Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Conversion of Lydia

13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:12-15 (ESV)
Paul comes into Philippi, which was basically a gold mining town. The mines were up in the mountains, but the city was put in place by Philipp II to control the trade of gold, and even established a mint. It had been a Roman town for quite some time by the time Paul gets there, and seems to have been mostly about business. The inhabitants not being particularly religious at all. And even though it was a Roman colony, there were few Jewish people in the town. If there had even been ten Jewish men there would have been a synagogue in town, with a rabbi. This was a rule of thumb in Jewish communities, ten men tithing could support a synagogue and a rabbi with a median income somewhere between their richest man and their poorest man. But there is no synagogue for them to go to.
It’s curious though, they knew where to go on the Sabbath to meet fellow Jewish believers. With no synagogue, which often played the part of Jewish community center with all sorts of programs and activities during the week, they had to wait for the Sabbath, Saturday, to find their community. Paul always preached to Jews first and then to the Greeks. Something must have been particular about this place marking it as a place of prayer along the river Krenides. Paul, Luke, Timothy and Silas descend upon the place with the gospel.
Now something quite incredible happens, that will have lasting impact on the church and western society even to this day. Paul meets Lydia, and Lydia is converted. In Moe’s biography of St. Paul, it was brought to my attention that this Lydia might be the same woman who goes by the name of Euodia in the fourth chapter of Philippians. Moe doesn’t go into this, but it was believed in the early church that Paul was married to Euodia later in life, that in fact she may even have been the wife he speaks about in 1 Cor. 9.  All of that gets a little shaky. But even in Moe’s thorough biography it isn’t ruled out that Paul was married.
All that aside, the story of Lydia’s conversion is spectacular. First her heart is opened to Paul’s preaching, then her and her household are baptized. It sticks out like a sore thumb in the eye of chauvinist readings of scripture. This and the story or Priscilla and Apollos likewise. But for now this. It seems Lydia was a single lady, and rich.  Perhaps she was a widow with children. But her household would mean slaves as well. They are all baptized, because of her. You see the same sort of thing with Cornelius, the conversion of the head of the household means the conversion of the rest of it. There is no, I think I will wait until they make up their mind. This would have been a completely foreign thought to Jewish converts to Christianity. God makes the covenant of circumcision, the old testament, with Abraham and it is something he is to subject to his whole household, slave and child alike. A sort of Quius regio eius religio (whose realm, his religion) thing. Of course, being hauled off into slavery and incorporated into another household didn’t mean that either Jews or Christians gave up their religion. But when a Christian was the head of the household, he would at a minimum baptize the rest of his household and provide for them to hear the word of God. Now, it seems a woman is the head of this household, and she rules over slaves, presumably men in the mix there. Paul doesn’t have anything to say about this, or against this. He just wasn’t the chauvinist that he is made out to be, both by the left and the right today. Lydia, along with quite a few other women of means, will become his greatest supporters. That seems to be a tradition carrying on even today in the church, where women are often the most faithful, the most diligent in giving, and the most disciplined about training the children in the faith. The things that Paul has to say about women having authority over men, or men over women deal only within the marriage and in the church. It has nothing to do with women holding public offices, working outside the home or being bosses etc. He wasn’t patriarchic in the modern sense of the word, nor did he go along with the normal devaluing of women that one finds in antiquity. On the contrary, he seemed to value women quite a bit.

Lydia begins her support of Paul straight way by opening her home to him and his entourage. It seems she had to insist on him staying there. This and the fact that she was a successful business woman gives a hint that she had to be a pretty strong willed and capable woman. Paul would not have been an easy one to prevail upon. I imagine her and Katie Luther would have quite the same temperaments, and if she did marry Paul later in life, she would have had in common with Katherine Von Bora, that it was her decision first. 

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