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Priscilla the Artisan

I was chatting with a group of people the other day and, as part of a conversation, my friend “Norman” mentioned that the apostle Paul and a man named Aquila were tentmakers by trade. I piped in and said that Priscilla, Aquila’s wife, was also a tentmaker. Norman looked blank, obviously confused by my comment that Priscilla, a woman, was a tentmaker. His confusion made me feel unsure of the truth of my comment, so I said nothing more about it.

When I got home I checked my New Testament and, sure enough, Acts 18:3b says of Aquila and Priscilla that “they were tentmakers by trade.” Priscilla, as well as her husband Aquila, was an artisan; she was a worker skilled in a trade.[1]

Some may be surprised to realise that a respectable Jewish woman was engaged in a trade in the first century AD. This is because many false ideas about the lives of Bible women have crept into our modern imagination, ideas that have little bearing on reality.

More on Priscilla here.

Working Women in the Bible

The Bible mentions women who worked in commercial trade (Prov. 31:16a, 24; Acts 16:14), in agriculture (Josh. 15:17-19; Ruth 2:8; Prov. 31:16b), as millers (Exod. 11:5; Matt. 24:41), as shepherds (Gen. 29:9; Exod. 2:16), as artisans, especially in textiles (Exod. 26:1 NIV; Tobit 2:11ff NRSV; Acts 18:3), as perfumers and cooks (1 Sam. 8:13), as midwives (Exod. 1:15ff), as nurses (Gen. 35:8; Exod. 2:7; 2 Sam. 4:4; 1 Kings 1:4), as domestic servants (Acts 12:13, etc), and as professional mourners (Jer. 9:17). Women could also be patrons (Acts 16:40; Rom. 16:1-2), leaders (Judg. ch 4-5; 2 Sam. 20:16) and ruling queens (1 Kings 10:1ff; Acts 8:27). One Bible woman even built towns (1 Chron. 7:24). Many women, and men, worked from home, yet the Bible nowhere criticises women who worked outside the home in the public sphere.

Lynn Cohick (2009:232–238) cites evidence from New Testament times that shows that women were shopkeepers and vendors, jewellery makers, fullers and dyers, and at least one woman we know of was a blacksmith.[2] In the Greco-Roman world, the setting of the New Testament, women could work in just about every profession. A woman could not be a soldier or a Roman senator, however.

Many people assume that ancient women spent much of their lives cloistered within their homes. A secluded life may have been the case for some women in wealthy families in the Greek East of the Roman Empire, but the practice was neither standard nor universal. In Bible times most people were poor, and poor people (men and women, and even children) worked hard for their livelihood. Moreover, in the Greco-Roman world, many men, women, and children were slaves, and slaves worked.[3]

Working Women in the New Testament

Image: Relief of a women grocer. Ostia, Italy.

Lydia the Merchant

Even some wealthy women worked. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman. She was engaged in the lucrative trade of dealing with purple cloth. The purple dye was rare and the dyed cloth was very expensive. Only the most elite and richest people wore purple clothes, so the cloth was a symbol of power and prestige (cf. Judg. 8:26; Esth. 8:15; Prov. 31:22; Luke 16:19). As well as being a businesswoman, Lydia appears to have been the one in charge of her household.[4]

Lydia was Paul’s first Christian convert in Europe. She responded to Paul’s message when he visited her town of Philippi.[5] Subsequently, the fledgeling Christian congregation in Philippi met in her home.  Lynn Cohick (2009:190) notes that when Paul and Silas prepare to leave Philippi they went to Lydia’s house (not the jailer’s house) and met with the believers there. Presumably, Lydia followed the pattern found throughout the New Testament that the owner of the house in which the church met was also the church leader.

More on Lydia here.

Phoebe the Patron

While not exactly a job, being a patron was an influential public role that wealthy women could hold in the first-century Greco-Roman world. Lydia may have been a patron or benefactor. We can be more certain, however, that Phoebe was a patron.

In Romans 16:1–2 Paul speaks warmly of Phoebe and describes her as both a diakonos and a prostatis.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a diakonos of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you assist her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she has been a prostatis of many, and of myself as well. Romans 16:1–2.

Paul typically used the word diakonos for an agent (or minister) with a sacred commission.[6] Phoebe was a Christian minister in the church of Cenchreae. She was also a prostatis. This word and its cognates can mean “leader.”

 Kevin Giles writes:

The meaning of [prostatis] has been much debated. In either its masculine or feminine form it means literally ‘one who stands before.’ This meaning is never lost whether it be translated leader, president, protector or patron . . . Its verbal form is proistanai (cf. Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17), a term used of male church leaders elsewhere in the New Testament.[7]

One meaning of prostatis is “patron.”[8] This meaning ties in with Paul’s statement that Phoebe had helped many people including himself.

A patron, or benefactor, held a highly respected and influential position in the society of that time. In fact, leadership and benefaction went hand in hand. Phoebe would have had to be wealthy to be a patron. (Like Paul, Jesus was also the recipient of patronage from independently wealthy women. Women travelled with Jesus and supported him using their own money. Luke 8:1–3.)

Tradition holds that it was Phoebe who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans. As was the custom in those days, the letter carrier bore the authority of the one who sent him or her. A usual part of delivering letters was explaining their contents to the recipient(s) and passing on verbal messages from the sender.[9] So Paul must have thought highly of Phoebe to entrust her with the delivery of his letter.

Phoebe was not a stay-at-home wife and mother. She was active as a diakonos and prostatis in the church of Cenchreae and further afield.

More on Phoebe here.

Adam and Eve and Working Women

Regardless of clear biblical examples of women who worked and who held positions of influence, some Christians claim that God has created men, and not women, with an orientation towards work.[10] One Bible verse sometimes used to back this claim is Genesis 2:15.[11]

Then the Lord God took the human and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15

The first woman had not yet been formed when Adam was told to care for the garden. She simply wasn’t around. So while this verse may be understood to indicate that Adam and, by extension, men were created to work, it cannot be understood to imply that only men, and not women, were created to work. Moreover, it seems Adam needed help in caring for the garden, which some believe was a sacred space (Gen. 2:18, 20). Caring for the garden was the only ongoing role Adam had in Eden. So we can imagine that Eve (who was made from one of Adam’s side) worked side by side with Adam in caring for the garden. Sex and procreation don’t seem to have been part of the Eden experience.

According to the biblical record, Adam and Eve had sex and children only after they were expelled from Eden. (See Genesis 4). Genesis 5 tells us that Adam was 130 years old when Seth, the third son, was born. Even if Eve had given birth to a few daughters as well, what has she been doing all these years? Are we meant to envisage that she never tilled the ground, or was involved in other agricultural work, alongside Adam? Moreover, caring for young children, which has traditionally been a woman’s role, feels very much like hard work at times (as does carrying water which has often been delegated to young women and girls).

A discussion on Eve’s role as helper is here.

Young Women with Young Children

Some Christians promote the idea that the “biblical” ideal is that women stay at home. They teach that the woman’s primary domain (or dominion) is in the home, caring for her husband and children, while the man’s primary domain (or dominion) is outside of the home working for money.[12] The only time the Bible mentions that women should stay at home, however, is in two instructions regarding young women.

In his letter to Titus (who was stationed in Crete), Paul wrote that the older women should “encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered.” (Tit. 2:4–5).

In his first letter to Timothy (who was stationed in Ephesus), Paul wrote, “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” (1 Tim. 5:14 NIV).[13]

Paul gives his reason for these two sets of instructions: He did not want the word of God to be slandered by opponents of the Christian faith. Paul wanted the young (free) women to uphold the current cultural ideal of virtuous Roman matrons. (The culture in Western societies today is very different.)

Paul did not want the young wives of Crete or the young widows of Ephesus to bring disrepute to Christianity by being idle and lazy, or by having the appearance of any sort of disreputable misconduct. Perhaps the young Christian wives in Crete were not good wives or mothers; the instructions in Titus 2:4–5 are very basic. Or perhaps they were being swayed by ascetics and were renouncing the usual social roles of being a wife and mother. There is plenty of evidence that this was happening in the early church. Some people in the Ephesian church were forbidding marriage (1 Tim. 4:3). To counteract this heresy, Paul encouraged the young widows, some of whom were idle, to get married.

It’s important to note that the instructions in Titus 2:4–5 are similar to advice given by pagan women to young respectable Roman wives.[14] Paul’s instruction directly reflects the cultural values, and language, of his day.[15]

Paul’s instructions were specifically related to young women of childbearing age. Nowhere does the Bible give any indication that girls or older women should be confined to the home or restricted to the domestic sphere. Furthermore, Paul’s instructions to the young wives and widows were given to a specific group of women in specific churches situated in a culture very different from our own, and cannot be taken as universal timeless directives to all women.

Caring for young children is a tremendously important responsibility. It is unfortunate when parents work outside of the home and young children are cared for by professionals and “strangers.” Sadly, our culture and our economy in the West, and in other parts of the world, make it difficult for a parent to stay at home with their young children.


While the ideal situation is that parents, the father or the mother, or another relative, stay at home with young children, I cannot see that God frowns upon working women. The Bible never tries to make the case that women were not made with an orientation for work. Rather, the Bible tells us that many women worked without the slightest hint of censure.

Priscilla, Lydia, and Phoebe worked, travelled, and had influential leadership roles in ministry. Interestingly, nothing is mentioned of Lydia’s or Phoebe’s husbands. We do not even know whether any of these three women had children. Apart from knowing that Priscilla was married to Aquila, Paul did not identify these women by their family relationships or their domestic situations. Instead, they were described and identified by their work, their travels, but especially by their faith and ministries to the church.[15]


This article is an “additional resource” recommended by Yale Bible Studies produced by Yale Divinity School.

[1] Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned six times in the Greek New Testament. Priscilla’s name is mentioned before Aquila’s in four of these verses. This may indicate her prominence in ministry. Priscilla and Aquila were ministry colleagues of Paul and they led churches in their home in Rome and later in Ephesus.

[2] Many new insights about women in New Testament times, gleaned from ancient inscriptions and papyri, are taking a long time to reach Christian ministers and their congregations, many of whom continue to teach that women were largely confined to the home and domestic duties.

[3] In some cultures, virgin daughters of marriageable age (of wealthy families) were cloistered. It is widely known that in classical times women in Athens were cloistered, but women in Sparta had great freedoms and powers. In New Testament times, wealthy women in Macedonia (which included the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica) had a deal of freedom and power.

[4] Lynn Cohick notes,

Luke presents [Lydia] as master in the home, for she leads her household in baptism, much the same way as the jailer does later in the story (Acts 16:33-34). Moreover, she invites Paul and Silas into her home, again presenting a picture of one in charge of the household… that she had a home large enough to accommodate Paul and his group, as well as the finances to care for their needs, suggests that she was wealthy … Lydia is portrayed as a benefactor, a very privileged position in the Hellenistic world (including Judaism) … Leadership and benefaction went hand in hand …”
Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Baker Academic, 2009), 189–190.

[5] Paul met Lydia at a Jewish meeting comprised of only, or mostly, women (Acts 16:13). He did not seem to have felt it was inappropriate for him to join the women and tell them about Jesus.

[6] Paul typically uses the term diakonos for an agent with a sacred commission. Even the diakonos in Romans 13:4, who is a magistrate or other government minister, is described as an agent with a sacred commission, a “diakonos of God.” In 1 Corinthians 11, however, Paul refers to false apostles as diakonoi (“agents”) of Satan (1 Cor. 11:13–15).  Diakonoi in Paul’s letters are typically Christian ministers. These include: Paul (Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, etc), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21–22; Col. 4:7–9), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1–2), Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5) and even Jesus Christ (Mark 10:42–45; Rom. 15:8).

[7] Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1992).

[8] The LSJ lexicon identifies prostatis as the feminine form of prostatēs and it gives the following meanings: “one who stands before, front-rank man … leader, chief … ruler … chief authors … administrator … president or presiding officer … one who stands before and protects, guardian, champion … patron … suppliant …”
Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition, revised by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996), 1526–27.
(LSJ is online here.)

[9] More about the role of letter carriers in New Testament times, here.

[10] This statement is found in a course designed for young people that promotes complementarian gender roles: men are leaders with authority, women are submissive assistants of men.  A sample of the course was on John Piper’s website “Desiring God” but is no longer online.

[11] In Genesis 1 there is a differentiation of sex between male and female human, but no differentiation of role: male and female humans have the same status, authority, responsibilities, and purpose (Gen. 1:26ff). There is also no differentiation of roles between the man and woman in Eden. As mentioned above, the only ongoing role in Eden was caring for the garden.

[12] The concept of the two domains—the outer, public domain for men and the inner, private domain for women—was first promoted by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. [More about Aristotle and his views on men and women, here.] But in Greco-Roman society, there is not always a clear demarcation between the two spheres. Many businesses and trades operated from homes.

[13] It seems that the idle young widows may have been helping the spread of a syncretistic heresy that was plaguing the Ephesian church by going door to door with their “silly talk” (1 Tim. 5:13–15 cf. 1 Tim. 1:3; 6:20–21). [My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.]

[14] The pagan Theano, for example, instructed the younger women to listen to the teaching of older women:

Indeed, to you younger women authority has been given by custom to rule over the household slaves once you have been married, but the teaching (didaskalia) ought to come from the older women (presbyterōn) because they are forever giving advice about household management. For it is good first to learn the things you do not know and to consider the counsel of the older women the most suitable; for a young soul must be brought up in these teachings from girlhood.
Quoted by Annette Bourland Huizenga in her book, Moral Education for Women in the Pastoral and Pythagorean Letters: Philosophers of the Household. (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2013), 50.

[15] Similar words and concepts that occur in Titus 2:4–5 are also frequently found on epitaphs expressing the virtues of deceased pagan wives. On the coffin cartonnage of a pagan woman, who died around the same time as the letter to Titus was written, are inscribed these words:

Here lies Valeria, daughter of Marcus, of free-born status from Caesarea in Mauritania. She was kind, affectionate, dignified, blameless, she loved her husband (philandros [as in Tit. 2:4]), loved her children (philoteknos [as in Tit. 2:4]), kept the marriage bed chaste. Out of respect and love for what is good, her husband Lucius Dexios from Herculaneum buried her. AE 828; SEG 1536.

This epitaph is discussed by G.H.R. Horsley in “11. A Woman’s Virtue,” New Documents illustrating early Christianity, Vol. 3 (North Ryde: The Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1983), 40–43. In the same article, Horsley provides more examples of epitaphs of wives with the words philandros and philoteknos. See also “80” in New Docs Vol. 2.

I have more examples like this epitaph in a footnote here.

[16] The way the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) board members are listed on this page is an unfortunate example of gender bias. The male board members are identified by their professional titles. The women, however, are identified firstly as homemakers, except for one lady whose primary descriptor is “pastor’s wife.” This is despite the fact that these women are writers, speakers, and professors, etc.
In contrast to Paul, the CBMW see a woman’s identity as primarily linked with her role in the home and who she is married to. They consider that a woman’s outside interests, talents, skills, titles, ministries or career are not nearly as important as being a homemaker. Yet no Bible woman is identified primarily as a homemaker.

© Margaret Mowczko 2011
All Rights Reserved

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Header Image

A fresco showing two women and a man working together. From the fullonica (dyer’s shop) of Veranius Hypsaeus in Pompeii. (Wikimedia)

Further Reading

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lynn H. Cohick’s book, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life, Baker Academic, 2009. It is one of the resources I used for this article. It is available through the publisher and Amazon.

Explore more

“Busy at Home”: How does Titus 2:4–5 apply today?
Bible Women who weren’t “Keepers at Home”
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos?
At Home with Priscilla and Aquila
Lydia of Thyatira: The founding member of the Philippian church
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church in Cenchrea
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
Is motherhood the highest calling for women?
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
The Women Who Protected Moses
Articles on the expression ezer kenegdo (“a helper suitable for/ similar to him”) are here.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

32 thoughts on “Working Women in the NT: Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe

  1. A great article, Marg. I personally felt conflicted reading Cohick’s book. It had great information, but I felt like she was trying hard to paint anything that might have occasionally been possible for women in that age as far more normative than other literature would suggest. I know that she has new information available to her, but you don’t want to toss out the old either. It felt rather rosy-tinted to me for sure. But it’s a useful book and easy to read.


  2. Hi Deborah, Do you remember which bits concerned you the most?

    Lynn drew information from a vast array of evidence from inscriptions and papyri, but I didn’t think that she presented her information as necessarily normative. She was also careful to avoid making theological statements.

    I actually do think it was “normal” for ordinary women to be involved in some sort of work – perhaps a family business or in agriculture – in Bible times.

    Please let me know you mean by “the old”.

    1. Actually, Acts 18:3 says by “their occupation” they were tent-makers, as “they were of the same craft”. “They” might just refer to Paul and Aquila. Priscilla might be included, or maybe not.

      1. Hi Jen,

        Luke is an accomplished and careful Greek writer. He accurately writes using the usual grammatical constructions in Greek.

        Acts 18:2b-3 NIV says this about Priscilla and Aquila:
        “Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.”

        Or the CSB:
        “Paul came to them, and since they were of the same occupation, tentmakers by trade, he stayed with them and worked.”

        Priscilla is included in autois (αὐτοῖς) where Luke says Paul went “to them” (Acts 18:2) and Paul was staying and working with “them”* (Acts 18:3). There is no reason to presume she is also not included in the plural verb hēsan “they were.”

        προσῆλθεν αὐτοῖς,
        he [Paul] went/came to them [Aquila and Priscilla]

        καὶ διὰ τὸ ὁμότεχνον εἶναι
        and because he was in the same trade

        ἔμενεν παρ’ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἠργάζετο,
        he was staying with them and was working*

        ἦσαν γὰρ σκηνοποιοὶ τῇ τέχνῃ.
        for they were tent-makers by trade
        Acts 18:2b-3 SBLGNT

        *”He was staying with them and working” is a word-for-word translation from the Greek without adjusting word order, but it means that Paul “was staying and working with them.” This grammatical construction of a pronoun coming after the first verb or first participle but applying to subsequent verbs or subsequent participles is fairly standard in Greek. This word order of pronouns also happens, in some sentences, with nouns, and not just verbs and participles.

        See Acts 18:6 for a somewhat similar construction where the pronoun comes after the first participle but applies to both participles: ἀντιτασσομένων δὲ αὐτῶν καὶ βλασφημούντων, “and they resisted and blasphemed.”

        And Acts 22:23 where the pronoun comes after the first participle but applies to all three participles: κραυγαζόντων τε αὐτῶν καὶ ῥιπτούντων τὰ ἱμάτια καὶ κονιορτὸν βαλλόντων εἰς τὸν ἀέρα, “they were yelling and flinging aside their garments and throwing dust into the air.”

        These two examples do not correspond exactly with Acts 18:3, but they were two examples I could find quickly.

        Here’s another: in Ephesians 6:2 Paul writes τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα: “honour the father of you, and the mother” (word for word translation). The pronoun sou (“of you”) comes after “father” but also applies to “mother.” There are lots of examples of a pronoun coming after the first noun by applying to the following nouns.

        I’ll try to find some examples that more closely reflect what is happening in 18:3. But there really is no grammatical reason to think that Priscilla is not included in any part of Acts 18:3 They were all tent-makers. And from a practical standpoint, why wouldn’t Priscilla be involved in the same work as her husband? Especially as the work was probably carried out in a workshop under or adjacent to their home.

  3. Marg, I wish I remembered better where I’d read what from different historians to tell you who I’d like to explore more for “the old.” I had just read Jeremias whom she critiques, which was helpful for me [and, no, I wouldn’t hold him as the exemplar]. I guess I just felt like she was so rightly eager, for instance, to correct caricatures of ancient Jews as has been a concern for Jewish scholars too that my overall sense was that there wasn’t real attention to the degree of oppression that was likely the environment of the time.

    She DOES indeed say that she’d expressing possibilities she could picture for women in those times based on the newer discoveries, and I appreciated that she did put that caveat in. I guess I just kept reading some things like, “Yes, this option was open, but wasn’t it [not talking about slave labor and the like] most likely open to exceptional women born in exceptional circumstances and likely generally discouraged from what else we know?” Maybe I had too many expectations of how nuanced the discussion would be for the scope of the book.

    Perhaps part of it could be summed up by my reaction to one element of the Christianity Today article. I think she gives a helpful challenge to the typical view of the Jewish prayer thanking God that, among other things, they were not born a woman. But what living woman who has experienced a religious crowd of men could really believe the *likelihood* that such a prayer aimed at thanking God that they can participate in temple worship does not frequently contain disdain for women? I understand that we don’t want to apply paint strokes that may be unfair, but while, for instance, a nobleman in the era of serfdom might indeed piously thank God for his position and mean well by it and be unable to think outside of the box of what is the experience of his cultural era, how apt is that gratitude to be free of entitlement and prejudice? We know human nature too well. I don’t like to think of myself as a cynic, but that is the way I respond to explaining away statements like that which were not isolated (and some rabbinical sayings and philosopher’s sayings simply can’t be explained away as you know) even if they were a part of a more diverse fabric than we have frequently recognized to be there.

    I guess I just wanted her to address the magnitude of the challenge that would have to have been before most women to even see themselves outside of some of the pervasive attitudes of their day. And I also do believe (and maybe I shall be corrected as I continue to read others) that Christianity was notably liberating for women, not just occasionally allowing women to do things that they were already occasionally allowed to do in cults and Judaism in roughly the same proportions. Maybe I’ve been to effected by previous reading and by how I envision women responding in scriptures, but it really seemed a bit countercultural to me, which is not the sense I get from her. Nice and vague response, eh?

    1. The prayer about thanking G-d one is not born a woman was misunderstood….www.Jewishanswers.org: There is a prayer that observant Jews say every morning that consists of 13 consecutive blessings and 3 of those blessings go as follows:

      Blessed are You …. that You did not make me a non-Jew
      Blessed are You …. that You did not make me a slave.
      Blessed are You …. that You did not make me a woman.

      Women substitute the last blessing with “Blessed are You …. that You made me according to Your will.”

      The succession of these 3 is curious and the classic interpretation of the succession is that Jews are thanking G-d for the commandments they were given, starting from the individual with the least commandments, a non-Jew who only has 7, moving on to a Slave who has many more commandments, and finally a woman who has even more commandments. The Jew thanks G-d that he was given 613 commandments, many more than a non-Jew, a slave, or even a woman. The prayer has nothing to do with the equality of these individuals. It is only a contrast of the amount of commandments each was given by G-d.

      1. I suspect Paul was thinking about this ancient prayer when he wrote Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

        Paul’s words here directly correspond with: “Blessed are you God of the universe who has not made me a Gentile (goy), who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman.”

        (The phrase said by Jewish women is a much later addition.)

        More about Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 here: https://margmowczko.com/christian-living/galatians-3_28-identity/

  4. Perhaps our different take on the book is that you may have focussed more on the Jewish women, where as I was more interested in the Greco-Roman women (?).

    I love the whole Bible, but I am especially drawn to Paul’s letters, and of course his audience/readers where primarily Greco-Roman.

    I really do believe that 1st century Mediterranean women were not as sheltered as we have generally been led to believe. That’s not to say that they had our freedoms!!! 🙂

  5. No, I was not more focused on Hebrew women, but she was careful to undo some stereotypes there. I was very glad to read the book and glad for her contribution; I just feel like now I really need to read a lot more to try to figure out the balance if I can. Again thanks for this article. I find comp attitudes about working women vary a lot, but there usually is still a base line of thinking this is more man’s domain (and certainly that children are less his domain), and your clear exposition here should be a helpful reference.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Deborah. I apreciate them, and I appreciate your caution.

  7. The tent meaning “head covering” is from Messianics, but I forget whom.

    1. BE sure to document anything from a Messianic perspective. I’ve seen a lot of what I can only call wishful thinking from Messianic sources.

    2. Hey, Marg. Cogent but gentle as usual.

      Wondering, though, what you’re seeing in the NIV of Exodus 26:1. I don’t see anything pointing to women in that verse in NIV or on Hebrew.

      1. I wish I could remember precisely what it was that made me include Exodus 26:1. Though I see no reason (a few years later) to doubt that many, perhaps most, of these skilled textile workers were women.

        Still today, it is women who manufacture the dwellings of the desert-dwelling Bedouins who continue to follow very ancient traditions. I realise, however, it is unsafe to draw a direct comparison between the customs of 21st century Bedouins and that of the Israelites in the time of the Exodus.

  8. This is such an outstanding post Marg. Thanks for taking the time to put these really insightful posts out for all of us. There’s a deep burden of guilt and shame put on many Christian women because they go to work… and bizarrely, it’s not there when they go to work for the church as a volunteer. It causes people to live in tension between reality and a super spiritualised perspective of family life and women’s role in it.

  9. Thanks Bev.

  10. Really well thought out article, Marg which addresses the issues of families and homes who feel that women should not go out to work. It’s hard to understand how people explain the natural giftings and skill sets God has given to women in business, accounts, art, preaching, the medical field and others, if they were not to use those gifts.

    God has a great economy, nothing is ever wasted in His Kingdom, so why would anyone think He gives gifts to (wo)men and then command they don’t use them.

  11. For some reason I woke up this morning thinking of “Aquila, Priscilla and the ‘working of purple'” which led me to googling and to this article. I found it interesting.

  12. I think that a parent needs to be at the home with the kids (if at all possible), but it could be either parent, and regardless of which parent is the primary breadwinner and which one is at home with the kids, BOTH parents need to be actively involved in their children’s lives.

    1. Hi K.G.

      I was a stay-at-home mother, and I’m glad that my daughter-in-law is a stay-at-home mother for my grandchildren. But for most of the world’s history, most able-bodied men and women worked in some way for their livelihood. Sometimes they worked very hard and for long hours.

      For the slightly richer people (for both men and women), work was done in their homes which included a shopfront or workshop. In other more primitive societies young adults, including parents, worked the land, etc, while grandparents and other older relatives did much of the child minding. It was only the very rich, elite men and women who did not work for money or sustenance.

      Whatever the situation, small children need their family around them to care and nurture them, in preference to professionals and strangers.

      1. I agree. The prioritiy of BOTH parents should be what’s best for the children, NOT just the mother. Couples need to decide TOGETHER what is best for their family in terms of who works and who’s at home with the kids.

  13. I really enjoyed this article. I have been studying the role of women in the Bible, in the business world, and in the home, There is the big rumor in some circles that says women are best at cooking, cleaning, secretary tasks, and homemaker duties. I highly disagree with the traditions that trap women into a stereotype. I wrote an article about my findings on the role of the woman, called “Woman: The Historic Role”. I think it can add value to anyone who may be studying this topic. The link to read it is here: http://www.kingdomofheavenambassador.com/woman-historic-role/#sthash.Y6ZX4UA1.8X1phCzV.dpbs

    1. Thanks, Tiffany.

      And there are plenty of men who do cooking and cleaning for paid employment. And before the 20th century, the majority of secretaries were men.

  14. Nicely done. Some writers on the effects of Christianity on women’s status claim that it was a major revolution in women’s status (ex. Alvin I. Schmidt, “How Christianity Changed the World”.) My too-quick read of the above said to me that they are wrong, that in first century times, women’s status was not so bad after all even outside the Christian community. Did I read you incorrectly or are others mistaken? If they are mistaken, do you know when it was that things turned worse?

    1. Hi Jim,

      Men had more freedoms and opportunities than women in first-century Greco-Roman society, particularly in broader society. But this is not the full picture. Women with wealth and status had more freedoms and opportunities that were unavailable–completely out of reach–to poor women, as well as to many poor men and to male and female slaves. And poor people and slaves made up most of the population.

      The highly-stratified class system, as well as patriarchy, affected how women were treated, both good and bad. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/wealthy-women-roman-world-and-church/

      Within the church, however, women and slaves had a higher status, were treated with a higher regard, and they had more agency than women and slaves outside of the church. This indeed made the church appealing to women and slaves.

      The status of women, generally speaking, was not good in the first century. Women could be forced to do things they didn’t want to do by husbands or fathers or even powerful brothers: get married, get divorced, have abortions, expose infants, sex slavery, domestic servitude, etc. But powerful men also exploited and abused less powerful men.

  15. I rilly appreciate your effort toward women to work hard to ean money to help their families.

    1. Thanks, Joshua. But the aim of the article was not to encourage women, or men, to work hard to provide for their families. My aim is to show that working for one’s livelihood is usually a fact of life, whether male or female. It’s a necessity that the Bible recognises.

  16. […] The poorer women and slave women, on the other hand, did not have fancy hairstyles, they did not own anything made from gold, they did not own pearls, and their clothes were simple, inexpensive and probably well-worn.[8] Furthermore, they had to work hard, either as free women to support themselves and their families, or as slaves in the employ of their masters. […]

  17. […] [1] Some material in this post comes from a previous article Working Women in the New Testament here. […]

  18. […] Aquila, Priscilla and Paul were all tentmakers by profession. During Paul’s third Missionary tour, Paul stayed with Priscilla and Aquila at Ephesus for over two years (Acts 19:10). They were all still living in Ephesus when Paul passed on Aquila and Priscilla’s greeting to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:19. Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome by 57 CE where they became church leaders again. 2 Timothy 4:19 suggests that the couple returned to Ephesus at a later date. […]

  19. […] Working Women in the New Testament: Priscilla, Lydia & Phoebe […]

  20. […] Even though my sons are now grown, my family remains the focus of my life, my prayers, and my ministry. I have never had strong ambitions career-wise. However, the Bible never makes the case that God desires women to stay at home and not to work for money. [My article Working Women in the New Testament is here.] […]

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