Women in Early Christianity

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Updated: Aug 12, 2019
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The early Christian church was established in a patriarchal society which elevated the male gender so highly at the expense of the female counterparts but so much was done which was not put down in detail. That is why it is sometimes hard to locate the female gender history which much literature is dedicated to men than women. The apparent silence of their contribution is no slightest indicator of their inactivity. Contemporary scholars have done a lot of research to help position the women fairly in the literary works as far as their societal participation is concerned (Gillman 2012). The surface look of the role they play is more than an understatement. In a glance, they the women are mothers, wives, deaconesses, prophets, and martyrs in the history of the church. Though scanty the content of their lives in their biographies, church orders, biblical epistles of Paul and other authoritative texts, we are able to connect the dots of the significant roles they played.

Roles Women could take in the Early Church

One of the outstanding roles the women played were in the worship services. They had a place in praying and prophesying (1Cor 11:5). The worth of a person’s prayer cannot be prized. The church was very young and it needed prayers of the faithful members to keep it aloft. If they could not find their way to the pulpits through sermonizing, they could always make intercessions for others on their knees. For Perpetua, her father has put her on a duress to recant her faith, something she’s not ready to do. Instead, she gets baptized and thereafter she is taken to prison. As a woman, she was expected to be submissive to her father’s desires.

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In the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, there is a wonderful coverage of the martyrdom of Perpetua, Felicity and their companions who suffered to the last breath of their lives in the line of defending God’s cause (Miller 2005). They met their fate Carthage, African Province of the ancient empire of Rome known as Tunisia nowadays. Martyrdom was the greatest demonstration of commitment to the gospel in the early times when the saints were being tested of what they stood for. Their boldly act encouraged other thousands to take courage in joining the faith of Christianity. At one point she asks for a vision and consequently receives it. It is about a dangerous bronze ladder with weapons all over including a serpent in at the foot. It symbolizes the persecution the faithful were faced with which they had to overcome.

Other roles included the role of mothering. As obvious as it may sound, it was a difficult and painstaking duty they performed. At the time of her death, Vibia Perpetua was nursing her child in hard conditions of prison. Felicity the slave who was pregnant was more than determined to bring up her bring upon delivery. Such commitment from women was necessary to propagate the early church which needed members through birth and evangelism to fill it (Miller 2005).

Expectations for Women at Different Stages of Life

The prevailing conditions of the time could not allow the women to preach in the churches. All they needed was to learn in silence and should there be any issue they would like to be clarified, they were to do it at home with their husbands (1Cor 14:34-35). This was purported to bring order in the churches during the worship sessions. The question every rational mind would ask is: why women? Not only in church, but their silence and minimal verbal participation were also expected most of the communal gatherings.

Women of older years were to be accorded respect due to their age (1Tim 5:2) whereas the damsels were to be handled as sisters by the whole community. The killer reason behind this was to ensure purity amongst the community members. The moral code of the society treasured greatly pure relations in spite of the domineering environment of the male gender. The elderly women were widows who exhorted into good works. This included bringing up the children she was left with, treating strangers warmly by offering them hospitality and washing the feet of the saints. All these were merits to receive the benevolence the Early Church was organizing (1Tim 5:9-10). Since sexual purity was highly encouraged Paul in (1Tim 5:11) sets at liberty the young women whose husbands have died to get married if so they wish.

Ways women were able to lead and serve their communities

The leadership of women was demonstrated both in the church of the early periods and the Greco-Roman era. The most telling leadership skills were at the household level with businesses. The family is the smallest unit of a society. When the family is organized and orderly, then the whole society will reflect the orderliness therein. In 1Tim 5:10, the woman is responsible for organizing things at the family level, including the role of parenting of bringing up the children in the proper and unacceptable ways. On top of the contributions made by the church towards supporting the ministerial work, households were expected to make room for the visiting teachers, prophets, and apostles.

Wealth and patronage was another channel of service from the women. In these contributions made in churches for the apostles and the evangelistic ministry, women were involved too. The young church was in need of liberal and generous persons to enable the activities planned to be achieved. The hardworking women always had extra stuff to share to the less fortunate in society.

Early Christianity’s Conflict on the roles traditionally expected of Women

The church formed a hub of character transformation from the hard-lined patriarchy into a system of mutual understanding. Esteeming of the men more highly than the women is not a religion of Jesus Christ. By consistently entreating people to treat women as equal and valuable co-workers with Paul (Phil 4:3), the epistles are elevating the status of a typical woman in the Greco-Roman dispensation. The driving force behind this is the mission of the church that brings all people on board as equal team players.

Another huge contrast is about sacrifice and courage. The women in the first and second century were prepared tooth and nail, to the point of losing their lives for the sake of the gospel. The Greco-Roman women were expected to be totally submissive to the law of the land. Women who went through martyrdom played the embodiment role of unprecedented courage. In the Greco-Roman period, women were in different ways deified as female goddesses. The early church has nothing to do with this kind of persuasion. Christianity was and is still anti-deification of any living or non-living creature which can serve in the place of God.


We can now more clearly tell the roles and kind of contribution women did in the Early Church which otherwise could go unnoticed. Currently, the world is in a fair state on how women relate to men. Through their wealth, their service, their sacrifice, and courage, they were able to serve as epitomes of character silently for the whole society. A lot of effort has been made to recognize all this, but still, we have a long way to go in giving the women a fully fair footing for the role they play in our society.

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Women in Early Christianity. (2019, Aug 12). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/women-in-early-christianity/