Monday, March 16, 2015

Reflections on Paul's Wife by a 17th-Century Woman Interpreter of Scripture

These reflections by Lady Anne Halkett (1622-1699) are of interest not only for her views on Paul's marital status, but also for her reconstruction of the chronology of Paul's life:

And St. Paul says Marriage is honorable in all. And doubtless he was married himself as may be concluded from what he says in giving several admonitions, “I entreat thee also true Yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the Gospel” (Phil 4:3). Others were called his fellow labourers, but only this his Yokefellow, by which is ordinarily, in common speech, called a wife. Which it seems the other Apostles had and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas. And where he treats of marriage in all sorts of persons, he says, “If thou marry, thou has not sinned” (1 Cor 7:28). But it is probable that his wife died at Philippi, while he was at Rome for that Epistle [Philippians] was dated from Rome where he was brought twice before Nero. And as the Lord stood by him the first time and delivered him out of the mouth of the Lion, so doubtless he was the second time (2 Tim 4:17), and came then to Philippi from whence these Epistles to the Corinthians was dated where in the former chapter cited he says to the unmarried and widows, “It is good for them if they abide even as I” (1 Cor 7:8). And whatever further he advises to any, married or unmarried, he doth it for their profit, and not to cast a snare upon them but for that which is comely that they may attend upon the Lord without distraction (1 Cor 7:35). - Anne Halkett (NLS 6501 pp. 11-12; spelling standardized)
  • Lady Halkett's idea that the "Yokefellow" of Phil 4:3 is Paul's wife goes back as far as Clement of Alexandria, so she is not being original here. In this, I hasten to add, Halkett is no different from modern commentators who duly note the range of options without citing their sources. At least she provided reasons in support of her conclusions. How Halkett encountered Clement's view remains a mystery. 
  • According to Halkett, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and tried before Nero (twice!) between his second and third missionary journeys. I expect that Halkett would have dated the other "prison epistles" as well as Philippians to this Roman imprisonment. On his release from prison, Paul returned from Rome to Philippi where he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians. This reconstruction is probably not original to Halkett either, but it is intriguing because it is so very different from modern scholarship, which puzzles over the provenance of Philippians--was it written from imprisonment in Ephesus, Caesarea or Rome?--but typically places Paul's imprisonment in Rome at the end of his three "missionary journeys." It is good to be reminded that our modern convention is not the only way to put the puzzle pieces together.
Beyond these two points, which interest me as a student of the New Testament, Halkett is of interest as a prolific 17th-century woman interpreter of Scripture. My own "Yokefellow", who is an expert on all things Halkett, informs me that about 5,000 pages of Halkett's religious meditations survive in manuscript. The excerpt I quoted comes from a meditation entitled, "Serious Reflections Concerning them that are Seduced," which was written in 1696, a few years before Lady Halkett's death.

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