|Outi Lehtipuu, Senior researcher
Women and the Legacy of Paul: Gender and Recognition in Early Christianity
I am interested in inter-Christian discourses of recognition, particularly in questions dealing with gender. One of the early Christian ideals was inclusivity; no matter whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman, all were “one in Christ” (cf. Gal. 3:28). I ask how this ideal was qualified when put in practice. Were women recognized as full members of early Christian communities? Moreover, how were attitudes towards women used in inter-community recognition discourses?
My special focus is on examining how passages of Paul’s letters that explicitly deal with women were read and used in the first Christian centuries. His teachings range from an apparent rejection of gender distinctions to an outright reinforcement of female subordination. I ask how early interpreters dealt with this ambiguity and how they used Paul’s teaching to reinforce their own views concerning women and concerning other Christian communities.
I propose that Paul’s letters were interpreted to justify a variety of different practices: celibacy, marriage and motherhood, monogamy, female subordination but also women’s leadership. I also claim that in some cases, the present-day concern for gender equality has made scholars inclined to overemphasize gender questions; the early interpreters might have focused on other aspects such as race, ethnicity or societal status. All these culturally constructed categories interacted with each other, which means that gender analysis must always be complemented with analyzing these other factors, too.