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Biblical history rewritten in the name of patriarchy

Women at the tomb

The breadth of references to female leadership in the Old and New Testaments indicates that Bible history has been rewritten to support a patriarchal view of history.

This resource cites references from the Bible, early Christian writings, and archeology of women in leading positions. It was first published by Religious Tolerance and is also found at here on the Women’s Ministry Network site.

Topics Covered in this essay:

Female Prophets, Disciples, Ministers & Apostles Mentioned in the Bible

There were many women recorded in the Bible who exhibited religious leadership. Their stories appear in both the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

  • Exodus 15:24 Exodus 15:24
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    24 The people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”WP-Bible plugin:
    Miriam, the daughter of Aaron was a prophet and one of the triad of leaders of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt.
  • Judges 4 & 5:
    Deborah, a prophet-judge, headed the army of ancient Israel.
  • 2 Kings 22:142 Kings 22:14
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe ; and they talked with her.WP-Bible plugin; 2 Chronicles 34:222 Chronicles 34:22
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    22 So Hilkiah, and they whom the king had commanded, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; and they spoke to her to that effect.WP-Bible plugin
    Huldah, a prophet, verified the authenticity of the “Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses” – the Book of Deuteronomy. She triggered a religious renewal.
  • Acts 9:36 Acts 9:36
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which when translated, means Dorcas. “Dorcas” is Greek for “Gazelle.” This woman was full of good works and acts of mercy which she did.WP-Bible plugin
    The author of Luke referred to a female disciple of Jesus by her Aramaic name Tabitha, who was also known by her Greek name Dorcas. She became sick and had died; St. Peter brought her back to life.
  • Acts 21:8Acts 21:8
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    8 On the next day, we, who were Paul’s companions, departed, and came to Caesarea. We entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.WP-Bible plugin:
    Philip the evangelist had four unmarried daughters who were prophets.
  • Philippians 4:2Philippians 4:2
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    2 I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to think the same way in the Lord.WP-Bible plugin:
    Paul refers to two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as his co-workers who were active evangelicals, spreading the gospel.
  • Romans 16:1Romans 16:1
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    16 1 I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a deacon or, servant of the assembly that is at Cenchreae,WP-Bible plugin:
    Paul refers to Phoebe as a minister or deacon of the church at Cenchrea. The Greek word which describes her function is  “diakonos” which means literally “official servant.” She is the only deacon in the Bible to be identified by name. Some translations say deaconess; others try to obscure her position by mistranslating the Greek as a simple “servant” or “helper”. Paul later refers to Phoebe as a woman, calling her “our sister.” This prevented later church leaders from hiding her gender as they did with Junia in Romans 16:7Romans 16:7
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives and my fellow prisoners, who are notable among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.WP-Bible plugin below – by changing her name and implying that she was a man.
  • Romans 16:3Romans 16:3
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,WP-Bible plugin:
    Paul refers to Priscilla as another of his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (NIV) Other translations refer to her as a “co-worker”. But other translations attempt to downgrade her status by calling her a “helper”. The original Greek word is “synergoi”, which literally means “fellow worker” or “colleague.” (1) It is worth noting that Paul refers to Priscilla and her husband as “Priscilla and Aquila” in this passage and as “Aquila and Priscilla” in 1 Corinthians 16:191 Corinthians 16:19
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    19 The assemblies of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, together with the assembly that is in their house.WP-Bible plugin. It would appear that the order is not important to Paul. As in Galatians 3:28Galatians 3:28
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.WP-Bible plugin, he apparently believed that there is no distinction among those who have been baptized into Christ between male and female.
  • Romans 16:7Romans 16:7
    English: World English Bible – WEB

    7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives and my fellow prisoners, who are notable among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.WP-Bible plugin:
    Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus, and a female apostle, Junia, as “outstanding among the apostles” (NIV) Every Greek and Latin church Father until Giles of Rome (circa 1000 CE) acknowledged  that Junia was a woman. (2,3) After that time, various writers and translators of the Bible resorted to deceptions in order to suppress her gender.
    For example:
    The Amplified Bible translates this passage as “They are men held in high esteem among the apostles” The Revised Standard Version shows it as “they are men of note among the apostles”. The reference to them both being men does not appear in the original Greek text. The word “men” was simply inserted by the translators, apparently because the translators’ minds recoiled from the concept of a female apostle.  Many translations, including the Amplified Bible, Rheims New Testament, New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version simply picked the letter “s” out of thin air, and converted the original “Junia” (a woman’s name) into “Junias” (a man’s). Again, it was probably inconceivable to the translators that Paul would recognize a woman as an apostle.

Female Leaders Mentioned in Early Christian Writings

There are many Gospels and other early Christian writings that never made it into the official canon. Some shed light of the role of women in various early Christian groups:

  • The Christian Gnostic tradition represented one of the three main forms of early Christianity – the others being Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity. Gnostic texts show that women held senior roles as teachers, prophets and missionaries. They conducted rituals such as baptism and the Eucharist. They performed exorcisms. (4)
  • The Gospel of Philip, was widely used among early Christian congregations. It portrayed Mary Magdalene as the companion of Jesus, in a position of very high authority within the early Christian movement.
  • The Gospel of Mary described Mary Magdalene as a leader of Jesus’ disciples. She delivering a passionate sermon to the disciples after his resurrection. This raised their spirits and inspired them to evangelize the known world.

Philoumene, a woman, headed a Christian theological school in Rome during the second century CE.  (5)

Examples of Female Christian Leaders from the Archeological Record

Author Karen Jo Torjensen cites (6):

  • An ancient mosaic which shows four female figures. One is identified as Bishop Theodora. The feminine form for bishop (episcopa) is used.
  • A 3rd or 4th century burial site on the Greek island of Thera contains an epitaph referring to Epiktas, a “presbytis” (priest or presbyter). Epiktas is a woman’s name.
  • A 2nd or 3rd century Christian inscription in Egypt for Artemidoras, whose mother is described as “Paniskianes, being an elder” (presbytera)
  • A memorial from the 3rd century for Ammion the elder (presbytera)
  • A 4th or 5th century Sicilian inscription referring to Kale the elder  (presbytis)

Prohibition of Women from Positions of Power by the Early Church

During the 4th and 5th century, the Christian church gradually extinguished women’s access to positions of power in the church:

  • Council of Laodicea (352 CE):
    Women were forbidden from the priesthood. They also were prohibited from presiding over churches. They decided that “One ought not to establish in the church the women called overseers (presbutidas) … women must not approach the altar.
  • Fourth Synod of Carthage (398 CE):
    A woman, however learned and holy, may not presume to teach men in an assembly… A woman may not baptize.
  • Council of Chalcedon (451 CE). Canon #15 of the Council states (7):
    No woman under 40 years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny.” Apparently, the council wanted to start restricting the ordination of deaconesses, which must have been a common practice at the time. And, of course, anyone ordained to the Holy Order of Deacon would be eligible for later ordination to the priesthood as well. (8)


1. Hans Kung, “Christianity: Essence, History and Future”, Continuum, New York NY, (1995), P. 121
2. J. Migne, “Patrologia Graeca” (Greek Fathers)
3. J. Migne, “Patrologia Latina” (Latin Fathers)
4. Kurt Rudolph, “Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism”, Harper, San Francisco, (1987), P. 211
5. Hans Kung, op cit., Page 156
6. K.J. Torjensen, “When Women Were Priests”, Harper, San Francisco (1995), P. 9
7. Article, “National Catholic Reporter”, 1996-NOV-15
8. Frank Daniels, “The Role of Woman in the Church.” part of the Religious Heresy Page at:

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