Fortress Press

A Woman's Place: House Churches in Early Christianity

A Woman's Place

House Churches in Early Christianity

Margaret Y. MacDonald (Author), Carolyn Osiek (Author), Janet Tulloch (Contributor)


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This focused look at women in the household context discusses the importance of issues of space and visibility in shaping the lives of early Christian women. Several aspects of women's everyday existence are investigated, including the lives of wives, widows, women with children, female slaves, women as patrons, household leaders, and teachers. In addition, several key themes emerge: hospitality, dining practices, and the extent of female segregation.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • ISBN 9780800637774
  • Format Paperback
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 352
  • Publication Date October 18, 2005


"Uses the all too meager evidence with sophistication and presents their results with engaging clarity."
— Harold W. Attridge, Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament and Dean, Yale Divinity School

"A wonderful collection of evidence for the participation of women in early Christian house churches, as patrons, leaders, presiders and funerary banquet hosts. Osiek, MacDonald and Tulloch continue the demonstration of the participation of women in the wider progressiveness of the Greco-Roman era, as well as document the centrality of that participation to early Christian communal life. Essential reading for scholars of the New Testament and antiquity alike."
— Kathleen E. Corley. Professor of New Testament and Christianity, Oshkosh Northwestern Distinguished Professor, University of Wisconsin

"A perceptive and illuminating study of early Christian women in the domestic setting of house-churches. It reveals a wide diversity of roles played by these women, and how domestic and public spheres merged into each other. It is a world of wives, widows, babies and slaves as well as the famous ascetics, set in the broader cultural context of the Mediterranean in the first couple of centuries of Christianity."
— Beryl Rawson, Professor Emerita, Classics, Australian National University


The Bible gives little mention to the women of the early Christian church, though surely they were around. What was their role in the church and how was the church integrated into their daily lives?

Until now, these questions were largely unanswered or answered, at best with conjecture. The three authors use a variety of evidence, both religious and secular, to construct a vivid description of the lives of these women, providing the reader with a fuller picture of the first few centuries of the Christian church. The authors weave together the evidence with insight and precision, giving a clear picture of the times.

A Woman's Place provides an overwhelming sense of community that women of the early church shared. During the first several centuries of Christianity, the church was centered on the home. This was the gathering place for worship.

As the home was the domain of women, women took a leading role in many aspects of the early church. Women were leaders, teachers and supporters of one another. They provided enormous amounts of nurturing and hospitality to one another.

Particularly fascinating are the descriptions of birthing and dining rituals. Early Christian women were segregated from the men, yet formed a strong community among themselves with their own ways of celebrating and worshipping.

Until now, the stories of early Christianity have been focused on the men of the church, primarily the apostles going out into the world to spread the good news. A Woman's Place honors the women of the early church, revealing their important role in providing the home environment where the good news could grow.

Reviewed by Maria Hoeffer, Armchair Interviews

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Dutiful and Less Than Dutiful Wives Giving Birth: Labor, Nursing, and Care of Infants in House-Church Communities
  3. Growing Up in House-Church Communities
  4. Female Slaves: Twice Vulnerable
  5. Ephesians 5 and the Politics of Marriage
  6. Women Leaders of Households and Christian Assemblies
  7. Women Leaders in Family Funerary Banquets by Janet H. Tulloch
  8. Women Patrons in the Life of House Churches
  9. Women as Agents of Expansion
  10. Conclusion: Discovering a Woman's Place
Index of Ancient Sources
Index of Modern Authors
Index of Subjects