Women in the early Church

Women played an important role in the early church, this despite the Christian faith emerging from Judaism which expressed some strong negative attitudes toward women all within a deeply patriarchal culture. These attitudes toward women were most commonly displayed by religious leaders particularly a group known as the Pharisees. The new group of Jesus followers however who were being led by the apostles had a more inclusive way of relating to women, mainly because this is what Jesus had done in his life and so they just followed his example. Jesus in his time on earth was very counter cultural in his attitude toward women, they literally left the Kitchen to follow him and approaching 25% of Jesus’s named followers were women. In Luke 8:2-3 we are told that ‘many women’ were involved in evangelism.

This inclusive approach provoked criticism and hostility among the religious establishment in his day and his attitude is most notable in his encounter with the Samarian woman at the well where talking to a Samarian and a women were both alien to the Jews. Women were not just affirmed for their usefulness to cook, clean and wash but also to hear the teachings of Jesus at close hand alongside men, this was in stark contrast to the tradition of keeping women separate from the men during worship in the temple. Women were also involved in evangelism and teaching most notably Priscilla who worked along with her husband. Paul commends Phoebe (our sister and servant of the church) as a co-worker in Christ and Junia (who is outstanding among the Apostles) Lydia gave hospitality making her home available as a staging post for missionaries. Prisca Tryphaena and Tryphosa are also commended.  

The new testament is expressing a new type of equality not based on race gender or class but rather in the union between Christ and his follower. Being one in Christ transcends our other identities as confirmed by Paul who states that there is neither male nor female in Christ. Paul also tells us that the spiritual gifts are available to all people Male and Female alike. There is a setback in attitudes to women later on in Church history with the rise of a clerical hierarchy which tended to exclude women from preaching or positions in the Church. The teachings of Jesus though show that the trajectory of Scripture is toward treating women as equal, as  image bearers of God, encouraging them to be fully involved in the complete ministry including teaching.

The involvement of women in a positive way is deeply biblical. In the book of Genesis God creates Man and women as equals, they have a joint responsibility to be stewards of the earth and to work in love for one another. Man was deemed as incomplete on his own and required a women not just to be a helper or make him complete but also to bear and create new life. There are many positive female role models in the bible Esther, Naomi, Ruth and Mary Magdalene are examples. There were also females in positions of power, judges such as Deborah and prophetesses such as Anna, there are also two books in the bible that are named after women, Esther and Ruth. It is with this background in mind that women played a very active part in the early church.  

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