Early Christian Women: Christlike examples of Consecration, Commitment and Conviction
When we think of faithful New Testament women our first thoughts probably go to Mary the mother of Jesus, or to Mary Magdalene the first human witness of the resurrected Savior (Luke 2:7, John 20:11-16). While these two Marys are stalwart disciples, we can also find inspiring examples in the women converted soon after Jesus Christ’s resurrection who were essential to the growth of the early Christian church. Many of these women were well known in their communities; they heard Paul preach in the synagogues, by rivers, and in busy city centers (Acts 17:4, 12, 16-17). A mix of Jews and Gentiles, they were powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ whose lives of consecration, commitment, and conviction can deepen our own discipleship. As we study the final Pauline epistles in Come Follow Me, we can find great value by reflecting on their contribution.
In an informal social media survey of 254 church members, while 99% said they knew something significant about Mary Magdalene, only 4% knew something significant about Damaris, and only 1% something about Lois or Euodia. This is not surprising given that the information about these women is often sparse and some of their names are hard to pronounce. In this article, we will explore the examples of early Christian women who chose to consecrate their resources, commit their lives, and show deep conviction to Jesus Christ. (Note: Throughout this article, scripture references come from the King James Version, KJV unless otherwise indicated.)
First, the early Christian women lived lives of consecration. They used their resources (Mary the mother of John Mark, Acts 12:12), their kindness and service (Tabitha, Acts 9:36-43, Phebe, Romans 16:1-2), their spiritual gifts (four daughters of Phillip, Acts 21:8-9), and their lives (Priscilla, Acts 18:2-3 & Romans 16:3-5) to build the church. While many early Christian women converts exemplified lives of consecration, in this article we will explore principles we can learn from Phebe, the four daughters of Phillip, and Priscilla.
Phebe is the only person for whom Paul tells the saints to, “do whatever she tells you to do.” (Romans 16:1, 2 New International Version (NIV)). To give that open directive, Paul must have known her well and had confidence in her. Paul writes that Phebe helped many of the saints including himself. Her hometown was Cenchrea, near Corinth, and Paul trusted her to deliver his letter to the Romans. Paul puts his stamp of approval on the work she is doing and is appreciative of it. He describes Phebe as a “servant of the church, (Romans 1:2, NIV)” focusing on her significant efforts to build up God’s kingdom. When we think of Phebe we would do well to pause and ask, “Could I be described as a servant of the church?” or, “Am I trusted and serviceable in a way that a church leader would tell other members, ‘Do whatever she tells you to do?”’
The four daughters of Philip may not be well known to us, but they are known in Caesarea for their spiritual gift of prophecy (Acts 21:8,9). Joseph Smith taught, “No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, 193) Elder James E. Talmage wrote, “No special ordination in the Priesthood is essential to man’s receiving the gift of prophecy…this gift may be possessed by women also” (Articles of Faith, 228-229). Perhaps the four unmarried daughters of Philip are boldly sharing their testimonies of Jesus Christ, or perhaps they are prophesying the future, or both. Whichever it is, they are known for their spiritual gift. We could ask ourselves, “Am I sharing my spiritual gifts and abilities in a way that is blessing others?”
Consecration can be seen as dedicating your whole self to God. It appears from the moment Priscilla first encountered the apostle Paul that she lived a life of consecration, devoting her life to the Lord. With her husband Aquila, she hosted Paul in her home for a year and half in their hometown city of Corinth. “Because [Paul] was of the same craft he abode with them… and continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:2, 11). Priscilla likely took advantage of the 18 months with Paul to learn doctrine; this became apparent later in Ephesus. When Paul traveled to Ephesus for more missionary opportunities, Priscilla and her husband Aquila came with him. After Paul departed, Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus. A talented preacher named Apollos came to Ephesus and drew the attention of the Ephesians, but he did not have all his facts straight. “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Priscilla and Aquila corrected false teaching and did so appropriately and graciously.
Furthermore, at some time in their missionary journeys, they risked their life for Paul. This may have been in Ephesus when the city was in an uproar or perhaps it was a different situation when Paul’s life was in danger. Being willing to put their life on the line for Paul showed their dedication to the cause. Paul wrote, “Greet Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3-5). The phrase “all the churches of the gentiles” (my emphasis) is comprehensive! It implies Priscilla and Aquila must have traveled to additional cities or served the many church congregations in other ways, since they all felt appreciative towards this missionary couple.
Not surprisingly, Priscilla and Aquila also hosted church gatherings at their house. Paul writes, “Greet…the church in their house” Romans 16:3-5. Priscilla’s deep conversion is evidence in her life of consecration. She opened her home to Paul for a year and half. She left her home and occupation to travel with and assist Paul. She knew the doctrine and was bold enough to correct false teaching and did so politely. She risked her life for Paul and served in a way that all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks to her.
When women and men today allow the Lord to use their talents and abilities even when it stretches them, they show devotion to Jesus and his message. Sister Michelle Craig taught, “When your faith, your family, or your future are all challenged—when you wonder why life is so hard when you are doing your best to live the gospel—remember the Lord told us to expect troubles…I am learning that Heavenly Father is more interested in my growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ than he is about my comfort” (Wholehearted, Liahona Nov 2022).
Learning of the early Christian women shows us that, their conversion to Jesus Christ showed total commitment as seen in Damaris (Acts 17:34), Junia (Romans 16:7), Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) and Rufus’ mother (Romans 16:13). Damaris, in Athens, is a prime example of commitment. She chose to listen to a servant of God, not common culture and her belief brought adherence to Paul. When Paul preached to her of a living God, and taught that we are his offspring, Damaris believed his preaching even though it differed greatly from the many unapproachable Greek gods in her city and culture (Acts 17:23-27). “Certain men clave unto [Paul], and believed…and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:34). Clave means “to strongly adhere to” meaning that Damaris’ conversion brought commitment to Paul and the doctrine he taught. Her conversion is relevant to our day. Damaris was surrounded by a culture that preached everything but the one true God, yet she recognized the truth of Paul’s testimony and allowed that testimony to alter her life.
A second woman disciple who exemplifies commitment is Junia, whose imprisonment for Jesus showed that she was willing to suffer for Jesus Christ; also, Paul shared that her service was “chief among the apostles” (Romans 16:7). Interestingly, in Greek, apostle means “one who is sent” and did not always connote the person held the priesthood office of apostle. Like the term apostle implies today, it does mean she “went forth,” and witnessed and taught of Jesus (Meyers, Women in Scripture, 107). It may imply she had seen the resurrected Jesus, perhaps being among the 500 who saw the resurrected Jesus after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). Junia, showed commitment in going forth as a witness of Jesus Christ and enduring imprisonment.
While Junia’s conviction was seen in the public eye, Lois and Eunice’s commitment was seen in their own home. When his mission companion Timothy needed encouragement, Paul reminded him of the faith of his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. He wrote, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded is in thee also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Either Paul worked with Lois and Eunice in Lystra when he first met Timothy, or he knew enough of their reputation to point Timothy to their profound faith. Timothy’s father was a Greek which may imply he had not converted to this new sect of Christians; suggesting that his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice were the main gospel teachers in his home (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Often, our commitment to a cause is demonstrated in a willingness to serve others, even outside of our families. Paul traveled, preached, and seemed to be always on the go. Not surprisingly he appreciated the service rendered by Rufus’ mother towards himself and other saints, “Greet Rufus… and his mother, who has been a mother to me too” (Romans 16:13). Like they did anciently, today women with and/or without children of their own, who are mother figures to others, make a profound difference in their own family life and outside of their family.
As Elder Bednar taught, “brothers and sisters who look for and sit next to people who are alone in Church meetings and in a variety of other settings…[who] consistently strive to ‘comfort those that stand in need of comfort,’ without expectation of acknowledgement or praise,” are devoted disciples of Jesus Christ and are the strength of the church (In the path of their duty, Liahona Nov 2023)
A third lesson was can learn from the early Christian women is that they lived with conviction as seen in those who chose to believe even when persecution raged around them, they worked hard for the Lord, and they opened their homes. Merriam Webster dictionary defines conviction as the “the state of mind of a person who is sure that what he or she believes or says is true.” In this time of opposition and misunderstanding to be named as a believer showed faith and courage. Despite the Jewish rulers doing everything they could to stop the work in Jerusalem, miraculously, the numbers of the church increased dramatically as seen in Acts 5:14, “and believers were the more were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” This was also true for the areas outside of Jerusalem like Samaria and Caesarea. After the ascension, when Phillip traveled to Samaria “both men and women” were baptized there (Acts 8:12).
Our level of conviction can be shown in what we are willing to put our energy into. Paul described Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis who “work hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:12, NIV), and Mary of Rome who “worked very hard for you” (Romans 16:6, NIV). Anciently, the rigors of daily life likely required more physical labor than they do today, however Paul wanted his fellow saints to know that these women believers were working hard for them and for the Lord.
Working hard for the Lord in some cases included opening homes for church gatherings, including all that hosting entails. Specifically, at least six women were lauded for opening their home: Mary the mother of John Mark in Acts 12:12; Lydia in Acts 16:40; Chloe in 1 Corinthians 1:11; Priscilla in 1 Corinthians 16:19; Apphia in Philemon 1:2 (NIV); Nympha in Colossians 4:15 (NIV).
Lydia, the first Christian convert in modern day Greece,demonstrated her deep conviction initially with her humility in accepting Paul’s testimony as truth and then by sharing her financial resources and leadership with the church. She listened to Paul by the river where women had gathered for prayer. Her whole household was converted, and she welcomed Paul and the believers to her home. She was a businesswoman and a woman of means; she used those means to build the church. She was humble enough to allow the Lord to open her heart and brave enough to open her home for gathering and strengthening saints (Acts 16:12-15, 40).
Living a life of discipleship frequently meant working alongside other brothers and sisters in the church. In Paul’s words Euodia and Syntyche worked hard “at my side” (Philippians 4:2,3 NIV). What did Euodia and Syntyche do as they worked alongside of an apostle and missionary? They likely strengthened new converts, taught, ministered, spread the good news of the gospel, and served however it was needed. Paul writes that Euodia and Syntyche’s names are in the book of life, a strong endorsement of the important work they did (Philippians 4:2-3).
In Berea where many men and women believed Paul’s words, they “received the message with eagerness and examined the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17: 10-12, NIV). This is one of very few places in scripture where the people are specifically noted as searching the scriptures daily. President Nelson taught how essential being in the scriptures daily is when he said, “With frightening speed, a testimony that is not nourished daily “by the good word of God” can crumble. Thus, the antidote to Satan’s scheme is clear: we need daily experiences worshiping the Lord and studying His gospel. I plead with you to let God prevail in your life. Give Him a fair share of your time. As you do, notice what happens to your positive spiritual momentum” (The Power of Spiritual Momentum, Liahona, May 2023). The Berean converts exemplify seeking to know the truth from the scriptures and searching them daily.
In the present day, saints throughout the world today show conviction in their beliefs as they too work hard for the Lord, open their homes, and work alongside other saints. We may open our homes when we welcome our ministering brothers or sisters, or welcome new converts or others who need their faith strengthened. We may open our homes by having youth over for a wholesome activity. We work alongside other saints when we contribute to council meetings and serve side by side. We work hard for the Lord as we focus on Jesus Christ and serve others. President Camille Johnson taught, “Jesus Christ is relief…We can partner with the Savior to help provide temporal and spiritual relief for those in need—and in the process find our own relief” (Jesus Christ is Relief, Liahona May 2023).
While we wish we had more information on each group of women converts and each individual sister, we have ample details to get a glimpse into the devoted discipleship of the early Christian saints. When Paul departed from the cities after teaching, the newly baptized members were left to build the church in that area. Their belief in Jesus Christ compelled them to minister and to share their witness. Clearly, everywhere the gospel message went, women were a vital part of it.
Perhaps we can we discuss the contributions of these faithful early Christian women more than we do? When we think of Priscilla, we could ask ourselves, “Does my belief in Jesus Christ motivate me to devote my life to the Lord? or Phebe, “Am I a servant of the church?” or Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, “Do I work hard for the Lord?” or Lydia, “Have I allowed the Lord to open my heart?” or Lois and Eunice, “Am I passing on my faith to my children and/or grandchildren?” or the four daughters of Phillip, “Do I share my spiritual gifts in a way that is known and blesses others?” or Junia, “Do I minister and share my witness of the good news of Jesus Christ?” or Damaris, “Do I listen to a servant of God, not common culture?” When we remember the love and compassion they possessed, the work they engaged in, the fearless faith they fostered, the tenderness they exhibited, and the joy they experienced, we find in them inspiration to go do as they did in being valiant in our testimonies of Jesus Christ.
Stepping back and looking geographically, we see that the early Christian women were all throughout the Roman empire, as illustrated in this map. Today, female disciples of Jesus Christ likewise circle the globe, blessing lives and building the church.
As taught by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, no matter where we are serving in the kingdom of God, our role is important and needed (Lift where you stand, Liahona 2008). By looking at the holistic view of the faithful women on the map, we can see it was not just one person or a couple of people growing the early Christian church. There were hundreds, some well-known, others lesser known, but all essential. How tragic it would be if one person thought her efforts were not important or needed! Every saint anciently who made and kept covenants made a remarkable difference wherever they served. The same is true today.
Note for the chart below: This chart only includes faithful women, not every woman mentioned. For example, the female soothsayer in Philippi, or the women and men who cast Paul out of their city are not listed as part of the faithful women below.
Chart one: Faithful Women in Asian Minor and Macedonia. Female Disciples Early Post-Resurrection period in Asia Minor and Macedonia: Sorted by name, place, role and scripture reference.
|Name||Place||How they believe, minister and witness||Scripture Reference|
|Apphia||Colossae, Phrygia, Asia||Welcomes church members to gather in their home||Philemon 1:2|
|Nympha||Colossae, Phrygia, Asia||Welcomes church members to gather in their home||Colossians 4:15|
|Grandmother Lois||Lystra (Asia, Galatia)||Conveys her faith to her grandchild||2 Timothy 1:5 2 Timothy 3:14-16|
|Mother Eunice||Lystra (Asia, Galatia)||Conveys her faith to her child Timothy||2 Timothy 1:5 2 Timothy 3:14-16|
|Tryphena||Iconium (Asia)||Works hard for the Lord||Romans 16:12|
|Tryphosa||Iconium (Asia)||Works hard for the Lord||Romans 16|
|Lydia & household||Philippi (Macedonia, Greece)||Welcomes church members to her home amidst persecution; the Lord opened her heart, uses her means to strengthen the church||Acts 16:12-15,40)|
|Euodia||Philippi (Macedonia, Greece)||Works at Paul’s side, Works hard for the Lord, works with other saints||Philippians 4:2-3|
|Many honorable women converts||Berea, Greece||Examined the scriptures daily||Acts 17:10-12|
|Chief women not a few in Thessalonica||Thessalonica, Greece||Believed with conviction; faith is known everywhere||1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:1; 1:8; Acts 17|
|Damaris||Athens, Greece||Believed Paul’s testimony about a living God, Clave unto Paul||Acts 17:34|
|Chloe||Corinth, Greece||Welcome saints to her home||1 Corinthians 1:11|
|Priscilla||Corinth, Greece; travels to Ephesus, Asia||Hosts Paul in her home for 18 months; travels to Ephesus with Paul and corrects false teaching; risks her life for Paul; all the congregations of the gentiles are grateful to her;||Acts 18:2-3, 11, 26; Romans 16:3-5|
|Phoebe||Cenchrea, Greece||Servant of the church, Paul tells the saints to help her anyway she needs||Romans 16:1-2|
|Women converts in Colossae||Colossae, Asia||Have faith in Christ and love for others||Colossians 1:2,4 (NIV)|
|Claudia||Location unknown||Believer||2 Timothy 4:21|
|Mary of Rome||Location unknown||Worked hard for the Lord; served people in Rome||Romans 16:6|
|Mother of Rufus||Location unknown||Mother figure to Paul and many others||Romans 16:13|
|Persis||Location unknown||Works hard for the Lord||Romans 16:12|
|Sister of Nereus||Location unknown||Believer||Romans 16: 15|
|Julia||Location unknown||Believer||Romans 16:15|
|Junia||Location unknown||Chief among the apostles; Imprisoned for Jesus||Romans 16:7|
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