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Category Archives: House churches

A Hospitality of Believers

How would you like to host a church in your home?  A number of women in the early years of the church opened their homes for prayer, study, and worship, even when it was not easy to follow Jesus Christ.  Because there were no official meeting places for Christians, they met in various homes to worship and share their faith in Jesus Christ.

Also, Christians met privately because Jewish and Roman authorities persecuted many of the faithful (Acts 8:3, Acts 12). Stephen was murdered for his bold declaration of truth. The apostle James was beheaded as a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Christians in the early years of the church “were unprotected by any civil power, and exposed, therefore, to the full blaze and rage of persecution. That the church was not destroyed, was owing to the protection of God.”[1]

Courage of hospitality in troubled times

 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also…[and] put him in prison (Acts 12:1-4).

 Although it was at times dangerous for Christians in Jerusalem, Mary (the mother of John Mark) made her home a meeting place for believers. Mary’s house may have been where Jesus and the twelve disciples kept the Passover.[2] Tradition says the upper room of her home may have been where Jesus’ followers received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 1:5, 12-13). After the apostle Peter’s miraculous release from prison, he made his way to Mary’s house to inform the believers who prayed for him there (Acts 12:5-16).

St. Mark Syriac inscription

St. Mark Syriac inscription (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How long were Christians able to meet in Mary’s home? Was she among the believers “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” because of persecution? (Acts 8:1) Scripture doesn’t say what happened to Mary. Tourists in Jerusalem today can visit what is thought to be the location of her house. The 800-year-old St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church is said “to be built over a much older structure.”[3] Visitors are told to “look for the ancient inscription carved into a stone wall, written in ancient Syriac language and said to date to the sixth century CE, the inscription states: This is the house of Mary, mother of John Mark.[4] 

Believers Hosting Churches

After Paul established congregations in Asia Minor, men and women converted to the faith, met in one another’s homes. Paul’s friends Priscilla and Aquila hosted a church in their home in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19) and later in Rome (Rom. 16:3-5). Paul mentioned facing a crisis in Ephesus and that Priscilla and Aquila saved his life. “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3-4).

Lydia, a successful businesswoman in Philippi, opened her home, which became “perhaps the first Christian church being formed therein [in Philippi].”[5] When Paul was miraculously released from prison, he went to Lydia’s home to encourage the believers there (Acts 16:40).

It is not clear if the host of the church in Laodicea was Nympha, a woman, or Nymphas, a man. “Most scholars agree that this person was a woman, Nympha,”[6] though nothing more is said of the individual. Apphia was probably the wife of Philemon and co-host of a home church in Colossae. Archippus, thought to be Philemon’s son, was the pastor of the Christians who met in their home (Col. 4:17). Phoebe, a leading member of the church in Corinth, hosted believers in her home in Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1).

It is probable that Christians followed the pattern of home churches for at least 300 years until Constantine made Christianity his official religion. The hundreds of men and women who hosted small groups of Christians in their homes comprised a “hospitality of believers.” They played an important part in spreading the gospel and strengthening the church.—Mary Hendren


[1] Barnes’ Online Commentary, note on Acts 8:3

[2] NKJV Study Bible, Second edition, note on Acts 1:13

[4] Same source

[5] Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible, p. 85.

[6] Theresa M. Doyle-Nelson, in “House Churches in the New Testament,” AmericanCatholic.org.

Given to Hospitality…or Not

Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house.” And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. 

 Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you (Luke 10:4-9).

English: Engraving of a woman with a water jug...

English: Engraving of a woman with a water jug, seen from the back. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jesus sent the disciples on this particular evangelistic trip, He told them to travel light and to stay with hospitable folks along the way. For the disciples to stay with others was not considered an imposition. Showing kindness to strangers was a custom since the time of Moses.[1] Travelers depended on the hospitality of others because there weren’t many commercial places to stay or to buy food and water. Cities were built near water sources, and that’s where travelers looked for a place to refresh. God established laws to help strangers and aliens that hearkened back to the time when Israel was a stranger in Egypt. “Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Showing hospitality filled a need in ancient Israel because everyone made a journey at some time—a kind of you help me and I’ll help you.

The fate of a “dusted” city

But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, “The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.” But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city (Luke 10:10-12).

Not every city was hospitable to strangers, especially not to those bringing a new religious message. Jesus knew that elders in some towns would not allow the disciples to enter. A city that refused to admit a disciple of Jesus had in essence refused to hear a message from God. A rejection of the good news brought consequences. As a near-term consequence, that city was “dusted.” As a long-term consequence—at the resurrection of the dead—that city earned for itself a less tolerable judgment.

For a disciple to wipe off the dust of a city from his clothing was a denunciation of that place. If a city of Israel refused the disciples, that city descended to the level of the heathen, so miserable that its dust defiled those to whom it clung.[2]  Shaking off the dust also symbolized that the disciples hadn’t come to take anything for themselves—not even dust. It was infected with evil. It would some day rise and testify that the city had rejected the Gospel.[3]

Faith to Follow

For the men and women in Jesus’ company, traveling was an exercise in faith. “He and his disciples lived upon the charity of well-disposed people, that ministered to him of their substance.”[4] What must it have been like to live one day at a time in the presence of the Man who really didn’t worry about tomorrow?

 During His three-year ministry, Jesus was “a stranger in his own world; a wanderer.”[5] As He and the disciples went from place to place, they depended on God to provide for them, either miraculously or through the generosity of others.

Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

 Women Who Served

 A number of women regularly traveled with the twelve disciples and Jesus. The women’s helpful actions “greatly aided Jesus in His missionary activities.”[6] He had cast evil spirits out of three of the women who were often among the traveling group. They subsequently supported His work “from their substance” (Luke 8:2-3). Mary, Joanna and Susanna had money or other material possessions they put toward the needs of the group. Another disciple named Mary, who was the mother of James and Joses, traveled with Jesus and contributed materially to His work.[7] Salome, who was the mother of James and John, accompanied Jesus in Galilee. Later she and other women came with Jesus to Jerusalem.[8]

Two women are mentioned as having hosted Jesus in their homes. Martha of Bethany owned a home and made it a welcome place for Jesus and others with Him. Martha, her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus were close friends of Jesus, and He probably spent many restful hours with them. The mother of John Mark, also named Mary, had a large home in Jerusalem. The upper room where Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover may have been in her home. Mary’s home was a regular gathering place for the disciples (Acts 12:12).

One of the most supportive ways that women served Jesus was by staying with Him during His crucifixion. Among those who attended His last hours were Mary Magdalene, Mary His mother, Salome, and Mary the mother of James and Joses. In grief they stood through His final suffering so He wouldn’t die alone.

The women who traveled with Christ, who opened their homes to Him, who supported His work financially and who stayed with Him until the end, gave what was needed, when it was needed. They were aware, gracious, nurturing, selfless, fearless women who had the privilege of knowing and serving Jesus Christ in the flesh. Theirs is an enduring example of the importance and essence of hospitality.—Mary Hendren


[1] Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:19

[2] Adam Clarke’s Online Commentary, notes on Matthew 10:14

[3] Gill’s Online Commentary, notes on Matthew 10:14

[4] Matthew Henry Online Commentary, note of Matthew 8:18-20

[5] Barnes Online Commentary, note on Matthew 8:20

[6] All the Women of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, p.101

[7] Same source, p.106

[8] Mark 15:40-41

Purple

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13-15)

In one paragraph, Luke introduces Lydia, the first lady converted through Paul’s preaching in Philippi. Lydia owned a business and a home. She hosted Paul and his companions while they were in Philippi. Scholars have studied her name, her business, and her role in the church at Philippi to enhance Luke’s description.

Person or place?

Commentators say the lady’s proper name may not have been Lydia. She may have been known as the Lydian woman because she came from the region of Lydia in Asia Minor. Although Lydia might have been her proper name, “it seems more likely that it merely means ‘the Lydian,’ and that it was the designation by which she was originally known in Philippi.” [1] Some commentators propose that the lady was actually either Euodia or Syntyche referred to in Phil.4:2.[2]  Luke identified her as Lydia, a common name for women in Phoenicia at one time, and mentioned no other name for her.

Her heritage

Was she a Jew? Based on the words that she was “a worshiper of God,” scholars believe Lydia was not a Jew by birth but was a Jewish proselyte.[3]  Lydia kept the Sabbath. She was among the women who assembled by the riverside and heard Paul preach about Jesus Christ.

Her trade

What did it mean to be a “seller of purple”? Did she sell dye? Purple cloth? Purple garments? Scholars say she could have sold any of these items or a combination of them all and be considered a “seller of purple.” One source suggests she sold cloth and garments of deep turkey red, commonly made in her hometown of Thyatira.

From snails to dye

Spiny dye-murex used to make purple in Pliny's day

Spiny dye-murex used to make purple in Pliny’s day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The remarkable Tyrian purple was made from a secretion of the predatory sea snail, Murex brandaris. Murex snails flourished in the eastern Mediterranean along the coast of Phoenicia. The Tyrians learned a “secret method of extracting the glandular substance from which dye was produced.” The Roman writer Vitruvius stated that Tyrian “purple exceeds all colors in costliness and superiority of its delightful effect.”[4] Because thousands of snails were crushed to produce a small amount of dye, it was expensive. Until the Murex snails were over-harvested, the wealth of Tyre was based primarily on the manufacture of dye and trade in purple cloth.

Commercial centers

Tyre operated a famous dye-works. Purple silk from Tyre was the finest fabric available. Wearing Tyrian purple garments—silk, cotton, or wool—symbolized power. “There was great demand for this fabric as it was used on the official toga at Rome and in Roman colonies.”[5]

Thyatira, a city in the region of Lydia, also operated a dye-works, and it was famous for the color red. Dyers in Thyatira used a red vegetable dye made from madder root. “The waters of Thyatira are said to be so well adapted to dyeing that in no place can the scarlet cloth of which fezes are made be so brilliantly or so permanently dyed as here.”[6] The dyers developed a process involving “sumac and oak galls, calf’s blood, sheep’s dung, oil, soda, alum and a solution of tin” (“Rubia,” Wikipedia). In time the Lydian guilds produced purple cloth that competed with the fabric of Tyre. It was said that the Lydians were “celebrated for their dyeing, in which they inherited the reputation of the Tyrians.”[7]

To summarize, scholars suggest Lydia (the Lydian lady) sold purple fabric that was woven and dyed in Thyatira, from dye manufactured in Tyre.

What do I believe?

I believe Lydia was a wise and influential person. I think she had good business sense and an eye for quality. I imagine she traveled to Tyre and Thyatira on buying trips and related interesting travel stories. I picture her as competent in what she undertook, thorough in following procedures, and a good negotiator.

I believe God is amazing. He created a unique snail which supplied a gorgeous purple that would clothe the mighty (Revelation 17:4) and would figure in the rise and fall of a great empire (Ezekiel 27:7; Isaiah 23:8). He arranged for a seller of that purple to hear Paul preach on the Sabbath. He opened her mind and the minds of those in her household. With them He began the Church of God in Philippi.  ♦ Mary Hendren


[1] “Lydia,” The Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible

[2] “The conversion of Lydia,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

[3] “Lydia,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary

[4] “Hexaplex trunculus,” Wikipedia

[5] “Note, Acts 16:14,” Robertson Word Pictures, on-line

[6] “Thyatira,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary

[7] “Note on Acts 16:14,” JFB on-line

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