Book Review: Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 18:3 (Summer 2004)
Article: Book Review: Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities
Author: Anonymous


Book Review: Roman Wives, Roman Widows:
The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities

I was very pleased to be asked to review Bruce Winter’s book on women in first century Roman society and the Pauline churches. Bruce and I studied together at Moore Theological College in Sydney in the mid-1960s. He went on to complete a doctorate at Macquarie University, Sydney, and is now the warden at Tyndale House Cambridge. Bruce’s scholarship shines through in this work. He is completely conversant with Greek and Latin texts from the first century and makes excellent use of them.

His primary thesis is that in the early first century “a new woman” emerged in Roman society: a woman who was free of the sexual constraints of an earlier period. She was the exception to the norm and invariably of higher social status. This “new woman,” attested to in popular writings, legislation, and philosophical treatise, had an unsettling influence on the status quo, and her freedoms and promiscuity were generally condemned.

Against the backdrop of this limited emancipation of a very few women in Roman society, Winter turns to the New Testament documents to see if there is any indication there of this revolution in its pages. He begins with 1 Corinthians 11:2-6. His argument is that the issue Paul is addressing is the practice of married women taking off their veils in church, the very thing that distinguished them as married women. This was shameful and opened up Christian women to the same criticisms as were levelled against “the new woman.” The problem with this thesis is that it seems Paul’s advice is to women in general, not just married women. The evidence is as follows: 1) Paul is here ruling on how men and women as such should dress when leading in church, marriage never comes into view; 2) repeatedly he speaks of “every man” and “every woman” [vv. 3, 4, 5]; 3) in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 men as such are born of women not husbands of wives; 4) there were unmarried women in the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8, 25)—does Paul ignore them? From Acts we know that some women prophets were unmarried (Acts 21:9). Then we have the problem of what Winter does not discuss in this chapter. I personally think the fact that Paul allowed women to lead in prayer and prophecy in church, the most significant ministries at Corinth, is an indicator that early Christianity had its own chaste emancipation agenda.

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