Thursday, May 24, 2007

Female Deacons, 2

In the first post on this subject I hinted that in my view the New Testament speaks of female deacons. I also mentioned that this view is apparently consistent with

(1) NT background
(2) early Christian history
(3) the views of early reformers in the Restoration Movement

Not wanting to drag this out or make anyone's eyes glaze over, I do want to identify a few bits of evidence that might jump start your own thinking. Consider the first item: the New Testament background.

I begin with the assumption that the most significant aspect of NT background is the Judaism(s) leading up to and including the time of Jesus and the earliest Christians. And what do we see when we examine the synagogues of that period? Plenty to suggest that females in official roles would have been nothing new to those folks:

1. For example, a Greek inscription discovered at Smyrna (Izmir) and that dates from the early Christian centuries reads as follows:

"Rufina, a Jewess and head of a synagogue (Greek: archisynagogue), built this tomb for her freedmen and her house-slaves . . . "

2. Another text comes from Myndos (in Caria, western Turkey) and reads as follow:

[The beginning is lost] . . . . "of Theopempte the head of a synagogue
(archisynagogue) and her son Eusebius."

3. A third comes from Kisamos (on the island of Crete):

"Here (lies) Sophia of Gortyn, an elder (presbytera) and female head of a synagogue (archisynagogissa) of Kisamos. (May the) memory of (this) just woman (be) forever. Amen."

As heads of synagogues these women would have been, in the words of rabbi and scholar Shaye Cohen, "responsible for supervising the services, specifically for deciding who should read the Bible, lead the prayers, and give the sermon. The archisynagogue was something between a president and a rabbi."

In addition to the three quotes given here, there is inscriptional evidence from the same period indicating that at least some Jews of that time recognized certain women as priestesses. Impressive indeed. But it's my goal here simply to show that, if the earliest Christian communities appointed female deacons, this would have been no break with the Judaism of that time.

Source: Cohen, Shaye J. D. "Women in the Synagogues of Antiquity" Conservative Judaism 34 (November-December 1980), pp. 23-29.

Reactions? Comments? Criticisms?




I'm enjoying reading your series here. Good thoughts.


Matt said...

Why not keep the truth under the rug and keep everyone real comfortable? :)

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Thanks for the source ... I will be looking it up.

Bobby Valentine