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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 (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.

Paul and Gender, Cynthia WestfallCynthia 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 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). 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).

Posted May 2nd, 2017 . Categories/Tags: Book Reviews, Equality and Gender Issues,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

9 comments 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.

    • Marg says:

      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.

  2. Colleen says:

    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.

  3. Kevin says:

    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!

    • Marg says:

      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.

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