First-century Women in Church and Synagogue

Editor's Reflections | Winter 2002 (16.1)

by Carol R. Thiessen | January 30, 2002
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When Gordon Fee presented his plenary message at the CBE Biennial International Conference in June, all of us privileged to hear that address left with much new information. Dr. Fee’s exegesis of one of the most quoted passages about the relationships of husbands, wives, slaves, and masters in the house churches to whom the apostle Paul wrote gave us much food for thought and illuminating information about those house churches. We are pleased now to be able to share that message with all of you in printed form and believe that you, too, will find it especially helpful. In the same vein, we are also pleased to reprint an article by a now-retired professor of Jewish History at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Shmuel Safrai, on the subject of the role of women in first-century synagogues. We are especially indebted to a CBE member in Israel, Lucy Lincoln, who called our attention to this article and was of enormous help in aiding us in getting the author’s permission to use it in this issue.

A third article dealing with the two different cultures in which the early churches existed comes to us from James Payton, who teaches history at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. Taken together, we can draw from all of these articles some interesting conclusions about women who in both Jewish and Christian congregations early in the Christian Era. Contrary to the opinions of others, women were not necessarily treated differently merely because of gender. And as Payton points out, where they were, there was a distinct cultural reason.

Individually, and taken together, these articles break new ground for many of us and provide new information about the role of women in the early years of the church. I hope you will find each of them as helpful as I did.

A fourth article you are sure to appreciate comes to us by way of the Global Celebration for Women held last fall in Dallas. Cecilia Yau, with whom many of us got acquainted at the cbe conference last June, has made available her paper on women and the church in China. It’s a thrill to read how the plight of Chinese girls and women before the nineteenth century was changed with the coming of the gospel in the early 1800s, and how many women went on to become evangelizers in their own country.

Gilbert Bilezikian’s second challenge regarding subordination plus two top-notch book reviews round out this issue, along with the reprint of a column by Jim Berkley, an old friend and associate from years past, now in pastoral ministry and active in Presbyterians for Renewal. I hope you will enjoy reading the issue in its entirety as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

Finally, I hope you will enjoy God’s richest blessings as we begin another new year in a still-new millennium.