Women in the Early Church – Classic
In this episode, Kymberli Cook, Drs. Lynn Cohick and Michael Svigel discuss women in the early church, focusing on their contribution to ancient and contemporary issues for Christians.
- Cohick’s and Svigel’s interest in the study of the early church
- Defining and describing the period of the early church
- Cultural context of the early church
- Reasons to study women in the early church
- The contributions of the early church period to the role of women in the church
- The courageous witness of Perpetua
- The contributions of Thecla, Macrina, and Helena
- The role of widows and virgins in the early church
- The different perspectives on whether early church had female apostles
- How to understand the term deaconess in the early church
- Why and when were the women in the early church forgotten
Kymberli Cook Welcome to The Table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook, and I'm the Senior Administrator here at the Hendricks Center. And today we're gonna be talking about women in early Christianity. And we … this is a special episode … we are joined by particularly an expert guest. We are joined by Dr. Cohick via Skype. She is the Professor of New Testament, as well as the Provost and Dean at Denver Seminary, and one of the foremost experts in this area of women in early Christianity. So we are very thrilled to have you, Dr. Cohick. And we're also joined by our regular here, Dr. Svigel, who is the Professor and Chair of Theology here at DTS. So thank you for joining us. Dr. Michael Svigel Thanks for having me. Kymberli Cook So like I said, today we're gonna be talking about women in early Christianity. And this is one of my favorite topics. It's something that I research all through my THM, and so I am just thrilled to be able to discuss it here. But I would like to know, just for everybody listening, and just so that we can all get on the same page, how did you all interested in the early church, specifically, and dedicate your lives to really researching it and thinking through it? Dr. Svigel, let's start with you. Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. I started reading what's called the Church Fathers, the literature from the Patristic period, which is roughly right after the New Testament period to about 500, 600 AD. Back in Bible college, I would stay up late and just read them in my leisure time, and eventually it sparked an interest. When I came to seminary I kept that up and really decided to devote myself to that during my PhD studies, when you have to come up with a topic to satisfy readers in a committee, focused on second century, primarily. Ignatius of Antioch, and that period, which is very, very formative, coming out of the New Testament and moving into church history, very pivotable moments there. And I've just been stoking that fire ever since. Kymberli Cook That's very cool. And Dr. Cohick, how about you? Dr. Lynn Cohick I came to Christ in high school and I also really loved history, so I combined my love of scripture and history and went on to get my PhD directly out of undergrad. And while I was doing my classwork I came across Julian of Norwich, who is not a Patristic figure. She's Medieval, a Medieval figure. But she has this vision, and then she ponders it for decades afterwards. And part of the vision is seeing Christ in a way as a mother. And so there's a lot of wonderful metaphors. She has numerous metaphors, but that one especially stuck, 'cause I happened to be pregnant with our first born at the time. And so it was just interesting to think with a woman from Christian history about the metaphor of motherhood.
And so I started looking into just what were Christian women doing down through the centuries. And I haven't stopped the journey yet. Kymberli Cook Yeah. So we are saying in early Christianity, and you, Dr. Svigel, you outlined a little bit of what the Patristic era is. For this podcast we're probably mainly gonna be focusing on the Patristic era. So you said that it starts at the end of the New Testament era and goes until about 500? Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. 500, 600. Sometimes people will date a little for… Periodizations are a bit arbitrary sometimes. But some of our early non New Testament Patristic literature actually starts already in the late first century. So we're talking about that period after what we would say the canonical New Testament and to about 500 or 600, just depends on who you are. Kymberli Cook And to orient people, these are essentially the disciples of the disciples, right? Is that a good way to think … And then those who came afterwards. Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah, and then their followers. Yes. Kymberli Cook But those are the first. Dr. Michael Svigel Correct. Kymberli Cook Okay. And what are, Dr. Cohick, what are some elements and key themes and some key cultural context points that we need to be aware of in this particular era? Dr. Lynn Cohick I think especially for the study of women, to think about the age of the martyrs. That would be up before Constantine, which is around the 300, 325 mark. Prior to that we can think about the church. It is the early Patristic period, but it's also the age of the martyrs. And you're not gonna have a lot of writings like you do later, with Augustine and Chrysostom, and Jerome. You have instead apologists and then those who are giving their lives for the faith.
And then after Constantine you have the great writers, and you have the Roman elite who, both men and women, who are supporting the church, and thinking a lot about celibacy, virginity. Virginity and martyrdom are linked conceptually. And also then just the problem or the issue of wealth. And I point out those things, 'cause I think that those topics also matter a lot today, as we think about our bodies, and what it means to be an embodied Christian. And then, in the West, of course, with our amazing wealth, compared to any other time in human history, I think the Patristic period and the writings of the men and women can help us think theologically about our own time. Kymberli Cook And was there anything that particularly shifted for women from … We hear a lot about the backgrounds in scripture. And anybody who's really serious about Bible study and that kind of thing has heard a lot about even potentially women in the New Testament era, is there anything that shifted from the New Testament era to the Patristic? Or is it similar, as far as how women were treated,what the expectations of them were in society? Dr. Cohick, what … Dr. Lynn Cohick Yeah. Well, I think one of the big shifts is in the first century, the early church is a Jewish sect. And the gentiles are somewhat of a minority. But by the time you reach the end of the first century, you have Jews and gentiles maybe even an even mix, I don't know. By the time we get in the second century, it's more, I think, of a gentile movement. And so their experience as first generation believers are going to shape the questions that they ask. I think also their coming from a pagan background that while the church has always grounded itself in the Old Testament, and the themes of the Old Testament, the gentile believers are just asking slightly different questions. So I think that would be one of the significant changes, yeah. Kymberli Cook Dr. Svigel, would you have anything to add? Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. I think, from the New Testament to the, say, early second century and moving forward, that change is definitely noticeable. But also you should expect incremental changes with regard to doctrine and practice. When you compare, say, first century to sixth century, a lot of things look very different.
But from generation to generation, we see gradual progression as far as relationships between men and women, and women in the church and in ministry leadership, et cetera. As culture changes, as the church moves from a primarily a synagogue centered movement to outside the synagogue and … you are gonna see some differences, because cultural expectations are going to be different for men and women. There isn't …
This myth that everything in the Roman Empire was the same, literally when you went from city to city, region to region, cultural practices could change, and expectations. Class. If you were wealthy vs. working class or poor, those expectations would change. So we just have to be careful that we don't come to these stories or these texts with artificial expectations, and let them speak to us, and hopefully not read into it also our own 21st century understandings, yeah. Kymberli Cook And we can understand that because things here in Texas, the cultural expectations here in Texas are very different than in Seattle. Dr. Michael Svigel Or Minnesota, where I'm from. Right. Kymberli Cook Yes. Or Kansas, where I'm from.
Okay. So, we're clearly in a wave of societal discussion currently in our own society about women, their roles, their rights. And that can be a really sensitive conversation for the church. And I think we look a lot at what our interpretation is of what the Bible has to say about those kinds of things. But it strikes me that maybe history, and especially the early church history, can help us think through these things as well. Would you all … One, would you even agree with me? And two, if so, why should we pay attention to what has happened in the past, and really consider it as we're considering how to move forward in our own time. Dr. Svigel, if you want to go first. Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. So the New Testament itself, part of our approach, generally as conservative, Protestant Christians is that we are interpreting the New Testament in its historical context. And as the church is moving out of Judea and into other parts of the empire, those contexts are changing. And we are seeing really in the unfolding of the early church, a number of ways that the message and the method of doing ministry and doing church and worship is necessarily going to be re-contextualized.
So one great thing we see is a variety of examples of how Christianity, not just survives, but thrives and flourishes in a variety of contexts. And Lynn mentioned the change between third to fourth century, and Christianity become legal and then the official state religion. That changes the context for us. And so we are now in a cultural context today where Christianity's moving in the other direction. It's not so much an accepted religion, or assumed religion. It's really moving into what people say a post Christian context where people don't take us seriously or don't … It's looking a lot more like, perhaps, a church of the second century.
So we can learn some things of how they contextualized things in those realms, and learn some lessons, maybe be provoked about some of our assumptions. I think there are lessons to be learned there, and wisdom to be gained. Kymberli Cook Dr. Cohick, what does this era specifically offer the women conversation? Dr. Lynn Cohick Well, I think it challenges us in our, perhaps naive assumption that women stayed at home, they weren't in the public view, that women didn't have agency. And I appreciated Mike's earlier comment about the way that people can have influence. In the ancient world you certainly saw that in relation to class and wealth. And so while today we might categorize or see as a primary categorization gender, in the ancient world, a lot of times it was class that mattered. So you would have women slave owners, and they would own male slaves. The gender didn't matter at that point.
In the ancient world, the imperial family was very important. And Caesar Augustus, his wife Livia, had tremendous power. And we also, the mother of Nero, Agrippina, she also had a lot of power, and her press, her ancient press is a bit mixed on how she used that. But that same kind of power and influence extended through to the post Constantine era. And you have a woman named Pulcheria who we talk about in a book that I co-authored with Amy Hughes, Christian Women in the Patristic World. And this woman, Pulcheria, she was the sister of Theodosius II. She was a committed virgin. And when she was ten her father died, the emperor died. And her brother, who was eight, in a sense takes the throne, although he doesn't begin to rule right away.
But when Pulcheria turns 15, she began to oversee her brother's education. And from the ancient historians themselves, they say that she effectively ruled the empire. She was very involved in the Christological debates of the day. The Council of Chalcedon in 451, where the church confirmed the view of Jesus as being fully human and fully divine. She was very influential in that. She had written to Pope Leo I to call this council.
Once you realize just how involved women were from the imperial family, and then you think of … and this would be way earlier, late first century, early second century … the figure of Thecla, we can … I'm sure we'll be talking about her in a little bit … she was almost like a meme for several centuries as the first female martyr, a follower or disciple of Paul, advocated the celibate or virginal life. And so there's just so much influence, such a rich history of women participating in the church at all different levels. And I think once we realize that, as we delve into that, we find parallels, and they can help us. They can help us think through what feel like, perhaps, just only contemporary issues. But there's nothing new under the sun. They had a lot of our same issues. Dr. Michael Svigel And it's important to see that these are not isolated, individuals that happen to … They're the ones sometimes that we have records of or reliable accounts of. But as you read through New Testament and into Patristic periods, you're seeing names of women mentioned, just in passing, men and women, that we really know nothing about, but they were significant enough in these people's lives to just make mention of them. And so sometimes the picture of, well women just stayed at home and the men went out ministering, is really a completely inaccurate picture of what was going on in the early church. Kymberli Cook So some of the voices from women in the early church, what … and I'm specifically thinking in a cultural context, in their cultural context … do their perspectives offer us anything that maybe we haven't heard before, or maybe that we haven't heard … I'm having a hard time asking the question because I know that many of the women that we do know about we hear of through the me who wrote. Very rarely do we have something that they actually wrote themselves, especially during this era, I think.
But I'm just curious if … we talk about diversity and everybody's voices offering a different perspective. I'm just curious if there is a perspective, especially Dr. Cohick, that you've seen from your research in this are that they offer us that maybe we haven't heard before? Dr. Lynn Cohick I think they're incredibly courageous. I think that would be … I'm talking about pre Constantine, the era of the martyrs specifically right now. Yeah. I think there's a courage there that our ancient sources talk about people being astonished at the courage of these women. So I'm thinking of, for example, Perpetua, and to your point about very little writings remain from women themselves. But Perpetua, her diary is preserved. It's complicated textual history with that. But I personally think that we have at least a redacted form of her diary. And so we have her voice as she experiences visions before she and a group of Christians from North Africa face their deaths in the arena, as they're killed by wild beasts. It's a horrible end at one level. And yet at another level, the Christians themselves believed that this is their, in a sense, second birthday, and they are entered into the presence of Christ at their death.
She gives a very powerful testimony. And one of the threads in her text is her defiance of her pagan father, which is an extremely impious deed to defy him. So she has this pagan culture, and the virtue of obeying your parents. And she flies in the face of that, because she says to him, "I am a Christian." And that just rings through her text. And it captured the imagination of Christians down through the centuries. So Augustine has a couple of sermons on her feast day where he talks about her. And it's clear that her testimony … So she was killed in 203, and Augustine is writing I don't know how many … couple centuries later, right? And she is … I'm not good at math, so I don't … Within two centuries, right? And she's a member of the church, if you will. They still think about her as a figure they can emulate, even though the age of the martyrs is done, and they still honor her and her testimony. "I am a Christian." You can't get more basic than that. Kymberli Cook So just to throw up some guard rails before we close out our conversation on talking about how we think through the application of early Christian history to our current day, what does it look like when we take that too far? Is it possible to take it too far, to over elevate the way things were done? I'm assuming the answer is yes. But what does that specifically look like? Dr. Svigel, would you like to speak to that? Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. I think making sure that we are aware of sensitive to the unique … every historical instance is unique. And this idea of we have to be careful as we draw, say, mandates or principles from that, it is an approach to history. It's a very classic approach to history, but over generalizing and coming up with principles that we apply can be … First of all it's a little cheesy, but secondly it can be irresponsible. So we do have to understand fully the context and what's going on there, and acknowledge that that context never is exactly repeated.
But another approach is the gaining wisdom and inspiration, et cetera, from a lot of these stories, men and women who throughout history have given their lives. I think it's a more responsible way. Paul even says, in the Old Testament these things were done and written for our benefit, and even acknowledging the different context. It is idealistic and impossible to go back and completely recreate the context and the structures and those kinds of things of the early church.
So it has to be a dialog. You're reading and … reading them critically and in some sense sorting through the wheat and the chaff. But at the same time, letting them read us in a sense, and inform us and teach us. And so it's always this dialog that we're having with the past, rather than importing it or adapting it or adopting it. Kymberli Cook But just to be clear, we're not saying that … Dr. Michael Svigel Just because they did it … Kymberli Cook We should just try to make our church look just like the New Testament or the [Inaudible comment] _____ [0:22:28] Dr. Michael Svigel Just 'cause they did it, we should be doing it. It's more complicated than that. Dr. Lynn Cohick Yeah, I figure if I'm gonna … if I was in a time machine and I went back to this time period, I think I would miss my hot shower and my [Inaudible comment] _____ I would want to be really, really rich. Just only like about five percent of the population. Yeah, we do not … And it was imperial. There was a monarch, well it was beyond a monarchy, right? It was an emperor. I'm pretty much in favor of democracy. So there'd be certain things that shaped the reality of these, of that time, and the church accommodated and assimilated and reacted against, just like the church today accommodates, assimilates, and then also is counter cultural. Kymberli Cook And so we really … the goal I think is to look at them as brothers and sisters in the Lord who were in different situations, but whose writings, again, in dialog might be able to inform us of how they encountered their own situations, and how we might … Dr. Michael Svigel That provoke us to further thought and reflection and questioning our own unquestioned assumptions. Kymberli Cook And, quite frankly, to serve as a tradition for us to preserve. Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. Preserve and draw upon. Kymberli Cook The democracy of the dead, that kind of thing. Dr. Lynn Cohick And Kymberli, if I could add to your question, I think … I might say no, I don't think you can overemphasize, if you're doing good history. But I think it can feel like someone is overemphasizing if they're only used to doing history as looking at what the church fathers actually wrote, or looking at the creeds, because in those cases you're not really gonna find women's voices. But if you go outside of that and look at practices and letters and those kinds of things, then you'll realize that women were, with men, forming the piety and the doctrines of the church.
So it may feel like you're overemphasizing women, but really all it is is that you just haven't talked about them a lot. Now you are. Kymberli Cook So in that mindset, what are … you've mentioned the stories of Pulcheria and Perpetua already. Who are some other women of note that people listening may not have ever heard of that they should? Who would you … Who are a couple women that you would bring up? Dr. Cohick. Dr. Lynn Cohick I did briefly mention also Thecla. Thecla is a fascinating character. She … And I say character because the story that we have of her in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, there's some pretty amazing miracles, if you will, that happened as she is preserved from death, being burned at the stake, or facing wild beasts, or jumping into a pool that has killer seals in it. It's a lot of fun, actually, to read. And it's hard to know how the ancients would have understood what seems to me at times to be a bit fanciful. Nevertheless, I do think that there's an historical figure, if you will, behind those stories. And she is a disciple of Paul who, in the story, hears Paul's preaching, and turns from her wealth and her privilege in the city to follow him. She eschews marriage and dumps her fiance and defies her mother, who insists that she should get married. And she just maintains her steadfast confidence that she needs to follow the Lord in this way, rather than becoming a leading woman of the city. And she remains a figure of great importance throughout … even in the post Constantine church.
Macrina, who is the sister of Gregory the Great and Basil of Caesarea. She talks about, or Gregory indicates that Macrina's secret name, if you will, is Thecla. And so this woman and her piety against all odds, and her faithfulness, her perseverance against all odds was seen as a role model. So that would be a figure that I would say is useful to study or to think about. And also the reaction to her. I find that also very fascinating. Kymberli Cook Dr. Svigel, who would you add? Dr. Michael Svigel Yeah. I was gonna mention Macrina, and her role with the brothers, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil. I would even mention, if we're gonna move a little bit forward to Constantine's mother, Helena, and her role. Constantine himself is a very controversial figure among historians, and a lot of the politics around his conversion and his deeds. But when you take a look at Helena, you see a genuine piety in a woman using her vast power and wealth in a way that is … To this day, when you do tours in the Holy Land, et cetera, you can thank Helena and her patronage for the preservation of sites and the concept of pilgrimage and some of these things, the blessing to the church after the times of persecution, were in large part because of her wielding her influence really well.
And so I think that that is a … it's a lesson, again, without being hokey, but it's a lesson for, as Dr. Cohick said today, we are living in a time when we have an immense amount of influence and leisure time, frankly. And women, especially in the West, have so many opportunities, and can look to figures like this as how yes, we can sacrifice everything, as did Thecla, for instance, but we can also then utilize these things that we are given for the benefit of the church. So I think that there are … there's not a one size fits all kind of approach to this, which I think is what you see with these accounts of women throughout the history of the church. Kymberli Cook So we've heard some of the big names, but I think there were also groups of women … Within the society there were groups that different women would fall into. And can you talk to that a little bit, Dr. Cohick? What are some of the groups of women that we see during this era? Dr. Lynn Cohick The widows and the virgins would be two that really span this whole period that we're talking about. We have references to women who chose not to marry, or chose not to remarry, and live a virginal or a celibate life. And they were honored in the church as wanting to … it may feel like a foreign concept today, since we assume that if someone is sexually inactive they're not really a fulfilled human. But in the ancient world, that wasn't the vision, certainly not within the church, but also within certain areas of the pagan world, and even like a John the Baptist. So there's also a Jewish analog to the celibate life, as well, the prophetic life.
But what I wanted to drive home with this emphasis on widows, so they wouldn't remarry, virgins who never married, that it wasn't that they hated their bodies, or that they somehow were prudish and against sex. And I'm not even sure that they felt marriage at the time was so patriarchal that they couldn't … they wouldn't have any self actualization, because Roman women, or in the Roman period, women could have their own wealth, apart from their husbands.
So I'm not saying that everyone had married bliss at this time, but I'm not sure that all women chose the virginal life just to get out of getting married. Instead, the chose it … they had agency … they chose it because they believed it offered a foretaste of the resurrection life. And the resurrection life, in that immortality, that imperishability, that age where we are … it's the great supper of the Lamb, the kingdom of God having come, all of those wonderful things that all Christians look forward to, the resurrection of the body, these women and men just wanted to have a taste of that, or a richer experience of that life, and they felt they could achieve that through the virginal life. And that was greatly admired by most of the church.
So I think that's one thing that we can, as we think about our own day and the message that we have about what a fulfilled life means, I think we can look back to these women and see how they understood what a fulfilled Christian life could look like. And that could be instructive for us. Kymberli Cook And you also mentioned the martyrs, as again a group, quote/unquote that women might fall into, and that we look back and we see women participating in, even though in that one they obviously were not wanting to. Another one that comes up in conversation often and is a little bit more debated is whether or not, in the New Testament church specifically, there were apostles, women who were apostles. And that has a lot of loaded implication, depending on what your answer to that would be. What are some of the perspectives on that? Dr. Svigel. Dr. Michael Svigel Like you said, it's debated. There's not a lot of good, solid evidence of actual, what we might call capital A apostles, as described in the New Testament, the church built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, et cetera. The one passage that mentions Junia, Andronicus and Junia, early on there was an assumption that this is a reference to two apostles because it says they are well known among the apostles. And some tried to make Junia, poor Junia into a man that I think utterly fails. But she is a woman there.
But there is a question of how to translate. She's well known. They are well known among the apostles. Does that mean we? Like Dr. Cohick is well known among the faculty of Dallas Seminary. Or is it they're well know because they are among the apostles themselves. It's not completely clear. And that's about the clearest passage we have.
On the other hand, prophetesses are all over the place in the New Testament. And so … And the other other hand, the fact that Paul is talking about Andronicus and Junia and Phoebe and all of these women who are clearly traveling and back and forth and heavily involved and commended, we start losing the forest for the trees, and see that women are heavily involved during the apostolic period in part of what we might more generally call the apostolic ministry. So whether they are holding the office, if there is that kind of language, of apostle is not completely clear, but I think misses, probably, the point. That's my perspective. Kymberli Cook Dr. Cohick, what would you add to the conversation? Dr. Lynn Cohick Not a lot. I think Mike is spot on in that. I think that what his comments also reveal is that term apostle itself had a range of meanings. And it did mean someone who traveled and was sent and messenger kind of thing. And then it also could be one of the 12 [Inaudible comment] _____ [0:35:35] And so I think within the New Testament you find that range of usage as well. And I think therefore, if we're …
Oftentimes I think what happens is we come with a question, what roles should women play in the church? And we have a particular ecclesiological structure in mind. And then we go to the New Testament and we see, "Okay. Well, given my ecclesiological structure, what does the Bible say about it?" instead of reading the New Testament from its own context and looking at the language that it uses, presbyters, elders, apostles, coworkers, and from there trying to figure out what were Paul's expectations and Peter's expectations and the rest in terms of how the church can function well, or not so well, as we see it in the Corinthians. Seems to be all over the place.
And I'm always thankful for the Corinthians, 'cause I think, "Okay, there's hope." Dr. Michael Svigel Whenever I might start feeling bad about my own church I just read I Corinthians. Dr. Lynn Cohick Poor Corinthians. Kymberli Cook So I've also heard the term deaconesses in a lot of the literature, and in conversation about ecclesiological structure and that kind of thing. If somebody listening to this were to hear or read about the deaconesses, how should they understand them? Dr. Cohick, let's start with you. Dr. Lynn Cohick I think some of it is just simply a language issue in Greek. Do I … how am I translating that term? Anytime … So anyway, is it the wife of a deacon, or is it its own order itself, female deacons? And anytime you have … just as an aside … in the way that the Greek language conveys things, if you have a group of individuals, and they're all women except one man, that group, what the Greeks would do is they would use that noun, that plural noun would be in the masculine, 'cause it needed to account for that one man that was there. And sometimes, I think when we read these masculine nouns, plural masculine nouns, that we think, "Well, women weren't there." And that would be an over read of what it's … how the Greeks chose to describe things. It over reads it to exclude women in that.
So, yeah, but I think the deaconesses … it depends on how you're gonna use that understanding. As you were talking I was thinking of Pliny the Younger has a missive that he sends to the emperor. He's checking out Christianity and he's got these two Christians that he has tortured to try and get more information. That's what you did back then. And they're two slaves who are Christians, and he's torturing them. And he identifies them as ministers, which is the Latin way of saying deacon. And they're women. Now he saw them as authorities in the church, that they could speak on behalf of this group of Christians, this group that he thinks shouldn't exist, that is in defiance of the empire.
So what do I do with that. They don't have a title of a set office within the church, but functionally, the governor of the area thinks they're church leaders. So that, I think, is where we just struggle with our evidence, because it doesn't actually always line up with how we do church today. And we tend to locate authority within an office. And they did that in the ancient world, too. But what I'm saying is they didn't necessarily always do that. And that's what makes it difficult, or why you have a variety of opinions on how to read the evidence. Kymberli Cook So I have another question as it relates to this whole conversation. You all are highlighting all of these different people that are mentioned, and all these different particular women, all these different women who are mentioned, and just random names are even thrown in to lists, that there are so many women not everywhere, but doing so much. And my question is, when were they forgotten? Because that's one of the reasons we're doing this podcast is because a lot of people haven't heard these names. So when did they fall off the radar? You talked about Augustine celebrating Perpetua 200 years later. And they had a feast day for her. And so they were clearly remembering some of the women from earlier in their church history they were recognizing and honoring. So when did we forget? Dr. Svigel, do you want to … Dr. Michael Svigel I think … and I'd love to hear Lynn's take on this … but I think for most of, well all of the Medieval period, especially in traditions that do at least remember saints, with saint days and feast days and artwork and stories and things, those were vehicles of remembrance, and reverence, and learning from these men and women. There were male and female saints in that whole array. So I think that was a vehicle for remembrance, probably reformation, post reformation is where they withdraw from that and open up … The early reformers definitely remembered the church fathers, and women of the past and apocryphal literature, and oftentimes quite positively as examples of piety, et cetera.
But then it does open up the possibility then for the church at large to begin to forget, and the shift toward a, we're just going to read the Bible, just gonna focus on the Bible, not think of history in our legacy, in the heritage. I think that it opens up the possibility to forget. Kymberli Cook Dr. Cohick? Dr. Lynn Cohick Yes. I completely agree with everything that Mike said. And I think there's also a rhythm in history that we find where in a new group or a new setting, a new endeavor, oftentimes men and women share in the influence as this group begins. And so if you look at the history of the Protestant denominations, oftentimes in the early part of their history, men and women are serving side by side, sometimes even from the pulpit, depending on, again, what that means in that ecclesiological tradition.
But sometimes, when a group becomes more established, it tends to, as it organizes itself, the leadership tends to become more predominantly male. And so I think that that's just what you see. I was also thinking that, in the great missionary movements that we've had post reformation, women are very much represented. Amy Carmichael, we know about her legacy. And so sometimes it depends on what is the church doing, what is the task of the church, and as to how men and women are working side by side, or whether it's more hierarchically structured. Kymberli Cook Well, this has been a fascinating conversation. And I just want to thank you both so much for your time, and really helping us think through the women who have been in our church, and have been for millenia, and maybe have been forgotten at times. But definitely not fully forgotten, because we're still talking about them and their courage and their influence and their faithfulness in just saying, "I am a Christian," going back to what you were talking about earlier.
Again, want to thank you so much Dr. Svigel and Dr. Cohick, for your time. And we want to thank you for listening. And if you would like to have a topic for us to consider for a future episode, please feel free to email us at [email protected], and be sure to join is next time as we discuss issues of God and culture.
About the Contributors
Kymberli Cook is the Assistant Director of the Hendricks Center, overseeing the workflow of the department, online content creation, Center events, and serving as Giftedness Coach and Table Podcast Host. She is also a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, pursuing research connected to unique individuality, the image of God, and providence. When she is not reading for work or school, she enjoys coffee, cooking, and spending time outdoors with her husband and daughters.
Dr. Lynn Cohick is a respected author, scholar, and presently serves as Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs of Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. She also teaches New Testament and is leading the development of a MA program in women’s studies. Dr. Cohick enjoys preaching from the Bible, teaching on women’s ministry issues, and exploring issues pertaining to the historical relationship between Jews and Christians.
Michael J. Svigel
Besides teaching both historical and systematic theology at DTS, Dr. Svigel is actively engaged in teaching and writing for a broader evangelical audience. His passion for a Christ-centered theology and life is coupled with a penchant for humor, music, and writing. Dr. Svigel comes to DTS after working for several years in the legal field as well as serving as a writer with the ministry of Insight for Living. His books and articles range from text critical studies to juvenile fantasy. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three children, Sophie, Lucas, and Nathan.