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Category Archives: Lydia

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,”


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

Bible women and the workplace

Women’s Work

Today it is not uncommon to ask a new  acquaintance, “Do you work?” This usually provides a hook for further conversation. The obvious answer is yes, for all women work carrying out the necessities for daily life. The subtext of the query is, are you employed and what do you do?

Working for survival

Working away from home for money is rather a modern concept in the history of women. After all, it was only during and after World War 2 that women began to figure prominently in the workplace in the United States. For thousands of years women (and children) of the world have worked in the home and alongside men in their fields or businesses in order to keep family and community alive.

How good is the pay?

It is likely that if Old Testament women received pay for their labors it was in the form of rations of food and grain, thereby shoring up reserves necessary for survival until the next growing season.

Insignificant job?

Much of a woman’s time anciently was spent tending a family, and growing, cooking, and preserving food. If she was not diligent in carrying out her responsibilities, the results could be deadly.

Carol Myer, a Professor of Religion at Duke University, comments in her book Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context: “The amount of labor needed for processing food and cooking would take up most of the women’s time.  However, just because the women worked mostly in the home to provide food did not mean that it was an insignificant job.  Actually, it was a very important job…because it meant that women were in charge of rationing the food that the family had.  If the woman could not ration the food appropriately, then the family would starve come winter.”

New Testament times

By the time of the first century, women had ventured further into arena of  business and commerce.  Author Lynn H. Cohick observes, “We must not imagine women, especially poor women (who with poor men made up the vast majority of the ancient world), tucked away in their homes, secluded from economic activity. Inscriptions, epitaphs, and visual art all suggest the active presence of women in the economy of the ancient world” (Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 2009, page 241).

Bible examples

English: Pharaoh and the Midwives, miniature o...

English: Pharaoh and the Midwives, miniature on vellum from the Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, early 14th century, at the British Library, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are a few examples of women who worked in various positions within their communities:

  • Nehemiah 3:12 Shallum and his daughters “made repairs” during the rebuilding in Jerusalem.
  • Judges 4:4, 4 Deborah functioned as a judge.
  • Exodus 1:15, 16 Shiphrah and Puah were midwives.
  • Proverbs 31 contains several examples of a woman skilled not only in managing a home but one who was knowledgeable in the world of trade, real estate, and commerce.


In the next posts, Mary Hendren will visit a couple of New Testament women known for their commercial ventures. Much discussion of women during the first century focuses on these two, Lydia and Priscilla, as they are the prominent examples of businesswomen of the time.

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