Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Lydia, Acts, Philippi

Watercolour and ink portrait of Lydia by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.

Paul was on his second missionary journey when he had a vision of a man who pleaded with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The apostle responded to the vision by gathering his team and quickly setting off across the Aegean Sea for Macedonia, the northern region of modern-day Greece. When they arrived, Paul and his fellow missionaries passed through the port of Neapolis and headed straight for Philippi, “a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:14 CEB).

Paul’s first ministry encounter in Philippi was not with a Macedonian man,[1] however, but with a group of women. The group included Lydia, a woman originally from Thyatira. This article looks at Lydia who is mentioned in just a few verses in the New Testament. These verses, all in Acts chapter 16, tell us quite a bit about her and the important part she played in the Philippian church.

PAUL AT THE PROSEUCHE IN PHILIPPI

According to Acts, Paul typically began a new mission in each new city by connecting with the local Jewish population. His mission in Philippi was no exception. Paul and his team had already spent a few days in the city (probably organising accommodation and work), when, on the Sabbath day, they went outside the city gates in search of a Jewish place of prayer by a river.

It seems that Philippi did not have a recognised synagogue—perhaps they did not have enough Jewish men to form a quorum necessary for a synagogue[2]—but they did have a proseuchē, a prayer-house.[3] Like many Jewish places of worship, this prayer-house was located by a water source. Many synagogues and prayer-houses were built near water sources, such as rivers, to facilitate ritual washings.[4]

Paul and his companions may have been surprised to see a group made up of only, or mainly, women at the prayer-house. If they were, the narrator gives no hint of this.[5] Instead, the story continues with the statement, “We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered.”[6]

And then we are introduced to Lydia.

DESCRIPTIONS OF LYDIA

In Acts 16:14a, we are given several pieces of information about Lydia. We are told her name, that she was a dealer in purple cloth, that she was originally from the city of Thyatira, and that she was a “God-worshipper.” Considering the descriptions in Acts of other people who Paul meets on his missions, an appreciable amount of information is given about Lydia.[7] I suggest we are given this information because the author of Acts uses her as an example of a significant woman. Cynthia Westfall notes that women in the first-century Roman world, like Lydia, “were entering the public sphere in business and as patrons, and they impacted the early church in those roles as well.”[8]

Let’s take a closer look at the descriptions in Acts 16:14.

LYDIA’S NAME AND PROMINENCE

Lydia’s name was not an uncommon one, and it may not provide any real insight into her status or identity. Nevertheless, because slaves were sometimes named after their place of origin, it has been thought Lydia’s name signifies she had once been a slave.[9] Richard Ascough writes:

Some scholars suggest that the name “Lydia” may be an ethnic appellation that designates her place of origin, as Luke indicates she was originally from Thyatira, a city in a place called Lydia. [10] If it is an ethnic appellation it would indicate that at one time Lydia was a slave who had been freed. . . . However, two first- or second century inscriptions attest to women of status who used the name Lydia,[11] making the assumption of former servile status somewhat conjectural.[12]

“Lydia” may have been just one of her names, and there is some speculation that either Euodia or Syntyche—two female coworkers of Paul named in Philippians 4:2-3—might be Lydia.[13]

Even though her name tells us nothing concrete, the fact that Lydia is named at all is significant. The names of other Philippians, such as the slave girl or the jailer, are not given even though we are told some of their stories in Acts 16:16-20 and 22ff. That Lydia is names suggests she was a woman who became prominent in the church at Philippi.[14]

Skeins dyed naturally with madder root. © madison 60 (Wikimedia Commons)

LYDIA’S OCCUPATION AND WEALTH

Lydia was a seller of purple, that is, she was a businesswoman who sold luxury textiles dyed purple. It was only the wealthy elite who wore garments dyed purple or trimmed with purple, or had soft furnishings in their homes, such as couch covers, dyed purple. Tyrian purple, a dye derived from marine molluscs, was especially costly.[15] A relatively less expensive and more reddish dye, known today as Turkey red, was extracted from the root of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum). Thyatira, Lydia’s home town, was well-known for the production of dye from madder roots. However, since she is described literally in Acts 16:14 as a “purple-seller” (porphyropōlis), Lydia probably dealt with Tyrian purple. [Note that Lydia was not involved in the messy dyeing process herself; she is not called a “purple-dyer” (porphyrobapha) in the text.] The expenses involved in her occupation as a merchant of luxury textiles indicates she was a woman of some wealth.

Lydia’s wealth is also indicated by the fact that she seems to have been the owner and mistress of her own home. Acts 16:15—which begins with, “When she and her household (ho oikos autēs) were baptised”—makes it clear that it was her household. Furthermore, Lydia uses her own initiative and doesn’t consult a male relative, when she offers the missionaries hospitality, which they accept.[16] There is no mention of a husband or a father in her story. This is unusual as women in Bible times were often identified by their relationship to a man: a father, a husband, an adult son, or even a brother. It is likely Lydia had no surviving adult male relatives. She was probably widowed or perhaps divorced. Divorce was easy under Roman law and it was common, and in most cases it did not result in any sense of scandal or stigma.

Whatever her marital status, Lydia’s home was relatively spacious. It was large enough to accommodate Paul and his fellow missionaries (who included Silas, probably Timothy, and perhaps Luke and others) as well as her own household.[17] Her home was also large enough to hold church meetings. It was in Lydia’s home that the church at Philippi first gathered (cf. Acts 16:40).[18]

LYDIA’S COURAGE

Lydia’s hospitality and her benefaction of Paul and his ministry required courage. Having a group of foreign men stay in her house might potentially cause scandal. Hosting meetings where they worshipped a new Jewish messiah, and not an emperor or any of the ancient and socially respectable pagan gods, could have ruined her reputation and her business. Receiving Paul and Silas into her home after they were released from prison and asked to leave town was brave as some in Philippi were angry with the missionaries (cf. Acts 16:19-22).

Harassment, persecution, and suffering were not uncommon in the apostolic church. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to the persecution he experienced in Philippi (1 Thess. 2:2), and he alludes to the persecution the Thessalonian Christians themselves suffered because of their new faith (1 Thess. 2:14; 3:3-4). Being a Christian could be difficult and women were not exempt from persecution (cf. Acts 8:3; 9:1ff; 22:4). Junia, as one example, experienced this first-hand when she was imprisoned (Rom. 16:7).

LYDIA’S FAITH AND MINISTRY

Lydia is identified as a “God-worshipper” (sebomenē ton theon), sometimes translated as “God-fearer”.[19] This description is an idiom that tells us Lydia was a Gentile adherent to Judaism rather than a full convert.[20] In the first decades of the church’s existence, almost all Christian converts were either Jews or they were Gentiles with some kind of affiliation or sympathy with Judaism. It is well documented that some Gentiles were attracted to the monotheism and the morality of Judaism.

In some parts of the Roman Empire, women could play prominent roles in their Jewish communities, especially in places where women already had some social freedoms.[21] Ancient inscriptions survive that show a few women were even called leaders of synagogues.[22] Other women were patrons of synagogues and were prominent and influential in their Jewish communities. Lydia may have been a patron of the Jewish community at Philippi. It is likely she became both a patron and a leader of the church in Philippi.[23]

Paul and his party may have spent several weeks staying with Lydia (cf. Luke 10:5-7). During that time, she would have received (directly and indirectly) a theological and pastoral education from the apostle so that she was equipped to care for the church when Paul moved on to bring the gospel to other Macedonian cities. Furthermore, she seems to have been a spiritually receptive person. We know “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart” (Acts 16:14b NIV), and so it is probable the Spirit gave her spiritual gifts and abilities to help her in ministry (cf. Acts 2:18; 1 Cor. 12:4ff).

On the practical side, Lydia’s experience of running a largish household and of running a business would have been useful in managing and caring for a congregation. Perhaps she had helped to organise the meetings of women at the proseuchē (Jewish prayer house).

If Lydia didn’t lead the fledgeling church in Philippi, who did? Another member of her household? The unnamed jailer mentioned in Acts 16:22ff? Or a member of his household? Lydia is the only Philippian convert who is named in Acts, and we know that the Philippian church met in her home. So, she is the most likely person to have led and cared for the first congregation at Philippi.[24]

LYDIA AND THE SAMARITAN WOMAN IN JOHN 4

The story of Paul’s meeting with Lydia near a river reminds me of the story of Jesus taking the unusual journey through Samaria and his meeting with a woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar.

~ Both Paul and Jesus were supernaturally guided to Philippi and Sychar, respectively: Paul through a vision, Jesus through some kind of compulsion.[25]
~ They providentially met with women who were quasi-Jews: a “God-fearer” and a Samaritan.[26]
~ The women became believers in Jesus as Messiah and then told others about their experience. Lydia presumably told members of her household, who followed her lead and were baptised with her. We can assume she also told business contacts, clients, and neighbours. The Samaritan woman told people in her village. These women played a pioneering role in the spreading of the gospel.

Jesus and Paul did not hesitate to minister to people of both sexes, from all stations of life. And they ministered in an empowering way. The women were equipped and empowered with faith, knowledge, and personal experience to tell others. Jesus and Paul had no difficulty in teaching theology to women, and they allowed women to minister according to their abilities and their situations without artificial restrictions.

CONCLUSION

Women such as Lydia were not at the margins in the first decades of the Jesus’ movement. They were not silent in the churches or ineffective in evangelism. They cared for local congregations and were vital and strategic players at the forefront of the expanding Christian mission. A church was established in Philippi because of Lydia’s open heart and her open home, and it grew because of her patronage, her initiative, her courage, her ministry.


Footnotes

[1] The Greek noun used for “man” in Acts 16:9 (anēr) is typically used for an adult male.

[2] It is not known if the rule found in the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 23b—that a synagogue needed to have a quorum of at least ten adult male members, known as a minyan—was universally observed in the mid-first century CE.

[3] The word proseuchē occurs in Greek literature and in Greek inscriptions where it refers to a building belonging to, or being used by, the Jews of the Diaspora (i.e. Jews who lived outside of Judea and Galilee). For more information on proseuchē as a Jewish prayer-house, see https://margmowczko.com/lydia-and-the-place-of-prayer-at-philippi/

[4] “Several first-century literary sources make it quite clear that many Diaspora Jewish communities actually preferred having their synagogues outside the city and near a body of water such as the proseuchē at Philippi in Macedonia.” Lee I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years, Second Edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 316.

[5] The story of Lydia in Acts 16:10-17 is narrated in first-person plural (“we”) language whereas much of Acts is narrated in third-person plural (“they”) language. This may be an indication that whoever recorded her story was with Paul in Philippi, was an eyewitness, and met Lydia personally. The narrator may be Luke himself, or Luke using a first-person source. See Richard S. Ascough, Lydia, Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess (Paul’s Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in the Faith) (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 2-3; and especially Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2014), 3:2350-74, (Google Books). A third possibility is that the author occasionally switches to “we” language to give the narrative a more vivid and immediate feel.

[6] The word “gathered” is translated from a feminine participle of the Greek verb synerchomai, a word which is often used in Acts (and in 1 Corinthians) with “the idea of a deliberate, purposeful gathering that also implies community.” Ivoni Richter Reimer, Women in the Acts of the Apostles: A Feminist Liberation Perspective, Linda M. Maloney, trans. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995), 74.

[7] Compare, for example, the lack of descriptive information about the unnamed men and women in the Macedonian cities of Thessalonica and Berea, mentioned in Acts 14:4 and 12, or even about Jason, mentioned in Acts 17:5-9.

[8] Cynthia Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 268.

[9] It has been estimated that roughly one-third of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. It was not unusual for some slaves to be freed and even prosper.

[10] In pre-Hellenistic times, the city of Thyatira was located on the border of Lydia and Mysia (in the far west of modern-day Turkey.)

[11] “A Sardian named Julia Lydia and an Ephesian named Julia Lydia Laterane (I. Eph 424a) were of high station.”  Keener, Acts, (Google Books). Sardis and Ephesus, like Lydia’s home town of Thyatira, were part of the Roman province of Asia.

[12] Ascough, Lydia, 6-7. Craig Keener notes, “Many purple-dye merchants in Rome were freedwomen in this period. Freedwomen in the East also frequently sold luxury items such as purple dye.” Keener, Acts, (Google Books)

[13] For a brief discussion on the likelihood of Lydia being another name of either Euodia or Syntyche, see Davorlin Peterlin, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in the Light of Disunity in the Church (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 128-130.

[14] In Paul’s letter to the Philippians and in Acts chapter 16 there are more names given of women who belonged to the Philippian church (Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche) than names of men (Epaphroditus, Clement).

[15] These molluscs are predatory, intertidal snails of the Bolinus (formerly Murex) genus.

Five views of the shell of the purple-dye Murex, Bolinus brandaris, formerly known as Murex brandaris. (Wikimedia)

[16] Lydia “persuades”, or “prevails” upon, Paul to accept her hospitality. The Greek verb used here, parabiazomai, “reflects the Middle-Eastern custom of initially refusing an offer only to have it repeated and accepted on a second or third occasion.” Greg Forbes and Scott Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015) 187. See also Ascough, Lydia, 47. (The same verb occurs in Luke 24:29 in a similar context.)

[17] Lydia’s house is most likely a domus.
Timothy had recently joined Paul (Acts 16:1-3), but he is not mentioned by name during Paul’s episode in Philippi. Timothy’s name inexplicably reappears in Acts 17:14-15 when the missionaries are in Berea. However, the young trainee may have been with Paul and Silas, the older missionaries, all along.

[18] Other New Testament women, who seem to be homeowners and independent of husbands or fathers, were Martha of Bethany (Luke 10:38), Mary of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12ff), Chloe of Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11), Nympha of Laodicea (Col. 4:15), and the Chosen Lady (2 John 1:1,5). Still others are mentioned as being of independent means. For example, Jesus’ ministry was sponsored by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many other Galilean women who accompanied Jesus and ministered to him out of their own, personal resources (Luke 8:2-3). It was neither common nor rare for a woman, usually a widowed or divorced woman, to have control of her own wealth and be a homeowner in New Testament times.

[19] The Greek word sebomai is used several times in Acts to refer to Gentile adherents to Judaism in Acts 13:43, 50, 16:14, 17:4, 17, and 18:7.

[20] Keener, Acts, (Google Books)

[21] Macedonian women were known for having more social freedoms and influence than women in other parts of the Greco-Roman world.

If Macedonia produced perhaps the most competent group of men the world had yet seen, the women were in all respects the men’s counterparts; they played a large part in affairs, received envoys and obtained concessions for them from their husbands, built temples, founded cities, engaged mercenaries, commanded armies, held fortresses, and acted on occasion as regents or even co rulers.
William Tarn, Hellenistic Civilisation, Third Edition (New York, NY: World, 1952), 98.

[22] For example, a second-century CE inscription from Smyrna mentions a woman named Rufina who was a synagogue ruler. It is debated whether “synagogue ruler” was an actual or honorary title in her case; but either way, it indicates she was a woman of influence. The inscription reads: “Rufina, a Jewess synagogue ruler [archisynagōgos], built this tomb for her freed slaves and the slaves raised in her household. No one else has a right to bury anyone here.” (CII 741; IGR IV. 1452) Other inscriptions show that some Jewish women were called elders and mothers of synagogues. See Bernadette J. Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue: Inscriptional Evidence and Background. Brown Judaic Studies, 36. (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982); and Susan Mathew, Women in the Greetings of Romans 16.1-16: A Study of Mutuality and Women’s Ministry in the Letter to the Romans (London; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 54-63.

[23] For information on the vital role of patrons in Greco-Roman society and in the church, see the section on Phoebe here: https://margmowczko.com/wealthy-women-roman-world-and-church/

[24] Some believe Luke stayed behind to care for the new church at Philippi. Crucial to this idea is the fact that the author of Acts, traditionally thought to be Luke, often uses third-person plural “they” language when writing about Paul and his coworkers, but at other times uses first-person plural “we” language. It is typically thought the author of Acts was present and an eyewitness during the “we” narratives, but was using the testimony of others in the “they” narratives. (Though there are other ways to understand the “we” passages. See footnote 5.)

Whether it was Luke or not, the author of Acts seems to make a point of mentioning when members of Paul’s team stayed behind at new churches (e.g., Timothy and Silas stayed behind in Berea in Acts 17:14-15; Priscilla and Aquila stayed behind in Ephesus in Acts 18:19), or when members were sent to churches as Paul’s representatives (e.g., Timothy and Erastus are sent ahead to Macedonia while Paul stays longer in Asia in Acts 19:22). And earlier in Acts we are told when John Mark joined Barnabas and Paul (Acts 12:25) and when he left them (Acts 13:13). But no one of Paul’s team is mentioned as staying behind in Philippi at the end of Acts 16. It does not seem to have been the usual practice for one of Paul’s coworkers to stay with a new church when the rest continued on their journey. Paul would soon have run out of team members if he did.

Also, whenever Luke is mentioned by name in the New Testament, he is with Paul (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Phlm. 1:23-24). Luke may not have ministered on his own; he may have ministered as Paul’s companion.

Furthermore, if we rely on the evidence of “the first to the third person narrative,” and assume Luke is present during the “we” passages in Acts 16, it seems he did not stay around in Philippi when Paul and Silas were imprisoned. The narrator begins using first-person plural (“we”) language in Acts 16:10, at the beginning of the mission at Philippi, but stops using this language after Acts 16:17. This is before Paul’s departure.

If Luke was present at the beginning of the mission at Philippi, he appears to be absent when Paul and Silas meet in Lydia’s home in Acts 16:40 as third-person plural (“they”) language is used in this verse: “After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house, where … they encouraged the brothers and sisters …” There is no “we” in this last important meeting that was held immediately before Paul and Silas left Philippi.

[25] I wonder if Jesus and Paul were sent on their journeys because God saw the hearts (and heard the possible prayers) of these women who were ready to put their trust in Jesus as Messiah.

[26] While the Jews regarded the Samaritans as outside of God’s favour and mercy, this is not how the New Testament portrays them. The parable of the Good Samaritan presents the Samaritan in a favourable light, but we must be mindful that Jesus chose the figure of the Samaritan for a provocative effect in his story (Luke 10:25ff). The thankful, healed Samaritan leper is also presented in a favourable light (Luke 17:11-19). The Samaritan woman and, indeed, her whole village of Sychar are presented as people ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah (John 4:4-42). And a church was established in Samaria (Acts 9:31; 15:3 CEB; cf. Acts 1:8; 8:1, 4-5ff).

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32 thoughts on “Lydia of Thyatira: The founding member of the Philippian Church

  1. I’m going to pull this out next time someone tells me women in church leadership is a modern thing. Marg, you are such an encouragement to me!

    1. I appreciate that you were the very first person to subscribe to my new blog. #1 😀

      For what it’s worth, Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, (d. 407), Atto, Bishop of Vercelli, (885-961), and Adolf von Harnack, biblical scholar and historian, (1851-1930), and no doubt others throughout the course of the church’s history, have acknowledged that women were ministers and leaders in the very early church. Today, many more bishops and scholars, etc, are also acknowledging this.

      1. 🙂
        While it’s sometimes frustrating to feel like I have the same conversations again and again about women in church leadership, it is certainly encouraging to see change!

  2. Thank you for this paper Marg I enjoyed it immensely for devotions this morning. I really like reading more about the roles of women in the Early Church. It is helpful to flesh out more about their lives, cultures, and the ancient language aspects relevant to the extant texts we read in English today. The footnotes are informative too. I think we may have studied with similar tutors. I did a Bachelor of Christian Studies at Robert Menzies College Sydney. Have a good weekend.

    1. Thanks, Anne,

      I’d say we probably, at least, know some of the same people.

      You have a lovely weekend too. 🙂

  3. Many thanks for your blog, Marg. I came upon it while doing my own research on “what the Bible *really* says about headship”.

    Lydia sounds almost exactly like a Proverbs 31 woman – a description of “a virtuous wife” (taught to King Lemuel by his *mother*). As you mention for Lydia, Proverbs 31 makes no mention of this ‘virtuous wife’ checking with her husband before doing anything. She does it, and her children call her blessed, and her husband praises her.

    Given Paul’s brief stay in Philippi, he seems to have had no problem apparently having Lydia in charge. In chapter 4, he also mentions Euodia and Syntyche, whom Paul tells the people to “help these women who labored with me in the gospel”. It seems women are at least very active in this church. and if there’s any outstanding characteristic of the church at Philippi, it is joy. (Paul writes of it 16 times in the letter) Perhaps there’s a connection…

    Anyway, I’m excited to see your well thought out, well presented exegesis, and will likely be spending much time reading your articles.

    1. Thanks, Bob.

      Your research sounds interesting. Lydia does sound like the Proverbs 31 woman. I hadn’t thought of that before.

      In case you’re interested I have articles on King Lemuel’s mother here, and Euodia and Syntyche here.

  4. Dear Marg, thanks to God for all those comments. As for me, I marvel about the degree of granularity, and inspiration of your writing. Like Jesus told Peter, “flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you, but my Father in heaven.” This is the work of a genius. Thank you for taking the pain to do this work and may God almighty reward you beyond your widest imagination. I will sincerely like to know more about you and every biblical article you’ve ever published. Would that be asking too much?

    1. Hi Tony,

      Thank you for your glowing commendation of my work.

      Almost every article I’ve ever written, about 400, is posted somewhere on this website. Even if I originally wrote an article for a journal, magazine, or book chapter, I have posted it on this website also.

      There are Categories on the side of the page, which can help you find articles on particular topics. I also have relevant Categories and Tags under the headings of each article that link to more articles. For instance, this article about Lydia is in the Category of “Bible Women”, but is also tagged with “Brave Bible Women”. By clicking on this Category or this Tag, under the title above, you’ll see many other articles about “Bible Women” and “Brave Bible Women”.

  5. Thank you so much for the information about Lydia. I am preparing a report on Lydia for my Presbyterian bible study group in Austin, Texas. Your research is much appreciated.

    1. You’re very welcome, Susie.

  6. My sister, I just want you to know how much you blessed me with this article. (Live forever.) I am a Pastor and am so thankful for brothers and sisters like you in the body of Christ. I don’t do Facebook, I try to keep my face in His Book. (lol) That’s just my preference and God bless you and your family.

    1. Thank you, James. God bless you and your family too.

  7. Very good insight. I had been discussing “regeneration” with “reform” people, mainly Calvinists, ex-Calvinists, and I’m not, but I have concluded in my studies that the word “regeneration” only applies to the Jews. It’s a word only used twice in the whole bible. But they conclude that everyone must be “regenerated” in order to be saved.

    We’ve been discussing Lydia, but also Cornelius. We know for sure that Cornelius was a Gentile. But I noticed something different between the two. God had to open up the heart of Lydia, where that didn’t happen with Cornelius. So, I’m thinking that Lydia was certainly a Jew by that alone, and the opening of the heart is the regeneration, because we are told in Deuteronomy…

    Deuteronomy 29:4
    Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.

    But in Acts 16, God opened her heart. Gentiles don’t need that…

    Romans 15:21
    But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.

    Ya, I don’t think she was a Gentile at all, as your article suggests, however, your article certainly confirmed much of what I was thinking, tho.

    Thank you for this article.

    1. I’m glad you liked the article, Ed.

      I don’t identify as a Calvinist, but I believe the new birth or regeneration (renewal) that Jesus made possible is essential for salvation.

      “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” Titus 3:4ff
      “Us” includes both Jews and Gentiles in the church at Crete.

      “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
      “Anyone” includes Jews and Gentiles.

      Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” 1 John 5:1
      “Everyone” includes Jews and Gentiles.

      “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
      This proviso of being born again applies to everyone.

      All the first Christians were Jews, and for the first few decades of the church, most Christians were Jews. Why would Jews need to be regenerated and not pagan Gentiles? Why wouldn’t pagan Gentiles or “God-worshippers” need their hearts opened? God-worshippers (or God-fearers) was an idiom that referred to Gentile adherents to Judaism. See note 19. Here are verses in Acts that mention devout Gentile adherants of Judaism here.

      1. Hey Marg,

        Thanks for responding.

        The story of Cornelius was before Lydia. Cornelius was a Gentile. There is no mention of Cornelius needing God to “open his heart”.

        The word “regeneration” is only used twice in the whole bible. And, when reading Deuteronomy 29:4, which is referenced in Romans 9-11, you see that the Jews are in a spirit of slumber (they do worship God), but there is a remnant that isn’t. God is the one who has to clear the scales off of their eyes.

        Paul is one such Jew. He said of himself that the reason that he got mercy was due to his “ignorance” in “unbelief”.

        But, Paul discusses, referencing the Hebrew scriptures, that the Gentiles will understand, whereas, the Jews won’t.

        Yes, we are all new creatures ONCE we believe. But, the Jews are in a spirit of slumber…until…God has to open up their eyes. Again, the Jews are worshipers of God, too.

        I believe that regeneration is for the Jews, not the Gentiles, all because of the slumber that they are in. It’s only mentioned twice. God didn’t put the Gentiles in a spirit of slumber.

        Anyway, that’s what I believe. It was a Sabbath Day that you mentioned. It was Paul’s custom to the Jew first. The statement that God had to “open her heart” was the clue for me regarding regeneration. Gentiles, as in Cornelius, there is no mention that God opened up his heart.

        1. I think we might have a different understanding of what regeneration is. And, the way I see it, there are lots of terms that describe salvation.

          Salvation encompasses all these things, and more: forgiveness of sin; deliverance from darkness and death; regeneration as our spirit is reborn and renewed; adoption as God’s own beloved children; justification, which effectively exchanges our sins with Jesus Christ’s righteousness; sanctification as the Holy Spirit sets us apart as especially belonging to God, and begins his work of making us become more and more like Jesus; and reconciliation which allows us to come near to God in a close relationship, instead of being distant and estranged.

          1. And that is my contention with Calvinists, too. They use the word to say that God must first give you faith in order for you to believe, and they call that regeneration. They say that faith is a gift from God, and not a work of man, that God must first regenerate you before you can even believe. Obviously, I don’t believe that. I believe that grace is the gift THRU your faith, not a God given faith.

            Thanks for your time, tho.

          2. I haven’t heard that Calvinists think that regeneration comes before salvation.

            Like you, I also believe that we are saved through faith and grace. But I do believe that God inspires faith.

  8. This is a well written, scholarly article. Thank you for writing. I come from a complementarian background. However, I never want to hold a theological position simply because it is held by the “camp” that I come from. Lately, I have been stretched in my thinking on women in leadership. I guess you could say that I am a complementarian now leaning toward egalitarianism. I appreciate your writing. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your taking the time to leave your comment, Drew. It’s good for me to know what readers are thinking and to know where they are “at.” I wish you well in your leaning towards egalitarianism.

  9. Thank you, Marg! I am ordained a Deacon in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church. While preparing a sermon, I came across your writing and I wanted to take a moment to tell you how much I appreciate your work. I always love reading about women in the Bible who sometimes defied the odds to be in leadership. They inspire me to be a risk-taking leader (appropriate risks, of course.) Just last week my husband and I met a man and even though I was introduced as Rev. Angie, he still looked at my husband, shook his hand and then made a comment to me, “Oh are you involved in the church with the pastor,” indicating my husband. I said, “I AM the pastor.” I wish he were going to be in church on Sunday.

    1. I’ve heard many similar stories about female pastors, and even about women in other professions, women such as doctors, lawyers, professors and accountants. I slipped up once and thought the husband was the accountant and the wife was the assistant, but it was the other way round. I think there’s a bit (or a lot) of sexism in all of us. Most of us have a lot of unlearning to do.

  10. Someone asked me if Lydia could have been a purple-dyer rather than a purple-seller. Here’s my answer.

    Porphyropōlis (porphyro + pōlis = purple + seller) only occurs once in the NT, in Acts 16:14, but it occurs in other ancient Greek documents (e.g., inscriptions and papyri). The usual word for a purple dyer was porphyrobaphos. Porphyropolēs (masc) and porphyropōlis (fem) were the usual words for a dealer in purple. (LSJ’s entry is here.)

  11. I am preaching a lecture on Women in Acts in the fall and so appreciated this well written, well researched, and passionate look at a women in scripture who I consider so influential, yet one so easily glanced over. Thank you for your time and research and heart!

    1. I hope your lecture goes well, Morgan.

      Have you seen this tag?: https://margmowczko.com/tag/women-in-acts/ It takes you to a few other women in Acts as well as Lydia.

  12. Dear sister Marg

    If I had been in a lecture setting and heard you read this “article” (for lack of an appropriate word at this moment) I would be standing cheering and applauding you and saying: Brava! Bravisima! Excellent work! I will use it as resource during a Workshop I’ll be facilitating on Leadership Traits/characteristics of Lydia as a church Leader. Thank you so very much! Peace!

    Your sister Aida

    1. Thank you, Aida. Your words have brightened my day!

      I pray your workshop goes well.

  13. Thank you so much for this great article. I was prayed for by my spiritual father during my ordination, and he mentioned that I am Lydia the woman with the purple. So I went in to check on the internet and I came across this.

    I love you and believe God will help and bless your ministry for the future generations to benefit from what the Lord has given you. I love you with the love of the Lord. Thanks.

    1. Congratulations on your ordination, Constance. And many blessings on your ministry.

      Love
      Marg

  14. Hi Marg,

    I am new to your site but wish to exclaim I love to hear about Lydia and the Church of Philippi, her generosity to Paul and the lord Jesus Christ. I have studied Religious Studies at the University level for 3 semesters but learned of Lydia through my lovely wife Judith who adores Lydia. I am a photographer through small accomplishments and Judith and I are aspiring to relive through writing and photography the story of Lydia and Paul. We have just begun a small storyline. I wish (if okay), to learn from you and your site. Wishing you well.

    1. I’m glad you like the article, John. Lydia is probably my favourite New Testament woman. I look forward to seeing what you do with her story.

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