I come now to the climax of this thread: how is it that women came to be silenced in the early Christian tradition? Of all my posts in this thread on women in early Christianity, I think this is the most important. Again, I give my reflections on it from my Introduction to the NT:
The first thing to observe is that women may have been disproportionately represented in the earliest Christian communities. This at least was a constant claim made by the opponents of Christianity in the second century, who saw the inordinate number of women believers as a fault; remarkably enough, the defenders of the faith never denied it. Second, we should recall that the earliest Christian communities, including those established by Paul, were not set up as public institutions like the Jewish synagogues or the local trade associations, which met in public buildings and had high social visibility. Paul established *house* churches, gatherings of converts who met in private homes. The significance of this difference should not be overlooked. For in the Roman world, matters of the household were principally handled *by women*. Of course, even in the home the husband was “lord of the house,” with ultimate authority over everything from finances to household religion. But since the home was “private” space instead of “public,” most men gave their wives relatively free reign within its confines. If Paul’s churches met in private homes — that is, in the worlds in which women held some degree of jurisdiction — it is small wonder that women often exercised authority in his churches. And small wonder that men often allowed them to do so. This was the woman’s domain.
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