Church and Gender in the First Three Centuries

Master Thesis – August 2014

An academic paper exploring the role of Christian women during the first 3 centuries, giving particular attention to church activities such as praying, prophesying, teaching and leading.

Abstract: The canonical texts suggest that the 1st century churches had a rather flat and informal church leadership structure, where both men and women, without reference to the priest-layman divide, participated fully in community life and were able to ‘pray and prophesy’ in their church meetings. Teaching in such meetings was restricted to gifted men, and church leadership roles or offices appear also to have been restricted to suitably qualified men.

The textual evidence I explored suggests that early Christianity promoted and practiced a reformed patriarchal arrangement (rather than an egalitarian one) at home and in the church, an arrangement that gave enhanced value to women, slaves and outcasts, offering them new freedoms. However, given the male dominated society, the generally rather negative view of women expressed by most Church Fathers together with several developments within the church itself, such as a shift:

  • from a flat to a more authoritative structure,
  • from ministry (doing) to governance (office),
  • from a organic church life to an explicit priest-layman divide
  • from the charismatic (Word & Spirit) towards the dogmatic (Word),
  • from spontaneity towards liturgy,
  • from small meetings in houses to large basilicas,

it is to be expected that the new freedoms given to Christian women in the 1st century were put under increasing pressure in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Church and gender in the first three centuries

49 pages | August 2014

Thesis & Bibliography



Thesis presentation


Related articles:

  1. Gender Issues in Genesis 1-3: Relevant to the Church – coming soon
  2. Did Mary also Speak? A Study of the First Church Meeting – coming soon