by Alison Rowan

This question was posed by Dr Barbara Orlowski D. Min on Linked-In’s discussion forum, Biblical Leadership Principles. At the time of this writing, it had accrued over 8000 comments from around the World during a period of 10 months, with a generally courteous exchange with good scholarship from Egalitarians and Complementarians alike. But ne’er the twain shall meet!

I took a look at the Greek in 1 Tim 3, where the qualifications to be a bishop or overseer were described and discovered what could be the answer to Barb’s question.

If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim 3:1-5)

The Greek word here translated as ‘man’ is not ‘aner’ -- man, husband, nor ‘anthropos’ -- mankind, but ‘tis’ -- someone , a certain one. This is NOT gender specific and ALL the other uses of ‘tis’, ‘tou’ when translated ‘man’ are not either! Since it has FIRST mention in verse 1, ‘tis’ is not assuming a gender previously identified. It is a deliberate use of a non-gender specific noun or pronoun. It does mean ‘someone’ or ‘anyone’ here.

"There is NO possessive (his or her) connected to the household -- it merely says 'tou idiou oikou' = 'the own household'. Therefore the husband/wife can be assumed to be reversible -- basically specifying faithfulness within a monogamous marriage in verse 2.  If the 'someone' is married, the generalised and easily identified cultural norm, I feel is being used to describe the marriage relationship. This is preferable to spelling out all the permissible qualifying options: “single, widow, widower, the wife or the husband faithfully married to one partner”. It should also be noted that the placement of the deacon’s marriage stipulation is highly significant in v12. It is AFTER both the qualifications for male deacons in v 8-10 AND female deacons in v 11, so covers both sexes reciprocally, with one description. Since Phoebe is named a deacon of the church at Cenchrea, it proves the point of a generalisation for monogamy, if married.

Since marital status and gender are in the realm of the 'physical' body (flesh), they should have no bearing on 'spiritual' calling and anointing, since no New Creature in Christ is to be regarded any longer according to the flesh. (2 Cor 5:16-17)

Who in the Bible might qualify?

"A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us….

They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed." (Acts 16:12-15,40)

Here there is no mention of Lydia's husband, whether dead or absent for very long periods, is unclear. However, she was head of 'her household', with influence enough for them all to follow her being baptized. She was also judged by Paul to be 'faithful to the Lord'. This is a significant qualification, since he uses it of himself in 1 Tim 1:12 “Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry.” Paul, Timothy and Silas stayed with her, enjoying her hospitality, so she did manage her household well. These attributes of hers, all fulfill what Paul defines as the qualifications for an overseer of the church in 1 Tim 3:3-5, already quoted.

The church met in her villa. She alone is named among 'the brethren' who met there, probably showing that she was in charge. This is the pattern in 1 Cor 1:11 where the Christian brethren who reported to Paul are identified as Chloe’s. Lydia’s name most likely represented the Phillipian church. Paul acknowledges this in Phil 1:5 "your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now." It was only Lydia present on that first day and she fellowshipped/ shared /partnered in the gospel by her hospitality on that ‘first day’. It seems her spontaneous hospitality and generosity was a strong influence in the church, since Paul commends them in Phil 4:14-6 “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs." This is the evidence of someone with enough influence to stir the whole church into generous giving -- I ask, born out of their leader’s personal love and gratitude to the man who introduced her to her Saviour? He also boasts of their generosity in 2 Cor 8:1-2.

Not only did the Church meet in her home, she also had the rare privilege of the unbroken company of Paul, Silas and Timothy. I can imagine her plying them with questions, eager to learn at mealtimes and evenings when they relaxed in her home, after her day’s work selling purple and attending to her household. I believe Paul would have been more than willing to furnish her with answers, since this is most likely part of his training methods for establishing leaders for the Churches he founded. So, who was the most likely to be able to pass on more insights on their teachings when the apostles left? Lydia, of course! It is inconceivable that Paul said to her “I strictly forbid you to teach any of my understanding you have learned to any men, after I am gone” - especially since he had stayed for barely a few weeks, and in her home with the occasional gathering of the saints there. Lydia alone would have been privy to the majority of his insights.

After all, this is exactly what happened to Paul’s Corinthian hosts, of about two years. It seems as if Priscilla was more able to receive, process and expound the ‘Way’ than her husband… despite him having spent far more time with Paul while they were making tents together. She is named before Aquilla when explaining the Christian ‘Way’ more accurately to Apollos. I doubt that she would have been banned from exposition of her first-hand knowledge and edification of either the Corinthian or the whole Ephesian church by her insights - they needed them! (Some have even suggested that she could have been the author of the Book to the Hebrews ... or maybe Apollos.) The same would also apply - even more so - to this one faithful soul, Lydia to the Philippians meeting in her home.

Additionally, God’s leading of Paul’s team to Europe was so significant and how the Holy Spirit did not let them alight from the trading vessel in any of the other Macedonian ports until Philippi. Then he led Paul to the river at the time when Lydia was there. It was HER heart alone which the Lord opened to hear the message. WIth that evidently divine direction to this lady, she would SURELY have had a more significant role to play in the church than be on the coffee or cleaning rotas!

By the time Paul wrote his affectionate letter to the Philippians, the church had grown significantly, so that there was a plurality of overseers and deacons (Phil 1:1). The pattern for a city was that there should be overseers of several households of faith meeting separately city-wide and also holding corporate public meetings. (Acts 2:44 and 20:20 clearly show this.) I feel it unlikely that Paul would have allowed anyone else to then demote Lydia, but she would have remained as the most experienced overseer among them all. (Please note there was no westernised notion in this church of having one 'pastor', professionally qualified through a seminary, ordained and salaried to take this career path as a one-man entertainer for Sunday services and to run himself ragged counselling and visiting everyone else! Neither is there meant to be any hierarchical pyramid structure with a ‘senior pastor’ acting like a gentile CEO)

The Bible in Acts 20:28, describes the job of an overseer as being ‘to shepherd the flock’, so with no biblical prohibition in the Greek text and very good supportive evidence, I would conclude that Lydia was not only the first European convert -- and the first female European Christian, she was most significantly, also …