BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Lydia and Tabitha in the Bible

Women leaders in the early Christian church

Tabitha resurrected in the Bible

Tabitha in the Bible: In his painting “Raising of Tabitha,” Giovanni Francesco Guercino depicts the moment when Peter resurrects Tabitha. In the Bible, this episode is described in Acts 9:36–43. Tabitha is portrayed as a woman leader in the early Christian church.

What was life like for women in the early Christian church? What roles were they able to fill? How were women leaders regarded in the New Testament?

While the majority of the leaders of the early Christian church were men, the New Testament describes several prominent women leaders as well. Teresa Calpino analyzes two of these women—Tabitha and Lydia—in her Biblical Views column “Tabitha and Lydia—Models of Early Christian Women Leaders” in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Teresa Calpino is an Instructor in the Department of Theology at Loyola University Chicago and the author of the recent book Women, Work, and Leadership in Acts (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014). Both in her column and in her book, Calpino looks at the dynamic, exemplary figures of Tabitha and Lydia in the Bible.

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Early Church leader Lydia in the Bible

Lydia in the Bible: This Greek Orthodox painting depicts Lydia. In the Bible, Lydia is described as a “seller of purple cloth” and served as a leader in the early Christian church. She came to be viewed as a saint by many Christian denominations.

Acts 9:36–43 introduces us to Tabitha. In the New Testament, Tabitha is the only woman to be called a disciple. She is described as being “devoted to good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36). Lydia appears in Acts 16. Described as “a dealer in purple cloth,” Lydia is a successful businesswoman—and very hospitable (Acts 16:14). After converting to Christianity, she opens her home to Paul and his companions.

Both Tabitha and Lydia filled leadership roles in the early Christian church. They were important pillars of their communities, and they are described positively in the New Testament. In her column, Teresa Calpino explores whether it was common for women to fill leadership roles in the Roman world. Did Lydia and Tabitha in the Bible enjoy leadership opportunities within the Christian community that were available to others in different social and religious communities?

While this is a complex issue, Calpino demonstrates that women leaders were not unique to the church. Although they were by no means the norm, there are examples of prominent women businesswomen, intellectuals and community leaders throughout the Roman world.

To learn more about Tabitha and Lydia in the Bible, read the full Biblical Views column “Tabitha and Lydia—Models of Early Christian Women Leaders” by Teresa Calpino in the July/August 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Craft centers in Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—through the Mediterranean world.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Women in the Bible

Tabitha in the Bible by Robin Gallaher Branch

Judith: A Remarkable Heroine by Robin Gallaher Branch

Anna in the Bible by Robin Gallaher Branch

Who Was Thecla?


This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 8, 2016.


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9 Responses

  1. Jan van Puffelen says:

    Not to forget the female apostle Junia as mentioned in Rom. 16:7. It is translated correctly as Junia in the King Janes Version, but is translated as the male Junias in the New American Standard Bible!

  2. Sikeli cawanikawai says:

    Barbara Thiering’s book by Johnathan is strange. I wonder where they get their facts from.
    Paul’s Worship order according to 1Cor 14:34-36,….. women has to be silent in church and be subjected to their husbands. That has changed now where women are priests and they’re preaching in Churches today. My view is that Paul’s Biblical worship order is contextualised today to suit the contemporary living. In Theological terms, God uses the weaker gender to strengthen the Church. 1Cor 1:25 For God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

  3. ernestc11 says:

    The Church of England also had a place for strong women – until they invented women priests and bishops. Yet another nail in the coffin of the Anglican Church.
    E C Coleman

    1. Helen Spalding says:

      Sadly, the office of priest for the Church is redundant since Jesus Himself is the only priest we need. So no human, male or female, need apply.

      The NT does offer images of women in other ministerial roles that became men-only clubs until most recently. Women were deacons and preachers and prophets.

      What is killing the Anglican and Episcopal communion in the West is not women in ministry but a lack of being tied to the Gospel of Christ. In the West, this community has chosen to become an NGO rather than a witness to the power of God in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Women priests are the least of its problems.

  4. Cynthia Gooch says:

    Regarding the women mentioned, such as Eumachia, isn’t it possible that the reason these women were able to do the things they did independently because they were WIDOWS? If their husbands had been alive (were single women allowed to inherit from fathers?), perhaps they would not have been allowed to do what they did?

  5. jonathanm71 says:

    Barbara Thiering in ‘Jesus of the Apocalypse’ makes a good case for Lydia being the second wife of Jesus. Lydia had reached the position of lay bishop, wearing purple, and could give to other women the same status (‘seller of purple from Thyatira’). She appeared in Philippi in March 50CE. Jesus had been preparing for it in June 49, when he dictated to John the seven letters, one of them to Thyatira, described in Revelations. In the letter to Smyrna, Jesus is said to be their chief bishop, but that he had entered the state preceding marriage, when his deputy Peter should take over. In the letter to Thyatira, Jesus rebukes John Mark for allowing Helena to teach Gentiles and because of this he replaces him as his marriage go-between with his physician Luke. He asks Luke to care for Lydia until ‘I come’ in December. He records that his ‘Father’ had given permission to ‘go outside’ for his marriage and he hands over his first son (by Mary Magdalene) Jesus Justus, aged 12, for education.

  6. jsne zm says:

    Thank you for this article. I shall do further investigation of these listed resources also.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


9 Responses

  1. Jan van Puffelen says:

    Not to forget the female apostle Junia as mentioned in Rom. 16:7. It is translated correctly as Junia in the King Janes Version, but is translated as the male Junias in the New American Standard Bible!

  2. Sikeli cawanikawai says:

    Barbara Thiering’s book by Johnathan is strange. I wonder where they get their facts from.
    Paul’s Worship order according to 1Cor 14:34-36,….. women has to be silent in church and be subjected to their husbands. That has changed now where women are priests and they’re preaching in Churches today. My view is that Paul’s Biblical worship order is contextualised today to suit the contemporary living. In Theological terms, God uses the weaker gender to strengthen the Church. 1Cor 1:25 For God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

  3. ernestc11 says:

    The Church of England also had a place for strong women – until they invented women priests and bishops. Yet another nail in the coffin of the Anglican Church.
    E C Coleman

    1. Helen Spalding says:

      Sadly, the office of priest for the Church is redundant since Jesus Himself is the only priest we need. So no human, male or female, need apply.

      The NT does offer images of women in other ministerial roles that became men-only clubs until most recently. Women were deacons and preachers and prophets.

      What is killing the Anglican and Episcopal communion in the West is not women in ministry but a lack of being tied to the Gospel of Christ. In the West, this community has chosen to become an NGO rather than a witness to the power of God in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Women priests are the least of its problems.

  4. Cynthia Gooch says:

    Regarding the women mentioned, such as Eumachia, isn’t it possible that the reason these women were able to do the things they did independently because they were WIDOWS? If their husbands had been alive (were single women allowed to inherit from fathers?), perhaps they would not have been allowed to do what they did?

  5. jonathanm71 says:

    Barbara Thiering in ‘Jesus of the Apocalypse’ makes a good case for Lydia being the second wife of Jesus. Lydia had reached the position of lay bishop, wearing purple, and could give to other women the same status (‘seller of purple from Thyatira’). She appeared in Philippi in March 50CE. Jesus had been preparing for it in June 49, when he dictated to John the seven letters, one of them to Thyatira, described in Revelations. In the letter to Smyrna, Jesus is said to be their chief bishop, but that he had entered the state preceding marriage, when his deputy Peter should take over. In the letter to Thyatira, Jesus rebukes John Mark for allowing Helena to teach Gentiles and because of this he replaces him as his marriage go-between with his physician Luke. He asks Luke to care for Lydia until ‘I come’ in December. He records that his ‘Father’ had given permission to ‘go outside’ for his marriage and he hands over his first son (by Mary Magdalene) Jesus Justus, aged 12, for education.

  6. jsne zm says:

    Thank you for this article. I shall do further investigation of these listed resources also.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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