Women leaders 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.
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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Tabitha in the Bible by Robin Gallaher Branch
Judith: A Remarkable Heroine by Robin Gallaher Branch
Anna in the Bible by Robin Gallaher Branch
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 8, 2016.
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