JM: Some modern Christians have criticized Paul as “sexist” or even “anti-women.” How does your book inform conversations about gender?
NTW: This view is depressingly shallow. Paul, like the other early Christians and like Jesus himself, lived in a complex world where, despite what some think, many women were able to live independent lives, run businesses, travel, and so on, while many others were part of traditional structures which still curtailed their options. A world much like ours, in fact! Into that, the main message was what Paul says in Galatians 3.28: in the Messiah, Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no “male and female”. We can see this working out when he refers to Junia as an “apostle”, and in the same chapter (Romans 16) mentions several other women who are in positions of leadership in the church–and where, too, he gives Phoebe the task of taking the letter to Rome, which almost certainly meant that she would read it out and explain it to the house-churches.
At the same time, Paul was a deeply creational theologian, who believed passionately that men and women were created differently and that this God-given difference was not obliterated but had to be navigated appropriately and wisely. As with his political views, so here, he may seem to us to be saying two different things, but this only shows that we are trying to fit him into the Procrustean beds of our late-modern imagination. It’s like criticizing Shakespeare for not writing in 140-character Twitter sound bytes.