Paul and Gender
Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ
By Cynthia Long Westfall
Published by Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, Michigan) in November 2016, 348 pages
This past weekend I attended the Australian conference of Christians for Biblical Equality where I was asked to present a 2-minute book review. I jumped at the opportunity to recommend Cynthia Westfall’s new book. The following is more or less what I said at the conference.
Cynthia Westfall’s 2016 book “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.
Dr Westfall doesn’t just write about Paul’s teachings that apply to women, she also writes, briefly, about teachings that apply to men (e.g., Paul’s teachings on circumcision). She expresses the hope that her study will support and equip Christians to serve boldly, regardless of gender, etc. Yet she particularly wants “women to be fully free to follow Jesus and imitate Paul with prophetic conviction, sacrifice, and service whether they are supported by their faith community of not. After all,” she notes, “Jesus and Paul were never supported by the traditional religious authorities; they did not wait for permission . . .” (xii) Westfall’s discussion, in chapter 7, on Paul’s ‘theology of ministry’ is excellent! (I plan to write a blog post on it.)
One of Dr Westfall’s target audiences is academics, and occasionally her language may be hard for a few readers to follow. She avoids technical terms, but many of her sentences are densely written as she doesn’t waste words; it’s all information and tight arguments. Still, her book is a must-have for anyone, academic or not, wanting to explore the subject of ‘Paul and Gender.’
Westfall occasionally engages with the work of top complementarian scholars, such as Thomas Schreiner and Douglas Moo, and doesn’t pull her punches when she criticises some of their interpretations of Paul’s teachings. Her logic is both brilliant and refreshing. Nevertheless, I wasn’t convinced of a couple of Westfall’s interpretations, one of which is her overall take on the supposed veiling of women in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 11). [Here’s my take.] But she provides so much excellent and reliable background information as to make all her discussions extremely worthwhile.
Cynthia Westfall’s book is loaded with insightful gems and pithy statements, and I’ve quoted her many times in recent conversations. I’ll leave you with one of her zingers: “Male domination is part of a biblical doctrine: it is called ‘total depravity.’” (p88, fn74)
“Paul and Gender” can be purchased in paperback or electronic form on the Baker Academic website where there is useful information about the book, including a copy of the table of contents, as well as endorsements from respected scholars. The book is also available at Amazon.
Kevin McKissick has a review here.
Dr Cynthia Westfall is Assistant Professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College where she teaches courses in New Testament, Greek exegesis, biblical interpretation and women in ministry. She is currently co-chair of the Biblical Greek and Linguistics section of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), co-chair of the Evangelicals and Gender section of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and joining the steering committee of the Hebrews section of the Evangelical Society. (Source) Dr Westfall is also on the editorial board for my favourite English translation of the Bible, the Common English Bible (CEB).