I’ve started reading Sandra Glahn’s new book Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament (IVP Academic: 2023). I’ve only read the introduction and chapter one, and so far, I’m enjoying it. Dr Glahn shares many interesting thoughts and insightful observations that have come from her own life experience but mostly from her research.
Glahn covers a few topics in chapter one, most of which are related to the historical record concerning women and the church. On page 21, she makes the point that “the practice of women serving in public leadership did not originate with feminists” of the 20th century. It even “began before the American and French Revolutions, with their calls for freedom and individual rights.”
Glahn provides the example of Margaret Fell’s pamphlet with the lengthy title, “Women’s Speaking Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All such as speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus.” Fell wrote the pamphlet in 1666 while in prison. However, Glahn traces the “impulse” for women in public ministry back to Pentecost.
Elsewhere on my blog, I’ve written about early church women who served as recognised ministers, some of whom had the title of deacon or elder. (See links below.) But in this blog post, I want to share four reasons given by Glahn for why there was a decline of women in public ministry in the centuries following Pentecost.
The following comes from the section entitled “What Led to the Decline?” on pages 24-25 of Nobody’s Mother.
1. Redefining priesthood: A shift away from emphasizing the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:9) led to an all-male priesthood in the pattern of the Old Testament. The church looked to the past rather than the future kingdom in its view of the telos of men and women.
2. Shift toward infant baptism: The major shift away from adult baptism toward infant baptism eliminated the need for women’s “assistance at the baptism of women for reason of decency.” [Gryson, The Ministry of Women, 113.]
3. Law/Temple: The church tended to return to ceremonial aspects of the law with accompanying temple practices—especially after Constantine. With physical church buildings came an increasing clergy-laity divide that treated worship structures as temples. With a shift from the believer’s body to a physical structure as the temple of God came a return to some physical-temple regulations that affected females, such as barring menstruating women from worship. Madigan and Osiek, in Ordained Women in the Early Church, write, “The motif of blood as uncleanliness unworthy of the purity of the altar … was one of the most common reasons given for the exclusion of women from altar service, once the celebration of the Eucharist acquired the connections with cultic purity that accompanied the understanding that it replaced Temple sacrifice.” [Madigan and Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church, 139.]
4. Anthropology: Greek views of women’s nature influenced Christian leaders, who concluded that women were weak, fickle, lightheaded, of mediocre intelligence, and a “chosen instrument of the devil.” The considerations “which supported the traditional argument in the ancient writers often reflect an anthropology which could not be unanimously admitted today.” [Gryson, The Ministry of Women, 112.]
Each of these four factors can be challenged with Scripture.
The historical record includes unbiblical practices rooted in misinformation about women. The record also demonstrates precedent for women holding public office in the church. Thus, fresh looks at the textual and background information are in order.
I look forward to reading more of Nobody’s Mother. And I’ll probably be posting short quotations from Sandra Glahn’s book on my Facebook page.
 James D.G. Dunn remarked on the different experience of church life among the first generation of Christians than that of later generations when Christianity became institutionalized and a distinction between clergy and laity developed.
Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism—when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. … Such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the second generation the picture was beginning to change.
Dunn, Unity & Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (Westminster Press, 1977), 351.
 On pages 19-22, Glahn provides a sample of quotations of what church leaders have said about the nature of women. She quotes Chrysostom, Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Erasmus, Martin Luther, and John Knox. I have more of these kinds of quotations, here.
Photograph of Dr Sandra Glahn from the website of Dallas Theological Seminary. Used with permission.
I’ve included many more links than usual in case this blog post raises questions that can be answered by these articles.
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Sandra Glahn Debunks Myths About Artemis
The Regalia of Artemis Ephesia
The Prominence of Women in the Cults of Ephesus
A Female Teacher and Deacon in Antioch (AD 360s)
Olympias: Deaconess and Chrysostom’s Friend
I have more articles on deacons, here.
Articles about women in the early church are here.
Articles that address the question, Can women be pastors?
Articles that address Paul’s Theology of Ministry
Old Testament Priests and New Covenant Ministers
Were there women elders in New Testament churches?
Part 1: Women Elders in Heterodox Churches and Ancient Church Canons
Part 2: Women Elders in Ancient Church Manuals
Part 3: Women Elders in Inscriptions and Atto of Vercelli