Women, Gender, and Households in Early Christianity

Topics: Marriage, Acts of Paul and Thecla, Woman Pages: 8 (1370 words) Published: February 6, 2013
Women, Gender, and Households in Early Christianity

Initially, I thought 1 Timothy and the Acts of Paul and Thecla portrayed an opposite

response to women's roles and authority within the community. The story of The Acts of Paul

and Thecla begins with the virgin Thecla inside her family’s house, glued to the window to hear

Paul’s messages of self-control. Her blossoming faith leads her to reject her betrothed, leave the

house in pursuit of Paul, and eventually to travel and proclaim the word of God herself. In

contrast to Thecla’s story, 1 Timothy advocates women returning to socially acceptable, passive

roles as evidenced of Chapter 2, “permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she

is to keep silent” (2:12). However, as I probed deeper, I noticed a different pattern between these

two literary works. Although both of them reiterate virtues of modesty and domestic fidelity, 1

Timothy and the Acts of Paul and Thecla also approved public leadership by virtues women.

With 1 Timothy, women are expected to conform to standards of modesty, industry, and

loyalty. Dress and behavior express women’s modesty. In chapter 2, modesty is expressed

through simple dress (2:9-10) and submission to men (2:11-12). Additionally chapter 5 instructs

for young widows to marry for it reflects the ideals of modesty and industry (5:11–13). Also Paul

portrays young, unmarried widow as being at risk. The author draws on the common notion that

young women were passionate by nature, driven by sensual desires (5:11), and of marriage as a

correction for this problem. A second problem to be solved is idleness: “they are not merely idle,

but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say” (5:13). These women were at

risk of becoming the opposite of the modest, industrious wife. Yet as industrious, loyal wives,

women also played important leadership roles. Women served as deacons in the community and

are expected to exhibit certain virtues similar to men. In Chapter 3, women are instructed to be

“serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things” (3:11). The qualifications of verse

12, “Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households

as well,” seems to apply to both men and women deacons and is evidence of the virtues of

loyalty and industry. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul listed the qualifications of the widow “she must be

well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed

the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way” (5:10). This

list assumes the woman has an active role in the household. She has brought up children, which

in the social context would means overseeing their education, and teaching them despite whether

they are men or women.

Turning now to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the story may be interpreted as a rejection of

social norms, however Thecla is in fact more modest. First, Thecla’s confinement to the home is

not simply a starting point from which she escapes. Her location by the window makes a positive

contribution to the development of her character as a woman of virtue. She did not go out to hear

Paul preach, but “sat at a near-by window and listened night and day” (7). Comparing these to

what Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:13, which I have quoted above, Thecla’s cloistered position

represents her devotion: her desire is “to be worthy herself to stand in Paul’s presence and hear

the word of Christ” (7). The texts also characterizes Thecla of her feminine virtues. At the story,

Thecla may be “bewitched” by Paul yet her status as a “virgin” was unquestioned.

Second, Thecla’s transformation is not a straightforward rejection of cultural norms. Her

rejection of her fiancé,...
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