This pleasingly arranged and compellingly argued monograph represents a revision of the author's dissertation submitted at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Biernath's project is not to catalogue the historical data pertaining to the role of women in earliest Christianity but to decipher the theological formula that animated the violently fluctuating attitudes in the church towards women in ministry. According to the author the paradigm shift in eschatology at the conclusion of the first century—from the anticipation of the immanent return of Christ to the erection of an ecclesiastical hierarchy—accounts for the depreciation of the spiritual authority of women at the beginning of the second century. "The eschatology of the early church was not at all static but evolved considerably in the first three centuries, and the position of the woman in the Christian community was decisively altered in direct correlation to this factor" (20). Women played significant roles in the ministries of Jesus and Paul, Biernath affirms, but after the advent of the eschatology of the deuteropauline epistles, women were relegated to a subordinate position.
In the first section of the study, the author examines the eschatology of Jesus, Paul, and the post-apostolic community. If Jesus had intended to establish the equality of women in the present world order, Biernath reasons, then one would anticipate that he would have delivered concrete declarations about the newly defined role of women, but all such statements are absent from the gospel record. Biernath contends that Jesus did not insist on the equality of women in the here and now because he was convinced that the present world order was already obsolete. But at the same time Jesus anticipated that women would [End Page 421] achieve absolute equality in the coming "asexual, abstinent, and angelic" way of life promised in the Kingdom of God (28). In alignment with the apocalyptic eschatology of Jesus, Paul presents the Christian woman as "already" liberated (Gal 3.28) but "not yet" fully experiencing her emancipation (e.g., 1 Cor 11.3). In pronounced opposition to a great deal of feminist exegesis, the author insists that the historical Paul faithfully communicated the tradition of Jesus (120). It is rather in the deuteropauline epistles that Biernath discovers the abandonment of the hope of the Parousia and acquiescence to the patriarchy of the secular environment. The author can only conclude that the prescriptions found in the Pastoral Epistles represent an unchristian corruption alien to the spirit of Jesus and Paul (139).
In the second section of the study, Biernath explores the emergence of the ecclesiastical offices in the early church. In the Pauline communities, the prophetic ministry of women was acknowledged and encouraged, and women retained positions of authority in the Johannine churches longer than anywhere else in the early Christian world. It is undeniable that women were among the most prominent of Jesus's disciples and Paul's coworkers. But the era of itinerant charismatic leadership soon passed—as attested by the Didache—and the real power of the ecclesiastical offices soared in the wake of the "de-eschatologizing" (Ent-Eschatologisierung) of the faith. Biernath claims that "at the moment when Christians embraced a hierarchical interpretation of spiritual authority and incorporated the patriarchal structure of the surrounding culture into the church, the fate of the woman was sealed" (57). The argument of the study is buttressed considerably in the third section, in which Biernath surveys the evolution of Christian attitudes towards marriage and celibacy. In a detailed examination of Matthew 19.11–12 and 1 Corinthians 7, she determines that the views of Jesus and Paul were dramatically colored by their expectation of the end of the age.
In stark contrast to the stereotypical dissertation, this monograph is a joy to read. The author's central thesis is fascinating and indeed holds great promise. Nevertheless, a number of critical problems are deeply embedded in Biernath's analysis. For example, although the argument requires that Colossians and Ephesians be classified as deuteropauline, the author does not attempt to...