's numerous insights."

Stanley E. Porter, president, dean, professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview, McMaster Divinity College

"In this wide-ranging study, Westfall draws on her expertise in linguistics and ancient sources to offer new and intriguing perspectives and insights on Pauline texts concerning gender. This work will prompt many of us to revisit these passages with fresh questions and challenge all of us with new and well-argued interpretations to address."

Craig Keener, F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Cynthia Long Westfall

    Cynthia Long Westfall

    Cynthia Long Westfall (PhD, University of Surrey) is assistant professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. She is the author of A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews: The Relationship between Form and...

    Continue reading about Cynthia Long Westfall


Christianity Today 2018 Book Award Winner

"The great strength of this book is Westfall's desire to interpret Paul's remarks on gender issues in the light of the cultural context of Paul's day. . . . Westfall's innovative approach challenges longstanding interpretations, inviting a fresh discussion of what Paul actually said. Whether or not readers accept all of Westfall's conclusions, her reading of Paul challenges all of us to reconsider what the apostle believed and taught on gender equality and how this impacts Christian attitudes and practices in the 21st century."

T. D. Alexander,

Christianity Today

"A comprehensive analysis of issues related to gender in Paul's letters. . . . Westfall's analysis of Paul's thought makes several weighty contributions to debates about women in Paul's letters. . . . Both the academy and the church will benefit from engagement with Westfall's careful arguments as they take both text and context seriously. . . . Westfall does not view this project as purely academic; it is also a plea to the evangelical Christian community to take Paul's vision for gender equality seriously, to stop suppressing women's Spirit-given gifts for ministry, and to cease allowing men to dominate women in ways that are antithetical to the gospel of Christ that Paul preached."

Jennifer Houston McNeel,


"In the often-heated evangelical debate concerning the ordination of women, one struggles to find a coherent and exhaustive work that covers more than the relevant Pauline texts. . . . Westfall's recent book offers a larger interpretive framework for the evangelical gender debate, a framework that is lucid, compelling, and profoundly refreshing, and one which does not miss the theological forest for the exegetical trees. . . . There is much to commend in Westfall's book. She has offered a comprehensive, thematic, and coherent reading of Paul. . . . Westfall's capacity to interpret scripture with sophistication is on display. . . . Throughout the work, Westfall is spirited, scholarly, and deeply charitable to those who might disagree--although she rightly leaves them little room for disagreement! . . . Westfall's book does not offer the church merely an egalitarian reading of a few isolated texts. Instead, she paints a broad and coherent mosaic that will force complementarians to grapple not only with her judicious exegesis of the relevant texts, but also with the reality that the totality of Paul's theology supports women in ministry. Paul, as Westfall has amply established, is more than the sum of a few verses; indeed, Paul is the apostle not just to men, but also to women."

Nicholas Rudolph Quient,

Priscilla Papers

"The subtitle of [Westfall's] text, 'Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ,' succinctly expresses her goal of thoroughly rereading the Pauline corpus in a responsible way, linguistically and theologically. It is both a goal and an appeal, one that should resonate most thoroughly with her evangelical scholarly audience."

Gail P. Streete,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"[Westfall] provides a thorough analysis of passages in Paul's letters in an attempt to reach a fresh understanding of the apostle's view of gender. . . . Key to her study is a careful gauging of the specific socio-historical context of each passage and alertness to flaws in some of the assumptions that undergirded traditional interpretation of these problematic texts. . . . This is a respectful and informative contribution to a topic of great importance for the contemporary church."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"Westfall offers important methodological insights as well as rereadings of particular texts. . . . Westfall does not undermine the authority of Scripture while presenting views that might counter traditional interpretations, as she draws attention to the text and the wider context of Scripture and Pauline thought. When she appeals to historical and cultural considerations, she does not do so in ways that present speculative details or overly complicated reconstructions of the setting but rather ideas that are developed from reasonable understandings of the sociohistorical world. In addition, she seeks to make sure that the particular passages that have been used to limit the role of women in the church and Christian leadership are brought into dialogue with other passages; she employs the Reformation principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture. . . . Readers unconvinced by her rereadings will be wise to pay attention to the data she offers and conclusions she draws, seeking to ensure that their approach likewise is coherent and consistent, that their readings to not derive from tradition but rather from the text."

Brian C. Dennert,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"A refreshingly balanced and erudite study that transports readers from the contemporary scene into the world of the New Testament, and back again. . . . Westfall manages to navigate these turbulent waters with both skillful analysis and lucid prose. Primary sources comprise her chief tool in laying out the landscape for the first-century context, and readers are never lost in trying to discern her main contributions, contentions, and reflections. Readers familiar with the topic will also find a level-headed methodology that gives priority to thorough, sound exegesis--not being plagued by the apologetic overtones so common in other works. . . . Paul and Gender is a hurricane of fresh air blowing away the chaff of rare and unlikely interpretations, unbridled theological agendas, and half-hearted treatments of Pauline theology. The quality of the book and scholarship is solid, resulting in what will probably become the standard work on the subject for decades to come."

Jamin Hübner,

Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism

"One of the greatest benefits of Westfall's work is its excellent investigation of Greco-Roman views on gender. Westfall's portrayal of first-century attitudes toward women demonstrates how counter-cultural Paul's views on women in the church were. While gender in the church will continue to be debated, it is evident that Paul was counter-cultural and progressive by first-century standards. . . . Paul and Gender is an informative read."

David Crowther,

Southeastern Theological Review

"Westfall presents a well-crafted rationale for an egalitarian understanding of Paul on gender. She places key passages about women alongside key passages about men in light of the context, culture, and language of Paul's time. She offers challenging understandings of Paul's theology regarding gender relations and roles of both women and men in the church and in the larger society. An important read for scholars, minsters, seminarians and others who wish to engage the contested question of gender in Paul's writings."

WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual)

"Paul and Gender is superb. The book does not contain rehashed ideas or tired arguments, rather it contains new insights presented with intelligent discussions, supported by impressive research. It's the work of a seasoned New Testament scholar who has thought long and hard on the teachings about men and women found in Paul's letters, and all the pertinent passages are thoroughly covered. . . . Her book is a must-have for anyone, academic or not, wanting to explore the subject of 'Paul and Gender.'"

Marg Mowczko,

New Life blog

"The issue of gender, especially as a follower of Christ, is not only important but one that requires all of us, especially in privileged positions to think over our positions. And this book is just the right place to start."

David I. Yoon,

Domain Thirty-Three blog