Master Of Christian History Final Paper The role of women in the Early Church
Posted 16 September 2016 - 12:26 AM
Therole of women in ancient Christian history is a hot debated subject and to makea comparison as to how we are treated today in the Christian community asopposed to ancient history will take some time. We will need to make comparisons on how society then and now treat womenand especially how they treated Christian woman. To look at the role of womenin ancient Christian history we must first look at their role in the society atthat time.
Wehave women who were Greco-Roman and very much a non-person. A respectable woman did not leave the houseunless accompanied by a trustworthy male escort. They were not allowed to speak in public orreceive education and in always were treated like slaves. Most culturesconsidered them as having bought evil upon the world. (1)
Jewishwomen were not treated much different as they were also were barred fromspeaking in public and they had a Torah law they could not speak the Torah outloud. Synagogue service was segregated. Arranged marriages were common practice andwomen were the homemakers and not considered much else. Married women were treated even worse as theycould not even own any possessions. Itall belonged to the husband including the children. Being kept under the watchful eye of thehusband, they could not eat or interact with any male guest in the home and hadto eat in separate quarters. (2)
EvenRoman law placed the wife under the rule of her husband giving him completeownership of her and her possessions. Hehad the power of life and death over her and the children and could divorce herif she went out in public without her veil. (3) Itwould seem that some of these practices continue into this day in the Easternpart of our world. In Israel men andwomen do not pray together at the Western Wall they are segregated. Common practice in some Middle Easterncountries is still to arrange marriages for the financial benefit of bothfamilies. In comparison in today’smodern world or so we call it, Women are not able to drive in Saudi Arabia and seeingthe fact that women in Denmark were granted voting rights in 1915 and othercountries like Canada, Russia, Germany, and Poland did not give them the rightto vote till near the end of WWI, it would seem that modern is a relative term. Propertied British women over 30 had the votein 1918, Dutch women in 1919, and American women won the vote on 26 August 1920. Not even 100 years ago. Therefore we were not treated much differentthan in our Ancient history. No women ever acquired citizenship in ancientAthens, and therefore women were excluded in principle and practice fromancient Athenian democracy.
Alot of these practices seem to have largely been in response to the end of whatsome call, pagan practices which usually had a Goddess figure as the maindeity. In the book Goddesses inEverywoman - Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. (4) she quotes Marija Gimbutas, aprofessor of European archaeology at the University of California at LosAngeles who describes “old Europe”, Europe’s first civilization, dating back atleast 5000 years (perhaps even 25,000 years) before the rise of malereligions, Old Europe was a matrifocal, sedentary, peaceful, art-loving,earth-and sea-bound culture that worshipped the Great Goddess.
Havewe as women come so much further than our predecessors, do we get equaltreatment at home? On the job? In theclergy? Looking at our history beforemale religions we were the caregivers, life giving, all wise ones. Women were sought out for being able to knowhomeopathic cures, farmers who grew herbs, makers of clothes, weavers ofcloth. We were much more than justpossessions.
Somewomen in the 1st church were from wealthy families and were taughtto read and write. Rituals of worshipwere passed down to them. Children of Jewish decent were all taught to read andwrite, but were not taught the Torah in school. So now we have the ground work that in the early Church women weresecond class citizens if that. If youhad wealth or status it was a little different as you would have some status inthe community and maybe you would be respected and your wisdom would belistened to when considering how to handle situations. Looking at the book of Judith from TheApocrypha (5) shewas a godly widow, in the linage of Joseph, Samuel and Israel. She had land, money, servants and wasrespected by the elders of the community. She was listened to when they were going to be attacked and her plansaved them. No wonder this book was leftout of the Old and New Testaments since a mere women saved a town and a single,widowed one at that and when she spoke she gave council to the Elders and gavethem a good plan. Her case was not thenorm at the time but illustrates how power and class came into play.
Thelow status of women was the norm and continued until when Jesus arrived. The way he taught and treated women wastotally counter culture for his time. This shocked his friends and frustratedhis enemies.
Let’sstart with the Samaritan women at the well. We find this account in John 4(6), Jesus being tired fromtraveling had his companions go to town to get some food, leaving him restingby a well. A Samaritan woman came todraw some water and he engaged her in conversation. First unheard of because she was in publicalone and second Jews did not speak with Samaritans or women in public alone. His conversation was intellectual and assumedshe had a knowledge of the Torah. Thisshocked his companions when they returned and found the conversation going on,but there is no record of them rebuking him for this.
Someof his closest friends were Mary, her sister Martha and there BrotherLazarus. The account of Jesus resting attheir house (7)and teaching any who would listen says that Mary sat listing to him teachingwhile Martha was doing what women are expected to do at that time which isfixing the men something to eat. WhenMartha made note of this and ask Jesus to tell Mary to help her, Jesus shockedeveryone again by breaking rabbinic law by not only speaking to a women but byteaching her spiritual truths another man made rabbinic law. He advised Marthashe was too concerned with worldly things and that her Sister had chosen theright thing to be concerned with. Do notbe concerned with eating or what to wear, for our Father dresses the flowers ofthe field and gives the birds their feed. (8)
WhenMartha’s brother died, Jesus spoke to her about the fact that he is theresurrection and life and whoever would believe in him will never die. This he taught her in public and then he asked for a verbal response from her. I can just imagine the Rabbis standing byhaving a heart attack. This was soagainst the social and religious customs of the time. The account is in John 11 and I believe notonly where his disciples around but some of the local Rabbis were standingaround also. By this time I don’t thinkhis followers were that shocked as by now it was a everyday thing.
Matthew,Mark and Luke, referred to as the Synoptic Gospels all noted that womenfollowed Jesus. During that time inhistory only prostitutes and women of low repute would follow a man without amale escort. Many of these women werewomen of means and supported Jesus and the apostles financially. Besides doing the cooking and washing, andmending.
Sowho were the first people Jesus appeared to after the resurrection? The one referred to as his most beloved disciple? Maybe Peter the rock? No none of these, it was to a women and hetold her to let the disciples know he was alive. (Matt. 28, John 20). Now remember this society though women werenot allowed to testify about anything. Jesus treated ALL equal and made her testimony equal with any of his disciples.
Peterfollowed Jesus lead and inspired women to see themselves as valuable since Godsaw them as valuable. He asked them toseek inner beauty of the spirit, he writes, “Yourbeauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and thewearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of agentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in Gods sight. For this is the way, he told women of thepast, who put their hope in God, coulduse to make themselves beautiful (9). Paul said the church was a place for women topray and prophecy out loud (1 cor. 11:5). Spiritual gifts and supernatural enabling to build Gods church weregiven to women as well as men. Olderwomen were told to teach the younger ones, sharing their wisdom.(9)
Jesusbroke so many rules of his day; he was a revolutionary since he also treatedwomen as equal to men. Rabbi Eliezer inthe 1st century CE wrote “Rather should the words of theTorah be burned then entrusted to a women..Whoever teaches his daughter theTorah is like one who teaches her obscenity.”Jesustaught women, in public and in private. He spoke with them as equals not speaking down to them. In Luke 13:16 he healed a women of an uncleanspirit (satanic possession) and he called her a daughter of Abraham ‘thisphrase was totally unknown and nowhere else in scripture is it used. The fact that there is no reference to afemale disciple does not mean there was none. Again we get back to the male dominated society and the disciples knewthey were already crossing many Torah laws with their teaching that the messiahhad come and no more animal sacrifices for forgiveness of Sins, why upset therulers and the Pharisees and Sadducees by teaching equality of the sexes. So many teachings by women were leftout. No reference is made to them beingpart of the ruling party of the early church. But, Im sure we were there working side byside with the men, spreading the Good news from town to town right along withthem. When the guards were looking forcertain men, women would have been able to move about unnoticed, takingsupplies and messages back and forth. After all a woman with a basket of food from the market walking aroundtalking to another woman was a common site but a man speaking in publicproclaiming the good news was not a common site. It would be easier for us to let others knowwhere the meeting was to take place then a man trying to tell other men. Women were unnoticed in society so who wouldpay attention to what she was saying anyway.
Inthe book “Women in the Earliest Churches”it lists some parallel stories Jesus told of men and women;
Simeonand Hannah in Luke 2:25-38
Widowof Sarepta and Naaman in Luke 4:25-38
Healingof a man possessed by a demon and the healing of the mother of Peter’s wife,starting in Luke 4:31
Aman and woman sleeping together in Luke 17:34
Ananiasand Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11
Lydiaand the jailer’s conversation in Acts 16:14-34
Dionysiusand Damaris in Acts 17:34
Thewoman who had lived a sinful life and Simon, starting in Luke 7:36
Hereis the kicker; some theologians are now speculating that the author of theGospel of Luke might have been a woman.
Whendid it all go wrong? Once the writingwere put down and many letters were sent out to different churches to helpsettle disputes and problems within the growing churches it came down to amatter of interpretation. In 1stCorinthians 14:34 (NIV) Paul talks about women not speaking in church and mustbe in submission, as the law says and if they have questions to ask the husbandat home. As we know Paul was of theteachings of the Pharisees so when he said “asthe law “says he was referring to the Torah law and not to the new teachings byJesus. Thus making references to aJewish congregation, trying to end problems within that congregation. So many churches Pastors, and Priests havetaken Paul’s writings as the model for the church and how it shouldfunction. They have forgotten Jesus cameto do away with the law and preached an equality of the kingdom where all weretreated equal, bond or free, male or female, we are all equal in our Fatherseyes. Yet over and over I have heard itsaid because Paul said this and this we don’t allow women to preach, you canteach Sunday school but you can’t teach in public, which is what they aresaying. You can teach our kids in aclassroom where no one else can hear you but you can’t teach in front of the congregationsince it might offend our deacons or those who financially support us andexpect to have a male up there telling stories of the good old boys and howthey traveled around spreading the good news. All the time forgetting there was a women by their side making sure theyhad food to eat and clean clothes to wear and probably networking ahead of thearrival to be sure it was all set up for them to speak and a place to staybefore they got there.
Wehave come so far from the original teachings set out by Jesus. We as women are today so much more educatedand capable speakers then the ancient women. As quoted in Theguardian.com Feb 19th 2015 issue, 49% of PhD graduateswere women. We as Christian leaders needto be or maybe we need to demand the equal right to teach and preach as ourmale counter parts. Are we to be held toa law that Jesus did away with? Theearly church men knew that women teaching would not be well received for thetime but that did not stop them from treating us as Jesus did, equals in allthings. Writing by Mary, Judith andSusanna are buried and disregarded as unimportant and to be recognized by theChurch. When a man starts really lovingand receiving the teachings of Jesus he must treat all with equality. Not seeing roles as only for a man or onlyfor a woman, but as non gender roles. Weseem to be very good at taking what we want from the Old Testament andcombining it with the New Testament to fit a philosophy of keeping a class ofpeople in line. If you don’t have adegree from so and so you can’t have learned what you need to. We don’t let woman preach here it’s notbiblical. So much of Ancient Christianhistory relates the fact that some woman had major roles is the furthering ofthe church. Constantine first heard ofChristianity from his wife.
Ifthe early church fathers would have stopped fighting about what is the rightway to have communion or what day Easter should fall on and spent more time actuallystudying what Jesus said, today’s church would be much easier and moreinclusive. Jesus when he was teachinghow to pray said to pray to the father. He never said to pray to him, he never said to celebrate his birth ordeath but to give all thanks to the father. It was mentioned in the New Testament only a few times that hecelebrated holidays. One was Passoverand that is where we get the wine and bread breaking from, the other was, theDay of Atonement, which was never named but was associated with fasting. Jesus fulfilled the laws when he wascrucified. He was the sacrificial lambused on Pesach or Passover; he was the Atonement for our sins. He made it possible for all humans to be one,one in spirit, one in mind and to realize that we are all created equal. It is stated that there is no male or femalein heaven, we will be like the angles, not being given or taken in married(Matthew 22:30).
Mygoal was to look at the ancient Christian history and draw comparisons as tohow women were treated then and now. However I did not find too much difference. We are still under male rule of law. Society in the upper class still raises theirwomen to be seen and not heard. To be domestic minded and not leaders. If you decide to be a leader or try to getinto the good old boys club you are looked at as different, not the norm. I remember a relative once commenting thatthe Miller girls were raised to sit and be pretty. I wanted more, I wanted it to be known I havea brain, that I am more than just a pretty face or someone who knows which forkto use, that my God sees me as equal with everyone else. Women in the ancient church history arelargely silent not that we were but the men would not allow themselves tofollow Jesus new teaching to the letter. We had a voice and we played a role inspreading the good news to all nations. Paul may have been a loaner but Peter had a wife and James his brotherwas probably married also. You can betwe were there during the Council of Nicea, making them lunch, waiting at homemaking dinner for our husbands the bishops and talking with him about the daysdebates, giving our wisdom and take on the discussion in private. We may have influenced some of the decisionsbut we will never know until that day we all stand before the judgment seat notas a male or female, a pastor or priest but as a spirit created by our fatheras one with one, all in all. Ancient Christianhistory as written is and was written by males referencing males. That fact that the book of Judith and Susannaand Esther were at one time included as inspired works says someone tried tofollow Jesus in that all have a part and all are equal. It too bad today pastors do not have to takea course in the actual teaching of Christ but spend too much time in how to runa profitable church and how to establish the good old boys club to further yourfinancial position. I don’t want tosound so down on men of the Clergy but they have brought it on themselves. What else can I say but REPENT and see thelight of the Father shine through the Son, on all, big or small, male andfemale. We are in this together and wewill not find an answer to the world’s problems with segregation only withunity can we solve any problem. Inclosing I would like to say I have learned a lot in this course, not just aboutAncient Christian History but how to write a college level paper. I can only hope I have met all requirementsfor this course. I have also learned anew word Egalitarian. That is what I amand will always be.
1. Article by Probe Ministries Sue Bohlin,published March 16, 2010 in Bible.org
2. Schmidt, Alvin. How ChristianityChanged the World. Originally published under the title Under the Influence:How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001),which is the copy I reference in these notes. Ibid.,p.98-99
3. Ibid.,p. 101
4. Goddesses in Everywoman - Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. published 1984 byHarper & Row, Publishers,inc. quotes Page 20 “Marija gimbutas, MarijaGimbutas, “Women and Culture in Goddess-Oriented Old Europe,” in The politicsof Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power Within theWomen’s Movement, ed. Charlene Spretnak (New York”Doubleday,1982,pp.22-32.
5.The Researchers Library of Ancient Texts, Volume 1, The Apocrypha page481,Defender Press, Crane, Missouri 2011.
6.King James Version public domain, John 4:7-26 Paraphrased by me
7.King James Version public domain, Luke 10:38-42 Paraphrased by me
8.New International Version Matthew 6:27-28 Paraphrased, Holy Bible NIV copyright1973,1978,2011 by biblica, Inc used with permission. All right reservedworldwide.
9.Arthor Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Grand Rapids:Eerdmans,1971
Posted 04 November 2016 - 02:24 PM
Jesus broke so many rules of his day; he was a revolutionary since he also treated women as equal to men. Rabbi Eliezer in the 1st century CE wrote “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned then entrusted to a women..Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.”Jesus taught women, in public and in private.
Apparently you have not studied much Talmud to understand the diversity of opinion at that time.