The November/December 2020, issue of Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, carried an interesting article titled “The Price of Purple.” It tells about an archaeological site known as Tel Shikmonan in northern Israel, where there is a very long history of securing purple dye for coloring textiles.
Textiles colored with purple dye were listed along with precious metals in trade and tax records indicating prestige and royal status. In Jesus’ time, Roman high officials wore distinctive purple togas. In Mark 15:17, Jesus was clothed in purple when the Romans wanted to portray Him as king of the Jews. In Luke 16:19, the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus was clothed in purple to indicate his status.
In the New Testament, we read the story of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul had arrived in Philippi, which was a “chief city” of that part of Macedonia. There he met Lydia, who came from Thyatira, which was a city near Philippi. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (verse 14). Verse 15 tells us that she owned a house and other people lived in the house with her. Selling purple dye was a high scale business. A woman owning a home and having a household indicated wealth and prestige in the Roman culture. Verse 40 tells us that the Church was meeting in Lydia’s house.
Skeptics have attempted to deny this account, but excavation at Tel Shikmona has strongly supported the Bible. Tel Shikmona is located on the coast at the foot of Mount Carmel near the present-day port city of Haifa, Israel. The ocean is shallow and rocky at Tel Shikmona, and there are large populations of murex snails in those waters. Liquid extracted from the hypobranchial glands of murex sea snails formed the purple dye when treated with light or oxygen. The sea snails at Tel Shikmona can produce large quantities of the purple dye that stains textiles like no other known dye. People had ground up lapis lazuli, which we rock hounds know is a blue color, but it fades and was not as unique as the murex purple.
Joseph Elgavish excavated Tel Shikmona in the 1960s and found thousands of artifacts. Later excavations convinced archaeologists that this was an industrial site focused on the purple dye industry. Roman rulers starting with Julius Caesar (46-44 BC) and continuing through Nero (AD 54 – 68) had laws to fine anyone wearing murex purple without permission. So Lydia was indeed a special woman with connections and clout with people at the top of the social structure. These facts strongly support her ability to use her status to help Paul in his work at Philippi.
Does Jesus hate women? That may sound ridiculous to most of our readers. However, there is continual rhetoric in the media and from skeptics suggesting that Christianity is opposed to women’s rights and tries to oppress women. A careful study of Jesus and women and the early Church’s history shows that isn’t the case.
The world at the time of Christ was in turmoil. People ignored God’s teachings and moral laws, women were considered property, and they were totally dependent on men. A young woman was supported by her father and then her husband. Her primary role was to bear a male child. This treatment of women led to polygamy, prostitution, and easy divorce. Jesus comes on the scene and overturns all of this. In John 4, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman without denigrating her. He amazed His disciples by breaking all social taboos by teaching her. In Luke 10:38, Jesus enters the house of Martha and treats her and her sister Mary with respect. Mary Magdalene played a vital role in the ministry of Jesus, and she was the first person He appeared to after His resurrection. In Luke 8:1-3, she and Joanna, a Roman steward’s wife, are portrayed as financial backers of Jesus’ travels. Jesus defended the woman taken in adultery in John 8:3-11. Does Jesus hate women? No, He treated women with dignity and respect. The Church in the first century did not oppress women. In Titus chapter 2, Paul gives instructions to old and young men and women and slaves regarding how to live. The reason for his instructions is “to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” to unbelievers. Acts 16:14-15 describes a woman named Lydia, who ran a high-end business, owned her own home, and had a household. We are reminded of Proverbs 31 as we read this. Martha, mentioned earlier, also owned a home where her brother and sister lived.
First Corinthians 14:26-40 addresses a chaotic worship assembly. Paul tells various people to be silent or to speak one at a time. He instructed married women to remain silent and address their questions to their husbands at home. Paul was concerned about the chaotic assembly causing outsiders to think the worshippers were crazy (verse 23).
In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Paul encourages women to dress modestly and not usurp authority. The Greek word here is “authenteo” and means “to exercise the power of one’s self,” according to the lexicon. An overly aggressive woman could intimidate and discourage a young Christian preacher like Timothy. Paul’s instruction for women to protect the role of men and allow them to lead was important to the Church’s growth then, as it is today.
Does Jesus hate women? No. Did the early Church oppress women? No. Neither should it do so today. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We need to love each other enough to allow everyone to have a role in the work of the Church. Caring enough to serve is not oppressing or denigrating anyone.
Those who do not wish to follow the Bible point out teachings that seem uncomfortable in the 21st century. One of those teachings is the role of women in the Bible and the limitations it seems to impose on them. These people often hold up 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 as proof that the Bible is a male chauvinistic book with a heavy bias against women. Both passages say that women are to be silent and not usurp the authority of the men. Critics also point out Titus 2: 3-5 as a passage that defines women as “keepers of the home” and obedient to their husbands.
The truth is that the life and teachings of Christ and the New Testament are the single most liberating teachings ever written about the role of women. The role of women in the Bible was ahead of its time. In studying a manuscript of any kind, you have to look at who wrote it, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. All of those passages were written at a time when women were property, were dependent on either their husband or father, and had no personal rights.
Jesus set a whole new standard for dealing with women. In John 4, He not only treated a woman as an equal, to the dismay of His disciples, but He ignored the racial and ethnic prejudice of the current culture. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus treated Mary and Martha as significant players in His work. Mary Magdalene was active in Jesus’ ministry and was the first person He appeared to after His resurrection (Mark 16:9). Luke 8:1-3 tells us that a group of women were the prominent supporters of Jesus as He traveled and taught.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26-28, Paul advised a congregation about dealing with a worship service that had become a circus. Everyone was speaking at once, so Paul tells them to deal only with edifying speeches and otherwise to keep quiet. He concludes by saying, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” Then he addresses married women (not all women) and asks them to contribute to the solving of the chaos by discussing questions at home.
First Timothy 2:9-15 and Titus 2:3-5 are passages that deal with the roles of Christians in the culture in which they live. The family was not a significant part of Roman life. The Romans used family for politics, but the inconveniences of family life were brutally managed. An unwanted baby was thrown out in the street to die. (Our culture simply does this surgically or chemically before birth.) Paul writes to the young preachers Timothy and Titus to encourage the building of families according to God’s plan. These passages deal with the institution of families. Being a wife and mother was not the only role for a woman. The book of Acts tells of women with unique roles. Lydia had a high-end business, and many women are mentioned as having key roles in the early Church.
The early Church protected the roles of men and women. Women have a role available to them in being mothers (See 1 Timothy 2:15), but men have no role guaranteed to them. Women can indeed do just about anything a man can do, and in some cases, do it better. In that light, God gave men the role of being leaders in the worship service. That is one role men can fill, and God knew Christian women cared enough about their brothers in Christ to allow them to have that role. You don’t lose your identity by loving enough to allow another human being to do something you could do. The role of women in the Bible was counter-cultural for the time.
One of the challenges that we see in the media is that Christianity treats women as second class citizens when just the opposite is true. The New Testament shows the equality of women in Christianity. People are well aware of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but a score of other women are spiritual giants in the Scriptures. The equality of women in Christianity shines through several biblical examples:
ANNA: She was an 84-year-old widow who worked in the Temple in Jerusalem. She was one of the very first witnesses of the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about Jesus. Luke 2:36-38 tells us about her and promotes her as a leader in the testimony about Christ. THE TWO-COIN WIDOW: When Jesus wanted to hold someone up as an example of what true giving is, He chose a widow who contributed two small copper coins to the Temple treasury. Christ denigrated the wealthy who gave for show and held up the widow as a person who gave out of love. (See Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.)
THE WOMAN OF FAITH. This was a woman who had a major medical problem causing her to bleed for twelve years. All medical treatments had failed. Her faith in Christ was so strong that she believed she would be healed by touching the hem of His garment. Jesus called her a “daughter” and commended her faith. She is an example of real faith today. (See Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, and Luke 8:43-48.)
MARY OF BETHANY. This woman was the sister of Martha and of Lazarus, who lived in Bethany. She took an alabaster jar of costly perfume and poured it on the head of Jesus. We see her showing an example of love for Jesus and His raising of Lazarus back to life. The males present, including the disciples, complained about the waste of money. Jesus commended her, saying, “She has done a beautiful thing for me.” (See Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8.) Mary had earlier sat and listened to Jesus’ teaching while Martha was busy with household things. Martha criticized Mary, but Jesus commended Mary for having the correct priorities. (See Luke 10:38-42.)
THE WOMEN WHO FUNDED THE MINISTRY OF JESUS. Did you ever wonder how Christ could travel and teach with 12 disciples and no visible source of income? Luke 8:1-3 tells us that it was a group of women who supported the ministry of Christ from their own income.
OTHER KEY WOMEN. In John 4:4-42, we read about the Samaritan woman who broke down sexual and racial barriers. In Acts 16:13-18, we learn of a businesswoman named Lydia who believed the gospel, was baptized, and welcomed Paul and his associates into her home.
The equality of women in Christianity is unique, unlike the society of that day. Galatians 3:28 says it best, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”