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“Paul and Gender” by Cynthia Westfall

Paul and Gender
Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ

By Cynthia Long Westfall
Published by Baker Academic 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 that are presented with intelligent discussions and 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, albeit 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. 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 or not. After all, Jesus and Paul were never supported by the traditional religious authorities; they did not wait for permission . . .” (p. xii)

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 on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.] But she provides so much excellent and reliable background information as to make all her discussions 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.’” (p. 88, fn 74)

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 the table of contents and endorsements from respected scholars. The book is also available on 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 one of my favourite English translations of the Bible, the Common English Bible (CEB).

Explore more

Here are some articles where I quote from Paul and Gender:
Adam was created first and this means . . .
Gender Roles Rooted in Creation?
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Authentein (in 1 Timothy 2:12) in a Nutshell
What Scholars Say about 1 Corinthians 11:7

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15 thoughts on ““Paul and Gender” by Cynthia Westfall

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. It looks like one I need on my shelf! I’ve actually started a book on this subject myself. Women (here in the States) are still so confused on what they are supposed to be doing in their ministry and marriages. Whenever the subject comes up when I am speaking for retreats, I end up with a crowd around me, people hungry to hear a better perspective than the typical patriarchal viewpoint on the NT teachings.

    1. There’s no doubt that this book will become the standard reference on the subject of Paul and Gender, for evangelicals at least. It really is a must-have.

      Yes, there are many Christians who see that patriarchy and ‘male headship’ has its drawbacks. These people (like us) also want to be obedient to the scriptures. Cynthia has written her book for them.

      1. Already ordered it! It’s on its way!

  2. I just started this book a few days ago. Excellent. The sentences are quite dense, I found myself reading a few more than once, but not too difficult for the lay person to understand.

    So far, I have appreciated the academic approach sans the subtle emotional bias I sometimes feel with other books. Of course, I always consider those feelings are simply my own projections.

    I highly recommend this as well. I purchased it based on a recommendation I read from Jamin Hubner and I’m very glad I did.

    Thank you for your wonderful website, btw. I turn to it often.

    1. Hi Colleen,

      I heard that Jamin reviewed the book, but couldn’t find it. Do you have a link?

      1. Beat me to it. Yes, that’s it. I want to say he also mentioned it in an interview on the podcast Split Frame of Reference. Anyway, great book. Thank you for giving it the attention it deserves.

  3. Thank you for linking my review to your post! I have to ask, how did you come across it?!?! I’m not upset at all, just ecstatic that my reviews are being read!

    1. Hi Kevin,

      I googled “Paul and Gender, Westfall” and found your review and others. Since yours has more depth and more useful information than my quick recommendation, I linked to it, in case people want more information.

  4. Hey Marg, have you perchance had a look at the CEB Study Bible? Cynthia was involved in both the Bible itself and the study notes. I’m curious as to how much her views on this topic are incorporated into the notes.

    1. I bought myself and some family members a copy of the CEB Study Bible for Christmas 2017. I LOVE it and recommend it. 😀

      1. Thank you. I was pondering whether I was willing to shell out over $60 at Amazon, then I discovered it’s only about $20 at Christian Book Distributors.

        1. $60 is a bit steep.

          1. The “list” price was about $90.

            Amazon and CBD seem to have somewhat different selections of versions and bindings, which significantly affect both “list” and “actual” prices.

  5. […] I suggest that authentein is used in 1 Timothy 2:12 with the sense Westfall gives in her 2016 book Paul and Gender where she writes, “In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō refers to a range of actions that are not restricted to murder or violence. However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.” […]

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