“Be [Subordinate] Men!”: The Rhetoric of Gender and Power in 1 Corinthians

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Scholars have long probed Paul’s writings to understand approaches to and the treatment of women in early Christianity. As helpful as these investigations are, they overlook the importance of attending to the construction and use of masculinity. This project seeks to further conversations about gender in early Christianity by offering a gender critical examination of Paul’s construction and use of masculinity in 1 Corinthians. Highlighting the subjective and socially constructed nature of masculinity demonstrates that what it means to “be a man” exists at the intersection of the social and physical bodies. Applying such an approach to Paul’s self-presentation and paraenesis in 1 Corinthians reveals a consistent emphasis for Paul and the men in the believing community to embody a subordinate, or failed, masculinity as part of a broader emphasis on overcoming factionalism that threatens the believing community (1 Cor 1:10).

The project begins by tracing the development of gender studies with an emphasis on the importance of attending to the social construction of categories of gender. This investigation then demonstrates the relationship of the body, power, and gender within Greek and Roman cultures. The study moves to examine the construction and use of masculinity identities in selections from Favorinus, Philo, and Josephus. These three authors evidence an anxiety to account for problematic aspects of their masculinity. Paul’s self-presentation is then examined with an emphasis on his role as a failed orator (1 Cor 1:17–2:5), wet-nurse (1 Cor 3:1–3), shamed father (1 Cor 4:14–15), and a celibate man (1 Cor 7:1–7). The cumulative effect is that Paul presents himself as a subordinate man who cannot occupy and manipulate key positions of masculinity and power. The study then examines Paul’s commands that exclusively or predominantly address men in the community. This analysis shows that obedience to Paul’s commands requires the men in his audience to embody a subordinate masculinity similar to Paul’s.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)

First Advisor

Sechrest, Love L.

Document Type





Bible, 1st Corinthians, Gender, Sex role, Feminist criticism


Missions and World Christianity


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