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Published Date: October 31, 2021

Published Date: October 31, 2021

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A Religion of “Women and Children”? A Christian Woman’s Place in the Greco-Roman World Before AD 300

Much can be learned about the values of a movement from its critics. For the earliest Christians, part of what made them a target was the inclusivity they showed toward the overlooked and marginalized, which was a subversive aspect of their movement in the largely exclusive Greco-Roman culture they inhabited. The second-century philosopher Celsus was perhaps the first non-Christian to articulate a developed critique of Christianity, and his understanding of the values of the early believers speaks to their unique and countercultural way of life. The Christian theologian Origen, in his response to Celsus some sixty years later, quoted Celsus as saying that the teaching of Christianity was especially attractive to “the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.”1 Part of Celsus’s excoriation of the developing movement, therefore, was related to its appeal to, acceptance by, and elevation of the lower strata of society. Amidst the patriarchy of the ancient world, this openness that Celsus critiqued had a particularly liberating and redemptive place for women, one that was significant enough in its difference to be mentioned by Christianity’s first major critic.

Celsus’s work, entitled “The True Word,” was probably composed in the second half of the second century and did not encounter a major reply until Origen begrudgingly responded in AD 248.2 One of the reasons Celsus believed Christianity should be rejected was his view that it was intended for the ignorant and wicked. As Bernard Pick writes, “the Christians appeared to him to belong to the class of those who engage in their low trades in public places and do not enter into respectable society.”3 Celsus seemed to believe that the church was filled with “thieves, burglars and poisoners,” showing that there was indeed a freedom within the early movement that opened acceptance and equality to the socially marginalized (such as women) and did not define them by the role or identity that Greco-Roman society provided.4 And, in the case of the early Christian women, it is beyond dispute that the Greco-Roman society and culture they inhabited were intensely patriarchal, did not value them as men were valued, and did not frequently recognize their contributions or typically provide them with the possibility of exerting significant influence within their communities.

The Position of Greco-Roman Women in the Early Imperial Period

Part of the problem that arises in ascertaining the experience of women in antiquity is that sources are few, are often “at cross-purposes with one other, and include no women’s voice.” Thus, a reliable idea of their state can only be inferred secondarily.5 As Deborah Sawyer puts it, women’s history “comes to us from men’s writings and from the perspective of men. This observation becomes more pervasive the further back in history we go, and women are experienced as the mute and passive objects of male thought and action.”6 Another challenge is that the experiences of women in the ancient world cannot easily be universalized; a wealthy, free woman’s lifestyle, for example, would be different than that of an enslaved or poor woman. In addition, the Greco-Roman world encompassed numerous cultures. Although there is certainly some divergence regarding women’s roles and beliefs about women, significant observations can be made that are relevant to our understanding of how Christianity would have appeared to Greco-Roman women and how Christian women would have appeared to their broader Greco-Roman culture.

At the time of Jesus, the influence of Hellenism led to many holding (either implicitly or explicitly) the Aristotelian idea that maleness represented normativity, while femaleness indicated one was defective. Roman society offered a higher degree of liberation to women than Greek society, and by the first century AD many women, particularly those with wealth and high status, could initiate divorce (which was frowned upon but not uncommon), own property, and inherit money, but these would be exceedingly rare among those in a lower socioeconomic position.7 Even with some social changes taking place, in a Roman context women were still limited by the absoluteness of the hierarchical culture, as the family and household structure revolved around the father and husband as paterfamilias who had total authority over the wife and children, including adult sons.8 If women were able to gain some freedom and be emancipated, “it would be liberation within a patriarchal structure, rather than liberation from that structure.”9

Marriage for a Greek or Roman woman was a rite of passage, akin to moving from childhood to adulthood. It was a way to unite families, ally politically, as well as to increase wealth and honor. While the control of the husband over the wife was less emphasized in the first century AD than in the earlier Classical period, the wife was still very much understood as subordinate to the husband.10 Various writers in the early Imperial era, such as Plutarch, believed a woman’s subordination to a man was simply natural, and that a husband’s governance of his wife was “the backbone of social stability.”11 Roman laws codified this, establishing the home as a wife’s proper sphere, with chastity and modesty as the highest and most lauded values.12 There was an open and obvious double-standard for men regarding chastity and marriage, however. Husbands having sex outside of marriage was commonplace and widely accepted, unless it qualified as “adultery” (sex with another free man’s wife). A wife’s infidelity, however, was “a criminal offense, punishable by divorce, exile, loss of half her dowry, and loss of one-third of any remaining property. A convicted adulteress could never again enter into a valid marriage, and her husband was required to divorce her or face stiff legal penalties.”13

In Roman culture and Greek culture before it, the socially tolerated practice of killing infants by exposure was particularly targeted at females, who made up the majority of those exposed.14 Husbands could even force their wives to expose children. One of the few places women had opportunity to express themselves freely was in the context of some pagan religious practices, as there was general agreement in the ancient world that women could function effectively as prophetesses and priestesses.15 The only people within the Empire who had fewer rights than women were slaves, who had little legal standing or individual status, as well as certain freedmen and, moreover, freedwomen. Slaves could not marry or own property and were often understood as property themselves.16

Most people follow cultural norms, and refusing to do so results in societal pressure. This was especially true for women of the early Christian era, who would experience significant pushback or even danger to themselves. Indeed, as Bella Vivante writes, they were dutifully expected to “fulfill their expected cultural roles,” such as marrying and bearing children; to choose otherwise was generally unacceptable.17 Although in Greek society women had little participation in public life, this was slowly changing by the time of the NT, so that it was not entirely uncommon for women in areas like Macedonia or Asia Minor to have prominent community roles, like Acts 16 describes of Lydia.18 Even so, for most women this influence was limited to certain spheres. While women could hold important civic positions in the early Empire, their presence in such offices would have been rare.19 The famous saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Thales, who expressed being grateful that he “was born a human being and not a beast, next a man and not a woman, thirdly a Greek and not a barbarian,” sufficiently summarizes the first-century AD Greco-Roman view.20

Understanding this background illuminates Celsus’s indictment of Christianity, namely that it was particularly attractive to women whom he associates with the “ignorant” and “foolish” persons considered “worthy of their God.”21 Women, whether of a Jewish or pagan background, found in the Jesus movement a God who called them worthy and valuable and a community that celebrated their presence and contributions in the midst of a broader sociocultural setting that often did not. According to another of Origen’s citations of Celsus, Celsus adds that slaves (as “low individuals . . . persons devoid of perception”) were drawn to Christianity in a similar way.22 The fact that the early church elevated such people was a scandal to someone like Celsus, who considered their practices unfit for the educated and a circumvention of the rightness and goodness of Roman ideals, thus undermining the social order. Such an indictment is telling; it is a reminder that the alternative kingdom preached by Jesus’s followers was indeed a subversive one. From their conviction that God showed no partiality, the Christians made a place for those with no place and elevated those with little social standing.

Celsus was not alone in this sort of opposition to an order or perspective that was as different from Roman ideals as Christianity was. As Roman rule expanded during the early Imperial era, a sort of “Roman exceptionalism” or “Roman distinctiveness” developed that created skepticism toward minority groups and ideologies. As Erich Gruen notes,

Romans had a penchant for stressing their special values, qualities, and character. The assertions of leaders and the writings of intellectuals regularly affirmed their distinctiveness. A contrast with other peoples loomed large in the development of a self-perception. The history of Rome had, after all, taken shape in a setting that involved confrontations with other cultures right from the start.23

Perhaps the clearest example of a group that did not fit in with Roman culture is the Jews, with whom the earliest Christians would have been associated in the public eye. The historian Tacitus observed of the Jews that “they hold all things profane that Romans regard as sacred, and allow everything that Romans forbid.”24 The “separate identity” of the Jews, notes Gruen, “set them apart from conventional political and social relationships in Rome,” rendering them an “alien presence” in the Roman conscience.25 Because of their association with Jewish beliefs, the early Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile converts) would have likely been viewed similarly.

It was in this sociocultural milieu that the Jesus movement took root and the earliest church communities were planted and began to grow. As will be shown, Rodney Stark is right to say that “women in the early Christian communities were considerably better off than their pagan and even Jewish counterparts.”26 Part of what distinguished Jesus was that he not only frequently interacted with and received support from women, but he had more female followers and more clearly displayed women’s place in his movement than his first-century counterparts did. Texts like Luke 8:1–3 show, as Joseph Kelly puts it, that “women were essential to the success of the movement.”27 Paul’s letters as well as the book of Acts likewise indicate that women had significant roles in the emerging communities and in Paul’s own ability to sustain his missionary journeys.28 Part of what made Christianity attractive to women was that its message focused on a God who valued them equally to men, intended to work through them as females and not in spite of their femaleness, and who created communities where their contributions, position, and callings were legitimized in ways that they had otherwise not experienced.

The Position of Christian Women in the Early Church

The First 100 Years

“One thing is undeniable,” writes Roger Gryson, “there were in the early church women who occupied an official position, who were invested in ministry, and who, at least at certain times and places, appeared as part of the clergy.”29 That women were leaders is evident even from the earliest nonbiblical sources, such as Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan in AD 112, which mentions an interrogation of two Christian leaders (specifically deacons) who were women.30 While in later centuries the church separated the function of those called deacons and those called ministers, scholars generally agree that in the first hundred years of the church the designation “deacon” did not indicate a specific, limited function.31 Paul refers to the woman Phoebe as a deacon near the end of Romans (Rom 16:1), and he also uses the word for himself and other male companions. Over the first three centuries of church history alone, dozens of inscriptions have been found which attest to the presence of female deacons.32

In terms of the testimony of Scripture regarding the place of Christian women, there are numerous examples that they held positions of significance within the early movement. This was not necessarily a relative significance, but a significance equaling that of Christian men. For example, in Phil 4:2–3, Paul addresses both a man named Clement and two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as “fellow workers” of his, without any distinction between the women and Clement in terms of their legitimacy or position as leaders. Some scholars have proposed that, in all likelihood, Euodia and Syntyche were overseers (episkopoi), “probably leaders of local house churches.”33 Similarly, in his letter to the Romans Paul sends his personal greetings to ten women and nineteen men who were prominent members of the church. This suggests a high number of women among the Roman congregation, including Phoebe who is named as a deacon and Junia who is named as an apostle.34 Describing the early Pauline churches, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza said it best:

Paul’s letters indicate that women were among the most prominent missionaries and leaders of the early Christian communities. They were co-workers with Paul. . . . They were teachers, preachers and prophets. As leaders of house-churches they had great influence and probably presided also at the worship celebrations. If we compare their leadership with the ministry of the later deaconesses it is striking that their authority was not restricted to the ministry for women nor to specific feminine functions. Such a leadership of women in pre-Pauline and Pauline Christianity was legitimized by the theology expressed in Gal 3:28.35

As Fiorenza notes, Gal 3:28 is perhaps the clearest (and chronologically earliest) place one can look for the radical, reconciling, counter-cultural effect of the message of new life in Christ: “There is neither . . . male nor female . . . you are all one.”36

Additionally, many women in the first churches would have enjoyed a marital relationship governed by entirely different values than those of their Greco-Roman context. Paul’s language in 1 Cor 7 of each person having his or her own spouse and each partner having physical rights within the marriage necessarily created a dynamic of reciprocity. In such a dynamic it was not only the husband with a “right” to his wife, but also a wife whose “right” was equally recognized out of an understanding of the relationship as a mutual commitment of respect. In the same way, for the partners to physically abstain from one another is described as a choice of both, rather than only the man as might have been expected at the time.37 Paul’s counsel on divorce and abandonment in 1 Cor 7:15 was likewise liberating, as the cultural expectation at the time would have been for a wife to worship the gods of her husband.38 Christian women, however, were not bound in their thought and belief in this way, which complemented their individuality and personal freedom in a way that pagan culture did not. Similarly, for men to be Christian meant that they were held accountable for infidelity and called to be faithful to their wives, equalizing respect and security within marriage and overturning the longstanding Greco-Roman double-standard that exclusively punished female adultery.39

In the case of household codes in the NT (which correspond to, but also subvert, basic Greco-Roman cultural frameworks) Shi-Min Lu rightly notes that early leaders like Paul were not attempting to wipe “away a culture due to its defects,” but rather to present the gospel as that which “corrects and heals the wounds caused by cultures while assuming the cultural forms. Women’s role in the NT household codes indeed testifies to this transforming power.”40 The idea in the household codes, as Lu rightly says, is to present a redeemed idea of household and family which is defined by one’s identity in and allegiance to Christ rather than social hierarchy. Therefore, “all are under the rule of the only paterfamilias, God.”41 Once these relationships were properly aligned under God, this could become a testimony to the surrounding culture. The missional emphasis of a properly aligned family relationship is evident from texts like Titus 2:5 (“to be sensible, morally pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, so that God’s word won’t be ridiculed” [CEB]), which indicates that the freedom with which Christian wives related to their husbands could be seen as a source of scandal to their pagan neighbors.42

Celsus’s Era

After the apostolic era and into the second century and the time of Celsus, it is clear from the existing writings (whether apocryphal or from the earliest church fathers) that the churches were concerned with the welfare of women and with their participation in the churches. For example, Hippolytus of Rome, in The Apostolic Tradition, notes that the churches were expending significant time and resources caring and providing for widows, and when a new person was baptized, leaders would seek to determine whether they had “honored widows.”43 Because of the financially precarious and socially disadvantaged position that widows had in Roman society, the generosity and provision of the church would have been essential for their welfare. Additionally, the martyrdom of Blandina, who died in AD 177, and the record of the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas (possibly written by Perpetua herself around AD 200) suggests that women had a high level of freedom in early Christian prophetic movements and were among the most devoted believers.44

Another aspect of life as a Christian that appealed to second and third-century women was the legitimation of female singleness as a calling equally valuable to marriage and motherhood. In a culture that expected and sometimes forced women to marry and be mothers, the Christian embrace of the celibate woman was especially liberating. For women who sought a community that did not press them into these expected roles without their consent, and thus valued their presence irrespective of whether they had a husband to “legitimize” them, the church was the answer.45 Early Christian women from Lydia to Perpetua “found themselves in a close-knit society without social or sex distinction.”46 As a movement and as a community in antiquity, this was without parallel. Studies of thousands of Christian burial sites in the Roman catacombs have attested to this lack of distinction, as the bodies of Christian women were just as likely to be commemorated with lengthy inscriptions as men, an equality in memorialization which was, according to Stark, “peculiar to Christians and set them apart from the non-Christian populations of the city.”47

Although an apocryphal writing, the second century Acts of Paul and Thecla (written by a presbyter in Asia who was later deposed for writing it) reflects an early perspective of a Christian woman who was a strong and independent leader, as legitimate in her service to God as the Apostle Paul. Thecla was unmarried and celibate, and as a literary character she represented an idealized model “for women who wished, in a similar way, to break through their own constricting social roles.”48 Although some of the document’s teachings were not orthodox, at its core it represents a genuine Christian tendency to invert “some common Roman virtues and values by redefining what is honorable and what is shameful. Since honor and shame were coded to gender, that means that our story uses typical feminine virtues such as silence and passivity and presents them as of the highest honor, superior to the masculine traits of dominance and physical power.”49

Unfortunately, as many scholars have noted, from the second to the third centuries there was an increasing pattern of negativity toward women among some of the church fathers. What had originally been a legitimation of women irrespective of their marital status morphed into a wariness about marriage which “stemmed first and foremost from their ambiguity about the goodness of the sexual act,” combined with a capitulation on the part of many leaders to the Greco-Roman cultural idea that women were “the symbol for sexuality, the lusts of the flesh, the downfall of rationality when confronted by desire.”50 There may have been many reasons for this shift, but it is possible that the radical differences between Christian views and Greco-Roman ideals led to more pointed opposition, and this in turn produced in some leaders a “concern for their public image in the face of growing societal hostility.”51

Despite this unfortunate shift, which would progressively obscure the role of women in the foundation of Christianity and as central to its expansion, it was clear to the surrounding culture that Christian women struck “a chord of dissonance within their society . . . they were women who wished to exercise the same freedoms that men enjoyed.”52 Even when many began to feel a pressure to conform to society more than to challenge it, at its root the early movement presented a radically different understanding of gender—one that “allowed women to cross boundaries and challenge their identity” in light of the redefinition and transformation they experienced as a new creation in Christ.53 This radically different way of life was what had resulted in this pressure, and continued to produce a response from the surrounding culture that, in the words of John North, was “almost entirely hostile,” since the pagan world was “facing a new, puzzling and apparently dangerous social phenomenon, with few precedents as to how it should be handled.”54

The Position and Reception of Christian Women in Greco-Roman Culture

As the number of Christians grew in the second and third centuries and they became increasingly known within the Empire, the story of their reception by the Greco-Roman elite was mostly “a tale of rejection, not of acknowledgement.”55 Although Celsus’s critique of Christianity was hostile and considered the faith (and its low-status and disproportionately female adherents) a danger to society, he was not alone in such a condescending sentiment. For example, the third-century Christian apologist Marcus Minucius Felix preserved a likely-authentic second-century criticism from the rhetorician Marcus Fronto (a tutor of Marcus Aurelius) who argued that Christians were different from Romans because “they have collected from the lowest possible dregs of society the more ignorant fools together with gullible women (readily persuaded, as is their weak sex); they have thus formed a rabble of blasphemous conspirators, who with nocturnal assemblies, periodic fasts, and inhuman feasts seal their pact not with some religious ritual but with desecrating profanation.”56 Again, here is visible the early claim by critics of the movement that its message was particularly attractive to women, who made up part of the “dregs of society” with whom Jesus was known to associate in his earthly life.

The accusation that Christianity beguiled or deceived women appears in more than one place primarily because of the assumption in antiquity that women were incapable of a man’s level of intelligence and thus would not occupy significant positions in an intellectually viable belief system.57 Such a way of thinking is why Celsus, in another of his criticisms, considered it ridiculous that the first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection were women, who were by nature hysterical and easily deceived.58 Beyond this, some deception could have been assumed by the public because in church meetings women would be together with men in public gatherings rather than in private, which, according to prevailing view, was “where they should be.”59

The egalitarian and familial language and practices of the early communities likewise led to rumors and gossip particularly with regard to the idea of Christian love and the designations “brother” and “sister” so common to the NT. Again, Minucius Felix cites Marcus Fronto as questioning of the Christians why “indiscriminately they call each other brother and sister” and whether these “hallowed names” are code-names for incestuous practices.60 Felix confirms to Fronto that Christians call each other this because they are united under God as “copartners in faith, coheirs in hope.”61 This same idea was repeated by the second-century Apology of Aristides to Emperor Hadrian in AD 130, which says of the Christians that, “if they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as if over their own brother; they call themselves brethren, not after flesh but after the Spirit and in God.”62 This is significant because it establishes from early in the movement that women and men within the church addressed each other on equal grounds with terms that would be used for family members, evidencing their conviction that their transformed identity in Christ allowed for a new form of relating to one another, whether male or female. This, as the criticism shows, led those outside the communities to assume some measure of sexual deviance.

Another concern of many of the early pagan critics of the faith was that Christianity did not tend to spread to established avenues, but from individual interaction, typically among people of lower social status. The NT inspired this evangelistic effort, in which women were key participants. Christine Schenk elaborates on this, writing that “evangelization was conducted person-to-person, house-to-house by women who reached out to other women, children, freed persons, and slaves. Women’s quiet exercise of authority in the context of everyday domestic life is one oft-unheralded key to Christianity’s rapid expansion.”63 This, in addition to Christianity’s radical egalitarianism, entirely new set of ideals, and transformed understanding of community led to a steady and exponential spread of the movement throughout the empire, from the ground up, in a subversive manner that makes the discomforted diatribes of second and third-century critics more understandable, as they attempt to react against a group of people disrupting long-held ideals.

Conclusion

Although Celsus intended to disparage Christianity, he provides some of the earliest testimony to its fundamental difference and liberating power: Christianity empowered and celebrated those who were neither empowered nor celebrated. Celsus and his like-minded contemporaries were not merely chiding Christians because their message appealed to those assumed to be ignorant, stupid, or hysterical, but they were claiming that from its beginnings Christianity had been fundamentally composed of and sustained by women. The Jesus movement created a response from the broader culture not only because of what it taught but also because of the community-transforming effect it had on the way identity and relationships were understood. By the second and third centuries, the radical message of the NT as lived out by the early church “threatened images of the ideal woman that existed in the ancient Mediterranean world,” as it redefined her value and worth on a basis not recognized by the broader society.64

Therefore, we may conclude that the earliest testimony (from Scripture into the first few centuries) reveals that the followers of Jesus were a counter-cultural community who created a space for women, for children, and for everyone else considered an “other” in a society that celebrated a certain few. As Robin Fox notes, the continuing spread of Christianity was not only due to the content of its message, but “it was also due to faults in pagan society. In cities of growing social divisions, Christianity offered unworldly equality. It preached, and at its best it practiced, love in a world of widespread brutality. It offered certainty and won conviction where the great venture of Greek philosophy was widely perceived to have argued itself into the ground.”65 This was the foundation of the movement that has borne the name of Jesus from its very beginnings. And if Christianity is to remain a community of difference in the world today, this must be the standard the modern church continues to embrace.

Notes

1. Origen, Contra Celsum 3.44.

2. Bernard Pick, “The Attack of Celsus on Christianity,” The Monist 21/2 (1911) 226. Origen wrote Contra Celsum at the request of the church father Ambrose.

3. Pick, “The Attack of Celsus on Christianity,” 235.

4. Judith Lieu, “The ‘Attraction of Women’ in/to early Judaism and Christianity: Gender and the Politics of Conversion,” JSNT 21/72 (1999) 13.

5. Beryl Rawson, “Finding Roman Women,” in A Companion to the Roman Republic, ed. Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein-Marx (Wiley, 2011) 324.

6. Deborah Sawyer, Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries (Routledge, 1996) 2.

7. Christine Schenk, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2017) 17.

8. Lynn Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Baker, 2009) 29.

9. Sawyer, Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries, 31.

10. Sawyer, Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries, 20–21. Women typically married at about fifteen years old to men who were about thirty.

11. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 57; cf. Schenk, Crispina and Her Sisters, 19. Schenk writes that the patriarchal marriage “came to signify the stability of the body politic.”

12. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 58.

13. Schenk, Crispina and Her Sisters, 17. The Greek orator Demosthenes (384–322 BC), in Works 59, wrote that “Mistresses are for pleasure, concubines for daily service to our bodies, but wives for the procreation of children and to be faithful guardians of the household.” The later Roman statesman Cicero (106–43 BC) echoed a similar idea in Pro Caelio 20, that “Anyone who thought young men ought to be forbidden to visit prostitutes would certainly be the virtuous of the virtuous, that I cannot deny. But he would be out of step not only with this easy-going age but also our ancestors, who customarily made youth that concession. Was there ever a time when this was not habitual practice, when it was censured and not permitted, in short when what is allowable was not allowed?”

14. Eve Cantarella, Pandora’s Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987) 44.

15. James Sigountos and Myron Shank, “Public Roles for Women in the Pauline Church: A Reappraisal of the Evidence, JETS 26/3 (1983) 288.

16. Rawson, “Finding Roman Women,” 336.

17. Bella Vivante, Daughters of Gaia: Women in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Praeger, 2007) 59. To oppose these expectations would be considered rebellion against male authority figures and against society.

18. Ben Witherington III, Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge University Press, 1991) 12.

19. Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches, 22.

20. This quote is attributed to Thales by the biographer Diogenes Laertius in Lives of Eminent Philosophers 1.33.

21. Origen, Contra Celsum 3.44. Similarly, Celsus’s diatribe in 3.55 about Christians setting women and children against male authority figures (specifically, Christians teaching them “that they ought not to give heed to their father and to their teachers . . . [and can] throw off the yoke”) may be an elaboration which suggests that the original idea was that early Christian women and children did not have to find their value identity from simply serving or being subservient to the paterfamilias, but from Christ, which was meant to transform their familial relationships.

22. Origen, Contra Celsum 3.59. In 3.64 Celsus asks in conclusion, “what is this preference of sinners over others?”

23. Erich Gruen, “Romans and Others,” in A Companion to the Roman Republic, ed. Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein-Marx (Wiley, 2011) 459.

24. Tacitus, Histories 5.4.1. The Statesman Cicero disparaged Judaism as barbara superstitio (Pro Flacco 28: 66–69).

25. Gruen, “Romans and Others,” 474–75. An example of a difference between Jewish and Roman practice was the Jewish conviction that infant exposure was a grave evil. Thus Cohick, in Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, observes that “Roman writers note with derision that Jews raise all children born to them” (33).

26. Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (HarperCollins, 2011) 42.

27. Joseph Kelly, The World of the Early Christians (Liturgical, 2017) 133.

28. Schenk, Crispina and her Sisters, 49. Acts, for example, speaks of many female converts of Paul who were women of high standing in places like Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.

29. Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Liturgical, 1976) xi.

30. Margaret MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: The Power of the Hysterical Woman (Cambridge University Press, 1996) 51. Pliny saw these women to be influential enough in leadership that they would understand not only Christian doctrine but also how services and leadership training worked.

31. Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, 3.

32. Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005) 90–93.

33. Madigan and Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church, 11. Assuming that their “work” with Paul was missional in scope, Euodia and Syntyche may also be properly classified as missionaries. Urbanus (Rom 16:9), Timothy (Rom 16:21, 1 Thess 3:2), Titus (2 Cor 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Philemon (Phlm 1) and various others are also called “fellow workers,” with the same Greek terminology applied to them.

34. There has been significant dispute over whether Junia is a woman. Much scholarship supports this conclusion, such as the recent article by Yii-Jan Lin, “Junia: An Apostle Before Paul,” JBL 139/1 (2020) 191–209. For a recent article critical of this view, see Esther Ng, “Was Junia(s) in Rom 16:7 a Female Apostle? And So What?,” JETS 63/3 (2020) 517–33.

35. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Women in the Pre-Pauline and Pauline Churches,” USQR 33/3 (1978) 158.

36. Jakobus Vorster offers an excellent exploration of the implications of this verse in his recent article, “The Theological-Ethical Implications of Galatians 3:28 for a Christian Perspective on Equality as a Fundamental Value in the Human Rights Discourse,” In Die Skriflig 53/1 (2019) 1–9.

37. Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches, 29.

38. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion, 3. MacDonald notes that in the Greco-Roman mind, “fidelity to one’s husband meant fidelity to his gods.”

39. Kelly, The World of the Earliest Christians, 138.

40. Shi-Min Lu, “Women’s Role in New Testament Household Codes: Transforming First-Century Roman Culture,” Priscilla Papers 30/1 (2016) 9. One of Lu’s clear points is that “retaining the social strata does not mean Paul intended to keep the structure,” which was patriarchal (13).

41. Lu, “Women’s Role in New Testament Household Codes,” 13.

42. Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (Zondervan, 1996) 301. Titus 2:5 directs wives in their actions toward their husbands so that “the word of God might not be reviled.”

43. Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, 22.

44. Elizabeth Clark, Women in the Early Church (Liturgical, 1990) 98. Acts 21:9 indicates that at least from the time of the daughters of Philip the disciple, prophesying Christian women were considered normal.

45. David Scholer and Everett Ferguson, Women in Early Christianity (Taylor & Francis, 1993) 174. Scholer and Ferguson note that “life-long female celibacy was not an option in the social sphere from Solonic Greece to fourth century Rome, since the woman’s duty—indeed, a daughter’s very reason for existence—was to marry and have children, thus assuring the preservation and proper transfer of private property.”

46. Scholer and Ferguson, Women in Early Christianity, 95.

47. Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 44. This pattern was also true of children, as Christians lamented losing a daughter as much as a son, which was unusual in the son-centered Greco-Roman culture of the time.

48. Scholer and Ferguson, Women in Early Christianity, 171.

49. Lynn Cohick and Amy Hughes, Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second Through the Fifth Centuries (Baker, 2017) 13.

50. Clark, Women in the Early Church, 18. Tertullian frequently writes with this attitude. As time went on, this also led to some leaders (such as Cyprian of Carthage in the third century) pronouncing virginity as superior to marriage rather than equal to it.

51. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion, 10.

52. Sawyer, Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries, 147.

53. Sawyer, Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries, 148.

54. John North, “Pagan Attitudes,” in Christianity in the Second Century: Themes and Developments, ed. James Paget and Judith Lieu (Cambridge University Press, 2017) 265.

55. North, “Pagan Attitudes,” 267.

56. Marcus Minucius Felix, Octavius 8.4.

57. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion, 60–61.

58. Origen, Contra Celsum 2.55, 3.55. Origen quotes Celsus thus: “but who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale.”

59. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion, 61.

60. Marcus Minucius Felix, Octavius 8.9.

61. Marcus Minucius Felix, Octavius 31.18.

62. Aristides, Apology 15.

63. Schenk, Crispina and her Sisters, 61.

64. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion, 7.

65. Robin Fox, Pagans and Christians in the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine (Penguin, 2005) 335.