First Paul tells Timothy to keep women quiet in the church that Timothy pastors in the city of Ephesus.
“The ladies need to keep quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12).
Then he sends greetings to a woman in Rome who some scholars say he regarded as an apostle like himself, only better looking and less pushy when it comes to fundraising. (Give and give generously, like the Macedonians who don’t have as much as you do but who gave a dickens of a lot.)
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Romans 16:7).
Paul also tells slaves to work hard for their masters, which came in handy for American slave owners in the early 1800s.
“Slaves, do what your slave masters tell you to do. Shake with fear about it. What you do for your masters, do with all the sincerity you can muster. Treat their request as though it’s coming from the Messiah” (Ephesians 6:5).
“Can I hear an Amen out there?”
“Amen, Master…[whisper] to Emancipation Proclamation.”
Then Paul writes to a Christian slave owner who hosts a church in his home, and tells him to free the returning runaway slave Onesimus.
“I’m sending him back to you. And it feels like I’m tearing my heart out.
I wanted to keep him with me while I’m here in prison. That way he could’ve helped me tell others the Good News—as your representative.
But I didn’t want to do anything without your permission. I wanted you to help me not because I ordered you to do it, but because you wanted to do it. . . . I’m sure you’ll do this for me. In fact, as I write this I know that you’ll do even more than I ask. One more thing, fix up a guestroom for me” (Philemon 1:12-14, 21-22).
Did Paul know how to twist an arm? Yes he did.
But here’s the question. What do we make of this flip-flopping?
You know what, here’s my answer: It’s complicated.
It was complicated getting the Christian movement started, especially with all the rumors about it.
Christians would call a shared potluck meal a love feast, and outsiders would think “orgy.”
Christians would take communion, eating bread and drinking wine to commemorate the broken body and shed blood of Jesus at the crucifixion, and outsiders would think “cannibalism.”
Christians like Paul didn’t want to invite trouble by starting a culture war when he was fighting spiritual one.
Regarding the ladies in church, maybe sometimes they got too chatty there in Ephesus.
And about those slaves, maybe sometimes Paul saw an opportunity to swim against the cultural current and free a slave when most folks thought it was okay to own someone else’s flesh like they’re some kind of a baseball player who can get sold to the highest bidder.
On the other hand, maybe Paul was simply as inconsistent as everyone else walking around with their nose politely planted in someone else’s business.
About Junia, many scholars say she wasn’t an apostle, but was a Christian highly regarded by the apostles…and possibly not highly regarded because she kept quiet in church. Women did pray and prophecy in church (1 Corinthians 11:5).
What do you think? You’re allowed to think.