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Category Archives: Paul

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,”

By Way of Special Delivery

Note to readers: When Paul wrote, in Romans 16:1, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the LORD in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also,” he fueled on-going curiosity as to who this woman was, and what she might have done.

 After studying a fascinating book about letter writing in the time of Paul and checking out the opinions of several commentators, I am leaning toward a couple of possibilities in this post: that Phoebe is the one who carried an important letter from Paul to the church in Rome (we now refer to it as the New Testament book of Romans), and that she went by ship.

 The following scenario might be how things actually transpired, but the Bible doesn’t identify the letter carrier or the method or means of transportation. However, there is no disputing that Paul is complimentary of Phoebe’s service to him and to the church in Corinth.

Travel arrangements   

English: Roman Ship

English: Roman Ship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Phoebe’s business in Rome would take her away from Corinth a month, maybe longer. If she could get passage on a merchantman sailing directly to Rome, and the weather was favorable, it would take ten days.[1] If she went by some other means than ship, the time would be harder to estimate. Since she was uncertain how long she’d be away, Phoebe likely discussed her plans with Paul.

Paul and Phoebe were like family. She was his “sister” in Christ, dependable, competent, a worker in the faith. She served the congregation in Corinth tirelessly. She probably opened her home in Cenchrea[2] to Paul and his associates when they came to Corinth.

Perfect timing

Phoebe’s trip came at an opportune time. Paul had been unable to visit the church in Rome and wanted to get a letter to the members. She could deliver the letter and acquaint the church on Paul’s work in Corinth. With a note of introduction from Paul, the members would help her while she was in the city. Phoebe would be judicious in relating news from Corinth. When she returned to Cenchrea, Paul was undoubtedly confident she’d bring an accurate report on the brethren and their response to his letter.

A remarkable mail system

Roman Road

Roman Road (Photo credit: anfearglas)

At the time of Paul’s ministry, Rome operated a remarkable mail system. Augustus Caesar established relay stations equipped with riders, fresh horses, and light carts to carry the mail from one station to another. Men driving horse-drawn carts could carry regular mail a distance of 50 miles in a day.  Relay riders with priority mail changed horses every six miles and could cover up to 170 miles in a day.[3] Rome built 50,000 miles of paved highways throughout the Mediterranean region and 200,000 miles of secondary roads—initially to facilitate the movement of soldiers. The imperial mail system took advantage of the established routes for transporting letters pertaining to official Roman business.

Paul’s options

 Private citizens were unable to access the imperial mail system. Paul, like other citizens not officially employed by Rome, made his own informal arrangements for sending mail. The unofficial procedure for sending a letter depended on finding a family member or friend, a soldier or stranger—anyone who was willing to carry a letter to its destination. Author Randolph Richards calls the random messengers “happenstance letter carriers.” [4] If you happen to find someone going in the right direction, ask him to take your letter. It was a somewhat reliable way of sending and receiving mail, because it was the only option private citizens had at the time. Wealthy individuals hired slaves who were trained letter carriers or employed them as part of the household staff.

Richards states that Paul may have depended on happenstance carriers early in his ministry but later relied on fellow Christians. “From 1 Corinthians onward, Paul’s letters were carried by named, private letter carriers, who bore Paul’s endorsement and whom Paul said had authority to elaborate his meaning (Col 4:7-9).”[5]

Paul’s commendation

At the end of his letter, Paul recommends Phoebe to the church members in Rome. He states that she is a “sister,” a believer in Christ, and a servant of the church in Cenchrea. The members understood that her service would have included visiting the sick, helping women with family needs, teaching children, caring for elderly widows and extending hospitality. Paul states “she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Rom.16:1-2).

Paul trusted the church to befriend Phoebe while she was in Rome “in whatever business she has need of you” (Rom.16:2). When Phoebe sailed from Corinth, she was confident of connecting with fellow Christians who would look after her.

Scripture doesn’t say anything about Phoebe’s voyage, the success of her business, her relationship to the congregation or how the church assisted her. All we know is that the letter arrived in Rome.

Helpful or significant?

The significance of delivering the letter relates to the value of it. If Paul had written a simple announcement of his intention to visit Rome, the carrier’s service would be remembered as helpful. I believe Phoebe carried the letter, and what elevates her service to significant is the extraordinary nature of the letter itself, which is underscored by the following sources:

  • By common consent, Romans is the greatest of Paul’s letters. (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, p.3)
  • The greatest of Paul’s epistles and considered by many as the greatest book in the NT…it is a book, in one sense, simple and clear, but in another sense so magnificent that it baffles complete comprehension. (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 1088)
  • Romans is a masterful presentation of God’s plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles. (NKJV Study Bible, p.1764)
  • This letter has also loomed large in the history of Christianity. Countless men and women of faith have singled out Romans as the weapon God graciously used to bring about their surrender to Christ. (Same source, p.1763)

A very special delivery

 If Phoebe was indeed the carrier, she had the privilege of delivering what is now commonly considered Paul’s most significant epistle. Did she hear the very first reading of the letter aloud in church? I imagine she was thankful to God for her small part in bringing such amazing good news to the church in Rome. —Mary Hendren

[1] Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, E. Randolph Richards, p. 199 (note on estimated time for a letter to reach Rome, via ship from Corinth)

[2] The Woman’s Study Bible notes that Cenchrea was a seaport for Corinth (p. 1890).

[3] “Mail,” Wikipedia

[4] Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, Richards, pp. 178-179

[5] Same source, p. 208

Early childhood education

She looked at Timothy, opened her eyes expectantly and touched his thumb.

Hear, O Israel…

 She smiled and touched the tip of his first finger.

The LORD is our God…

 She nodded and touched his next finger.

The LORD alone.

Timothy’s mother was Jewish and his father was Greek. Whether Timothy’s father became a Jewish proselyte or if he was present in the home, is not known. In a letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul mentions his grandmother and mother but not his father or grandfather.  It may have been that Lois, Eunice and Timothy were a family of three when they converted to Christianity through the ministry of Paul in Lystra.

Rembrandt's Timothy and his grandmother, 1648.

Rembrandt’s Timothy and his grandmother, 1648. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul credits Eunice and Lois for Timothy’s spiritual foundation (2 Tim. 1:5), which is a significant compliment. Jewish parents highly valued education. They wanted their children to know God and their relationship to Him. Josephus states that the Jews’ “principal care” was “to educate our children well.” It was the “business of life” to “observe the laws…and rules of piety” associated with them.[1] Fathers and mothers were commanded to teach the word of God to their children (Deut. 6:6-8).

What did they teach?

In general terms, Hebrew children were taught “the way of the LORD,” following the commendation God gave Abraham. Abraham taught his children and household to “keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). More specifically, when a child was able to talk, he learned two scriptures—one about God and the other about God’s law  (Deut. 6:4 and Deut. 33:4).[2]

Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD alone.

 Moses commanded a law for us, a heritage of the congregation of Jacob.

Following the Hebrew model, Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him about God, the law and the right way of doing things.

How did they teach?

On the Sabbath and Holy Days Jews heard scripture read in the synagogue. Few families could afford to have their own copy of the law as a reference. Parents depended on memory and experience to teach their children. Children learned by listening to their parents, grandparents and experienced adults.  They repeated what they heard. They memorized scriptures. They asked questions. They practiced telling stories.

Parents taught when they answered questions. “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households” (Exodus 12:26-27).

When a child asked a “why” question, an adult answered in context of God’s historical acts. One of the “singular aspects” of Jewish education was to “recognize and remember the Acts and events of divine providence in history.”[3]

In general, parents made ways to teach from morning to evening—drawing attention to lessons at hand (Deut. 6:7).

Why this method?

Hebrew education emphasized the importance of the whole person—mind and body. True knowledge and understanding came from God (Psalm 111:10), and parents based their teaching on that truth. They began the process of instilling wisdom into the minds of their children through discussion, repetition and memorization. The Hebrew model stressed developing a good memory. Without scrolls at home, it was important to store God’s word in the mind. “The worthiest shrine of truths that must not die is the memory and heart of the faithful disciple.”[4]

When boys like Timothy turned seven, they attended synagogue school or studied in the home of a paid teacher. Boys entering synagogue school had already learned the fundamentals of “the way of the LORD.”[5] Additional education prepared a young man to read and discuss the Law. His education built on what he had learned and covered a variety of subjects: agricultural laws and prayers, festival laws, laws concerning marriage and divorce, criminal law, dietary and temple practices and laws about purity.[6]

Eunice and Lois gave Timothy a good spiritual foundation. They taught him the word of God and set the example of living what they believed. Later Timothy became a protégé of Paul and a minister of the Church of God.

Timothy faced challenges and hardships pastoring the church in Ephesus. The comment in Paul’s letter must have encouraged Timothy when he doubted his ability to do the job. “Timothy, you’ve seen real faith in action since you were a child, and now it’s evident in you.”—Mary Hendren


[1] Against Apion, Book I, note on 1:12, Flavius Josephus

[2] “Ancient Jewish Education of Children and Use of Scripture,” Blair Kasfeldt,

[3] “Education in Bible Times, “ Andrew Hill, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, online

[4] Ibid

[5] Baker’s Evangelical Encyclopedia, “Education in Bible Times,” Andrew Hill

[6] “History of Education in Ancient Israel and Judah,” Wikipedia.


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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